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Thursday, August 29th, 2013
The school year means that kids – even toddlers – will be taking on academic studies. Your little ones will be working with numbers and letters and thinking and talking. But they should be doing other things too – especially things that involve their hands.
There are lots of reasons for this:
- Kids learn by physically exploring their world.
- They learn by manipulating their world.
- Fine motor skills provide a direct line of stimulation into their brains that connects with cognitive development.
As kids develop their fine motor skills, they are better situated to direct their attention – meaning their brain resources – to the other tasks at hand. For example, a kid in kindergarten who can easily handle their writing utensil can focus more on what they are producing with their writing instrument because they don’t need to focus on how to hold it.
The reason all this is important – especially at the start of the school year – is that there is a collective message that young kids need to be immersed in “academic” work as early as possible. The problem is that, for them, hands-on activities are the academic work! Drawing, coloring, cutting, pasting, and playing with blocks are all examples of academic activities for toddlers. They promote development, engagement, and cognitive growth.
So make sure you – and your school – are thinking hands-on when you are thinking school work for your little ones.
Kids Making Pictures via Shutterstock.com
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Academics, coloring, drawing, Hands-on Learning, Health, Kids Health, Pasting, preschool | Categories:
Behavior, Health, Must Read, Parenting, Red-Hot Parenting
Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
Should young kids be told that they must always share? Should they be told that they never have to share? Or should they be encouraged to learn how to try to work things out themselves?
The answer from decades of research on preschoolers is … they should get experience in trying to try to work things out themselves, with good guidance from adults.
To get an expert perspective on this, I contacted Dr. Melanie Killen, who is Professor of Human Development, Professor of Psychology (Affiliate), and the Associate Director for the Center for Children, Relationships, and Culture at the University of Maryland. She is the author of Children and Social Exclusion: Morality, Prejudice and Group Identity (2011), co-editor of Social Development in Childhood and Adolescence: A Contemporary Reader (2011), and serves as the Editor of the Handbook on Moral Development (2006, 2013). Dr. Killen has a distinguished record of conducting seminal research on the social, moral, and cognitive development of preschoolers (as well as older children), and as such is well positioned to offer a perspective on sharing in the preschool years. Below is her take on a few key issues.
ARE EXPERIENCES THAT ARISE FROM CONFLICTS ABOUT SHARING IMPORTANT IN EARLY CHILDHOOD?
Yes. Sharing toys and resources is a fundamental aspect of early childhood social interactions that promotes the development of social competence. In fact, children who learn how to resolve conflicts about sharing in constructive ways (e.g., through negotiation and bargaining) are more liked by their peers and better adjusted in school contexts than are children who resort to aggressive strategies (such as insistence on one’s own way). What children learn from conflicts about sharing toys under optimal conditions is how to bargain, negotiate, and apply principles of fairness to their peers.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH TELLING KIDS THAT THEY HAVE TO – OR DON’T HAVE TO – SHARE?
A policy that mandates either sharing or “no sharing” is a problem from the start because it removes the opportunity for children to understand the principles that underlie sharing behavior. These principles include the fair distribution of resources – how do we share resources (or toys) in such a way as to treat others with mutual respect? This involves explaining to children the conditions in which not sharing toys is being unfair to another child (“If you play with all of the toys then he won’t have any to play with”). However, it’s also important to recognize that there are also conditions in which not sharing toys is viewed as legitimate, such as claims to ownership (“This is her special birthday present and she doesn’t want it to get broken”), or previously agreed upon rules about the use of resources (“She had the toy yesterday so today it’s your turn to use the toy”).
WHAT ROLE SHOULD ADULTS PLAY IN SHARING?
The bottom line is that a unilateral policy takes away from the learning opportunities for young children through which they teach each other what makes it wrong to refrain from sharing (“You had it all morning and I didn’t get to play with it so can I play with it now?”). Adults need to facilitate the opportunities for children to discuss, negotiate, and interact about how to play with toys, especially in early childhood when the stakes are still low. Learning how to share toys, which includes the recognition of ownership claims is a fundamental social skill that is related to constructing notions of equality, fair treatment, and mutual respect.
Children Playing via Shutterstock.com
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Conflicts, Health, Kids Health, No Sharing, preschool, Preschoolers, Sharing | Categories:
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Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
No, it’s not essential … but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing for toddlers.
Think about it this way. Here’s a short list of things that should be part of a toddler’s life:
Opportunities to Play: Play is a broad concept. Toddlers need time to play alone, and also play with other kids. They need to manipulate things to develop their fine motor skills. Being very inclusive here, we can extend this perspective to activities like drawing – which is known to support the later development of cognitive skills. They need to run around and be active. Pretend play is often thought to be at the root of creativity, but recent research shows that it has a large social benefit when done with others.
Opportunities to Socialize: Toddlers need to be around other kids. It’s fun for them. It’s a way to start to learn how to be social creatures and function with peers. They also learn a lot when they disagree with each other, when they don’t share, and when they don’t get along (as long as there is proper guidance from adults). They learn that they are not the only person in the world and sometimes need to take turns – which means waiting their turn now and then.
Opportunities to Regulate Their Emotions: Toddlers have to continue learning how to regulate their emotions. Whether it’s a full blown tantrum or just handling being mad or angry or scared, kids have to experience their emotions in multiple social contexts and develop ways of regulating themselves and functioning around others.
Opportunities to Talk: Yes, talk. Kids can develop their language by being around different people – it helps them learn how to use language to communicate socially (which requires integrating behavioral and emotional and cognitive skills). They should also hear a lot of talking.
If you consider this list, you have a sense of the richness that should characterize a toddler’s life. It’s another way of saying that lots of experiences are needed to give a well-rounded platform for social, emotional, cognitive, and language development. Notice I haven’t said anything about getting a leg up academically, or ensuring top grades later in school. I’m talking about fundamental developmental goals. And kids need to have fun. A lot of fun. A lot of the time.
Now, a toddler doesn’t need to go to preschool to achieve all this. If a preschool isn’t focused on the developmental tasks that characterize toddlerhood, then there is not much utility to it. But a great preschool is a great way to give your kid opportunities during the week to be around other adults and other kids. It’s not essential. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good if you choose to go that way and you find the preschool that delivers what you should be looking for.
Preschool Children via Shutterstock.com
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Emotion Regulation, Health, Kids Health, play, preschool, Talk, toddlers | Categories:
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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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creativity, Health, intelligence, play, preschool, pretend play, problem solving, Psychological Bulletin, storytelling | Categories:
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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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