Why Boredom is Good for Kids

As every teacher can tell you, there is a phenomenon that occurs in September called “summer slide”. It reflects the loss of academic learning that occurs over the summer and must be re-mastered before moving on to the new year of curricular content. But what if I told you the “real” summer slide is a lack of play? One of the great benefits of a long summer is that your child is free to pursue their passions and try new things. It might surprise you that a teacher is here to prescribe a summer of unstructured play as the best way to prepare your child for the coming school year, and here’s why:

Go Play Outside

Pick up some rollerblades at a second hand shop, dust off a your tennis rackets and go dig in the dirt! Teachers know that kids who have access to free and unstructured outside play time are better able to focus and remain on task during the school day. You can read more about the positive correlation between imaginative free play and future problem solving abilities here. And this article does a good job of describing how future anxiety and depression can be reduced with ample free play as a child. Sending your kids outside to play might be the best thing you can do for your child’s upcoming school year. Seriously! If your neighborhood is not suitable for kids running free, find a park, beach or series of playgrounds that you love and make them your backyard for the summer. If you are looking for child care or camps, choose ones that offer long periods of unstructured play time, beach days and playground visits. They’ll be less expensive too!

Turn off the video games and TV

The number one reason for summer slide today is immersion in non-mindful electronics over the summer. Children lose opportunities to engage in the world around them when they are plugged into devices that do not allow for meaningful human interaction. Institute an after dinner policy for electronics. Once chores, scheduled activities, free time and other daily responsibilities have been completed, kids can relax with a small amount of their favorite media. In my experience, starting the day with electronics makes kids sluggish and uncooperative for the rest of the day. It’s always a balance in modern households to keep screen time to a minimum, but knowing that long sessions of screen time lead to obesity, aggression and attention problems helps us look to the long term goal of happy, functioning adults, rather than a short term solution to bored kids.

Embrace boredom

Teachers know that less is more and that by removing options you actually create a more relaxing place to play. Children with too many options often suffer from the analysis paralysis of not knowing what to do when each choice means giving up time spent on another preferred toy. The result is children who flit from activity to activity without meaningful engagement in any. If you are looking to have your kids play with the toys they already have, consider purging the room of most of the toys. Watch them play enthusiastically with what is left. I also recommend giving kids time to be alone. It is a skill to know how to enjoy your own company and a gift to your children to learn it while they are young. Research is telling us that boredom might actually be good for kids.

Read, Read and Read some more

If you only do one thing this summer make sure you read with your children. Read aloud favourite novels, picture books and your local newspaper. Ask questions, make predictions, infer outcomes. If your child is one month old, read to him. If your child is 15 years old, read to him. Reading is learning and the best way to prevent the dreaded summer slide. Besides… engaged readers never get bored!

Boredom

Want more info? Follow me on Twitter, FB or Instagram for more ideas, or come check out my Pinterest board full of ideas for creative outdoor play!

And here are some other great posts by super awesome people about summer slide. Please go check them out too!

Why free play is the best summer school by Jessica Lahey

Ideas for integrating science and literacy from Share it! Science News

Having fun to prevent the Summer Slide from 3 Dinosaurs

Fun activities that are also educational from Mama Smiles

Why I am not worried about the Summer Slide from Planet Smarty Pants

How to stop the summer slide with books from Thriving STEM

 

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Build a Backyard Your Kids Will Actually Play In!

The research on outdoor play is clear. Kids who get outside for at least an hour a day, rain or shine, are healthier, happier and more able to focus on non preferred tasks. And while traditional play structures can be great fun, they don’t often encourage kids to interact with the natural world or feel ownership over the play space. If you think back to your own childhood, I bet your best memories are of being outdoors creating and defining your own play spaces and experiences! If you want to create a fun play space that encourages independent play in your own backyard, here are my top tips for a playful and creative backyard that your kids will love!

beanfortPrepare the space for uninterrupted play: To avoid cold, wet, hot or sunburned kids, look for opportunities to tuck nooks, forts or shelters into your yard space. Check your local flyers for tent or tarp sales, or use lattice to define a space under some stairs to define a bat cave or enchanted castle. Even the smallest of yards can grow amazing secret play scapes using plantings like sunflowers or some beans climbing poles for a playful teepee structure!

 

 

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Play is the Work of the Child

If play is truly the work of the child, then dress up play must be the ultimate job description! Imaginative, fantasy play is achievable when just a few props are thrown into the mix. At this time of year costumes and accessories are everywhere. I hope to encourage you to get that Halloween bin out early to take advantage of the enthusiasm kids have for fantasy play during the Fall season.

dressup

Creative and open-ended play allows children the freedom to express their imaginations in a way that teaches the brain to be flexible. Fantasy play and imaginative role-playing are well established precursors to divergent and original problem solving later in life; skills that are well recognized in highly effective students. Children work out the stress and frustration of their day through this type of play, which can provide opportunities to practice communicating in challenging relationships from the adult world around them. An emerging understanding of conscience develops through dress up play, and studies have shown that children who engage in role play end up learning empathy (because they can literally imagine what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes).

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Conquer Kid Clutter With This One Simple Rule

There are thousands of articles and the accompanying research that explain the psychology of clutter. In all my years of working in schools and homes that are bursting with the stuff kids collect I can boil it down to one simple rule that will keep your home uncluttered. I call it THE LAW OF JUST ONE MORE. It works like this:

shoesEveryone has been to a toy aisle or home that looks like a tornado swept through it. No matter how much tidying the store or family does it ends up looking like a disaster in short order. No one seems to have any ownership over keeping the place tidy and everyone feels like someone else will clean it up. “Its not my problem” is the pervasive thinking in this scenario.

The law of just one more relies on our human instinct to not be the first to mess something up. When you see everyone else dumping the shoes in the isle, it’s easy to not bother putting yours away either. Our Costco does a good job of having someone constantly re-folding and tidying up the clothing. It humanizes the experience. I’m going to refold the garment I just looked at because I can see someone else has to fold me for me if I don’t. And I’d look like a jerk if I dumped it all disheveled in front of the employee that has to now fold it for me.

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The Secret to High Performing, Likeable Kids!

In a recent interview, I was asked to explain the science of play. It’s a big question with a lot of different answers so it seems a blog post might be in order! In a nutshell, the “Science of Play” is the collected wisdom and data about why play is good for kids and how it positively impacts their social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. That’s a lot to talk about, so let’s unpack it a bit:

Social Benefits of Play: We don’t know who coined the phrase “science of play” but it can likely be attributed to Dr. Stewart Brown who has been a researcher in the field for decades. You can watch his TED talk and my summary of his talk here. Brown’s Science of Play includes the evolutionary purpose of play. He states that “In a world continuously presenting unique challenges and ambiguity, play prepares them [children] for an evolving planet.” You can read a great interview with him here for a deeper understanding of his theories. We also appreciate Peter Gray’s TED talk on the decline of play. You can watch it and read my review here. Gray discusses how play deprivation results in an over reaction of fear and a lack of ability to respond to social signals.

The big take away? Researcher Jaak Panksepp believes that optimal brain development depends on healthy play experiences in early life, and his findings support Dr. Brown’s statement that over the long evolutionary haul, play develops positive social bonds and social learning.

Emotional Benefits of Play: I’ve written quite a bit about the tension reduction and opportunities for emotional expression in play before. You can read my blog about the benefits of dress up play here. Essentially, children work out the stress and frustration of their day through imaginative play, which can provide opportunities to practice communicating in challenging relationships from the adult world around them. An emerging understanding of conscience develops through dress up play, and studies have shown that children who engage in role play end up learning empathy (because they can literally imagine what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes). Self-regulation is another skill learned through play and has a positive effect on emotional health. Read more about the importance of self-regulation on my post here.

The big take away? Play teaches children what is fair and not fair while in fantasy mode. Children can role play to work out the frustrations and limitations of their real lives. Empathy is learned through social and interactive play.

Physical Benefits of Play: Jane Goodall once observed that “Play teaches young animals what they can and cannot do at a time when they are relatively free from the survival pressures of adult life.” What a great summation of the value of play in the lives of children! We know that play prepares us for the ever changing world and that it is critical for the complex and intricate social interactions humans have. But it also develops life skills that are used well beyond childhood: fine and gross motor skills as well as self-help skills that empower children to take risks and learn from their mistakes. Increasingly we are seeing research that advocates for risky play opportunities and the positive outcomes derived from risky play, including decreased anxiety and depression. Did you get a chance to read about the problem with tame playgrounds in the Vancouver Sun newspaper?

The big take away? Physical activity is good for kids no matter which way you slice it. Advocates for risky play suggest that the local playground is good, but getting out into nature and learning to climb, fall and jump on and off stuff without restrictions might be better.

Cognitive Benefits of Play: The cognitive benefits of play have been studied for decades and the findings are too vast to report in one brief post. Rest assured that creative and open-ended play allows children the freedom to express their imaginations in a way that teaches the brain to be flexible. Fantasy play and imaginative role-playing are well established precursors to divergent and original problem solving later in life; skills that are well recognized in highly effective students. Alison Gopnik wrote in Smithsonian Magazine that, “we found children who were better at pretending could reason better about counterfactuals—they were better at thinking about different possibilities. They imagine ways the world could work and predict the pattern of data that would follow if their theories were true, and then compare that pattern with the pattern they actually see.” Read the full article here.

The big take away? Play triggers brain growth, and children provided with regular opportunities for unstructured play improved academic outcomes. Play is crucial for future problem solving and divergent thinking.

I love talking about play! If you would like me to speak to your parent group or staff about the importance of play, contact me here for speaking rates and availability.

Want more inspiration? Check out my Pinterest page of play quotes: https://www.pinterest.com/roomtoplay/quotes-and-inspiration/

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This is your child’s brain on play!

I love it when I come across a gem like this on the internet! In all the noise of social media, once in a while a great and simple pleasure to watch comes to my attention with a message that I couldn’t have said better myself! Thanks to the Lego Foundation for sharing this valuable message!

The clip is just under 20 minutes long, and here are the big messages:

  • many parents and educators who value play can’t describe why it is valuable for learning
  • childhood is great time to learn through play and humans are naturally wired to learn through play
  • dramatic brain growth occurs in the first 10 years.
  • childhood creates a once in a lifetime opportunity to create connections between neurons and pathways for problem solving
  • more development happens in the brain in the first ten years of life than in the rest of your life combined
  • you don’t get new neurons as you get older, but you do develop new pathways and ways for your brain to communicate as you age. The basic architecture of the brain is set in early childhood
  • the environment, and the surroundings the child is in, supports the architecture of the brain
  • nature has organized children perfectly to take advantage of this time of growth through play
  • play is experimentation and exploration.
  • learning from playing and making, through hands on learning, is critical for optimal brain development
  • play is important for social/ emotional development, cognitive development, academic content and motor/ physical development. Play develops the whole child!
  • There should not be a battle between play and learning! Play and learning go together because play IS learning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And if you want more, check out my Pinterest page on the Science of Play:

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The Classroom Gardener: a BC School Gardening Program

Have a school garden that needs some love or support?

IMG_4717Teachers and parents in British Columbia love our comprehensive school garden program! The Classroom Gardener engages students and teachers in hands on, inquiry based and cross curricular learning. With professional development sessions for teachers and hands on workshops with kids, we ensure stress free learning and growing all year round. We offer a variety of in-depth programming for schools with or without existing garden infrastructure.

Hands on, inquiry based workshops, that are designed to meet the curricular outcomes of BC’s redesigned curriculum are offered. Our teacher’s guide offers dozens of ready to use lessons and reproducible garden journal entries to meet the needs of your classroom or whole school. And the resources kit includes absolutely everything you need to teach the recommended lessons! If we recommend an anchor book, we give you a copy to save you having to borrow or buy it! Over the duration of the school year, our professional gardening team will ensure every detail is managed so all you have to do is enjoy the learning that comes from your new outdoor classroom!

Want to start a school garden?

Kids get their hands dirty when they learn to garden with us! We encourage total IMG_8189ownership of the garden with hands on lessons in weed management, seed starting and raised bed planting. Our packages include everything you need to get started and the support to keep your garden sustainable over the years! At the end of the program you will feel confident  teaching in your outdoor learning space.

Why garden with kids at school?

Why not? When we take the learning outdoors, something magical happens. Without walls to bounce off of, kids are focussed and energized by their learning. Research tells us that:

  • learning in natural environments encourages imaginative, creative problem solving
  • children who learn in outdoor classrooms are able to focus more in non preferred tasks and see improvements in their ability to problem solve
  • there is a high correlation between outdoor learning and reduced anxiety and depression in children
  • natural, open ended play spaces teach the brain to be flexible which leads to efficient problem solving later in life
  • learning out of doors improves overall health
  • learning out of doors increases opportunities for positive social interaction, communication skills, group cohesion and teamwork

Visit our Classroom Gardener tab to get more details! And then contact us, you’ll be glad you did!

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Why Reading to Babies Matters

There is an abundance of research to support the fact that parental involvement and quality engagement with a caring adult leads to school success. For a long time, we have known that children from homes where engaging vocabulary and conversations were not high priority suffered the 30 million word gap. This disadvantage affected mostly children from lower social economic backgrounds and meant that by the time a child entered Kindergarten they had heard 30 million less words than their peers from wealthier homes.

readingwithbabyAn engaged and interested adult speaking in full and varied sentences to infants has been shown time and time again to be one of the defining differences in future school success. Recently, Professor Anne Fernald, at Stanford University, published findings that this gap can now be found in children as young as 18 months and is not exclusive to social economic status. She also found that early intervention and high quality conversations with infants made a tremendous difference in overall later achievement. She recommends talking directly to your baby as you go about your day, “Mommy is opening the fridge. What should we make for lunch? You’ll have some milk and I’ll have a sandwich. Maybe I’ll have a banana too. The banana is yellow and it is larger than the orange”. It may seem ridiculous to babble away to an infant, but the research strongly shows that while it may go right over their heads now, it makes all the difference in your child’s future academic success! So go ahead and have conversations with your baby! But be sure you are talking with your child; turn off the radio, TV and other distractions and talk to your baby to help realize their developmental potential.

 

Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest page with loads of book lists for every age and interest:

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#goplayoutside: Defending the Right to Play Outdoors

In my neighbourhood, kids knock on doors to ask if so and so can come out to play in an ongoing giant game of capture the flag, manhunt or soccer. I know our neighbourhood is unique and special in these days of fearful parenting. But we are a mostly like-minded community, and the parents whose children play outside protect that right to play fiercely.

slipslide1So when a motion was made to ban outdoor play by a few less than enthusiastic neighbours, things got a little…tense. We live in a mixed density community which means we have detached homes, town homes and condo developments surrounding a family friendly park and playground area at the centre. It’s pretty idyllic. But everyone’s ideal of urban community living is different, and for a few of our neighbours the noise of kids playing is intrusive and never ending. At a recent strata annual general meeting a motion was placed on the agenda to ban all basketball hoops. In Canada, so long as a quorum is met, a strata can pass a bylaw banning outdoor play of any kind. So it was with some urgency that myself and a few other community members set out to ensure everyone showed up to strike down the motion at the AGM. In the end we prevailed, by a landslide. But it has left some hard feelings. How do we manage the sensitivities of the elderly, the shift workers and childless members of our community who dislike the sounds of children playing? How do we help neighbours with napping children, too young to play outside by themselves, see that it is short sighted to ban the very activities their young children will benefit from in a few short years? Outdoor, unstructured and mostly unsupervised play is a pretty rare thing these days. We live in a community that thrives on it, but it is at risk.

I recently read a fantastic publication from the Portland Children’s Museum. It is devoted to the value of investing in children’s play and advocates for the collective effort of committed adults to protect the rights of children to play.

“Valuing and supporting play in childhood may be the best method to produce thinkers who have strong adaptive strategies and creative skills. Our rapidly changing society needs citizens whose minds are open, flexible, capable and motivated to solve problems”

At the end of the day, we all benefit from kids who play. We want empathetic and thoughtful children in our neighbourhoods. We want happy and well adjusted kids in our communities. And we want kids who can creatively and flexibly work through conflict to solve problems. This all comes from play. Free, unstructured and mostly unsupervised play. So have those conversations with your neighbours and keep on protecting the play spaces in your neighbourhoods.

Come follow me on Pinterest for more ideas on how to get your kids to #goplayoutside:

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Making Play a Priority

“Play is the work of the child,” wrote Maria Montessori more than 100 years ago. Most Making Play a Priorityeverything that a child needs for healthy development – a healthy & strong body, physical confidence, social & emotional stability, self-regulation, stress management, empathy and turn taking happen while children are at play.

So, what are the outcomes if children do not play? What happens to children if play is not a priority in their home and they grow up with a play deficit? Leading child development researchers claim that children who do not have access to free, unstructured play during their formative years are at a much higher risk of developing anxiety and depression. So, play is not just fun – it’s essential to raising happy, healthy kids!

I was very inspired by this TED talk by Dr. Peter Gray and I think you will be too.

Here are the notes I took while watching it:

  • In the wild, social animals play to keep fit and practice social skills.
  • Close proximity without losing one’s temper is essential for social animals. Play allows children to practice emotional regulation skills.
  • Risky play is important for children. In cultures where children are free to play without adult supervision, they learn valuable survival skills. Children from these cultures were observed to be the brightest, most cooperative, well adjusted and happiest children anywhere the researchers studied.
  • The barriers to play such as parental fears, no matter how unreasonable, are hard to shake once they have taken hold.
  • Once there are fewer kids outside, playing outside becomes less attractive and it, ironically, becomes less safe.
  • Play is nature’s means of ensuring humans acquire the skills they require to become fully functioning adults.
  • Play deprivation results in an over reaction of fear. Studies showed that play deprivation resulted in freezing or lashing out with inappropriate aggression when in an unfamiliar environment. Play deprivation results in a lack of ability to respond to social signals.
  • The largest animals with the biggest brains play the most. Human children play more than any other mammal.
  • Modern life means a rapid erosion of free play. He attributes this decline of play to the spread of school outside of school walls.
  • We have developed the incorrect notion that self-directed choice activities in children are a waste of time and thus childhood has become a time of resume building.
  • Today, “play” almost always means following the directions of adults in structured activities while wearing a uniform: playing soccer, playing football, playing hockey.

As a result, we see in children today:

  • increased anxiety and depression, narcissism, and suicide rates
  • a lack of an internal sense of control, which sets children up for depression and anxiety because they no longer control their life and experiences, bad things keep “happening” to them.
  • a decrease in creative thinking, empathy and creativity

How we can turn this around:

  • Play is where children learn they are in control of their own lives and learn to solve problems, experience joy, learn to get along with others and experience empathy. By definition, play is creative and joyful. Find time to play everyday.
  • Get to know neighbours, spend time with community members. Nurture your village.
  • Work as a community to develop spaces for children to play.
  • Provide free play opportunities.
  • Develop adventure playgrounds in your community.
  • De-emphasize the expectation of school learning taking priority over play.

Want more inspiration? Follow me on Pinterest:

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