Summertime = Playtime!

Summertime = Playtime!

I recently spoke with a friend about the change in her 5 year old son's behavior.  He had been having temper tantrums, and becoming upset more easily than other kids his age, although he has a very sweet personality and gets along well with his brother and classmates. 

The family recently decided to take the radical step of limiting their son's outside activities to no more than two per week, the rest of his time was spent in play with his brother, friends, or alone.  The result?  Tantrums gone.  More exploration and creative play that was driven by his interests.  An emphasis on cooperative and creative play.

Amazingly, the family has encountered some criticism, even though it has had an immediate positive impact on all their lives.  Other parents have said that his intellectual growth will be stunted, that the kids are missing out, etc. 

The effects of hurrying children are negative, earlier is NOT better.

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Play and Executive Functioning

Play and Executive Functioning

This is a great article from Atlantic magazine which talks about the importance of having unstructured time to play.

Unstructured play not only builds motor coordination and social interaction skills, it enhances executive functioning which is essential for being able to focus, solve problems, read social situations and respond accordingly, and to learn.

The article also talks about unsupervised play, something many parents may be uncomfortable with.  Yet unsupervised play can mean that parents or trusted adults are available, yet not directing the activity. Children can, and should, have opportunities to figure things out.

As adults, we have to ask ourselves what our purpose is when we try to structure every activity our children do.  We want to provide them with enriching activities, yet one of the most enriching activities - the opportunity to learn and explore for oneself - is increasingly rare.  It's time to build in free time, for ourselves as well as our kids.

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Your Child's Personal Foundation of Learning

In their wonderful new book, "Visual/Spatial Portals to Thinking, Feeling and Movement", Serena Wieder, Ph.D., and Harry Wachs, O.D. offer some practical advice for parents who want to help their child learn and grow.

Over the next few weeks, this blog will highlight some of the seemingly simple yet often overlooked ways to make learning more relevant to each child, so that they may develop to their fullest potential.

Tip #1:  "Activate the child's affect by making experiences meaningful and relevant to her and encourage her to take more initiative and be less passive.  Rather than making sure everything proceeds in a more or less automatic and ritualized way, create situations in which the child becomes more attentive, aware, critical, and ready to take action to help herself".

I love this tip because it's a great reminder to allow natural consequences to be our ally in helping children to expand their initiative and creativity.  It is not easy to do!  How many times have we helped more than is necessary because, as adults, we know what the outcome should be?  I wrestle with this on a regular basis.

It is so important to slow down and wait.  Count in your head if necessary.  W. A. I. T.  Often, only a few seconds or minutes are enough to allow a child the space and time to come up with their own idea.

When a child comes up with an idea, run with it, even if it seems that it won't work.  Having something not turn out the way it is expected offers a wonderful learning experience.  Problem solving, and figuring out how to change an activity so that the desired outcome is reached, at whatever level that happens, is powerful and empowering.

The authors also stress using experiences that are meaningful and relevant to the child.  Frankly, we all do better with things we are interested in.

Here is our homework for the week:  make a conscious choice to encourage more initiation, engagement, and slow down and wait.

Happy playing!

Moira Sullivan

Moira uses a holistic approach that promotes healthy development in the child while honoring and supporting their relationship with their family and the community. A graduate of San Jose State University, she has advanced training in sensory integration, visual perception and visual-motor integration, DIR Floortime, oral motor rehabilitation, strength and endurance training, and myofascial release.