Make Time for Play

In today’s fast paced life, it seems that more and more children are being rushed through their childhood. Before they start school they are practicing flashcards, math facts, or sight words. Once they are in school they have homework, projects, and extracurricular activities. With so much on their plate, children have less and less time to play.

Fred Rogers, famously said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

Play is the business of children! It is what they should be doing more of. In children play is interconnected with creativity, problem solving, and social emotional learning. Essentially it is how they learn to be people. From infant through childhood, play plays a pivotal role in a child’s development.  

Play is often the heart of high quality early learning programs and can help prepare children for elementary school. There are different types of play that promote growth and development. When educators use the term play, people often think of free play, which is child initiated and child directed. Free play is a great way for children to practice social and self-regulatory skills and develop creativity. There is definitely a place for free play but it shouldn’t end there.

Research shows that guided play, which is adult initiated and child directed, is a powerful tool to incorporate play into curricula. One that does not compromise learning goals. Guided play gives kids autonomy, but also gives teachers some control over what they want the child to achieve. It makes learning engaging. 

While many forms of play are often used in early learning programs, which have been proven to be effective, these types of initiatives seem to be missing from the early years of elementary school. In many schools around the nation, kids enter kindergarten and are expected to complete worksheets, sit for long periods of time, and even take tests. They have less time for play, less time for art, and less time for music. There has been a drastic shift from the 1990s and Kindergarten now looks like what first grade was a few decades ago. According to NPR expectations are getting higher for school age children.

Jean Piaget wrote, “Play is the work of childhood.” Therefore we as their parents and teachers need to make sure they get to do more of what is most important for their development.

In the classroom play can take different forms throughout the different grades. In the younger grades, teachers can set up play learning bins for students to explore, have areas where students can pretend play, have puppets for students, and build in time for play. As students get older, play and learning takes a different form. Teachers can take students outside and play games to practice concepts, have lego stations, and use manipulatives.

Schools often take recess times away from students the older they get, but if you can take your students outside for extra play time, just for the fun of it. No matter what their age, children need playtime, and the curriculum will not be affected if you take a 15 minute break to play with your students, it will actually enhance learning.

Parents can do similar things at home. You do not have to have a fancy space in the home, all you need to do is give your child time to play. Give them a box, some markers, and tape, and they will design and create something. Give them space in the backyard, and watch them come up with a game. Invite a friend for a technology free playdate and watch them pretend play. Give children time and space to play, and we promise they will use it well. 

Stress and Brain Development

As adults, stress causes havoc on the body and the brain. So, it is unsurprising that when children undergo stress in their lives, it affects their brain development. The brain is the central organ of stress and we need to ensure our children are being taken care of. 

High levels of stress in early childhood can influence brain development and have short and long term influences, especially when it comes to emotions and learning. When young children are faced with overwhelming amounts of stress, without supportive adult relationships to help them cope, the results can be extremely damaging. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, there are three types of stress: positive, tolerable, and toxic. 

Positive stress response is a normal and healthy part of development, this might be starting a new school, or trying something new. This type of stress is essential and children will be able to navigate this type of stress with positive outcomes. 

Tolerable stress response is more severe, this might be the loss of a loved one or a traumatic injury. This type of stress can cause damage to development, but the brain and other organs can recover when supportive adults are there to help them navigate and find healthy coping mechanisms. 

Toxic stress response is when a child experiences prolonged adversity without any adult support. This could relate to abuse, a caregiver with substance abuse or mental health issues, or burdens of economic hardship. This can disrupt the development of the brain and other organs and increase the risk of developing stress related diseases. 

Toxic stress during early childhood can affect the developing brain circuits and hormonal system, which can lead to poor control over a child’s stress response system. As a result, children can become angry or threatened even when there is no cause to feel that way, or they can experience excessive anxiety long after a threat has passed. 

Knowing this, our message of balance is extremely important. It is not just our opinion. Research shows that children need balance in their lives, even more than adults do, because developing brains are not equipped to deal with high levels of stress. 

Here are some tips to help your child cope with stress. Many of these techniques can grow with children, so as they develop they can have the mechanisms to cope with stress. These strategies can also be adapted to help support students in your classroom!

1. Exercise: Exercise is one of the best stress relievers there is. Exercising can ease your mind from the things that are causing stress. It also releases endorphins into our bodies, which makes us feel good. Make time to exercise as a family. Take a walk, run, hike, ride bikes, or play sports.

2. Unplug from technology: Technology is a wonderful tool, however research has shown that too much technology use can have a detrimental effect on children. Restricting or taking away technology can be stressful too, so we suggest coming up with a plan with your family. Sit and have a conversation with your children, make rules together, and have technology free zones and times in the house. Most importantly, model model model for your child. 

3. Spend time with family: Children LOVE spending time with their family. We hear how happy they are when they tell us all about “Family Night” at school. Play board games with them, color, paint, or make art with them, practice throwing the ball, read books, or just sit and listen to them. Spending quality time with you, will reduce their stress and you will make memories they will remember for a lifetime.

4. Spend time in nature: There is something about being in nature that brings (even the most city lover like Jen) peace. Finding a park, trail, mountain, or body of water, and spending time in the sun is so relaxing and peaceful. Going into nature with your children is a wonderful way to spend quality time with them, unplug, and destress. 

5. Let them play: Today’s Children often have a lot to do after after a long school day. After 8 hours of school, many children have after-school activities, plus reading, and homework, they are often on the go for many hours a day. Giving them time to play and relax in an unscheduled or unplanned way will let them just be kids and relax. 

6. Mindfulness: Teaching children to practice mindfulness will give them skills to develop awareness of inner and outer experiences that can help them better understand their emotions. Start off simple and focus on what is happening “right now.” Be grateful and recognize positive things in the moment. Teach children breathing exercises or meditation

7. Model Stress Management: Children learn the most from the adults in their lives. If you model stress management techniques, they will learn from you. Bring balance into your life, and your child will follow.

How to Help an Overly Dependent Child

If you have read our past posts you will have noted that we are big proponents of independence and responsibility. Developing these skills can boost children’s confidence and will give them the tools that they need in school, in life, and later on as adults. When these skills aren’t developed, challenges can arise that impede them from developing into self-sufficient adults. 

A recent trend that we have noticed is overly dependent children. In these instances, children have a hard time trying things on their own, they give up rather quickly, and they immediately ask for help from an adult. In the classroom, these students tend to interrupt lessons or directions being given by the teacher because they fear not knowing what to do or getting it wrong. Even when it is a simple task, they might immediately raise their hand and ask for help because they lack confidence in themselves. Other signs of an overly dependent child, is when children don’t try new things and won’t attempt a problem, project, or activity if they do not have an adult nearby to ask help from. They fear taking risks because they are uncomfortable with not knowing if they will succeed. 

Children adapt to their environment and if adults in their life do everything for them, they begin to rely on that and become overly dependent. They know that someone will come and “rescue” them so they learn that they don’t need to try on their own. This is a challenge in a classroom where a teacher or two have to teach, lead, and support many children. 

Not to worry, it’s never too late to implement strategies if your child has become overly-dependent. Here are some things that can help make a difference:

Let them answer their own questions

If you notice your child asks you questions for everything, you can turn it back on them and guide them in a way that will help them get to the answer on their own. Asking questions like “What do you think?” or “How do you think we can figure that out?” This can help empower children and help them develop self-efficacy. 

Be patient

In the moment it might seem easier to complete a task for your child. A little patience and time can be extremely beneficial. When children learn to do things for themselves they develop high self-efficacy and become empowered.

Let them do their homework independently

When working in the classroom students are expected to complete their work independently. Teachers walk around and assist as needed, but they do not sit with only one child, if you sit with your child and complete their homework with them, they get used to having an adult nearby. Set up an area where they can work independently and you can support as needed.

Practice listening

When your child comes to you with a problem, you don’t always have to fix it. Be there to listen and ask questions, but don’t feel you have to rescue them all the time. When children learn to solve age appropriate problems on their own, it will equip them with the tools to solve bigger problems later on.

If you have gotten used to over-functioning for your child, it can be hard to make changes, it might get worse before it gets better, but it will be very beneficial in the long run to give your child space to grow. It can help to make gradual changes to help your child become more independent.

Book Recommendations for Parents and Teachers

There are many books on the shelves that offer advice and give insight into children, child development, parenting, and teaching. Through our schools and with our own personal curiosity of how to help raise children we have read many books that have become a big part of our philosophy on child rearing. 

We often read books, make connections with our students, and learn techniques that help us become better teachers. We also love sharing these books with the parents of children we know because children do not come with a guide book, and often parents feel like their child is behaving in a certain way or that they are the only parent going through a difficult stage when in fact it could be a very normal part of growing up. 

Books written by experts in the fields of psychology, education, or child development also open our eyes to things that we might not have known or thought about. It never hurts to learn a little bit more about children and how to help them grow up to be kind, independent, resilient adults.

Below is a list of books that we ABSOLUTELY LOVE. They are all easy reads, and come highly recommended. 

Voice Lessons for Parents by Wendy Mogul: Dr. Mogul writes and explains how parental language and voice is important. She offers techniques and examples for how to speak to your child at different stages of their development. 

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogul: Here again Dr. Mogul offers parents a good road map to help raise children in a world of over abundance, overscheduled, and over protected children. She helps the reader see the importance of all types of experiences for children. 

 The Hurried Child by David Elkind: It seems that childhood is rushed more and more in our society, and David Elkind writes about why rushing children through their childhood is detrimental to their development. This book tells us why we need to slow down and let children be children. An oldie but a goodie!

Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky: Galinsky writes about 7 life skills that will help children reach their full potential in life and discover a passion for learning. The book is easy to read and offers a lot of techniques that families can use with their children in a simple manner. 

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt: With anxiety, depression, and suicide rates rising, Lukianoff and Haidt trace these rates to changes in parenting, childhood, and education. Children have less unsupervised time, less child-directed play, overly fearful parents, and a new world of social media to contend with these days. This book lets the reader understand what is happening, and helps parents and teachers understand what they can do. 

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown: She writes beautifully about personal growth, imperfections, and self worth. If we want our children to be resilient through mistakes and failures, they need to see us live that truth, and Brené Brown helps adults see what we can be. 

UnSelfie by Michele Borba: Children today have less empathy than they did decades ago. Borba writes that our self absorbed culture, represented by the “selfie,” is to blame. She connects less empathy with bullying, less resilience, an inability to problem solve, and not having the skills to collaborate. She offers techniques to teach children empathy and help them begin to see the world less about themselves and more about others. 

Yardsticks by Chip Wood: This book describes child development of school age children. It is a must have for any educator or parent because it helps us see what is happening with children and how to better support learning. It describes what to expect in your child at each age, offers examples, and is very easy to read. 

We believe that these books are good tools to have in our collective teaching and parenting tool boxes. Books and experts in these fields are all good to learn from, however, don’t forget that ultimately you are your child’s parent, and you know them BETTER than anyone else. Don’t feel like you have to read all the parenting books. Remember life is about balance too, and you cannot feel bad if you just don’t have the time to read every book there is. And always know you are doing a great job by showing up for your child everyday!

What are some of your favorite books relating to raising balanced kids?

6 Ways to Help with Perfectionism

One of the many interesting things about teaching is the wide spectrum of students in our classroom. They are so uniquely themselves in so many areas. Take work habits for example, we might have students who rush to get things done, others get distracted by their peers, and others who consistently go above and beyond expectations. And in every class that we have ever had, we always have at least one student who is hindered to complete their projects or work by their own perfectionism. 

These students have such an extremely high expectation on themselves across everything that they do. They struggle when they cannot spell a word correctly, the picture is not drawn as if an artist who has drawn for years has drawn it, the lines are not perfectly straight, or their penmanship is not perfectly neat. They often erase obsessively, fall behind others as they attempt to have precise work, crumple their papers, and start projects over and over again. While we have to push others to be more diligent and put more effort into their work, with these students we have to encourage them to move forward and to not be so hard on themselves.

In addition because of their perfectionist, these students are less likely to try something that they might not be good at. They don’t like the feeling of failure, thus they stick to the things that they know they are good at. When they struggle with something challenging they often become anxious, frustrated, and give up. They are unwilling to take a risk.

If you have a child that tends to be more of a perfectionist, below are 6 ways that you can help them  . . . 

1. Make mistakes. Children learn from observing the adults in their life. Model mistakes for them. We will make mistakes on worksheets, directions, or lesson slides. When they catch them, and they always do, we simply respond with, “Oops! I tried my best, but I am not perfect. No one is perfect.” Throughout the year we model our imperfections and the kids catch on that our class is a place where mistakes are ok.

2. Focus on the process not the end result. When they bring back work or projects, ask them about the process. How did they feel about it? Did they have fun making it? Try not to point out their mistakes or praise the final product. Avoid words and phrases such as “genius” or “you’re so smart.” This can make children believe that they have to be those things. When you focus on how hard a child worked vs. how smart they are, you are helping them develop a growth mindset. They start to realize they can accomplish hard things by persevering. It can open up a whole new world for children.

3. Distinguish between things that are ok being messy and things that should be neater or requires more effort. Sometimes kids cannot distinguish between the two, and with us pointing it out, they can begin to see when they need to put more time into a project and when they don’t. Not every single assignment or project requires students to go above and beyond. 

4. Read biographies of people who made mistakes or failed multiple times, and who still made a difference in our world. The Who Was Series is a great biographical series for kids to help them see that people that we really look up to made mistakes in order to accomplish great things.

5. Give them chances to fail. Let your child experience failure. Enroll them in a new sport, instrument, or STEM class. Play games with them where they lose and fail. More experience with the feelings of failure will be helpful to them. 

6. Tell them how much you love them and care for them even when they make mistakes. You might think they know this, but sometimes they don’t. We are not our work and It’s important that children understand their work doesn’t make them more or less valued. Their capabilities don’t make them more or less valued. 

When you notice that a student or child is showing signs of perfectionism, it is important to give them strategies to deal with it. Perfectionism in childhood can lead to more severe things later in life like social anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

5 Ways to Build Confident Kids

This week we wanted to offer some tips that we have used in our classes to build confidence in children. Every school year we have students who struggle with confidence. This low confidence in themselves can affect their ability to learn and complete their assignments. Not because of their ability, but because they are less likely to attempt problems on their own, problem solve, or give up easily. We work very hard throughout the year to build these students’ confidence in themselves, and it makes us so happy to see them gain confidence and become more independent. 

This topic relates to last week’s post on independence. While confidence is interconnected with independence, and we touched a little bit on it last week, we wanted to elaborate more on simple techniques you can use to help build or restore your child’s confidence.

Before we do that, we want to clarify the difference between confidence and arrogance. The two often walk a fine line, and it can be a little tricky to distinguish between the two.

Confidence comes from being secure with who you are and what you can do.

Arrogance comes from insecurities and the need to feel better than other people. 

We want to teach kids to work hard, develop skills that will help them follow through with projects and goals, and be resilient when things go wrong. Developing confidence doesn’t mean they get a trophy for every little thing, have unrealistic ideas of what they are capable of, or make others feel less than. It means internally they are able to take risks and not be overly concerned with what others think. 

Below are five ways to build children’s confidence that are easy to incorporate into your parenting style. These are things we do on a daily basis in our class to help our students feel confident and proud of themselves. 

1.Mistakes

You will hear us say making mistakes is the answer to so many things. Because it is! “Mistakes are proof that you are trying” is our motto! Letting kids know that making mistakes is ok, normal, something everyone does, and that they should not feel bad about making them will help them internalize that mistakes are part of the process and they don’t define who they are. Being confident means you can make mistakes and understand that it’s how you handle the mistake that matters. 

2. Avoid Comparison

We need to teach kids to compare themselves to who they were yesterday not to other children. It starts by modeling this behavior. As adults, we shouldn’t be comparing kids (especially siblings) OR ourselves to others. We should always set realistic goals for ourselves, but not base them on those around us. There is a difference between getting inspired by someone and wanting to be better than someone.

3. Encouragement 

Keep a healthy balance with encouragement and not overly praising children. With too much praise, children start to rely on your constant approval. When school work comes home focus on what they did right and how much they have improved in an area, try not to zoom in on mistakes or grades. If you notice your child always asking if you “like” something they did, turn it back to them to see if they like it, or ask them to tell you how they thought of it. But of course recognize when your child has been working hard at something! 

4. Independence

When kids know they can do something on their own, it helps build confidence. Age appropriate choices, chores, and responsibilities are great confidence builders. See our previous post for more tips on how to build independence. 

5. Teach Empathy

Find ways to help other people. There are so many children who are making the world better, and helping our children see that they can too will not only build their confidence but make them feel good on the inside. It could be having your child go through their toys to donate to a cause, or getting involved in a local community service project. It is empowering for kids to know that they can make a difference. Check out this TedTalk or the books of Kids Who are Changing the World (and You Should Meet)  and Kids Who are Changing the World Who are Changing the World and share it with your child to inspire them to get started. 

Ten Things That Teach Kids Independence

Our jobs as parents and teachers is to teach our children independence. This sounds easier than what it is because from the moment that babies and children come into our lives they are dependent on us. In our roles as caretakers, who love our children, we often forget that our charges will grow up, and they must be able to think, regulate emotions, overcome challenges, and do things for themselves. It is uncomfortable to see children struggle or be in any sort of discomfort. Yet it is only through personal trial and error and processing the uncomfortable emotions that they will gain the skills necessary to be independent. 

Fortunately there are a few things we can do to help build independent skills

1. Try not to always answer their questions

If you think they can answer it themselves, you should let them. Kids have a million questions a day and most of them are questions that with a little thought and a little problem solving, they can arrive at the answer on their own. By letting them figure things out, you are helping them grow and giving them confidence. 

2. At the park allow them to climb and play on their own without your help

When you go to the park allow your child to explore without you right behind them. Watch from a safe distance and give them the space to explore and play on their own. Let them climb, run, and play independently. By doing so, they  know you are close, but that they have to figure out the play structure themselves. 

3. Allow them to walk into their school or classroom alone

Children as young as kindergarteners should carry their own backpacks and walk into their classrooms independently. They do not need your help to unpack or complete the morning routines of the classroom. Letting them know that school is their space early on in their schooling will set them up to be independent scholars. 

 4. Let them do their homework alone

Children need a space in the house where they can do their homework independently. Children do not have a teacher sitting next to them at school. We monitor the class and help students as needed. They are very capable of doing the same at home. It is their responsibility to complete their homework, not yours. 

5. If they say they can’t, don’t swoop in and do it for them 

There will be times when things will be challenging for kids. This can be as simple as eating a new food to more complex things such as STEM projects. Of course we aren’t saying NEVER help your kids. We are saying they should be pushed to try things that they think they can’t do. One of the best things to witness in child development is when a child realizes they can do something that they thought they couldn’t. 

6. Give them chores

Chores help give kids responsibility which builds independence. Kids can and should contribute to the household. It can be easy as picking up toys, helping set the table, making their bed, sorting the laundry, or feeding the pets. As they grow and they learn more skills their chores can become more age appropriate. Children love knowing they can do something to help and it will help build life skills that they will need.  

7. Have them help with lunches and breakfast

With a little direction, kids can help put together their lunches and help make their breakfast. Teach them how to use the toaster, pour cereal, put a step stool in your kitchen so they can access bowls and plates. Most children by age 12 are completely capable of using the oven and stove. 

8. Let them walk to school or to the store on their own

The National Center for Safe Routes to School is working hard to help create ways for communities to make it safer for kids to walk in communities on their own. While it might be scary to allow your child to walk somewhere on their own, a 2012 study from Safe Kids USA reported that streets are safer now than they were in 1995. Letting them walk by themselves forces them to use and practice all the safety precautions you have taught them.

9. Give them time and space to solve social struggles on their own

Having challenges with friends is normal. It is part of development and a huge part of life. Kids need to learn how to navigate relationships. If you want to help your child, give them the tools or suggestions on how to deal with specific situations. It really does not help for a parent to confront another child and try to solve the problem for them. It is always good to remember that there is a big difference between social conflict and bullying. For more on this check out this article from verywellfamily.

10. Let them make mistakes

They are more likely to try new things and take risks when they know they can make mistakes and learn from them. If you try to avoid and save them from making mistakes you are taking away a very important part of development. Mistakes can be uncomfortable, but they need to learn how to be uncomfortable sometimes. 

“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” 

  • Ann Landers