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Play and Child Development

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(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

As many people are now aware, recess and physical education in schools have been greatly reduced in recent years to the detriment of children. Play is an important part of human development and can teach children important skills that they can carry into adulthood. Many of the developmental milestones of school-age children can be accomplished through play and interacting with peers. With more research and more acceptance of this need, I am hopeful that more schools will increase the amount of time school-age children have in their daily schedule for play.

Once children reach elementary school, they have gained stronger and smoother gross motor skills, such as running or standing. They also continue to develop their fine motor skills, which include skills such as grasping or holding small objects. Activities on the playground can help further develop and strengthen these skills. They can participate more regularly in some of these activities and develop mastery over their skills. In addition to developing these physical skills, children at this age require a minimum of one hour of physical activity every day.

Academic achievement is a major focus for school-age children. In early elementary school, children’s curriculum focuses on learning the fundamentals. Around third grade, the curriculum evolves to focus more on finding content in the material presented to them. In addition to these important academic milestones, children begin to increase their ability to focus for longer periods; however, many children need active breaks between long periods of focused attention. By age 6, children should be able to focus for up to 15 minutes at a time. Having a shorter attention span at this age points to the fact that they should be moving around more and physically interacting with their environment. Their brains are not developed enough at this age to focus on something uninterrupted for longer periods. By age 9, children are able to focus for up to an hour but still need play breaks throughout their school day as well.

Another reason to increase play is to help children further develop the social skills required for developing close peer relationships and learning about societal norms and expectations. At this age, children are also likely to test these expectations and may start lying, cheating or stealing. Learning the rules of our society on the playground at this age will be a much safer place to learn the consequences of these actions, instead of learning them as an adult when the consequences are much harsher and more serious. Children need to gain feedback from peers and this can happen more readily on a playground at school.

Most importantly, mixing active play into a person’s day has also shown to increase productivity, even in adults. A recent study has shown that playing a collaborative game can increase productivity by 20 percent. The reasons for this include an increase in creativity, encouraging teamwork, teaching individuals how to set common goals for all those involved, and helping people relax and “blow of steam.” Play has many benefits that will carry into adulthood, such as increased learning capacity. For this reason, play needs to continue to be a constant part of a child’s school day.


References

Brower, T. (3 March 2019). Boost Productivity 20%: The Surprising Power of Play. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/tracybrower/2019/03/03/boost-productivity-20-the-surprising-power-of-play/#bffc7197c05b

School-age children development. (n.d.) In MedlinePlus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002017.htm

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Five Fun Ways to Get Your Child to Do Homework

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(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

It’s that time of year again. School has started and weekly homework struggles have begun. This struggle is not just difficult for the little ones in our lives. It’s also a challenge for us parents to motivate our kids to do their homework. As a parent who has struggled to get through homework with my little one, I have realized how much patience and persistence are necessary to overcome homework resistance. Through this experience and research, I have discovered five simple strategies to make homework more manageable, creative and fun.

1. Set a time

Instead of planning for homework to be done right after school, give your child some time to settle down after a full day. Homework time should be about an hour long and can be a time for everyone in the family to complete their “homework” together. Parents can also choose to work on something at this time and everyone can do their homework together in a common area, such as at the dining room table. If you are working on something at the same time, you are modeling appropriate work ethic and are also more available to help with any questions your child may have about their homework. If a full hour is too long for your child to complete their homework, and it will be for younger children, break the time up into shorter periods. Have your child work on their homework for 10 minutes and take a 5 to 10-minute break. Then repeat this a couple more times until you are through the assignment. Your child will let you know when they have reached their limit, so try to work with them to figure out a timeframe that best suits their abilities.

2. Give out rewards 

I am a believer in using a token economy to get through an assignment and there are several ways you can do this. Sticker charts can be modified to fit each assignment. Parents may choose to use a basic chart in which the child receives a sticker for every question they answer. I have included an example of a basic sticker chart, labeled as Handout 1. Make sure to have stickers that interest your child, so that they are interested in earning the stickers!

Download Handout 1

3. Play a game

You can turn the sticker chart into a fun activity or game to help motivate your child to get through the assignment. For example, in Handout 2, I created a “slide” that I broke up into components, each representing a question that needs to be answered. As the parent, I would explain that the boy wants to go down the waterslide, but he needs water on the slide to reach the pool at the end. The child will color a box every time they answer a question until the boy reaches the pool. This tool can be modified and should be adjusted to match your child’s interests. You can include favorite cartoon charters and a familiar story they enjoy to engage them more in the activity.

Download Handout 2

4. Be mindful

Be aware of when you’ve both reached your limit and need a break from homework. If there’s too much stress involved, your child could begin to associate homework with stress, which is the opposite of what we want. As professor of psychiatry and author Daniel Siegel says, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” When homework is paired with stress, homework begins to be viewed as a stressful and unpleasant activity. The goal is for homework a be part of your child’s routine. Adding an element of fun can help decrease their stress and dread when sitting down to complete homework. Be a calm presence during homework time since you are an example for them on how to handle stress and frustration.

5. Stay creative

Be open to your child’s suggestions on what would motivate them to complete an assignment. My son was able to help me improve the “waterslide” handout by adding coloring to the activity, which made the activity more fun for him. Try to be open to modifying the process over time. These strategies may not work forever so you will need to be prepared to have another strategy lined up when one stops working.


References

Barish, K. (2012 September 5). Battles over homework: advice for parents. Psychology
Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pride-and-joy/201209/battles-over-homework-advice-parents

[Boy on a water slide]. Retrieved September 1, 2019, from:
https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-boy-water-slide-little-slides-down-waterpark-image39798538

[In Ground Swimming Pool]. Retrieved September 1, 2019, from:
https://www.shutterstock.com/image-vector/ground-swimming-pool-271444649

Siegel, D. J. and Bryson, T. P. (2014 August 20). No Drama Discipline. New York: Bantam Books.

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