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Thursday, September 27, 2018

It's International Literacy Day! How Play Promotes Literacy From an Early Age

Photo by Elizabeth (Flickr)

When we talk about literacy, we broadly describe our ability to read and write. I know I'm grateful for this ability, and I do what I can to help my girls develop literacy skills, too. In fact, we celebrated International Literacy Day on Sept. 8 by playing.

If you're wondering what play has to do with literacy, consider how play activities help our kids learn about sounds, words, language, and stories. With these skills, our kids build a foundation for the development of reading and writing abilities. For these reasons, let's encourage our kids to play more so they can become more literate. Here are several ways play promotes literacy from an early age.

Play Prompts the Use of Oral Language

From babbling at the mobile above the crib to singing along with their favorite kids' music, children use sounds and words as they play. All of this oral communication paves the way for literacy skill development. Through play, our kids listen, speak, discuss roles, describe objects, give directions, learn new vocabulary and word meanings, and constantly reinforce their communication and oral language skills. They then use these skills to read, write, and comprehend language better.

Play Develops Complex Cognitive Abilities

Reading and writing require numerous cognitive skills, such as categorizing, imaging, and problem-solving. Our kids develop these abilities as they play. I know that when my girls play make-believe, use trial and error in their artwork, and create their own game rules, they're honing essential cognitive abilities that support their literacy achievements.

Play Teaches Symbolic Representation

Written words represent spoken words, and children prepare to make this and other literary associations as they play. As they use props, act out new themes, take on pretend roles, and work with visual arts, they learn more about symbolism and expand their vocabulary and use of language. For example, my girls sometimes form pretend food from play dough, use paper tubes as binoculars for a spy mission, or improvise dialogue for their make-believe characters. Their symbolic use of objects prepares them to accept that written letters have sounds and that we can put letters together in a string to make words, essential skills for literacy development.

Play Cultivates Social Skills

The social interactions our kids enjoy as they play help them construct spoken language skills that form the foundation for literacy development. They gain an understanding of human interaction, how language works, and word meanings as they communicate with peers and adults during play. Those skills allow our kids to then connect spoken language with written language as they read and write.

Play Supports Self-Regulation

Academic learning and literacy development depend in part on a child's ability to self-regulate. Over the years, I've observed how delayed gratification, patience, and perseverance have helped my girls complete challenging reading and writing tasks. In part, they learned these self-regulation tools as they played. Stacking blocks, sharing toys, and practicing throwing a ball are examples of play activities that support literacy success.

Play Includes Literacy-Enriched Settings

Our playroom at home is a literacy-enriched environment. My girls have access to drawing materials, board games, and books. I also encourage them to write signs and menus for their pretend restaurant and label their toy bins with the names of the items inside. This play setting reinforces their writing and reading functions while associating literacy with fun. As adults, we can provide the necessary tools for this setting and surround our kids with literacy-enriched props.

To celebrate International Literacy Day and every day, let's encourage our kids to play. They can have fun as they learn basic skills that support literacy development. In what ways does play help your kids learn to read and write?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Today is the International Day of Peace! 9 Ways to Teach Children About Diversity

Photo by James Doyle (Flickr)

On Friday, Sept. 21, we celebrate the International Day of Peace. This celebration is especially important as our kids increasingly encounter people of varying ages, from numerous cultures, and with unique physical abilities in their classrooms, on the playground, and around town. As parents, caregivers, and teachers, consider joining me this month as we teach our children to respect and embrace diversity in nine ways.

Get Out of Our Comfort Zone

It's natural for us to surround ourselves with people who look, talk, and think like us, but we owe it to our kids and ourselves to step outside of our comfort zone. Let's make a conscious choice to interact with people who are different than us and encourage our kids to do the same. For example, we can buy groceries at the international store across town or send our kids to a more diverse school.

See and Discuss Differences

In an effort to prevent racism, we may ignore the visual and other differences we see in people. However, even babies can identify gender and racial differences. Seeing and discussing differences with our kids can remove fear and help our kids learn to appreciate and respect people who aren't the same.

Attend Local Cultural Events

Many local communities host heritage festivals, diversity celebrations, and international musical events that celebrate the strengths and uniquenesses of other cultures. I attend and explore as many of these events as possible with my kids. I encourage them to interact with the performers, ask questions, and eat the unique foods. Through these events, we broaden our kids' worldview and increase their understanding and appreciation for other heritages and cultures.

Read Books About Diversity

Use story time to introduce your kids to the ways they can accept, embrace, and celebrate differences. Here are a few books about diversity that my kids and I have read together.

  • It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr celebrates the value of diversity.
  • My Granny Went to Market by Stella Blackstone follows Granny through diverse marketplaces around the world.
  • One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley shows pictures of children from around the world participating in daily activities.
  • The Colors of Us by Karen Katz explores the fact that all people are simply different shades of the same color.
  • The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss demonstrates that different types of people are not superior and can become friends.
  • Why Am I Different? by Norma Simon outlines differences such as family, size, language, and hair color.

Meet Your Neighbors

We can weave diversity awareness and appreciation into our everyday lives when we meet our neighbors. That means we need to say hello at the bus stop or park. Additionally, we can share meals, play games, and help with home repairs. By interacting and building relationships with our diverse neighbors, we help our kids understand, value, and accept our rich world.

Play Games From Around the World

Like other kids around the world, my girls enjoy playing soccer and tag. We also sometimes play different games that are popular in other countries. Play gives our kids an opportunity to connect with and appreciate kids from all cultures.

Celebrate Cultural Holidays

When my girls' classmates or our neighbors celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Chinese New Year, we celebrate, too. It's educational and fun to make traditional foods and dress up in cultural clothing. We also gain firsthand insight into the values and uniqueness of other cultures through our holiday celebrations.

Listen to International Music

Music is an international language. Even if we don't understand the words, we can dance to the beat, make instruments that are unique to other countries, and enjoy the sounds of music from around the world. As my girls and I have listened to international music on satellite radio or CDs we borrow from the library, we've discovered dozens of new artists and have gained an appreciation for people from around the world.

Be an Example

As adults, we set the example for our kids in all areas, including diversity. That means we need to watch our words, attitudes, and behavior. I caught myself the other day feeling annoyed with one of our older neighbors who has a disability and takes a long time to cross the street. I had to remember that even my unspoken disrespect can cause my kids to think negatively about others.

Helping kids respect and embrace diversity is a big job for parents, caregivers, and teachers. We can use these nine ways to get us started, especially as we celebrate the International Day of Peace. In what other ways do you help your kids accept others?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, September 13, 2018

10 Ways to Make More Time to Play With Your Kids

Photo by Matthew Hurst (Flickr)

If your life is as busy as mine, you may not always know if you're coming or going! My girls are almost as busy, and finding time to play together is almost impossible some days. We need play time with our kids, though, because play helps us bond, improves communication, and builds trust. Consider joining me in making more time to play with our kids in these ten ways.

Turn Errands Into Game Time

My girls used to dislike visiting the grocery store, pharmacy, or post office with me, but we now turn almost every errand into a play opportunity. We might play I Spy, complete grocery store bingo cards, or compete to find the best deal of the day. These and other games can make essential errands fun and add more playful bonding time to our routine.

Share Household Chores

Someone has to wash dishes, dust furniture, fold laundry, and do dozens of other household chores, and I often ask my girls to help me. We sometimes race to see who can fold the most laundry in two minutes or dance as we dust. The work gets done faster and is a lot more fun when we play. As a bonus, my girls learn how to do household chores properly as we work together.

Cook Special Dinners

I admit that cooking with helpers takes more time. My girls and I share many fun moments in the kitchen, though. As we prep and cook tacos, pizza, sushi, or breakfast together, we chat, laugh, and learn. Our meals even taste better, I think, because my girls and I have invested time cooking these special dinners as a team.

Establish Playful Traditions

Each year, my girls get to pick the agenda for their birthday celebration. We might go hiking, visit a local museum, or enjoy a special meal at a favorite restaurant. Additionally, we've established other playful traditions throughout the year. On the last day of school, we visit a local water park, and Friday nights are reserved for pizza and active video games. These special moments give us time to play together as we create memories that my girls will remember for a long time.

Take Pajama Walks

As toddlers, my girls sometimes fought sleep and did almost everything they could think of to postpone bedtime. One night, I told them to brush their teeth, comb their hair, and put on their pajamas, and then we strolled leisurely around the block. The pause gave us time to connect, and the fresh air helped them relax. A great alternative to pre-bedtime fights or TV, this fun idea is still one we all enjoy occasionally.

Play Games

A few years ago, my younger daughter became obsessed with Candy Land. I quickly grew tired of that board game, but you can bet I played with her every time she asked. I knew that I needed to enter her world so we could better connect with each other and build trust. Plus, we had tons of fun laughing our way to the candy castle every day. Whether your kids are into soccer, robotics, or chess, consider playing often as you invest in your kids, prove that you value them, and make time to play.

Drive Less Often

I often rush the kids to the car when we have errands or they want to visit a friend. However, my neighbor challenged me last month to walk with my girls instead. Sure, walking takes extra time, but we use those minutes to chat and connect. Walking is good exercise for our bodies and minds, too. For these reasons, I've decided to drive less and walk more with my girls. So far, it's been a great decision for all of us!

Be Spontaneous

Our job as parents and caregivers never ends, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed with responsibilities. However, our kids need us and are only small once. Instead of pushing our kids away when they ask us to play or invite us to interact with them, we can consider embracing all of those precious and engaging opportunities to play. Our adult tasks can wait as we toss a ball, inspect new artistic creations, build block castles, and otherwise invest in our children.

Perform Home Repairs as a Team

Ever since they could hold their toy screwdrivers, my girls have enjoyed being my assistants during home repair projects. They pass me tools and even help me with the jobs now as we change light bulbs, clean the furnace filter, and repair leaky faucets. I appreciate the time we spend together, and we have fun as I teach my girls important life skills.

Check in Each Day

My girls know that I will make time each day to check in with them. We might shoot hoops, play a game of Wii bowling, or have a pillow fight as we chat about the day, discuss any concerns, and connect. Even if we only spend a few minutes together, we have fun and make memories as we bond.

Play time is essential for our kids and for us. Although life is busy, we can make more time to play with our kids. In addition to these ten suggestions, in what other ways do you add play time to your routine with your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Sunday, September 2, 2018

7 Ways That Balancing Equipment and Games Help Child Development

Photo by Robert Murphy (Flickr)

I took my girls bike-riding last night, and we had quite the adventure. Both of my girls attempted to ride over a narrow rail and fell off of their bikes. They're both OK, but that experience reminded me of the importance of balance.

Balance is the ability to control our body's position, and it's important whether we stand still (static) or move (dynamic). We can use balance equipment, such as balance beams, wobbly pebbles, and stepping stools, and play balance games like hopscotch and freeze tag with our kids so they can develop balance and their bodies in seven important ways.

Balance Develops Coordination

With coordination skills, our kids can perform complicated movements with mobility and flexibility. For example, they can step up onto a curb without tripping, run around the playground and not collide with other kids or the equipment, and catch or throw a ball with ease. These and other actions are possible because our kids have practiced their balance and developed coordination.

Balance Improves Core Strength

Kids of all ages use balance to develop their core strength. That strength ultimately enables babies to roll over, toddlers to walk, and big kids to run. Additionally, core strength equips our kids to function during the day and play as they sit properly in a chair, stand tall in line, climb a ladder, and jump rope.

Balance Enables Sports Participation

When our kids play sports and games with their peers, they get physical exercise, build important social relationships, and develop confidence. Kids need balance to run, jump, or throw, though, since balance is what gives them the ability to make the fluid movements they use as they play sports.

Balance Reduces Injuries

Even though my girls fell off their bikes last night, they were able to put their hands out, stop their falls, and prevent themselves from suffering a serious injury. I attribute this skill to their balance and know that proper balance has helped them avoid injuries as they navigate stairs, walk through crowded hallways, and jump over obstacles, too.

Balance Builds Concentration

I admit that I didn't realize the connection between balance and concentration until I did some research and discovered that our kids often focus more efficiently and faster when their bodies are stable. Instead of thinking about how to sit in the chair without falling over, for instance, they can use their mental energy to focus on the task at hand, whether they're coloring, taking a test, or listening to the teacher.

Balance Supports Fine Motor Skills

The next time your kids write a letter, button their shirt, or cut paper dolls with scissors, watch their balance, posture, and core. Our kids can perform these and other fine motor skills with confidence thanks to proper balance.

Balance Enhances Table Activities

My girls usually eat, draw, and take tests at a desk or table. They can sit properly to perform these tasks because they've developed balance while playing hopscotch, walking on narrow beams at the park, and standing on a balance board.

The next time our kids play balance games and on balance equipment, we can remember that these activities support their development in seven important ways. I know my girls and I will head outside tonight to ride our bikes. What activities will you and your kids do to improve their balance?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart