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. 

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

Back to School for Teachers

We know that once teachers go back to school for planning week and the first days of school our To-Do lists seem to never end. Back to school for teachers is a very busy time of year. 

There is so much to do to get ready and then the students arrive and there is so much to do. Let’s be honest, it’s what our lives are like all school year long. Too much to do and so little time. 

Over the years we have had relatively easy transitions into school, somewhat stressful transitions, and incredibly anxious transitions back to school. Often times there are many things that are out of our control that can cause stress. A construction site that has not been completed at the school, a new partner you have never met, an unorganized administration, a mandatory change in classrooms, too many meetings and zero classroom prep during planning week, are all things that can cause teachers so much stress and anxiety. We know! We have been there!

We have some suggestions for a smooth and less stressful transition into a new school year:

1) Go into your classroom before planning week
If your school lets you go to your class before planning week, try to go in a couple of days. Honestly, doing this has been a life saver for us. Not only do you get to catch up with the office staff before everyone else, but you can turn up the music and clean, organize, make lists, and set up. Doing this lets you cross some things off your to do list before you are at the will of admin, parents, and students. 

2) Do not compare your classroom to Pinterest or Instagram classrooms
It is really hard to see perfectly beautiful classrooms on social media and think that we are not doing enough because ours do not look like that. Know that it is ok. Your classroom will be perfect for your students because you prepared and worked so hard on it. You can take some inspiration from classrooms and set ups from social media, but know that your students will love their classroom and it doesn’t have to be perfect.  

3) Try your best, but know it’s ok to not be or feel 100% ready 
Don’t feel like you have to have the whole year planned out by day one. Take it a month, a week, or a day at a time. And if your classroom is a work in progress, that is okay too. No one knows what you didn’t put up except for you. 

4) The first few days of school should be about getting to know your students and routines and procedures of the classroom
The best thing is to spend time getting to know your students and letting them know what systems are in place and finding out what you can do to set your students up for success. One piece of advice to try to form your own opinions about students. Even if a previous teacher had some challenges, be open to getting to know each and every student. 

5) Email parents to let them know how their child has transitioned into the classroom within the first week of school
Even if it is just a quick line to tell them how their child made new friends, or is showing enthusiasm for the new school year. It is great to stay positive at the beginning and try to find good things to say about each child.

7) If you see issues with students setup a meeting sooner rather than later
If a child is having a rough transition, it is best to meet with parents early on so you can develop a support plan. Let the parent know that you are on their side and want to partner with them to help support the child. 

8) Have fun and be flexible
Try to have fun with your students, even if you are feeling the stresses of the start of school. Your plans might change and just go with it, be flexible. There are so many opportunities to model flexibility in our classrooms. Often times a lesson, technology, or project will not go the way you planned it. It’s great to point out to kids when things go wrong, and model how to overcome challenges. 

9) Self Care
What we must all remember is that we can only do our best, and if things do not get done, that is ok. Teachers often feel that we must give and sacrifice ourselves for our classrooms. But guess what? That is not sustainable. The most important thing is to prioritize and find a BALANCE!


Educational Games for Kids

Summer vacation is winding down and it seems that back to school is seen on the horizon. However, we know that for some there are still a few more weeks of summer break left. 

With these long days of summer still upon us, we understand that children might need some extra activities or things to play with. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Research demonstrates that developmentally appropriate play with parents and peers is a singular opportunity to promote the social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills that build executive function and a prosocial brain.”

Play is a fundamental aspect of learning for children. There are a lot of options for toys and games that are available for children today. In our classrooms, we have educational toys and games that our students absolutely adore playing with during free time. And we believe it is important to schedule in free play for kids. This is a great time to allow for choices on what games they are interested in. Games are good for imaginative play, reviewing concepts taught, pre-teaching, practicing skills  . . . and for FUN. 

Below are some educational toys that we recommend for children to play with. Many of these games we have or would love to have in our classrooms.

  1. Video Game Creation Kit
  2. Cardboard Tool Kit 
  3. Build Your Own Marble Coaster
  4. Botany Experimental Green-House
  5. Osmo- Genius Kit for iPad
  6. Osmo- Pizza Co. Game
  7. IQ Builder- STEM
  8. Zingo Sight Words Early Reading Game
  9. Money Bags Coin Value Game
  10. Squishy Human Body Anatomy Kit
  11. Magna Tiles- House
  12. Playstix
  13. Plank Set
  14. Brain Blox
  15. Straw Constructor

Games and play are essential for development. It is important to make time for play at home and in the classroom. At times we may prioritize more structured learning, but as we love to bring up, it is all about balance. This type of development is just as important! 

Check out this resource we found on The Power of Play

Got game recommendations? Let us know in the comments below!