Month: April 2020

  • A Guide to Keeping Kids Busy

    How to Keep Kids Busy

    Do your kids constantly complain about being bored? Do they always need you to play with them?

    With everything kids have access to nowadays, how could they possibly be bored? How could a child with every hot new toy under the sun have trouble playing?

    Parents seem to be dealing with this more and more frequently. And report it starting earlier and earlier in childhood.

    Just a few days ago a mom was posting that her 18 month old was bored and she didn’t know what to do to keep him busy.

    Earlier today I came across another mom of a 6 month old asking for ideas to keep him entertained–expressing that she had “done” everything she could think to do for him.

    And that right there, friends, is the problem.

    So let’s talk about this whole idea of keeping kids busy. In theory this is well intentioned, but in practice it is deeply flawed.

    Children don’t need to be, nor should they be, hovered over or have every minute of the day perfectly choreographed.

    Giving the Gift of Boredom

    Unfortunately, hyper focus on our children has left our kids incapable of dealing with any lull in stimulation and hindered their ability to play independently.

    We forget that it is not our job as parents to “keep our kids busy” or “keep them entertained.” In fact, doing so directly impacts their ability to do these things for themselves.

    Our job is to provide a safe space with access to open-ended toys, art supplies and books and leave them alone. They will entertain themselves.

    The problem is that many children haven’t been given the gift of boredom.

    Boredom is what gives children the time to figure out what makes them happy, and allows them to develop skills like creativity, imagination, self-reflection, patience, and independence.

    Shifting Our Mindset: Do Less to Do More

    So for all the parents wondering how to keep their children busy during this time, I encourage a shift of mindset.

    Do less to do more.

    Children of all ages are capable of much more than we believe them to be.

    Don’t think about how to “keep them busy” instead find ways to encourage them to be independent by providing open ended toys that allow for more active play.

    Tips to Encourage Kids to Independent Play

    Minimize the amount of stuff you have out for your kids. If you are overwhelmed by the amount of toys out, imagine how they feel. 

    As a general rule, stay away from standard plastic and toys that light up, make noise, or talk. These types of toys can actually hinder play for children because they take away the need for imagination and creativity.

    Remember that the more a toy does, the less your kid has to do.

    Play is the work of the child so keep in mind the 90/10 rule when evaluating toys. That means a toy should do no more than 10 percent of the work.

    You want your child doing the thinking, visualizing, and creating.

    If you want some specific toy recommendations you can check out this post.

    Educational Toys Don’t Encourage Learning

    Many of the most common toys today actually take these opportunities away from kids. And while they are often labeled as educational, they don’t actually teach your child anything but how to be entertained by something else–leaving them wanting more and more.

    How many times has your child loved a bright shiny new toy, only to be over it after a few days or weeks. This is because the toy has done all it can for them, and they are looking for their next fix of stimulation.

    If they aren’t given enough time to rely on themselves for stimulation, you end up with kids who constantly need someone (you) or something (a new toy, activity, device) to keep them busy. It’s a pretty vicious cycle with pretty deep consequences.

    The Solution to “Keep Kids Busy”

    So the solution is pretty simple. Stop spending all your time trying to keep them busy and they will stop needing you to keep them busy. Trust in their ability to deal with their own discomfort (and don’t let their discomfort be yours).

    One of the best things you can do for your child is to let them figure things out for themselves.

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips or reorganize your play space check out my e-book:Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood which you can buy here for only $4.99.

    If you like this post and want to read more like it then check out these articles:7 Essential Playroom Spaces and Why You Need Them

    How to Continue Your Child’s Education During School Closures

    5 Tips for When School is Closed

    Understanding Schema Play

    The Power of Play

    The Ever Growing Importance of Outdoor Play.

    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play

    100 Simple Things to do Outside with Your Kids

    Read More

  • The Importance of Mixed Age Play

    The Importance of Mixed-Age Play

    Children playing only with others of their own age is a relatively new concept. This idea of separating children by age has been made increasingly stark through our current (yet completely outdated) education system.

    Throughout most of human history, children played with other children in multi-age groups. Our society has swung so far to the extreme that it is rare to be able to find activities that are open for children of mixed ages, and often you don’t see children of various ages groups playing together unless they are family.

    This is an unfortunate trend. Mixed-age play (and mixed-age schooling) has been shown, through various studies, to have a variety of significant benefits to children of all ages.

    Some of the benefits for children who play with or attend class with a mixed age group show better moral reasoning and more rapid cognitive development, including an increased ability to understand literacy and numeracy concepts that would traditionally be considered beyond their level. It can also increase social and emotional awareness.

    Dr. Peter Gray notes, “Even when they are not playing together, younger children learn from older ones by watching and listening. They see older children climbing trees or solving puzzles, for example, and then they want to do that, so they work at it by emulating the older children’s actions.” In fact, from his research, he asserts that children are much more likely to learn from children who are a little older than them than from adults.

    The benefits are not just for the youngest of the group. Mixed-age play allows the older child to assume a greater sense of responsibility and practice nurturing in real time. They show a better sense of maturity and develop leadership qualities that can only be learned through actual experience with leading others. Being around younger kids allows them to play teacher and act as role models. It is often through these types of relationships that they develop a better sense of empathy, a stronger ability to compromise and collaborate, and a sense of empowerment to solve more complex problems or navigate unique social situations.

    Research across different cultures has shown that older children who have more contact with younger children tend to be kinder–and not just kinder to younger children but kinder to others overall.

    When children play together in mixed age groups, they are constantly adjusting their behavior to meet the needs of the various ages in the group. They will change how they speak, how they act, and what they expect from others. Little ones who would often have a hard time regulating their emotions might see the older kids dealing with similar disappointments and mimic how they are handling the situation. Older kids, who might normally exhibit behaviors inappropriate for younger kids, will step up because they understand the importance of being a role model.

    Given that our current society often very strictly segregates children by age, it is important for parents and caregivers, as well as places like daycares, nursery schools, and enrichment classes, to move to provide more opportunities for children to spend time with others of different age groups.

    If you’re looking for more information about how play to connected to learning check out my e-book:

    Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood which you can buy here for only $4.99.

    If you like this post and want to read more like it then check out these articles:

    Type of Play for Development

    Guarding our Children’s Mental Health

    The Ever Growing Importance of Outdoor Play

    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play

    7 Essential Playroom Spaces (and why you need them)

    The Power of Play

    What I’ve Learned about Early Childhood Education

    100 Things to do Outside with Your Kids

    30 Ideas to Get Your Kids to Play Outside

    Read More

  • 5 Steps to Create a Space That Encourages Independent Play

    Spaces Designed for Independent Play

    One of the biggest issues parents are experiencing right now is trying to keep kids entertained and busy while also working from home.

    The best recommendation is to think about it in terms of “how can I encourage independent play or learning” and NOT “how can I keep my kids busy and entertained.”

    This shift in mindset will allow your kids to develop important skills, while also keeping them engaged for longer stretches of time so you can actually get something done.

    *I type this as my four year old sits next to me pushing my arm away from the keyboard every few minutes.*

    Here are a few simple tips that can help you organize your space so that your kids can play more independently, allowing you to *hopefully* be more productive.

    Minimize the amount of toys available

    Research shows that the kids with fewer toys have better quality play; often engaging in more creative and imaginative play. When kids are given less options (this study had kids getting four toys, and kids getting sixteen toys) they played for significantly longer periods of time. Having too many toys (or anything for that matter!) is a distraction.

    Think about how stressed you feel when you see so much “stuff” everywhere–you don’t know where to look, or what to do, it’s totally overwhelming.

    It’s the same for kids. You want to focus on providing fewer but more open ended toys that will encourage more active and imaginative play.

    If you’re looking for toy recommendations, check out my must have toys for toddlers.

    Open ended toys

    The types of toys you have available for your kids directly impacts the quality of their play. It’s best to have more open ended toys as this will promote more active and engaged play. Open ended toys are toys that can be played with in a variety of ways. They are simple and are typically the toys you have seen stand the test of time.

    That talking Elmo that lights up and dances? Popular for one holiday season (and really obnoxious).

    Building blocks. Pretty much popular since the dawn of man in some form or another.

    Toys have a significant influence on how children develop physical, social, emotional and cognitive skills. The key is to stay away from standard plastic toys, especially toys that talk, light up, move, or engage in any other way with your child. Anything with batteries should be cause for a pause.

    Keep in mind that the more a toy does, the less your kid has to do. The general rule of thumb is that a toy should do no more than 10 percent of the work. This leaves your child to do 90 percent of the work. If you want your child to play independently they need access to open ended toys.

    Organize in a way that makes sense to a child

    When organizing your space think about how you can provide easy access to the toys that will promote play.

    For example, we keep things like smaller legos, puzzles and board games higher up because my kids can’t do the entire process from start to finish by themselves.

    However, blocks, trucks, and pretend play items are easily accessible.

    Think about how tall your child is and try to keep items at or below that height. That way they do not need you to help them get a toy–which also means they don’t need you to put that toy away.

    Also, in terms of storage–open shelving and baskets work best vs closed bins (even labeled!), drawers or toys boxes. You want children to be able to see everything that’s available to them.

    Make it a “yes” space

    One of the best ways to make your life easier is to find a way to create a “yes” space for your kids. Make sure everything in this space is a “yes.” That means there is literally not a single thing that your kid could get into that would be an issue.

    Think about safety, but also about ability to access toys or other needs. Anticipate what they could ask you for, and find a way to make it available to them so they can do things for themselves.

    This gives you peace of mind knowing there isn’t anything they can get themselves into that is a huge deal and will allow them to play for longer periods of time without needing you.

    Away from adults

    Yes. AWAY from adults. Kids need space. They need to be left alone to play and immerse themselves in play.

    If your child isn’t used to playing in this way, or does not have access to open ended toys, this might be more difficult. It will take time for them to re-learn how to play independently and they may come to you with a thousand questions or want you to engage in play with them.

    Resist the urge to do this–set boundaries and find ways to “push” their questions back to them. I try not to even provide my kids with ideas for play–I just tell them “go play!” and they whine (sometimes because they want to be with me) and I repeat “go play!” You are not responsible for entertaining your child all day. Play is their job.

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips or reorganize your play space check out my e-book:

    Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood which you can buy here for only $4.99.

    If you like this post and want to read more like it then check out these articles:

    7 Essential Playroom Spaces and Why You Need Them

    How to Continue Your Child’s Education During School Closures

    5 Tips for When School is Closed

    100 Positive Things Parents Are Experiencing Right Now

    Understanding Schema Play

    The Power of Play

    The Ever Growing Importance of Outdoor Play.

    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play

    100 Simple Things to do Outside with Your Kids

    Read More