A friend of mine recently approached me about starting a mother daughter book club with a few other friends. Our girls are six years old and have just started reading “on their own.” She noted that she had a friend who started a similar club when her daughter was five years old, and her daughter, now in college, is still an active member of the club. The idea resonated with me and I truly can’t wait until we start! I wondered how appropriate such a club would be for even younger children. Here’s what I found out..
Book clubs are ideal for children as young as 2.5 to 3 years old. Participating in book clubs at a young age increases emerging literacy skills, creates a life-long love of learning, provides opportunities for social development with peers, and, depending upon the other activities the book club provides, can increase fine motor skills and enhance creative thinking. Extra added benefits are the adult bonds formed by parent participants and the opportunity to spend some special time with our children. There are some great, developmentally informed tips for starting your club.
• Make a commitment – for the club to succeed, parents need to make a commitment to attend with their children, and to promote reading outside of the club meetings
• Keep it small – it’s important to keep the club small, especially for young children. Five families seems appropriate.
• Reading time – decide whether your club will discuss a book read outside of meeting time (for children 5 and above) or if it will be to listen while an adult reads aloud (children under 5). Even with young children, parents should be encouraged to read the selected book ahead of time with their children. It’s also important to be realistic about goals and assess the length of the book. Young children will be less interested in a book that cannot be completed in one reading. Older children will enjoy chapter books and continuing the story from meeting to meeting.
• Reading material – if your child is in preschool, try to align club selections with school reading lists.
• Club activities – the age of your children will certainly influence club activities, but here are some suggestions: o Crafts – children can make a wide variety of crafts associated with the book such as custom bookmarks where they select their favorite character or t-shirts with their favorite character or scene from the book o Alphabet game – children name a character, event or setting from the book that starts with the letter “A” and then work their way through the alphabet o Imaginative questions – ask children question such as “What might happen after the book ended?” or “What could the character have done differently in the book, and how might this have changed the ending?” These questions support reading comprehension skills. o Acting – ask children to act out parts of the book. Parents should participate too! A game of charades where parents partner up with their children to act out part of the book and have others guess the event would be fun for children ages 4 and up. o Create the right atmosphere – Parents and children should all be on the same level. Sitting on pillows on the floor is a great way to go. Add some decorations to go with the theme of the book. Have snacks for the kids to eat. o Name your club – It would be great fun for the children to help name the club
What does this mean for parents?
We encourage parents to start book clubs when their children are very young. The books, activities, and structure of the club will evolve with your child’s development.
Creating a children’s book club is a Gorgeous thing!
I recently picked my five year old daughter up from a play date. She was a bit “wired” and, at first, I thought it was just from playing with her friend. But, as we drove home her mood quickly turned sour. I immediately recognized the signs of a downward spiral that follows a sugar rush. I asked her if she had a snack on her play date.
She informed me that they had eaten M&Ms. I could have guessed given that her friend’s nanny is quite indulgent when it comes to sweets. At that point I assumed she had eaten A LOT of M&Ms.
I was actually a bit annoyed about this. There is just so much evidence that healthy eating habits start early so I think it’s important to limit candy intake. As well, giving children M&Ms is not a play date activity.
Children need fun engaging activities while on a play date (see blog on play dates for more information). Many times I think parents and/or nannies give sweets to children on play dates as a “replacement” for more engaging activities because they don’t want to have to coordinate activities. Of course, children get hungry and snacks may be involved. But there are so many options for healthy snacks that I don’t understand when candy is the “go to.”
Trust me… I love dessert more than anyone. And my daughter has a sweet tooth as well. It is because of this that I try to limit her sweet intake to one small dessert a day and this almost always happens after dinner. All of this said, I think limiting sweets on play dates is important so I turned to the research to back this up (and convince myself I wasn’t being overly rigid!)
Children rely on adults for their nutritional needs. At a very young age children begin to develop a subconscious blueprint about what a proper meal should be. Because healthy nutrition contributes to healthy brain development and prevents obesity, it is critical that children develop a love of fruits, vegetables and other healthy snacks early in life. Beyond these more obvious reasons, there are several other developmentally-routed rationales for avoiding unhealthy snacks that parents may not think about:
Snacks are part of a well-balanced diet for young children – Children have smaller stomachs than adults which causes them to eat less food at regular meal times than adults. Due to this, children actually rely quite heavily on snacks to supplement the nutrients missed at meal times. This makes healthy snacks even more important! I don’t think candy helps to supplements those missed nutrients.
Snack time should be on a regular schedule where children sit down to focus on eating - Regularly scheduled snacks are important because sit down mealtimes improve children’s manners, while increasing their sense of confidence, independence, and accomplishment. Providing children with snacks in a disorganized fashion (e.g., handing them a packet of M&Ms) minimizes the developmental opportunities of a “sit down” snack.
Snacks are an opportunity to promote self-regulation and good decision-making - Providing young children with a variety of healthy options and respecting their food choices promotes good decision-making that continues into the future. Handing them a candy bar actually promotes poor decision making and can contribute to impulse control issues.
It is also important to remember that most children will eat when they need to. Basically, children don’t eat when they aren’t hungry. So why should we suggest snacking (especially with candy!) when children aren’t even hungry in the first place? Creating unhealthy and unnecessary eating patterns early in life can lead to a lifetime of challenges related to healthy eating habits.
What does this mean for parents?
There is no question that giving our children spontaneous sweets once in a while can be a fun, wonderful treat. I know when we are on vacation, ice cream cones mid-day are fairly common! What I do think we want to avoid is the constant “treat giving” that happens throughout the day and especially on play dates. The M&M incident is just one of many that I have experienced picking my daughter up from play dates. I would suggest three main things related to this:
1. Let your child’s friend’s parent and/or nanny know that treats are off limits on play dates. Don’t leave it up to your child to say “no.” It’s too much pressure for them. It’s easy to do this. Just keep it simple. “Hi, do you mind not giving sweets to Janie today? We are trying to limit sugar intake.”
2. When you are hosting a play date, focus on creating fun engaging activities for the children to do rather than feeding them cupcakes.
3. Finally, if snacks are needed, keep it healthy! Here are some suggestions…Millie’s Mom Approved!
• Hummus and seasonal veggies (carrots, cherry tomatoes, celery, sweet peppers)
• Seasonal fruit with yogurt for dipping (I like vanilla)
• Whole grain crackers or apples with peanut butter
• Pears and cheese
• Cheese sticks
• No salt roasted cashews or almonds with dried or fresh fruit
• Yogurt and granola
• Cottage cheese and raisins (or any fruit)
• Air pop popcorn and dried fruit
We just recently finished renovating our basement – basements are a big thing in northern cities where square footage is at a premium. We completely gutted the area and converted our garage to livable space. We added a fireplace and flat screen television, and basically went crazy with custom built-ins throughout the entire space. The vision was to have a second family room and adjacent play room dedicated to our five year old daughter. The finished space was beautiful! When we began decorating the space I had ideas of what my daughter’s playroom would look like – yes, ideas ripped from the pages of Pottery Barn Kids. I mean, the space was so beautiful, now the play room had to be just “perfect”….
So, I quickly went to work – green gingham lined baskets with her name on them, matching containers with her things organized and sealed up so not to make a mess…etc…You get the picture! Well, one day I went downstairs to my perfect, orderly shelves ruined! No, not by my daughter…by my husband! He had bought her two sets of wood blocks (you know the kind they have in preschools) and had lined up all the bottom shelves with different structures he built with the blocks. He then went and found her pet shop collection and strawberry shortcake collection and added them to the block structures. He had built an entire city on the shelves.
I must admit, it was quite a fantasy for a child, but my first reaction was “Why did you mess up this “perfect” space?”
He explained that she needed to be able to “see” her things to use them and that by creating visually enticing areas she would engage in more play.
Ok, yes, he happens to be a developmental psychologist too. But, this suggestion did not come from his professional background; it came from him being a great dad who knew what a child needed for a supportive, engaging learning environment.
Now, I had done some things right. I had ensured that the baskets were light weight so she could pull them down, I organized her “like” toys together, and I tried to put out personal things to make her feel like it was her space. But, truthfully, even in doing that, I was obviously (unconsciously) caught up in the “catalogue version” of a perfect playroom.
It took my husband’s re-decorating to get me to see where I went wrong. My daughter is in love with her space now and since then I have talked with my colleagues and received some “professional” advice on what kids really need in a play room.
The research clearly shows children’s environments influence how much they learn, as well as their desire and inclination to learn. Infants, toddlers and preschoolers are active meaning makers making sense of the world around them. They are like scientists constantly observing and interacting with their environments, generating hypotheses, and finding ways to test if their hypotheses are correct.
The first “object” children interact with is their caregiver and they quickly generate hypotheses about their caregiver. They realize that when they cry, their caregiver comes to them. They have learned something about effective communication! As infants begin to sit up, crawl, and explore their environment the range and types of objects they interact with (toys, books, other children), lead to more hypothesis testing and increased learning.
This process deepens as infants grow into toddlers and toddlers grow into preschoolers. Think about a toddler who while learning to stack blocks observes that when stacked a certain way, the blocks fall to ground. The toddler may do this over and over again until he/she learns something about gravity. The interaction with the blocks has provided a unique learning opportunity, and when provided these opportunities to learn, children make the most of it!
Early care and education teachers spend quite a bit of time creating developmentally appropriate environments that support and motivate children to learn. I have spent a good chunk of my career in various early care settings and have considered how these same environmental learning principles can easily be applied to the play rooms we set up in our home. I believe parents are as committed as early care providers to supporting the emerging skills and knowledge of our children, so why not create the “perfect” space for development to occur….rather than the catalogue version of perfect?
In general, there are three major tasks involved in creating the perfect play room:
1) Materials - purchase high quality, developmentally appropriate toys, books and games;
2) Design and Lay-Out – be intentional with the design; lay out the play room in such a way that children can easily see and access material without overwhelming them; and
3) Active, Collaborative Learning - ensure the play room is set up to promote parent/child interaction…is there a comfortable place for you to sit while reading to your child?
Taking these three main things into consideration, here are some other specific tips:
Create Play Nooks – Distinct areas of play are important for small children. They need a visual invitation that says, “Come play!” Creating different nooks in the play area with distinct identities (e.g., reading, building, fantasy play) gives children a clear idea of what the space is for. They feel “in control” of their environment which leads to deeper, more exploratory play.
Reflect developmental ability and address range of developmental skills – Children need opportunities for growth in a range of areas. Set up your play space to address different aspects of development such as gross motor skills (e.g., climbing or jumping if possible), fine motor skills (e.g., puzzles and crafts), sensory skills (e.g., messy areas that allow for sensory exploration such finger painting or sand tables); emerging literacy skills (e.g.., children’s library), and fantasy play (e.g., dress-up or kitchen play).
Create child-friendly organizational systems – Play rooms are children’s first learning laboratories. It’s critical that their toys are visually inviting, easy to access, and clearly organized. Baskets are better than containers with lids because children are able to get toys on their own. While drawers are a great way for adults to organize, they are not a good idea for developmentally appropriate play spaces.
Toys should not be crowded together in ways that overwhelm children. Honestly, this is a reason to buy fewer toys than most of us do. Developmentally, young children are completely overwhelmed by too many toys and games. Open spaces and a few simple toys on a shelf are more inviting to a young child than creating the look of a toy store. My five year old daughter is still overwhelmed when we take her to a toy store and let her pick out a new toy. She just walks around staring at everything!
It’s also important to group similar toys together. Again, this gives children a sense of “what to do” but also allows them to compare and contrast toys that are similar but have some different characteristics (e.g., blocks of different colors, textures, or sizes).
Personalize the space – Let your child know this is his/her space! Hang their art work on the walls. Have their name visible on baskets or other aspects of the room. Include photos of your child and your family in the room.
Ensure an open traffic pattern – While it’s tempting to furnish our play rooms (again, thinking of the catalogue), it’s important for there to plenty of safe space for children to crawl, walk and explore. After we finished our basement remodel we bought a new sofa. It looks great, but the space is large and crying out for another sofa. A second sofa would be much nicer for adults who use the space at night to watch television. However, it is so clear that the open space is better for my daughter. It gives her room to build elaborate cities, put on shows, and do cartwheels. So while and interior designer may say I need another sofa, I am holding off until practicing cartwheels is no longer important.
Use child-size furnishings – Purchase chairs and tables that are child size. Again, when your child feels mastery over their environment, developmental opportunities are enhanced.
Make a space for you - Remember, our children learn through supportive interactions and nurturing relationships. Make sure there is plenty of room for you to get on the ground and play. If you have back issues (like us older parents!), create a comfortable space for yourself so you are more inclined to play with your child.
What does this mean for parents? Taking the time to create a developmentally appropriate learning environment has so many benefits for parents. While you may miss your dream of what you thought a perfect play room should look like and you are still aching for drawers to hide all of the toys…here are some things that may change your mind:
Supportive learning environments promote deep, extended, exploratory play. Think about it, if you create a visually inviting, organized environment, your child will be more inclined to play on their own!
Well-designed play areas minimize challenging behaviors – When children feel in “in control” of their environment, they are calmer and act out less.
Cleaning up is easier – Well organized spaces, and a limited number of toys and games, make clean-up time a breeze.
Good luck with your play room! Please do not hesitate to contact Gorgeous Millie for free consultation on the most developmentally appropriate toys and games for your child, as well as tips on design, layout, and organization to enhance your child’s development! A quick tip to get started is to squat down to your child’s height and explore your current play room. Ask yourself, “Is this an inviting, engaging space?”
Oh, and trust me, your play room can still look beautiful (or gorgeous!) even with a child focus! Gorgeous Millie has proven
THE ISSUE: I think we probably all remember when our child told us his or her first lie. It catches us off guard. We wonder, “Is my child a bad child? Will he or she grow out of this phase? How can I show my child that honesty is the best policy?” The truth is, all children lie, and we may be the ones teaching them to do it.
THE RESEARCH: Studies show that 98% of teenagers admit to lying to their parents, and really, they lie about everything—how they spend their allowance, whether they drink alcohol, or where they spend the afternoon. Now, we may wonder, “Do these teenagers understand the importance of honesty?” Well, actually they do. While 98% of teenagers report lying, 98% of teenagers also report that “trust and honesty are essential in a personal relationship.” So, where have things gone wrong? Well, it’s amazing how young lying starts and why it probably never goes away. Research indicates that a 4 year old will lie once an hour, and a 6 year old will lie twice an hour. Some children start lying even younger – at 2 or 3 years of age. The interesting thing is that the younger a child begins lying, the smarter the child probably is because it takes “advanced cognitive skills to tell a lie (i.e., the child must conceive an alternative reality and convince someone of that alternate reality).” Children usually begin lying as a means of avoiding punishment – “No, it wasn’t me who wrote with crayons on the wall.” The lies, of course, become more complex as children get older.
As I read the article Learning to Lie by Po Bronson, I was taken off guard by the extent to which research is showing that we, as parents, are promoting lying in our children. First, the article notes how children are encouraged to tell so many white lies, that they gradually become comfortable with being disingenuous. For example, I may tell my five year old daughter “Tell Auntie Betty how much you love the gift she gave you” even when my daughter doesn’t like the gift at all. Or I may whisper to my daughter, “I know little Janie isn’t being nice but just smile and keep playing with her until her mommy wants to go.” What our children see is that avoiding conflict is more important than telling the truth. I think we can all remember times when we said these things to our children, even if against our better judgment. I remember having out of town guests stay with us whose children were around the same age as my daughter but not particularly nice to her. In an effort to avoid an awkward situation with the parents themselves, I told my daughter to just “make nice.” Having read the literature, I now see that I was teaching her that keeping the peace was more important than standing up for herself. Essentially, I asked her to lie. When I think of how this might affect her future choices to tell the truth or stand up for herself, I cringe. I think this is especially important for little girls who are taught from an early age to be a “good girl” and always “be nice.” While being nice is certainly virtuous, I think honesty is even more important.
Issues that involve “tattling” also provide an opportunity for parents to either promote truth telling or send a message to “avoid conflict at all costs.” We teach our preschool children not to tattle. When we say “don’t tattle” we are trying to send the message that it’s best the children learn to work out the conflict on their own. But the research on tattling indicates that 90% of the time, “tattlers” are telling their parents the truth, and that for every single time a child does tattle, he or she has been wronged 14 times! So, in effect, we are telling our children not to come to us with quite serious problems. What does this say to our children? Again, it says avoid conflict at all costs.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PARENTS?: We need to demonstrate to children the worthiness of honesty, rather than just saying “don’t lie.” We need to socialize them to see how honesty is the better path and completely worth it. If we don’t do this, and just say “don’t lie” but don’t actually live an honest life, what good are doing? Well, I think the research shows we aren’t doing them much good. So, after our preschooler does write on the wall with crayon, maybe we should stop saying, “Did you write on our wall with crayons?” Just by asking them if they did it is disingenuous on our own part – we already know they did it. So maybe we should take a different, more honest tactic and say, “I see you used the crayons on the wall…let’s make sure we don’t do this again. Can you help me clean this up?” Now we are being straightforward and helpful, and we don’t set them up to lie right back to us!
THE ISSUE: I do quite a bit of work in the area of Early Head Start (EHS), a federally funded early childhood program for low-income families with infants and toddlers and pregnant women. A major goal of Early Head Start is to enhance the development of young children by addressing the needs of the whole child – social, emotional, cognitive and physical. As part of my work with EHS programs, I have been exposed to innovative prevention strategies for promoting the healthy physical development of infants and toddlers. I have realized over the years that my exposure to these programs has provided me with lots of great information that I keep in my back pocket for times I need to advocate for my child or know what questions to ask in the doctor’s office. I want to share some of this “back pocket” information on the importance of up to date hearing screenings for infants and toddlers with Gorgeous Millie readers.
WHY CHILD HEARING SCREENINGS?: After working with an EHS grantee funded to promote the use of up to date technologies and regular hearing screenings for infants and toddlers, I realized just how clueless I was about best practices related to hearing screenings. First, it had never occurred to me that waiting until my daughter was in kindergarten for a school-based hearing screening was not best practice. Yes, as part of guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Joint Committee on Infant Hearing, newborns receive hearing screenings before they leave the hospital. (see http://www.cdc.gov/NCBDDD/hearingloss/screening.html). But, after that, we typically wait five years before assessing our child’s hearing again. For the most part, our children’s hearing is most likely fine unless they meet particular risk factors (for example, family history of childhood hearing loss, maternal infections during pregnancy, or injury). However, I have had friends whose children experienced temporary hearing loss due to chronic ear infections and never knew their child was struggling with hearing issues at all.
Second, even as a developmental psychologist, it had not occurred to me just how developmentally inappropriate hearing screenings are that rely on behavioral responses for children under the age of 5. Think back to when we were children ourselves. Remember the headsets with the sound beeping in one ear or the other? We were asked to raise our hands to demonstrate that we heard correctly. Well, can you imagine a two or three year old doing this? My daughter received a hearing screening at a major university teaching hospital when she was three years old, and that is the “technology” that they used. I couldn’t believe it! She had no idea what she was doing. Luckily her hearing was fine, but I certainly didn’t trust that test to tell me. Finally, I learned what tests to actually ask for that would be more developmentally appropriate and yield accurate results for children under the age of 5.
THE RESEARCH: In the United States, approximately 1 in 300 children are born with a permanent hearing loss, which makes hearing loss the most common birth defect in the U.S. While medical guidelines are clear, 10% of infants still do not receive hearing screenings, and 50% of infants who do receive hearing screenings but do not pass, never receive appropriate follow-up or referral services. And for those of us with children who passed their infant hearing screening, we need to remember that 35% of preschoolers (wow!) will have repeated episodes of ear infections that nearly always cause temporary hearing loss that can significantly disrupt language acquisition and educational progress. In general, when hearing loss goes undetected, there are negative impacts on school readiness, socialization, and achievement.
In terms of hearing screening, it is clear that subjective techniques that rely on behavioral responses are antiquated and unreliable. Physiological screening has proven to be the most reliable and objective screening tool to identify hearing loss in very young children. For example, otoacoustic emissions (OAE) technology has been demonstrated to be an accurate, painless, easy-to-administer physiological screening method for children ages 0 to 3. Research has demonstrated that OAE technology identifies children with hearing loss more often than other subjective technologies.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PARENTS?: If you have a child who has had repeated ear infections, or you suspect may have hearing issues, don’t wait to consult your doctor. And when you do, insist that the most up-to-date, developmentally appropriate hearing screening technology be used with your young child (such as OAE). I bet your doctor will be surprised when you say, “do you plan on using OAE technology?”! We need to stay educated on issues like this so we can better advocate for our children in the medical setting. Our babies are precious, and we always have the right to demand the best for them.
THE ISSUE: A couple of years ago I was at the Birth to Three Institute, an international institute that convenes practitioners, researchers, trainers, and policy-makers working in the field of early care and education. Participants come to share information and emerging findings related to infant and toddler development, and disseminate cutting edge professional development strategies for early care educators to improve outcomes for infant and toddlers. At this Institute, I saw for the first time the “Still Face Video” – an experiment by early childhood researcher Dr. Edward Tronick. Having spent my career focused on issues related to the chronic neglect of children, I understood all too well the critical importance of positive and supportive social interactions during the early years, and how the lack of such relationships severely inhibits the development of socio-emotional capacities in young children. However, I don’t think I was ever so touched, especially as a parent of a young child, by the need of young infants and toddlers to be “in relationship” as I was after watching this video.
I was uncomfortable, sad, and simply wanted the video to end. In the video, a loving mother playfully smiles and engages with her 12 month old daughter. In return, her daughter demonstrates quite clearly that babies are responsive to emotional and social interaction and show great levels of reactivity to their environment. The baby responds to her mother by smiling, vocalizing, and pointing to objects in the room. After a time, the mother turns to a “still face” where she does not react to her baby – basically, simulating a depressive parenting style. Within just seconds, the baby demonstrates a high level of distress, trying to get her mother to react.
Even though I knew that this child had a loving parent and was just undergoing this “experiment” for two minutes, I just craved to jump in the video and give the baby what it needed and wasn’t getting. I wanted to run home and hug my own daughter.
While I know that we all know how important interacting with our child is, as we start this New Year, I wanted to share this information with Gorgeous Millie readers because I think that it’s always good to remember how much our babies need from us to have good mental health and develop into healthy older children and young adults.
As a parent and a developmental psychologist, I am reminded of this video during times of stress or sadness where I can’t be all I need to be for my child and that helps give me the boost to be there for her just a little bit more. Please click on this link to watch this compelling, life changing video all parents should watch.
THE RESEARCH: So what is “infant mental health?” “Infant mental health reflects both the social-emotional capacities and the primary relationships in children birth through age five.”
Because young children’s social experiences and opportunities to explore their worlds depend on the love and care they receive, a central tenet of infant mental health is the child’s relationship with his/her primary caregiver. This relationship provides the foundation for later development. A major component of infant mental health is social-emotional development.
Social development refers to the ability to form healthy and loving relationships with others. Emotional development includes how young children experience feelings about themselves and others, and the ability to regulate their feelings in appropriate ways. Healthy social-emotional development provides the foundation for positive feelings of self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence, and the ability to self-regulate—all of which are essential for a successful life.
We know that babies without this type of support may seem sad or lethargic, have eating or sleeping issues, or “self-stimulate” such as rocking back and forth.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PARENTS?: While I like to think of myself as a great parent, as I know we all do, I know that the emerging findings on infant mental health have re-energized my commitment to being “present” for my daughter. I work long hours and travel quite extensively. My work combined with the daily stressors of life (getting lunch made, doing the laundry, grocery shopping) sometimes make it hard for me to be the absolute best I can be for my family.
What I have learned though, as both an early childhood professional and a parent, is that I sometimes need to “dig a little deeper” to ensure that my daughter gets what she needs emotionally. Not always easy I assure you. But, I know from the research and just my own everyday experiences that a little goes a long way.
So when I am feeling tired or stressed (for the third day in a row!), I take a deep breath and remember that simply smiling at my daughter or laughing out loud during dinner sets the tone for her positive emotions too. I try not to rush – we know that unhurried time with our children is the best kind of time. I keep daily routines in place as much as possible. My husband and I model good relationships by smiling at each other and hugging each other in front of her. I respond to her cues as much as possible. Is she sad, hurt or scared? And finally, I learn to wait until she is fast asleep to have my nervous breakdown!
Cheers to all of us parents who take it on and go the extra mile for our children. They need us.
Believing in Santa, among other imaginary friends, for as long as we can…
In this week’s blog, Allison discusses whether believing in Santa can actually contribute to children’s levels of creativity later in life.
THE ISSUE: A couple of years ago I was having dinner with a colleague – an expert in infant and toddler development and a mother of two small children. It was the holiday season and she told me that she “just couldn’t bring herself to tell her children that there was a Santa Claus.” While I had thoroughly encouraged the belief in Santa for my own daughter (close to 3 at the time), I questioned whether this was this was the “right” thing to do.
I realized that many parents struggle with this issue. Should they lie to their children? When should they tell their children that the fantasy isn’t real?
I also realized that many parents feel silly even discussing Santa, and while they tell their children there is a Santa, they certainly don’t go to any great lengths to support their children’s belief in this imaginary person. In fact, many parents giggle or wink at other grown-ups when telling their children about Santa.
I wondered about the small subset of parents that do go to great lengths to encourage their children’s belief in Santa – climbing onto their own roofs on Christmas Eve and ringing sleigh bells – and I asked myself, “What can the science of child development tell us about this issue?”
I quickly found there was a link between childhood imagination and adult creativity.THE RESEARCH: First, what do we mean by creativity? Well, contrary to popular belief, children gifted in the arts (e.g., drawing and painting) don’t have “special claim” to all things creative. While artistic children are often creative, there are many children who are not interested in a painting a picture that are also creative. Being creative means developing something that is both original and useful. And, yes, art can be considered useful because it encourages us to think about things in a new way.
“There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).”
We know that all children like to use their imaginations when they play – some more than others, and some for longer years than other children. We also know that imaginary worlds are an early sign of highly creative children. Preschoolers who spend more time role playing and dress-up with their friends, or even alone, are more likely to be creative.
These same children may continue their imaginary play through middle childhood, although their imaginary play may be more complex including detailed imaginary worlds that have their own history, language, and rules – referred to as “paracosms.” Perhaps the most famous paracosm is that of the famous Bronte sisters who called their detailed imaginary world Angria.
So how does this imaginary play relate to adult creativity and success? A recent study conducted by Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein at Michigan State University demonstrated that recipients of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (referred to as the “genius award”) were significantly more likely to have such rich imaginary worlds when they were children than a comparison sample of college students.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PARENTS?: Can creativity be learned? Like most traits, creativity is more salient in some children than others. However, with practice, creativity can most certainly be increased. Parents can encourage their children’s uniqueness, support creative and imaginary play, encourage their children to ask questions (unfortunately the question “why mommy?” or “why daddy?” seems to stop by middle childhood), and provide their children with opportunities to challenge themselves in a stable, safe setting.
So, during this holiday season, if you celebrate Christmas, don’t just tell your child there is a Santa Claus, but support the fantasy and provide opportunities for their imagination to run away with them! And for all parents, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, encourage your children’s imaginations…their imaginary worlds and their imaginary friends. Set up play spaces in your home that encourage this type of play…dress up clothes, dollhouses, pirate ships…You may just be developing a Nobel Prize winner!
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from Gorgeous Millie!
So, our kids are as hooked on the iPhone and iPad as we are. What now? Parents are asking the same questions: Is it okay for my child to use my iPhone? How young is too young? How much is too much? Which apps are worthy of the $.99 (or more!) investment? What can I expect that my 2 or 4 year old will gain from the experience? How much time will this buy me to drink my soy latte in peace?
In this week’s blog Allison Metz views toddler and preschooler use of the iPhone and iPad through both a developmental and parental lens.
THE ISSUE: A recent NY Times article astutely describes what you and I already knew – the iPhone and iPad have altered the parenting landscape forever. Parents are giving their children their iPhones and toddlers and preschoolers are loving it. I couldn’t agree more with the below quote from the article:
“The iPhone has revolutionized telecommunications. It has also become the most effective tool in human history to mollify a fussy toddler, much to the delight of parents reveling in their newfound freedom to have a conversation in a restaurant or roam the supermarket aisles in peace.”
The article gets to its point quickly by raising the question of whether this “new toy of choice” is of benefit to little ones, or whether iPhones, in effect, limit toddlers’ and preschoolers’ opportunities for more developmentally enriching activities such a whole body movement, interactive learning through manipulating and sensing new objects, and observation of their environment. As the mom of a preschooler quite adept at using iPhone apps, I was, of course, interested in what my colleagues in child development would think about this issue. Like the parents interviewed for the article, I have also spent time talking with other parents about limiting iPhone time, just as we limit television time. So, as a loving – but imperfect – parent, I gave this issue some more thought and here’s what I came up with.
THE RESEARCH: I wasn’t surprised that the overall tone of the article was skeptical of iPhone and iPad use by toddlers, and questioned the integrity of the educational nature of the apps parents allow their children to use. There is no question that all of the great developmental theorists – Piaget, Vytgotsky, Erikson – point to the critical nature of play and learning through interaction, and the science of child development supports these theorists quite strongly. Children do not learn how to read, speak a second language, or develop early math skills by drilling and practicing on technology-based applications. Language and math are learned at the nexus of social interaction with teachers, parents and peers – through everyday experiences and meaningful relationships.2 Developmentally appropriate pre-schools and nursery schools are modeled on this theory, which provides the foundation for constructivist learning. Children learn through hands-on interaction with their environment. “Discovery learning” such as this is quite limited, if not non-existent, through many technology-based toys or gadgets. Given this, I am a firm believer in developmentally appropriate learning opportunities including creative play, movement, and block building as the primary focus for helping to grow your child.
All that said, it is also important to note that there is actually little or no solid empirical evidence as to whether iPhones and iPads are as developmentally unsound as extensive television watching before the age of 2.3 Of course, this is primarily because the iPhone, released in 2007, is a new phenomenon and a new frontier for education technology developers. What we do know is that iPhones and iPads are quite different than traditional forms of technology (e.g., television, desktop computers, gaming devices) which put the child in a “passive” position, and even hard books in terms of the features that are employed, and the level of interaction and manipulation they allow. Given this, I think the iPhone and iPad are under-researched and I would be careful to include them in the same category as other technologies. There is no question that this type of technology is here to stay and that our children learn differently than we did. While I do not think that the iPhone or iPad is developmentally appropriate for infants, I can see some positive aspects for children approximately 18 months and older. Here are some of the areas in which iPhones and iPads are changing the landscape of technology enhanced child development:
Active participants: There are dozens or more apps in the area of early childhood education that provide opportunities for children to manipulate and interact with their environment which passive television watching or even desk-top computers do not afford children. This type of interaction impacts several areas of development including cognition and fine motor skills.
Automated Supports and Adjustments to Individual Learners: There is also the possibility that these apps can guide children’s learning via focused activities to move to the “next step” or “skill level” or adjust to meet a child at their own level of understanding. This is quite similar to the concept of “scaffolding” where children learn from interacting with a teacher, parent or more competent peer.
Books plus: There is no question that exposing children to books and reading to your children starting at birth are the best predictors of early literacy. However, as with all aspects of the iPhone and iPad, the area of technology-based books for children has yet to be examined. iPhone apps offer books – and can supercharge these books with text to speech capability, interactive graphics and multi-media capability. Books become alive… and children can actually be the driving agent in their own adventure.
Parent Involvement and Engagement: Finally, one of the confounding issues when studying the impact of technology on children’s development is that technology is typically used by children alone. Why? Because parents use technology as a means for quieting or distracting their children. However, iPhone and iPads also provide an opportunity for parents to use the apps with their children. If we use the technology with our children, the additional interaction will only enhance their learning and perhaps provide even greater educational benefits.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PARENTS?: All child development experts correctly tell parents to provide their young toddlers and pre-school children with opportunities to explore their environment, manipulate objects, creatively play, and interact with peers. I think we all strive to do that and we should absolutely continue this as a priority. We need to get our children outside and away from the TV, and we need to read to our children every day.
However, this child development expert (and mom of a four year old) believes that iPhones and iPads have untapped potential as a learning tool. If used appropriately, and if the app fits the interests and developmental age of a child, it could be beneficial, especially if parents are supporting their child while they play.
Of course – I would put reasonable limits on iPhone and iPad usage. I would not load up my iPhone with 10 episodes of Sponge and Bob Squarepants and expect there to be any benefit.
TODDLER AND PRE-SCHOOL FREINDLY APPS TO CONSIDER FOR YOUR IPHONE
Here are some suggested apps that are developmentally appropriate and can ease your guilt!
Toddler Teaser Shapes: This app focuses on a simple method of learning shapes. Your child receives reinforcement for correct choices through voice over. If an incorrect answer is given the child is told the name of the shape given and encouraged to try again. After a few correct answers they choose a sticker.
Park Math: This app allows for multiple levels of computation which can be manipulated by a parent or child. For basic math, including counting and ordering, the child manipulates objects to determine the answer. The child receives reinforcement for correct answers.
Alphabet Animals: In this app, each letter of the alphabet is presented in three ways: 1) letter; 2) animal which begins with the letter; and 3) a sentence using alliteration incorporating the animal. It is easy and the child will enjoy listening to the funny sentences. This app is fun for parents to join in and provide scaffolding.
Snowman 3D: This app is a purely fun and provides a creative way to dress a snowman. It goes well with the book Snowballs by Lois Ehlert. I think it’s a good way for a parent to interact with their child and encourage the development of early language skills.
Shape Builder: This app is a virtual puzzle builder which enhances children’s abilities to recognize and discriminate visual patterns. This app also builds early vocabulary and reinforces children’s success.
TeachMe Kindergarten: This app supports early literacy (sight words and spelling) and math (addition and subtraction) skills. A key aspect of this app is the technology promotes scaffolding from one level to the next. I would recommend parent interaction with the app – parents can help children choose appropriate levels and support change to the next level when the child is ready.
Memory Zoo: This app is a virtual example of a memory turnover concentration game with fun zoo animals, which contributes to cognitive development.