Jump, Roll, Slide at the Playground

Image source: Linda Reddish

My son loves to jump.  He is exceptional at finding launching surfaces that provide him the opportunity to challenge gravity’s hold on his feet.  I remember the day when he decided to test out jumping from the third step on the playground.  The ground beneath covered with mulch but, he looked so small to be making such a big jump.  As he lifted his arms to the sky and his knees bent, I took deep breath watching him get ready to fly.   My spouse on the other hand was a second away from saying, “that’s not safe, get down.”

Before the words could be uttered, our son jumped, landed on both feet, and then began spinning around.   Another child directly behind him yelled out, “That was awesome!  Five points for both feet.” Suddenly, the two of them were setting rules for how to earn points while jumping.  5 points for both feet, 1 point if your hand touched the ground, a hundred points if they both did it together at the same time and stuck the landing.  His parents and I made eye contact, smiled, gave a shrug of the shoulders, and continued to watch.  My spouse, again, on the other hand, was now looking at the sky and letting out a deep sigh of relief.

As the children continued to play, I asked my spouse about the warning cry he was about to utter.  He expressed his concern about him falling and that the steps seemed too high.  I shared with him that generally, you can check the “critical height” of play equipment outdoors and I showed him the sticker on the side of the equipment.  The space he was jumping from was well mulched and for our son’s height had more than enough protection because of mulch.  This made me realize something, I knew about this and could show my spouse were to find this but, I wondered how many other caregivers knew where to find this information. If you are curious about playground safety and platform guidelines click here for the Public Playground Safety Handbook from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission .

Image source: Linda Reddish

This additional piece of information helped, but my spouse still told me after I showed him the equipment safety suggestions that watching our son jump felt like a lifetime.  In reality, the exchange was only about 5-10 minutes.  Eventually, the game stopped and the children choose to go over to slope on the other side of the playground and began rolling down it.  Sometimes they bumped into each other, but their faces were smiling and laughing as they rolled. We have continued to talk about this feeling of hesitation or being uncomfortable watching our child engage in this rough and tumble play.  This feeling is not unusual among adults.  Author, Frances Carlson addresses adult’s uneasiness with this type of play in her book Big Body Play; Why boisterous, vigorous, and very physical play is essential to children’s development and learning.

She shares that adults and educators are typically motivated to reduce or hinder this type of play out of fear for the following reasons:

Image source: Linda Reddish

1. Fighting

2. Escalation

3. Agitation

4. Injury

All reasonable and understandable fears.  I, as a parent, that day, felt all of those fears too.  Perhaps not as strongly as my spouse did, but when I reflect on my teaching days, I likely responded more like my spouse did.  Ensuring children’s safety and well-being was paramount.  However, I’ve grown in my understanding of how to support children’s exploration into big body play.  I went back and re-read the chapter on how to support this type of play while balancing the safety concerns. The readings confirmed while some risk of injury is possible any time when children engage in physical play or explore outdoor spaces like playgrounds, the risk is minimal. Adults can set safe limits by setting clear expectations and ground rules, supervising or joining in on the play, and helping young children recognize their limits.  Following the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s playground, public safety and fall height recommendations are another strategy to prevent life-threatening falls or injuries in both outdoor and indoor spaces.

Carlson further addresses adult’s reservations by providing concrete ideas and examples such as encourage children to:

Image source: Linda Reddish

1. Run

2. Skip

3. Hop

4. Roll

5. Climb on structures

6. Wrestle

7. Broad jump

8. Jump from heights

Again, this type of boisterous play and physical activity has its benefits.  Children who are physically active reduce their risk of becoming overweight or obese.  That is because early childhood is an ideal time to establish children’s healthy attitude towards the adoption of health and wellness.

We continue to watch our son test out his jumping skills while he is at the playground.  Now he has moved on to running, hopping, and skipping around the loop of the playground.  He still likes to test out that third step.  Before we leave the playground, he still asks, “Can I jump off that step one more time?”

If you are interested in learning more about Big Body Play, you can check out this webinar.

Resource:

Accelerating Progress to Reduce Childhood Obesity. (2021, March 24). Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.nccor.org/

Carlson, Frances M.  (2011).  Big Body Play: Why Boisterous, Vigorous, and Very Physical Play Is Essential to Children’s Development and Learning, by Frances M. Carlson.  National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Young Children: Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 69:5 (Nov 2014), pp. 36-42.

LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Adaptability and Stability: Changing and Maintaining Traditions, Rituals, and Routines During a COVID-19 Holiday Season

Image Source: by K Kohel in Canva

Traditions, rituals, and routines are good for all of us. They contribute to a shared sense of meaning, increase our connection to others, and can even support resilience in difficult or stressful times. The winter holiday season is one that is looked forward to by many families and young children. Various traditions bring family and friends of all ages together to share meals, exchange gifts, and simply be in the presence of loved ones.

The 2020 holiday season is not exempt from the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know this holiday season may be experienced differently by many of our readers, and we want to acknowledge any feelings of confusion, frustration, sadness, or anger that you may be experiencing. We hope this blog provides encouragement and a few ideas for connecting with loved ones and making this a meaningful holiday season.

Young children are often more perceptive of adult emotions than we expect. They may not understand why the adults in their lives are upset, but they can sense that something is not quite right. As adults, it is important that we model emotional awareness and self-regulation for young children and invite them into conversations about emotions. Read for Resilience is a Learning Child program that is free and available to all through our website. This program aims to help adults and children share conversations about difficult topics through the process of reading and discussing storybooks.

If this holiday season is made more difficult due to loss or feelings of grief, sadness, and frustration, consider a ritual that acknowledges those feelings and helps your family share them together. For example, if you have lost a loved one this year, consider making a special ornament to hang on your tree with their picture or a symbol that reminds you of their life. Use the hanging of this ornament as a special time to share memories of that person.

Although your traditions may look different this year, it is still important to connect with loved ones. If you are “gathering” with your family online, consider having a conversation with your children about why your traditions are important to you and your family. Ask older members of the family to share how some traditions have been passed down and others have changed over the years. Encourage older family members to reminisce about the holidays when they were children, and have young children talk about how things are both the same and different than they used to be. Have all members take time to share what they are grateful for. These intentional conversations help build relationships among the many generations in your family.

Finally, many families and communities of different backgrounds have special celebrations that occur throughout the year. In addition to celebrating your family’s treasured traditions – perhaps in new ways – consider taking the time to learn about the traditions and holidays of others.

Image source: by K Kohel, in Canva

For more on routines, rituals, and traditions during the holiday season, check out these other Learning Child blog posts:

  1. Teaching Kindness and Giving with a Holiday Twist
  2. Connect with Your Children this Holiday Season
  3. Tips to Manage Holiday Stress
  4. The Power of Storytelling
  5. Keeping Routines is the Secret to a Calm Holiday

And these additional resources (also linked in the blog):

  1. How Important is Thanksgiving Soup to a Child’s Wellbeing?
  2. Creating Routines for Love and Learning
  3. Let’s Use this Time to Strengthen, Not Weaken, Bonds Between Generations

Staying Connected During Social Distancing

KARA KOHEL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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3 Teaching Strategies for Supporting Children’s Tinkering, Making, and Engineering in Makerspaces


Video by cottonbro from Pexels

Direct link for video:

https://www.pexels.com/video/two-kids-building-a-gingerbread-house-3198432/

Picture this. Child and caregiver are at the table using their Makerspace baskets. Both sit side-by-side, exploring the materials in front of them when the following question is asked…

Child “I can’t decide if I want to stick the pipe cleaner or the paper towel to my board.”

Caregiver “Well, what problem are you trying to solve today?”

Child “I don’t have a problem. I want to know what is sticky.”

Caregiver “Hmm, figuring out what is sticky is a good idea to explore. I wonder what’s something we have here on the table that is sticky?”

Child “Nothing”

Wondering what happens next? 

Curious how the caregiver might respond? Me too…!

A previous blog (written by Extension Educator Lynn Devries) described how to create Makerspaces in early childhood settings. The blog broke down the child’s role in Makerspaces.

  1. Tinkering
  2. Making
  3. Engineering.  

In this post, the focus shifts to three teaching strategies that can be used to support the child’s exploration in Makerspaces.

  1. Ask questions or prompt children’s thinking
  2. Follow children’s lead
  3. Teach and model safe use of tools and materials

Strategy 1

First, open-ended questions and “I wonder… or Tell me more…, or That’s interesting, could you explain that to me…” prompt children’s thinking. Well, you might be wondering yourself, what does prompting children’s thinking even mean? Prompting is a specific teaching strategy that fosters children’s imagination and creativity and generates new ideas.

Strategy 2

Second, when allowed to lead, young children are more likely to be engaged in the activity and stick with it. This is because children are actively involved in learning how to problem-solve with caring adults rather than adults solving their problems. Children build their confidence by leading their investigation, and that further encourages children to try out new ways to learn, explore, and problem-solve.

Strategy 3

Finally, Makerspaces are meant to include real tools and materials. The caregiver’s primary responsibility is to help children understand how these tools materials are used in everyday problem-solving. In addition, it is important to teach and model how to use them and why it is vital to follow the set expectations and use these materials appropriately.

For example, the caregiver can teach and model how to safely get materials (like how to hold scissors while walking), use the materials (wearing goggles while using a hammer), and put materials away (closing the lid on a box holding different sized small buttons).

Let’s Keep Following the Example Above to See How the 3 Teaching Strategies Support Exploration

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels

Direct link for image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/anonymous-cute-toddler-girl-holding-brush-for-getting-white-paint-from-plate-standing-on-chair-3933226/?utm_content=attributionCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pexels

Caregiver “Hmmm! I wonder, have you looked a little closer at the blue box? I think there might be a few tools in there that are sticky.” Strategy 1

Child (rummages around but in the process is starting to knock over a box that is holding cut up cardboard)

Caregiver “It looks like you focused on this sticky situation but, do you remember what our first rule is in this space?” Strategy 3

Child “Respect our classroom materials.”

Caregiver “That’s right; we respect our space so we can stay safe. You are looking so hard that you’ve knocked some other items over. Please pick that box up, take a deep breath, and let’s think about where the sticky stuff is kept.”

Caregiver, “OK. Thank you for putting that away and pausing to catch your breath. Now, did you find where we keep our sticky stuff like tape, glue, and tact”?

Child “In the blue box.”

Caregiver “Great! (child brings over a bucket) What do you want to explore first?” Strategy 2

Child (points to a roll of tape)

Child “Yes, but it’s smooth, not sticky.”

Caregiver “Sounds like you explored one side of it. What can we do to make it sticky? Strategy 1

Child “hmm”

Caregiver Have you tried peeling it? Peeling is like pulling it back, kind of like when you peel a piece of fruit like a banana or orange.” Strategy 1

Child (grabs the tape and pulls it back) “WHOA. It’s sticky on this side. That’s perfect for what I need.

Caregiver, “OK. You have the sticky tool. Now you said you needed pipe clear and paper towel, right?”

Child “Yes. I will use both and then stick them with three pieces of tape. Maybe four, I don’t know yet.” Strategy 2

Caregiver “As you go along, see how many pieces work for you. You can try small or big pieces. It’s up to you.” Strategy 2 Caregiver “Glad you found something sticky to tinker and explore with for a bit. Maybe you can try out some of the other items too, if you want. I’m going to go check on a few friends for a bit, but then I’ll come back and check in with you to find out what you’ve discovered. Don’t forget our rule, please, respect the space, so everyone and the materials stay safe.” Strategy 3

See how each strategy encouraged the child’s role to tinker, make, and further construct? It’s also helpful to see how the strategies are not linear. Depending on the situation, the caregiver’s role may require a different approach to facilitate the child’s time to creatively design, build, and explore their ideas. Caregivers will need to be there to establish and model the safe use of materials and tools, but by following the child’s lead, caregivers can facilitate them to make their own discoveries!

If you are interested in learning more about Makerspaces or incorporating more STEM learning into your Makerspace, enroll in the Tinkering with STEM on Demand course offered through the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Nebraska Extension.

Additional Blogs and References

https://learningchildblog.com/2017/09/11/makerspaces-in-early-childhood-settings/

https://learningchildblog.com/2020/04/01/high-level-questions-for-high-level-thinking/

LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Dr. Soo-Young Hong, LaDonna Werth, 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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High Level Questions for High Level Thinking

Most children have a “Why” stage where they ask why to literally everything a person says. Sound familiar? Despite how frustrating that can be at times, answering those “whys” is really beneficial to the child’s curiosity. Do you know what is also really beneficial to the child? Asking THEM questions! Tables have turned and now it’s their turn to think hard for the answers.

However, we’re not completely off the hook because we have to put a little thought into our questions. To really expand our children’s thinking, we have to ask more high-level questions. A high-level question is never a yes-or-no question (“Do you have siblings?”). It isn’t a question that only has one answer (“How old are you?”). Nor is it a question that has an obvious answer (“How many wheels does that bicycle have?”). Answers to these kinds of questions can show the child understands language, pays attention, and can count or identify colors, numbers, and shapes, but the questions don’t push the child to think deeply. High-level questions are always ones that will foster unique answers from each child. If the question is effective, the child is usually excited to give you a very detailed explanation. Now, you don’t necessarily have to ask a question to encourage thinking because statements such as “Tell me about…” or “I wonder…” get the job done as well. Now that you know what a high-level question is, it is time to start trying them out.

So the next time you see a child playing in the mud and pretending sticks are something else, rather than asking “Are you using that stick as a utensil?”, say something like “Tell me about what you are making.” Try it out and see what kind of interesting conversations come out of it!

Source: Big Questions for Young Minds by Janis Strasser and Lisa Mufson Bresson

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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Keeping Routines is the Secret to a Calm Holiday

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Photo source, Lynn DeVries

As I sit in the warmth and quiet of my home, I see the posts, advertisements, and the excitement of Black Friday shopping. And it starts, the traveling, special programs, shopping, parties and holiday gatherings.  It can take a toll on us all, especially our young children.

Children are even more sensitive to disruptions in their routines. However fun the activity or event may be, parents may observe more displays of behaviors or moodiness from their children during the holidays. Structured routines help children to feel safe and predict what is happening around them. Children learn how to control themselves and their surroundings when they live in a structured, secure, and loving environment. This feeling of security fosters healthy social and emotional regulation in young children.

Tips for a healthy holiday:

Sleep well

A regular schedule will help children sleep better at night and they are less resistive to transitioning to going to bed. Parents can help by sticking to routines and bedtimes that are as consistent as possible during the holidays. Perhaps reading a bedtime story to children after bath time.

Regular meal times

It is best if children eat at predictable times to avoid those “hangry” moments.  Offer a healthy breakfast and small healthy snacks between meals. Eating at the table instead of in front of the television, will reduce overeating, as children can focus on how hungry or full they feel. I recommend family style meals where caregivers sit with and eat the same foods as children.  When children are ready, allow them to serve themselves. They will be more likely to try new foods if given choices.

Traveling

For those long car or airplane trips, bring along a comfort item like a stuffed animal or a busy bag of books, paper and crayons. Mornings seem to be better for children, consider traveling in the morning, and making stops for meals at regular times. I recommend scheduling extra time on road trips to stop and allow children a break from their car safety seats.

Active times

If children are home from school or childcare over the holidays, remember to keep them active.  Build in time for outdoor activities so children can be physically active. If the weather doesn’t allow outdoor time each day, be sure some indoor time allows for physical activity.  Have an indoor paper snowball fight, or build a fort with blankets. Planning out a specific time each day during winter break for an activity will become part of their routine while children are at home.

Limit Screen time

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states, “Today’s children are spending an light tableaverage of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. To help kids make wise media choices, parents should develop a Family Media Use Plan for everyone in their family.”

I recommend focusing on laps instead of apps. Instead of reaching for a digital “babysitter,” offer more of your time and attention.  What might be seen as attention getting behaviors, could simply be your child’s attempt at wanting more connection with you.

 Photo source, Lynn DeVries

Screen time recommendations:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

Check out this Media time plan and calculator by the American Academy of Pediatrics, to help you set your own family guidelines.

Transition back to school

As the holiday break ends, if you did stray from routines, help your child adjust by gradually getting back on schedule to similar meal, and bedtime schedules that they will have at childcare or school.

In closing, my wish for you is that you have a safe, happy and healthy holiday with your family. Take time to enjoy the little things and laugh together.

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, , Lisa Poppe, and LaDonna Werth, Extension Educators, 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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Chatting With Babies

SmilingBabyGirl

Image Source: Pixabay

Do you feel uneasy about talking with a baby because you fear they can’t understand what you’re saying?  Fear not, as brain research shows us that talking with infants is vital in helping their brains develop, and in learning about language and communication, all before they can really understand the meaning of the words being said.  The more adults speak with infants the more neural connections, or synapses, are formed.  These connections need to be strengthened by repeated exposure to listening to language or else the brain will prune away the unused connections.  Use it or lose it is the phrase to remember.

Here are some ideas for making the most of time spent chatting with an infant:

  • Talk about the baby’s actions as they move. “Oh, I see you are crawling right along.  Soon you will reach me!”
  • Verbalize feelings. Put their feelings into words to help them learn to label what they are feeling and later when they begin to speak to use words to describe their emotions.  “Something has made you angry because you are all red in the face and crying.”  “You look so happy with that big smile on your face.  You really like your stuffed toy don’t you?”
  • Provide guidance to encourage and help babies achieve something. “I can see you want that toy by your blanket.  You can reach out your arm and grab it.”
  • Build positive relationships with the baby. The best way to do this is to use “serve and return” interactions with the child.  When an infant cries, babbles, or coos, you can respond with an action or words that let them know they have been heard.  For example when a baby says, “Baa!” You can repeat that sound “Baa!”  This simple “serve and return” interaction helps build the child’s brain and puts in place a strong base for future learning.
  • Some other tips for building on serve-and-return interactions are to notice what the child is looking at; see facial expressions; offer comfort and hugs when needed; take turns talking being sure to wait for the child to respond, and practice noticing when the child is ready to move on or end the activity.

When you take the time to converse with infants, speaking to them, then stopping to listen to them, and then speaking again, this is demonstrating how communication works.  It also helps parents and providers build strong attachments with infants, something which is crucial for all infants to survive and thrive.  Infants who have at least one strong, secure attachment with a caring adult, will be more successful at building and learning skills that will help them throughout their lives such as self-regulation and academic achievement.

By taking small moments of time throughout the day to chat with your baby, you are building your child’s brain and setting them up for a lifetime of learning and acquiring skills that will help them deal with life’s trials and triumphs.

Sources: extension.org and developingchild.harvard.edu

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by LaDonna Werth, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Jackie Guzman, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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What’s Going On in the World of Early Childhood?

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Early childhood education can be somewhat of a mystery, especially since many people don’t think of it as “education” until children reach elementary school.  Early childhood begins at birth and typically goes all the way until children are age eight or entering the third grade.

Unfortunately, early childhood today is changing more and more in our technologically advanced age.  Education consultant, Rae Pica, has seen several of these changes occurring throughout her years of service since the 1980s.  In her article published in Community Playthings, she lists three things that seem to be recurring areas in need of improvement in early childhood education:

  1. More children are unable to cross the mid-line of the body.
  2. Children don’t know how to play anymore.
  3. Children have no fine motor control.

More children are unable to cross the mid-line of the body.  

Amidst the busy lives of parents all over the world, babies are spending less and less time on their tummies, which is vital in the development of muscles needed to crawl and perform cross-lateral movements.  What parents need to remember is that the body and mind work together.  Children need to practice moving in a variety of ways to gain confidence in their skills.  Pica writes, “what impacts the body’s development impacts the brain’s development, and the sooner we acknowledge that, the better off our children will be.”

Children don’t know how to play anymore. 

Almost every animal on our planet plays at some point or another in their lives.  Play is necessary to learn the skills that are needed to become successful adults.  Educators are reporting that children are simply imitating on-screen characters or are just standing around during free-play time because they are at a loss as to what to do.  With the rise in technology, children are exposed to much more media, thus diminishing the need for imaginative play.  As early childhood educators, it is vital that we facilitate play and give children the time, space and materials to foster imaginative play.

Children have no fine motor control.

This, again, goes back to technology.  Children aren’t getting the same opportunities to utilize crayons, scissors, and other utensils as much as they are given a tablet or digital device to keep them occupied.  Children are also not developing and using large muscles which relates to the development of the small muscles such as those in the hands and fingers.  If large muscles are not developed, it becomes very difficult for small muscles to progress as well.  Children must have the strength and endurance in large muscles in order to begin using fine motor control skills (Buttfield, 2017).  This need stresses the importance of play and practice with a variety of materials and utensils.

Early childhood education is one of the most important times in a child’s life.  Giving them ample opportunities and experiences with open-ended manipulatives can help overcome the above challenges.  For more information on open-ended activities and ideas, check out https://www.communityplaythings.com/resources.

Resources:

Buttfield, J. (2017, April 12). Big muscles make a big difference to fine motor skills. [Blog].  Retrieved from https://childdevelopment.com.au/blog/big-muscles-make-big-difference-fine-motor-skills/.

Education and Child Development Experts – About Rae Pica http://www.raepica.com/education-consultant-rae/.

Pica, R. (2018).  The state of early childhood: Three things that have changed since I became an early childhood consultant.  Community Playthings.  Retrieved from http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2018/the-state-of-early-childhood.

SARAH ROBERTS, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Leslie Crandall, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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To Be A Grandparent

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I am fairly new at this grandparenting thing.   And it has completely taken me by surprise!  I am delighted, thrilled, and absolutely love being a grandparent to my 6 grandchildren.  I love watching them grow, learn, and develop!  I also love observing that my adult children – the moms and dads- have grown and matured into the loving, capable, and understanding parents that they are.

In becoming a grandparent, it’s important to understand that grandparenting isn’t the same thing as parenting.  It is true that, as grandparents, we get to interact with grandchildren on a level that doesn’t require the daily routine and discipline that the parenting roles requires.  This results in a close, loving, and playful bond with the ‘grands’ that can lead to continuity and stability in a child’s life, opportunities to learn and play, and provide a feeling of connectedness.   Grandparents are important in strengthening the family bonds that are so important to children, parents, and grandparents alike.

So, I have learned that, in order to be a ‘good grandparent’, I support the parent’s role; be helpful when possible, totally enjoy being with my grandchildren, and revel in the pure love and joy that they bring to my life!  It’s a great time to be a grandparent!   What do you enjoy most about being a grandparent?

LESLIE CRANDALL EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Tasha Wulf, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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

 

Laugh Out Loud – Developing Humor in Children

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Something special happens when people laugh together over something genuinely funny and not hurtful to anyone. It’s like a magic, creating the feelings of safety and belonging to a group. It’s important to remember that humor isn’t a science. Humor is intuitive and spontaneous. You can’t really teach people to be funny in an appropriate way. Nor can you train them to laugh on cue. But you can prepare the ground, plant the seeds, and provide opportunities. It is possible to create the kind an environment in which healthy humor has a chance to grow.

Humor appreciation does not appear to have a genetic basis (Martin, 1998) but because the humor response does seem to be an in-born social phenomenon (Chapman, 1973, and 1979) there is evidence that humor can be encouraged and taught. Carson et al. (1986) discuss humor as a function of learned communicative abilities. Positive reinforcement of humor increases its use (Ziv, 1981b – cit. by Nevo et al., 1998).

Humor is really just another form of communication. It’s part of our communication skills set. Children need to be allowed and encouraged to be funny, in his or her own way. Laughter can unite groups. Laughter not only creates a shared experience in the moment, but it also creates a memory to recollect and laugh at over and over.

Humor as children grow

It’s never too early to start developing a child’s sense of humor. Babies’ smiles and laughs are so delightful that we often do this intuitively — smiling, or tickling them many times a day just to hear a chuckle. Babies don’t really understand humor, but they do know when you’re smiling and happy. When you make funny noises or faces and then laugh or smile, the baby is likely to sense your joy and imitate you. He or she is also highly responsive to physical stimuli, like tickling.

Sometime between 9 and 15 months, babies know enough about the world to understand that when you quack like a duck, she’s /he’s doing something unexpected — and that it’s funny.

Toddlers appreciate physical humor especially the kind with an element of surprise (like peek-a-boo). One of the best ways to do this is to spend time every day being receptive to the many opportunities each child gives you to smile or laugh.  As children develop language skills, they’ll find rhymes and nonsense words funny and this continues into the preschool years.

As preschooler explore their world they are more likely to find humor in a picture with something out of whack like a car with square wheels, a pig wearing sunglasses than a joke or pun. Incongruity between pictures and sounds (a horse that says moo) is also funny. As they become more aware of bodily functions, preschoolers often start delighting in bathroom humor. Preschoolers have difficulty determining when using bathroom humor is appropriate, so you might set guidelines for your classroom.

Kindergarteners find basic wordplay, exaggeration, and slapstick funny. They have discovered the pleasure of telling simple jokes especially knock knock…, it is fun to be the one who knows the punchline! Jokes are repeated over and over.  Older grade-schoolers have a better grasp of what words mean and are able to play with them — they like puns, riddles, and other forms of wordplay.  Also, be game enough to laugh so the jokes don’t fall flat.

It’s important to keep encouraging humor development as children grow. When you’re playful and humorous with a child, delighting in silliness and laughter, you help him or her develop a playful and humorous attitude about life. Be spontaneous, playful, and aware of what each child finds funny at different ages.

Tips for teachers

Add humor to your curriculum by starting with a “Funny Day.” By creating a day focusing on humor and you can build on that days experience to build humor into your daily curriculum.  Invite everyone to dress in funny costumes to begin the humor day.  Create a humor-rich environment. Surround the children with funny pictures on the wall, and funny books — for toddlers and preschoolers these include picture books or nonsense rhymes; older kids will love joke books and comics. Also check YouTube for out funny songs, rhymes and finger plays you can teach the children. Create funny games and large motor skills. In your art center have children draw or paint funny pictures of their pets.

The teacher should be the humor model and set the tone for day. One of the best things you can do to develop each child’s sense of humor is to use your own. Tell jokes and stories. Laugh out loud! Take each child’s humor seriously. Encourage the child’s attempts at humor, whether it’s reading (potentially unfunny) jokes from a book or drawing “funny” pictures. Praise your child for trying to be funny.

The more you incorporate humor into your classroom the easier it will be to use.  Make humor a part of your day-to-day interactions with each child and encourage them to share funny observations or reactions.

 

Children’s Books that introduce humor

 Llama Llama Zippity-Zoom by Anna Dewdney

Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn’t Fit by Catherine Rayner

Amazing Cows: Udder Absurdity for Children by Sandra Boynton

Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs by Alan Katz

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by RA Spratt, Dan Santat

Zany and Brainy Good Clean Jokes for Kids by Bob Phillips

 

Resources:

Encouraging Your Child’s Sense of Humor https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/child-humor.html

How to Lighten things up and Laugh more as a Family by Monica Swanson  http://monicaswanson.com/laughter-makes-a-family-better/

3 Reasons to Laugh Together as a Family,   http://forthefamily.org/3-reasons-laugh-together-family/

What’s So Funny? Jan 20, 2010, Jenny Schroede,  http://www.boundless.org/relationships/2010/whats-so-funny

Encouraging Your Child’s Sense of Humor   http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/child-humor.html

Healthy Family Humor, https://www.focusonthefamily.com/

Ages & Stages: Don’t Forget to Laugh! The importance of Humor https://www.scholastic.com/…/ages-stages-dont-forget-laugh-importance-humor/

Humor as a Key to Child Development, Lawrence Kutner, https://psychcentral.com/lib/humor-as-a-key-to-child-development/

Laughter Is Serious Business!  Marie Hartwell-Walker,   https://psychcentral.com/lib/laughter-is-serious-business/

How Children Develop a Sense of Humor May2, 2017, https://psychcentral.com/lib/laughter-is-serious-business2017/

PLAY DEVELOPMENT FROM INFANCY THROUGH LATE CHILDHOOD, http://theconversation.com/how-children-develop-a-sense-of-humour-77028

How children can get jokes from the age of two (but they are only as funny as their parents) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2346271/How-children-jokes-age-funny-parents.html#ixzz56N5Mg8BL

LEE SHERRY, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Sarah Roberts, 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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How Dramatic Play Supports Children’s Development

 

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Dramatic play happens when children take on a role and act out a play, a story or act in a video.  When children engage in dramatic play it helps them build social skills, makes them more aware of emotions, and encourages problem solving. As children play and interact in dramatic play, they practice skills in the following areas:

  • Social/emotional: working with others to successfully act out most stories or plays helps children learn to get along with one another to keep the play going
  • Physical: using large and small muscles to put on costumes, manipulate props, and practice eye-hand coordination
  • Cognitive: thinking up and acting out a story requires cognitive ability, organizing and expressing ideas, paying attention to how other people see the world,  and finding creative solutions to challenges
  • Language: asking and answering questions, using language related to a role they are playing, for example, “Did you find everything you were looking for today in our store?”, early literacy and writing skills

Dramatic play is most effective when children come up with the story and decide how it should be acted out.  Adults can help children use the following skills as they act out their plays:

  • Role play: pretending to be someone else
  • Use of props: using objects to expand and enhance pretend play
  • Make-believe: copying the actions of persons from various settings (e.g., waiter, doctor)
  • In-depth play: spending an extended amount of time playing out a theme or idea in dramatic play
  • Interaction: playing cooperatively with others and exchanging ideas about roles and other details
  • Verbal communication: using language skills to act out roles and negotiate play details

adults support dramatic play

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Adults can also help children engage in more complex and extended dramatic play using the following ideas:

  • Model pretend play: Use books, songs, or stories to engage children in using their imagination, such as having children climb a tree, swing on a vine like a monkey, or crawl through a tunnel. Have the children suggest what happens next.
  • Observe children’s play: Pay attention to who is playing, the language being used, and the roles they are acting out. Observing may also give you new ideas for props and dramatic play themes of interest.
  • Participate as a supporting character: If children don’t seem to know what to do next, consider entering their play as a supporting character to give them ideas. If the area is a restaurant, you could sit down at a table and say, “Will someone please take my order?”

Source: eXtension.org

Leanne Manning, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lisa Poppe, 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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