• Why big kids need play, too

    Why big kids need play, too

    Renowned educator Maria Montessori described 12-18 year olds as budding social justice advocates. Children in this stage are developing who they are and how they can be of service to the world. Pre-teens and teens are deep thinkers. These adolescents are very serious and dedicated to figuring out what the world is about and how they fit into it. Physical and mental changes make this can be an exciting and challenging time for youth. They need opportunities not only to blow off steam, but to play and develop their creativity. Yes, big kids need play, too!

    Socialization and Play

    Many teens and tweens have their own devices to connect to others digitally. Unless it’s during structured activities, clubs, or organized sports, teens rarely have unstructured “play” time. As kids become more independent, it’s unlikely for parents to push this free play.

    Although big play groups may not be appropriate at this time, encouraging your older kids to connect with their peers offline when it’s safe to do so is so important for their mental health and well-being.

    Exercise and Play

    In our current pandemic society it is even harder for young people to have opportunities to play with their friends, and it is increasingly important for the adults in their lives to make space for them to let their play muscles get exercise. Getting kids off their devices can take a little maneuvering or persuading sometimes, but it’s not always hard to distract them from their digital presence.

    Encourage your tweens and teens to get outside, hang out with neighborhood kids (when it’s safe), and explore. Let go of the fear that they will get in trouble or get hurt. Riding bikes, taking a walk in a nearby park, or going fishing are playful activities that get the body moving and teens playing! Play some music at home and have a dance party. All of these activities will help your older children play and move.

    Tinker and Play Like a Child

    It is pretty hard for anyone to eschew bubbles. In addition, it would be a challenge for a teen to ignore dry ice in a kiddie pool and a few PVC pipes and a hose. A refrigerator box and a can of paint, a giant piece of wood and spray paint, stickers and an old dresser, and water squirters are all things that would likely captivate a teen if a willing adult started in on it, quietly…and offered encouragement.

    There are few young adults that wouldn’t be ready to start creating and playing with materials if you started a Rube Goldberg machine with some ping pong balls, dominos, cardboard and masking tape. A tray with some nuts and bolts and magnets on the coffee table might be enough to get a digital addict to put the device away for longer than you might think possible. Fill a kiddie pool with sand and pretend you’re at the beach. Spray each other with the hose. Or simply run through a sprinkler. Sometimes all it takes is permission to encourage sensory and constructive play.

    Pretend Play

    Youths are often natural dramatists, we see this as parents when their hormones rage and their feelings are strong. Kids are also so creative and want to put on a show. There’s a reason TikTok is so popular!

    Channel this ability into doing some fun drama games. Charades can be corny for youth sometimes, so have the kids come up with some guessing games that incorporate creating characters and personalities based on celebrities or family members. Make your own rules to make it personal and laugh together. Finally, have them just act out their own skits or plays.

    Parents know how important it is for children to be children. Older kids can have a hard time remembering this, especially with the weight of the world on their shoulders during the pandemic. Make some time to bond with your big kids and make PLAY a regular part of your DAY.

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  • Social Emotional Learning In Your Home

    Easy Ways to Incorporate Social Emotional Learning Into Your Home Routine

    Now, perhaps more than ever, the letters S-E-L are on everyone’s lips. Parents, teachers, students, children, and families are experiencing stress and anxiety at this time. It’s often hard to know where to begin. Social emotional learning can help the whole family manage feelings, maintain relationships, and adjust positively to change.

    We know that kids learn best through play. their development hinges on active involvement. So how can we bring social emotional learning into our home routine?

    Gratitude helps social emotional learning

    So much research has been done on the power of gratitude. People who practice gratitude experience the following:

    • better physical health
    • more optimism
    • increased resiliency

    To begin, gratitude is a mindset, and it may or may not require a shift in your family dynamics. A great time to practice gratitude is before a family meal.

    Coming together and talking about your day and what you’re thankful for is perfect social emotional learning practice.

    Like everything our kids learn, modeling is powerful. Check your own words and actions. First, make certain you are saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in your daily activities. Next, be specific when you thank someone. For example, say “Thanks for making dinner!”

    Practicing gratitude as you go about your day is a great example for kids and will feel natural after a while. Notice your surroundings in the backyard with your kids. Are you grateful for your trees that give you shade? Your tomatoes that are growing so well? Make a point to say it out loud!

    Kindness is Key

    Have a kindness contest. Download a pre-made kindness printable or make your own and hang it on the fridge. Kindness activities might include things like ‘let someone else go first’ or ‘do an extra chore’. Set an individual and a family goal for how many acts of kindness you want to complete each day. Even better? Try to do an act of kindness without getting caught!

    Turn Taking and Patience

    Patience is a challenge for many of us, regardless of our age. Playing a game of Monopoly, Candyland, or UNO is a fun way to incorporate a host of skills, including taking turns. Board games also offer opportunities to practice winning and losing gracefully, as well as having conversations and maybe even using strategy. Taking turns is a great way to practice social emotional learning.

    Mindful Breathing

    Children can benefit in so many areas of their lives by practicing mindful breathing.

    Among other things, mindful breathing can:

    • strengthen self-control
    • lower anxiety
    • improve emotional regulation skills

    One way to practice mindful breathing is to ‘cool off the pizza’. To do this exercise, tell the child to pretend there is a hot slice of pizza in front of him. Have him take a deep breath in through his nose (to smell the pizza) and then slowly and steadily blow on the ‘pizza’ to cool it off.

    The behaviors currently filed under ‘social emotional learning’ have been around forever, in the form of manners, good citizenship and self-awareness. Regardless of what these skills are called, life is much easier when they are worked into our home routine!

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  • Socratic Seminar = Critical Thinking

    Socrates was an incredible Greek philosopher and thinker and his way of thinking has been a huge part of education for a very long time. Of course, children are naturally curious. That is an incredible attribute, but as children grow older, social norms begin to deteriorate that curiosity and self doubt creeps in. No need to fret though, there is a great resource for helping to change the way children think: Socratic Seminar.

    What is Socratic Seminar?

    First, Socratic Seminar involves the process of critically thinking, talking and reflecting. The seminar is when a group of students come together to discuss an open-ended question that could have multiple perspectives and solutions. This is all about arousing curiosity, engaging in problem solving skills and critical thinking through conversation, reasoning and in the case of our youngest children, this can all be done through play!

    Socratic Seminar for Younger Children

    The basis of a socratic seminar is questioning everything. Again, children are naturally curious. We all know the age when a parent hears the word “why” at least 100  times a day or even in a minute! Well, here’s where the socratic thinking comes in-don’t answer them! Restate the question back to your child. Allow them to reason out loud with you. Let them think for themselves! 

    Even toddlers are pretty great problem solvers. Think about it. If they want to know how something works, they try it. We have all seen food thrown on the floor as they are engaging in cause and effect reasoning. Their young minds are already processing this information, so allow their brains to think more critically by talking it through with you. For example, if your child asks “what is this?”, don’t answer them! Instead help them analyze what it looks like: color, texture, where they found it, what it looks like it does, etc. Ask them to use their senses. See if it reminds them of anything. Children will think critically about the answers to the questions they have rather than relying on someone- a parent or a teacher to just give them the answer!

    Opportunities for Socratic Thinking

    Critical Thinking Toys

    By giving children toys that allow them to be creative and curious we allow for the Socratic method to be at work. Passive play isn’t building our kids into critical thinkers. Watch your kids build. Then ask simply, why did you add that block there? One of the great toys we’ve talked about before are magna blocks. They are great for a range of ages. What would happen if you move this block? It is all about questioning to allow them to explain their thinking and improve their ability to think on their own in a more critical way. 


    Some more simple ways to increase Socratic play are by using a game like 20 questions. It requires minimal set up and is nothing more than critically questioning until an answer is found! This Is the basis of Socratic play! You could also use various scenarios, (appropriate to the age of your children) and have them solve the problem of the people involved. It could be as simple as, “A friend took the toy you want. What do we do now? Why?” Then continue questioning, “Was that the right choice? Are you still friends?” These allow children to understand the independent thinking process, but also gives them the ability to see why they feel certain ways. 


    Now talking goes a long way, but why not bring in a picture. Question everything about it. How did this happen? Why are they there? Why do you think that color was chosen? Think about your journalism questions and the 5 Ws and How! Those simply guide children to discovering information on their own. 


    Storytelling works in the same way. When kids create stories or use imaginative play, engage with them in a conversation about why they chose that name for their doll or why they chose to cook eggs in their toy kitchen. If a child is asked to do a chore, don’t tell them how to do it, ask them how they think they should do it. Obviously, sometimes you have to step in, but again allowing them to think the problem through builds critical thinking for the future! You never know, you might have a future president or CEO on your hands!
    Overall, let your children play, think, create, and talk about the why and you will be using the Socratic Seminar techniques to build critical thinking in children! How will you use Socratic thinking and play with your kid

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  • How to Teach Reading at Home

    Simple Ways to Teach Reading Skills at Home

    As a parent, you want your child to love to read! You want to make the best choices and raise them to be the best version of themselves. However, it is hard to know where to start. Reading must be learned, so let’s give our children the advantage we want them to have with these simple ways to teach reading skills at home.

    First, reading has a few components. Reading can be broken up into vocabulary, phonics, fluency, and comprehension. With our little ones at home, parents can absolutely work on comprehension skills, build vocabulary, and model fluency. When kids are ready, phonics practice comes into play, too.


    To begin, sometimes we take for granted that our kids just know what we are saying. Yes, most likely they are getting the gist of what you are saying, but know this. If you use a word they have never heard before, it is as simple as asking them if they know what it means before defining it for them. Children learn language from parents as you have probably seen when your mini-me has used an expression or phrase you consistently use!

    This becomes essential to teach reading at home because vocabulary can impede comprehension and fluency.

    Easy ways to ensure vocabulary growth:

    • If you are listening to music, or watching a television show, stop and talk about words you hear. Make it a game. Children are innate learners. They love to play. Let them listen to the world and bring back to you words they heard and make them memorable and they will learn them!
    • Another way to simply build vocabulary is through cooking with children! Cooking or baking is an amazing way to introduce vocabulary that may not come up in other parts of your day. You are also reading from a cookbook, looking at ratios, and proportions, and following a sequence for a recipe. Have conversations about what happens if you don’t follow the correct order and how sequence is important! These are all great ways to build reading comprehension when you are teaching reading at home.
    • Other simple ways to build vocabulary and word recognition are going over the calendar and the weather each day. Writing the words out for sunny and cloudy also allows children to begin understanding letters have sound relationships! Then get outside and enjoy the sunshine or jump in the puddles!


    If you want to teach reading at home you need to understand the importance of phonics.

    There are a gazillion toys out there that say letters and look like letters, but most children aren’t going to learn their letters from an electronic toy repeating it to them. These aren’t true educational toys.

    Activities to learn letter recognition and phonics:

    • Sing the ABCs. Let children hear the letters of the alphabet.
    • Allow children to play with magnetic letters. Put them in a sensory box and let them match them to a list.
    • Start having them trace the letters with a crayon or pencil and learn their names in print. If they don’t quite have the grip for a writing utensil, practice, but start by tracing with their finger.
    • Flashcards work well, but most importantly, remember children have to learn letter sound relationships to learn to read. Knowing the alphabet and playing with letters is exceptional, but allowing them to also play with sounds is really a precursor to reading.
    • Underline the words as you read aloud to your child. This helps them build the connection between words and sounds.
    • Use chalk and make it a game. Write letters and have them find where you wrote them!


    Before we know how to read, we learn what it should sound like. Fluency is all about how clearly a story is read and the flow of what you are hearing. This is why we love nursery rhymes and music! When reading, inflection and emphasis are very important. When you read to your children, give the characters voices! Make the words dance for your children. Our children’s spectacular minds are absorbing this everyday.

    Simple tips to make sure children are exposed to fluency during their playtime during the day:

    • Have books available in play areas.
    • Make a game with books. Take a few favorites and hide them. The first book found is the one they read for story time!
    • Have siblings read aloud too.
    • Listen to audiobooks. (A great, easy tool to build reading skills).
    • Encourage children to be storytellers and listen to the way they tell their story! This could be done through drawing pictures too.
    • Make story time a priority each day!


    Finally, as adult readers, we often focus only on our understanding of what we have read. The other parts really do matter because without them it is more difficult to be a well-rounded reader. Of course, comprehension is where children understand the story, learn a lesson, make connections, and think about the character’s actions, so definitely important, and can absolutely be done without knowing how to read on their own.

    There are some really simple tricks to help with comprehension at home even before children are reading on their own.

    • Model your thinking. When reading to kids, comment how you really love how the characters solved the problem or how you have been in similar situations. Meta-cognition is so important when it comes to sharing with your kids how you process and think through reading.
    • Ask your children if they liked the character, the setting, and what they would do if they were in the book.
    • Allow them to pick books they can connect with. If you are reading a farm book after being at a farm, encourage the children to connect the book with the farm they visited.
    • When kids are playing pretend, watch them use the same scenarios that come up in the books! Asking thoughtful questions can ensure comprehension.
    • Look at pictures! Beginner readers actually use the pictures to help them understand. After reading a book, children can draw a picture of their favorite part.
    • If you are watching a movie or television show, ask them to tell you what happened. That is simply summarizing and an easy way to encourage that skill to be developed for reading readiness.
    • Compare books by the same author. Kids often love the same types of books and this is a great opportunity to think a little deeper.
    • Ask open ended questions. It could be as simple as what would you do if you were in that situation?

    Teach Reading Skills with Play Time

    Our children’s ability to read becomes a priority in every parent’s life. We hate to see our children struggle. Use some of these simple ways to build reading skills at home while they play to prepare children to be thinkers and make the process of learning to read a little more seamless!

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  • Helping Your Child Stay Organized

    Helping Your Child Stay Organized

    We like to think we foster independence in our children. We let them make decisions and force them to live with the consequences. ”You forgot your water bottle, and now you’re thirsty? Well, I bet you’ll remember it next time!” What if that strategy isn’t enough? If the forgetting continues, and you begin to see your child’s self confidence melting like an ice cube in the sun, what can you do? Here’s some great news! It’s never too late (or too early) to learn to be organized. However, to truly help your child stay organized, you need to get REAL. In this case, REAL stands for Routine, Environment, Aids, and Lists.


    Regardless of the goal, having a routine makes us more productive. Routines help to automate tasks and ultimately result in habits. When the sequence of tasks is predictable, we don’t have to expend the brain power thinking, “What’s next?”.

    For example, an evening homework routine can be very helpful. When your child comes home from school, have them walk straight to their designated study space and organizes their tasks for the evening. Check a planner, get out the necessary books, and cue up any notes on his computer. Preparation is key when it comes to routines.

    This works for younger and homeschooled children as well. Play can still be spontaneous and open while having a routine. For example, starting the morning with a healthy breakfast, chores, then educational play can be a flexible routine perfect for all children!

    You can also have your children have a nightly routine as well. Set out clothes for the next day, and be ready to start with the sound of the alarm clock! Routines help with organization.


    Your child’s study environment should be organized. Part of their routine is to straighten their supplies when he’s done with homework. This organization reduces stress, and frees up their energy for other things.

    Having a dedicated study space is critically important for student success. If the kitchen table is your child’s homework spot, they might be distracted by noise or might misplace something among the mail or newspaper. When possible, quieter is better.

    Play spaces can also be organized too! Having an organized play space makes a play area open to purposeful play.


    Whether physical or metaphorical, there are many aids to help with organization. Try using one or more of these for academic tasks and feel your child’s sense of order skyrocket!

    • folders
    • color coding
    • labels
    • planner
    • mnemonics
    • technology

    Play aids aren’t the so-called marketed educational toys. Objects and open-ended toys can act in aids in imaginative, purposeful play.


    It’s time to embrace the LIST. Whether paper, phone, or computer, few things are as satisfying as crossing something off a list. What’s even better is the sense of accomplishment that follows. It can buoy one to dig into the remaining tasks.

    Having your child make their own lists for academic work or chores helps with organization. Put it into practice by modeling lists yourself.

    Whatever the age of your child, get them on board with making a plan to get REAL! The resulting calm will benefit your whole family.

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