parenting

  • 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

  • Free Learning from Home Schedule (Printable)

    Block Schedule to Create a Daily Rhythm

    Having a daily schedule for your family is important as it sets up a predictable routine for your kids. Kids thrive on structure but that doesn’t mean that you need to have an hour by hour schedule with explicit activities booked for every minute of the day. In fact, it’s often less stressful for everyone to allows for some flexibility. Having a daily rhythm allows you to set the tone for the day, but not feel trapped or frustrated when something doesn’t go exactly as planned.

    A block schedule allows you to think about your day in manageable chunks of time–approximately 2-3 hours at a time. Long enough for you to accomplish tasks or for your kids to really engage in something, but short enough to provide enough changes that they don’t feel stuck.

    Below is the sample block schedule that works pretty well for my family. We do shift things around when needed, and every day isn’t the same but I find having a simple block schedule allows us to create a daily rhythm for our family.

    Click here for the printable block schedule to help you create a daily rhythm for your family.

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips or reorganize your playroom 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:

    How to Rock Distance Learning During School Closures

    How to Continue Your Child’s Education During School Closures

    5 Tips for When School is Closed

    Free Self-Directed Learning Calendar (Printable)

    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

  • How to Rock Distance Learning During School Closures

    We’re all overwhelmed right now and can use some tips for distance learning. As teachers, we’ve been thrown a curveball. You are no longer a teacher within a building with resources and live people, you’re an online teacher. Some of your learners may not even have internet or digital access to “see” you. As parents, we’ve been told that our children are now essentially being homeschooled. Sure, there will be resources (through remote/distance/or e-learning) from teachers, but it’s not the same as having your student at school.

    I am feeling the pull in both directions right now, as a middle school teacher and a mom to a third-grader. As scary as this is, I know we can rock distance learning during school closures with these tips!

    Tips for Distance Learning

    Be flexible.

    Whether you are a parent or a teacher, this is your time to let things go. You don’t have to cover everything in a curriculum guide or every enrichment suggestion a teacher sends you.

    Parents

    • Take advantage of beautiful weather and take a walk (with appropriate social distance) around the neighborhood.
    • Let your child’s curiosity guide what they learn. Try having your child explore their own passion project at home!
    • Allow a later start and flexible scheduling if your child’s class is not meeting “live”. Some school start times are SO EARLY. This is a chance to have your child work when they learn best.

    Teachers

    • Don’t feel like you have to cover everything in your curriculum. It’s not feasible, and it’s not necessary. Focus on your end goals. What do you want your students to know and be able to do? How can you get there digitally?
    • Know that this is new for everyone. Chances are, you’ve never taught online. Your scholars haven’t been online learners.
    • If you are live teaching, give your students a bit of time at the beginning of class to share. Your learners may be struggling with social distancing right now. Some of their parents may have lost their jobs. Let them share what’s on their mind.

    Pay attention to social-emotional needs.

    At home, I am encouraging my daughter to talk about what she’s feeling every day. I do the same with my students. Pre-social distancing, I had a Google form where the kids could “check-in”. I adapted this from several other teachers online to make it my own for my students.

    This works just as well when the students are participating in distance learning.

    Here are some questions you’ll want to ask your students on the Google Form:

    How are you feeling today?

    I give multiple-choice options to answer this question. That way, in my spreadsheet, I can quickly scan the students that need a check-in or conversation.

    • 1. I am great.
    • 2. I am OK.
    • 3. I am “meh”.
    • 4. I am struggling.
    • 5. I am having a tough time and wouldn’t mind a check-in.
    • 6. I am not doing great.
    • For younger learners, you may want to use emoji options to have them express how they are feeling.

    How did you sleep last night?

    On a scale of 1-5 (little to no sleep to a perfect night of sleep), ask your students how they are sleeping. If you notice trends, you may want to have conversations with students, parents, or your counselor to make sure your students are getting enough rest to keep them healthy.

    How was your breakfast or lunch?

    I give a scale of 1-5 (skipped breakfast/lunch to the best breakfast/lunch ever). If you see that your students are frequently not getting to eat, you can reach out to your school counselor or administrator to help parents get resources if needed.

    Anything else I need to know?

    Give your students a chance to share things that are going on in their life. This is an overwhelming time for everyone. Leave this question optional since many students will be managing just fine!

    Other questions

    Daily check-in forms are also places to ask quick check for understanding questions or just for fun questions (What Netflix show are you watching? What do you miss the most about school? Who is your favorite Disney character?). You may ask your students to provide questions as well!

    Don’t make it all about the tech.

    I write a blog called Creative Tech Teacher, but I don’t think distance learning needs to be centered around technology. If your students have the tools to connect with you digitally, go for it! However, focus on learning, not the tools.

    For example, I am having my students write a historical account of their time away from school. They’ll do daily journaling using Google Slides with a template I share. However, if they want to write a paper journal or scrapbook, I will let them! It’s not about the tech; it’s about the learning.

    If your students do have access to the internet and devices, here are some awesome tools you may want to use for remote or distance learning!

    Embrace play!

    Don’t forget to give your students (and your own kids) time to play and explore during this time. Whether it’s playing outside (no play dates for now) or free play activities engaging their imaginations indoors, let your learners have time to play and share about their experiences!

    Ask for help.

    One of the few benefits of being away from my classroom is the way I’ve seen the community (and really the world) come together. Teachers are sharing their resources, parents are praising teachers and asking for help, and we’re all in this together! Some of my colleagues started a GlideApp (it is a website but looks like an app) where everyone is sharing and curating resources to help teachers during this time. Search for resources or add your ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I promise that if you send me an email (see my website in the bio), I will do my best to help you during this time!

    We’re all in this together. Whether you are a parent or a teacher, follow these tips to learn how to rock distance learning during school closures. Ask for help, be flexible, and try new things!

    Biography: Jen is a middle school public school teacher and PhD student in Omaha, Nebraska. She writes about education at Creative Tech Teacher.

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  • Free Self-Directed Learning Planner (Printable)

    Self-Directed Learning

    What is self-directed learning? The process by which the student takes the initiative about what, how and when to learn. This includes:

    • Figuring out your own learning strengths and weaknesses
    • Setting goals
    • Deciding on and planning activities that support your learning
    • Searching for resources to support you in your journey

    Use this planner to help you visualize your weeks. Make sure to build in time to rest, relax, and get outside.

    Click here for the printable self-directed learning planner

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips to reorganize your playroom 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:

    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

    What is Montessori–Understanding this Early Childhood Education Philosophy

    Reggio Emilia — A Child Centered Learning Approach

    What is Waldorf — A Spotlight on Waldorf Education

    Read More

  • Invitations to Play: A Misunderstood Concept

    The Often Misunderstood Concept of “Invitations to Play”

    Building off the concept of schemas is the idea of creating invitations to play. Simply put, an invitation to play is when an adult arranges toys in a way that is meant to spark a child’s interest. This is an amazing way to introduce new toys or get your child to expand their play by providing them with opportunities to make connections between toys they may not have seen for themselves.

    But there seems to be a fairly common misunderstanding about the purpose of invitations to play. This concept is directly derived from the Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education. Reggio Emilia really focuses on following the child’s interest and using the environment as a third teacher. The materials provided in the child’s environment are meant to encourage exploration and spark interest without needing direction from adults.

    This concept has made its way from Reggio-inspired classrooms to the everyday parent who is looking to spark their child’s imagination. There are blogs, Instagrams, and Pinterest boards solely dedicated to giving moms ideas for invitations to play. And that’s great. However, I think it’s important to note a few things.

    I see moms constantly looking to get ideas for invitations to play. Sometimes they seem stressed because they “can’t think of anything” or they are focused on providing their kids the perfect setup. I think that the concept behind creating invitations to play has gotten a little lost. First, you don’t NEED to be doing this on a daily basis. In fact, you don’t need to be doing it at all for that matter. You child is perfectly capable of creating their own scenes for play if left alone with their imagination. That said, I understand wanting to–maybe it brings you joy or you appreciate the way it allows your kids to play with things that might not always be top of mind for them. That’s amazing. You’re crushing it…

    If you want to stay true to the Reggio philosophy, I would encourage you to keep in mind that creating invitations to play is best done when you’re observing the schema (or schemas) that your child is really focused on in the moment and using that knowledge to create simple setups that build on their chosen focus. The idea is to follow the child.

    AND…Don’t stress if this is not your thing (it’s not really mine!).

    You can get TONS of ideas off Instagram and Pinterest, just PLEASE don’t beat yourself up over not being able to create picture-perfect invitations to play every day. I promise your little one will survive.

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips to reorganize your playroom 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:

    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

    What is Montessori–Understanding this Early Childhood Education Philosophy

    Reggio Emilia — A Child Centered Learning Approach

    What is Waldorf — A Spotlight on Waldorf Education

    Read More

  • Understanding Schema Play

    Following the Child

    The importance of early childhood education is well-established and reaches well beyond the preschool years. In fact, “early childhood” is considered birth to eight years old–so approximately 2nd or 3rd grade.

    This time period is crucial for children. I’d even go so far as to say more crucial than post-secondary education. Why? Because how and what they learn during this time period will provide them with a foundation for the rest of their lives.

    Education during these early years will help shape social, emotional, and physical health, as well as develop intrinsic motivation for lifelong learning–not just learning to get a grade.

    With that in mind, the basis of any early childhood education philosophy should be to follow the child. So, what does this look like?

    It starts with newborns. From the time they are infants, we should be letting our children develop at their own pace, not forcing them into sitting or standing positions before they are ready, and observing what things make them feel safe and content–and providing those experiences.

    When they are toddlers, it means encouraging their natural curiosity and providing them with a variety of opportunities to connect with people, places, and things around them.

    As preschoolers, it means following their interests and not forcing them into learning concepts in order to “prepare them for school.”

    As young children, it means allowing them ample free time to pursue their passions–not signing them up for activities because it will “look good” or because it’s something you always wanted for yourself.

    In order to better understand your child’s development, it’s important to be aware of the concept of schema.

    Understanding Schemas

    Schemas are patterns of repeated behavior that allow children to develop an understanding of the world around them through play and exploration. Schemas are mental models or processes that we create by trial and error through experiences.

    Kids are the perfect example of how we build schemas. They are constantly testing out concepts. You can easily notice these patterns of behavior in older infants and toddlers. Things like banging, pulling, pushing, and spinning are all examples of schema play.

    Some of the most common schemas in young children are:

    Connecting and Disconnecting

    Children in this schema can be seen doing activities such as building train tracks, working with puzzles, joining things, lining toys up, or taking lids on and off. With this type of play, your child is trying to figure out how things fit together.

    Ways to support this schema: Train tracks, roadway building, construction materials, building materials that “fit together” like LEGO® or blocks. Even things such as tape, string, and velcro can be used to support kids within this schema.

    Orientation

    Playing in this schema involves things like swinging upside down, sitting in a chair the “wrong” way, and turning toys around to see things from different angles. This is children trying to figure out how the world looks through different points of view.

    Ways to support this schema: Mirrors, magnifying glasses, binoculars, climbing structures that allow them to climb or hang upside down.

    Transporting

    Kids who enjoy moving things from one place to another either use their hands or some sort of toy that can be filled, moved, and usually dumped. Children gain a sense of independence and responsibility when transporting items so you may find them eager to help you do chores that involve bringing something from point A to point B–like unloading groceries or moving clean laundry into the dryer.

    Ways to support this schema: Stroller or grocery cart, small boxes that can be easily picked up by little hands, a little backpack or pretend purse. Loose parts are also great in this schema because they are perfect for being loaded, moved, and unloaded over and over. A few pots filled with water or sensory bins that allow for kids to move things from one pot or bin to another are also good ideas for encouraging play within this schema.

    Trajectory

    This is a common schema that is focused on how things move. Children in this schema are studying how objects (or their body) move through the air. Remember your little one who constantly threw food off their highchair? They were learning about trajectory! Other activities that are a part of this schema are playing with running water, running, playing tag, throwing a ball, sliding down a slide (or watching how different objects slide down a slide).

    Ways to support this schema: Plenty of outdoor time and free space to run, throw things, pour water, send items down slides, or drop things from high places.

    Positioning

    Children working in this schema enjoy things like making patterns, lining up toys, ordering things in sequences. They will often spend a good amount of time trying to make things just right.

    Ways to support this schema: Loose parts that can be used to make patterns like the Grapat mandala pieces, small cars, or dolls.

    Enveloping

    This schema is all about wrapping things up. You may see them wrapping themselves in a blanket, wanting to put items in boxes, or swaddling their baby doll.

    Ways to support this schema: Give them plenty of blankets, pillows, silks, boxes, and anything else that allows them to cover and uncover themselves or their toys. Things like nesting bowls are also good for this schema.

    Enclosing

    This is similar to enveloping but more about creating a boundary. So for example, children working in this schema will create forts or make a fence for their farm animals. This schema is about containment.

    Ways to support this schema: Give children items to use to build forts (we love the Nugget®), large boxes, blocks that can be used to create a fence or boundary in some way.

    Rotation

    This schema involves anything that goes in a circular motion and can rotate. Things like wheels, washing machines, merry-go-rounds, and spinning around in circles are all a part of the rotation schema.

    Ways to support this schema: Provide your child with plenty of opportunities to play with streamers, spinning tops, and toys that have wheels. Household items like screwdrivers and nuts and bolts are also good for encouraging this schema.

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips to reorganize your playroom 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:

    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

    What is Montessori–Understanding this Early Childhood Education Philosophy

    Reggio Emilia — A Child Centered Learning Approach

    What is Waldorf — A Spotlight on Waldorf Education

    Read More

  • 100 Positive Things Parents are Experiencing Right Now

    Right now our world is filled with news about a virus spiraling out of control. Whole cities shutting down. Families being quarantined. Schools, businesses, restaurants and parks closing indefinitely. It’s a horribly stressful time for everyone.

    That said, it is in these times that it is the MOST important for us to look for the positives. There is always a silver lining.

    In just a few days, parents all over the country (and the world) have had their worlds turned upside down. Often having to work from home while also trying to continue their children’s learning.

    Read this list to see what parents have found to be unexpectedly amazing about having their family stuck at home.

    100 Positive Things Parents are Experiencing Right Now

    1. Discovering that your child has an incredible talent you never saw before.
    2. Being able to play with you kids during a lunch break.
    3. Drinking hot coffee with your significant other instead of in the car on the way to work.
    4. Being able to read your kids books before bed.
    5. Enjoying more meals together.
    6. Slow mornings that allow for a little reading, play or conversation before “going to work.”
    7. A longer shower.
    8. Comfortable clothes all day. Hello leggings!
    9. Learning new ways do elementary math.
    10. Introducing your kids to old movies.
    11. Reconnecting with nature, going on hikes, and bird watching.
    12. Teachers showing their ability to adapt.
    13. Parents showing their ability to lead their child’s education.
    14. Cancelling of standardized tests.
    15. Kids having time to engage in true play.
    16. More opportunities home cooking.
    17. Extra time with kids before they start formal schooling.
    18. Perfect time to potty train!
    19. Time for daily snuggles.
    20. Kids are able to sleep until their bodies are ready to wake up.
    21. Kids can slow down and enjoy breakfast and lunch.
    22. Watching your older children help support their younger siblings.
    23. Children making friends with kids around the country.
    24. Practicing language skills with children across the globe through online video chats.
    25. Grandparents tackling new technology to be able to see their grandkids.
    26. No alarms going off in the morning.
    27. Not having to pack lunches and snacks every morning.
    28. Being able to finally have a conversation with your teenager.
    29. Kids helping to cook and trying new foods while at home.
    30. Coming to the realization that your family is WAY over scheduled.
    31. Connecting with college aged friends and family to provide supplemental educational opportunities.
    32. Letting go of housework and reconnecting with family.
    33. Having extra time to learn new skills (riding a bike, knitting, gardening)
    34. Kids recognizing just how responsible and productive they are when they put their minds to something.
    35. Kids learning how to self-regulate their own schedules and take responsibility for their work.
    36. Having time to pursue passions outside of academic curriculum.
    37. Kids having ability to work on school work at their own pace without fear of judgement.
    38. Watching your kids take on projects just because they are interested in the topic.
    39. Being able to witness your child’s true ability shine through.
    40. Doing everything in pajamas.
    41. Wearing no real clothes so less laundry!
    42. Feeling like you finally understand your child’s needs, strengths and weaknesses and how these impact learning.
    43. Realizing homeschooling is not half as bad as you imagined it would be (in fact sort of liking it).
    44. Raising expectations for practical life skills and children rising to meet those expectations—hello laundry help!
    45. Breathing in more fresh air.
    46. School aged children starting to learn to play again.
    47. More awareness of amount of screen time.
    48. Being pleasantly surprised by what your child knows and can do.
    49. Learned to let go and let children do more for themselves.
    50. The ability to be a part of your child’s every day education and watching them grow.
    51. Breastfeeding moms not having to pump while at work!
    52. Learning that life needs to slow down and that we are rushing through moments that should be savored.
    53. Coming together to do all household work.
    54. Seeing first hand what classwork genuinely excites your child and what does not.
    55. Mid-day dance parties.
    56. Hearing your kids say they are actually enjoying learning.
    57. Being able to lean into the subjects and content you’re interested in and do them with your child.
    58. Sleeping in!
    59. Being aware of self-care while my children are watching.
    60. Siblings being able to spend more time together playing and learning.
    61. So much extra time to read and do things your enjoy.
    62. Actually laughing together.
    63. High fives from your kid when they figure something out.
    64. Whole families being able to take walks together.
    65. No fear of missing out.
    66. Being able to catch up on tasks and projects you’ve been putting off.
    67. Being able to discover new learning tools that you didn’t know existed—opening up a new world of learning for yourself and your child.
    68. Less arguments and no rushing to get dressed and out the door to catch the bus.
    69. Communities coming together to share resources, get creative and support each other in so many ways.
    70. Learning so much about your child’s real interests and passions.
    71. Being able to teach your child things you love to do.
    72. Realizing it’s okay to not know how to do something and figuring things out along the way (while your child watches)
    73. Learning to appreciate the flexibility in schedule of having kids home.
    74. Connecting on such a personal level with teachers and parents.
    75. Developing a new found respect for what teachers do every single day.
    76. Feeling a sense of pride for conquerer the learning curve of homeschooling.
    77. Learning to be more intentional with our time and resources.
    78. Becoming more aware of how your family can be more eco-conscious.
    79. Kids engaging in real authentic learning.
    80. Having more face to face and quality time with your family.
    81. Older siblings are being given the time and space to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company.
    82. Children of all ages learning practical life skills!
    83. Knowing what your kids are learning, not just hearing about it after the fact.
    84. Not worrying about whether or not your kids are eating enough at school.
    85. The ability to catch up with friends who you’re normally too busy to call.
    86. Realizing that you have been way too caught up in your career to appreciate all the good things.
    87. Committing to being grateful for all the good things in your life.
    88. Not having to wear make up.
    89. Getting in hours more of outdoor play every day (even as a family!)
    90. People generally being kinder and trying to help others in their community.
    91. Being able to have more one on one time with your kids.
    92. Kids being able to work in any position they feel comfortable in (standing, pacing, laying on the floor)
    93. Watching your children become more creative.
    94. Being able to witness your child’s firsts.
    95. Paying more attention to your health and wellness.
    96. Feeling a sense of togetherness and community since everyone is going through the same thing.
    97. The pride and joy parents are experiencing when they come up with a really great project to do with their kids.
    98. More people considering how their behaviors impact the lives of others.
    99. Appreciating the mess that your kids make because you have no where to go and aren’t as stressed.
    100. Developing a totally different outlook about how learning should look, sound, and feel.

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

    How to Continue Your Child’s Education During School Closures

    Covid-19: Tips for When School Is Closed

    30 Ideas to Get Your Kids Playing Outside

    100 Outdoor Activities to Do with Your Kids

    Top 10 Must Have Art Supplies

    Type of Play for Development

    Risky Play for Kids

    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play

    Read More

  • Kids Need Risky Play

    Risky Play

    Children have an innate need for risk-taking. In addition, children who are encouraged to take risks at a younger age are able to better manage risk once they have gained more independence. A lack of ample opportunity to take risks may increase fear and inappropriate aggression, as well as limit the ability to cope with stress. All of this translates into an increase in physical and mental health issues, particularly in children.

    What is Risky Play?

    To begin, risky play isn’t synonymous with dangerous play. For many adults, risky play is what we became accustomed to as young people. This was before fear became an all too present element in parenting.

    Remember riding your bike alone or exploring the creek in the neighborhood park? These are normal, everyday activities that children should experience. Today, however, children are experiencing risky play less and less often.

    Some ways you may see kids engaging in risky play are:

    • playing at heights
    • running at high speeds
    • using things in ways that aren’t intended (climbing the couch, going up the slide instead of down)
    • rolling down hills
    • climbing rocks
    • walking on anything that requires balance
    • spinning in circles
    • jumping off anything and everything

    In addition, risky play is often unstructured. This means that the child is free from direct adult supervision. Of course, if you have a young child engaging in risky play, you may still be at the park or in the home nearby, but you are letting them climb, explore, and build without fear or retribution. Risky, unstructured play gives the child a chance to explore, imagine, and self-regulate in a way that structured, adult-initiated play does not.

    Although risky play can happen indoors, so much of positive risky play happens outdoors. In a world dominated by screen time and personal devices, I am a huge advocate of getting our kids outside to experience nature! Rain, snow, or sunshine, outdoor play with risky elements helps children engage in imaginative exploration.

    Research on Risky Play

    Dr. Peter Gray writes in his book Free to Learn, “Over the past 60 years we have witnessed, in our culture, a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play freely, without adult control, and especially in their opportunities to play in risky ways. Over the same 60 years we have also witnessed a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic increase in all sorts of childhood mental disorders, especially emotional disorders.”

    Gray’s findings come from the study of a school, Sudbury Valley, that focuses on the philosophy of student ownership and community responsibility of learning. Ultimately, the students design their own learning path. Grade levels and formal courses are not part of the Sudbury way. In fact, risky play and exploration is encouraged. Gray sees the result as students that are more resilient, independent, and able to navigate the world after their school years.

    Parental (Over)-Involvement

    Today, parents are often seen hovering over kids at the playground, or even worse, following them up into the playground equipment. Parents aren’t necessarily doing this to play with their child but to make sure they don’t fall or get minor bumps and bruises. “Helicopter parenting” isn’t necessarily new, but it seems like it’s becoming the norm rather than the exception. This also means many children aren’t scaling rocks and climbing trees anymore. They aren’t jumping from heights that are just a little too high. Our kids aren’t taking risks!

    Funny enough, injuries haven’t decreased. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. Why? Children are not testing their bodies enough. They are more likely to get hurt because they are grossly unaware of their physical limits.

    We need to shift our mindset. These are things we should be encouraging our kids to do. Take a breath, step away from the top of the slide, and let them take healthy and age-appropriate risks. As Gray states in his 2014 Psychology Today article, “Play, to be safe, must be free play, not coerced, managed, or pushed by adults.”

    Benefits of Risky Play

    When children are allowed to engage in risky play, it gives them a chance to expand their imagination. For example, building a fort out of couch cushions and furniture that a child may climb over and under can open a world of story-telling, building, and all-over imaginative play!

    The power of play itself simply can’t be disputed. Play is the basis for how young children learn. By encouraging risky, unstructured play, children develop physical and mental skills that build imagination, resilience, and physical endurance.

    Gray also states that risky play allows children to experience a healthy sense of fear. When adults do not allow kids to engage in risky play, they are unable to experience self-regulation and understand what their limits are.

    Besides just being plain fun, risky play gives young people a chance to build resilience, fear, strength (in spirit and physicality), and experience a world of imagination. It’s time for adults to remember what it was like to be young again when risky play was a normal part of our everyday lives! Let your kids play, set some appropriate boundaries, of course, but let go a little bit to let them experience risky play.

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips to reorganize your playroom 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.

    Read More

  • 5 Must Read Books To Raise a Child Who Loves to Learn

    Are you interested in how you can help promote curiosity, independence, and self-motivation in your child? Do you want your child to actually love to learn?

    We know that so many children these days are losing this innate love of learning. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Read these five books to help you understand how to encourage a true love of learning for children of any age.

    #1 The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being

    This book is great for anyone who is not familiar with the Montessori teaching approach and for people who have or work with younger children.

    It has tons of practical advice and ideas that are all based on the Montessori idea that teachers and parents are meant to be guides that follow the child’s lead. This book talks about trusting the child and fostering a sense of wonder and curiosity. The Montessori method seeks to develop a life long learn who is self-motivated and inquisitive.

    #2 Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

    In this book Peter Gray writes about the decline in free play and emphasis on structured education and activities directly contributes to the rise in stress-related mental disorders and depression in young people.

    I recently published a more in depth book review here if you want to read that instead of the full text. I would, however, still encourage reading the book because it is incredible and will change your views on how children really learn.

    #3 Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children

    In this book the author, who is a pediatric occupational therapist, discusses how children benefits from having unstructured play outside. She explains how children are experiencing a record amount of cognitive difficulties, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), emotion regulation and sensory processing issues, and aggressiveness–all of which are impacting their ability and motivation to learn.

    #4 Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education

    Written by a global education thought leader this book will help you to understand how traditional schooling is going against what we know about how children learn and the best way to build on their natural curiosity.

    He touches on ideas such as:

    • Learn to be; learn to do; learn to know.
    • Tests don’t work. Get over it. Move on.
    • What a person learns in a classroom is how to be a person in a classroom.
    • Animals are better than books about animals.
    • Internships, apprenticeships, and interesting jobs beat term papers, textbooks, and tests.
    • The only sustainable answer to the global education challenge is a diversity of approaches.

    #5 The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined

    If you are really interested in the future of education then this is the book for you. This book was life changing for me as an educator (along with Laura Sandefer’s book Courage to Grow). Our public education system is struggling in more ways than one, and this book discusses how we can capitalize on students innate drive to learn (that are discussed more deeply in some books listed above) and deliver a world class education to anyone, anywhere all while following the child.

    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

  • Free to Learn by Peter Gray: A Book Review

    Free to Learn by Peter Gray: A Book Review

    As a public school educator and a parent, I am constantly reading topics about education, inquiry, and play. I love public schools, but there is no secret that time for play has been replaced with standardized test preparation in schools. At home, structured activities in the form of sports, dance, music, and more often take priority over free play. These activities are also important, but freedom to learn through unstructured play is something I am passionate about, both in school and at home.

    In my doctoral studies, I came upon the book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray, a research professor and scholar from Boston College. Although some of Gray’s ideas when it comes to education may seem extreme, there is a lot parents and teachers can learn from this book.

    Gray writes that the decline in free play and emphasis on structured education and activities directly contributes to the rise in stress-related mental disorders and depression in young people. It comes down to this. When our children are able to make their own decisions regarding the when, where, why, and how of learning, they are more likely to learn and be motivated to learn.

    Gray’s research draws on an anthropological study of hunter-gatherer children, a historical study of the impact of agricultural mores, feudalism, and monotheistic religion in the eventual rise of formalized, compulsory education. The historical context is an important review of the history of compulsory education, although not a comprehensive study. Gray’s focus goes beyond education itself and looks at learning.

    Students Responsible for Their Own Learning

    Sudbury Valley first operates on the principle that “adults do not control children’s education; children educate themselves”. In effect, learning is a uniquely personal experience. The student is part of the community. Students are not only responsible for decisions regarding their own learning but the decisions regarding the existence and responsibility of the school community as a whole.

    The Seven Sins of Compulsory Education

    In Free to Learn, Gray addresses the seven sins of our system of forced education. Whether you are homeschooling or your children are attending traditional school, these are important concepts to look at. Through extensive case studies of a private, radical constructivist school, Gray uses research to support the claim that formalized education guilty of the seven sins causes many students not to enjoy school. Gray addresses the need for students to be at the forefront of decisions when it comes to not only what they learn, but where, when, how, and even whom they learn from.

    In the book, Gray focuses on the sins in our current system of compulsory education.

    • Denial of liberty without just cause and due process
    • Interference with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction
    • Undermining of intrinsic motivation to learn (turning learning into work)
    • Judging students in ways that foster shame, hubris, cynicism, and cheating
    • Interference with the development and cooperation and promotion of bullying
    • Inhibition of critical thinking
    • Reduction in diversity of skills and knowledge

    In addressing these “sins”, Gray studies Sudbury Valley School, a privately funded school founded in 1968 on the principles of self-directed, student-held responsibility of learning. Students and staff have a vested democratic say in the community through a “School Meeting” model.

    The Denial of Liberty Without Just Cause and Due Process

    Each of Gray’s “seven sins” have student ownership of learning as the focus. First is the denial of liberty without just cause and due process. The way to reinstate liberty is by allowing play. Gray said, “Play is always accompanied by the feeling of this is what I want to do right now”. Yes, play has rules, but the rules should be agreed upon by the group. This also allows for a democratic community.

    Interference with the Development of Personal Responsibility and Self-Direction

    Next, Gray focuses on the second “sin of our system of forced education”. This is interference with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction. Gray explains that the forced nature of schooling stifles curiosity that children are born with. Compulsory schooling turns learning into work, something to be avoided. When teachers take control of children’s learning and tell that work must come before play, then learning no longer becomes an act of joy but becomes work. Comparing student learning and work with other children not only becomes work but a source of anxiety which inhibits learning.

    Undermining of intrinsic motivation to learn (turning learning into work)

    The third sin of compulsory education, undermining of intrinsic motivation, starts when students enter formal schooling. No matter how engaging and fun teachers attempt to make class activities, learning tasks are traditionally referred to as “work”. Gray mentions that teachers often say, “you must do your work before you can play”. Using anthropological studies of hunter-gatherers and evidence of modern pre-school-aged children, Gray is able to assert that children are naturally playful and curious, and school, is ultimately what kills their desire to learn.

    Judging students in ways that foster shame, hubris, cynicism, and cheating

    The fourth sin is focused on the sins of grading by judging students in ways that foster shame. One of the most shameful parts of education, according to Gray, is the way we teach children that their worth is determined based on others’ judgments through class rank or grades. Overall, when the value is placed on grading rather than learning, cheating becomes a preferable option for students faced with inferior grades or those competing in the cutthroat system of education.

    Interference with the development of cooperation and promotion of bullying

    Through segregation by age, caging students, and the atmosphere of competition, schools become places that interfere with the development of cooperation and promotion of bullying, the fifth sin. Children that develop at a slower rate physically, academically, or emotionally are placed with peers that may not relate with In addition, when students are allowed to age-mix, which is often seen in free play (think neighborhood children playing outside), the presence of younger children helps older youth develop their nurturing skills. The decline in age-mixed play has aligned with the rise of narcissism among youth. This lack of self-concern, according to Gray’s research, comes from the age-grading.

    Inhibition of Critical Thinking

    Curriculum, standards, and grading relate to the sixth sin of forced education, inhibition of critical thinking. Too often, grading rewards “correct” answers, and what is deemed correct in schools is the information and questions given to students from the teacher rather than students generating the questions.

    The Sudbury Valley School, which serves as Gray’s model for schooling, does not assign grades. Students still report success beyond high school. Seventy-five percent pursued higher education and 82 percent of students reported that their education benefited them by helping them think more critically and take responsibility for their own learning. Gray, using qualitative research methods, studied graduates via surveys, which became additional research studies after Gray’s initial findings.

    Reduction in diversity of skills and knowledge

    Finally, the last sin is reduction in diversity of skills and knowledge through a system that focuses on all children rather than individuals. Standardized curriculum reduces opportunities for students to follow different pathways. In Sudbury Valley, students decide and propose what they will study and learn. Because the diversity of personalities and in knowledge is valued, students at the Sudbury Valley School are ultimately very successful in pursuits beyond secondary education.

    What does this mean for parents and teachers?

    What can parents and teachers learn from Gray’s book? As a teacher, I still have faith in public education. I am not ready to uproot the entire system and disregard all standards and systems of aged socialization. However, there are a few things you can do as a classroom teacher or a parent to negate the seven sins.

    Foster Inquiry

    Kids are intrinsically curious, but too often schools tell them what questions to ask. By implementing Genius Hour or Passion Projects at school or home, your children will be able to explore and learn things that are authentic and meaningful to their own learning goals.

    Give Choice

    Instill elements of democratic learning by giving your children choice in the way they demonstrate their learning through the mode or output when it’s applicable. I’m such a huge fan of Genius Hour in helping students reach their future goals. One of my students once told me that they didn’t enjoy school because they weren’t learning things that were going to help them in the future. That may only be partially true, but letting students explore their passions with specific learning targets and goals is so meaningful.

    Allow Free Play

    There’s nothing that frustrates me more than when I see recess being taken away from young children. Even older children need time to experience “free play, but when our youngest learners are exchanging recess for testing, we’re doing them no favors. Taking a little time away from structured school helps mental health for kids and teachers. Not only does free play help with social-emotional learning, it also increases imagination.

    Embrace Boredom

    It’s more than OK for kids to be bored. Over-scheduling and even unintentional scholastic competition can lead to shame and cheating. Let your children learn for the sake of fun and curiosity and play without it being planned.

    The 21st century child is changing the world. Gray embraces play and student-direct learning, but even if your school or homeschool isn’t curriculum-free or 100% student-led, looking at Gray’s “seven sins” can certainly help you think about what today’s education could be for your child when we bring back curiosity and play.

    Jen Schneider is a middle school public school teacher and PhD student in Omaha, Nebraska. She writes about education at Creative Tech Teacher

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play 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