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Friday, October 30, 2015

Brain Games: 9 Benefits of Play-Based Learning

Photo by U.S. Army (Flickr)

"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood." I love that quote by Fred Rogers because it expresses my belief that play is essential for learning. Do you agree? Here are nine reasons why play-based learning is beneficial for our kids.

Play-based learning draws from a child's innate desire to explore, interact, socialize, and play.

Children are naturally curious, and they want to actively engage in their world. Imaginative, creative, and practical play provides plenty of opportunities for them to explore, interact, and socialize as they have fun.

Play-based learning motivates and engages kids.

Some kids do learn while doing worksheets or listening to a parent lecture, but my girls and many kids thrive while playing. For these kids, play-based learning motivates and engages them. They're eager to learn math facts while shooting hoops and are quicker to remember how to tie their shoes while they say a rhyme.

Play-based learning builds positive relationships with education and learning.

I know I want my girls to become lifelong learners who always explore, grow, and learn. If their educational experience is boring, though, they'll have no desire to keep learning things. That's why I appreciate play-based learning. Because my girls have fun as they learn, they're more likely to want to continue their education in the future.

Play-based learning enhances creativity.

Many modern curricula focus on facts but neglect creativity. That's why pretend play is crucial for kids. They can imagine scenarios, invent problems, and come up with solutions in an active environment that promotes and hones their creativity.

Play-based learning provides opportunities to practice skills.

When I talk to other parents about school, homework is one of our biggest challenges. That extra practice reinforces lessons from school, though. So why not use play to do the same thing? While reinforcing skills, exploring concepts at their own pace, and becoming comfortable with facts, they also have fun learning math as they play hopscotch or run around the yard, for example.

Play-based learning reinforces social cognition.

Empathy, taking turns, and negotiating conflict are all aspects of social cognition that kids learn as they play. By providing play-based learning opportunities, you help kids get along better with their peers now and in the future.

Play-based learning improves abstract thinking.

Sometimes, kids need to see more than concrete facts. They need to think outside of the box and feel intuitively. Abstract thinking is one skill kids gain when they play. As they build creations with blocks or consider what a character on a coloring page is thinking, they improve their abstract thinking skills.

Play-based learning helps kids problem-solve.

Kids can learn to solve problems in a classroom, but I want my girls to know how to think on their feet. What will they do when another kid is using their favorite swing or four kids want to play a three-person game? Play time helps our kids learn how to come up with solutions and find an answer that works as they problem-solve.

Play-based learning teaches critical-thinking skills.

All day long, my girls are told what to do and how to do it. I appreciate that they can learn to think for themselves when they play. They learn how to ask open-ended questions, consider multiple or unspecified responses, and interpret the results. On the playground, during family game night, or on the sports field, they develop critical-thinking skills that are essential for success in life.

Kids need play to learn these important skills and life lessons. I encourage my girls to engage in play-based learning. What brain games will your kids practice the next time they play?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, October 23, 2015

Smart Seeds: 7 Ways That Young Brains Blossom Through Play

Photo by J Aaron Farr (Flickr)

When your kids play, it might look like they're merely having fun. However, they're actually developing their brains. Numerous studies show that play helps young brains blossom. Learn more as you encourage the kids you love to play.

Play Improves Attention Spans

Recess is more than a way for kids to get fresh air. Studies show that kids pay more attention in school after they take breaks for free play without adult direction. Chinese and Japanese students understand the correlation between play breaks and improved attention. They rank high in academics perhaps in part because they take short breaks every 50 minutes.

Play Improves Language Skills

We know kids aren't born with the ability to talk, but did you know that play develops essential language skills? Our kids learn how to communicate with receptive and expressive language, which means they understand more words and speak more words, thanks to play.

Play Improves Problem-Solving Skills

Learning how to solve problems is a skill I want my girls to learn. They can become better problem-solvers as they play with multi-solution toys and pretend.

According to psychologists, there are two types of problems. Convergent problems have one solution, and divergent problems have multiple solutions. Kids are better able to solve divergent problems when they play.

In one experiment, some kids were given puzzles, a convergent toy, while others played with blocks, a divergent toy. They were then given a divergent-thinking test, and the kids who played with blocks were better able to solve the problems. In another study, kids who played pretend also had a greater ability to solve divergent problems.

Play Improves Self-Regulation

The ability to control impulses, attention, and emotions is super-important for kids, and they can actually learn this skill through play. One study found that kids who frequently engage in pretend play also frequently practice cooperation and conforming to rules. This practice develops their self-control and hones their self-regulation over time.

Another study links counterfactual reasoning and pretend play. Basically, play helps our kids learn how to infer what's going to happen even though it hasn't happened yet, and I know that I want my kids to master "what if" scenarios as they go through life.

Play Improves Math Skills

The blocks your kids play with aren't just toys for building, sorting, or stacking. Studies show that kids who engage in more complicated or sophisticated block play in preschool take higher-level math classes and perform better than their peers in high school. IQ does play a part for these kids, but they need play to develop their math skills, too.

Play Improves Kids' Real-Life Coping Skills

Do your kids enjoy playing imaginative and make-believe games like my girls do? If so, they're building real-life coping skills. Preschoolers as young as three understand the difference between real life and fantasy in part because of their pretend play. They also know that they can put their pretend experiences into practice with friends, at home, or in school.

Play Improves Scientific Awareness

The next time your kids ask to play in the mud or build a sand castle, let them. These types of messy play activities promote scientific awareness and build a child's understanding of physics, textures, and matter.

Have you ever made the connection between play and brain growth? Our kids grow and learn because we give them freedom to play. Let's raise smart seeds as we encourage young brains to blossom while they play!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, October 19, 2015

Mama Play Awards: 5 Twitter Moms Who Are Awesome Advocates for Play!

VaniaRaposo (Pixabay)

In June, I published a blog post honoring the fathers who dedicate time and effort to delivering the joy of play to kids around the world. I am deeply grateful for all of your positive feedback and shares! The "play matters" community is astounding, lively, and empowering! Now, I want to honor the mothers who serve as steadfast, enthusiastic advocates for play. These five women are so deserving of the 'Mama Play Awards'! If you want to learn more about the importance of play, I urge you to tap into the fantastic resources they provide. To connect with them via Twitter, click on their names!

  1. Lenore Skenazy: Risky play is natural. It preps children for the unpredictable nature of the real world. When children engage in a healthy balance of risk, freedom, and play, they build confidence and independence. Risky play provides a challenging and enriching kind of fun that kids create themselves. Lenore Skenazy knows just how powerful this is! When she allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the subway alone, Lenore Skenazy became known as the "worst mom in America." That experience prompted her to launch, a platform where she advocates for more freedom in children's daily lives. Her bold, proactive approach has empowered countless parents to loosen the reins and encourage their kids to explore all facets of play, including myself!
  2. Janice Halloran: I love interacting with Janice on Twitter and exploring her colorful, abundant website! As a licensed social worker, mental health counselor, and mom of two, I wholeheartedly trust her insights on how vital play is for the social and emotional wellbeing of children. She believes that play is the foundation for future skills, and is dedicated to making play accessible to all children, especially those with ADHD, autism, social anxiety, and sensory processing issues.
  3. Jill Vialet: If you have read my interview with Jill Vialet, you know how much of a fan I am. Jill Vialet is the founder and CEO of Playworks, a non-profit organization that strives to unlock every child's "superpowers" with recess and play! They train coaches that embark on exciting, community-fueled journeys to create more playful cultures in schools. Jill firmly believes that play matters because "it creates an opportunity to bring out the best in every kid - and it's an opportunity for kids to really see the best in themselves." Jill also penned a novel titled Recess Rules - it empowers kids to stand up for recess and believe in their ability to make a positive impact.
  4. Charmin Calamaris: Charmin Calamaris departed from her seasoned career and became dedicated to supporting her own health and wellbeing. In doing so, she discovered that it helped her be a "better wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and citizen." This personal revolution sparked the Momiverse. This lively, wholesome resource empowers mothers to build a more fulfilling, balanced lifestyle for themselves while nurturing a family. The Momiverse explores topics that are meaningful, such as cyberbulling, healthy recipes, exercise for the whole family, and of course, the wonders of play. I also admire her dedication to being eco-friendly and celebrating the planet we have!
  5. Bethe Almeras: If you believe childhood should be messy, muddy, and silly, connect with Bethe Almeras, the one and only Grass Stain Guru! Almeras encourages parents and kids to unplug, go barefoot, embrace eccentricity, and seek unbridled joy outdoors. Really, she advocates for kids to be kids! My interview with her was such a fun and enriching experience. Bethe states that "children are born to play." I passionately agree! Another wonderful thing about Bethe is her spirited support for animal adoption. She truly is a blessing to her community!

These are just a few of the marvelous women I have met that are deserving of a Mama Play Award. While they may not all be mothers, their commitment to play means that they are creating a world where every child can thrive. Are there any other champions of play we should know about? Please tell us in the comments!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wondrous Worlds: 7 Ways That Kids Benefit From Pretend Play

Photo by Lars Plougmann (Flickr)

Epic battles, stirring speeches, swashbuckling pirates, awe-inspiring astronauts, poised princesses, lost treasures, talkative teddies, heroic rescues, bustling restaurants, terrific tea parties - where can you find such an entertaining line-up all wrapped into one package? A child's brain! Pretend play makes all of this possible and more. Pretend play is often considered fun and frivolous, fueled by imagination and whimsy. In truth, it goes far beyond that. While kids are jousting in tournaments, operating a starship, and whipping up a gourmet meal, they are learning to solve problems, communicate, and think inventively. As they dive into these creative scenarios, they are building real world skills and individuality. Yes, they are having fun, but this kind of natural joy is key to keeping their minds and bodies engaged! Let's don our archeologist gear and uncover the 7 truths of pretend play!

Social Skills

Kids can learn social skills at school, but they also hone these invaluable skills during pretend play. When children play, they are freely experimenting with social and emotional roles. Not only will this help them develop empathy and understanding, it will also boost self-esteem because they are discovering all that they are capable of! Group pretend play adds a new, nurturing dynamic. They talk, share responsibilities, take turns, and work through disagreements. Pretend play invites children to explore and become comfortable with the endless array of social cues they will encounter throughout life.

Emotional Skills

For children, the world can be a scary and confusing place. Ever wonder why "playing doctor" seems to be a common choice? Pretend play gives kids the opportunity to confront unfamiliar, frightening scenarios in the comfort of their own play place. New emotions can be tough for kids to navigate; pretend play creates a sprawling stage where they can face these feelings, work through them, and create a healthy balance. It helps them feel more in control of their surroundings and any changes that they experience.

Problem-Solving Skills

As kids concoct masterful meals, conjure up elaborate adventures, or build epic forts together or alone, they are surmounting challenges with abstract thinking, communication, and brainstorming skills. Are the kiddos lacking a suitable roof for their fort? By uniting creativity with practicality, they will find a solution such as using an upside down kiddy pool. Listening, emotional regulation, balancing peer input, communication, negotiation, goal-setting, planning, taking action - all of these pretend play attributes are exactly what an adult needs to excel in the workplace too!


This is a given! Pretend play is all about cultivating and activating the imagination. Picasso once said that "every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." This is why pretend play is so important and why kids need recess! With the wonderful, whimsical power of their minds, kids are transforming boxes into castles and spaceships. Pretend play compels children to think big, imagine big, and dream big. Plenty of play keeps the natural talent of imagining nothing into something incredible thriving throughout life!


I touched upon this before. Pretend play often involves becoming someone else. Kids are walking in other people's shoes, experiencing their problems and emotions. Of course, cultivating strong empathy takes time and maturity, but pretend play helps set the foundation for viewing life from the perspective of others.

Language Skills

The colorful, unique conversations that my girls have while playing never cease to amaze me. Not only do they speak realistically, but they use vocabulary words I didn't even know they knew! Pretend play creates a platform for kids to employ words that they hear and learn in various situations. Not only does it help them become more comfortable with self-expression and speech, it helps connect the dots of language.


Through dramatic play, kids of all ages are hard at work discovering themselves. They are learning about their abilities and interests. This self-awareness and individuality helps build self-esteem. When kids put their minds to it, they can become anything! I love watching my girls tie on their superhero cape and save the day or work as doctors who heal sick babies and animals.

What are your children's favorite pretend play activities? I would love to hear all about it! All forms of play are fundamental to every facet of a child's development. Pretend play is priceless because it feeds children's imagination and individuality!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fit Family, Fun Fall: 9 Ways to Stay Active as the Temperature Drops

Photo by Steven Depolo (Flickr)

It's easy to stay active during warm weather, but cooler temperatures tempt me to hibernate indoors under the blankets. If you're like me, you might need some encouragement to stay active. Here are nine activities my family enjoys, and they might motivate your family to stay active, too, when the temperature drops.


My girls love to play Just Dance on Wii, dance as they get ready for school, and dance to music as they clean their rooms. I've also been known to break out in a dance while prepping dinner or during commercial breaks as we watch TV. You can even host a dance party or do Zumba as you stay active and have fun this fall.

Go Camping Indoors

Plummeting temperatures may prevent you from heading to your favorite outdoor camping spot, but you can pitch a tent in the basement or set up air mattresses in the master bedroom. Turn off your devices, cook on your indoor grill, and plan a scavenger hunt. Your entire family will still have fun while staying active and spending time together.

Take the Stairs

Wherever you go this fall, look for opportunities to take the stairs as often as possible. I advocate this fitness activity all year, but I especially like it during the colder months. It keeps me healthy and warms my fingers and toes, which is an extra bonus I definitely appreciate!

Go Ice-Skating

Whether you're an ice-skating newbie or expert, take time during cooler weather to try this aerobic sport. It's family-friendly and affordable. Plus, you'll have fun cheering for and supporting each other on the ice.

Jog in Place

Sitting still for too long isn't good for your circulation, heart, or health. As you watch a movie or a TV show, stay moving by jogging in place. If you can't jog, walk in place, jump on a mini-trampoline, or do push-up competitions with the whole family. You'll still see your favorite shows as you add activity into your family time.

Play Twister

Active games like Twister keep my girls moving all winter. They have fun tying themselves in knots, and I appreciate that they're moving. Other active games your family could try include Simon says, hide and seek, and hide the button.

Walk the Mall

If your kids love shopping as much as my girls, walk the mall this fall. Park as far away as possible from the entrance, speed-walk between stores, and opt for the stairs instead of the escalators as you get a workout and enjoy retail therapy.

Do At-Home Workouts

I love the fact that my family can access dozens of workouts at home. We can watch YouTube videos, play fitness games on the Xbox, and use our exercise ball, Hula-Hoops, or yoga poses to get a great workout. And while we're staying fit, we have fun together.

Join a Rec Center

At our local rec center, we can play basketball, swim, and take fitness classes. There's an activity for everyone in our family, and we love the opportunity to be active together. If you don't think you have time for another thing on your schedule, try meeting up for a basketball game after dinner or swim on Sunday afternoons.

Staying active is more challenging when cooler fall weather hits, but you and your family can keep moving with these nine tips. What are you waiting for? Be a fit family and have fall fun as you stay active today and all season!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart