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Archive for the ‘Learning through Play’ Category

More Than Just Fun and Games: What Children Can Learn from Playing Games

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By Helen Hadani, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

After sheltering in place for several months, many families are digging deep into their closets and garages for games that haven’t seen the light of day for months or even years. For families with young children, classic games like Chutes and Ladders, Go Fish and Candyland are fun ways to enjoy family time, but they also promote important social skills, including taking turns and sharing, and academic skills, such as counting, color matching and comparing numbers.  

By definition, games include rules. Remembering those rules requires working memory (the part of our memory that allows us to hold and mentally manipulate information in our minds), and following rules often requires self-control. For example, children have to resist the urge to touch their toes when playing Simon Says unless they hear the magic words “Simon says.” Similarly, in the classic outdoor game Red Light, Green Light, children need to exhibit self-control and only run fast when they hear “green light.” Even just waiting until it is your turn can be hard! 

Simple card games like Go Fish, Old Maid and Crazy Eights involve matching suits or numbers, which promotes early math skills. When children roll dice or use a spinner to determine the number of spaces they should move, they have an opportunity to practice counting. In fact, researchers have found that playing a number-based board game like Chutes and Ladders can improve preschoolers’ numerical knowledge and skills. 

Games are meant to be sources of entertainment and joy (and they bring out the competitive side in some of us), but research shows that some games can also promote cognitive and social skills.  

Don’t worry if your children ask to play their favorite game more times than you want to count – they are learning along the way as they get to that last spot on the board! 

Keep Outdoor Play Simple: Let Nature Supply the Learning.

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Daily walks or time spent outdoors have recently become part of many families daily routines as the benefits of time spent outdoorsincluding lowering stress levels and combating hyperactivity, are being experienced firsthand. As such, many parents and caretakers are looking for guidance on worthwhile outdoor activities for their children that don’t require a lot of planning or supplies. Below are some ideas for simple, quality outdoor activities that you and your children can do together that don’t require supplies or much planning. 

Activity One – Taking a Walk Outside 

Taking a walk may seem too simple to have any real benefits, but it has many. It is a great gross motor and physical activity for the whole family, especially those still perfecting their walking skills. Even for older children, taking a walk on uneven ground such as over roots in a wooded area or through a park with slopes, arched bridges or hills provides excellent opportunities to practice coordination and helps them learn to navigate varying terrains safely 

Activity Two – Counting Natural Items 

Head outside to your backyard, a nearby park or natural space. Have your children pick an item that they can see more than one of, such as trees, flowers, rocks or even wildlife. Have your children count how many of each item that they see. For infants, talk about what you see and count out loud to them. Older children may even want to practice adding or subtracting the numbers that correlate to different natural items. 

Activity Three – Watching Clouds  

Find an outdoor space with a clear view of the sky. Lay in the grass or on a blanket and ask your children what they see in the clouds. Point out anything that you see in the clouds. Does one cloud look like a dog and another like a tree? Ask your children what they know about whatever they see in the clouds to help develop their critical thinking skills, and identify areas of interest that you can explore together 

Activity Four – Taking a Thankful Walk 

Take a walk around your yard or community and point out natural items that you are thankful for to your children, such as I am thankful for the trees because they provide shade for us on hot, sunny daysI am thankful for the grass because it gives us a soft place to sit outside or I am thankful for the sun because it helps all of the plants to grow. Then ask your children to point out what they see around them that they are thankful for, and why. Depending on what your children point out, you can dive deeper into any topics that they show interest in and help them think critically about the natural world around them.  

Even the simplest of outdoor activities can have numerous benefits for both you and your children. Use your time spent outdoors as a chance to relax and enjoy some quality time together while the learning happens naturally 

Rorie Wells M.A., CPSI 

Education Facilities Specialist – Playgrounds 

Travel Without Traveling: How to Explore the World With Your Family From Home

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By Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D., Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

I recently received a text in which I was prompted to do a series of calculations, and the resulting number would determine where I would travel on my next vacation. The list included exciting destinations near and far, but number nine on the list was Stay Home. With the magic of math, everyone ends up with number nine. Funny but frustrating!  I really enjoy traveling, and I know that experience with travel helps children learn about other places and people, helps them develop important skills like self-regulation and problem-solving and contributes to their growing confidence and curiosity. Unfortunately, the current global health pandemic limits tourism, but with a little creativity and planning, families can stay safely at home while still reaping many of the benefits of actual travel. In the example below, I share an approach to planning virtual vacations in a way that will provide your family with powerful learning opportunities and cherished memories.

Imagine a trip to San Francisco in which you visit the Exploratorium, the Bay Area Discovery Museum, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown and Ghiradelli’s chocolate factory all without leaving your home: no stress, no meltdowns, no expense, and no packing! This type of travel is exactly what a friend of mine is doing with her children, and we can all do it too! Here’s a sample itinerary for a trip to San Francisco. Your family can adapt it or create your own travel plans to other destinations. For example, my friend invited her older children to help with planning activities, and they’ve gone to London, Japan, Paris and San Francisco all in the last month.

STEAM Project Day: The Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge – Look at pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge online. Talk about how they are similar and different. Set out a variety of materials, such as paper towel rolls, popsicle sticks, Legos, cups, paper and whatever else you have for children to use to make their own bridge. You can find ideas online to inspire you at https://preschoolsteam.com/bridge-building-activities-preschoolers/. Measure how long you can make a bridge before it collapses. Put pennies on your bridge to see how many it can hold before it starts to sag. If your bridge falls, ask your children why they think that happened and what ideas they have to make it stronger. These types of questions engage children in science practices which support their inquiry and critical thinking. Science practices are a core component of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Cooking Day: Dinner in Chinatown – Watch a short video about Chinatown, such as this read-aloud of a storybook at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dQVcX6sASA ).  Plan a menu for a dinner inspired by Chinese cuisine and cook it together. Lee Scott, Chair of the Goddard Educational Advisory Board, recently wrote a fantastic article about cooking with children that will help you get started. You can find it here: https://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/why-cooking-with-kids-is-worth-the-effort-and-how-to-get-started

Museum Day: The Exploratorium – This science center is chock full of hands-on, inquiry-based science exhibits. Their website offers an alternative experience with a menu of science snacks that provide ideas for interactive activities that families can do online or with common materials from around the house. Explore options together, or pick out a few in advance to do with your child. These activities will help children learn science principles, as well as engage in science practices. Best of all, they’re fun to do together!

Pretend Playday: The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park – Gather your stuffed animals, dolls and family members and have a tea party in your own Japanese tea garden. Find a tranquil spot in your yard or a neighborhood park, and lay out a blanket. Serve tea or juice, and talk about the things you notice in the nature around you. Spending time in nature promotes better mental health for both children and adults by reducing stress. This positive impact is found even with small doses of time outdoors.

Treat Yourself Day: Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory – Watch a video about how chocolate is made here: https://www.pbs.org/video/kidvision-pre-k-how-chocolate-is-made-cfvz1o/). Make yourselves chocolate sundaes or brownies, and celebrate the fun of exploring San Francisco from your home. One of the most well-known benefits of family travel is the strengthening of family bonds. As you eat your treat, start making plans for where you’ll go next!

At its best, travel fills us with wonder and offers quality family time, and at its worst, it exhausts us. Thanks to technology and our own creativity, we can indulge our wanderlust by visiting exciting new places without leaving home. Have fun and share your adventures with us by posting your trips to Facebook and Instagram and tagging The Goddard School.

Tips for Engaging Your Child in Independent Play

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Juggling work and childcare full time at home is a new and challenging task for many parents. By engaging their children in independent play, parents can have time to complete their own tasks while their children are using their imagination to practice executive function skills and problem-solving skills. The following steps can set up parents and children for independent play success.

Step One – Picking a Place for Independent Play

Depending on your children’s age, pick a space where they can play safely and independently. For younger children, you may want to start with a space that is easily within sight and reach, but older children may be able to be in their own rooms or private spaces. You should check the space for any potential hazards, such as sharp edges or objects, and ensure that any large furniture is safely anchored.

Step Two – Choosing Materials

Look around your home for loose parts that are age-appropriate for your children. Loose parts are found, bought or upcycled materials that children can move, manipulate, control and change within their play, such as buckets, balls, cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes, blocks, Legos, ramps and tracks. You can even set up bins or stations that hold each type of loose parts, which will allow you to easily exchange them or mix and match different items every couple of days or on the weekends to keep your children interested and engaged in their play.

Step Three – Introducing Materials

If you or your children are feeling unsure of how to engage with the loose parts, you can start with simple, open-ended challenges:

  • Build a tower using two or more of the materials;
  • Create a maze that you can roll a ball through;
  • Demonstrate stacking or nesting cups, putting balls or objects into cups and dumping them into other containers (for younger children).

Once your children are engaged with the materials, take a step back and let them lead their play. This provides the opportunity for you to focus on your tasks for the day while your children are engaged. Keep in mind that at first it may take some time for children who are not used to independent free play to stay focused but try to refrain from micromanaging the play, and instead continue suggesting open-ended challenges and let your children complete them independently.

Step Four – Discussing Play Reflections

The end of your children’s free playtime or the end of the day are great times to talk with your children about what they did during their independent free playtime. You can start by asking your children what they did or what they built during their free playtime. Do your best not to make assumptions about what any item your children created is supposed to be. Let them explain it to you. Wait until after your children have shown or told you what their creation is. This will be the perfect time to ask questions about it and engage them in some critical thinking and language practice.

To get your children looking forward to and planning for their next chance to engage in independent play (and your next chance to complete some tasks of your own), ask them about what they might build or create tomorrow and help them locate any additional loose parts they may need.

Interactive Songs and Fingerplays

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by Lee Scott, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Interactive songs and fingerplays are part of every infant, toddler and preschool teacher’s repertoire. If you think back, I bet you can name a few such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “The Wheels on the Bus.” Several parents have reached out to us and asked where they can find good interactive songs and when they should start singing these with their child.

The time to start is anytime. Interactive songs and fingerplays can start as soon as your infant is born. Singing, as well as talking and reading, support your child’s brain development, and this is especially important in the first 1000 days. It is also a great tool to help increase bonding with your child. The interactive songs help you to hold eye contact, view facial expressions and connect with your child. Research from the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child has found that “when an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills.” Singing simple songs supports these interactions.

Repeating the songs over and over also supports language, working memory and social-emotional development. Who knew these funny little songs could do so much? Think about what “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” (and “three, four, shut the door”) teaches – math, sequencing, self-care and more. These simple chants and songs are powerful learning tools.

Here are three of my favorite resources my colleagues at The Goddard School have shared with me to help you get started:

  1. Super Simple Songs – This site has all the songs you will remember from childhood and more.
  2. Songs for Teaching – We like the helpful list of fingerplays.
  3. Let’s Play Music – They offer many free songs and no ads.

You can also make up your own. Sing about what you are doing as you feed or bathe your child. The most important thing is to enjoy the fun and giggles with your little one.

 

DIY Snow Dough Recipe

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Help your children bring the snow inside this winter with snow dough. This sensory substance is perfect for modeling snowballs and snow-people, no matter what the weather is like outside your window.

What You’ll Need:

  • A measuring cup
  • A large bowl
  • An airtight container
  • 1 cup of conditioner or lotion (Pick an unscented option if you want to add essential oil for a custom scent.)
  • 2 cups of cornstarch
  • A few drops of your favorite essential oil (This is optional, but peppermint gives the dough a crisp, wintery smell.)

What to Do:

  1. Help your children measure the cornstarch and conditioner or lotion and put them in the bowl.
  2. Add a few drops of essential oil (optional). Parents, please do this step for your children.
  3. Have your children mix the ingredients with their hands until well combined. If the mixture seems a little too dry, add more lotion or conditioner; if it’s too moist, add more cornstarch. Play around with amounts until you have a mixture that is neither crumbly nor sticky.
  4. Have your children wash the excess ingredients off their hands. Together, create some winter shapes such as snowflakes, snow-people or snowballs. When you’re finished, store the dough in an airtight container.

Here are some snow-themed books for you and your children to read together:

The Snowbear by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Claire Alexander;

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal;

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats;

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs;

Snow Friends by M. Christina Butler, illustrated by Tina Macnaughton.

Five Family-Friendly Ways to Explore the Voting Process

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Becoming familiar with the election process can help set a foundation for children to learn how casting their votes can make a difference. Your children will need you to explain vocabulary words including election, nominate, voting, campaign and ballots in an age appropriate way.

1. Vote for your favorite dinner 

Explain to your children that you will nominate two dinner choices and hold an election to determine the winner. All members of the family should participate. Allow enough time for your children to make campaign posters to show why they think their candidate (dinner choice) should be selected. This activity can be a great way to incorporate math skills by asking one of your children to count the ballots.

2. Vote for a bedtime story 

Choosing just the right bedtime story can be a long process for some children. Provide your child with a few options earlier in the day, and later have him cast a vote for his choice before the bedtime routine begins. This can help set a foundation for the importance of voting, while reducing the time it takes to select a story.

3. Hold a debate

The next time your family is contemplating a decision, whether it’s which spot to vacation this summer or whether it’s to get a pet, you can hold a debate among family members. This encourages children to organize their thoughts and be confident when voicing their opinions.

4. Plan for a movie night

It can be a challenge for all family members to agree on a movie. Encourage each family member to give a speech saying why the movie that she prefers should be the winner. After hearing everyone’s input, take a vote to see which movie wins. Explain to your children that sometimes the outcome does not reflect their choice and that they must make the best of it.

5. Create a rainy day list

Be prepared with a rainy day roster of activities. Create a list of things that your children can do on a rainy day. Encourage each child to vote for an activity. When the activity is complete, ask each child what she enjoyed about the activity and if she would want to do it again. This is a good way to incorporate how democratic policies are sometimes beneficial and at other times need to be looked at in a different way to be made better.

The Benefits of Summer Camps for Your Kids (And You)

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Now that the sun is shining and the weather warms up, that means the school year is coming to an end. The kids will be home for two full months meaning you have to figure out what to do while you maintain your full-time job.

Before, the kids would be busy throughout the day at school. Maybe you were able to meet them at home, or they had someone watching them until you are home from work. But what if the kids aren’t ready to be left at home all day, every day?

Consider enrolling your children in summer camps. These camps provide entertainment while educated kids on different subjects. More and more the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering Arts and Mathematics) summer camps are becoming the popular (and recommended) choice for kids. Why? It is because these are all skills that are needed in a continually growing workforce (think computer software developers, medical scientists, analysts).

Here are a few benefits of enrolling your children in a STEAM summer camp this year.

They Learn New and Unique Skills

The skills your kids will learn at a STEM summer camp will be valuable their entire life. But not only that, they integrate these skills into a fun and exciting atmosphere. For example, coding camps give kids the opportunities to learn about computer programming skills they usually wouldn’t learn in school. Launch After School programs are a fantastic example of what kids learn, how they learn it and why it is beneficial for their future.

They Get a Feeling of Independence

Allowing your children to have the chance to foster a sense of independence will help guide them as they grow older. They go into a new environment with new people all around. While there, they have the opportunity to make their own decisions on almost anything. Add that to having to learn to develop trusting relationships with other adults and friends to help them instead of always relying on their parents.

It Builds Friendships

When you send your kid to a summer camp, they are going to be surrounded by not just kids their own age. But they will also meet people that are interested in the same things they are. Summer camps are a perfect environment for kids to build lasting friendships. Whether it be through games, free time or through team-building exercises, your children will develop friendships they will cherish for a long time.

Help Grow Up Confidently

It isn’t always easy to pack up and leave home while at a young age. It can be intimidating and scary (for you too). But sometimes that is precisely what they need to give them a little push outside their comfort zone.

Too often do children nowadays rely on things that make life easy, whether it be electronics or having things handed to them. But by going to camp, they gain experiences that they may not get anywhere else. All of these opportunities help them grow up as children and build a level of confidence they may not have gotten otherwise.

So while you figure out your summer plan between children being home and try to work, consider enrolling them in a summer camp (or maybe two). It will be a relief for you since you know where they will be the whole time and won’t have to worry about finding a babysitter. More than likely when they come home, they’ll want to go right back.

 

This article was written by Emily Green from Working Mother and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Kids Who Spend More Time Outside Are Happier Adults, Science Says

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Sending the kids outside to play isn’t just a good way to get them out of the house, it’s also beneficial for their mental health. And as a new study from Aarhus University in Denmark shows, children who more spend more time in nature may be less likely to develop various psychiatric disorders as adults.

This scientific research essentially confirms what we’ve always known: Playing outdoors is good for kids’ overall happiness and development. But what this study also shows is having more “cumulative green space” while growing up is associated with a “lower risk of a wide spectrum of psychiatric disorders later in life.”

There are a number of other factors that affect mental health, including family history and genetic predispositions to certain conditions. And the point of this study isn’t to scare city dwellers—it’s to reinforce for the idea that “green space” is good for kids, and integrating natural environments into urban areas has proven benefits as well.

The fact is that kids just don’t spend as much time outside as we did growing up. One 2016 survey from U.K.’s National Trust showed that the average child spent just over four hours a week enjoying Mother Nature, compared to the 8.2 hours their parents logged when they were little. We can chalk it up to our busy schedules and the rise of technology, but that doesn’t change the fact that our kids aren’t getting much fresh air and sunshine.

Many parents are trying to change to this, though. Take Ginny and Jason Yurich, a Michigan mom and dad who started 1000 Hours Outside, an online community encouraging families to (you guessed it) aim to spend 1000 hours a year in the great outdoors.

The Yurichs, who have five children, say that an ideal world, children should be outside four to six hours a day. That’s a lot, we know, and the creators of 1000 Hours Outside are quick to say they’re not spending four to six hours outside every day. Instead, they “aim for 4-6 hours outside at least three to four times a week,” Ginny writes, explaining they do “a little more in the nicer months and a little less in the worse ones.”

There’s plenty of evidence that suggests unstructured outdoor play is key to a child’s development, and we’re of the mindset that every little bit counts. What the Yurichs are saying, though, is that when kids are able to spend longer periods of time outdoors, the benefits are even bigger.

“Children who are allowed this freedom of time outside get lost in nature,” Ginny explains. “They get lost in their imaginations and they get lost in wonder. And then they rapidly develop. There are many factors why but one reason is due to the rich sensory environment that nature always provides.”

Nature also provides the perfect place for kids and parents to be active and explore the world around them. It isn’t always possible to head outside and play, but when the weather’s right and you can carve out some time in the family’s schedule, it’s a wonderful, affordable way to engage those little ones and their developing minds.

 

This article was written by Rebecca Macatee from Parents and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

How to Unschedule Your Child

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It’s come to this: Doctors are now being told to prescribe play. The American Academy of Pediatrics details the urgency of the matter in a policy statement. There is a play deficit in this country, and we know it, don’t we? In articles about parenting, it seems that there’s no breed dissected more than that of the bubble-wrapped child who’s shuttled from Mandarin to fencing to organic cheese making classes until bedtime. We love reminiscing about the days when we could hop on bikes and meander for hours with the neighborhood kids (few of whose names our parents ever took the time to learn), and yearn for our kids to have that experience. We’ve learned that play enhances brain structure, helps kids practice empathy and makes them more creative and innovative.

And yet it’s strangely difficult to crack some of the structure of children’s lives. I know that I feel some pressure to add more adult instruction to my daughter’s days when I’m handed an inch-thick packet of extracurricular activities by her school teacher (“Ooh, robotics fight club”), or when other parents ask me what her schedule looks like for the fall (“Um, we’ve got Halloween?”), or when I read interviews by musicians and dancers and athletes who mention they started their paths to mastery at age three (“Argh, we’re already too late!”). To back off, it takes some real willpower and planning. Here are some tips for unscheduling your child in today’s overscheduled world.

Be Realistic

You don’t need to move to the woods so your kids can frolic in streams all day to give your family more healthy play time. There are benefits of having scheduled activities—higher self-esteem, lower rates of drug and alcohol use over time and social bonds. Some parents of middle schoolers told me that having their kids deeply involved in extracurriculars they love is what has kept them mostly safe during a time of peer pressure and emotional disarray.

The goal here is simply to protect your kids’ downtime. Denise Pope, one of the authors of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids, tells the New York Times that young children need an hour of play time (which does not include dinner or homework or baths) for every after-school scheduled hour. You might set a rule for your kids such as one sport or activity per season. (I’ve decided to put my daughter in another voice class, which she absolutely loves.) You have to find the right balance for your family.

Start With a Good Playtime Setting

Dr. Robert Murray, the lead author of the AAP report The Crucial Role of Recess, tells me, “Parents can absolutely help their child find safe, interesting environments for them to explore—but it’s important to let him or her self-direct.” He suggests playgrounds, beaches and streams, woods and parks, fields, the zoo, local farms or indoor spaces where kids can pretend play with peers. Wherever you choose to go, step back and give them some “BE Time,” which he describes as the antidote to parent-directed activities.

At home, give kids access to open-ended materials to tinker with, even stuff you might see as junk. Blocks are always awesome, but so are random pieces of string, aluminum foil, masking tape, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls and emptied shampoo bottles.

Prepare for the Suck

Realize that it’s sometimes hard to give kids downtime. On weekends, the first thing my daughter asks when she wakes up is “Where are we going today?” When I tell her nowhere, she whines and declares that is so boring. And then parent-friends will start texting me: “What are you up to today? Wanna bring the kids to library story time? Or princess ballet class? Or go watch a movie?”And I often want to say “Yes!” It would be easy to strap my kid into the car and do any one of those things. But it’s good to sometimes say no. I know that my daughter’s groans will eventually turn to silence, and as I do my own thing around the house, I’ll often find her cheerfully playing with her dollhouse or making something out of a cardboard box or drawing with chalk in the backyard.

Put white space on your calendar and prepare for some protests. Then find something to do and let your kids do the same.

Connect With Other Back-Off Parents

Some parents are finding that as much as they want to unschedule their kids, there’s a problem: Their children have no one to play with. Playgrounds are barren as every other kid is off at chess or tae kwon do at 3:30 PM. A project called Let Grow is addressing that issue, connecting local parents who want to give their kids more independence by doing less for them. You can sign up to find nearby families.

Once you find other likeminded moms and dads, you might consider setting up a play street, in which community members transform a residential city block a car-free space for children and families to play together, say, either weekly or monthly, or lobby schools to start their own play clubs, in which they keep their gyms or playgrounds open till dinnertime for self-directed free play.

It’s true that unscheduling kids takes a lot more work than it did years ago. But after doing it, you may very well find that your family will be less stressed and happier. And plus, it’s the doctor’s orders.

 

This article was written by shared by Michelle Woo to Lifehacker and Michelle Woo on Offspring from Lifehacker and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.