hide and seek

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Imaginary play with pretend characters, a cardboard box, and a set of crayons is one of the most valuable educational opportunities for children. In fact, open-ended play is an essential part of childhood.

Jessica Lahey in her article, “Why Free Play is the Best Summer School,” says, “It’s the end of another academic year and time for summer … Unscheduled, unsupervised playtime is fertile ground; the place where children strengthen social bonds, build emotional maturity, develop cognitive skills, and shore up their physical health.”

But for many children, summer time is simply a shift from one group of structured activities to another.

Lahey reports on a new study by psychologists at the University of Colorado on the play habits of six-year old children. They measured how much time each child spent in spontaneous play versus time in structured activities, such as lessons and sports practice.

The findings?

“Children who engage in more free play have more highly developed self-directed executive function. The opposite was also true: The more time kids spent in structured activities, the worse their sense of self-directed control.”

Free play literally develops a child’s intellect: their planning, organization, problem solving and goal setting skills.

All of that happens when children play—just play.

So what’s the take away for parents?

  • Fill the summer months with unstructured, creative playtime for your child.
  • Remember to keep open-ended play a part of your child’s everyday life. Horseplay and role play with your little one.
  • Tell stories and use your voice to become a character.
  •  Listen to music and move to music.
  • Read aloud and talk about storybooks.
  • And remember the basics: blocks, a cardboard box, a box of crayons, saucepans, and wooden spoons are just fine.

“Parents, if you really want to give your kid a head start on coming school year, relinquish some of that time you have earmarked for lessons or sports camp and let your children play. That’s it. Just play.” —Jessica Lahey

JM & Her ButterflySummer is a golden time to enjoy outdoor activities with your child. Look at your backyard as full of opportunities to explore words and ideas. Here’s an example from daddy Don. He and his daughter kept a daily account of their Monarch hatchery on the back porch.

Although Don didn’t intend it when he wrote, he is my guest blogger today. Don’s words and photos tell his delightful story.

“The caterpillars were hatched from eggs which the Monarch butterflies deposit on milkweed and other host plants. We take the leaf with the eggs and put it in a smaller container until they hatch. We transfer the caterpillars to the ‘tent’ (a bed canopy from IKEA $20) and replace the milkweed (in gallon containers) as they eat the leaves down. When the time comes, they climb to the top of the canopy, assume a ‘J’ shape and form the chrysalis. They incubate for 6 – 10 days and emerge as Monarch butterflies. My daughter is totally into it.

Thank you, Don, for sharing your journal and your daughter’s butterfly encounter. It’s a fascinating experience; early learning at its best. I recommend these butterfly storybooks:

  • Ten Little Caterpillars, by Bill Martin
  • Waiting for Wingers, by Lois Ehlert

In How Handwriting Trains the Brain, Gwendolyn Bounds  reveals that writing by hand is a fading art, yet new research shows it can benefit children’s motor and thinking skills. “Researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes…and aids fine motor-skill development.”

Writing matters. Include writing fun in your home. It is a part of play that engages the brain in learning.

How can parents make writing by hand a part of play at home?

Here are ten ways to incorporate writing play into your everyday living:

  1. Hide notes for your child under pillows & in lunch boxes
  2. Write simple signs together for blocks, dolls, and toys
  3. Set clear guidelines on where and when your little one can write
  4. Stock tubs with a variety of sizes and colors of paper
  5. Provide tubs of pencils, colored pencils, and washable markers
  6. For little ones just beginning to hold writing tools, take turns making lines and shapes together
  7. Write with chalk on a chalkboard, and sidewalk chalk on concrete outside
  8. Write on a white board
  9. Use a bucket of water and old paintbrushes to “paint” letters on the wall or driveway with water.
  10. Use playdough or modeling clay to make letters, shapes, and funny animals together

How Handwriting Trains the Brain: Forming Letters is Key to Learning, Memory, Ideas, The Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2011