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Monday, December 31st, 2012
In lieu of a review of the past month, I’d like to pose a question: What will be the big topics on child health and development in the coming year? Kara Corridan and I have taken a stab at predicting what these will be. We selected 6 topics:
The Book That Will Change How Mental Disorders Are Diagnosed: Why you should know what the DSM-5 is and the hot-button issues it is raising
Kids And Play: New data and new thinking which suggests that kids are not getting enough of the right type of play
Pregnancy Health Risks: The emerging, and murky, data on potential prenatal risks and the complex decisions some pregnant women face
Injuries (The Downside Of Physical Activity): The realization that many youth are getting injured – some seriously – at an alarming rate
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The very real consequences to kids when they are exposed to a number of traumas
Obesity: New efforts to combat this epidemic in kids
Click here to read our take on these topics. Since we published this, we have all been affected, in lasting ways, by the Sandy Hook shooting. So in addition to the above, I also anticipate much more debate and discussion about the 4 public health issues raised by that tragedy.
The one thing we know for sure is that 2013 will be a very important year for continuing our collective conversation about child health and development. Wishing you all a peaceful and good New Year.
2013 Calendar via Shutterstock.com
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Sunday, December 30th, 2012
Two areas of research caught my attention this year:
Tips For Parents: We all know that it’s good for parents to play with their kids, and read to them. But new studies continue to point out specific methods that parents can use – like specific ways to talk to your toddler when reading to them, and ways to use your voice and fingers to promote reading skills. Other studies highlighted how basic kid activities – like drawing – are connected (in perhaps surprising ways) to later school achievement. While some of these findings may seem intuitive, parents of toddlers are flooded with all kinds of suggestions (including costly ones) on how to give their kids an academic “edge”. It’s very nice to see research demonstrate that parents can use some simple strategies that are fun (and cost nothing) which result in real promotion of their kids cognitive development – and also reinforce how beneficial it is for parents and kids to spend time together in an “old-fashioned” way.
Getting Kids Enough Play Time: In addition to parent-child interaction, kids need to play – and by play, I mean the running around kind. It’s good for their bodies, and it is directly and indirectly good for their cognitive development (both in the short and long term). Yet new studies continue to reveal that a number of barriers are reducing how much play kids get. The take-home message for parents is quite clear: make sure your kids have plenty of opportunities to play, and do what you can to ensure that this is the case in preschool and beyond.
Time For Review via Shutterstock.com
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Sunday, September 9th, 2012
Have you come across the new claim that the effects of pretend play on development have been overstated? Let’s break this down, first from the research perspective, and then from the practical angle.
A recent paper published in the journal Psychological Bulletin conducted a review of existing studies on pretend play and cognitive, social and language development. The authors were especially interested in assessing the evidence for “causal” associations – e.g., does pretend play lead directly to increases in creativity? Without going into the details of how all this is done, let’s cut straight to their conclusions.
They suggest that pretend play does not lead to any gains in creativity, intelligence, or problem solving.
They suggest that pretend play is associated with the development of language, storytelling, social development, and self-regulation.
I don’t find these conclusions to be especially disruptive to the idea that pretend play is an essential part of childhood development. First, note all the important outcomes that are connected with pretend play. This is an impressive list – I’m sure any parent would want to promote these skills in their toddlers. Second, I believe the point of the article is to challenge the idea that pretend play is an essential component for educational programs in order to promote “academic” progress. I don’t have a big problem with this – I’ve always thought of pretend play as being more a part of the social/emotional development spectrum and in particular something that is very interactive in nature. The authors point out that other forms of play are critically important for “academic” development and that these should be emphasized in the classrooms of preschoolers.
So one take-home message to me is that parents and educators may want to be sure that a variety of play types are encouraged in our preschools. Some may be especially effective at promoting problem solving – others might let social skills flourish. Using research methods to refine the need for multiple forms of play is to me a good step.
A second take-home message is that pretend play is a marvelous thing, whether it’s practiced at home or at school. Kids love it! As a parent, some of my favorite memories of my daughter from her toddler years was when she was engaged in pretend play. There was a time when every Saturday morning would be devoted (at her initiative) to her coming up with some type of pretend activity – whether it was serving us in a restaurant, putting on a dance recital, or using stuffed animals to transform a room into an animal shelter. During those years, I never wondered if all that pretend was going to translate into advanced cognitive skills. I took it as a delightful way for her to interact with us and to explore her world. Simply refining – for the educational context – the social nature of pretend play, and the many skills it pulls for, would only argue for the need for incorporating multiple types of play, all of which have a way of coming together to make for a happy and well-rounded child.
Toddler pouring tea for teddy bears via Shutterstock.com
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Monday, July 2nd, 2012
Summer is here, and we parents have to walk the line between filling up our kids’ days – and leaving space. Today Golnar Khosrowshahi of GoGoNews shares some guidelines she uses with her kids in summertime.
As parents, we are raising children in the era of over-programming. Our renaissance offspring are shuttled from one activity to another throughout the school year and according to a recent survey of American families from the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, we are spending more than ever on summer activities.
On average, it costs $600 to $1,200 to keep one child busy during the summer months. While I do my best to keep up with the Joneses – because as everyone knows, fencing is a life skill – I worry that our children do not have the free time to indulge their creativity.
My children definitely enjoy a wider variety of activities than I did as a child and at their age, and are far more competent at most things than I ever was. However, I am also hyper-conscious that they need to have free time to learn how to entertain themselves.
I worry that if they don’t have this free time, that they will never learn how to rely on their own faculties to be creative and engage and educate themselves. What kind of problem solvers will they be later in life if they don’t know how to think creatively and be innovative?
While ours is not a rules driven household, I have managed to establish a few guidelines to ensure that my children have some free time during what my generation remembers as our idyllic summer holidays.
These guidelines include:
- limiting television and video game time
- equipping them with reading material on a wide range of subjects of their selection
- providing them with kits and tools that encourage them to work with their hands
- giving them some “Me” time without camps, lessons or friends
- putting them in situations to which they are not accustomed – for example, taking them to work with me and actually giving them real responsibilities
I believe that doing some or all of the above throughout the summer will at least help our children get to know themselves, and better define their interests and then, set the stage to refine their interests. This free time to be creative will allow them to steer themselves towards subjects and interests that they are passionate about.
As a parent, one of the most important takeaways I had from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs was how vital it is for our children to find their passion and ultimately, their happiness. We parents need to make sure we allow the time for this to happen because, while fencing is a life skill, creative thinking will probably prove to be more useful in the long run.
Image of kids playing on a sunny day via Shutterstock.com
Golnar Khosrowshahi is the founder of GoGoNews, a website that publishes up to the minute, age appropriate current events for children. She has also written for The Huffington Post and been featured in many technology and parenting related columns. You can read featured guest blog posts by her here at Red-Hot Parenting every month.
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Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
A stunning new paper (published online in the journal Pediatrics) focuses on a troubling trend – many toddlers in child care (preschool, nursery school, other organized child care) devote very little time to physical activity – and provides some surprising reasons why this may be the case. Bear in mind that this study is especially relevant to the vast majority of parents of preschool aged kids, as 75% of 3-5 year-olds in the US are in some form of child care. Here’s an overview of the paper, focusing on: some startling statistics; public health concerns; research questions asked; findings; and take-home messages.
Some startling statistics:
The study provides a persuasive literature review that suggests the following:
- Even after accounting for naps and meal times, somewhere between 70-83% of the daily activities for kids in child care are sedentary
- On average, only 2-3% of daily time in child care is devoted to vigorous activities
Public Health Concerns:
The lack of physical activity – meaning good old-fashioned running around and playing – is troubling for the following reasons:
Given these concerns, the researchers conducted focus group interviews with 49 child care providers (the study took place in Ohio) drawn from a variety of child care centers (both urban and suburban). They designed these focus groups to ask open-ended (qualitative) questions to get at the child care providers’ perceptions of the reasons why toddlers aren’t playing in child care these days. Note they acknowledge that there can be big differences across different child care centers (some may indeed have lots of playtime built into the typical day) – but their focus was to find out what might be the barriers preventing playtime from the perspective of the child care providers.
The researchers extracted 3 big reasons that physical activity is discouraged in child care settings. They are:
- Concerns about safety. Parents express concerns to the child care providers about the possibility that their kids may get hurt and some directly ask that their kids not be permitted on playground equipment. The child care providers suggest that the state has provided overly strict standards that has resulted in boring, unchallenging playground equipment that toddlers don’t want to use. As a result, kids end up seeking out equipment that is designed for older kids – and in fact poses dangers to them.
- Economic issues. Lack of funding does not permit spaces devoted to physical activity – especially dedicated indoor areas that can be used year-round. In part, this reflects a lack of appreciation for the importance of physical activity in the preschool years.
- Emphasis on academics. Child care providers suggest that many parents ask that kids’ spend the bulk of their time doing pre-academic work (such as learning shapes, colors, and pre-reading skills) and “not just running around” – parents also want physical activity to be overtly tied to academic lessons and learning.
As the authors of this paper suggest, many toddlers spend full days in child care during the preschool years – meaning that this is the primary daily opportunity for physical activity for lots of kids. Yet there is, on average, a ridiculously small amount of time devoted to physical activity. So I see two especially important take-home messages for parents.
- Parents should be encouraged to partner with their kids’ child care center to make sure that the playgrounds are age-appropriate – neither too babyish nor too challenging. They should also be reassured that their kids should be doing lots of physical activity that involves age-appropriate risk. Look, nobody wants to think about their kids getting hurt, and it’s tough if you are not there to supervise them. But …. kids need to play and to take some appropriate physical risks. That’s true throughout development. This issue is complicated, and also touches on the realities of budgets these days in child care centers – but clearly a change in thinking needs to happen to get back to appreciating and promoting the importance of devoted space for physical activity (both indoors and outdoors).
- Parents also need to be told explicitly that the preschool years are a critical developmental period for learning all kinds of things – but that much of this learning happens experientially during play. This is where cognitive, emotional, and social development all come together. I would suspect that nearly anyone who studies development would agree that preschoolers need a whole lot of balance between physical activity, play, and “academics.” And despite all the pressures on parents to want their kids to be precocious academically, it is imperative to understand that your child’s brain will develop best via this balance – this has been shown to be the case over decades of research.
There’s a real bottom line here. If you want to promote the optimal development and health of your toddler, make sure they have plenty of time for free play and physical activity. Convince yourself that this will be as important – if not more so – than the “academics” they are learning during the preschool years. And do what you can to make sure they get it.
Image of happy child on playground via Shutterstock.com
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