Culturing Creativity

Image source: Lynn DeVries, Learning Child Educator

In a world that is filled with devices and such to prevent boredom and children spending more and more time inside looking at a screen rather than outside playing, children have started to lose time for creativity. The imagination is such a wonderful thing when it is used, and as parents, it is our job to push our children to expand their imagination. With that, here are a few easy ways to culture creativity.

Painting Station

Now, I realize giving a young child paint is not always the most appealing idea, but this can either be done outside where you don’t have to worry much about the mess, or get paint that is easily cleanable. Having a blank paper sheet forces them to paint whatever comes to mind and it can help them express themselves though art. You can even grab a sheet for yourself and paint with your child!

Sidewalk Chalk

Another great way to use art for your children to show their creativity is sidewalk chalk. It gets them outside which opens doors to so much creativity. Like painting, they can use the chalk to portray what they are feeling, thinking, or dreaming about. Not to mention, it easily comes off with water and that’s good news for us!

Nature Walk

A nature walk is exactly what it sounds like: taking a walk in nature. Strolling through your neighborhood or even just sitting in your lawn serves as a way to strengthen your child’s listening skills and offers growth in creativity as they try to decide which animal, vehicle, etc. made the noise they heard.

I know it can be easier to just hand over the social device to your child simply because we, as parents, need some quiet time, but are we doing that so much to as limit our child’s creativity? I’m not saying we cannot ever do it, but it’s important to keep a good balance so they can develop their imagination.

LA DONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Parenting Style 101

Image Source: Lynn DeVries, Learning Child Educator

There are four well-known parenting styles, all of which can lead to a different type of child. Now, using a specific parenting style doesn’t guarantee a certain type of child because we only have so much influence, but it definitely has an effect on the outcome. There is one parenting style that tends to produce children who are more self-confident, more socially competent, and less anxious, and that style is referred to as “democratic.” Here are some of the tactics and results of each style:

Authoritarian Style

  • firm but not warm
  • expect their orders to be obeyed no matter what (“Why? Because I said so”)
  • children usually well-behaved, but less able to form self-regulation skills
  • children tend to lack in moral-reasoning abilities due to their sense of right and wrong coming from external forces rather than internal beliefs

Democratic Style

  • firm and warm
  • model respect
  • promote individuality and self-assertion (they create boundaries and when those are crossed, they find out why and work together with their child to solve the problem)
  • goal is to guide, not punish
  • aim to raise a young adult who has self-control, problem-solving skills, emotional awareness, and solid internal beliefs

Permissive Style

  • warm but not firm
  • nurturing and communicative, but also lenient
  • avoid confrontation and hesitant to stand by their rules
  • children tend to have inflated sense of self
  • children are often more impulsive, more likely to cause trouble in school, and more likely to be a victim of drug and alcohol abuse

Uninvolved

  • neither firm nor warm
  • provide basic necessities for children, but otherwise unconcerned
  • children most likely to be delinquent

As I said before, one style won’t automatically result in a certain type of child, but it is something to consider and reflect on. Now that you know what each consist of, what kind of parenting style do you use?

Source:

Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow

LA DONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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The Great Outdoors Holds Great Opportunity for Your Child

Photo source: The Learning Child

As a child, I remember running around barefoot with my siblings,exploring woods, climbing trees, and building forts. Oh, the memories. I had scrapes, bruises, and even stitches at times, but they were worth it.In addition to the great memories made, did you know there are endless benefits of simply letting your child run outside and play? The next time you’re deciding whether to let your child play inside or outside, you might want to consider all the opportunities that come with the great outdoors.

Increased Physical Activity

Although it seems as if your child has endless energy, letting them play outside can help release some bottled up energy. Everything from walking, running, and jumping around, to climbing trees and carrying building supplies for forts, contributes to the development of strength, balance, and coordination. According to the Stateofobesity.org, Nebraska ranks 5th with a 2-4-year-old obesity rate of 16.9%. Yikes! Just think how our rates might decrease if children spent more time outside.

Development of Gross Motor Skills and Fine Motor Skills

Developing these skills directly affects the creation of strong, healthy, capable children. Gross motor skills help your child run, walk, and climb. Fine motor skills are used when they pick up sticks or make a nature bracelet with all of their outdoor treasures. Development of these skills requires lots of practice,and outdoor adventures offer just that.

Social Interaction

No matter if your child is playing with siblings, friends, or you, they are gaining social interaction. Being outside with limited toys can push children to expand their imaginations. When combining different imaginations, new ideas and brainstorming skills are created. Teamwork is also strenghtened. Whether they are ‘playing house’ or building something, your child will be working together with others, and learning teamwork young could benefit your child in their future endeavors.

Use of Imagination

I just mentioned that when your child is outside, it can force them to use their imaginations. Children need to experience boredom at times in order to create new levels of play. Once they do, they can see objects in new ways, such as using mud to make cake or pretending a stick is a mixing spoon. Also, when your child has free time, they have time to daydream, and that can lead to some of their most creative ideas.

It is the beginning of summer and that means it’s the perfect time for your child to go enjoy all of the benefits that the great outdoors offers!

LaDonna Werth, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Temper Tantrums and Time-In

Image source: Reposted with permission  www.littleravenheart.com/

Say the words “temper tantrum” to a parent or childcare provider and it is almost guaranteed to elicit a strong response.  Picture this: A toddler wants his favorite Buzz cup for dinner.  Instead, he receives the Woody cup and plate.  In response, he kicks his feet and pushes his plate of food onto the floor, all the while arching his back, crying, and screaming.  It seems like we have all been there at one time or another, and felt frustration in trying to find a response that will not only help the child calm down, but will also help reduce the intensity and frequency of such melt-downs.

Understanding emotional responses (yours and theirs):

Adults often become distressed by a child’s intense emotional reactions and expressions, which in turn causes adults to want to scold, reprimand, lecture, ignore, or consequate such outbursts.  The problem is, people of all ages need permission and space to have emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant.  Young children need to learn how to experience and express all of their emotions.  They need a safe, secure, regulated (calm) adult to provide guidance and co-regulation. 

Three important components of emotion management:

  1. In humans, the attachment figure’s internal state also regulates the child’s internal state during most of the first THREE years of life.  It is important for the primary caretaker to remain calm, both as a form of modeling, as well as a form of supporting the co-regulation process.
  2. The health of the bond between child and primary caretaker depends on the caregiver’s attunement, emotional availability, continuity of care, and responsiveness.
  3. A child forms his primary attachment during times of distress.

Let’s revisit the scenario from the opening paragraph. A young child, age two, is throwing a temper tantrum because he did not receive the cup and plate he wanted for dinner. It is appropriate for the adult caregiver to correct the inappropriate actions, such as kicking, screaming, and throwing food on the floor.  However, while correcting the inappropriate actions, the adult caregiver may also inadvertently reprimand the emotion.  It is important to remember actions and emotions are two separate and distinct things.  Just like you, a child has every right to have emotions, including disappointment, frustration, and anger.   And who are we to say what a two-year-old can and cannot feel upset about?  (I think not getting his favorite cup at dinner is a perfectly appropriate reason for a two-year old to feel disappointed or angry.)  Our job as the adult is to help teach children how to handle such strong feelings.

The following table explains the unintended result caused by common adult responses to young children’s intense emotional outbursts.

Adult responseResult
Ignore the behavior   Put a young child in time-outChildren rely on their primary attachment figure for needed emotional regulation.  Without this option they do the best they can with what they have and know. This explains why so many young children escalate and become even more out-of-control when ignored or left in a corner alone.  They truly don’t know what to do or how to calm themselves and become even more anxious, overwhelmed, and frustrated. Children also internalize the belief that not all emotions are acceptable or can be shared with others.
Scold, yell, get angryA dysregulated adult disrupts the child’s internal regulation system, which can lead a child to withdraw or act out more.
  Lecture, rationalizeWhen humans experience strong emotions, they are primarily operating in their “emotion” brain and have difficulty accessing or using their “thinking” brain.  This is most certainly not the time for words or attempts at logic.In addition, young children are still developmentally “in the moment” and reliant on adult physical support and guidance, not a bunch of words.

Appropriate responses that provide connection and teaching: 

  • Validate feelings.  “Yeah, I know it’s sad, buddy.  You really like the Buzz cup.  It’s your favorite.”
  • Set boundaries by providing a time-in.  “Throwing food is never OK.”  Stay close and move whatever is still in close proximity to ensure he does not continue throwing more things on the floor.  If he calms and accepts your help, return his food – but stay there to intercept any additional attempts at throwing.  Intervening and simply preventing the ongoing misbehavior is the best consequence and strategy for teaching appropriate boundaries and behavior. 
  • Be real.  Children need some ways of expressing feelings; they are not robots.  What are you willing to allow?  He may continue to whimper.  He may continue to resist using the Woody cup.  He may sulk or pout for a bit.  These reactions are all developmentally appropriate, and a socially acceptable way for a toddler to show strong feelings.
  • Teach regulation through co-regulation.  If his strong emotions continue and have gotten the best of him, help him out.  Pick him up, offer comfort and attunement, and “download” your calm into him.  When he is ready, put him back in the highchair, stay close (time-in), and return to mealtime.

Time-in is an incredibly successful behavior management strategy for young children as it provides the co-regulation they need in order to establish their own, internal system of self-regulation.  Time-in puts you in a position to model, shape and teach appropriate behaviors (i.e., with you sitting right there, a small child is prevented from continuing to toss his plate, cup, etc. onto the floor).

Discipline and consequences are not synonymous with punishment.  Discipline means to teach, and a consequence is simply the result or effect of an action or condition.  You do not have to feel as if his wrong-doing needs to be punished.  Correcting a young child’s misbehavior by being present and providing guidance is sufficient.

References:

  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy with Toddlers: Improving Attachment and Emotion Regulation by Cheryl B. McNeil, Emma I. Girard, Jane R. Kohlhoff, Nancy M. Wallace, and Susan S. J. Morgan
  • Managing Emotional Mayhem by Dr. Becky Bailey
  • Harvard Center on the Developing Child (website)

CARRIE GOTTCHALK EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Amy Napoli, University of Nebraska Extension Specialist, Sarah Dankenbring, Amanda Cue, Early Childhood Mental Health Therapist

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5 Tips for Working Remotely from Home and Caring for Children During COVID-19

Image Source: B Janning, Hastings, Nebraska

If we could press rewind and go back in time to mid-March, I wonder what you would have been doing.  The sudden and abrupt transition to working from home and having to juggle roles of employee, parent, and teacher all at once was certainly something most of us were not prepared for. Most of us had little time to plan how we would design our work space, daily schedules and balance work and family under one roof full time. If this sounds like your “new normal,” you are not alone.  I have found some helpful tips and words of encouragement I would like to pass along from a recent article by Holly Hatton-Bowers and Carrie L. Hanson-Bradley, Assistant Professors at the University of Nebraska.

TIP 1: Acknowledge Emotions:

Emotions are normal and healthy and give us clues to what we may need to feel better.

Dr. Dan Siegel says that it is helpful to “name it to tame it.”  We often feel emotions in our bodies first, such as tightness in our chest or a stiff neck. Siegel advises us to stop for a minute, pay attention to what we feel in our bodies and then name our emotion. The authors recommended saying, “My body feels…and the emotion I am experiencing is…”

Keep in mind that emotions are not forever, “name it, tame it” and move on. Judging ourselves for having emotions only makes us feel worse.

TIP 2: Manage Expectations:

It is difficult to juggle all of one’s roles at the same time, so do not expect to be able to fulfill all the roles you play at the same level you did before COVID-19. It can be helpful to understand that each individual manages change differently; and this is particularly true as families adjust to the newness of working from home, parenting, and teaching at the same time.  Some will embrace it as a new opportunity for creativity while others can feel overwhelmed.  

What about Parenting Expectations?

Daily routines will be different for each individual family.  Whether it be educational activities, or family time together, young children need more than ever right now is time to connect, cuddle, have a routine with some flexibility, and to feel safe.

Can you find ways to make every day activities fun for your child? Perhaps the family meal time could turn into a picnic on the floor.  Maybe you could make a game of sorting socks when doing the laundry. Try and be intentional about when you need to work and when to play or be with your children.  It’s like putting deposits in the bank, when children receive moments of our undivided attention, then they are more likely to feel okay when parents need to move away to focus on work.

TIP 3: Create a Schedule:

Sit down and create a schedule that works for your family.  Keeping in mind it is good to allow for flexibility. Schedule in work time and time for household chores. Time for children to play and do chores and school work too.  If there are two parents in the home, the adults could alternate work hours so as to keep children safe as well as giving them the parent connection time they need most.

Image source: Sara Gavin, Sacramento, California

TIP 4: Practice Self Care                                                                   

It is healthy to take time away to focus on what you need as an adult. Yet, when we are under stress, self-care is one of the first things that gets pushed aside. Here are a few strategies:

  • Listening to music
  • Taking the time to virtually connect with friends and family
  • Spend time in nature
  • Exercise
  • Practice deep breathing or meditation
  • Eating healthy
  • Reading or drawing,
  • Getting adequate sleep and waking up at the same time each day
  • Practice positive thinking, and/or practice gratitude

TIP 5: Be Gentle with Yourself

We are collectively experiencing a worldwide crisis, and crises trigger our brains into fight, flight or freeze mode. That means our brains are focused on surviving, not thriving. So it is normal to feel like you aren’t functioning at your peak level. Have you felt forgetful lately, not as motivated, or find yourself not knowing what day it is? It may be your brain’s way of protecting you in this time of stress.

Soon, we will be able to look back on this time and process what has happened, but in-depth processing happens only after one feels emotionally and physically safe. So in this time of crisis, be gentle with yourself (and with others). Self-compassion creates space where mistakes are viewed as valuable learning opportunities, tiny victories call for huge celebrations, and we can acknowledge our suffering without criticizing ourselves for being human.

More Resources Related to this topic:

Zero to Three – many resources of activities to do with children and tips for managing stress and being with the family during COVID-19.

Child Mind Institute – https://childmind.org/coping-during-covid-19-resources-for-parents/ (they have live Facebook video chats with clinicians

https://www.nebraskachildren.org/covid-19-information-and-resources.html

UNL A Beautiful Day website – ideas for engaging children (0-8 years) in learning and play activities https://cehs.unl.edu/abeautifulday/

Sesame Street have excellent resources for engaging children in learning at home activities during COVID-19, http://www.sesamestreet.org/caring

Tips for Managing Screen Time: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/parenting/manage-screen-time-coronavirus.html

Be Kind to Yourself https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201802/be-kind-yourself

Self-Care Tips During the Covid-19 Pandemic https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/self-care-tips-during-the-covid-19-pandemic

Staying Active at Home https://food.unl.edu/article/family-food-fun-home#stayingactiveathome

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Holly Hatton-Bowers, Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska and Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Benefits of Reading Aloud

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Parents want what’s best for their children, and many ask what expensive toys they should buy, what extracurricular activities they should be involved in, or if they should be playing classical music at home to advance brain development. 

Jim Trelease, the author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, has a straightforward answer in regards to what’s best for children.

He says, “Read to your children.

Starting at birth, reading with children puts them on the path to success. In fact, researchers determined that reading aloud to young children is the single most important thing that parents can do to prime children for school success.

Here are three benefits of reading aloud with children.

Benefit #1: Increased Vocabulary and Sophisticated Language Patterns

When it comes to prekindergarten skills, vocabulary is a prime predictor of school success or failure. When you read aloud to children, they hear words that do not ordinarily come up in conversations. Because of this, it expands a child’s vocabulary faster than anything else does. 

The value picture books play in vocabulary development should not be underestimated. Many of them are written grammatically correct and include sophisticated writing that is rich in content and meaning. As children listen to these stories, their vocabularies strengthen without effort. 

Benefit #2: Ability to Make Connections

Reading comprehension is critical. We take the work of decoding out when we read aloud. This lets children use their mental energy to enjoy and make connections, which improves reading comprehension. 

Children need to understand what they read and apply it to what they know. That is making connections. Children connect the information they encounter for the first time with other facts and ideas they have already encountered. They compare it to other stories they’ve heard, personal events they’ve encountered, and to the world beyond themselves. 

Without even intending to, children make connections every time a book is opened. Stories allow them to slip into another world, think deeply, bond with characters, and educate their hearts and mind.   

Benefit #3: A Love for Reading

More important than teaching children, the actual skill of reading is to cultivate natural curiosity and love of reading. When we focus on nurturing children’s love of stories, we get both kids who can read as well as kids who do read. A healthy reading life has a tremendous impact on children’s academic success.

In a world full of noise and the hustle and bustle, pulling a child on your lap and reading is one of the best uses of your time and energy. It may seem simple, but being fully present and sharing good stories makes a huge and lasting impact because a childhood filled with stories inspires and nurtures children. Therefore, read widely to spark that ember. Author Linda Sue Park said, “A book can’t change the world on its own, but a book can change readers. And readers? They can change the world.”

So, the next time you spend time reading with your children, just remember, each time you turn the page you just might be changing the world.

Resources:

Mackenzie, S. (2018). The read-aloud family: making meaningful and lasting connections with your kids. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (1998). Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/position-statements/PSREAD98.PDF

TEDxBeaconStreet. (2015, December). Can A Children’s Book Change the World? Linda Sue Park. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/40xz0afCjnM

JACKIE STEFFEN, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Healthy Habits

LaDonna Healthy Habits

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It has been quite a few months since New Year’s Day was here, and by now most of us have already failed at our New Year’s Resolution of eating healthier. However, that does not mean we have to wait all the way until next New Year’s to try again to reach our goals. Your children need a healthy, balanced diet and so does the rest of the family. I know it can be super challenging to change the routine, so here are some things that might make staying on track and reaching your goals easier!

Fresh Produce

Summer is here, and that means there is more local, fresh produce in stores, and the farmers’ markets are open again, supplying your family with great-tasting healthy food! The less preservatives, the better, and let’s be honest, fresh ingredients just taste better!

Pressure Cooker

You can basically cook any meal in less than half the time it would take if you were to make it a different way. There’s only so much time in the day, and I understand that quick, convenient meals are the way to go, especially when you have children. The last thing I want to do is cook and clean for hours at the end of the day, and that is exactly why one of these handy appliances should be a staple in your kitchen!

Blender

A good blender can make a world of difference. From fruit and vegetable smoothies, to various sauces, and everything in between, it can do it all.

Meal Prep

It’s not always possible to cook a meal every night, and sometimes it’s just “one of those days”, so that’s why cooking in bigger batches is so beneficial. Cook once or twice a week, stick it in the fridge/freezer, and warm it up when you want to enjoy a home-cooked meal without all of the hassle.

Who needs a New Year’s Resolution when you can start working toward your goals right now? Hopefully these tips will help you crush your goals this summer!

Source: Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow

LA DONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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Gardening with Preschoolers

gardening with preschoolers, Leanne.jpg

Garden Yoga pose “Seeds”—Photo courtesy Leanne Manning

This summer several sites across the U.S. are piloting a gardening curriculum with preschoolers.  This curriculum, developed by Nebraska Extension and Texas A & M Extension, teaches children about the parts of the plant.  While it sounds simple, they are learning much more than the parts of the plant as they go through  lessons like how to plants seeds, how stems take up nutrients to help plants grow,  eating healthy foods grown in the garden, and about being patient.  It is hard work to wait for your turn to plant your seeds or to wait for your seeds to sprout.  Here are some tips shared by the National Association for the Education of Young Children to help make gardening with young children go a little more smoothly.

  1. Be prepared. Find out what grows best in your area.  Prep the garden area before the children join you.  Have many tools available for lots of little hands.
  2. Chill out. Children will plant 25 seeds in one small hole.  They will plant the leaves instead of the roots in the soil.  Other children will undo what one child has just completed.  Things will happen and it is best to just relax and go with the flow.  Everyone will enjoy it much more if you do.
  3. Have a “can-do” garden. Find all the ways the children can be involved in the garden.  Yes, you may plant those seeds. Yes, you may dig in the dirt. Yes, you can use the hand tools, and yes, you can water the plants.  When attention wanders, allow the children to move to other tasks.  We have incorporated garden yoga into the gardening time and the children love the movement.
  4. Eat what you grow. Remember children are great imitators and if they see you eating and enjoying vegetables from the garden, they too will develop a liking for them.
  5. Have fun! Pretend play is important in all children’s development so see what ideas they come up with for garden fun.  Placing an old chalkboard along the garden path can be fun for impromptu chalk art. Bring out a small pool to have water fun in the garden. Old pots and pans can be hung on the fence and used as “musical” instruments.  The list of ideas is as varied as you make it.  That reminds me, we need to try some singing in the garden.  I fondly remember picking strawberries with my mother in the garden and learning many childhood songs.

 

Source: https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/7-tips-vegetable-gardening

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Creating Capable Children

LaDonna capable children

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We all know that children tend to take a little (or sometimes a lot) longer when completing simple tasks such as zipping up their coat, opening a jar, or sweeping the floor. We also know that it would be a lot faster to just do it for them rather than having to sit and wait until they get it done. However, that method does not develop self-sufficiency in your child. So, what approach does then?

Be patient

When your child is trying to zip up their coat, do you wait a couple seconds and then do it for them? Or do you wait until they figure it out or actually need your help? Instead of jumping in right away, try using encouraging words like “Almost!” or “So close!” You will be able to tell when they are ready to give up. If they reach that point, try asking if they would like your help, and if so, you could put your fingers over theirs and zip it up together.

Use examples, not just words

When your child is sweeping the floor, but doing more harm than good, simply take the broom for a moment, show them how, and say, “Here, if you do it this way, you’ll get the floor a lot cleaner.”

Don’t plan every minute of their day

There are a ton of benefits that come from boredom. When you plan activity after activity for your child or give them access to a phone or similar device, they don’t ever have a chance to get bored. If they do experience boredom, they will learn to fill the time up with something by themselves. Boredom is a restless state, and the brain, with practice, will find things to do to get out of it, such as daydreaming, imagining, and problem solving. If your child is used to being occupied, they will grow agitated when they’re not doing something and will look to you to fill their time. So make it easier on yourself, and let your child be bored every once in a while.

Source: Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow

LaDonna Werth, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Playground Safety

Jaci, play ground safety

Photo source: Jaci Foged

Time to put the winter coats, sleds and ice skates away for next winter. The weather is starting to warm up, which means we get to spend MORE time outside with our children. Zoos, parks and playgrounds — here we come!

I was born in the ’80s; we had big hair, loud clothes and playground equipment that has since been removed for safety reasons. Did a fond memory just pop into your head? Anyone remember a 12–15 foot tall metal slide with a bump in the center? Not only did the bump send you flying, but the sun warmed up the surface of the slide so it was sometimes too hot to touch! What about a merry-go-round?

These were popular back in my day; you could get going so fast the motion could throw you right off ! And what about being the kid who spun the merry-go-round? How many of you ended up being dragged when you lost your footing? Yes, there is a reason playgrounds look differently today than they did over 20 years ago.

Safety

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that emergency departments still see more than 20,000 children, ages 14 and younger, for play-ground-related traumatic brain injuries each year. The National Safety Council (NSC) states that nearly 80 percent of playground injuries are caused by falls.

The top equipment associated with injuries includes: climbers, swings, slides and overhead ladders. Some unnecessary risks can mitigate using the SAFE guidelines later discussed in this article. But, there is a healthy degree of risk necessary for learning and development.

Worth the Risk?

The opportunity for “risky play” is not without benefit. In the early years, children should have numerous and varied opportunities to assess risk and manage situations. Very young children assess and take risks daily, which ultimately leads to new learning.

Think about a child learning to walk. At first they need substantial support, from us and the furniture around them. But gradually, they make small changes to their posture and the speed at which they move. Sure, they fall down a lot before they master it fully, but with practice comes skill.

The same goes for risky play on playground equipment, or just playing outside in general. Children are not only learning how to move their bodies to be successful, which develops skills and coordination, they are also learning about success and failure.

Risky play also ignites motivation. We want our children to be motivated — to strive for success, make adjustments and try repeatedly. Giving it their all, and finding success or failure, will also teach them their limits. Research shows us children who do not engage in risky play may have poor balance, appear to be clumsy and even feel uncomfortable in their own bodies.

The Adults Role

Adults do play a part. Our children need us to be there to cheer them on, give them a thumbs up and offer support as needed. We need to take them to parks and playgrounds that offer play movements which are often associated with risk. These include swinging, hanging, sliding and rolling. We also need to educate ourselves on which equipment is developmentally appropriate for your child’s age and personal development.

The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) provides us with the acronym S.A.F.E. as a way to remember the four contributing factors to properly maintain a safe play-ground atmosphere.

S – Provide proper SUPERVISION of children on playgrounds.

A – Design AGE- APPROPRIATE playgrounds.

F – Provide proper FALL SURFACING under and around playgrounds .

E – Properly maintain playground EQUIPMENT.

National Playground Safety Week was celebrated, April 23–27. Parents, childcare providers, schools and communities planned to take time to focus on their outdoor environments. For childcare providers, you might take some time to see if there is a certified playground inspector in your area. You can find out if there is one near you at http://www.playgroundsafety.org/certified. You can also find a public playground safety checklist on the Consumer Product Safety Commission website at http://bit.ly/playgroundsafetylist.

 Lincoln Journal Star reports Lincoln has 125 parks and 128 miles of trails. Go play!

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Katie KRause, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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