Category "Whizzkids"

10Jan2020

“Wooosh!” he roared as he ran through the room, arms outstretched. My son’s feet may not leave the ground, but if you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s flying.

Pretend play is a universal phenomenon and is often thought of as a hallmark of childhood. But did you ever stop to think about how much skill building is going on as your child “flies” around the house, rides a broom “horse,” or puts on a puppet play with his friends?

There are many types of pretend play, and the structure and function of pretend play change throughout the early childhood years.

Toddlers

At around 18 months, toddlers develop the ability to create symbolic relations, such as pretending that a banana is a phone. Although this milestone might seem trivial, substituting one thing for something else requires some sophisticated thinking that’s a precursor for learning in many other domains. For example, both reading and mathematics require children to understand symbolic relations: children must accept that letters stand for sounds, numerals for quantities, and so on. When children pretend that a banana is a phone, they have to ignore many of the banana’s real attributes (that it’s food, that it’s yellow, that has a stem) to view it as a suitable phone. Very importantly, they need to realize that the banana is not a phone, but that it’s representing a phone.

Preschool & up

At some point during the preschool years, or sometimes earlier for children with older siblings, children begin to take on roles or play parts in sociodramatic play. As children take on roles, such as pretending to be a firefighter, or engage in elaborate fantasies with others, such as playing “pirates and princesses,” they become more aware of how others think and feel.

Sometimes sociodramatic play can lead to conflict. When it does, it’s a great opportunity for parents and caregivers to suggest that children negotiate or swap roles (e.g., “ok, now you be the mommy and I’ll be the baby”), take other’s perspectives, and communicate their own wishes.

Tips & activities

  • Stock a dress-up box. Collect clothes, hats, masks and accessories in a large box or chest. You can even make items together, such as a telescope from a toilet paper roll, a cape from a small sheet or baby blanket, and a mask from a paper plate. Encourage kids to dress up, put on shows, take on roles, and engage in sociodramatic play with siblings and friends.
  • Use symbols. Ask children to explore the house, finding everything that they can pretend is a car (or other items of your choice). What objects do they find? What do they all have in common? What happens when you suggest something that looks totally different from a car?
  • Start a narrative. Next time you schedule a play date, arrange for it to have a theme, such as pirates, explorers, superheroes, princesses or athletes. Encourage children to dress up and create props that will enhance the theme. You can use simple story prompts to get children started on some dramatic, such as: “Once upon a time, there was a very ticklish alligator and a cowardly fisherman…” and let them fill in the blanks.
18Apr2019

My daughter has always been a little more on the sensitive side. It takes her a while to warm up to new environments, people, and situations. That’s why I think her transition to child care was so challenging for me, knowing that she was having such a hard time at first. She had the same struggle with her swim lessons—now she really enjoys the class, but still hesitates at the start of each 30-minute session.

Honestly, as her parent, I’ve always considered it more of a benefit, since I know I can trust her (for the most part) to slowly climb off the couch rather than launching herself off it. Or maybe I have a false sense of trust—let’s hope not! But this so-called perk started to take a turn for the worse. Kayla started to use the word scared, and would tell us when she was scared and what she was scared of. Suddenly, she proclaimed a fear of everything: she was scared of the sound of distant sirens of an emergency vehicle, of the ants on the ground, the bumblebees at the park, and of the ceiling fan in our home.

After doing some research, it seems these are some helpful tips for dealing with childhood fears and phobias:

  • Don’t smile at the fear, even if you think it’s cute
  • Acknowledge the fear so they know it’s appropriate to have fears
  • Explain and talk it out

While this all made sense upon my first time reading it, I found myself returning to do more research with new fears popping up almost daily. Has this become a way to get more attention or snuggle time with mom and dad? Is it something we should be concerned about? How have you dealt with your child’s fears and phobias?

17Apr2019

Bright Horizons recently hosted Sparking Empathy in Your Child, a webinar all about how you can set the stage for your child to grow into a kind and caring adult, and ways you can model care and empathy.

As part of the discussion, parents were curious to learn about the age at which can children grasp the concept of giving back. In today’s post, webinar guest speaker Ileen Henderson, M.Ed. national director of the Bright Spaces program, part of the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children, weighs in:

When can kids first understand the importance of volunteer activities? 

Doing good for others can start as early as two years as a child can see a picture of another child without a smile and hear, “This little girl is sad because she doesn’t have any food. We are going to give her some of our food to make her tummy feel full and happy.” This is just one example of how, by using expressive and developmentally appropriate language, through stories, books, or other media, your child can begin to understand experiences others might be having that goes beyond their daily lives. Naming the emotions that others might be feeling in these unique new situations allows your child to develop a story in their minds about how others live, what they might feel and how to help them to feel better.

Mom Teaching Her Child About Volunteering

These conversations, story times, and shared experiences help to lay the groundwork for a true volunteer experience. A child knows when you are interested, excited, and emotionally moved by an experience and your decision to allocate your time to sharing with others is communicated to your children of all ages in a very deep way. Even the youngest child will perceive the feelings of her parent or sibling as they discuss the scenarios of other lives, and express their own feelings of how it might feel to be in someone else’s shoes.

When you do bring a child or youth to a volunteer activity, be sure to discuss it before, read stories, books, news articles, and allow your child to ask questions and have discussions about the new information they will be receiving by being in a new environment. Start where they are in their understanding and take these conversations at the child’s pace.

Finally, in order to help your child to grasp the importance of giving back, try and ensure that volunteering is something your family does throughout the year rather than as a one-time event. Regular volunteering creates the habit of caring and shows that you and your family are interested in others on a regular basis. Volunteering only at holidays sends a message that this is the only time others need our help and, although better than nothing, does not build empathy and compassion into the child’s framework of life. Doing small things all year not only helps create this family paradigm for your children, but also is truly more helpful to others in need, as non-holiday times are often when they need help the most.

16Apr2019

One of my first thoughts, when I found out that I was having a second girl, was “Oh great, they can share a room for forever!” Now, we live in a  two bedroom condo so there would have been a shared room scenario, to begin with anyway, but having two girls definitely seemed like a logistic “win” on the bedroom front.

For our family, it works very well to have our eight-and three-year-old share a bedroom (in fact, they’ve been “roommates,” so to speak, since our youngest was nine months). If you are thinking that a shared room may work for your family, here are some of the pros and cons we’ve encountered during the past two and a half years.

Mom reading to daughters

PROS OF SIBLINGS SHARING A ROOM

  • Sharing a room is just that – sharing. Learning to be gracious and OK with other people touching and playing with your things is a skill that takes practice. Each girl has certain loveys and a couple special things that they do not HAVE to share with each other, but sharing is generally expected and done pretty graciously (most of the time).
  • By sharing a room, I have found that it is a place that facilitates more play between the two. As they get older, I find them playing together more and more in their room.
  • We are a close family, and we hope that they remain close and try to actively support their relationship. Sharing a room creates a team of sorts – they are in it together (literally and figuratively).
  • Our girls don’t like to be alone – they are social creatures. When I asked Fiona (age 8) what was a “pro” to sharing her room with her younger sister Hannah she said, “She keeps me company – I’m less lonely, especially at night” to which I thought, “Yes! It’s working!”

CONS OF SIBLINGS SHARING A ROOM

  • One of the things we’ve bumped into over the past three years of the girls sharing their room is that since there is a five year age difference, there are sometimes vastly different bedtimes. As they’ve gotten older, the time gap has closed a bit and my hope is that one day they go to bed at the same time. We’ve simply had to adjust to bedtime routines to accommodate – for example, we used to read to Fiona while she was in her bed, which we now do elsewhere.
  • Different bedtimes also have meant different wake-up times. Hannah is an early riser – often around 5:30 a.m. (which is not good for anyone) so we had to work with her to not go and shake her sister’s bed and wake her up too. This has gotten easier as she’s gotten older but when I asked Fiona for a “con” to sharing the room, this was her #1 answer.
  • While I did say that they mostly share graciously, they fight about sharing, and taking each other’s stuff without asking…the stuff all siblings fight about. I’m quite sure that they would do this anyway, but I have noticed that most of their fighting also happens in their room.
  • As they get older, they get bigger and so does their stuff (beds, clothes, etc.) but the room does not. We’ve had to be very conscientious about how we set their room up to accommodate growing kids. Bunk beds are in effect.
  • Since they are such different ages, their needs for privacy are different. We do foresee a time that Fiona will crave and need more privacy then a shared room allows. What 15-year-old wants her 10-year-old sister there all the time?

We are actually in the process of moving into a three bedroom condo which will allow our family a bit more room. We have decided (all of us, including the girls) that the two of them sharing a room is still the way we want to go so clearly the pros for our family still outweigh the cons. I not-so-secretly hope they always do.

15Apr2019

I love how each day is like a new adventure for my almost three year-old son, Cab. Sure, like most of us he isn’t a fan of getting out of bed in the morning – most of the time I am greeted with “one more minute mommy,” but once he’s ready to go it’s on!

Recently, a new adventure came into our horizon: preschool. Now, as a child who has been in child care since 12 weeks, transitioning to a new program is not something new for our family. But, this one was different. It reminded my husband and I of the saying “big fish, little pond.” See, Cab had become the big fish in his toddler room, not only physically, but mentally. The signs all pointed that it was the right time to do the toddler to preschool transition, but we knew since he was so self-aware that it would be a tricky one.

With the guidance and support from our center leadership, Cab’s toddler teachers, and soon-to-be preschool teacher, a transition plan was laid out. We made an effort at pick up those last few weeks of toddlers to swing by his new preschool classroom and do a bit of exploring on our own time. With Cab, communication is key, so as a family we talked (and talked, and talked) about the transition, his new classroom, the friends he would see that went on before him, and his preschool teacher.

When the big day came, we were ready.

Was he still upset? Sure. Did he have a great time still? Absolutely. We could have prepared ourselves for years for this moment, but it still would have not been easy. It doesn’t matter if you’re 35 or 3, change is difficult. But, what we did find is that all that planning and long conversations, it helped – a ton. Cab settled into preschool within the first week. Now, a few weeks in, he is so comfortable in his new space and teacher, it’s like he has been there for years.

A big part of any transition is preparing your child, but I also encourage you to don’t let yourself get lost in the shuffle. This is a big move, for them and you – give yourself grace through it. So whether it is a night of take-out the day before the big move, or a glass of wine at the end of the first week, sit back and relax, because you got this.

14Apr2019

Summer Learning Activity Ideas

Check out these clever family activities and tactics for keeping kids learning over the summer:

  • Become a “tourist” in your town or in nearby cities. There are many learning opportunities if you go to places and do things you wouldn’t normally do every day.
  • Visit a nursing home or veteran’s home and spend an hour listening to stories from the older generation.
  • If reading is one of the subjects you’d like to continue to encourage, many local libraries host summer reading programs for school-age kids during the summer months.
  • Adding a little more responsibility to their day is a great way to keep kids’ brains engaged. Ask them to write out your shopping lists, count out the money at the store, or count and sort your bedside coin collection.
  • Nature hikes can provide a ton of science exploration. But make full preparations to protect yourselves from this summer heat.
  • On a sunny summer day, take the kids out to the driveway with some colourful sidewalk chalk. You can let them draw pictures, play games (tic-tac-toe, etc.), write their names or the names of what they see around them, and so much more. It’s the perfect combination of being outdoors while developing creativity and other valuable skills.
  • Form a parent-child book group – it keeps children interested in reading, part of a team with goals and it can inspire additional learning.

 

Happy Summer!

13Apr2019

How can you help a child take more accountability for his or her own actions?

Accountability is defined as “the obligation to bear the consequences for failure to perform as expected.” In this definition, we can learn the best way to build this into parenting. Accountability and consequences are both important to remember. Accountability relies on a child understanding what is expected. Clear, developmentally appropriate guidelines for behavior are necessary from the earliest years. This set of messages, holds the answer for teaching a child first, how to know what is expected, and then to help a child when they fail to achieve the expectation.

As with everything in parenting, this starts with a parent reflecting on themselves. Have I clearly articulated what the expectation of behavior is to my child? This means using simple and unambiguous words, using body language and other nonverbal cues and modeling the behavior yourself. For instance, when you ask a three-year-old to be good at school, what does that mean to him? Have you defined what ‘good’ looks like in that setting? Does it account for all the variables that he may encounter during the day at school? If you instead say, ‘be kind to other children today’, does he know what that expectation looks like? If he has ideas based on your prior conversations about what the expectations for good, or kind, look like, and if he has seen you be good or kind in similar situations, and if he is developmentally able to handle those expectations, then you have the beginning of accountability. If you feel you have laid the groundwork for the expectations, she understands them and still does not achieve them, and then you have more work to do. First, always acknowledge the child’s emotions and intentions. None of us is perfect and hearing your acknowledgment goes a long way to feeling understood and will build your child’s desire to get it right next time.

If your child hurts another child you can begin with, “I see you are sad and frustrated with yourself. It can be very hard to control your body when you are angry. Many people struggle with this, too.”

Then help your children take another perspective on the situation. “Let’s talk about how the other child felt when you hurt him. What are some other ways you could have handled that situation? What do you think you can do to help him to feel better?” Not too much talk, keep it short and sweet.

Finally, finish the conversation with an appropriate consequence that is logical to the event, that is not a surprise to your child and that you can follow through with. “You were angry and your hurt your friend.  You feel sad and know that you will talk to your friend next time. You decided to give your friend a hug to feel better. You need to stop playing the game now because you were not able to play safely. Tomorrow you can play again and I know you will make better choices. What other activity would you like to choose now?”

In that encounter, you have ensured that the child clearly understands the expectations. You have validated her feelings but not her actions and helped her to see the event through the other person’s eyes and decide on a way to help the other child to feel better. You have helped your child think of alternative strategies for next time BUT you have also required that they experience the logical consequence of their behavior. This may seem overly complicated but the more you use this technique early in your parenting, the less you will need to use it. Hopefully, as your child gets older, he will come to you and say, “I messed up. I lost my temper. I know what I will do differently and I have helped my friend.” Then you may have to apply the logical consequence or they may do it themselves. Creating this internal conversation for your child builds the very important skills of self-control, problem-solving, self-awareness and accountability.

12Apr2019

I lived at the playground when I was younger. Those were the days when the metal slides were long, the swings went super high, and the tire swing whirled uncontrollably with 4-5 kids hanging on for dear life. Playgrounds have changed in recent years. Slides and swings have gotten shorter and long gone are the merry-go-rounds, large jungle gyms, and teeter totters. I’ve always thought of that as a good thing for the safety of my children. In fact, when we stumble upon an older playground in rural towns, I immediately feel unsure if I should allow my kids to play at them. But recently I been reading articles about the loss of these classic playground structures and why playground play is so important for kids – even in their new state.

When Owen (age 3) was recently evaluated to have some sensory processing issues, I immediately began research on it. The first thing we did was create a quiet space for him to go when he needed to cool down and decompress. During my research, I stumbled upon Angela Hanscom, an occupational therapist who started a nature-based development program for children. Her solution for enhancing children’s sensory processing is giving them access to challenging outdoor play in unstructured nature settings and on playgrounds. She recently received a lot of press for her Washington Post article about the need for longer recess time in school.

She writes,

In order to create actual changes to the sensory system that results in improved attention over time, children NEED to experience what we call “rapid vestibular (balance) input” on a daily basis. In other words, they need to go upside down, spin in circles, and roll down hills. They need authentic play experiences that get them moving in all different directions in order to stimulate the little hair cells found in the vestibular complex (located in the inner ear). If children do this on a regular basis and for a significant amount of time, then (and only then) will they experience the necessary changes needed to effectively develop the balance system–leading to better attention and learning in the classroom.”

I always thought of playgrounds as a place to sap kids’ energy but now I know there’s a deeper process happening there. So that’s what we’ve been doing – going to our local playground and swinging on our outdoor playset as much as possible. And, you know what? It’s been amazing.

Owen and I like to go on the tandem swing together. When we first get on, he is all over the place and unfocused. After a few minutes, he starts talking about his day. Then silence follows with comments about birds he hears and the sounds of leaves blowing on the trees. After still more time, he gets in his zone and starts making up stories about the woods. When we get off, he’s calmer and more focused and can (mostly) make it through dinner without a temper tantrum or angry outburst. And, as an extra bonus, it’s therapeutic for me after a long day at work.

It’s been a similar experience at the traditional playground. We are lucky to live near one that was built fully handicap-accessible and has the playground equipment that spins, challenges, and encourages movement in all directions – a great combination for children’s play and health!

What’s your experience been – have you found playground play to be important for your kids?

 

12Apr2019

Max is 6 1/2 and has had one play date his entire life. It was short and it hasn’t been repeated. Another time we invited the same boy to go to a baseball game with us. Max talked about the directions of where we were were going (the roads, the exits we were taking) the entire ride, which the boy totally tuned out, then ended up wanting to leave the game early, so his friend stayed at the game by himself with my husband. I’m not sure I’d call that a success either. Max struggles with peer social skills.

So when I had the idea to invite some of Max’s soccer team and their families over to our house during the off-season, I was really nervous. Saturday afternoon soccer has become an important part of our lives. It is something that helped all of us, families of children with special needs, feel like we were experiencing the same as our typical peers…Saturday afternoons, cheering our kids on the field. The non-soccer siblings play together, the parents chat and our kids learn basic soccer and teamwork skills. Knowing we were going to miss that during the winter, I suggested to a few families that we have a rotating play group. Each family could take turns hosting and we could meet once a month until soccer starts again in the spring.

This Saturday was our first group. It was at our house. I almost cancelled that morning because I was so worried about how it would go. Would the kids be okay walking up and down the stairs to our basement playroom? Would Ben pitch a fit because all of these strangers were playing with his toys? Would I be able to entertain the adults, plus make sure the kids were safe and happy? I didn’t cancel and I’m so glad for that because it was a really great afternoon. It allowed my husband and I to get to know the other families better and it allowed the kids to interact with each other in a way they are not used to (like I said, our kids aren’t getting invited to many play dates or birthday parties).

There were a few things that I found helpful when hosting a playgroup for children with special needs:

1. Plan an easy activity.

I attended a workshop once about children with Autism and play dates. One of the takeaways was that unlike most children their age, these kids can’t simply “go play.” They just don’t know how. So having an easy activity with clear instructions and guidance can help keep things together. I searched Pinterest for an easy craft and just set it up in one of the rooms. It helped serve as both a nice ice breaker when people first arrived, as well as a quiet, calming activity for when some of the kids, Max included, needed to step away from the chaos.

2. If people ask if they can bring something, say yes.

This group has a lot of food restrictions; some are gluten free, while another has to follow the Ketogenic Diet. By allowing others to bring a snack, it’s guaranteed there will be something there their child can eat.

3. Plan a beginning and an end time, no longer than two hours.

Our group was from 2-4 p.m. which I specified on the invite. It was the perfect amount of time to play and chat, and families were able to enjoy the evening doing whatever they wanted.

4. Relax.

Things might get spilled or kids might jump on your couch. As long as everyone is safe, it’s fine. More than one mom said that it was the first time in a long time she had fun at a family event because the environment was so relaxed and she didn’t have to worry about her child causing harm or breaking too strict house rules.

5. Book the next one before the first one ends.

If all goes well, line someone up to host the next month. That way it’s already on the books and won’t fall victim to other plans.

It’s really important to give our kids these experiences. Social skills classes are one thing, but being able to practice those skills in real life situations are another.

11Apr2019

At Whizzkids, we’ve talked a lot about some of the essential milestones that preschoolers should strive to meet before kindergarten. However, we know that this can be a bit intimidating for some parents. Two things that we commonly hear from parents are how can we best support our child be ready for kindergarten? and is there anything that we can do at home to help?

We’ve compiled some activities that promote kindergarten readiness, while also being developmentally appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers to try. Try these activities at home with your young one, and enroll your child with Whizzkids Preschool today.

FLYSWATTER MATH

Materials Needed: Poster or whiteboard, marker, flyswatter(s)

Skills Addressed: Number identification

Write the numbers 1-10 onto a poster or whiteboard. To start, you might want to practice by writing them all in order, and in a line that can be read (from left to right). Say the numbers in order first, having your child practice hitting them with a flyswatter.

When they’ve eventually mastered this skill, write the numbers in random order, all over the poster or whiteboard. Call out numbers in an equally random order, and have your child hit the number when they recognize it. Eventually, your preschooler could race against you or another preschooler — though this will require some coaching and conversation about winning and losing and being a good sport. If your child’s not ready for that last step, that’s OK too!

Flyswatter Math can also be great later on for mastering math facts (such as saying “2×3” and kids hitting the correct answer), as well as identifying letters.

FOLLOW THE LEADER

Materials Needed: No materials, but this game works best with at least 3 people

Skills Addressed: Social skills, taking turns, verbalizing commands

You’ve probably played this game when you were a kid, and while it might seem boring for older kids, it’s an excellent opportunity for social practice for the littlest ones. Start out by being the leader and modelling for younger kids, moving all around and making new commands and actions. Hopping, jumping, skipping, crawling, crab-walking — the sky’s the limit!

Eventually, begin to model taking turns by choosing a new person to be the leader. Talk about playing fair and choosing someone who hasn’t had a chance to lead yet. Additionally, play around with verbalizing commands as well as having “silent round” — both are great for kids to work on their listening and copying skills. Does your younger one need some work on their manners? Make a new rule that all the commands from the leader need to have “please” first, like “please start hopping.”