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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Side-by-Side Smiles: 5 Benefits of Parallel Play

Photo by David Nestor (Flickr)

I was looking through my girls' baby pictures the other day and noticed a trend. In most of them, they were playing in the same room but not playing together. Child development experts call it parallel play, and it's totally normal. It also offers five important benefits to kids, which is why you should encourage side-by-side smiles.

Parallel Play Boosts Confidence

Babies have so much to learn about the world, including how to play. They have to figure out how to turn a book's page, push buttons on an interactive toy, and stack blocks. Parallel play gives them a chance to learn how to operate toys as they inspect the toy alone and mimic and mirror the way their playmates handle the toys. As your child becomes proficient with basic skills, their confidence grows and prompts them to keep trying new things. The foundation has been laid for your child to be confident during playtime and in daily life.

Parallel Play Eases the Transition to Group Play

Babies aren't born knowing how to interact with other people. They have to learn how to communicate, share, and play nice as they prepare for real life. Parallel play gives kids a great start at learning how to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate with others. It helps kids get comfortable being near someone else. In time, they learn how to transition from solo play to group play because they have become acclimated to being near others.

Parallel Play Develops Social Skills

I can hear you now wondering how parallel play develops social skills since the kids don't actually talk or play with toys together. It's true that they don't do much, if any, talking, but watch your child the next time they play beside a friend. You'll see the kids observe and imitate each other. They also probably communicate in other ways, like giggling with each other or grabbing toys they like. They aren't playing house or kickball together yet, but don't worry. Parallel play does promote social skills that help your child play nice with others soon.

Parallel Play Encourages Self-Expression

Every child has a unique personality, interests, and talents, and individualized play gives children the perfect opportunity to develop self-expression. They can choose the toy they prefer, play with it however they want, and have fun on their own terms. The next time your child engages in parallel play, watch them. What toys interest them, and how do they play with those toys? You'll learn about your child while they express themselves during parallel play.

Parallel Play Reduces Sensory Overload

Too much exposure to new things, other people, or toys can be overwhelming to a child's senses. Instead of pushing your child to play directly with someone, let them play beside their friend. By playing in the same room but alone, kids can get a little space to deal with their sensory overload as they calm down or decompress. It's a smart move that reduces tantrums, anxiety, and frustration while increasing fun.

I love side-by-side smiles. It means that children are having fun. Parallel play also gives kids five important benefits. How will you encourage parallel play today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Their Own Little World: 7 Benefits of Solitary Play

Photo by Cal Sr (Flickr)

When my girls were babies, I loved sitting with them and playing. They learned something new every day, and I didn't want to miss a second of it. As they grew up, I scheduled play dates so they could discover the joys of playing with friends. However, I'm discovering that our kids sometimes need time alone. They learn seven key lessons when they play in their own little world.

Solitary Play Cultivates Creativity

My girls get creative in the kitchen when they help me cook, and it's fun watching them come up with new games when they play together. However, their creativity really shines through when they play alone. They invent their own activities, rules, and even dialogues. I love watching them become more imaginative as they hone their creativity and ability to think outside the box, awesome skills they need in the real world.

Solitary Play Improves Personal Decision-Making Skills

How many decisions do you make in a day? I've heard that the average is 5,000. That sounds exhausting! To help my girls become better decision makers, I encourage them to play alone. They decide what to play, where to play, and other details as they improve their personal decision-making skills.

Solitary Play Helps Children Process Emotions

Anger, sadness, fear, and embarrassment are all common emotions that can be difficult for kids to process. I've found that it's sometimes helpful to give my girls time to play alone when they're struggling emotionally with something. In their rooms, they feel safe and can play at their own pace. Solitary play gives them a chance to process emotions and deal with the feelings that challenge them.

Solitary Play Promotes Relaxation

After a long week at work, I can't wait to sit down and put my feet up with no obligations. Kids need solitary play for the same reason. They don't have to compromise, talk to friends, or act a certain way when they play alone. It's a fun, relaxing, and wonderful time with no expectations.

Solitary Play Strengthens Focus

I was watching my girls play at the park with friends the other day, and they kept moving from one activity to the other. They were definitely having fun, but it made me appreciate the times they get to play alone. When they focus on one thing at a time, whether it's a book, drawing, or blocks, they can work on a project until they're ready to move on to the next activity. They'll use that ability to focus when they're at school, on the ball field, and at other times in real life.

Solitary Play Encourages Independence

It's an honor for me to meet my daughters' needs, but ultimately, I want to work myself out of a job and raise independent girls who function on their own as adults. That's one reason why I encourage solitary play. My girls keep themselves occupied as they play what they want to and become more self-confident. In the end, solitary play is one way I equip my girls to operate in the world on their own.

Solitary Play Provides Free Time

From the time they wake up until bedtime, my girls are on the run. Does that describe your children, too? If so, give them opportunities for solitary play. They need the free time as they take a break from the stress of their daily routines, face no demands, and have no one telling them what to do. I know my girls value this time alone, and your kids will, too!

Our kids need to play with us and with their friends. Before you schedule your next game or play date, though, consider these seven benefits of solitary play. Give your kids the chance to be in their own little world. They'll be better for it!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Silly Scribes: 10 Playful Ways to Encourage Kids to Write

Photo by Denise Krebs (Flickr)

While looking through boxes in the attic last weekend, I found a few of my school notebooks. I had fun reading some of my English essays and reminiscing about the teachers who taught me to be a better writer. As parents, we can teach our kids to write, too. Here's my list of 10 ways we can encourage our kids to write and be silly scribes.

Write a Play

My girls love to make up stories, which means they can write a play. While creating the story, imagining the setting, and developing the characters, they have fun and end up with a fun play to act out on our next family game night.

Interview Someone

Nurture your child's inner reporter when you set up an interview with a resident at a local senior center, a relative, or a community leader. After the interview, your kids can write a story about the person they talked with. Not only will your kids get practice talking to people and writing about it, but they'll also build relationships.

Write Poems About Nature

During one of our recent hikes, my girls started making up silly rhymes about things they saw in nature. It was so funny that I asked them to write down their poems. Your kids can turn nature adventures into writing opportunities, too, as they observe and record what they see, hear, do, and experience in the great outdoors.

Find a Pen Pal

Thanks to the internet, we can easily connect with people from around the world. I signed my girls up to be pen pals with the daughters of one of my college roommates, and they enjoy sending snail mail and email messages to their friends. Your kids can also become a pen pal with a relative, friend, or neighbor as they practice their writing skills.

Start a Chain Story

If you've never participated in a chain story, start one with your kids! Each person writes a sentence before passing the story on to the next person. Another version is to write only two words as you pass the story around. Let the story go on for a week or so, and after you're finished writing, read the story out loud. It's hilarious!

Write Mad Libs

Get ready to laugh and teach your kids the parts of speech when you write Mad Libs. I found an online version my kids like, or your kids can write their own. It's a hilarious and educational activity for the whole family!

Draw and Caption a Comic Strip

If your kids laugh at comics like my girls do, challenge them to write their own. They can start with an original drawing or the caption as they create an entertaining comic strip.

Keep a Journal

When my girls were little, I took time each day to jot down the milestones they reached, their funny sayings, and a sentence or two about what we did that day. It's fun to read now, and that's why I encourage them to keep a journal. They can use it to record the details of their day, or they can select a writing prompt as they have fun journaling.

Create a Family Newsletter

To keep in touch with family members in other states, one of my friends started a family newsletter. Her kids write articles about their activities, share a favorite family recipe, and draw pictures. It's a fun way to stay connected, and it gives your kids writing practice!

Play "What If"

Challenge your kids to use their creativity to answer "what if" questions.

  • If I wasn't me, what would I be?
  • What if the sky were green?
  • How would life be different if I lived in Australia?
  • If I had a superpower, what would it be and why?

This writing game encourages kids to think outside the box and is a fun way to get to know your kids better.

Do you want your kids to become silly scribes? Try these 10 playful tips that encourage kids to write. What other tips would you add to the list?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, May 16, 2016

Right to Play: 9 Reasons to Stand Up for Recess

Photo by Steve Langguth (Flickr)

Last night, a high school friend and I met at the park for a play date, and our conversation soon turned to the subject of play. I was shocked to hear that her kids' school downsized recess to 10 short minutes a day. What in the world? Kids have a right to play, and they need breaks at school. I encouraged my friend to stand up for recess, and here's why.

Kids Need Exercise

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children need 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Recess help kids fulfill this healthy requirement, and it motivates them to move more before and after school, too!

Kids Eat Healthier After Recess

Ever wonder if your kids eat the healthy food you pack in their lunch boxes? Research shows that children who eat lunch after recess are more likely to chow down on fruits and vegetables. Why? Because they have worked up an appetite and are less likely to eat the junk food and toss their healthy food on the way out the door to play. That's good news as we encourage healthy eating habits and fight childhood obesity!

Recess Nourishes the Brain

When kids play, their existing brain cells are nourished and new ones grow. Play is also linked to improved problem-solving skills, better math grades, and increased language development. That's what I want for my girls and for your kids, too!

Breaks Increase Concentration and Focus

I love to read, but after about 20 minutes, my mind starts to wander. If this happens to adults, how can we expect our kids to concentrate on school work without a break? Breaks improve concentration and focus, and that's why we have to stand up for recess!

Recess Builds Social Skills

Kids don't have many opportunities to socialize during academic lessons, but almost every day, my girls share stories of how they compromise, make new friends, and negotiate during recess. This play time gives kids a great opportunity to build social skills as they have fun.

Breaks Improve Memory

Did you know that our brains work even when we're resting? Studies found that people remember things better when they take a break after they are presented with new material. Our kids remember things better, too, when they get recess breaks.

Play Develops Imagination and Creativity

Schools need to focus on academic achievement, and I definitely want my girls to learn when they go to school. However, kids also benefit from cultivating their imagination and creativity through play. With these skills, children think outside the box and problem-solve, essential skills that help them in all areas of life.

Kids Behave Better Because of Recess

Some schools take away recess as punishment for students who misbehave. I think this is a big mistake, and experts agree. A short 15-minute break improves student behavior, a positive for kids and teachers.

Recess Is Fun

I know school focuses on education, and I'm thankful for that. Childhood has to include moments of fun, though, and recess gives kids the perfect opportunity to frolic and relax.

Recess is an important part of a child's school day. I'm grateful that my girls have the right to play, and I will continue to stand up for recess. Will you join me?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, May 2, 2016

5 Tips on Cultivating Your Child's Natural Curiosity

Photo by Alain Wibert (Flickr)

When my daughter found out that our neighbors were adopting a dog, she asked me dozens of questions. I answered her dozens of questions and encouraged her to read books about pet care because I wanted to encourage her curiosity. I enjoyed watching her learn, and that incident prompted me to think about five ways we can encourage the natural curiosity in our children.

Take Your Children Outside

From the time they were born, I took my girls outside every day. I wanted them to appreciate the great outdoors and learn as much as possible about nature. Whether your kids are newborns or teens, start now to expose them to nature. Take walks around your neighborhood, hike through the forest, and sit outside at night as you encourage your kids to be curious while outdoors.

Follow Your Children's Leads

Like when my daughter wanted to learn more about pet care, maybe your kids have expressed interest in something unique. Kids learn more when they participate in activities that interest them, and you can follow your child's lead and jump into whatever subject currently interests them. Grab a drum and play along as your child bangs a tambourine, borrow art books and draw together, or hunt for bugs that might live in your garden as you encourage your kids to follow wherever their curiosity leads.

Ask Your Children Open-Ended Questions

Curiosity is similar to a tennis game: Your kids ask a question and find an answer, which leads to more questions and answers. That's one reason to ask open-ended questions that can't be answered with a single "yes" or "no." Try questions like, "How do you feel about...," "Tell me what happened at school today," or "What was such-and-such experience like for you?" These questions encourage your children to develop their own thoughts and ideas as they continue to learn and grow.

Let Your Kids Play Freely

Play is one of the best ways kids learn to explore, discover new things, and cultivate their interests. Instead of directing the activity all of the time, encourage free play. Their curiosity guides them as they grow emotionally, develop cognitive skills, and cultivate independent discovery.

One way I encourage free play is by stocking our play room with open-ended toys like blocks, boxes, and art materials that invite my kids to use their imaginations, and I rotate the toys every few weeks so my girls don't get bored. I've also learned that it's OK if kids want to use a soccer ball as a baby instead of kicking it or pretend that the jungle gym is a fortress they can hide inside.

Model Curiosity

My kitchen faucet broke the other day. Instead of hiring someone to fix it, I invited my girls to join me in learning how to repair it ourselves. We used that opportunity to learn a new skill, and we now want to tackle fixing our broken front screen door. By modeling curiosity, I taught my girls that it's OK to keep learning, growing, and asking questions no matter how old they are.

These five tips for cultivating your child's natural curiosity are only the beginning. There are dozens of other ways to encourage our kids to think for themselves as they explore, learn, and grow, so get curious!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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