Musical Chores

Every Mom and Dad out there could use some help with the housework, but there are seldom any volunteers.  It’s time to make like “Tom Sawyer” and show your family how much fundoing chores can be.

Get the cleaning supplies out and assign everyone a chore or a room to clean according to age and / or skill level. (Be advised you may have to demonstrate the proper way to dust, sweep, take out the garbage, or wash a sink etc., and warn kids not to use harmful chemicals.)

Now for the fun part, put on your favorite dance music (everyone can vote) and have fun dusting, loading the dishwasher or picking up stray toys in the living room. When your kids see you bustin’ your best dance moves, they’ll want to join in on the fun too. Meet periodically in the kitchen to check things off the list, pass inspection, or have a small snack. You make even want to make a game or a contest out of it and award prizes to the best helpers. Working together shows kids the value of helping each other to get the jobs done, and strengthens family bonds. as well!

 

Sincerely,

The Meadows

I Thought My Kid Didn’t Need Preschool. I Was Wrong.

I Thought My Kid Didn’t Need Preschool. I Was Wrong.

It’s recently been verified — and not for the first time — in a report authored by a plethora of early childhood professionals from prestigious institutions such as Duke, Vanderbilt, Rutgers, and Harvard, just to name a few. They found that preschoolers show significantly higher levels of kindergarten-readiness than their non-attending counterparts. 

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The Toughest Enemy Of A Good Dad Is A Micromanaging Mom

I’m a dad, and even though fathers are more involved in parenting than ever, I’ll be the first to admit that moms run the parenting world. I’m not here to bash mothers, because I think they have the toughest and most thankless job there is, but I hope you’ll hear me out on this.

As you experience the joy, frustrations, pressures, and fears of motherhood, oftentimes there’s a dad who shares the same joy, frustrations, pressures, and fears that you do. Additionally, he’s trying to find his way and solidify his identity as a father. He wants to be helpful, nurturing, and a true parenting partner.

But then it happens.

Dad hears snickers from mom as he’s attempting to style his daughter’s hair. Mom hovers over dad like a hawk while he changes his baby’s diaper ensure it’s done “correctly.” Mom leaves a handwritten five-page instruction manual for dad when she leaves the house for a few hours.

You get the idea.

Does every mom act this way? Of course not. But everyone reading this probably knows of at least one mom who does. It’s usually not because her man is a complete idiot (and if he is a complete idiot, that brings up a whole new set of issues to discuss), it’s because of good old-fashioned maternal gatekeeping. Yes, that’s an actual thing, defined as the behaviors of moms directed at dads, and those behaviors play a role in how involved fathers are with their children.

When I worked in corporate training, I understood that an extremely big fear of adult learners is to look foolish in front of their peers. Whenever that happens, oftentimes these grown-ass men and women go into a shell, and it damn near takes the jaws of life to get them out.

So if Joe from Accounting went into a shell when the instructor for the billing-system-training class snapped at him for providing the wrong answer, how do you think a man would react to getting snapped at repeatedly — by the woman he loves — for doing something “wrong” in regards to parenting? Unlike Joe from Accounting, these men are students in the most important class ever: being a dad. And if their partners ridicule their abilities to do the job, oftentimes these men will just back away completely and harbor a shitload of resentment as well.

I’ve lost count of the number of dads who’ve reached out to me since I started writing just to vent about this issue. One dad told me that his desire to be a father has waned significantly due to his wife’s incessant micromanaging. Another dad expressed that he’s so unhappy with his wife’s parenting critiques that they’re currently in counseling in hopes of saving their marriage. The constant second-guessing, fear of messing up, and feeling like an idiot on a daily basis can become too much to take.

Is maternal gatekeeping the only factor that influences a dad’s behavior? Absolutely not, but it certainly is a factor to be taken seriously, and a study showed just that. Moms who offered encouragement to dads had a much stronger impact than criticism (duh, I know).

My wife is similar to most moms in the sense that she’s not a demon hell-bent on crushing the spirits of new dads all over the world; she just wants what’s best for her kids. But there were plenty of times when I had to remind her in no uncertain terms that “I got this.” Because (you guessed it), we dads want what’s best for our kids, too.

Men and women do almost everything differently, so it’s to be expected that dads may tackle parenting tasks a little differently than moms do. That’s okay. He may allow your son to munch on more junk food than you would normally allow, he may dress your daughter in an outfit that doesn’t perfectly match, he may allow his daughter to take more risks at the playground, and he may be the world’s worst hairstylist, but at the end of the day, does any of that shit really matter? Unless your kid’s life is in danger or there is serious risk of injury, please back the hell up and let him connect with his child. The world needs more men who are intrinsically motivated to be great daddies, not fewer.

The best part about letting a dad be a dad? The bond he will form with his little one will be impenetrable, he will be a more engaged partner, and most of all, he will be happy. That’s a gift that keeps on giving, and your family will reap the benefits.

 

Doyin Richards

@daddydoinwork

10 Ways to curb a Temper Tantrum

Most parents wish they could disappear or become invisible when their child has a tantrum in public. Onlookers can be very judgmental, thinking that the child is spoiled and unruly or the parents are doing a poor job. Actually, neither of those notions are the case. Tantrums are common in children from 1 to 4 years old. They don’t happen because the child deliberately wants to cause a scene, or because the parents have been lax in disciplining the child. The usual cause is due to the child’s frustration in not being able to express what they want.

 

A child throwing a tantrum can become quite animated, literally throwing themselves on the floor, flailing their arms and legs, pinching, scratching, hitting or biting. They have lost the ability to express what they want and temporarily loose all control. Here are 10 tips to tame your child’s tantrums:

 

Ignore the tantrum - In the middle of a tantrum emotions have taken over, that’s why trying to reason with him won’t work. Once the child calms down then you can talk. If the tantrum is happening in public or someplace other than your own home, try to isolate the child in a quiet place.

 

Give them space - Sometimes a kid just needs a way to get his anger out, so let him. Make sure there’s nothing in the area he could get hurt on, and other than that don’t get involved. Once he gets his feelings out, he will be able to calm himself and regain self-control.

 

Create a diversion - Act quickly to help your child forget that meltdown she just had. Whether it’s pulling out toys from your purse, offering a snack, or quickly changing activities, any of these methods can help head off a tantrum or calm a child after the fact.

 

Discipline without spanking - Spanking doesn’t teach a child what he did wrong or what behavior is acceptable. Instead it teaches a child that his parents will hurt him if they don’t like his behavior. After the child has had time to calm down, explain why his behavior was unacceptable, and suggest other ways he can make his needs known.

 

Find out what’s really frustrating your kid - Kids under 2 years of age usually have a 50 word vocabulary.  It’s often hard for them to express what they want. They may be tired, hungry, feeling ill, or just trying to get a certain toy. Teaching your child how to sign a few basic words such as food, milk, more, tired, Mom, Dad, all done, can help your child express her needs when she can’t speak them.

 

Hugs - It may seem like the last thing you’d want to do, but a good firm hug is very reassuring to a child and can really help settle them down quickly. Don’t talk, it might turn in to a battle of wills, just wrap your arms around your child in a good sturdy hug.

 

Do they need a snack or a nap? - Two of the biggest tantrum triggers are being tired or hungry. When a child is physically in this state, any little thing can send them over the edge. If you see this happening around the same time every day, it might be wise to schedule a snack or nap everyday to reduce tantrum triggers.

 

Behavior incentives - Sometimes kids will be more inclined to be on their best behavior if they know a reward is involved. Recognizing that some situations are difficult for kids, like being quiet in church, staying seated at a restaurant, or not whining at the grocery store, and offering a “bribe” ahead of time will often result in good behavior. The time for negotiations however, is before the event, not in the middle of a full blown tantrum.  For example, “If you can stay in your seat and behave at the restaurant, Mommy will make popcorn and watch a video with you when we get home.”

 

Speak calmly - This is difficult in the heat of the moment, but it’s the best thing you can do during a child’s tantrum. If you loose your cool, the situation will only escalate into a power struggle that no one wins. What your child wants at this point is 100% of your attention. Talking calmly shows your child that you’re not going to let her behavior get to you. Surprisingly, if you speak in a calm manner it will help youremain calm, when what you’d really like to do is yell right back.

 

Change locations - Quickly getting your child away from the scene of the tantrum can often snap them out of it. If your child starts melting down over something he wants at the store, take him to a quiet corner of the store or outside until he calms down. If he does it again, remain calm, and follow the same strategy.

Teaching Toddlers Responsibility

What mom doesn't dream of raising a responsible child who goes about her chores cheerfully and remembers to do them without nagging.Will your child live up to this vision? Probably not (at the very least you'll have to nag now and then!). But that doesn't mean you can't give your toddler some household tasks to tackle now. Even though your two-year-old is still too tiny to keep up with a set schedule of chores, you can take advantage of her desire to mimic you (and Dad) and give her a few jobs to do as you go about your day. She'll get a real feeling of accomplishment as she pitches in and does her share — and that, in turn, will feed into her sense of responsibility, especially when you reward her "help" with a lot of hugs and kisses ("Nice work, Sweetie!"). Eventually, those small jobs can grow into regular chores when she's a preschooler (and beyond) — even if those assignments are simple ones like getting dressed on her own and putting her dirty clothes into the hamper.

To get started, try these tips:

Begin early. By 18 months, kids are able to understand simple commands ("Bring me your sippy cup, please!"). They also have the manual dexterity and attention span for small chores, like putting away one of their books at the end of story time or watering the plants (as long as you don't mind that the table and floor get splashed, too). Some other tasks that are perfect for two-year-olds learning responsibility: Helping you pick up the toys, sort her clean socks, or throw paper into the recycling bin (make sure you hand her the papers first — you don't want to be going through the recycling bin searching for a missing bill!). A three-year-old can try her hand at setting the table (nonbreakables only!) and helping you pull weeds. The trick is to break down the job into smaller parts ("Let's put away the dolls first, and then we can tackle the blocks') and show your child exactly what you want her to do. Lower your expectations, too — if she just sorts one pair of socks or puts away two stuffed animals, that's good enough to begin with.

Make chores fun. Just as it's easier for you to vacuum if you've got the iPod playing, anything that makes helping out fun will keep your toddler interested. Make up silly songs that the two of you can belt out as you pick up the toys or set the table. Try turning kids' house chores into games; for example, you might challenge your child to put away her clothes before you finish folding the towels and sheets. When she's closer to three, consider putting up a chore chart in her room that she can fill with her choice of stickers when she's finished one of her tasks (taking her plate and cup to the sink, say, or sorting her socks).

Keep the pressure off. However good your intentions, criticizing your toddler's work or "fixing" what she's done will make her feel like she's done something wrong and sap her desire to pitch in. You can guide her as she's doing the task ("Wow! That's a really clean tomato! Let's wash that cucumber now!"), but don't butt in or take over. You may need to redo some of your toddler's work (like redust the furniture or reclean the window), but don't let her see you do so — if you really want to teach responsibility, you want her to feel that it's her job, not yours. Instead, lavish plenty of praise and encouragement for whatever she's accomplished. Just remember to keep giving her gentle reminders as she works — even if she's doing the same chore she did that morning. Toddlers have short memories, which is why they live in the moment (and think chores are a blast).

Need more ideas? Check out Chores for Children.

Have fun with your little helper!

Long-Distance Grandparents

Modern grandparents are often long-distance grandparents — instead of over the river and through the woods, it could be over several states and a handful of connecting flights to grandmother’s house we go. Admittedly, it can be tricky for far-flung family members to form a close bond with toddlers — for whom “out of sight, out of mind” is a way of life. But today’s grandmas and grandpas have an advantage that their parents didn’t — a bunch of high-tech options for keeping in touch. Suggest your parents invest in a web cam and digital recorder (if they don’t have these tech toys already) or send them the gear as a “new grandparents” present. Once they’re ready to roll, try any or all of the following suggestions:

  • Set up Skype dates. Most seniors are computer-savvy, and almost anyone can master the basics of Skyping in a few minutes. Faraway relatives can become highly anticipated regular visitors once your tot sees their faces and hears their voices fairly often on the computer screen. Weekly Skype dates that everyone can look forward to are great, but spontaneous chats also work well — particularly if your munchkin is eager to show off the brand-new ball he just got.
  • Keep your parents present. You can bring Nana and Pop-Pops into your toddler’s life by making sure their faces are well represented around your house. A digital picture frame is a toddler-friendly way to display a range of photos showing your parents (and their beloved grandkid) in a variety of places. You can use old photos to tell stories about them (“See, Nana’s the bride!”) or share your own childhood memories (“When I was your age, Pop-Pops took me to the circus — see, there we are!”).
  • Bring them in for bedtime. Ask your parents to record your cutie’s favorite bedtime story on a digital tape player (they can play different characters or take turns narrating). Then you and your tot can listen as you snuggle and follow along with the book. If your routine-loving toddler won’t stand for any narrator but you at bedtime, play your parents’ recording during one of your daytime reading sessions.
  • Give them a starring role. Even if they’re a world away, long-distance grandparents can seem as if they live next door once your sweetie knows what their house looks like. So get them to record their surroundings, narrating the tour as they roam from room to room. It might not be Oscar-worthy, but your curious critter will get a kick out of seeing shots of Grandma’s kitchen, living room, and the always-fascinating bathroom (maybe with Grandpa brushing his teeth!). Ask your parents to shoot scenes in the garage, backyard, or around the neighborhood so your tot can recognize those familiar spots the next time he visits and feel more at-home there too.

Of course, high-tech isn’t the only way to stay close. Grams and Gramps can always reach out the old-fashioned way, via snail mail. Toddlers love getting packages — and they don’t need to be filled with fancy presents. Ask your parents if they wouldn’t mind sending a small package every couple of weeks with stickers or brightly colored paper and crayons or a board book, along with photos of the happy gift-givers. Your little one will treasure his treats from his grandparents, no matter how small.

Here’s to long-distance love!

http://www.whattoexpect.com/toddler/ask-heidi/long-distance-grandparents.aspx?pos=1&xid=nl_YourDailyNewsletterfromWhattoExpect_20170126

 

Crying at Drop-Off — Perfecting the Preschool Separation

Are there waterworks at Preschool drop-off no matter what the weather? An occasional meltdown might mean your pint-sized pupil is coming down with a virus or didn’t get enough sleep. If this is a daily problem though, it could signal some preschool separation anxiety, which is par for the classroom course — especially for kids who’ve never spent time away from home without a parent.

Other reasons: Your child may need more time adjusting, or transitions (like the preschool good-bye) aren’t her thing. Not to stress. With some patience, your little one will get into the swing of school, and drop-off will become less dramatic. Until then, you can:

  • Check in with the teacher. Most kids who cry at drop-off turn off the tears right after the preschool good-bye. To make sure that’s the case, ask the teacher over the phone or by e-mail. If she says all is well after preschool drop-off, then it’s the tricky transition talking. If, instead, your little one isn’t enjoying school at all (she seems stressed by the mere mention of school), it may be that she’s not ready for preschool, or she needs a different kind of preschool classroom or preschool teacher.

 

  • Become an early bird. Hungry, tired kids are often clingy, cranky kids — in other words, kids primed for a preschool separation anxiety attack. So start some healthy sleep habits: Put your preschooler to bed earlier and wake her up earlier so there’s time for a leisurely yet energy-boosting breakfast (like oatmeal made with milk) to help her shake off the sleepies and get her preschool mojo on. Another good reason for an early-to-bed-early-to-rise policy? You can get to preschool sooner, so your little one can settle in and get more teacher attention before the other kids arrive.

 

  • Get her excited about the school day. On the way to preschool, talk about what she might do (“I bet you’ll swing on the swings today”) and who she’ll see. Stay upbeat, don’t grill her with questions, and if you sense the conversation is stressing her out, switch to small talk. Whatever you do, don’t put any ideas in her head (“Don’t make a scene”) or compare her with the other kids (“Ashley never cries at preschool drop-off”).

 

  • Give her something to hold. If the preschool allows it, let her bring a security object (like a favorite stuffed animal or blanket). Even if there’s a ban on toys from home, give her something of yours — like a photo or scarf — that she can keep in her cubby, or just a lipstick kiss on her hand at the preschool good-bye.

 

  • Get her busy. Settle her in an activity before you head out the door — or ask her to show you her most recent collage masterpiece or her favorite book. But don’t give your little one the impression that you’ll stay as long as she needs you. And if you’re having trouble with your exit strategy, ask the teacher if she can step in while you hightail it out of there after giving your little one a breezy bye-bye.

 

  • Stay positive. Don’t let on that you’re worried or waiting for trouble at the preschool drop-off. Instead, appear completely confident that your child will separate easily — say good-bye cheerfully and matter-of-factly. Then walk out without a backward glance (tough, but necessary).

If your child still has a hard time separating from you, try this: Say your good-byes at home and ask your partner (if your preschooler’s not as attached to him!) or a classmate’s parent to drop her off instead.

 

Texas School Triples Recess Time And Sees Immediate Positive Results In Kids

A Texas school started giving children four recess breaks a day, and teachers and parents say the results have been wonderful.

Recess is a lot more than just a free break for kids to play after lunch period. That free, unstructured play time allows kids to exercise and helps them focus better when they are in class. Now a school in Texas says it took a risk by giving students four recess periods a day, but the risk has paid off beautifully.

According to Today, the Eagle Mountain Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas, has been giving kindergarten and first-grade students two 15-minute recess breaks every morning and two 15-minute breaks every afternoon to go play outside. At first teachers were worried about losing the classroom time and being able to cover all the material they needed with what was left, but now that the experiment has been going on for about five months, teachers say the kids are actually learning more because they’re better able to focus in class and pay attention without fidgeting.

“There was a part of me that was very nervous about it,” said first-grade teacher Donna McBride. “I was trying to wrap my head around my class going outside four times a day and still being able to teach those children all the things they needed to learn.”

But now she says that not only are the students paying better attention in class, they’re following directions better, attempting to learn more independently and solve problems on their own, and there have been fewer disciplinary issues.

“We’re seeing really good results,” she said, and those results make sense. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that recess is “a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.” Even adults have a hard time concentrating and working their best when confined to a chair all day, so it’s amazing that we expect kids to be able to focus and learn without any way to exercise and blow off steam. When kindergarten students or first-graders are forced to sit still all day and allowed only one 15-minute break to play, as the Eagle Mountain students were before this experiment began, it’s only natural that they’d start to fidget and act up in class. Giving them regular breaks to play outside is good for their minds as well as their bodies.

“You start putting 15 minutes of what I call ‘reboot’ into these kids every so often and… it gives the platform for them to be able to function at their best level,” said professor Debbie Rhea, who is working with Eagle Mountain Elementary and other schools to increase the amount of physical activity and play time children get at school.

Rhea’s program calls for schools to add the four 15-minute recesses a day for kindergarten and first-grade students, and then adding another grade every year as it goes on. And teachers aren’t the only ones seeing good results from this program, either. Some parents say they’ve noticed their children being more independent and creative at home, and they also say the extra recess time has helped their kids socially. It’s a lot easier to make friends on the swing-set than when you’re all silently watching an adult explain math problems, after all.

Giving up class time for regular, short recess breaks seems like an exchange that pays off well, because after recess kids learn more efficiently and enthusiastically when they are in class than they would if they were just strapped to their desks all day. Kids today have a lot of things to learn in a short amount of time, but it looks like the best way to help them learn is to give them time to play and be kids.

by Elizabeth Licata

Music and Movement - Instrumental in Language Development

By Maryann Harman, M.A.

“A B C D E F G.” Even before the brain research findings, teachers and parents have taught the alphabet to children with the help of a song. Now, based on the research, we understand why. With the help of cat scans, we have been able to see what happens to the brain when listening to music. Each component of music affects a different part of the brain, e.g. a familiar song activates the left frontal lobe, timbre the right frontal lobe, and pitch the left posterior. One side of the brain processes the word while the other processes the music – activating the whole brain ensures better retention. Short-term memory has the ability to hold only seven bits of information. If bits of information are bonded together, as in a song, it can be processed as one piece. By condensing the information, the brain is able to receive and process more. In this article, we will discuss brain research findings and explore how music and movement can be used to enhance memory skills and retention and language development.

 

Language Begins Early The ability to speak and hear language begins before birth. At 23 days of gestation, a fetus can feel sound and, at around four months, hear. At twelve weeks the fetus moves spontaneously. At five months the fetus responds to phonemes (the smallest unit of a word/letter that has sound) it hears through the amniotic fluid, spoken by the mother. A fetus will respond to music by blinking or moving to the beat. Dr. Alfred Tomatis, who will be discussed in the next paragraph, used fiber optic cameras to observe the movement of the fetus in regard to sound. Though the particular muscle moved varied in each child, each time the same phoneme was sounded, the same muscle responded! This sensory-motor response allows the fetus to begin learning language in utero. This information suggests that prenatal exposure to music can be used to enhance a baby’s development, and perhaps alleviate or minimize some developmental delays (Campbell, 2000).In Dr. Carla Hannaford’s book, Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head” (1995), she outlines the development of the ear and its role in language development. Once the amniotic fluid has dried out of the Eustachian tubes and outer ear canals, the sense of hearing becomes pretty accurate. The ear is the most fully developed of the sense organs at birth and the last sense to stop at death. Much of the previous information is a result of the work of Dr. Alfred Tomatis who is credited with ‘discovering’ that the voice only represents what the ear can hear, also known as the Tomatis Effect. His research has done much to help with developmental delays and disabilities including autism. A person’s ability to hear affects abilities and emotion. Damage to hearing can cause depression. In patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, the playing of a song that has emotional memory causes periods of clarity. It is believed it is because the music stimulates a part of the brain related to memory. There have also been many anecdotes of people remembering melodies that had been played while they were in utero. This is not only fascinating, but also functional. Having this information, we need to implement it in early childhood by providing activities that encourage active listening skills. These activities can include rhythm stick activities, imitating vocal sounds, and marching.Time should be taken to note the window of opportunity to learn sounds and words. Children will make sounds that are common to humans universally. Over the first year, they begin to produce only the sounds heard in their own culture. Newborns can perceive any phoneme they hear, but this ability is lost within the first year. The ability to learn languages is during these first years. The opportunity to learn foreign language is believed to end at about the end of the twelfth year, but the phonemes must have been presented to them in the first year. This is the reason why music from many countries using different languages should be played for children in the early years. This prepares the brain for the ability to use these words later in life should it be necessary. It also exposes the children to the sounds of different cultures. Think of it as inputting data in long-term storage. It’s there if you need it.According to Howard Gardner there are at least eight different types of intelligence. He cites music as the first of the multiple intelligences to become functional in a person. “The single most important thing in education is for each person to find at least one thing that he/she connects to, gets excited by, feels motivated to spend more time with” (Gardner, 1992). For many children, music is that thing.

 

Keeping the Beat Studies by Phyllis Weikert reveal the importance of the ability to keep a steady beat and its link to adequate linguistic development. In 1981, 80 – 85 percent of female high school students could keep a steady beat and 60 – 66 percent of males. In 1991, the percentages dropped to 48 percent and 30 percent respectively. Less than 50 percent of adults have the ability to keep a steady beat. Only 10 percent of kindergarten students could keep a steady beat. This ability should be in place by two to three years of age. The prime time to teach it is up until the age of seven. Older students and adults without this in place will find deficiencies in different skills that they will not be able to overcome. Being able to keep a steady beat helps a person to feel the cadence (rhythm) of language and involves the vestibular system.While working with very young children, I began to notice how syncopated rhythms were absent from their vocabularies, e.g. Winnie the Pooh becomes WinPoo! Although the ear is the most fully developed of the senses at birth, children were not sounding the syncopated rhythms. I wondered if they were not hearing them as well as the accented sounds because they moved so quickly. I wondered if by tapping out these words in straight rhythms it might help them hear the entire word better. Using rhythm sticks or hands, the child (alone or with adult help) says each sound of the word – Wi Ni the Pooh. If the child wanted to tap the sticks by themselves, parents were encouraged to tap the rhythm on the child’s back thus internalizing the rhythms. After hearing it that way several times, the adult can then say the word with the proper cadence. It seems to work. Parents are reporting to me that children are speaking words they were having difficulty with after sounding them out in this fashion. Of course, the fact that with maturation vocabulary was going to improve is a factor; however, there was noticeable increase also with children who were having problems with language. Simplification of the words has had a definite impact on these children. (This idea is used in “For the Love of Language” an article in the special edition of Newsweek: Your Child, Fall/Winter, 2000.) This activity can be used to introduce new vocabulary. Talk with babies and tap out rhythms. Research is showing that infants who have mothers who talk a lot have 131 more words at twenty months than other toddlers and 295 more at twenty-four months. This article begins with the alphabet. Using the above information, the ABCs are recited with a straight rhythm, giving each letter its own sound and not running the LMNOP together, but spacing them out as L M N O P. There have been several children’s recordings made now with the alphabet recited in this fashion. Teachers and parents have had favorable responses and the children are realizing the letters are separate sounds. Tapping rhythms is also important because when the hands are activated, there is more effective learning, thus encouraging the “hands-on” approach to learning. Movement and rhythm stimulate the frontal lobes and enrich language and motor development (Brewer & Campbell, 1991).Although these activities are helpful in preparing the brain for language, it should be noted that children should not be pushed to read early. Reading too early puts stress on the eyes and causes other potential damage. In Chris Brewer and Don Campbell’s book, Rhythms of Learning, they state that emphasis on early acquisition of reading, writing, math and other symbol systems may actually cause children to develop awkward and inappropriate methods of understanding these symbols. If this information is given to a child before they are neurologically ready, it may just result in meaningless memorization. If this is done prematurely, it may process in the wrong region of the brain, which is not as beneficial as processing in the proper region. In Denmark, reading is not taught until the age of eight and their literacy rate is 100 percent.A wonderful, easy music tool for young children is the kazoo. In Music with Mar. classes, children as young as 10 months of age are producing sound from the kazoo. Kazoos activate bone structure because of the vibrations. This activates the vestibular system. Using a pun, I’d like to state that playing kazoo is instrumental in language development. As a child plays kazoo, they are developing self-esteem, internalizing rhythms, having fun and establishing the beginning of inner voice, a skill necessary for higher-level thinking. Inner speech is the process through which we hear ourselves think and listen internally. Inner-speech should be in place by the age of 7 1/2 or 8. Children without inner voice need to hear something to understand it. These are the children who walk up to the teacher's desk to ask questions about problems they’re trying to work out. These children may have impulse control problems because they need to move to think and may act before thinking it all the way through. To further enhance these skills, at about the age of seven or eight, children should be introduced to singing in rounds or singing songs like “B I N G O”, where they need to think the words and leave a space thus using inner voice.Beginning at the age of four, games can be played with the kazoos. One game to play is “Guess what song this is”. Someone plays a melody and another person has to guess what song they're playing. Then that person gets to play a song and have someone else guess. Children will play this game for quite a while. It’s fun, challenging and brain exercise. Repeating patterns is also fun to do with kazoos. You play a rhythm pattern and the children echo. Kazoos can also be used for marching or just playing along. One of my most requested songs is “The Clean-up Blues”. After children get their things put away, they get out their kazoos and play along. When the song is over, everyone is in one spot ready for the next activity and the room is clean! Another benefit is the exposure to the style of music known as the blues.

 

Moving to the Music A natural partner to music is movement. Movement is a nonverbal response for children who do not yet have language ability. The vestibular system (part of the ear related to balance and movement) must be activated for learning to take place (Hannaford, 1995). The eighth cranial nerve is the Vestibulo-cochlear. It comes from the inner ear mechanism, the semicircular canals and cochlea. The eighth cranial nerve pair carries auditory information from the ear to the brain. These connect through the vestibular system to all the muscles of the body. All learning in the first fifteen months of life is centered on the vestibular system development (Hannaford, p.157). Disturbance to the vestibular system can cause learning difficulties. This highlights the importance of movement in the beginning years to strengthen the vestibular system and ready the brain for learning. Don Campbell, author of The Mozart Effect and The Mozart Effect for Children, states, “Movement is an absolute necessity for a toddler, and music stimulates the best kinds of movement.” (Campbell, p. 102). The brain works by electrical current thereby needing oxygen and water to function well. Movement helps to provide one of these two elements, oxygen. Another wonderful thing happens with movement. The brain produces a neuro-chemical called endorphins. This chemical causes a feeling of energy and makes the brain more conducive to learning. Movement and rhythm stimulate the frontal lobes, important in language development. This portion of the brain grows between the ages of two and six. It has another growth spurt at around the age of twenty-two.A specific type of movement, cross lateral, is necessary for the brain to be ready to learn to read. This type of movement can be done while dancing or moving to other activities to accompany music or by tapping rhythm sticks and using different tapping patterns. It is also done while crawling and that is why it is important for babies to crawl. Cross lateral movement enables the brain to cross the mid-section (going from the right side of your body, across the center to the other side). This ability is necessary for reading and writing because in order to read and write one must go from one side of the paper to the other. There are many wonderful ways to cross one’s midsection. Dancing with scarves, as they flow from one side of the body to the other or walking like elephants, swaying arms as if they were trunks from side to side are just two examples. Exercising to music and doing cross crawls or windmills is not only great for the cardio-vascular system, but it is readying the brain for reading and is fun as well. These activities also help with balancing. A child, who cannot stand on one foot, probably can't read and write because standing on one foot demonstrates the ability to balance and being able to balance is the result of a strong vestibular system. (Hannaford, 1995). The vestibular system is strongly related to language abilities. Being able to stand on one foot is an accomplishment that could be greeted with “Wow! Look at you standing on one foot!” This makes the child feel good which gets them trying to do more activities to balance. Balancing strengthens the vestibular system. One activity is directly related to another.

 

Involve the Senses What makes the above activities so successful is the use of more than one of the senses. The more senses involved in an activity, the better the success rate of learning the lesson. With rhythm sticks, we are activating speaking, hearing and feeling. We are also using both hemispheres of the brain. The real magic of music is that it not only uses both hemispheres, but each quadrant of the brain processes a different component of music. Human beings learn 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, 50 percent of what they see and hear, 70 percent of what is discussed, 80 percent of what is experienced and 95% of what you actively teach (Hannaford, 1995). Early childhood experiences that get the child involved in the total process will yield the greatest results. It is important to note that only live learning boosts vocabulary – meaning television viewing does not stimulate learning. Because of the massive amount of time American children spend in front of TV sets, the term ‘sitcom vocabulary’ is now being used. In the 1950s, the average fourteen-year-old had a 25,000-word vocabulary. In 1999, that number was down to 10,000! (Healy & Pearce)To activate more senses, one could blow bubbles while music is playing. Encourage children to catch the bubbles with their pincer grips. (This fine motor skill exercises a muscle in the brain used for higher-level thinking.) Some bubbles have odor and or flavor to them. These bubbles can be caught with the mouth. Although I would not suggest using the flavored bubbles with the youngest children, I would use them once they are old enough to realize the difference between bubbles you can catch with your mouth and those you can’t. Now all five senses are being used - hearing (as the music plays), touching (as they use their pincer grips), seeing (as they watch the bubbles), smelling (as they smell the fragrance) and tasting (as they catch them with their mouths). This active learning stimulates and involves more parts of the cerebral cortex, producing stronger long-term memory. After an experience like this, the entire brain is awake and waiting to be filled! A wonderful resource for information and activities to awaken the senses is Dr. Pam Schiller’s book, Start Smart (Schiller, 1999).

 

Using the Arts A new study from Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero found demonstrable links between experiences with music and drama and increases in certain cognitive skills. The three-year-study (directed by Project Zero researchers Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland and funded by the Bauman Family Foundation) reviewed 50 years of arts education research, analyzing 188 relevant studies. Based on 45 reports, researchers found evidence that spatial-temporal reasoning improves when children learn to make music, and this kind of reasoning improves temporarily when adults listen to certain kinds of music, including Mozart. The finding suggests that music and spatial reasoning are related psychologically (i.e. they may rely on some of the same underlying skills) and perhaps neurologically as well (i.e. they may rely on some of the same, or proximal, brain areas). However, the existing reports do not reveal conclusively why listening to music affects spatial-temporal thinking.Music also has a natural connection to drama. Children are natural actors and love to act out their favorite stories. Comprehension is increased when there is active participation. The ability to learn and retain is increased after a dramatic activity. Sound stories are a great way to incorporate music and drama. Put a variety of instruments out, get out a book and have the children insert sound to the story. Children will want to do the story over again. Repetition is important. (When learning a new concept, it takes 1500 times before that concept becomes concrete.) (Bailey/Sprinkle, 1998). You may want to record your work or even include a “recording studio” as part of your listening center. Here children can record their work. Language development can be enhanced verbally and in written form. Children can design covers for their recordings. One creative teacher had the children record a book for Mothers’ Day, design a cover and sent it home as a gift. The moms loved it!

 

The Mozart Effect – Repetition is Key Drs. Frances Rauscher and Gordon Shaw conducted studies at The University of California, Irvine to determine the effects of piano keyboard instruction on the spatial-temporal reasoning of kindergarten children. It was this research that the media coined the “Mozart Effect”. This research sparked much interest in music and learning, particularly Mozart's music. Because the media gave it so much play, negative and positive, doubt was thrown on the original research. A second study was conducted at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh by Dr. Rauscher to see if the same results would occur. They did. It was found that children, who were exposed to keyboard instruction on a weekly basis for a period of at least six months, had better spatial-temporal reasoning. Unfortunately, Dr. Rauscher’s work also showed that if the music lessons were discontinued, the connections made from the music lessons would die off. Music must be an ongoing part of the curriculum. One should note, however, that habituation (having something become too familiar) and overuse would make the music ineffective. For this reason, it is suggested that music be used 22 minutes for each hour.Part of the reason this research was coined the “Mozart Effect” is because it was discovered that listening to Mozart produced activity in both hemispheres of the brain. This activity is not produced with spoken text. It is hypothesized that music strengthens neural firing patterns and enhances spatial-temporal tasks. Music is processed separately. Lessons do not need to be private for the benefits. This is why school music programs are important. It should not be concluded that playing Mozart will make children smarter. It will not. Playing Mozart activates both hemispheres of the brain making it more conducive to learning. Activities must accompany the music.

 

Conclusion Putting all the information together, one must acknowledge the importance of music in the classroom. Music gets the whole child involved in the process of learning. Learning style researchers, Rita and Kenneth Dunn, have found that as many as 85 percent of people are kinesthetic learners. (Einstein was a kinesthetic learner.) Combining this with the face that 99 percent of what is learned is unconscious, we must realize the impact of music and movement activities. While marching or singing, one is usually not thinking about what they are learning. Music activities prepare the brain for more difficult tasks needed later by preparing the brain to work from both hemispheres. For example, though printing uses one side of the brain, cursive uses both. Music helps the brain to process higher-level thinking. Half the population does not reach the Piagetian stage of formal thinking. Evidence shows that one-third does not reach concrete thinking. Music is a tool to help wire the brain to reach this higher level of thinking. When we put instruments in a child’s hands in the early years, we are teaching them an activity that is positive and will last them a lifetime. What a wonderful gift to give our children!

 

Maryann “Mar.” Harman, M.A., specializes in music education and is a recording artist and educational consultant. For more information about Maryann, please visit her website at www.musicwithmar.com.

Encouraging Nature Play

Parenting is arguably a greater challenge now than at any time in the past century. American adults work longer hours than ever before. Dual-career families are the norm. Worried that our kids will be “left behind,” we schedule almost every waking moment of their lives— school, organized sports, music lessons, sleepovers, summer camps—and rack up miles driving them to and fro. Fearing stranger danger, we keep youngsters locked indoors under effective “house arrest.” Whether or not the statistics support the notion that kids are at higher risk of abduction by strangers (they don’t), this media-catalyzed fear is all too real and deserving of empathy.

The demise of outdoor play One of the greatest casualties of this indoor migration is the most quintessential of childhood activities—outdoor play. Overscheduled kids have no time for it. Over-screened kids opt for virtual worlds invented by others. And overprotected kids are kept inside under constant supervision. As the parent of a 12 year-old girl, I have experienced all of these challenges.

I refer here to real play, or free play. Damming streams, building makeshift forts and dens, holding back the tide with castle walls of sand, creating miniature cities in the garden, being a fireman one minute and Tarzan the next, quickly followed by a super hero—these are the kinds of things that make up real play. It is freely chosen and directed by children, with no external goal or reward. And it often occurs outdoors, immersed in all the “loose pieces” and sensory wonders of the natural world.

If you’re over 40 years of age, chances are your childhood was filled with such unfettered, exuberant play. But today, play is fast becoming a “four-letter word,” equated with wasting time.

The benefits of play Play researchers adamantly argue that authentic play is (and has always been) the most critical activity of early childhood, and gives children a number of benefits, including:

  • Promoting creativity and imagination, problem-solving and higher IQ scores, and emotional and social development.
  • Engendering a sense of self and a sense of place, allowing children to recognize both their independence and interdependence.
  • Fostering cognitive, emotional, and moral development, especially in outdoor settings.
  • Improving such motor skills as balance, coordination, and agility, critical for growing bodies.

Far from being frivolous, play is the fuel that drives healthy brain development, and the very crucible of learning.

So how do we then foster outdoor play while minimizing risks and managing our fears?

1. Practice “hummingbird parenting.” We’ve all heard about helicopter parents, incessantly hovering over their kids, protecting them from any danger. Most of us have an intuitive sense that the helicopter approach isn’t the best way to oversee children, given their growing need for autonomy.

But what’s the alternative? Parent and blogger Michele Whitaker offers a potent alternative—“hummingbird parenting.” Beginning around five or six years of age, children long for some more separation and independence from grown-ups. One of the greatest challenges for parents and other caregivers is to honor this need, fighting the urge to be ever present.

Becoming a hummingbird parent means giving kids space and autonomy to take risks, staying on the periphery sipping nectar most of the time and zooming in only when necessary. If the idea of hanging back makes you nervous, start off close, slowly work your way back, and see how it feels. Monitor how the children are feeling about your distance too. As they get older, increase that separation so as to give kids the freedom to take bigger risks, make some mistakes, and deal with consequences.

In short, the goal should not be to eliminate risk. Children need to learn how to deal with risky circumstances, or face much larger consequences as inexperienced adolescents and adults.

2. Schedule unstructured play. By scheduling in nature play, and developing your flight skills as a hummingbird parent, you can find ways to keep kids safe while allowing them to take appropriate risks and push limits. If we’re successful, the end result will be another generation of confident, free-range kids! Encourage kids to create their own imaginative games and activities, preferably using readily available natural elements—loose parts like water, sticks, dirt, and rocks. Feel free to gather up some of these loose parts or, better yet, have the kids do it. Bigger elements, such as large sticks, can be used for creating makeshift structures, like forts or bridges. Smaller items can be used in an almost infinite array of activities.

3. Let kids engage fully with nature. Too often these days, a child’s encounters with nature are dominated by a look-but-don’t-touch directive. Fearing that we must protect nature and our kids at all cost, we often do far more harm than good. Nature connection depends on firsthand, multisensory encounters. It’s a messy, dirty business—picking leaves and flowers, turning over rocks, holding wriggling worms, and splashing in ponds. Rather than saying “no” every time a child wants to pick up a stick, throw a rock, climb a tree, or jump into the mud, take a deep breath and cheer them on instead. Remember, clothes can be washed, and cuts heal.

Nature connection is a contact sport, and both kids and nature can take it!

 

About Dr. Scott Sampson Scott Sampson is Vice President of Research and Collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He also serves as host and science advisor of the hit PBS KIDS series, Dinosaur Train, and is author of the new book, How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

The Right Dose of Screen Time for Kids

Before I became a parent, I had the same self-righteous attitude about my future son that a lot of people have before becoming a parent: There would be absolutely no screen time in my house. I judged parents at restaurants for cramming an iPad in front of their 5-year-olds during dinner, and scoffed at my friends for buying a mini-van fully equipped with a TV and DVD player. In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that children under the age of 2 should not watch any television, and slightly older kids should be limited to 2 hours of screen time per day. This sounds easy enough if you’re not a parent, but now that I am, the idea of keeping my son from screens altogether just sounds unrealistic; so unrealistic in fact that Friday, the AAP changed their policy. They now recommend that parents keep infants under 18 months of age away from screens as much as possible, unless it is to video chat with grandparents or other relatives.

The AAP’s change of heart likely reflects the reality that screens have become part of our everyday lives and we have to make decisions about when and how to regulate our kids’ screen time use. Although some researchers would disagree, a little bit of screen time is not all that bad, as long as you have the right expectations about what screens are and what they are not, and about what they can and can’t offer your kids. Here’s what research can tell us:

1. Screens are a means by which kids can learn if the content is educational. But, this is only true for older kids and there is little evidence children under the age of 2 can learn from screens at all, which is what prompted the AAP’s original no-screen-time-for-babies policy. In fact, there are doubts about whether infants and young children can even understand the content of what they are seeing on screens. So, it’s fine to let your kids watch a little bit of PBS Kids, as long as you’re not expecting it to teach your babies how to read.

2. Screens themselves are not actually bad for your kids. What I mean is, there is no evidence that the act of watching a TV or playing with an iPad makes kids dumber, hurts their vocabulary or reading skills, or makes them fail math. It’s what screen time is replacing that can be detrimental to learning, like if your child is watching TV instead of playing outside or doing his homework. So if screen time is replacing a potential fight with a sibling during a long car ride, it can be a great tool, but if it’s replacing time when your kids can be playing outside with their friends, it’s probably not so great. The bottom line is, active play is always better than using a screen, so if screen time is replacing playtime, maybe it’s time to put the iPad away.

3. Screens can distract kids if they are left on in the background. There’s research suggesting that background TV distracts kids from other activities, like playing with toys or talking to parents. It’s distracting nature also reduces the quality of children’s play. So if your kid isn’t specifically sitting down to watch Sesame Street, it’s best to just leave the TV off.

4. Screens cannot teach your kids more than you can. Although there is some  suggesting that kids can learn from screen time or educational television shows, there’s lots of research showing that kids learn much better by interacting with their parents, friends, and teachers, and they learn better from screens by watching it with you.

5. The content of children’s screen time matters. There is mounting evidence that engaging with media that contains violent content (including both TV and video games) does in fact increase aggressive behavior in children. With the countless number of educational shows and apps available for kids these days, there is no reason why they should be watching adult-directed programming, especially programming that contains violence.

With these ideas in mind, my own rule of thumb for allowable screen time has been to ask myself: What is screen time replacing? Does watching Dora for 20 minutes replace an agitated conversation with a half-awake, unengaged parent who can later function better by having that 20 minutes to herself? Does watching a DVD in the car on a long trip replace an hour and a half of crying? In these cases, I’d say go for it, and don’t feel guilty. But if your kids want to spend all their time with screens instead of playing outside, it might be time to make some rules. In fact, the AAP’s new recommendations involve creating a family plan for screen time, so that parents can teach children about appropriate screen time use.

Vanessa LoBue PhD
 

5 Ways Outdoor Learning Optimizes Children's Well-Being

Increasingly, children around the world have fewer and fewer opportunities to play and learn outdoors. Growing evidence shows that the disconnection from nature caused by urbanization and living in a digital era (along with a host of other reasons) is causing the minds and bodies of 21st century children to short-circuit on many levels.According to a team of international experts, the lack of time spent out-of-doors is triggering a swath of unexpected negative consequences for younger generations. A new study, published today, makes a strong case for policymakers to consider the benefits of implementing outdoor learning as a cost-effective way to improve children's well-being and quality of life. 

"Nature's Peace Will Flow Into You...While Cares Drop Off Like Autumn Leaves"

Over a hundred years ago, in response to industrialization and mass migration towards city life, there was a 20th century push by people such as President Theodore Roosevelt and Sierra Club founder, John Muir, to encourage Americans to reconnect with Nature. In his 1901 book, On National Parks, Muir wrote,

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail."

We all know that our daily lives in the 21st century are dominated by portable digital devices and smartphones that have the power to sever our ties with the natural environment—in ways that John Muir could have never imagined. The latest global research shows that in nations around the world, children are losing their freedom to play, explore, and be physically active in their outside environments for a wide range of complex reasons. Being denied the opportunity to explore the outdoors can have detrimental impacts on a child’s physical and psychological development. What can we do to fortify stronger connections with Nature?In recent years, I’ve written a number of Psychology Today blog posts about the importance of the environment on a child’s education.

 Over the past 10 years, there've been five significant international reviews focused on the childhood benefits of formal and informal learning in natural environments.As the parent of an 8-year-old, I have a vested interest in keeping my finger on the pulse of the latest empirical findings on various ways to optimize a child's well-being. My hope in writing about these topics in a public forum is to be a small catalyst for creating a groundswell that motivates policymakers to think outside the box when it comes to keeping our children healthy, happy, and resilient in a topsy-turvy and rapidly changing world. 

In my opinion, the most poignant research on the benefits of spending time outdoors are reports that being immersed in nature increases loving-kindness and theory of mind. For people of all ages, the sense of wonder and awe that is inspired by nature creates a belief that there is something out there ‘bigger’ and more important than you in the universe. This tends to nurture the tendency to think globally and with less navel-gazing. Researchers have also found that kids who spend more time outdoors tend to have a stronger sense of self-fulfillment and spirituality than those who spend most of their time inside.

5 Ways Outdoor Learning Optimizes Children's Overall Well-Being

Learning that takes place in green spaces—such as parks, gardens, wildlife areas and woodland, as well as on outdoor field trips has been found to increase children's engagement and enriched the learning experience in many ways. Researchers have found using local green spaces can give children time valuable time outdoors at little or no increase to school budgets. The latest research identifies multiple ways that outdoor learning can have a significant and positive impact on children's well-being.

In a new report, researchers present a framework which lays out how government policymakers could introduce outdoor learning as an integral element of national education policies.The July 2016 report, "Student Outcomes and Natural Outcomes: Pathways From Evidence to Impact 2016," was produced by Plymouth University in the UK and Western Sydney University in Australia. The new report highlights the wide range of benefits to children of learning in the natural environment. The benefits of outdoor learning go beyond improving academic prowess. Outdoor learning also improves social skills, behavior, physical and psychological health, boosts resilience, confidence, and a sense of place.

Outdoor Learning Improves Well-Being by Creating 5 Outcomes:

  1. Healthy and Happy Body and Mind

  2. Sociable Confident Person

  3. Self-Directed Creative Learner

  4. Effective Contributor

  5. Active Global Citizen

Conclusion: Access to Nature Improves Well-Being Throughout Your Lifespan

The new report was produced following the Lessons from Near and Far conference led by Plymouth University in July 2015, which featured 21 international presentations intended to encourage researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to share ideas of best practice which could potentially be embedded into national outdoor learning policies. Although this research took place overseas, the findings are applicable in the United States.

I can attest to the awe-inspiring and transformative power of outdoor learning. In the 1970s, when New York City was going bankrupt, my parents decided to leave the crumbling chaos of Manhattan in pursuit of a bucolic life in rural Pennsylvania. They bought an old limestone farmhouse in Mennonite country surrounded by endless fields and green pastures close to Hershey, where they make the chocolate bars. 

We left town in our wood-paneled Chevy station wagon with John Denver songs playing on the radio around 1974... I joined 4-H and got a horse named Commander. Once in Pennsylvania, my parents let me run wild. I was free to explore the never-ending wilderness on horseback to my heart's content. I got lost sometimes, but always found my way home before sundown.

It was an idyllic childhood existence. As I was growing up, my mom always had singer-songwriters—such as John Denver, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor... who seemed to deeply value a connection with nature—in heavy rotation on the 8-Track player in the car and the turntable at home. These songs became the perfect soundtrack to have the conversion experience of an urbanite—who saw the world as a concrete jungle in black and white with lots of shades of gray—to experiencing a type of rebirth in which everything in the world suddenly sprung to life in vivid technicolor after tapping into the power of nature.

My mother and father were laid back to the point of being the antithesis of today's typical "helicopter parents." I like to think that their hands-off approach was based on a conscious decision that they wanted the experiences I had living in the country to feel autonomous and boundary-less. That said, a laid back approach to parenting was also part of the American zeitgeist of the '70s. Whatever my parents' motivation for letting go of the reins and allowing me and Commander to run free through the corn fields, it was the best education I could have gotten at the time.To this day, whenever I hear the song "Morning Has Broken," it takes me right back to the first time I felt every cell in my body connect with the power of nature on a visceral level when I was 9 years old. 

It was a conversion experience that makes me crave living close and connected to nature as an adult. In closing, below is a 1971 live version of the song, which holds timeless wisdom and captures an innocence that seems to be lost these days. I'm optimistic that we can renew some of our lost innocence by fostering outdoor learning from a young age in every nation.

The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues

By Angela Hanscom

I still recall the days of preschool for my oldest daughter. I remember wanting to desperately enrich her life in any way possible – to give her an edge before she even got to formal schooling. I put her in a preschool that was academic in nature – the focus on pre-reading, writing, and math skills. At home, I bought her special puzzles, set up organized play dates with children her age, read to her every night, signed her up for music lessons, put her in dance, and drove her to local museums. My friends and I even did “enrichment classes” with our kids to practice sorting, coloring, counting, numbers, letters, and yes….even to practice sitting! We thought this would help prepare them for kindergarten.

Like many other American parents, I had an obsession: academic success for my child. Only, I was going about it completely wrong. Yes, my daughter would later go on to test above average with her academic skills, but she was missing important life skills. Skills that should have been in place and nurtured during the preschool years. My wake-up call was when the preschool teacher came up to me and said, “Your daughter is doing well academically. In fact, I’d say she exceeds expectations in these areas. But she is having trouble with basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.” Not only that, but my daughter was also having trouble controlling her emotions, developed anxiety and sensory issues, and had trouble simply playing by herself!

Little did I know at the time, but my daughter was far from being the only one struggling with social and sensory issues at such a young age. This was becoming a growing epidemic. A few years ago, I interviewed a highly respected director of a progressive preschool. She had been teaching preschoolers for about 40 years and had seen major changes in the social and physical development of children in the past few generations.

“Kids are just different,” she started to say. When I asked her to clarify, she said, “They are more easily frustrated – often crying at the drop of a hat.” She had also observed that children were frequently falling out of their seats “at least three times a day,” less attentive, and running into each other and even the walls. “It is so strange. You never saw these issues in the past.”

She went on to complain that even though her school was considered highly progressive, they were still feeling the pressure to limit free play more than she would like in order to meet the growing demands for academic readiness that was expected before children entered kindergarten.

Research continues to point out that young children learn best through meaningful play experiences, yet many preschools are transitioning from play-based learning to becoming more academic in nature. A preschool teacher recently wrote to me: “I have preschoolers and even I feel pressure to push them at this young age. On top of that, teachers have so much pressure to document and justify what they do and why they do it, the relaxed playful environment is compromised. We continue to do the best we can for the kid’s sake, while trying to fit into the ever-growing restraints we must work within.”

As parents and teachers strive to provide increasingly organized learning experiences for children (as I had once done), the opportunities for free play – especially outdoors is becoming less of a priority. Ironically, it is through active free play outdoors where children start to build many of the foundational life skills they need in order to be successful for years to come.

In fact, it is before the age of 7 years — ages traditionally known as “pre-academic” — when children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis in order to develop strong bodies and minds. This is best done outside where the senses are fully ignited and young bodies are challenged by the uneven and unpredictable, ever-changing terrain.

Preschool years are not only optimal for children to learn through play, but also a critical developmental period. If children are not given enough natural movement and play experiences, they start their academic careers with a disadvantage. They are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilize poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions. We are consistently seeing sensory, motor, and cognitive issues pop up more and more  in later childhood, partly because of inadequate opportunities to move and play at an early age.

What is our natural instinct as adults when issues arise? To try and fix the problem that could have been prevented in the first place. When children reach elementary school, we practice special breathing techniques, coping skills, run social skill groups, and utilize special exercises in an attempt to “teach” children how to be still and to improve focus.

However, these skills shouldn’t have to be taught, but something that was developed at a young age in the most natural sense — through meaningful play experiences.

If children were given ample opportunities to play outdoors every day with peers, there would be no need for specialized exercises or meditation techniques for the youngest of our society. They would simply develop these skills through play. That’s it. Something that doesn’t need to cost a lot of money or require much thought. Children just need the time, the space, and the permission to be kids.

Let the adult-directed learning experiences come later. Preschool children need to play!