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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

9 Ways That Play Helps Children Develop Empathy for Others

Photo by dadblunders (Flickr)

My girls recently discovered a new passion: volunteering at the animal shelter. They love cuddling, feeding, and playing with the animals, and I love watching them show empathy. Empathy, the ability to identify what others think and feel and put yourself in their shoes, improves our kids' understanding of and respect for their peers, adults, and animals. Although our kids aren't born with the ability to empathize, I found nine ways that play helps our kids develop this essential skill and become more compassionate human beings.

Imagine Life as Someone Else

Pretend play and role play introduce kids to someone else's world. As they pretend they're teachers, veterinarians, or a classmate, they step into a different persona and must act, feel, and think like that character. Through play, kids see life from someone else's viewpoint and improve their understanding of the people around them.

Cooperate With Others

On the playground, in the classroom, and on the sports field, our kids must work with others. Teamwork can be challenging, though, particularly when our kids don't understand or agree with their peers or the adult in charge. Fun games and activities like scavenger hunts, relay races, and cooking prompt our kids to listen to others and cooperate, compromise, and share.

Understand That Others Have Feelings and Emotions

As a toddler, my younger daughter often pulled our cat's tail and then wondered why the cat avoided her. I used puppets to act out stories that demonstrated how animals and people have feelings. We also observed people, wildlife, and insects during our daily walks and talked about emotions they may feel. As we played, my daughter realized that others have feelings and emotions, and she learned to respect those feelings and emotions.

Consider What Others Think

I admit that sometimes, I wish I could read minds! Because that will never happen, I encourage my girls to play checkers and chess. These two strategy games challenge our kids to think like their opponent, understand their viewpoint, and become more empathetic to how others think.

Learn a Vocabulary for Feelings

By the time they turn two, most kids use 50 words regularly. They don't yet know words to describe all of the emotions they and others experience, though. That's where play comes in. Play "Simon Says" and ask your kids to show you their happy, angry, and sad faces, talk about what two dolls may feel as they get dressed for a party, and discuss what taking turns feels like during family game night. With these play activities, we equip our kids with the words they need to describe feelings.

Respect Unique Play Choices

One of my daughters prefers to play with trucks, and the other loves dolls. I encourage them both to disregard gender norms and respect the choices others make during play. When kids feel accepted and learn to respect and encourage their peers, they develop and show empathy to others who may make different choices on the playground and in life.

Achieve Common Goals

Some days, my girls fight like cats and dogs, usually because they focus on all of the ways they're different. But when they work together to complete a puzzle, build a blanket fort, or create a musical show for their grandparents, they focus on each other's strengths and talents. Let's provide opportunities for our kids to build block creations, make art, and play other games and activities that encourage them to focus on their similarities and appreciate others as they work together to achieve a common goal.

Expand Their Worldview

A boy in my daughter's class has autism, and he sometimes stims. She didn't really understand him until we read a few children's books that describe autism. Now, she understands him better and plays with him every day. I often use books and stories to expand our kids' worldview and improve their understanding of the people and animals around them.

Recognize Facial Expressions and Body Language

A person's facial expressions and body language often demonstrate how they feel or what they're thinking, but kids don't always identify these signs. My girls and I often make faces in front of a mirror. I call out an emotion like joy, anger, or excitement, and they show a matching face and body language. As they mature, I've added more complicated emotions like shock, anxiety, or discouragement so they can recognize and understand the full range of what others may feel.

I love watching my girls show empathy to their peers, adults, and animals. Through play, we help our kids develop compassion and understanding for others. What additional play activities do you recommend as we help our kids learn empathy?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

10 Benefits of Puzzles for Early Child Development

Photo by Abigail Batchelder (Flickr)

In our playroom, we have a table set up just for puzzles. My girls both enjoy complicated jigsaw puzzles now, and I attribute their passion to all of the puzzles they put together as toddlers. Those simple puzzles featured shapes, knobs, or interlocking pieces that were the perfect size for my girls' toddler hands. In addition to providing hours of fun, those puzzles aided my girls' early development and provided 10 benefits.

Develop Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are movements kids make when they use their arms and legs. With these skills, our kids roll over, crawl, walk, and run. Completing stacking puzzles and manipulating large puzzle pieces improve a child's gross motor skills.

Hone Fine Motor Skills

When kids learn to hold a spoon, fasten buttons, or pick up objects from the floor, they use fine motor skills. These skills require small, precise movements our kids hone as they fiddle with puzzle pieces and put those pieces into their assigned spots.

Establish Cognitive Skills

The brain uses cognitive skills to think, learn, remember, read, pay attention, and solve problems. Let your kids play with puzzles and they will establish these essential skills. With puzzles, they process information, learn about cause and effect, evaluate and organize ideas, apply knowledge, and discover how ideas relate.

Expand Memory

Kids need both short-term, working memory and long-term, semantic memory to remember what happened moments ago and create a basis of their identity. Puzzles are one tool I used to improve my girls' memories. As they remember which pieces they've tried in certain slots and which piece worked last time, they develop working and semantic memory to aid them in all areas of life.

Enhance Problem-Solving Skills

When kids put puzzles together, they use their mind and logic, think critically, and solve problems. Plus, as they look at a piece and guess where it might go, they ask questions, narrow down their options, and eventually make a decision. This same process helps them solve problems they face in real life, such as what to wear on a snowy day or which book to read.

Teach Shape Recognition

My older daughter's first puzzle featured shapes. I'm glad she spent hours learning the difference between circles, triangles, and rectangles. Not only do we see shapes all around us, but our kids use shapes in their math, reading, science, and other academic classes.

Improve Hand-Eye Coordination

To brush their teeth, tie their shoes, and color with crayons, kids use hand-eye coordination. They develop this skill as they turn, flip, place, and remove puzzle pieces. Their eyes see the piece, their hands feel it, and their brain tells their hands where it belongs.

Evolve Goal-Setting and Achievement Skills

When school starts each year, I ask my girls to list the activities, grades, and achievements they wish to enjoy, earn, or gain that year. This discussion prompts them to set goals and work hard to achieve their dreams, and I taught them this skill through puzzles. Kids know they want to finish a puzzle, but first they have to sort the pieces, check the board, and then assemble the puzzle one piece at a time. That's how goal-setting and achievement work, and our kids learn this skill through puzzles.

Encourage Patience, Persistence, and Determination

As a toddler, my younger daughter always tried to complete jigsaw puzzles that were too advanced for her. Sometimes, she grew frustrated, but the patience, persistence, and determination she developed help her succeed in school, with friends, and on the sports field.

Promote World Awareness

One of my older daughter's favorite puzzles included a dozen farm animals. She would make animal noises as she played with each piece, and that puzzle prepared her for her second birthday party at a farmyard petting zoo. Your kids will explore the world, too, as they play with animal, geography, alphabet, and space puzzles.

Thanks to puzzles, our kids have fun and receive 10 important benefits that aid their development. In what ways have puzzles helped your child?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Cultivate Budgeting Skills in Children Early On

Photo by Carissa Rogers (Flickr)

A University of Cambridge study found that kids know how money works and form the basis of their future money habits by age seven. I find this fact fascinating. While I did know that kids must learn about money and budgeting, I didn't realize that we can and should start teaching them when they're young. As parents, caregivers, or teachers, these six tips can help us cultivate budgeting skills in our young kids.

Identify the Purpose of Money

We found a few pretend money bills and coins last week as we cleaned out the toy box. My girls spent hours playing with this money when they were little as they "purchased" toys from each other and learned the names of the coins and how many coins make up a dollar. More importantly, they learned that we use money to buy stuff, a fact that forms the foundation for all of their financial transactions, habits, and values.

Discuss How Much Stuff Costs

Kids sometimes think that food, clothing, and housing are free, but it's important for them to understand that everything around them costs money and that we have to work to make money. From the time my girls were little, I've tried to explain how many hours of work it takes for me to pay for things like their swim lessons, electricity, and ice cream cones. Now that they're older, they help me compare prices of different cereal brands at the grocery store and browse different stores online to find the best deal on their favorite jeans. They understand that certain items cost more than others, which equips them to use their money more wisely.

Explain the Importance of Savings and Show How Money Accumulates

Of course it's easier to spend money than save it, but I want my girls to spend less than they earn and create emergency funds, education accounts, and retirement accounts. To establish their savings habits early, we started a vacation fund. They drop spare change into a clear jar on our kitchen counter and watch their savings accumulate over time. Older kids can learn to save as they make their own deposits into a savings account and keep a ledger. Watching savings grow encourages kids to prioritize saving money instead of spending everything they get.

Distinguish Between Needs and Wants

Every time my younger daughter sees a toy commercial on TV, she asks me to buy her that toy. I know, though, that she doesn't need that particular toy right now. I help her distinguish the difference between needs and wants with a few questions:

  • Do you really need this toy right now?
  • How is it different than the other toys in your playroom?
  • Which two toys in your playroom will you donate to make room for this one?
  • Can we add it to your birthday wish list?
  • What else could we use that money to buy?

Distinguishing the difference between a need and a want is challenging, but we can start early as we help our kids learn this valuable budgeting skill.

Delay Gratification

In my home, we wait 48 hours before making purchases that exceed $25. Waiting gives us time to decide if we really need the item and research better prices online. Understanding the value of delayed gratification also improves a child's school performance and can lead to higher income later in life. Waiting in line for their favorite playground fixture, eating dessert after a healthy dinner, and saving for something they really want instead of buying with credit are all ways we teach our kids this valuable budgeting skill and help them become wise consumers.

Understand Invisible Money

Kids certainly need to understand how cash works, but most of my transactions involve credit or online transactions. Even though no cash changes hands, our kids need to understand how invisible money works. That's why I gave my girls a prepaid card that we load with their allowance each month. They decide what they want to buy and know that once the money's spent, they won't get more. They've learned the value of making a list, comparing prices, and choosing purchases carefully as they work with invisible money.

Budgeting skills help our kids spend money wisely now and into the future. What other strategies and tips have you used to teach kids budgeting skills?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, December 4, 2017

World Hello Day: How Play Can Help Children Overcome Shyness and Build Confidence

Photo by Maessive (Flickr)

At the park this week, we met a family who recently moved into our neighborhood. My younger daughter immediately introduced herself and started playing with the kids, but my older daughter stayed to herself. I was a shy kid, too, and I understand how hard it can be to interact with people you don't know very well. That's one reason why I was excited to celebrate World Hello Day with my girls. On World Hello Day and every day, you can play with kids and help them to build confidence in seven key ways.

Talk to People

Talking to other kids can be excruciating for shy kids. I roleplay social scenarios and conversations as I help my girls learn how to talk to others. We also read social skills books and stories about friendship as I show my girls how to introduce themselves, start a conversation, and be confident while they interact with other kids and adults.

Become Friendlier

I'm amazed almost every day at how a friendly smile and kind word can open professional and personal doors of opportunity. Our kids can learn this essential life skill as they play. Playing games, coloring together, and sharing playground toys with other kids teaches them to share, show kindness, and cooperate. In addition to playing during recess, you can also host one-on-one play dates and help your kids become friendlier human beings.

Reduce Anxiety

Shy kids don't all struggle with anxiety, but this challenge can inhibit our kids' confidence. Playing with other kids and learning new games or trying new activities helps kids can overcome their anxiety. They realize that they can learn and master new skills, and they gain courage to try new activities in the future.

Embrace Change

It's normal for kids to like routine. I know my older daughter in particular feels more secure when things stay the same. However, shy kids can stay stuck in a routine that prevents them from engaging in new activities. Play encourages kids to try new games, introduce themselves to other kids, and embrace change. They can then use these skills to cope better with changes in daily life.

Develop Empathy

I often use roleplaying and pretend or dramatic play to help my girls understand what it's like to live in someone else's shoes. With empathy, kids can understand what others think and feel, and it encourages them to stretch out of their comfort zone and talk to others. After all, we're all humans.

Learn Teamwork

Both of my girls have played team sports. While they have fun, they also learn to communicate better with others, overcome shyness, and develop confidence in their abilities.

Resolve Conflict

One of my daughters hates conflict. She would rather hide in her bedroom than confront an interpersonal challenge. Conflict is part of life, though, so I encourage her to play board and group games. While playing, she learns to express her opinion and compromise in a fun environment, and she gains confidence to use these skills in other areas of life, too.

Through play, shy kids can gain confidence. How do you help your shy kids gain the confidence they need for success in life?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart