parenting

  • Free Self-Directed Learning Planner (Printable)

    What is self-directed learning?

    Self-directed learning is 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

    The whole idea of this approach is that it puts the child in charge of their own learning. It gives them a chance pursue interests, books, and hands on experiences that they might not have had access to previously or in a traditional school setting. For more information about this incredible approach to learning read this by Dr. Peter Gray.

    How to Get Started

    The first thing your child needs to do is determine their strengths and weaknesses. It’s also helpful for them to understand their learning style, and dig deeper into what types of content they actually enjoy learning.

    Once they figure out what they enjoy learning it will be easier for them to lean into that as a jumping off point.

    Use this self-directed learning 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

    Invitations to Play: A Misunderstood Concept

    An explanation of the phrase “invitation 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.

    The common misunderstanding

    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. 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.

    How to Move Forward

    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…

    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 PlayThe 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

    Understanding Schema Play

    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.

    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?

    For more information about early childhood philosophies check out this article on Montessori.

    Child Development and Schemas

    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.

    Sign up here to get our FREE Quick Guide to Schema Play

    Common Schemas for Play

    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

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  • 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