Play! Have fun and learn

PLAY! A simple word with so much meaning. How unfortunate that as we get older we forget how important it is to stop and have fun. Play.

Play is how children learn. They learn movement through play; they build the core muscles and develop their large motor skills — essential before perfecting the small motor skills they will later need for holding a pencil and commanding it on paper.

Crawling, rolling, spinning, jumping, hopping and skipping are all part of big body play. Being messy while learning to feed yourself, creating with playdough (rolling, kneeding), finger painting, building with blocks and finger tapping to melodies are all part of small body play. For a child, all of these skills are critical to developing the muscle control needed for the rest of their lives. Children are not hardwired to sitting still. They need to be moving and using all of their senses to really learn from their environment and experiences. They need to touch, taste, smell, feel, hear and talk about what they are doing.

Play is fun! Play also encourages the brain’s creativity centre. Play promotes language skills. When we are playing we can be in deep thought as we are trying to build that tower or create that sculpture. We learn to keep trying when it doesn’t work out. We learn problem solving when we have to try again. We can be loud while pretending we are animals in the jungle or aliens in outer space, or race car drivers racing in our cardboard boxes. Whether your child likes playing aloud or quietly, you have the opportunity of using language with them. Get down on your child’s level and play alongside them. With very young children it is okay to narrate their play. You are building on their vocabulary as you comment on the colours, shapes, sizes or sounds around them. Don’t be afraid of making up stories and singing your own tunes. Your child adores the sound of your voice. Play encourages relationship building. Children won’t necessarily recall the meals they ate or the clothes they wore, but they will have memories of the days spent sitting on the floor singing, laughing, tickling, playing hide and seek, and being silly with their parents.

When children are playing together they are learning so much more than we can hope to teach them any other way. They are learning social awareness, emotional thinking, and more. They are learning to compromise, be in relationships, and to take turns. This all seems very simple on one level, but it really goes quite deep and is worth investing some time to ensure you promote play in your family life. With our busy schedules and hectic lives, we need to remember that playing is crucial and there is no substitute.

Brains for Literacy!

  1. Halloween is coming.
  2. Zombies are popular.
  3. Let’s talk about brains!

This is a very exciting time to be alive. For thousands of years what went on inside a persons’ head was a mystery. And over the last hundred or so years there have been a number of breakthroughs that gave us a better and better idea of what the brain we carry around in our heads is actually doing.

The history of brain research is full of gruesome accidents, war wounds, dead bodies, and brain surgery. But even though Halloween is coming, I’m going to skip that part and get straight to the point: the advancements made in the last ten years have given us an increasingly sophisticated picture of how brains grow and develop in the very early stages.

So, why exactly is that exciting?

  1. It helps explain why so many of the traditional activities we have done with children for generations are so effective: person-to-person interaction is one of the most effective ways of forming connections in the brain.
  2. It shows us how stress can derail healthy development and compromise healthy brain functioning.
  3. It gives us very good reasons to hold off on expensive programs and products that promise to make babies into geniuses, because babies clearly don’t need any of those things.
  4. Seriously, there a lumpy organ behind your eyes that makes everything you think, feel and do possible with a system of squirts and splashes. That’s pretty close to miraculous in my mind.

I could go on and on, but there is a new video from the folks at the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative and Norlien Foundation that paints the picture of why this is helpful quite nicely in less than 5 minutes:

How Brains are Built: The Core Story of Brain Development

And if that video whets your appetite for more brains, Dr. Bruce Perry and his organization, the Child Trauma Academy have made a 13 minute video introduction to the brain. If you’re interested in how the brain works, this is an excellent place to start. You might have to watch this a few times, there’s a lot going on in that dark place between your ears:

Seven Slide Series: The Human Brain

So, if you ever catch a glimpse of a family literacy program, remember that while we spend a lot of time crawling on the floor with babies, and squashing play dough with pre-schoolers, we are hard at work building healthy brains!