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An ever-changing selection of Mrs. Wilson’s favorite recent articles on all aspects of child-development!

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“The sun is dangerous.” It’s a common refrain we hear every time Summer rolls around, often to the point to which we fear taking our family outside altogether.

But, really, the sun has gotten a bad rap, and as much as we need to all be diligent about wearing sunscreen and protective clothing when playing in the park or splashing by the pool, we should also recognize the amazing benefits that come from children being outdoors . . . and we’re not just talking about the advantages of unstructured play. Here are seven scientifically proven reasons playing outside is good for your kid’s health.

1 – It Improves Vision

Why is nearsightedness so common these days? Studies have shown that one of the key factors in distance vision impairment is that more and more time is spent indoors under artificial lights. Bright outdoor light helps children’s developing eyes maintain the correct distance between the lens and retina, which keeps vision in focus.

2 – It Provides Vitamin D

Most new parents are tasked with giving their babies daily vitamin D supplements, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the deficiencies don’t just stop after infancy. Kids of all ages — as well as adolescents and adults — often do not get enough of the vitamin, which helps ensure the body absorbs calcium, critical to prevent future bone ailments, diabetes, and heart disease. Milk is a source, but sunlight is literally the best medicine. Doctors often encourage kids to play for a few minutes in the sun without sunscreen, which blocks vitamin D, before lathering up.

3 – It Promotes Better Sleep Habits

If your kids have troublesome sleep routines, it could be because their internal body clock, known as the circadian rhythm, is off. Such “rhythms” are naturally tied to the sun’s schedule, so spending too much time inside means their bodies aren’t picking up on nature’s environmental light cues. Research has shown that early morning exposure to sunlight can help recalibrate wonky sleep cycles, so beat the crowds and get to the park early!

4 – It Offers Cleaner Air

With all the negative reports on the pollution in our air, parents might shun going outside for some “fresh air.” Although outdoor pollution is bad for your health, it turns out indoor pollutants are far worse. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor pollutants are normally two to five times higher — but can be as much as 100 times higher — than those outside.

5 – It Keeps Them Upright

Sitting too much results in impaired fat-burning capacity, decreased bone density, and increased blood pressure — not to mention a shortened life span. Kids are more apt to stand and move outdoors, and studies show that even when performing the same activities, children’s bodies are more mobile when those tasks are executed outside and more sedentary when done indoors.

6 – It Increases Attention Span

Sure, it hasn’t been definitively proven, but several studies have shown that green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children — enough to make it worth a daily stroll through the grass after school or on weekends. In fact, one such experiment conducted by the National Institutes of Health showed that this heightened attention span is evident even if kids perform the same activity in the natural environment as kids who were inside.

7 – It Reduces Stress

Similar to its positive effects on attention span, seeing green spaces can help decrease stress levels in children. Research has shown that upsetting life events cause less psychological distress when children are surrounded by high-nature conditions. Being outside is ideal, but keeping more plants in the house can also help mitigate stress-related issues.

Reinforcing Language Skills for Our Youngest Learners 

Language development is a remarkable process for parents to witness. From the time our children are infants, we want to capture those precious moments with our cameras. The babbles turn into repetitive syllables, which then turn into words and eventually sentences. It’s mesmerizing to hear our children’s first “mama” or “dada” and to watch them progress from those simple words to full conversations.

There are many things to keep in mind when thinking about little ones’ language development:

  • What they might be picking up from adults, children, and others they interact with
  • How fast they acquire language
  • What we can do to help them through this fascinating process

It’s natural to wonder if your child’s language is developing appropriately. Many parents ask themselves common questions, such as:

  • Is my child saying the number of words that doctors recommend at his age?
  • Is my child speaking as much as the neighbor’s child who is the same age?

Most of the time there is little need for concern. Each child has a unique path to language development. Our role as parents is to support them in learning at their own pace during our everyday interactions by talking, singing, and reading while playing or interacting with them. Our part in language development begins at birth.

Young Infants (birth to 8 months). When infants coo, respond to them through a give-and-take conversation by cooing and smiling back. When they seem to lose interest in the conversation, give them a little break. Sing lullabies as they fall asleep. If possible, try not to use the repetition of nonwords like “goo-goo” or “ga-ga,” also referred to as “baby talk.” This practice doesn’t enhance the child’s language acquisition skills, which are built through syllables that turn into words. Words will eventually turn into sentences. It should be noted that many parents do practice “parentese,” which, unlike baby talk, emphasizes pronunciation of a word to help young infants become more familiar with each language sound overall—for example, saying “Hellooo, baybeee” instead of “Hello, baby.” Using parentese, however, is a personal preference for each family.

Always remember to face your baby while you speak, as this will help him or her learn how words are formed. Through these activities, families will bond with their infants throughout the day and strengthen their babies’ linguistic abilities. Reading to them frequently at an early age expands their vocabularies, helps them learn the cadence of book reading, and encourages them to love books. It’s a long-term investment in their vocabulary and language skills that pays off!

Mobile Infants (9 to 17 months). During this developmental stage, it’s important to respond to an infant’s attempts to communicate. After you respond, give her time to answer in her own way. Use simple sentences and gestures to describe what you’re both doing when you’re spending time together.

  • Talk about her reactions to certain things—for instance, when she perks up after hearing the sound of rain or of voices or as she make faces during a meal: “You hear Owen in the kitchen, don’t you? Oh, here he comes!”
  • Tell stories and recite simple poems so your child becomes familiar with different language forms. You can also play music and watch for her verbal or physical response as she listens.

When you do get a response from her, validate it by reacting in front of her—that is, by imitating the child, giving a nonverbal cue, or asking a question to follow up on the child’s reaction.

Toddlers (18 to 36 months). Your little one will become extra vocal during this stage. Name and describe objects, actions, people, and feelings. Read books that introduce him to new vocabulary, and sing songs with plenty of repetitive words. You can clap along to the rhythm to help your child recognize all the sounds in the words. Always remember to have conversations with him throughout the day or when you’re together, so he can learn by hearing you speak and hearing how you use language. When he says a word or two (“Ball!”), expand on it to give him more language: “Oh! Your ball rolled under the chair!” Use affirmative statements (saying what the child can or should do) more than prohibitive statements (saying what the child should not do). For example, tell your toddler “Let’s use our walking feet” instead of “Don’t run inside.” This approach will help the child think about the right way to do something, which can be a positive reinforcement to follow your lead in a situation.

Preschoolers (3 to 5 year olds). As your child’s language skills become more complex, you’ll have lots of opportunities to engage in extended conversations with each other. Encourage her to talk during discussions, listen to her attentively as she speaks, and ask her open-ended questions relevant to what she is saying. This helps her say aloud what she’s thinking in more complex ways. Urge your child to talk about things that have already happened or that will happen in the future: “Do you remember what we saw the last time we went for a walk? . . . Yes, we saw a blue jay, didn’t we? What do you think we might see this time?”

Keep in mind that because language is a learning process, your child will make mistakes as she speaks. When children use incorrect grammar during this stage, rather than correct them, help them by responding with correct grammar as you have a conversation. If your child says, “I color orange frog,” you can respond with “Yes, I see you have colored the frog orange.” Another fun activity is asking her to share her thoughts during dramatic play, as she imagines herself in different scenarios. Feel free to use your creativity to make up stories or build onto hers—it will lead her to do the same. Make the most of reading time since it allows you to not only talk about the plot and the characters, but also to ask questions about what she sees and thinks is taking place in the story. Introduce your preschooler to complex words and what they mean. Make story time fun and meaningful. Saying “I wonder what the monkey will do next!” is more engaging for a young child than asking her, “Where do monkeys live?”

Language acquisition can be a wonderful process for all parents to witness. Especially when we acknowledge that we can take part in helping children learn and acquire the language skills they will need to communicate clearly.

November 24, 2015

Nancy Carlsson-Paige is an early childhood development expert who has been at the forefront of the debate on how best to educate — and not educate — the youngest students. She is a professor emerita of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Ma., where she taught teachers for more than 30 years and was a founder of the university’s Center for Peaceable Schools. She is also a founding member of a nonprofit called Defending the Early Years, which commissions research about early childhood education and advocates for sane policies for young children.

Carlsson-Paige is author of “Taking Back Childhood.” The mother of two artist sons, Matt and Kyle Damon, she is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Legacy Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps for work over several decades on behalf of children and families. She was just given the Deborah Meier award by the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

In her speech accepting the award (named after the renowned educator Deborah Meier), Carlsson-Paige describes what has happened in the world of early childhood education in the current era of high-stakes testing, saying, “Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.” Here’s the speech, which I am publishing with permission:

 Thank you FairTest for this Deborah Meier Hero in Education Award. FairTest does such great advocacy and education around fair and just testing practices. This award carries the name of one of my heroes in education, Deborah Meier—she’s a force for justice and democracy in education. I hope that every time this award is given, it will allow us to once again pay tribute to Deb. Also, I feel privileged to be accepting this honor alongside Lani Guinier.

When I was invited to be here tonight, I thought about the many people who work for justice and equity in education who could also be standing here. So I am thinking of all of them now and I accept this award on their behalf — all the educators dedicated to children and what’s fair and best for them.

It’s wonderful to see all of you here — so many family and friends, comrades in this struggle to reclaim excellent public education for all – not just some – of our children.

I have loved my life’s work – teaching teachers about how young children think, how they learn, how they develop socially, emotionally, morally. I’ve been fascinated with the theories and science of my field and seeing it expressed in the actions and the play of children.

So never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.

Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed. We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively — they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public pre-K at the age of 4 are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction.”

And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.

Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal – as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe. Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners. Or watch a 4-year-old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event.

But play is disappearing from classrooms. Even though we know play is learning for young kids, we are seeing it shoved aside to make room for academic instruction and “rigor.”

I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would have to fight for classrooms for young kids that are developmentally appropriate. Instead of active, hands-on learning, children now sit in chairs for far too much time getting drilled on letters and numbers. Stress levels are up among young kids. Parents and teachers tell me: children worry that they don’t know the right answers; they have nightmares, they pull out their eyelashes, they cry because they don’t want to go to school. Some people call this child abuse and I can’t disagree.

I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would be up against pressure to test and assess young kids throughout the year often in great excess — often administering multiple tests to children in kindergarten and even pre-K. Now, when young children start school, they often spend their first days not getting to know their classroom and making friends. They spend their first days getting tested. Here are words from one mother as this school year began:

“My daughter’s first day of kindergarten — her very first introduction to elementary school — consisted almost entirely of assessment. She was due at school at 9:30, and I picked her up at 11:45. In between, she was assessed by five different teachers, each a stranger, asking her to perform some task.

“By the time I picked her up, she did not want to talk about what she had done in school, but she did say that she did not want to go back. She did not know the teachers’ names. She did not make any friends. Later that afternoon, as she played with her animals in her room, I overheard her drilling them on their numbers and letters.”

The most important competencies in young children can’t be tested—we all know this. Naming letters and numbers is superficial and almost irrelevant in relation to the capacities we want to help children develop: self-regulation, problem solving ability, social and emotional competence, imagination, initiative, curiosity, original thinking — these capacities make or break success in school and life and they can’t be reduced to numbers.

Yet these days, all the money and resources, the time dedicated to professional development, they go to tooling teachers up to use the required assessments. Somehow the data gleaned from these tests is supposed to be more valid than a teacher’s own ability to observe children and understand their skills in the context of their whole development in the classroom.

The first time I saw for myself what was becoming of many of the nation’s early childhood classrooms was when I visited a program in a low-income community in north Miami. Most of the children were on free- and reduced-price lunch.

There were 10 classrooms – kindergarten and pre-K. The program’s funding depended on test scores, so — no surprise — teachers taught to the test. Kids who got low scores, I was told, got extra drills in reading and math and didn’t get to go to art. They used a computer program to teach 4- and 5-year-olds how to “bubble.” One teacher complained to me that some children go outside the lines.

In one of the kindergartens I visited, the walls were barren and so was the whole room. The teacher was testing one little boy at a computer at the side of the room. There was no classroom aide. The other children were sitting at tables copying words from the chalk board. The words were: “No talking. Sit in your seat. Hands to Yourself.”

The teacher kept shouting at them from her testing corner: Be quiet! No talking!

Most of the children looked scared or disengaged, and one little boy was sitting alone. He was quietly crying. I will never forget how these children looked or how it felt to watch them, I would say, suffering in this context that was such a profound mismatch with their needs.

It’s in low-income, under-resourced communities like this one where children are most subjected to heavy doses of teacher-led drills and tests. Not like in wealthier suburbs where kids have the opportunity to go to early childhood programs that have play, the arts, and project-based learning. It’s poverty — the elephant in the room — that is the root cause of this disparity.

A few months ago, I was alarmed to read a report from the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showing that more than 8,000 children from public preschools across the country were suspended at least once in a school year, many more than once. First of all, who suspends a preschooler? Why and for what? The very concept is bizarre and awful. But 8,000? And then to keep reading the report to see that a disproportionate number of those suspended preschoolers were low income, black boys.

There is a connection, I know, between these suspensions and ed reform policies: Children in low-income communities are enduring play deficient classrooms where they get heavy doses of direct teaching and testing. They have to sit still, be quiet in their seats and comply. Many young children can’t do this and none should have to.

I came home from that visit to the classrooms in North Miami in despair. But fortunately, the despair turned quickly to organizing. With other educators we started our nonprofit Defending the Early Years. We have terrific early childhood leaders with us (some are here tonight: Deb Meier, Geralyn McLaughlin, Diane Levin and Ayla Gavins). We speak in a unified voice for young children.

We publish reports, write op eds, make videos and send them out on YouTube, we speak and do interviews every chance we get.

We’ve done it all on a shoestring. It’s almost comical: The Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million just to promote the Common Core. Our budget at Defending the Early Years is .006 percent of that.

We collaborate with other organizations. FairTest has been so helpful to us. And we also collaborate with –Network for Public Education, United Opt Out, many parent groups, Citizens for Public Schools, Badass Teachers, Busted Pencils Radio, Save Our Schools, Alliance for Childhood and ECE PolicyWorks —There’s a powerful network out there – of educators, parents and students — and we see the difference we are making.

We all share a common vision: Education is a human right and every child deserves one. An excellent, free education where learning is meaningful – with arts, play, engaging projects, and the chance to learn citizenship skills so that children can one day participate — actively and consciously – in this increasingly fragile democracy.

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The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and KaBOOM! are working together to help kids get the balanced and active play they need to thrive. Rhian Evans Allvin, executive director of NAEYC, and Darell Hammond, founder and CEO of KaBOOM!, discuss the importance of play in education and the positive impact it has on communities.

Why is play important to education?

Rhian Evans Allvin: Neuroscience has confirmed that learning begins at birth and the period from birth to age five includes rapid brain development—setting the foundation for cognitive, social/emotional, language and fine and gross motor skills. In order to achieve the academic excellence and equity that is essential—we must invest in our young children during this window of explosive development.

Young children engage in various kinds of play, such as physical play, object play, pretend or dramatic play, constructive play, and games with rules. Play gives them opportunities to develop physical competence and enjoyment of the outdoors, understand and make sense of their world, interact with others, express and control emotions, develop their symbolic and problem-solving abilities, and practice emerging skills. Research shows the links between play and foundational capacities such as memory, self-regulation, oral language abilities, social skills, and success in school.

Children of all ages love to play. From infancy, children act on the world around them for the pleasure of seeing what hap¬pens; for example, repeatedly dropping a spoon on the floor or pulling the cat’s tail. Around age two, children begin to demonstrate symbolic use of objects—for instance, picking up a shell and pre¬tending to drink as from a cup—at least when they have had opportunities to observe others engaging in such make-believe behavior.

From such beginnings, children begin to engage in more mature forms of dramatic play, in which by the age of 3–5 they may act out specific roles, interact with one another in their roles, and plan how the play will go. Such play is influential in developing self-regulation, as children are highly motivated to stick to the roles and rules of the play, and thus grow in the ability to inhibit their impulses, act in coordination with others, and make plans. High-level dramatic play produces documented cognitive, social, and emotional ben¬efits.

Darell Hammond: As global competition increases, it is imperative that children develop a skill-set relevant to today’s workforce and are able to approach challenges with creative solutions to successfully navigate our complex, ever-changing world. Critical thinking and collaboration are integral to the jobs of the future, and balanced and active play helps kids develop these 21st century skills.

Unfortunately, however, play is disappearing in our schools. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 30 percent of children surveyed had little to no recess in their school day. That’s nearly one in three kids. At KaBOOM!, we believe play should be part of a well-rounded school day. That is, kids need to read, write, do math, as well as practice problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity. We know play also helps children adjust to the school setting, enhances their learning readiness, and indirectly contributes to children learning more hard skills in school by mitigating behavioral problems and increasing academic engagement.

We are thrilled to partner with NAEYC, to raise awareness about the importance of play in early childhood education. As part of this commitment, we are granting Imagination Playgrounds to 10 NAEYC member sites. This unique and innovative play product will help transform regular classrooms into playspaces that encourage learning, social development, critical thinking, movement, and fun!

How does play benefit kids?

Rhian: We see a wonderful interplay of domains as children play—they demonstrate their approaches to learning, they can engage with others in a social relationship, they attempt things that are challenging, yet achievable—which enhances their self-esteem. Children express emotions as they play. There’s also an integration of math, literacy, science, and other academic areas as children play—constructing, classifying, sorting, seriating, quantifying, and practicing other skills. Physical play supports the development of gross and fine motor skills. Who knew that a classic game of Simon Says is actually building the same inhibitory control that is needed to follow academic instructions later in school?  Research now demonstrates the development of self-regulation or executive function in sociodramatic (imaginative, pretend) play leads to higher achievement—a very important benefit!

Darell: At KaBOOM!, we believe that the well-being of society begins with the well-being of children. This is why we’re such big advocates of balanced and active play, which is essential—and elemental—to enable children to thrive.

Just as a healthy diet balances proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and other nutrients, a balanced “play diet” should include a mix of all kinds of play, because different types have different benefits. For example, play-dough creations, blocks, and make-believe spark the imagination and teach problem-solving skills. Running, jumping, and climbing get legs moving and hearts pumping. And exploring playgrounds with families or playing hide-and-seek with friends helps kids learn to work together, collaborate, and share. A balance of play means active minds, active bodies, and active together to realize all of play’s benefits.

What impact can play have on cities?

Darell: Across the United States, cities and communities are engaged in a fierce contest for the future. They are competing for businesses, economic development, and jobs. They are competing for residents—for families who will breathe energy and enterprise into their neighborhoods. The fact is, for communities to thrive, they need to ensure that all of their residents are happy, healthy, and contributing to their community’s overall vitality.  One essential ingredient in the recipe is a renewed commitment to fostering family-friendly, kid-friendly environments that allow young people to get their bodies moving and their minds engaged no matter where they are.

All families deserve to live in a safe community with ample job opportunities, great schools and abundant opportunities to play, but we currently have inequitable distribution of services, resources, and opportunities for low-income families. This inequity serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty that threatens our nation’s economic future. Creating kid-friendly, family-friendly cities filled with play is a competitive advantage for cities to attract and retain residents, and it directly impacts the kids that need it most.

Rhian: The provision of family-friendly, kid-friendly environments is a hallmark of sustainable communities. All families want to live in areas where there are many opportunities for children to play outdoors in areas that are safe and conducive to big body play, using their imaginations and equipment that is tailored to their needs. That’s the kind of community I want to live in—and fortunately I do!

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Five Specific Examples for How to Apply Play as Discipline by Andy Smithson

Play is more than fun. It’s language. It’s communication. It’s a laboratory for life. It opens the imagination and introduces us to great possibilities. This isn’t just true for kids. We all love to play. What we play as we grow often changes, but play continues to be an important part of life. It inspires and motivates. Play is one of the greatest catalysts for growth and happiness.

You asked…

There was an incredible response to my recent article, “How to use Play as Discipline.” Many readers asked for more examples of how to actually use play as a method for teaching our children in proactive, positive and preventative ways. This follow up article will provide several practical and specific examples of disciplinary issues that can be addressed through play, without the fights, arguments or bad feelings.

5 Scenarios you might face

1. Teach Table manners:

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Many parents complain of a struggle at the dinner table that seems almost inevitable as kids start to feed themselves. They are up and down in their chairs. They reach across the table to grab the rolls. They complain about the food or refuse to eat. They make loud noises and demand, “Get me water.” Parents struggle to intervene and teach basic table manners. After asking over and over again to “sit down, use your inside voice or say please,” the situation often escalates. Sometimes they comply, sometimes voices raise, arguments begin and dinner doesn’t seem to taste as good as it should.

Play as discipline:

There are so many play opportunities to practice appropriate table manners. No matter whether your child is boy or girl, having a tea or dinner party with their stuffed animals, action figures, or rock collection can be a perfect laboratory for learning and practicing appropriate ways to act at the dinner table. Sit down with your child at their table and ask them how they would like their guests to act at the table. Model manners and ask them if you can take turns being the host or hostess that gets to serve the food and drink. If one of the characters at the table is acting up, ask your child what they might do to use polite manners.

2. Teach them to follow instructions/pay attention:

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“They never listen!” This is a common exclamation of frustrated parents. The scenario looks something like this. Your child is watching his after school cartoons and you ask him to stop and go clean his room or finish his homework. He seems not to even hear you. Most of the time it’s not that he doesn’t hear, it’s that he doesn’t comply. Other times we give a simple list of 2 or 3 things you would like them to accomplish and come back to the room only five minutes later to find them distracted and the task undone. In this case, kids often struggle to pay attention and maintain that attention throughout a requested task.

Play as discipline:

If your child is struggling to attend and follow directions, there are a myriad of games and playful exercises that teach and even help to increase brain capacity for attention and following directions. Simple games like “Simon says” and “Red light Green Light” are quick and fun. Inviting our kids to do small tasks in a play situation over time can help to increase compliance at other times. The following three activities are also good for challenging attention and following directions.

  • The cup game: Take three small cups that are the same (same color, size and not see through). Place an M&M under one of the cups and then move and weave the cups through each other. Ask your child to watch the cup with the M&M under it. Keep track of how many times you move the cups. Start with a number of moves that is doable for your child. Each time they guess the right cup repeat the process, increasing the number of times the cups are moved before they get to guess and get the M&M. (You can use whatever treat you want. This game is especially effective and helpful for children with very short attention spans.)
  • Can you draw what I’m drawing?: This game is great with kids that love to draw. Both you and your child need a blank piece of paper and something to draw with (Pen, pencil, markers, crayons, etc.). Put a wall or blind between you and your child so that neither one can see the other’s paper. Take turns describing to your child what you are drawing while they follow the instructions and attempt to draw the same thing. Then switch roles. Be as specific as possible, using very clear directions like, “Draw a small circle in the top right hand corner. Now, draw a wavy line, about a pinky length from the bottom of the page, from one side, all the way to the other side.” You’ll find that it is very difficult to give directions that are easily understood and interpreted. Talk with your child about what it was like, both to receive the instructions and to give them. It becomes a great springboard for talking about clear communication, listening to each other and following daily instructions in the home.
  • Add on: You can play add on just about anywhere. You can do it with spoken and written words, body movements or anything else you can think of. The concept is to start with one word, actions, etc. The other person then adds on to that word or action. Each individual playing the game listens or watches carefully and tries to remember and say/do each of the words or actions in the correct sequence. This can be played with just you and your child or in a group. This game challenges both kids and adults to listen carefully and extend their attention and memory to follow the directives.

3. Teach them to manage anger/aggression:

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Everyone always talks about teaching young children new ways to express and manage their “big emotions,” but what does that look like in practice? I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced the wrath of their 3 or 4 year old, or any age really. Kids’ emotional regulation centers of the brain are not fully developed for a long time. Parents often have to act as external emotional regulators by calming ourselves and acting in calm and soothing ways, even when the kids have lost their cool. With that said, even though kid’s anger management, impulse control and emotional regulation capacity are not completely developed until they are ready to leave our keeping, that does not mean that there cannot be significant growth in these abilities. When we help them learn skills and model these ourselves, development happens more quickly and is more advanced at younger ages.

Play as discipline:

This is one of my favorites! Anger and aggressive behavior are one of those things that parents are always struggling to figure out how to deal with. A couple things to remember before we dive into specific play interventions is, first, anger is a normal emotion that everyone feels at some time, second, kids struggle developmentally to manage their responses to anger and third, the hardest time to teach the skills they need to productively express anger is during the heated moment. The follow activities are ways you can address anger and teach a better way during the good times.

  • Creative play: Creative play outlets like play dough, legos, art and music are excellent ways to discuss feeling in a natural and fun way. You can ask your child to create some thing that makes them mad or frustrated or something that represents how they feel when they are angry. They can draw their emotions, any way they want to. These kinds of creative play are emotionally expressive and can help us understand motives and ways to help them with their anger when they are in the middle of it or can help them find ways to understand and deal with their feelings.
  • Imaginative role playing: Any kind of figure play can be used as a way to role play through problems or conflicts and find proactive solutions. The awesome thing about this is that it addresses the issues without making the child feel attacked or defensive. You can set up an argument between GI Joes or a conflict between family members in the doll house. Then you can ask questions like, “What does the Duke like to do to help him feel better?” Or “How do you think they can work together?”
  • Relaxation and coping play: There are some great ways to teach kids how to do deep relaxation breathing and other relaxation skills. Blowing bubbles can be an effective way for kids to better understand how to breathe deeply and then to regulate the breath as they exhale. You can also make a list of yours and their favorite games, toys or activities and post them. Then randomly select one of them when you are stressed or frustrated to model positive distraction and coping skills. Redirect and encourage them to use these “go to” activities when they get upset.
  • Problem solving games: Playing match with pictures of actual people’s faces is an amazing game that helps to develop emotional regulation centers in the brain. Other problem solving games where kids are required to work through a problem and find alternative actions and solutions also help kids to see the bigger picture and develop better decision making skills.
  • Social stories and skills reading: Read books that teach about emotions or tell stories that you build upon each step and anticipate cause and effect relationships. I Love the book, “Mouse was Mad” by Linda Urban.

4. Teach Polite and kind language and communication:

Scene:

“Your stupid!” “I know you are but what am I?” You may have heard something like this come from your children’s mouths at some time. Some of you may be thinking, “Are you kidding, that is mild,” while other parents with kids that aren’t talking yet are thinking, “My child will never talk like that!” None of us enjoy being “sassed” or “disrespected.” It can really grate on our nerves when our kids are talking rudely to one another, but it seems like demanding it stop “right this minute” is unenforceable and usually breeds further disrespect from the kids and often from the parent too. Teaching kind and respectful words through play may not change everything overnight but it will make a difference and will build long lasting growth and cycles of respect.

Play as discipline:

Try these activities to teach kind, polite and respectful language.

  • Deliberate Modeling during play of your child’s choice: Just play something of your child’s choosing. Let them lead the game or play activity. The biggest tip to address issues of disrespectful language is simply to model respectful talk and interactions. Be polite. Say please, thank you and excuse me. Wait your turn and be kind. Try to cut out the sarcasm or negative remarks. Be conscious of how you are acting and talking. When kids are playing, they are sponges and will soak up the modeled behavior.
  • Compliment Hot Potato: This is exactly what it sounds like. Play hot potato but as you or your kids catch the potato they have to say something nice about someone else in the group.
  • Board games: Boundaries are already built in to playing board games. There are predetermined rules and expectations. Playing Board games can reinforce polite interactions.

5. Teach them to set goals and follow through with difficult tasks:

Scene:

I’ve heard that not every child in the world is always uber-motivated to complete chores or homework. Sometimes kids struggles to complete long or difficult tasks. When kids get frustrated and have a hard time delaying gratification, simple daily tasks can become miserable, for both the child and the parent.

Play as discipline:

There is incredible value in finding play activities that require prolonged effort. They should be fun and interesting to the child but should pose a challenge. You can help them to identify personal goals and objectives of what they want to accomplish through their play activity and help them to achieve it. I just finished writing a guest post on how to build a fort in your back yard that also builds character in your child. Building things like forts, castles, obstacle courses, or anything else that interests them can be excellent ways to encourage and teach them how to set goals and enjoy actively working toward them. Try these or find other activities that are customized to your child’s interests.

  • Building a fort: Building a real fort, made of real wood and nails is a task that will take more than a couple hours or even one afternoon. As your kids help with building the fort, they can see their goals in action, the progress and the realization of their achievement. Other activities that teach motivation and goal setting might include: making a craft, creating a lego creation, learning to dance or anything else that takes multiple sessions to complete.

One last thing to remember is that, apart from teaching our children and proactively dealing with ongoing negative cycles in more positive ways through play, play is also for you as a parent. Play is fun. Play helps us see our whole child and all of their beautiful innocence. It helps us connect, even if that means to simply watch them play. Play, with no other motive than just being together in a happy environment and spending time in our child’s world, can have far reaching affects on influence and relationship.

I recently watched the movie “Saving Mr. Banks” and was touched by a song from the musical “Mary Poppins” that frankly, I had never liked before. At the end of Mary Poppins, Mr. and Mrs. Banks come home and the movie concludes with “Let’s go Fly a Kite.” The magical nanny’s job is not complete until the children’s father comes home to play with them. Play is an excellent way to fulfill all three of the essential TRU principles of Teaching, Relationship and Upgrading ourselves all in one act.

Question: What struggles are you having that you would like play ideas that help to teach and deal with that issue?

If you liked this article, and know someone who would benefit from it, please LIKE and SHARE it on Facebook, other social media or just send them an email. You may also like the following articles. “How to Use Play as Discipline” or any of the articles pictured below.

Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of “5 Jump Starters for Powerful Family Cycles: Creating Happier and More Effective Parenting THIS Week!”

Some other great resource for activity ideas and play as discipline is “Playful Parenting” and “Playwise” by Denise Chapman Weston and Mark S. Weston as well as the book “Playful Parenting” by Lawrence J. Cohen.

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Spring into Development with Sand and Water Play by Dr. Marianne Gibbs

Create exciting learning experiences naturally with sand and water play.  Whether you use an elevated sand/water table or simply a large plastic container on the floor, your young children will automatically engage in play that supports development of multiple domains.  Keep it fresh–change your manipulatives often just like you do in all other playful learning centers in your classroom or at home.  The skills children develop during sand/water play support the whole child in all domains of learning for a lifetime!

Cognitive:  Children play with a purpose and build cognitive skills like sorting, problem solving, investigating, exploring, explaining, critical/creative thinking, classifying, comparing volume and measurement properties at the sand/water table.  Watch the brainwork begin when children dig for and examine buried treasure!                     

Physical-Motor:  Standing at the sand/water table facilitates the use of fingers, hands, arms, and trunk while maintaining overall balance and coordination of the body.  Playing and digging with shovels, funnels, and scoops in sand or water provides resistive activity, which improves body awareness.  Skills of eye-hand coordination and grasping are needed for future writing are practiced at the sand/water table through play.
 sand and water

Social:  Interactive and pretend play is how children learn and develop the social skills of verbal communication, sharing, helping, compromising, requesting, offering, and friendship building.  Consider the sand/water table a smaller version of the beach!

Speech and Language:  The gathering of children around an emotionally engaging activity promotes the use of spontaneous speech and language–a must for all young children developing skills for reading and writing!
Sensory:  Playing in sand, birdseed, or water allows children to feel different textures through their hands.  This in turn gives the brain the opportunity to process a variety of tactile experiences in order to understand different sensations (i.e. grainy, smooth, dry, wet, etc…).  Stereognosis, the ability to comprehend an item by touching only, develops when children feel and identify items that they cannot see (e.g. toys hidden in sand). Encourage exploration of manipulatives using tools like mini wooden tongs if a child resists touching media directly.

Tip:  If the idea of “messiness” is preventing you from providing the excellent learning opportunity of sand/water play, spread shower curtains out under your sand/water activity center to minimize clean-up.  Remember – it’s about the children!

Spring Into Development Right Now….Write Out of the Box!

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BOARD NOT BORED! by Dr. Jean & Friends

All I want for Christmas is for parents to spend more time interacting with their children…reading, talking, playing board games!  And if you want to know what children really want, it’s the same thing – time and attention from their parents!  Instead of buying expensive video games, suggest your parents give their children good old-fashioned board games like Go Fish, Old Maid, or Candy Land this year.

 Why?
The most important reason to play games with children is because it’s enjoyable and fun for everyone in the family.  Research studies also suggest that when children play games they develop academic as well as social and emotional skills, such as:
*number concepts, counting, shapes
*colors, letters, words
*eye-hand coordination and small motor skills
*visual memory
*following rules
*taking turns
*self-regulation – controlling impulses
*improved attention span
*how to lose gracefully – how to learn from their mistakes
*planning ahead and problem solving
*persistence – never give up
When you think about the focus of most video games versus interactive social games, it’s clear who the winner is!
Helpful Hints!
Follow the child’s lead.  Never force children to complete a game or play a game.  Remember, it’s suppose to be FUN!  It’s perfectly fine to adapt games and rules for younger children to keep their interest.  As they get older they will be ready to “play fair” and follow the rules.
Oh, Well!  Model appropriate behavior and how to lose.  Demonstrate how to open your palms and say, “Oh, well!” when something doesn’t go your way.
How do you choose games just right for children’s age and stage?  Games that are too difficult will frustrate children, and games that are too easy will lose their interest.  Most games have a suggested age range on the box.  Here’s a site with additional ideas for games:
Game Day
January and February can always be challenging times for teachers.  Why not plan a “game day” every Friday afternoon?  Invite children to bring games from home.  Divide children into groups of 4 and rotate them through 10-15 minutes of each game.   Have parent volunteers or upper grade students help monitor the games.
It’s only a game, but it’s a WIN-WIN at home or at school!
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Crossing Midline in Handwriting Begins with Brooms and Rakes! by Dr. Marianne Gibbs

Crossing midline means that the two sides of the brain are working together in activity and is first expressed through gross motor movements. Movements such as erasing the chalkboard, wiping off a table, sweeping the floor, raking leaves, or reaching across the center of the body for passing/retrieving objects are perfect, everyday activities that encourage crossing midline. Young children are one step closer to forming shapes, symbols, and letters such as a plus sign (+), x, N, and t when they use their hands and arms across the body in functional, gross motor activities. Gross motor development supports the fine motor development of young children!

Two wonderful crossing midline activities mentioned above are sweeping the floor and raking leaves – children love to be big helpers! But please remember, the perfectly swept floor or impeccable pile of leaves is not the goal when young children sweep and rake. Rather, it is understanding that the physical process of crossing midline activities facilitates high-level brain development needed for performing the skill of handwriting!

Promote Crossing the Midline…Write Out of the Box!

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Newsletter #5 – Paper, Pencils & Props – Dr. Jean & Friends

Dear Parents,

Did you know that every time your child scribbles, that’s the beginning of learning to write?  Those little squiggles and lines will turn into letters, words, and stories one day!  Here are some great tools that will give your child the opportunity to explore and develop small motor skills.
*Note!  Monitor the use of these materials and set rules and limits to where and when they can be used.
1.    Keep pencils, pens, crayons, colored pencils, notepads, paper, spiral notebooks, and so forth in a basket or old briefcase.  Encourage your child to play with these items inside at a table or outside at a picnic bench.
2.    Make play dough, tape, water colors, a hole punch, safety scissors, washable markers, construction paper, stickers and other art media available to your child.  (This would actually be a better birthday gift than a toy!)  You might want to store these in a plastic tub or backpack to make them convenient to get out and clean up.
3.    Value your child’s work by framing it or hanging it on the refrigerator.
4.    All children enjoy drawing with chalk on the sidewalk.  Or you could place a chalkboard in your garage or basement.
5.    Save forms from magazines or junk mail for children to write on.
6.    A magic slate, dry erase board, seasonal pencil, note cards, and other props will engage your child in writing.

Happy writing!

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Brain Engineers – Dr. Jean & Friends

The next time someone asks you what you do, just smile and say, “I’m a brain engineer!”  Sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it?  But you really are a brain engineer because every day you wire up children’s brains and help them learn, think, create, and feel.

We know that children’s brains are twice as active as adult brains, and that’s why teachers have to be so quick on their feet!  The more I study about the brain, the more I realize what teachers have always done naturally (and well) is still the key to stimulating children’s brains.  Here are a few tips for you “engineers”:

1.    The brain likes rich experiences, novelty, and challenges.  When children are interested, then their brains will be more engaged.

2.    Sensory stimulation is important.  The more senses you activate, the more likely the message will get to the brain.

3.  The brain remembers images.  50% to 80% of the brain’s natural processing power is devoted to sight.

4.    A safe, secure environment is essential to a healthy brain (and body).  When you follow a daily schedule and routine, children feel confident and can focus on learning.

5.    The only way to the head is through the heart.  Take care of those emotional factors and relationships.

6.    The brain needs good nutrition, water, and plenty of rest.

7.    Brain breaks and neurobic exercises need to be integrated into the day.  Neuroscience suggests that our attention span is 10 minutes and instruction needs to be varied accordingly.

8.  Brain growth time (quiet time for thinking and reflection) is also important for students to process information.

9.    Death is silent and learning is noisy!  Children need to talk and be encouraged to ask questions.

10.    Music and movement are magic!  Children can learn anything with a song and dance.

11. Repetition, repetition, repetition!  However, feedback during practice is important to make sure the correct information is stored in the brain.

Every child is unique and every child’s brain is unique!  But, good “brain engineers” like YOU know when you are making those connections through the children’s twinkling eyes, smiles, and enthusiasm!  Although I know it’s frustrating because there is such a dissonance between brain research and classroom practice, the more you know the more power you have to advocate for active learning and a happy, noisy classroom!!!

Here are some of my favorite resources to stimulate your brains this summer:

Hannaford, C.  (2005).  Smart moves:  why learning is not all in your head.  Salt Lake City, UT:  Great River Books.
Jensen, E.  (2008).  Brain-based learning.  Del Mar, CA:  Turning Point.
Medina, J.  (2010),  Brain rules.  Seattle, WA:  Pear Press.
Ratey, J.  2008).  Spark.  The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain.  New York:  Little Brown and Company.
Schiller, P.  (1999).  Start smart.  Beltsville, MD:  Gryphon House.
Wolfe, P.  (2001).  Brain matters:  translating research into classroom practice.  Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.

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It’s All About Play! – Dr. Jean & Friends                                                            

Birds do it.
Kittens do it.
Even chimpanzee
In the zoo do it.
Why can’t
Little children
Do it, too?

PLAY!  That beautiful little four letter word that is at the heart of childhood, but is sadly disappearing.  What most adults don’t realize is that play is NOT a frivolous waste of time.  PLAY is the child’s WORK and play is how young children learn best!   It’s also the teachers’ work to be ADVOCATES FOR PLAY!  The more you know about play, the more you can align it to standards and what is best for children.  If you’ll go to my June article on my website you’ll find my “Cliff Notes PLAY Book.”

Froebel had the right idea over 150 years when he created “children’s gardens.”  Before you can grow anything, you have to work long and hard to prepare the soil.  Before children can grow into creative, well-adjusted, happy adults, we have to prepare the soil in their gardens.  Singing, dancing, running outside, pretending, building, laughing, exploring…these are the essential ingredients for young children that will create the rich soil from which they will grow the rest of their lives.

Every child deserves time.  Time to play, space to play, open-ended materials to explore, and friends to play with!  They need time to develop their imaginations, bodies, and creativity.  Play is not a luxury or a spectator sport!  Play can build childhood memories of JOY, DELIGHT, RELATIONSHIPS, and FUN!  Memories that will serve them well as they travel through their lives!

This quote kept coming up in my brain as I studied about play:
People don’t stop playing because they grow old.
They grow old because they stop playing!

Maybe we, too, need to play a little more and do things that bring us joy and make us happy!

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