Let’s Play Ball!

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 10.49.23 AM.pngThere are many innovative toys for children on the market today, but one that continues to stand the test of time for its ability to encourage the whole child’s development over many years of growth is a ball.

Baby ball

Babies learn about the world through sensory integration, balls are something babies can see, touch, and interact with and better yet, their parents are their favorite teammate. When selecting balls for play with baby, you might choose textured balls or try slightly deflating the ball so it is easier for baby to grip. You might look for an “O ball” that baby can squeeze and grip. These are great for babies because they are soft and safe. According to the NAEYC, caregivers should provide play objects that are “made of materials and scaled to a size that lets infants grasp, chew, and manipulate them (Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs, 3rd edition, C., and S. Bredekamp, eds. 2009).”

Roll the ball with your baby while sitting or when baby is enjoying tummy time. This type of play encourages gross-motor development as baby reaches and grasps the ball with both hands. You will help baby to build finger strength and strengthen the muscles neededwoman playing ball with child for sitting. Rolling the ball also helps to encourage visual tracking and supports hand –eye coordination. The parent / child time will also help the child to learn social skills of communication as the play goes back and forth between you and baby and it’s a wonderful time to bond with baby. Try singing as you roll the ball back and forth; “I roll the ball to you, you roll the ball to me, I roll the ball to you and you roll the ball to me.”

Parents of infants 3- 6 months can try using a large exercise ball to stimulate baby. Try putting the ball against a wall and firmly holding it in place with your feet. Place a towel on the balls surface, then place baby on the ball for tummy time. You can gently bounce the ball and slightly roll it from side to side. This is great for strengthening neck muscles.

Toddler Ball

One to Two-year old’s are ready to work on their eye/hand coordination. Parents can introduce catching and throwing, however this involves a series of complicated movements and muscles to control. Toddlers may attempt to throw objects at around 18 months, but catching will wait till age 3 or 4 and resembles hugging the ball to their chest. With any new skill it takes lots of practice. Parents can offer their throwers different types of objects such as bean bags, foam balls, and beach balls. Use baskets or boxes as the target, moving some close and some farther away. Parents can be more engaging with their toddler by sitting at the child’s level and playing along.

Check out this quick reference guide on typical motor development milestones and this new app from The Learning Child, UR Parent. It is full of information for parents in the first year of your child’s life. This app is geared to the specific age of your baby. Information on child development and parenting from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This app also features a baby book for the busy on-the-go parents. The UR parent app is handy to keep track of your immunization records on your phone, and also allows you to record special events such as the date your baby takes their first step. With UR parent, questions you have about taking care of your child are just a fingertip away.

Ages and Stages

Remember, every child develops at their own pace. The ages and stages mentioned earlier are an approximate range in developmental milestones. Parents can support their child’s growth and development by offering time and opportunity as well as safe balls to explore this gross motor play. NAEYC also tells us that caregivers should “allow toddlers freedom to explore their movements by testing what their bodies are capable of doing (Copple, C., and S. Bredekamp, eds. 2009).” Follow the child’s lead and continue the play as long as they are interested, but do not force this type of play. Your child will indicate to you when they have lost interest and are ready for the “7th inning stretch.”

What creative ways have you tried introducing balls in your routine with children?

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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Strength Training for Fine Motor Development

Children developing find motor skillsWhat Are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine motor skills are those skills that require the use and control of the muscles in one’s hands. We depend on these skills for the many day-to-day tasks that allow for self-care and independence such as getting dressed, eating lunch, and writing. Caregivers play a vital role in conditioning and training our young children to use their fine motor skills to facilitate life-long independence.

In my work with children from pre-school through middle school, something that I am becoming aware of is the lack of hand strength for simple classroom and self-help tasks. I have observed many children with very loose pencil grips that affects their ability to write and form letters. I have also seen middle school students who lack the strength in their hands to manipulate a scissors.

Practice Makes Perfect

Just as with any cognitive skill, fine motor abilities will improve with practice. It is the caregiver’s role to provide an environment rich in experiences that will enhance fine motor development. The intentionalGirl practicing writing with a pencil planning for fine motor practice will also enhance other developmental domains and strengthen the connections made in the brain for learning. In this NAEYC article, the authors introduce four specific muscle areas to concentrate on and have provided a list of activities that promote fine motor development specific to each area.

Children learn best through developmentally appropriate play using their senses to explore their world. These simple and playful hand strengthening activities will give your play a purpose, and who doesn’t enjoy play dough? The Potential of Playdough will give you a whole new appreciation for this simple activity including recipes to make your own playdough.

What are some of your favorite activities to promote fine motor development?

Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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Exploring Nature With Children

Child in nature on grass

Although children should have outdoor time every day, research suggests that on average, American children are only spending 30 minutes of unstructured time outdoors each week. Spending time outdoors is said to lower stress levels, reduce ADHD/ADD symptoms, encourage the opportunity for physical exercise, increase academic performance and levels of concentration, reduce myopia, help children get enough Vitamin D and builds strong immune systems (not to mention a develop a sense of wonder). A good way to plan outdoor space is to identify permanent spaces and temporary spaces.

Exploring Nature in Permanent Spaces

  • What permanent outdoor structures exist in your yard? Do you have a variety of natural elements such as: grass, trees, shrubs, and plants?
  • Offer areas where children can build with nature’s treasures, such as sticks, rocks, leaves, pinecones, and snow.
  • A quiet sitting area such as grass, stumps, large rocks, or a bench is a good place to slow down, relax, read a story, or have a heart-to-heart talk.
  • Don’t forget to create areas for nature and weather observation with a good view of the sky for weather watching.
  • Offer tools such as magnifying glasses, binoculars, paper towel rolls for telescopes, hand shovels, various containers for collections, and bird feeders.
  • For observing the weather, offer materials such as a rain gauge, measuring cups, wind chimes, or streamers (to see which way the wind is blowing), homemade sun dials, and thermometers.
  • Consider having journals, paper, and pencils for kids to record ideas and possibly stumps, decks, or climbers to allow for higher views of observing.

Exploring Nature in Temporary Spaces

  • Create a garden area. Add planter pots with easy-to-grow seeds, plants, shrubs, and vegetables that are safe for young children. If you have the space and time, creating a vegetable garden with children is a great opportunity for them to learn about plants.
  • Provide children with opportunities to care for nature, such as watering plants, feeding animals, picking up trash, and treating “creatures” gently, supports a sense of respecting nature and developing empathy. Experiences such as these help build lifelong skills and give children a connection that may in the future support caring for their environment.
  • For water play, use plastic bins, buckets, funnels, plastic piping, hoses, plastic gutters, spray bottles, paint brushes, sponges, etc. Store all of the water play items inchildren-763791_960_720.jpg a large plastic bin with a lid. Instead of using wading pools which can spread germs, try sprinklers and individual water play containers. Remember, whenever infants and toddlers are in or around water, an adult should be no more than an arm’s length away so they are close enough to provide touch supervision.
  • Children love interesting nooks. You can create fun spaces from tarps or blankets draped over areas, large cardboard boxes, or the undergrowth of a pine tree.
  • Playing in the mud is a great outdoor activity kids love. Set up an area where children, with supervision, can dig in the dirt and add water to make mud. This space should be close to clean-up supplies and away from busy play. Give children clear rules before mud play, such as where the mud may be taken and what toys may be used.
  • Don’t forget to offer an art area! Bring an easel and paints outdoors or set up water colors on a table or sidewalk. Providing a box of art materials give kids an opportunity to express themselves and use nature for collages and sketches.

You can also make outdoor chores fun! Have your children join you in washing the car, cleaning out the garage, feeding the pets, getting the mail, hanging clothes on the line, working in the garden, or any task that calls for them to be involved in the great outdoors.

If you would like to learn more about children and nature, visit the Environmental Education section of UNL Extension’s Learning Child website.

Author:  Leanne Manning, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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Taking Children Outside To Play

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 12.57.06 PM

 I don’t want to play outside”, said no child ever.

Did you know that watching the weather is part of a child care professional’s job? If it is too hot or too cold outside the children in their care could be in danger. The average temperature in Eastern Nebraska in January is a high of 33 and a low of 13. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health wind chill and heat index charts-providers should use CAUTION when the air temperature is between 11 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

I know what you are thinking…”What does using CAUTION look like”?

First of all, we need to inform parents and caregivers about our intentions when it comes to outdoor play including the time frame and temperature. This is best done at the time of enrollment. It is wonderful to have an outdoor play policy included in the child care handbook. Families can then read about and appreciate this aspect of child care and why it is important in the program.  If you need some help writing a policy on physical activity you can contact your local Nebraska extension office or the Go NAP SACC program. Know the facts about why outdoor play (rain or shine) is important for healthy growth and development of children.

Ask parents and caregivers to provide proper clothing for the weather. This should include: hats, gloves, a warm coat that zips or buttons, snow boots and snow pants when needed. It is a good idea to have a few extra’s around in case they are forgotten or misplaced. Another suggestion would be to ask caregivers if they would donate old clothing items like these to your child care program. Remember, toddlers and preschoolers should be attempting to dress themselves, but the child care provider must ensure they are properly dressed before heading out in the cold.

Is it okay for kids to take their gloves off outside when it is cold? The answer depends on the temperature, but for those of you working with young toddlers and preschoolers you can count on this happening. You may have to spend the entire outside time putting little Bundled up little boy in the fallSuzie’s gloves back on, but that is your job – so do it! Parents and caregivers have every right to be upset if you do not. Parents are not there to help their child, thus they expect that their child care provider will. This is a great teaching opportunity for the child as well. Talk with her about why we need to wear gloves and role model that you have yours on too. Make sure to communicate with families about the importance of the gloves and practice putting them on during an indoor activity, so that the child can learn to help themselves.

Make sure you stay out only as long as the children are engaged and playing. Depending on the temperature you may spend three times as long dressing for outside time as you do actually participating in outside time – and that’s ok! Getting dressed is a crucial part of every child’s personal and social development.

Hand washing is the number one way to prevent the spread of illness. When you bring the children in from outside make sure to have them wash their hands with warm soapy water for as long as it takes them to sing the ABC’s (or about 20 seconds).

So to recap – CAUTION for Outdoor Play looks like:

  • Informing parents and caregivers about your intentions when it comes to outdoor play including the timeframe and temperature.
  • Have an outdoor play policy.
  • If you need some help writing a policy on physical activity you can contact your Nebraska extension office or the GO NAP SACC program.
  • Ask parents and caregivers to provide proper clothing for the weather.
  • Spend the time outside putting little children’s gloves back on and talk to them about why they need to wear gloves.
  • Make sure you stay out only as long as the children are engaged and playing.
  • Hand washing is the number one way to prevent the spread of illness.
  • Get outside and enjoy the outdoors!

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Using Sensory Activities

Young Girl outdoorsBeginning in infancy, children in child care build their knowledge of the world around them through scientific exploration. “Wonder, investigation and discovery” are three words to describe science in young children. Parents can encourage and aid developing science knowledge in many simple ways.

To promote sensory awareness in children, parents may have to overcome the tendency to think about the world instead of experiencing it. We need to become toddlers again and discover wonder in every raindrop, in every leaf, in every passing butterfly.

Emphasize Sensory Experience

Encourage children to see, taste, smell, hear and feel. Avoid distracting them with questions while they are involved in sensory exploration. If they start to talk, gently turn their attention back to what they are seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing or feeling. Point out that some things are dangerous to sniff or taste. Following the experience, encourage children to think and talk about what they discovered. Use a rich, descriptive vocabulary to describe their experiences. Introduce words they can use to describe what they see, taste, smell, hear and feel. Keep in mind, though, that words are poor substitutes for experience.

Discover The World Through Teachable Moments

Take advantage of unplanned experiences to involve children in sensory exploration. When you go for walks, encourage children to explore within safe and reasonable limits. What is under that nearby rock? How do the leaves smell? How does the bark from different trees feel? Stop for a moment and listen. Can they hear the trees shifting in the wind, the birds overhead, the sounds of the city in the distance?

Show children how to become involved in sense-pleasure play without altering or destroying the environment. Do not tear bark off a tree, pull up wild flowers or remove rocks.Return everything; destroy nothing.

Sensory exploration involves letting go to become fully involved, then pulling back slightly to reflect on the experience. Children love to explore the world around them. Parents can help with science learning through hands-on activities that encourage them to learn from their senses.

Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

Used with permission from author. Originally published as an Extension PDF and used in an article by the Fremont Tribune.

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Play Skills For Children

Baby girl playing with blocks

“Let’s play” is a popular phrase among children. In early childhood, play helps children in those early years learn about themselves, other people, and the world around them. Play also promotes healthy and strong development– physically, intellectually, social, and emotionally. In other words, it is essential for children to play, it is their main “job” at this time of life.

Play During the Infant And Toddler Years

Infant playing with toysFrom the earliest moments of a child’s life, a child grows and develops through movement and exploration. In the first few months, play can take place with rattles, colorful mobiles, songs, and games involving arm and leg movement. Talk, read, and sing. Repeat sounds, look at picture books, and make funny faces. As a child gains more muscle control and they reach, grasp, and sit upright on their own, they like to pull apart, squeeze, and stack. Infants also like mirrors, books, songs, and games such as peek-a-boo. For toddlers, as they begin to crawl, climb, and walk, balls and pull toys become important. Also, active games such as hide-and-seek and simple tag games are fun!

It is important to remember that the primary play mode of the child under three is playing alone with objects. His/her skills in language and desire to interact with others are growing but the child still has limited ability to negotiate or engage in extended interaction with others. A progression of play skills in infant/toddler years, might look like this:

  • Positive interactions with adults
  • Showing awareness of other children by smiling and cooing, watching children playing, reaching out to other children, copying what other children are doing
  • Playing briefly with other children
  • Wanting what others have

Another critical point regarding play in the infant/toddler years is that interaction and attachment of children with attentive, nurturing adults is absolutely essential. When infants make those connections with the adults through the interaction of play and care, they establish the foundation for friendship and positive social interaction skills that become so important to success and happiness in life.

Play During The Preschool Years

Preschool boy playing with legosDuring the preschool years, children become much more aware of other children and want to interact with them. This is a time when the development of friendship skills become important in children’s play. When children are successful in making friends, the play in which they are engaged helps them to develop in a strong healthy way. Friendship skills include:

  • Gives suggestions (play organizers)
  • Shares toys and other materials
  • Takes turns (reciprocity)
  • Is helpful
  • Gives compliments
  • Understands how and when to give an apology
  • Begins to empathize

When children incorporate these skills into their play, they make friends easier and have more fun!

Play is a crucial part of your child’s development it starts in infancy and should continue throughout his or her life. When you play with your child it not only helps you to build a positive relationship, strengthen your bond with your child it has additional benefits as well.

Play provides multiple opportunities for children to learn social, communication, and academic skills while building confidence and positive self-esteem. Through play you can help your child learn to solve problems, explore his or her creativity, and build vocabulary. Children learn important friendship skills like turn taking, sharing, and being empathetic. Keep in mind that unstructured physically active play may lead to healthier children, especially when it replaces or helps limit screen time.

Click here for more information about play and children

Author: Leslie Crandal, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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The Importance Of Play

Mother playing with two girlsPlay is a crucial part of your child’s development it starts in infancy and should continue throughout his or her life. When you play with your child it not only helps you to build a positive relationship, strengthen your bond with your child it has additional benefits as well.

Play provides multiple opportunities for children to learn social, communication, and academic skills while building confidence and positive self-esteem. Through play you can help your child learn to solve problems, explore his or her creativity, and build vocabulary. Children learn important friendship skills like turn taking, sharing, and being empathetic. Keep in mind that unstructured physically active play may lead to healthier children, especially when it replaces or helps limit screen time.

Friendship Skills

Some essential benefits of play is that our children begin to learn social and communication skills sharing, turn taking, problem solving, etc. that will help them be more successful when playing with other children. When children have these skills, it often makes it easier for them to make friends!

Giving suggestions, being helpful, giving complements, and understanding how and when to give an apology are all important friendship skills to model when playing with your child.

How To Add More Playtime

  • Brainstorm when you would have 10-15 minutes a day to play with your child,Son and father playing golf be certain to write it down in your calendar.
  • Ask your child for suggestions as to how they would like to spend time playing with you and make a list of all the ways you can play together.
  • If you have more than one child you might want to take this opportunity to spend some one-on-one playtime with each child. You can also plan family fun nights that include play or games.
  • Remember that time spent in the car is another good time to play and to develop skills, you can play age appropriate games that incorporate looking for colors, shapes, letters, and words, etc.
  • Don’t forget books ask your librarian to suggest books that teach friendship, and play skills!

Follow Your Child’s Lead

When playing with your child remember to follow your child’s lead that means to allow for play situations where the child is in control and the adult follows the child’s lead. It is important that children be the decision-makers during play, choosing what and where to play, choosing roles for each player, and choosing how play will proceed. The following suggestions can better guide you in how to follow your child’s lead:

  • Follow your child’s lead that means to wait, watch, and then join your child’s play.
  • With very young children talk, talk, and talk about what your child is doing the adult imitates the child’s play and uses “talk” or “narration” to facilitate language development and this helps your child remain engaged.
  • Encourage your child’s creativity and imaginative thinking. Display artwork or stories in a prominent place (the fridge) or put them in frames. Create an art corner with art supplies and paper for children to be creative. Ask children to make up their own stories or create their own endings to familiar stories.
  • Watch for your child’s cues. Most children aren’t very subtle when they want your attention like tugging at your pant leg or greeting you at the front door when you get home from work. When you plan a specific time to play with your child this may sometimes eliminate them demanding your time when they know that you have set aside time to play with them.
  • Avoid power struggles remember you can be intentional about what you might like for your children to learn from playing however, keep it simple and allow your child to direct the play.
  • Most important have fun together!
Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

This article was previously published in a University of Nebraska Extension PDF by Lisa Poppe. Permission to use this post is from the author.

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