All posts tagged play

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).
Simply

  • 1) buy the book from any bookstore before March 13, 2016 and
  • 2) send an email to slide@heathershumaker.com 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 www.heathershumaker.com

I Am Because We Are

trustAs I sit on the beaches of Fiji, I experience seven children between the ages of five and nine playing on the beach. The tide is going out. One of the youngest children reaches down, picks up a heaping handful of sand, looks around for an unsuspecting target and pitches the sand at an older child standing just a few feet away. Boom. Direct hit. Dirt covers the boy’s shoulders and back. The action stops. Not one parent moves. Instead, they wait. And as they do, an extraordinary thing happens, play resumes. The older child takes a small handful of sand and throws it back at the younger child. The action stops – again. No movement from the sidelines and then – giggles and as the giggles get louder you see sand being thrown by all of the kids at each other. One child finally picks up a stick and begins chasing one of the older kids who deftly runs into the water and dives away from danger. He comes up laughing and taunting the stick wielder. Soon several other kids pick up what can only be described as primitive weapons as they chase each other in and out of the water and throw heaping piles of sand at passing targets. The laughter continues until one child takes it a bit to far and screams in frustration. The action stops. No one moves and then the older kids circle around their frustrated younger friend, check to be sure he is okay, give him hugs until he is laughing again and the play resumes.

This went on for over an hour. Each time a child reached their emotional or physical threshold, the entire group would attend to the child until all was well. Not once was it necessary for a parent to step in and help the children learn to play nicely with each other. They already knew how to do that. What is more impressive is that within minutes they had established the “rules of engagement” and whether anyone else could see what was happening, those amazing and clever kids came to an understanding about how they would play together. Somewhere deep down inside of them were the skills necessary to play together successfully without any outside assistance.

Now pan down the beach about 200 yards and there you will find 15 kids (boys and girls) between the ages of 12 and 20 who are doing exactly the same things as their younger counter parts – only they have added a rugby ball to legitimize their horsing around. The rules of engagement seem to mimic exactly the younger kids rules and once again I see the same deep understanding they all have on how to play, interact, co-exist, call it what you want, without any outside assistance.

What is most remarkable about this scene to me is that I saw it played out over and over again during my time in Fiji. I pondered what it would be like on playgrounds in my own town, if parents trusted more, if kids were given a chance to work things out and establish a common understanding of what playing together meant.

I asked myself what if:

  • parents trusted that they had modeled to their kids respectful “rules of engagement” at home and knew that with just a bit of practice their kids would quickly apply these rules out in their world with their peers.
  • as parents, we trusted that other parents were teaching their kids respectful “rules of engagement”, so that the majority of the kids who spent time in the same classroom and on the same playground, all came with some experience of how to “play” together.
  • And as parents, we trusted our kids to figure out how to adapt the “rules of engagement” when they were with their peers, whether or not those peers were taught similar lessons.

Rooted in Trust
It occurred to me that so much of what I saw was grounded in trust. Trusting yourself as a parent, trusting your kids, and trusting your community.

I promised myself that when I got home, I would do everything I could to Practice Trust First and allow nature, instincts, and the collective wisdom of centuries to lead the way when it comes to kids and play.

Get More Play in Your Day!

play-postThere has been a lot of talk in the media in recent years about the importance of playtime in the academic lives of our children. While we once thought that playtime should be restricted to after-school activities, current research tells us that is no longer the case.

New research suggests that play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades.” (See Parker-Pope article below).

Unless you are a teacher, you are probably thinking, “What has this got to do with me and parenting?” The answer: it can mean as much as you want it to. Most parents I know are looking for ways to help their children succeed academically, and this usually means helping them with their homework or hiring a tutor, etc… So I am excited to tell all of you that it can also mean—go out and PLAY with your kids!

Maybe you already do this, and, if so, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. But maybe playtime is lacking in your routine and you need some help fitting it in. Here are some suggestions on how you can do that.

First, sit down with your family and talk about this very topic. Tell them what you have learned and discuss how you think “playtime” together could become a new value that your family develops. Find out what your children think and what some of their ideas are on the subject.

Second, involve your children in deciding when and how you will “play” together. This can be done during your weekly Family Meeting. Set aside five minutes of the Family Meeting to further discuss ideas on what types of activities everyone would enjoy, and then schedule a time during the following week to do one of those activities together. Make sure you follow up at the next Family Meeting to see how everyone thinks it went and to schedule additional activities.

Investing your time and energy in “playing” with your children will not only benefit them academically, it will benefit you all as a family, emotionally, if you use the playtime to connect with each other.

When your kids are grown and have left your house, they might remember that you helped them with their math homework—but they will definitely remember that you took them fishing on Sundays, hiked the trails to look for bugs, or kicked the ball around in the backyard before dinner.

The 3 R’s? A Fourth Is Crucial, Too: Recess” by Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, Feb 23, 2009.