The 4 Essential B’s of Early Childhood

When working in the homes of families as an EI therapist I notice many things about a family. The longer I’ve done this work in the family’s natural environment, I’ve become more accurate in picking up small cues about the family…things like, What they value. What time of day they like best. What they want to learn from me and our session. What their comfort level is with a therapist sitting on their floor and jumping into their daily routines. The list really could go on forever.

And as a self described people watcher, I’ve come to know that 1) These things really matter in helping me to do a good job, and 2) They vary GREATLY from family to family. There are very few consistent trends when it comes to my interactions with families in their space…with a few exceptions. The largest exception I see is a parent’s desire to make sure their child has what “they need.” This desire seems universal to me. I’m often asked to recommend toys, asked if they have the “right things,” and asked to make gift recommendations for upcoming birthdays or holidays. Despite family income, I see a trend in family’s feeling that their child needs STUFF. And I understand it. Because I am a mom.  And I also love toys. And because the companies that market to us as parents want us to think that MORE is MORE.

As therapists, we believe the opposite – LESS IS MORE. Here’s why. A child can more easily access and interact with fewer number or toys that are organized with their corresponding parts. Hear me – this does not mean designer toy organization (unless you want it to), but this could mean using bins and boxes or separate areas on shelves (more tips HERE). It just means that toys, which are the TOOLS for learning, have an intended purpose for the age/developmental stage and that we don’t need 50 toys that do the same thing. Note that the recommended toy age is not always developmentally correct. It’s being set by marketers not pediatricians or developmental therapists with different goals in mind. Just because that box says 3-6 months, does not mean the toy is developmentally appropriate for a 3-6 month old baby. (Interested in what real development looks like at each stage and how to pair it with purposeful play and creative materials?  Check out 1-2-3 Just Play With Me We have done that work for you.)

When discussing this, we often talk about THE 4 ESSENTIAL B’S OF EARLY CHILDHOOD. And we’ve challenged ourselves with this question:

What developmental milestone could you not achieve between 0-3 years of age with simply BOOKS, a BALL, a BABYDOLL, and BLOCKS? 

Literally we’ve sat around the room with other therapists and challenged ourselves with this question (desperately nerdy, I know) and we can’t find one single milestone.

Quick examples (But the options are endless):

BOOKS:  Early literacy, labeling of objects, visual focus, turning pages for fine motor activities, turn taking, pointing. (Some of our favorites HERE and HERE and Toddler Reading Tips HERE. (We REALLY love books!)

BALL: Hand eye coordination, grasp/release, turn taking, language, social anticipation and peer play, balance and coordination, joint attention.

BABYDOLL: Imaginative play skills, labeling body parts, fine motor strengthening with dressing, social emotional practice of emotion sharing.

BLOCKS: oral motor exploration, cause and effect (knocking down), stacking, jumping over, counting, role play when using as other objects (cell phone, people), patterning, spatial awareness. More on the importance of blocks HERE.

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As a parent, I encourage you to shed the cloak of stress that “my kid needs more.” Our kids need us. Embrace that thought. It’s quite freeing and leads to memory making experiences no toy can replace.

As a therapist, I encourage other therapists to spread this message. I sat with a young first time, young  mom yesterday who asked me to go through a laundry basket filled with an array of toys she had been gifted, purchased, or had been handed down. She, like many parents I know, stressed she didn’t have enough or the right things for her child. We went through that bin together and identified what he might learn from those toys at this stage of development and which might encourage him to do the next exciting thing. And she boxed up the things he had outgrown, was too young for, or had too much of. She was so relieved and I was so excited for her and her child.

Spring cleaning leaves room for new growth. That holds true for our little ones too. Shed the rest and see what fun you can experience today with our 4 essential B’s!

Stairway to FUN! (safely)

As a pediatric physical therapist working in an early intervention setting, I spend a good amount of time on the stairs. Steep stairs, wide stairs, narrow stairs, wooden stairs, carpeted stairs, baby gate, no gate, one flight of steps, steps broken into two segments, rail on left, rail on right, no rail at all, no steps at all! I’ve studied construction of steps almost as much as my contractor father. I’ve also learned that parents have as many different views on steps as they do on nutrition and discipline. Some are so fearful of their child falling down steps that they are off limits all together. Others refuse a baby gate reasoning that the steps are there so they need to learn to be safe as soon as possible. And then there is everything in between.

If you are a parent with a child ready to take off (and up and over the horizon) of the steps in your home, we have a few tips to share:

 

  • Allowing your child to learn to crawl up and down the steps is am important pre-curser to walking them. It allows for the cognitive experience of learning the depth of the step, the distance, the texture etc. through exploration of movement and touch.
  • Before you let your child crawl up all the steps, let them practice crawling up and down one small “step” in the middle of the room – diaper boxes and small plastic bins work beautifully.
  • Like stepping, crawling down is typically harder than going up. Moving backwards without relying on your vision to see where you are going is not natural but is the safer option rather than scooting facing forward! Modeling to baby (siblings or yes, you yourself) can help!
  • Children may chose to walk up and down with both hands on the wall or rail (side stepping) or one (forward stepping). One is not better than the other – allow what feels natural to the child.
  • SAFETY is essential. We encourage use of baby gates until your child is proficient and that an adult always stands below the child when practicing.
  • Often times, especially with carpeted steps, the flight of steps appears as one big ramp to children. This may be particularly true if there is any visual challenges with depth perception. Lining the steps with colored masking tape or duct tape and placing a favorite sticker in the middle of each, may help highlight each step as individual and make the task of walking down less scary (and maybe even fun).

Just yesterday I was working with a child who would walk up the steps but not down. Her mother described her as “a mule,” digging her heels in and refusing to walk down no matter what motivators the family tried. Problem is, she is getting too big to carry down the steps. I know she is strong enough to descend a step because she does so with a single step into the home and for fun off an exercise step. So we lined the steps with tape yesterday and placed a snow man sticker on each and she literally walked down on the first try!

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I hope that these few simple tips make stair climbing fun and safe within your daily routines. We devote a generous portion of our gross motor cards (the pretty green ones) in 1-2-3 Just Play With Me to stair walking. If you don’t have a copy, make sure you get yours today! We share detailed milestones in 5 developmental domains with fun, purposeful play suggestions in a simple practical format – perfect for a parent or pediatric professional!

 

OUR GIFT to #ASHA15 Customers!

We are packing our bags and headed to DENVER!  This year’s National ASHA Conference is the biggest conference we have attended and we are thrilled and honored to be among 12,000 Speech Therapists as speakers and as vendors! We hope if you are attending, you will come see us at BOOTH #358 where we will be sharing all we have to offer, including:

1-2-3 Just Play With Me (print and digital) – Print copy at a discounted conference rate!

PLAY BUILDS BRAINS coffee mugs

Customized Developmental Checklists

To celebrate this MILESTONE event for our company, we are sharing our joy in several ways, including:

A FREE TOY OF THE DAY TREAT to use in your work as an SLP (while supplies last!)

An INCREDIBLE daily and grand prize drawing for therapists purchasing 1-2-3 Just Play With Me — you could go home with an inspiring and beautiful bracelet, new stylish totes for your therapy gear, and resources (books, toys, games – including resources from Scanlon Speech Therapy) to fill those totes, PLUS a KINDLE FIRE with the ebook version of 1-2-3 Just Play With Me on it!

See flyer below for pictures of all these great goodies!

ADDITIONALLY – if you purchase 1-2-3 Just Play With Me at ASHA ’15 (which will will ship for FREE to your home or office  – no need  to fill your carry on with our beautiful box!), you will receive a FREE set of useful handouts to use with parents and teachers/staff.  We’ve created detailed handout like the one below on our TOP 10 TOPICS (aka the things we repeat OVER and OVER as therapists!) So let us help you reinforce your message with having your own copies of these on your computer to reuse as many times as you like!

Topics incude:

  1. BYE BYE BINKIE (Risks of prolonged sucking and strategies for weaning)
  2. READ ALL ABOUT IT (Benefits and tips for daily literacy)
  3. TUMMY TIME TIPS (Benefits & tips for tummy time)
  4. ALL ABOUT PLAY (Information for parents of staying focused on play based activities)
  5. THE WONDERS OF BLOCK PLAY (A beautiful picture graphic on the many uses of blocks)
  6. IS TV SAFE FOR BABY? (Guidelines and education on screens and the young child)
  7. WHAT DOES READY FOR KINDERGARTEN MEAN ANYWAY? (Education & tips on pre-K play based readiness)
  8. PICTURE THIS (Education & tips for picture based communication) 
  9. LEARNING TO SPEAK (Articulation Development)
  10. TOY TIPS (Support on choosing toys with a developmental purpose and setting up a play space). 

 

We are proud to be with you at ASHA ’15 as your #1 PLAY advocates! So come have fun with us. BOOTH #358 is the place to be for FUN, useful education, & practical resources! Follow the butterfly & come PLAY with us in Denver!

All the kiddos independent — Throw your hands up at me!

You ever have those moments as a parent, where a realization about your children, your parenting, or your family existence is just IN YOUR FACE? And no matter how busy you are or what situation or setting you are in – it just seems to keep resurfacing?

I’m not sure why this happens, but for our family it does. And lately the reoccurring theme is independence.

A little background info for you – upon self reflection, I’d probably rate my husband and I as middle of the road in terms of expectations for our kids and how much they do on their own. We didn’t spoon feed them for years but they could also be doing more chores for sure.  Let’s be honest, sometimes in the hustle or real life, it’s just EASIER to do it for them then to be patient enough to let them practice doing it on their own.

But lately, as the mother of a 9 or 11 year old, even though I feel real pangs of longing for my former chubby toddlers wanting to sit on my lap for story after story after story, I also have a real urgency to make them STEP UP and start doing a little more on their own. I guess this is why they call it the TWEEN phase, right?

Anyway, we encourage our daughters to order for themselves at restaurants and have for years. Our oldest started doing laundry this year. They have to keep their rooms clean and do a few simple chores. Helping pack lunches and cook is a work in progress. My gut tells me they should be doing a little more for themselves. Yet at times when we nudge them to do the simplest of things, they FREAK OUT.

Here’s an example.

Yesterday we had to stop at the store to buy some poster board for yet another school project. Mostly because we wanted them to accomplish buying it on their own, and partly because I had on fuzzy socks with tennis shoes and sweats and my husband wanted to alter his fantasy football roster, we decided they needed to buy it themselves. We pulled up to the door, handed them cash, and reminded them where they could find poster board in the store.

You are joking, right?

No, I’m quite serious.

But, MOOOOOOM, we are kids.

Yes, and you are quite capable kids – go buy it.

But Mom, there are video cameras in the store!

Exactly, if you cause trouble or someone gives you trouble, you’ll be supervised, now go!

But Mom, parents don’t do this. It’s not ok for you to send kids into a store alone. People will wonder where our parents are.

Tell them we are in the car.

Seriously Mom, you aren’t joking about this?

Girls, when I was your age, I walked 4 blocks to buy candy by myself.

But that was a LOOOONG time ago. That’s not what happens now.

Get in the store or we are taking your electronics.

I would like to say I had super Mom powers and patiently motivated my children to feel empowered and self driven to independently shop for THEIR school supplies alone. It took a threat. I was impatient, annoyed, and we had places to be.

The experience led us to a good family discussion, including the fact that we have to let them have small experiences, within safe boundaries, with increasing independence to become successful and self sufficient adults one day. The problem is it’s not always easy to know how much independence and at what age. I often wonder how much to push, and how much to support.

When I am working as a Physical Therapist teaching parents to encourage their child to learn to walk up the steps, I often say, “I know when you are in a hurry this won’t work, but at least a few times a day, when you have time, let them practice the steps with you close by, but don’t carry them. They need practice to be able to do it by themselves.”

We as adults didn’t wake up with the ability to ride a bike, settle a disagreement with friends or co-workers, tie our own shoes, walk up the steps, or even go into a store and buy something. Our experiences, practice, and space to try and even mess up at times, gave us an opportunity to reflect on what went well, what did not, and how we would change things the next time we tried that new skill. If we hover, if we do it for them, if we spoon feed too long, they won’t have the chance to gain independence, self confidence, and succeed.  I don’t want kids that continue to freak out in fear when nudged to do things for themselves, do you? I’m declaring today INDEPENDENCE DAY!

How old is your child? Do you need to nudge them to be more independent or are they already wanting to take off running on their own? 1-2-3 Just Play With Me includes the 5 domains of child development – 1 being FINE MOTOR where we have included many self help skills. Let us help make understanding when it is typical for your baby to do things more on their own easy for you! Get your copy today and easily understand development while pairing milestones with practical and fun play ideas!

 

 

Reteaching my brain and listening to my body so I can help my patients do the same: A review of TMR TOTS

“Educating yourself does not mean you were stupid in the first place; it means you were intelligent enough to known there is plenty left  to learn.” -Melanie Joy

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This weekend I spent about 18 hours on the floor in yoga clothes, on yoga mats, holding and twisting baby dolls with black electrical tape on them, and rolling, rubbing, and positioning other people (some I know, some I didn’t before Saturday). PT’s are weirdly awesome. We learn by doing. By seeing. Be feeling. By proving things to be correct…to be good enough to be worth our time, but more importantly to be worthy of making a difference for our patients.

I have be a long time internet stalker of the TMR Method – more specifically – TMR TOTS (the version for baby lovers like me!). It’s been a course that I have wanted to take for a long time, after hearing rave reviews from other therapists, and after hearing MANY refer to methods taught in this course with a sense of common vocabulary. As a PT I felt I was missing out on the secret and I wanted to see for myself.

A great slide with a great reminder!

A great slide with a great reminder!

Without getting into tremendous detail, these methods beautifully weave neurological principals long proven by science to be true, reinforcing what therapists have seen themselves to be successfully with a concept foreign and new to some (like me): making improvements in function, flexibility, posture, and showing increased range of motion without “stretching.” My brain couldn’t process this at first.

 No pain?

No “work?”

No “hold it 5, 10, 30 seconds?”

No “feel the burn?” 

I mean, they don’t call us PT’s (aka Physical Terrorists) for nothing? I was skeptical, then inquisitive, then curious (in between the 1st and 2nd days of the course, my first and favorite lab partner (my college roomie who came to take the course with me) and I assessed my children, husband, and mother in law – with a burning sense of expectation that it wouldn’t work with at least ONE of them.

Practicng at home. Sorry for the PJs - long day!

Practicng at home. Sorry for the PJs – long day!

They all improved. Every one. My mother in law could come to standing with ease and less pain. My husband and children all have increased hip motions where tight hamstrings have long limited them in various ways. So then I started questioning (long term carry over? children with neurologic tone?). And then I got to see before my own eyes and feel with my own hands one of my current patients be treated by Susan Blum – the gentle, patient, and wise PT – who teaches this career changing course. And I submitted. As I did I actually felt guilty that I didn’t have this knowledge for the past 14 years. This old dog learned a new trick and I can’t wait to practice what I learned this week and see what the results are on my patients!

If you are a therapist, I urge you to check it out. The differences we could all collectively make with this knowledge is pretty mind blowing. I’m eager to learn more and to see what we saw and felt replicated and proven in published studies.

If you are a parent with a child with challenges caused by movement – I urge you to seek out a therapist with the training. I wish every child I ever treated had the opportunity to give it a try.

A main component of TMR is to “go to the easy side,”  and “watch, listen, and feel what the body wants to do.” I sat and processed this a bit…and at a deeper level. When we feed our nervous systems with sensory input that our bodies need, we regulate, and function optionally. When we allow movement in the ways I learned about this weekend, our bodies start to correct themselves.  How many times in my life have I pushed my mind, body, and heart out of what it wanted to do? How about you?

Over worked?

Over scheduled?

Under-exercised?

Over-exercised?

Poor nutrition? and hydration?

Wrong choices for wrong motives?

Neglecting my people for reasons that don’t matter?

Judging myself by unfair standards?

My husband claims I have an “inner hippie,” and maybe he’s right (and maybe it’s laughable – go ahead) but I do think people and experiences come to you or are sent to you as you need them. Tomorrow my daughters return to school and as I’ve shared before, a new school year or more like New Year’s Day for me than the holiday. I love fresh starts and new chances for healthy starts….for chances to listen to what your body, mind, and soul are telling you.

As they go off to school, I will shift into working more and having more time during the day to pour into my “other kids.” Thanks to TMR, I have an incredible new skill set to practice and learn with. I also have a reminder to “go to my easy side” as I tackle the mom role of hectic schedules, a much quicker pace, and on the never ending quest for “balance” (in parenthesis because I don’t think it exists).

I am thankful that my body keeps telling me I have so much left to learn! What is yours telling you?

One of my favorite slides from the course.

One of my favorite slides from the course.

 

EXPLORE, PLAY, GROW: Our visit to see Winter The Dolphin

We are kicking off a new feature on our blog called Explore. Play. Discover, a series of blog posts sharing our reviews of fun places to play. We hope this series will help not just with vacation or field trip planning, but will also bring exposure to incorporating play into your travel fun.

For our first entry, we are sharing our recent visit to Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This marine rescue center and aquarium is located in Clearwater, Florida, and although it has been in operation for years, it was made famous by the Dolphin Tale movies. The popularity of the movies has certainly increased the number of visitors to the aquarium and has increased funds to improve the facilities and services.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium was easy to find and we were able to find (free) parking close to the entrance because we arrived early. Visitors arriving later park farther away. General Admission pricing is $21.95 for adults, $16.95 for children, $19.95 for seniors, and children under 2 are free. The kids were super excited to see the actual houseboat filmed in the movie outside the aquarium and loved pointing out the features they remembered.

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While my 9 and 11 year old were overly excited to see Winter (the Dolphin famously rescued), we were all pleasantly surprised by the other experiences offered. We got a tour of the animal hospital and the well educated volunteers showed us a huge board that tracks when animals were brought in, from where, what their injuries are, and when their expected release is planned. We saw a sea turtle brought in a few days earlier with a cracked shell that was bandaged and resting. We learned that sea turtles are at risk for a virus similar to HPV in humans and that their center is one of a few in Florida that perform laser surgery to remove harmful growths caused by the virus. Our daughters got to hold a bucket filled with the amount of fish a dolphin eats daily. We learned that anyone from the Coast Guard to boaters can call if they spot injured marine life and that Clearwater Marine Aquarium goes out to rescue them.

Next, we made a beeline for the VIPS of this place, Winter and Hope (we could hardly hold the kids back). They are in the tanks that they were filmed in during the movie and were separated at first and then joined together. Trainers on a microphone shared with the crowd the daily routines and care of both dolphin and we got to observe Winter getting therapy to help his prosthetic continue to fit. She didn’t seem to mind the stretches! The kids got to hold an examine one of Winter’s prosthetic tales, which was incredibly cool!

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Next to their tanks were sea turtles with missing limbs, damaged shells and several sea otters. One was paralyzed when hit by a car and could swim with only the top half of his body. Another was raised by a man living on a fishing boat for a year (frowned upon by marine staff) until it “got a bit out of control” and they explained this sea otter acts very odd due to it’s early experiences (See what we do in those first few years really is THAT important!). We also saw the loud and noisy bird, Ricky, that was in the video and another dolphin that had been injured similarly to Winter. There were several stations where we could touch and see small aquatic animals and plants, including sting rays (75% of us was brave enough), and ask questions There were also several tanks with a variety of fish and even some sharks.

This location also included (of course) a gift shop with a variety of souvenirs. We didn’t buy any but my favorite was a plush Winter whose tail could come on/off. We did cave to buy photos of the kids made using a green screen, which were pricey but precious at $30 for both, but too cute to pass up! Towards the entrance of the aquarium they sold limited drinks and concessions and snow cones for enjoying outside under a tent.

Fairly new to Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a second spot a few miles away where they showcase features from the Dolphin Tale movies called Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure. We took an open-air trolley to this location (included with the general admission) and did not have to wait long for the ride there or back. At this location, we saw artifacts from the movie (Sawyers bike, the kitchen and bedroom from his house etc.) and could walk through a simulated hurricane (full with high winds, noise, and water). This only took a few minutes but was fun! This location did have a slightly larger refreshment stand, where we enjoyed ice cream and popcorn. I believe there may have been hot pretzels and hotdog type foods too. There was a hands on area for younger children where smaller climbing structures were available and children could write a letter to Winter.   A nice surprise was that Cozi Zuehlsdorff, the actress that played Hazel Haskett in Dolphin Tale was visiting and did a Q&A session and a meet-n-greet.

I would certainly recommend Clearwater Marine Aquarium as a great option for a family activity. Here are a few details to consider:

 

TIME NEEDED: I’d allow ~2 hours if you only do the main animal hospital and ~3-4 hours if you visit the location dedicated to the movies.

 

AGES APPROPRIATE FOR: There’s really something here for everyone and I did see small babies that would enjoy the visuals, but overall, I’d say this is most appropriate for 2-3 years old and up, with 6 and up likely able to fully understand the educational component (of course we believe even babies learn from their environment).  ** The hurricane simulation might be scary for younger children.

 

ADDITIONAL TIPS: If going in prime sun hours, take sunscreen. The top deck and waiting areas for the trolley are outside. We enjoyed lunch afterwards at Frenchies with cousins we were visiting. They suggested this beachy local chain (and it was quite good). Interestingly, the kids insisted on watching Dolphin Tale that evening and noticed Frenchies is mentioned in the movie, so I guess you could say we had a fully authentic Dolphin Tale adventure.

 

DEVELOPMENTAL SCORE: (we decided to add this is a potential 5 star rating system, scoring how many developmentally appropriate, hands on, movement or sensory based activities are offered). We give Clearwater Marine Aquarium 5/5 stars! ★★★★★

 

BANG FOR THE BUCK: Considering there were two locations to visit, multiple hands on experiences, major educational experiences, well educated engaging volunteers and staff, and that we were in Florida at an attraction and we didn’t stand in line or feel Closter phobic, it was certainly worth the money we spent. When you consider that part of your admission funds care of these animals — it is icing on the cake!

 

Most interestingly to me, is that in the movie many children with physical and mobility challenges, including amputees visit Winter and Clearwater Marine Aquarium. While this touched both myself (a PT) and my husband (an OT), we figured it was sprinkled in as Hollywood’s “glitter” to bring he movie full circle. I was pleasantly surprised to see for myself that it was actually true, as many times during our visit I caught myself checking out a kid’s sleek gait trainer or wheelchair and noticing orthotics.   I have to say it was even sweeter in real life to observe the look on these little warriors faces as they watched animals preserve the same ways they do. So if you are a therapist, or simply a sucker for underdogs winning big time, you may experience the same joy on your visit!

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Here at Milestones & Miracles, LLC we BELIEVE that PLAY is the way we all learn, but especially young children and most certainly when encouraged by an involved parent. If you believe in play to learn too, check out 1-2-3 Just Play With Me (the perfect resource made by therapists and moms!).

Kid’s Books that are NOT Just for Kids

GetAttachment-2.aspxI love kid’s lit.  Probably more than adult lit, if I’m being honest.  I’m a self-confessed kids’ book junkie and I get it honestly from my mother.  My kids own an insane amount of books (mostly purchased by my mom) and we visit the library on a regular basis to borrow more books we have yet to read.  Together my kids and I (and their Daddy) have enjoyed daily before bed books since each were old enough to sit in my lap.  We have read every genre of picture books (if picture books even have genres!):  classics, fairytales, nursery rhymes, comedy, books with moral lessons, books that teach safety, books about friendship, mysteries, kiddie graphic novels and so on.

But amongst all the titles we have enjoyed there are a few (hundred) we could read over and over and over again.  Classics, by our standards, that contain humor, silliness and entertainment for both child and parent alike.  I encourage you to hunt up these titles at your local library to enjoy some snuggles and giggles with your little ones.  You won’t regret it 🙂

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What does READY for Kindergarten really mean?

Yesterday I volunteered at Kindergarten Registration at my daughter’s elementary school.

As I sat there watching the children march from station to station (either proudly or with nudging) with their parents behind them, I had a rush of mixed emotions. I was excited for the journey they are all ready to start at such an incredible place to learn. I couldn’t help myself from sharing, “Do you know you are going to come to the BEST SCHOOL EVER!? Waves of nostalgia passed over me as I remember exactly what my oldest wore to her Kindergarten Registration and how she went from station to station collecting documents and shaking hands like a 5 year old executive. Small pains of sadness and emotional gratefulness were in the mix too – my youngest will leave that incredible nest in a few months. Where has the time gone? I am going to have a child in middle school next year. Virtual hugs accepted.

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A child’s (and a parent’s) first step into an elementary school is a big deal. I know it and I felt it for those parents yesterday. That first impression plays a large role in a parent’s impression and expectations for their child’s school experience. And we all know that our expectations as parents play a large role in our child’s expectations for themselves.

I have to say that our elementary school does a really great job of this. Friendly smiles. Calm voices. Squatting down to greet kids eye to eye. Fun and festive decorations. These professionals got it going on! But this does not surprise me. They do an incredible job day in and day out so it is natural to share their gifts with families on their first special day.

As a pediatric Physical Therapist, I have a genuine interest in development, and through our work with Milestones & Miracles, I’ve become specifically interested and fascinated with the benefits of developmentally appropriate learning through play or hands on/multi-sensory activities with a purpose.  Lacy & I are so passionate about this that we developed a lecture to support schools with the good work they are already doing, with ideas to feed a student’s nervous system with the movement and activities they need to learn.

At the table next to me, was our school’s reading specialist. She is young, fun, and good at what she does. The little girls idolize her and the boys have big time crushes on her. She’s an elementary rock star. She was handing out a booklet yesterday to help parents prepare their children for Kindergarten. It quickly caught my eye because I remembered it. And when I remembered it, I also remembered my feelings absolute panic….WHAAAT? She has to do this BEFORE KINDERGARTEN? She’s not ready? Maybe I should wait a year? Will she ever succeed?

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When it was our turn to step into that school, I’ll admit this list clearly stressed me out. The self imposed challenge of teaching my child all of this information by September overwhelmed me and to be honest I didn’t want to spend our last summer before school stated drilling her to learn to write her name. To my knowledge she wasn’t doing most of these things at 4. She had gone to a play based preschool and we didn’t do worksheets or flashcards at home. (Side note: After she started school a few months later, her new teacher proudly shared she actually DID know/could do these things….shocking my husband and I…and starting the precious trend she has for refusing to learn most things we try to overtly teach her).

In solidarity with those parents coming to collect the list and learning sheets, I had a wonderful conversation with the reading teacher. It went a lot like many of the valued conversations I’ve had with my children’s teachers over the years…teachers know concepts they must share are often presented too early or in a format they don’t feel confident with…but the national trend for education and policy making is what it is. I shared that brain research tells us that children’s brains are often not ready/wired to read until closer to 7 years of age. She confirmed that she sees this often with students she work with. I shared as a parent of a first time student, that list made me nervous.  We both agreed our shared thoughts that expecting them to do things their brain isn’t ready for isn’t exactly fair (please note I am in no way saying a Kindergarten student should not learn, be challenged, be introduced to literature concepts etc. Just that there is a need to recognize ALL kids are biologically ready for site words the instant they turn 5).

The packet also included some great and relevant follow up information that expanded on the list..including helpful and reassuring information that these things did not have to be mastered by the first day of school (I don’t remember this part of the list when I received it?! So glad it was added).

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But in addition to those tips, I think it’s important to share with parents that PLAY BASED learning is still developmentally appropriate for 4 & 5 year olds….and beyond that, it is this type of learning that makes those essential concepts, imperative building blocks for advanced learned, concrete and real and strong. Without fully understanding these early learning concepts, our children don’t have a sturdy foundation. And yes some students prefer pencil and paper (even at 4 years old), but we know that the more senses (including movement) we involve with learning, the more our children will learn.

Experiencing is learning.

Purposeful Play IS learning.

Just because he/she doesn’t come home with a worksheet doesn’t mean learning didn’t occur.

Because we are so passionate about this for children and their parents, and because we have been so fortunate to have a unique and strong relationship in partnering with my daughter’s elementary school, I felt comfortable creating a short resource that could be shared to back up these principles.

And because I’m sharing it with that rock star teacher today, I thought why not share with you?

If you are a teacher, parent, therapist or just anyone interested in the topic feel free to share this document with anyone who might benefit. You have our permission to print it. You can find it by clicking the PDF link at the end of this essay. We only ask that you respect our time in creating it and cite us as the source. It is short and sweet but provides practical suggestions for developmentally play based in context learning for those getting ready for Kindergarten.

We can all work together to make change by advocating for developmentally appropriate learning and advocating for play as an essential need for all children.

Is he/she ready for Kindergarten is a question we will all ask ourselves as parents. We believe that defining what “ready” really means makes it a much easier question to answer. We hope this list helps you do just that.

Kindergaten Here I Come – Ideas To Learn PDF

 

Have an infant or toddler? Want to support them with purposeful play – check out 1-2-3 Just Play With Me! 

Making New Ways To Play In Dad’s Old Shop

My Dad is a plumber and a contractor. When I was a kid I loved playing in his shop. I used to stack wooden scraps, bang things together, and pretend copper pipe was my wedding band. (Princesses hang in tool shops too).

Today I got to be a bit of a kid in Dad’s shop again and it was so fun!

I have a few “go-to” gifts that I LOVE giving to my “therapy kids” when they turn 3 and are no longer eligible for my services. They are part “graduation” gift and part birthday gift. Every once in a while though, I have a kid who needs something that is specifically made just for them.

It’s nice having a handy Dad when you are a self employed early intervention physical therapist, creatively making things work for therapy visits in the homes of children. Dear Old Dad has helped me out a few times and today was no exception.

Together (well mostly him), we made this fun board for my special guy and I wanted to share.

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I liked it so much I decided “we” needed to make 2 so I could keep one for work too!

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I’ve always admired these boards and while they are very focused on fine motor work, I’ll be able to incorporate them into sitting and standing play…maybe even as a motivator for my little ones who are almost crawling but need a bit more motivation!

So if you are interested in making something like this, I’m happy to share that it was not overly expensive. Total cost was about $20 each.  I basically strolled up and down the aisles of Lowe’s choosing mismatched things that were interesting to turn, twist, flick, or flip. (This made the regulars at Lowe’s a wee bit nervous I think).  That part of easy. I will say if you are going to try it you need someone handy and with a few basic tools (electric drill, small saw, nail gun), which worked out much better than my original plan to glue gun everything down!

Here are some of the items I used.


I can’t wait to gift my special guy with his “one of a kind, made with love by my Dad” creation and to try mine out too. Even more fun that playing with these might be the fun I had playing today in the shop.

Like my ring?

 

board ring

What our kids learn when we butt out…

I saw this the other day and loved it because it is so true.

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My favorite times watching my children play are totally organic. Not lead by me. Not in a group classroom. Not during an activity I’ve signed them up for. Not while doing anything I’ve paid for. Not when they know I have a camera hiding around the corner, hoping they won’t really notice enough to stop their magic.

Why? Because that sort of play is the best brain building kind! It’s the kind that is naturally multisensory, usually socially engaging. and belly laughing, child shrieking fun.  It is THE BEST way to really KNOW my children, because they are worried that an adult watching has expectations. They are free to express themselves at the developmental stage where they are and get all those feelings out, let all those creative ideas flow, and pretend they are whoever they wish to be. Yep, magic.

My favorite thing about social media is seeing the children of my friends and family.  I’ll publicly admit that while my parent friends are fuming and post photos of some huge mess, my mind thinks in the way of the child that made the mess. Maybe this is against the parent pact? Like this doozie from my dear friend Jen (Warrior Mom of 4), who shared this of her child’s “artwork” a few months ago.

 

Jen had just cleaned the couch. She was likely thinking, “Someone is gonna die.” I thought as her son and in my mind said, “I’m learning that this cool address stamper works on things besides paper. And it leaves a mark wherever my hand goes. And that doing this really had my mom engage with me.” Of course my mind also thought “Poor Jen,” and “Been there sister,” and “Rubbing alcohol takes ink out of fabric and toothpaste takes it off tables.” (Parent pack renewed).

As parents, we hear these messages.

“Sign them up, and they’ll learn.”

“Take the class, and they’ll learn.”

“Do the worksheet, and they’ll learn.”

Those messages are so loud at times that the message our gut tells us (that “PLAY BUILDS BRAINS! AND PLAY IS THE BEST TEACHER OF YOUNG KIDS”) is often brought to a whisper. Suddenly, it JUST seems like play instead of the many learning opportunities that go on during play. Instead of the magic.

I believe that if WE as parents, teachers, therapists, child care providers, family members want to turn the tide on the message sent to young children and those that love and care for them regarding play, then we need to start SEEING PLAY THROUGH THEIR EYES. Doing so, will not only make us better at our work, but will change the conversation. It s our job to defend play as a right of children.

I’m not suggesting you let your children color all your walls and furniture. I am suggesting, we consciously set the scene, make supplies available, create safe environments that support creative expression and concrete learning, and then we BUTT OUT (sometimes). More on why – HERE.

Yes, a child needs adults to love to them, read to them, nurture them, comfort them, and play with them. They also need time to play alone and with their peers. I’m also suggesting that when we get the gift of being able to peek in on the magic, we remind ourselves to take a deep breath, look past the mess (briefly), and think, “what is he/she learning?” Yes worksheets or classes led by another adult that we sign up for or pay for are cleaner, safer, and easier (and there are benefits to them as well), but child led, child driven play is the BEST way a young child learns.

As an exercise in this, I started searching for some of my favorite pictures of this sort of magical play and decided to caption them accordingly as a self exercise. Here they are…

 

Will you help us change the conversation for kids?

We’d love to see your photos!  Post them to our Facebook or send through Twitter with the caption “I’m learning…” and the hashtag #playbuildsbrains

For more on why we believe in play and ways to encourage early learning through play using 1-2-3 Just Play With Me take a look around this website!