Blog Entries

Five Ways we Limit Kids’ Growth (and how to meet Kids’ True Needs)

Heather-Shumaker-author-portraitWhen I first connected with Heather a few years ago I fell to my knees in gratitude. Finally, a book I could recommend to parents that would address some of the most baffling, confusing and perplexing parenting issues in a straight forward, common sense way that parents with kids of almost any age could embrace. It is with great pleasure that I share this post by Heather as she introduces us to her second book, It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. Her new book is filled with wisdom, humor and smashes through old myths that influence our approach to parenting.

Five Ways we Limit Kids’ Growth (and how to meet Kids’ True Needs)

Vicki and I crossed paths when our first books were being released and discovered we were kindred spirits. Now it’s exciting to share second books – Vicki’s Straight Talk on Parenting and my new title It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, coming out today.

rule31_final PlaygroundA reader summed up my first book by saying: “If you like respectful parenting, but are baffled by your child’s intense emotions and behavior when she hits the preschool years, It’s OK Not to Share, is the answer.” Now we’re moving into an area of life that’s tricky for most families: the time when children hit elementary school and encounter a whole gamut of new rules – some of which go against your family parenting philosophy. What to do? How can we stand up for our kids and our families when there are so many other partners involved?
It’s easy to fall into habits, and sometimes you’ll find yourself in other people’s habits. Here are some common ways we limit kids’ growth without knowing it.

1. Signing Homework Papers

It might be the spelling list, reading chart or math worksheet. More and more, parents are asked to verify that a child has done an assignment by signing or initialing on the line. Requiring a parent signature steals trust and responsibility from a child. School assignments are a child’s job. It’s one thing to share with the family, it’s another thing to make the parent the Homework Monitor. Restore partnerships of trust and if you must have a signature – let the child sign her own name. (And, as you’ll see below, wait until middle school before welcoming homework.)

2. Giving Homework At All

What’s more galling than signatures is this: comprehensive analysis of 180 peer-reviewed research studies found that homework has no evidence of academic benefit in elementary school. Extraordinary. All those nightly battles between overtired children and anguished parents are for naught. What research shows is that academic benefits are highly age-dependent. It helps for high schoolers (but only if limited to 2 hours or less per night) and shows a very small gain for middle schoolers, but for elementary kids? Nothing. The time young children spend doing homework can be freed up to focus on other vital activities – running around outside, following their own play ideas, helping with family life and getting good, long sleep.

3. Thinking ‘Safety First’

One of the chapters in my book is called “Safety Second.” That’s because our Safety First culture really has forgotten that safety is not the goal of life. Life is about change and growth. We can’t live a worthwhile life – and neither can our kids – if safety is always top priority. Healthy risk is an essential part of natural development. We limit our children’s access to healthy risk in so many ways, whether it’s physical risk (running fast, cutting with a knife), emotional risk (possibly feeling bad) or social risk (possibly being rejected). Even if safety is king, some of our age-old safety lessons, ex: Don’t Talk to Strangers, are actually wrong.

4. Using Recess as a Disciplinary Tool

Get in trouble and you miss recess. Don’t complete your math assignment and you miss recess. Every day, millions of school children live under the threat of recess being taken away. It’s time to stop using recess as a tool against kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that recess should never be taken away as a punishment – either for behavior or academic reasons. This makes sense when you consider why recess is there in the first place: to meet kids’ needs so they can learn. When we deprive a child of recess, and face it, it’s usually the most squirmy, restless ones who get it taken away, we are stunting their learning. Kids learn academics best when their brains are fresh. We all need breaks, and research shows that the more recess the better when it comes to memory, focus, problem-solving and behavior, too.

5. Being Scared of “I’m bored”

Families offer so much to their children, but they are not meant to function as entertainment centers. Young children can play on their own. We do not have to stack blocks for hours to be a good parent, or feel we need to fix something when a child announces, “I’m bored.” Have confidence in kids. Their brains are naturally wired to play, and if they can’t find something to settle on immediately, have faith they will soon. If your kids struggle with free time, it could be a sign they are overscheduled, overentertained and not getting enough free time to be themselves.

If any of these topics sound interesting, you’ll find more in the book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. There’s help for making sure elementary school is child and family friendly, including sample scripts and ideas for approaching teachers about homework, plus chapters for two-ten-year-olds on technology, princess play, mistakes, “that’s not fair!” sad stories, teasing, group calendar time, what to do about kindergarten, and why it’s good to talk to strangers.

Special offer this week: if you buy It’s OK to Go Up the Slide this week, you’ll get free gifts (special one-hour podcast taking you behind the scenes in the book, plus a set of designed quotes for your fridge).

  • 1) buy the book from any bookstore before March 13, 2016 and
  • 2) send an email to telling me where you bought it.

About Heather

Heather Shumaker is a national speaker on early childhood topics and the author of two books, It’s OK Not to Share and It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, both published by Tarcher/ Penguin. Learn more about Heather, her podcasts, books, blog and infamous “why we ban homework” blog post at


  • SarH Webb 3 months ago Reply

    Having 5 kids between the ages of 13-2 I have yet to “figure out” this parenting thing. I agree with everything you have said just struggle to apply it.

  • April 3 months ago Reply

    I LOVE this. My girls are 7,6 and 4. I am entering in to a strange world of people telling my kids they can’t do things. I have always tried to let them try things on their own when others were worried they’ll get hurt. Go for it…you got this…and if not, ok. I hope I get a free copy.

  • Sarah Ahmad 3 months ago Reply

    I would love to read Heather’s new book because I would love to hear her thoughts on parenting. I am a parent to 2 and I am always looking for a fresh perspective on how to raise my kids well and help them reach their full potential. Heather’s book sounds like an excellent read and I am sure it has great content for parents.

  • Tani 3 months ago Reply

    Definitely buying your book. Thank you for helping parents navigate these waters — I think we need lots of reassurance when we go against the stream (or up the slide), I know I certainly need it.

  • Robin 3 months ago Reply

    Thank you both for your wisdom and inspiration. Your books have made a tremendous impact on my family; please keep up the good work!

  • Heather Rae 3 months ago Reply

    As an educator and parent of a pre-schooler I would have more tools and research in my toolbox. Thank you.

  • Sara Berthiaume 3 months ago Reply

    Wonderful! Bravo!!!!! Some of the topics that are discussed in this blog post are some of the reasons that my two boys are homeschooled. The part about “safety second” is something that I have always felt strongly about. I was raised believing that physical risk was bad, and I don’t think I have fully developed my physical potential because of that….not yet at least, there’s still time for me to learn. In order to avoid that happening with my own kids, I am “that parent”, the one who watches, smiling from the sidelines as her child climbs up the slide or across the top of the monkey bars. I get a lot of disapproving looks and taps on the shoulder “Excuse me, are you aware that your little boy is climbing on the outside of the play structure???” To which I politely reply “Oh, yes, i see that. He certainly is exploring all of the incredible things his body can do.” The list of other topics that are covered by this book has me eager to read it, hopefully as the winner of a free copy!

  • Jaclyn 3 months ago Reply

    “We do not have to stack blocks for hours to be a good parent, or feel we need to fix something when a child announces, ‘I’m bored.'”

    Thank you. I’m a stay-at-home parent, and many of my peers seem to feel like they must spend hours playing with their kids, or like playing with young children and helping them do workbooks, activities, etc. is the reason we stay home. It’s not (necessarily).

    My almost-three-year-old and I spend a lot of time doing jobs together around the house. He helps a *lot*. He also knows I’m available to spend quality time with him at some point in the day, but also expect him to entertain himself much of the time. He has an amazing imagination and I get many compliments on how clever, thoughtful, and sweet he is.

    Sometimes I wonder if I should be more like everyone else, but I recently realized I’m not sure my kid even knows what the word “bored” is. He has never asked me to find him something to do. The only time we have a problem that way is if he knows I’m doing a job around the house and I haven’t invited him/given him a way to help me. And that’s okay with me 😉

  • Heather Shumaker 3 months ago Reply

    Thanks for all your kind encouragement and for sharing your stories. Love them! Keep on finding your courage every day to do what’s right for kids.

  • JenniferNault 3 months ago Reply

    Yes, Thank you all for commenting and participating in our giveaway to support Heather. We randomly selected a winner today and the winner is….drumroll please….April you have won the free book. Email me your mailing address to and we’ll ship you your copy! Thanks everyone!!

    Heather is offering all sorts of great material for you if you purchase the book this week

    Special offer this week: if you buy It’s OK to Go Up the Slide this week, you’ll get free gifts (special one-hour podcast taking you behind the scenes in the book, plus a set of designed quotes for your fridge).

    1) buy the book from any bookstore before March 13, 2016 and
    2) send an email to telling me where you bought it.

Submit a Comment