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Thursday, September 9, 2021

7 Reasons Why Play Develops Executive Function From an Early Age

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Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute of Play, was quoted in 2008 as saying, "Nothing lights up a child's brain like play!" He's correct! We know that play is required for our children's physical and social development, but it's also crucial for children to develop strong executive functioning skills.

What are executive functions? It's a wide array of self-regulating and organizing behaviors vital for successful adulthood. Although developing these functions depends somewhat on the prefrontal cortex maturing, even very young children show signs of curbing their instincts and attempting to regulate their behavior from a very young age. Play, both free and structured, help children practice and master skills like following instructions, planning their time, trying after a failure, and organizing their resources.

1. Open-Ended Play

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What is open-ended play? It is play that encourages children to make their own choices and test their boundaries while also freely expressing their creativity. Adults shouldn't intervene except in matters of physical or emotional safety. Children will use this play to explore dealing with difficult situations and emotions. They use their own worldview and imaginations to create a world to their own liking. Making their own decisions and deciding how to structure their play without adult guidance is key in developing behavior regulation, the ability to work with others, and planning projects (even if the project is building a fort out of empty boxes!).

2. Play Develops Confidence

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Play is a key part of children developing confidence. Adults sometimes forget this, but children like to feel successful. Just like we do! And play allows children to master concepts and situations. The confidence they pick up after successful play periods will help guide them to attempt more complex challenges now and in the future.

3. Learning to Put Tasks in Sequential Order

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Knowing how to break down a bigger task into a set of smaller tasks is an important step in being able to independently tackle challenging school assignments or personal projects. Suggest playtime activities that encourage children to undertake multiple steps that must be completed in a certain order. So when playing restaurant guide children through the process-being seated, handing out menus, taking the order, delivering the food, and presenting the check. Baking with kids is another fun project that helps them learn how to perform a task in the correct order (preheating the oven, bringing certain ingredients to room temperature, et cetera).

4. Calming Space

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Every child needs a calming space to retreat to when their emotions threaten to overwhelm. Retreating to this space and choosing a quiet activity (even if it's simply staring into space!) is an important part of learning how to self-regulate emotions and perform appropriate (and needed!) self-care.

5. Time

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Don't always insist your children stick to a schedule. Play evolves to express into more complex structures and expressions when children are allowed time to dig in and work out their ideas. This sort of in-depth play supports children's organizational and overall cognitive development more than quick play breaks. Work-in-progress signs can protect artistic endeavors and box cities when your family must break for another activity or bed.

6. Stop, Look, Listen

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When playing with your children it's important to model good executive functioning. When playing a game take a moment before you pick up the game piece. Talk out loud so your children hear your thought process and strategizing ("Let me think, if I move this way then this could happen, or if I go this way..."). It will allow your children to model their thinking patterns on yours! Playing games like Red Light-Green Light, chess, or dominoes all teaches children cause and effect and the importance of paying attention.

7. Storytelling

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Learning how to tell a story is vital for a child's social and intellectual development. Telling a story requires utilizing executive functioning skills like accessing working memory, tying elements of the story together, and relating similar things together. Waiting on their turn to tell a story helps children master impulse control. Encourage dinner time storytelling with the whole family but also one on one time where a child can tell a story they made up or relate something that happened to them that day.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Why Playtime with Father Figures is So Important for Children

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Adequate playtime is so important for the development of children that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights considers it a basic right for all kids. Playtime helps kids develop problem-solving skills, learn how to take initiative, improve their executive functioning abilities, and refine their motor skills. It also gives fathers and other male figures in a child's life a wonderful opportunity to interact with their kids in positive and very meaningful ways that will improve their child's quality of life along with deepening their bond with the child.

Playing Builds a Stronger Relationship

Playing with a kid requires giving them your time and attention. Nothing is more important when building a lasting bond than spending time actively engaged with a kid. Playing together allows children to see their fathers and other male figures in new ways, and it helps to build a bond that will last as the child ages.

Rough-and-Tumble Play Is Good for Kids

Scientific studies suggest that rough-and-tumble play is key in helping children develop good self-regulation skills. Since rougher play is exciting, it also gives kids the chance to practice how to self-soothe and calm down when playtime is over. The natural bumps and give-and-take of this sort of play also let children practice their responses if, say, their dad accidentally steps on their foot.

Playtime With Dad Is Good for Brain Development

A study done in the United Kingdom focused on children who played with their fathers when the children were between the ages of three months and 24 months. The children's cognitive function was charted on the Mental Development Index. Babies whose fathers had been highly engaged with them at three months scored higher than other babies in their cohort when they were evaluated using the MDI at 24 months.

Playing Helps Dads Understand Their Kids

Children reveal themselves during their play. The way they think, the way they react, how they respond to challenges, and even how they view the world are all exposed during imaginative play. Engaging in this sort of play helps fathers better understand their kids. This is especially true with kids who don't typically express their thoughts and feelings freely.

Kids Will Develop a Larger Vocabulary

One study done in the United States followed preschool children born into low-income households. Children with fathers who spent more time playing with them had larger, more expressive vocabularies at age 5. What isn't known is why. Is it because dads who play with their kids spend more time talking with them overall? Is it because these parents generally devote more time to supporting their kids' growth? No one is sure yet. What we do know is that a child's vocabulary impacts their success in school and beyond.

Your Child Will Be More Confident

Spending time with your kid helps them develop more confidence. One study from Penn State discovered that the more time kids spend with their dads, the higher their self-esteem is. Also, more time spent with their dads in a group setting corresponded with more growth in social skills. This applies to children of every age, including teenagers!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart