Board Games That Secretly Educate

April sure was a wet one! If you were anything like me, you were looking for ideas for yet another day indoors. We played a LOT of board games in April. 

That got me thinking about the games we played when these teens were younger. Not only is playing games fun but there is also a lot of great learning involved when you gather together for family game time.

Here are a few of my favorites, which are fun for parents, fun for kids, and a sneaky way to build on language, numeracy, geography skills, and more.

Bingo

Bingo is a great option for everyone. As soon as your preschooler is recognizing numbers and letters they can manage their own board. At our house, we invite early learners to help with calling out the numbers, giving them practice in identifying the letters and numbers. In addition to letter and number recognition, Bingo offers practice in fine motor skills and sequencing. 

Racko

Another great game for number recognition, Racko takes it up a notch and requires players to practice their counting skills. Kids who are skip-counting at school will love this game, where the goal is to be the first one to exchange randomly dealt cards for ones that create a rack that goes from lowest to highest. Players will work with numbers from 1 to 60 and practice waiting for their turn.

Uno

Uno is a great game for early learners, helping them practice color matching, number matching, and taking turns. If your players are really young, teaming up with an adult can keep the game fun for everyone. The adult on the team can help read the action cards while letting the child choose the cards to play when it is their turn.

Carcasonne

At first glance, this may not seem like a game suited for preschoolers, but our family has loved this game from the time my youngest was four years old. When they were younger we eliminated the scoring and competition, instead working cooperatively to build long roads and big cities. (I can’t take credit for this strategy. It evolved naturally out of my son’s natural inclination to help others. But it is a great way to play with preschoolers.)  The game is great for practicing pattern matching, as you must match the features on each side of your tile that connects to another tile. As the kids get older you can add more complexity, eventually adding actual scoring and strategy.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride takes the learning up a level, offering actual geography and language lessons. There are a number of different versions available, which provide lots of opportunities to spend time with maps and inadvertently learn the names of cities and harbors around the world. We had so much fun introducing some Japanese exchange students to Ticket to Ride that we sent our United States version home with them. These days we primarily play the Rails and Sails version, which is a world map and involves boats as well as trains. Like many of the best games, Ticket to Ride can grow with your family. Start with a simplified version for younger children and expand in complexity as they mature.

Power Grid

This one is definitely for kids who have reached double digits. It took us a long time to learn how to play, but once we figured it out, we discovered that this is a game that teaches not just gameplay and strategy, but also energy economics. Played on a board with a number of different cities represented, the object is to build and power the most cities. To do so, you must bid on power plants and acquire the raw materials to power your plants. As the game goes on, the value of the raw materials (and the power plants) shifts, creating the need to balance expansion with power plant upgrades. It took us a while to learn it well enough to enjoy it, but it was worth the effort.

How about you?

Does your family have a favorite game? Share with us in the comments below!

DIY Summer Camp

It’s a strange new “normal” we find ourselves in this summer.  It feels like we’ve been waiting in place since mid-March.  Yet nature continues to move forward.  So while I feel like it’s still the week before Spring Break, the trees all have leaves, the rain is almost done for the season, and the vegetable garden has tiny tomatoes on summer tomato plants.

Every summer activity I had planned for the kids (and the family) has been cancelled, so my summer calendar stretches out as empty as the last three months.  

Disappointed and desperate for something to look forward to, I decided we’d design our own summer camp. I have declared this the summer of “Family Camp” and invited the kids to help me design our own summer camp experience.

In mid-June, we had a family meeting to brainstorm things we’d all like to do together this summer and decide on a ‘schedule’ for ‘camp’.  We amassed a long list of things that includes typical summer camp activities, time for reading and quiet time alone, and activities that will take us out of the house and off on an adventure.

At our planning meeting, we decided camp would run Tuesday through Friday, for three to four hours of the day. The brainstorming was so successful that I ended the meeting there before anyone could change their mind about how much incredible fun we were going to have together all summer. (Did I mention my kids are 12, 14, and 17?)

Our first official week of Family Camp arrived, but I had made camping reservations along the Oregon coast.  So we went camping for three days.  It wasn’t the day camp we’d planned, but we had an excellent time together doing something away from the house where we’ve been sequestered since March.

Before the next week started, we had a second planning meeting. This time we got more specific about what we’d do and when we’d do it. We’ll do this at the beginning of each week so that we have a schedule that everyone can look to if they forget what has been planned.

Each of the kids advocated for the activities they wanted to do during the week ahead and we were able to design a week with something for everyone and no complaints. I think we’ve learned some social skills while being home-bound for four months.

So Family Camp begins with bowling in the morning and some Khan Academy in the afternoon.  The following day we are having a friendly Nailed It! baking contest.  (We haven’t decided if it will be a team sport or if we’ll end up with four of the same cakes. I’ll let the group decision-making process decide that.)  We’ll bake together in the morning, then decorate and hold a friendly competition after lunch.

Next, we’ll be at home, playing board games and doing some reading.  And on our final day of camp this week, we’ll get out and hike.  My oldest did the research to find an easy day hike about an hour away.  We’ll pack a lunch to take with us and then picnic during the 5-mile hike in the Oregon woods.

It will be fun, but from a parenting perspective the most important part of this whole process hasn’t been the activities themselves, really, but the commitment we are making to each other.  To show up.  To have a schedule, with things planned and an agreement that we will do them together. Despite the empty calendar, we now have a plan.

If you’d like to plan your own “Family Camp” this summer, here are some of the things  on our list:

Field Trips: the beach, berry picking, swimming in a lake, overnight camping, hiking

Bowling (we joined the summer league at Highland Bowl)

Playing our violins and keyboard

Learn to play the guitar

Khan Academy 

Reading

Bible Study

Cooking/Baking together

Board games

Tennis

Naps/Quiet time

Make a plan and have fun!

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Let’s Play!

Having fun is an important reason to play.  But there is so much more than just enjoyment happening when children play. 

Play is so important to the healthy development of children that it is included in the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 31, designates, “the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”

Why is it important? 

Through play, children learn cognitive skills, improve their physical abilities, expand their vocabulary and literacy skills, and develop social skills.  

As children grow, the way they play evolves with them.  Newborns “play” with movement.  As they move they develop muscle strength and gain control over their body.  They also begin to make associations between the things that surround them and the sensations they feel.  

As they develop the ability to move independently, babies begin to engage in solitary play – reaching for objects, bringing things to their mouth, and learning to manipulate things with their hands.

At around a year old, babies observe those playing nearby and can engage with objects that are accessible to them, but they are usually playing independently, next to but not with their peers. That is why most play before the age of three is referred to as “parallel play”.  But even though they are not actively interacting with others, there are important social connections being made. 

Between two and three years, young children begin reciprocal play, participating together with others in playful activity.  By age 4, most children are interested in both the activity and the other children involved.  This is when they begin participating in truly cooperative play.

The activities that children engage in as play help them grow socially, emotionally, and physically.  Pretend play allows them to explore the reactions and feelings of others in a variety of situations.  Physical play, like swings, soccer, bike riding, and tree climbing helps them perfect hand-eye coordination, balance, and build strong bodies.  Playing with other children and adults gives them the opportunity to practice the give and take of engaging with others in a shared effort.  

Social connections become more important as the young child enters the school-age years.  In the years between ages 6 and 12, friends become very important.  Most children typically expand their focus beyond their relationships with family members. They are eager for relationships with their peers and develop friendships that are important to them.  

Play during these years helps them meet the need to interact with others and explore ideas and worldviews that are different from those they experience in their family.  

While we’ve been socially isolated this spring, our kids have been interacting with friends and family through Zoom calls, FaceTime, and Facebook Live events.  It hasn’t been the same as being together, but the social connections have been maintained.  

There has also been a steady stream of board game afternoons, and family game night has become a regular on our schedule.  How about you?  Have you found yourself playing more with your children this spring?

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Why Observe Children at Play?

My days seem so much longer during these weeks of social distancing. How about you? Without the regular commitments that keep us on the run and all the people home all the time, days seem to go on and on and on.

But while being home together, some of this ‘extra’ time we’ve been given can be used to practice our observation skills

Educators use observation in classrooms to better understand how their students learn.  Observation helps them tailor the learning environment to each individual child. What they observe helps them better meet the needs of each of their students.

The Benefits of Observation

But observation is not just for teachers.  Parents can also see benefits from observing their children at play.  By watching, without influencing or interfering, we can gain insight into the connection between our children’s motives and behaviors.  Understanding what is triggering a behavior can help us help them navigate their reactions and feelings. 

In a recent article on being home for an extended time with preschoolers, Teacher Tom encourages, “Instead of feeling like you need to fill their days with “enrichment,” I urge you to instead simply observe them at play: no “good jobs,” no unsolicited advice, no using the moment to answer email or check social media. Ask yourself, what are they teaching themselves right now? What theories stand behind their play? What are the driving questions they are trying to answer? I like to think of it as listening with all of my senses, with my full self. What will you do with the data you collect? Nothing. Be satisfied that you now know it. Better understanding our loved ones is an end unto itself.”

That is really the key: observation leads to better understanding. 

Ready to spend a little time observing? Here are some tips for observing children at play.

Choose a time when your child is playing independently.  Sit where you are not a distraction and avoid calling attention to yourself.  Have a notebook and pen handy in case you want to write down your observations.  If your child tries to engage you in their activity, reassure them that you are nearby, but are busy doing your work.  

Observe what your child has chosen to play with.  What do they choose?  Do they use a single toy for long periods of time, or move about the room playing briefly with many different toys? How do they play with them? Do they invent new ways to use their toys, or use them the same way each time?

Observe their interactions with others.  If you have other children in the home, how do they interact with others? What role do they take within the group? Do they initiate play or wait to be invited? What types of activities do they enjoy with others?  What do they enjoy doing alone? Do they look for your direction and attention? How do they ask for help? 

Observe their use of language. How do they use language?  Are they easy to understand? Do they make their wishes known verbally?  Are there other ways they express their needs? If you observe multiple times over the course of a week, do you see patterns of behavior?  Are there clues that lead up to a meltdown or a tantrum?   

Observe how they move. How much do they climb, run, skip, and jump?  Are they confident or hesitant in their movements? How is their balance? What physical activities do they enjoy? Does physical exertion change their mood?

Using what you observe

Teachers use the things they learn through observation to structure classroom experiences for individualized learning.  As parents, we can use our observations just to know and understand our kids a little bit better.

But we can also use what we learn by being intentional about observation to adjust our parenting. Do you notice that meltdowns happen just before 11:00 each morning? Would offering a snack and a change of scenery at 10:30 help ease them through this time of day?

My 6th grader was struggling with middle school last Fall.  So many classrooms and teachers, lots of responsibility for getting herself and her things where they need to be when they need to be there.  By observing when she struggled the most, I deduced that she was overwhelmed with the responsibility of all those choices. So we pulled back a bit on the independence and took away some of her choices. You could almost hear an audible sigh of relief. 

Some of what we observe confirms what we already know about our kids.  But some will provide new insights and maybe even an ‘ah ha’. When we take a step back and spend some time observing our children we give ourselves the gift of intentional time spent understanding them better.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

The Importance of Play

If you’ve ever visited a Montessori classroom, you may have noticed something odd about the language that is used. Children are invited to choose their ‘work’ from the shelf. They are invited to find work to do with their friend. Why do they talk like that? For parents familiar with play-based preschool programs, this emphasis on “work” seems inappropriate to a preschool setting.

As adults, we often think of “work” as that which we have to do. If it’s “work” by definition, it is not “fun.” Merriam Webster defines work as “an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” Play, on the other hand, is defined as “engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”

Dr. Maria Montessori, in her research of child development, famously stated, “Play is the work of the child.” Translation: when children play (engage in an activity for enjoyment) they are working (involved in mental or physical effort which achieves a purpose or result).

In other words, when they play, children are working on many things.  

Play helps them develop fine and gross motor skills, improve self-regulation, develop cognitive and intellectual abilities, learn social skills, and increase their ability to imagine and create.

There are so many benefits of play for the developing child. And yet, for a variety of reasons — full calendars, changes in family structure, and increased attention to enrichment activities and academics — children today have less time each day for recess at school and child-led play outside of school. The rise of electronic access to passive entertainment has also stolen time from healthy, active, creative play.

Free-play is different from an arranged play date, participation on a sports team, or adult-led group lessons in music, dance, or sports. While those things are all valuable, children also need unstructured time to engage with other children and their environment. Free-play invites them to imagine, create, negotiate, lead, and relinquish leadership.  

When children are offered time to play without structure imposed by an adult, it creates a space for the child and his/her peers to “be in charge.” There is no adult directing the activity, no adult making the decisions about what will be done next, no adult expectations imposed upon the child, and no assigned tasks. This invites the child to decide what will be done and how will it be done. The child has the freedom to imagine and then execute. To try, to fail, to succeed, to engage with other children in order to accomplish that which they have imagined.  

It encourages them to think and develop problem-solving skills. It gives them real-time feedback and consequences. They envision something that works and are rewarded with the satisfaction of a plan well executed. They attempt something that fails and are given the opportunity to build resilience, to develop evaluation and analysis skills, and then to try again.  

Children who have not had the opportunity to spend much time in unstructured, child-led play may need some practice before it feels natural and comfortable. If they are used to being told what to do and how to do it, calling upon their own creativity may not come easy for them. You are likely to hear, “I’m bored.”  But boredom is not a bad thing — being bored spurs our imagination and invites us to figure out what would give us satisfaction and joy, right here, right now.

At first, they may do nothing, but being still and doing nothing is not a bad thing. Laying in the grass doing nothing but watching the birds and the clouds float by is not a bad thing. Much has been written about the perils of day-dreaming, but research is now discovering the benefits of letting our minds wander. A recent study reported in the journal Learning and Individual Differences that a wandering mind improves creativity and metacognition (understanding of one’s own thoughts). Better understanding of yourself leads to improved self-regulation and enhanced well-being. (Daydreaming is good for adults, too!)

If your child’s day is full from beginning to end, try to find a way to carve out some “down time” when nothing is scheduled so they can just play, without adult direction or involvement. In so doing, they will have the opportunity to imagine, then plan, and then try.  

Where will their imagination and creativity take them? Lots of good places!

Want to learn more about the benefits of play for growing children, visit The Genius of Play.  
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Features of the perfect free-play environment:

Feature: Benefit
Unstructured: Invites children to use their creativity and imagination – to invent the activity all on their own.
Child-led: Lets the child take responsibility for the activity, encourages imagination and creativity, lets them do only what they want to do.
Open-ended: Builds skills in creating processes, procedures, and social interactions when there is no adult decreed task to complete.
Loose Parts: Contains bits and pieces of things that can be used in many different ways to support their play.

Let’s Play

Today’s blog post is contributed by guest blogger, Esther Schiedel.  We hope you enjoy the read, and we appreciate Esther’s willingness to write for us!

I’ve just been reading about research on the value of play. Not that I needed convincing—I love to play! But since parents often worry about ensuring that their children will do well in this complicated world, it may be reassuring to know that play is good for your children. It’s also good for you.

Some of my favorites and their benefits:

Peek-a-boo and other hiding and finding games: Infants love to engage with people. Researchers describe it as “call and response.” The infant does something—looks at the adult for example, and the adult looks back, responding to the need for interaction. Peek-a-boo plays with that looking/not looking relationship. Other hiding games help the child understand object permanence and spatial relationships.  The key thing to remember is to always look to the child and respect when they need to disengage: the baby may turn away or start to fuss. Paying attention to another person’s social cues is a vital skill— which some people find easier to learn than others. Playing peek-a-boo is a wonderful opportunity to work on that—for babies and adults.

Monster, Mad Dog, and other chase games: Always popular at our house so I was pleased to read that this sort of activity can help children with physical and social skills—such as self-assertion and anger management. The caution here is identifying the difference between fear and excitement and terror—again the key is to look to the child to see how they are reacting. I was reminded of a scene in the Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She describes Pa pretending to be a mad dog and chasing his daughters around the room. At one point he corners them by the woodbox; they are so frightened that Laura leaps up over the woodbox, dragging her sister Mary with her. “And at once there was no mad dog at all. There was only Pa standing there with his blue eyes shining, looking at Laura.”

Role reversals: Teacher, Parent, Policeman, and other roles let a child experiment with having power. These also allow a parent a (partial) break from responsibility. Acting as an assistant to your child’s play (finding Lego pieces, combing doll’s hair) gives them positive attention and can be a meditative practice for you. Simply focusing on your children as they play without trying to direct or get involved is entertaining and an easy way to give them attention. A foundation of the parenting curriculum The Incredible Years is observing and describing your child’s activities as they play—like a sportscaster describing a game. Your positive attention to activities that your child enjoys builds their sense of competence.

Active games and sports can be wonderful for both adults and children. With young children, and those who are not particularly well-coordinated (I fall into that category) playing for fun and not keeping score is a good idea. However, watching as my grandson’s baseball team was totally overpowered by a team that was older, I mused that learning to keep calm and to keep trying to do your best is a valuable life skill. As is learning to be a gracious loser. And a respectful winner.

Board games: Speaking of competition, there are many board games nowadays that are cooperative. Instead of playing against each other, you team up to play against some element in the game. These range in complexity from those geared to 2-year-olds to adults. Some are mere chance but others involve strategies. You can also make some traditional games into cooperative ones—such as Memory.

Enough of reasons. Let’s play!

What’s So Funny?

I remember the first time one of my children made a joke. My eldest daughter was barely a year old. She placed an empty bowl, with firm deliberation, upside down on her head, and said, “Hat?”

Now they all groan at what they have identified as “dad jokes.” Or as the youngest one syllogizes, “Dad jokes are bad jokes. Are all bad jokes dad jokes?”

I love that they want to talk about comedy, about how it’s made. The middle one asked me, “What makes a joke a joke?” We worked it through together:

 

A joke is a joke if:

a. You meant it to be funny, AND

b. Someone else takes it to be funny.

If b. but not a., it’s probably not nice to laugh.

Corollary: if b. but not a., you as the (non)joker reserve the right to later use it as a joke, on purpose.

If a. and not b., it is probably not a good joke (unless your Dad tells it, in which case his judgment is gold).

If a. AND b., it’s officially a joke.

 

Humor and child development are like this. (Sorry, you can’t see my fingers stuck together.)

When your child suddenly finds peek-a-boo hilarious, you know that they’ve crossed a cognitive threshold: object permanence has moved into place. The child understands that it’s you, still existing, behind your hand, and finds your futile attempt to hide hilariously pathetic.

At least, that’s how I understand it.

Later, as verbal and logical functioning revs up to higher levels, more sophisticated jokes, based on discrepancies between facts and perceptions, come into play.

I knew a 10-year-old who found this joke so brilliant she repeated it with maddening regularity: “Two muffins were sitting in an oven. One said, ‘Is it getting hot in here?’ The other said, ‘Oh my god! It’s a talking muffin!'” That one stayed funny for a while.

Now in my house, we’re going meta, discussing joke mechanics.

And just last week my oldest, now 13, left a note for me on top of the dinner dishes:

Hurrgh rurg arrook (Wookie for “I love you”).

 

Not as good as the one about the hat, but how could you top that?

 

Play By Play

Here is something that kids should be doing more of:

Playing.

At school they need to double down on:

Recess.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to suggest that they should be eating ice cream for all three meals. I’m not an anarchist. Just thinking about developing brains.

Let’s pull back a little bit. Or zoom in. Whatever. You’ve seen those little announcements on the packaging of toys that claim their product is helping children to advance their motor skills, memory, hand-eye coordination, and what have you? Well, there’s some truth to that, potentially, in the same way that Count Chocula is part of a balanced breakfast (really! Can be!).

Without examining the veracity of any particular products, it has to be admitted that they do help kids develop if kids play with them. But just as the finger that points to the moon is not the moon, it is not the toy that provides the learning but the act of playing itself. In that sense, a rock’s as good as a Leappad for our purposes (a bonus is that if you throw a rock, it won’t break!).

Recently I’ve noticed a phenomenon at our house that illustrates this perfectly. It’s the noticing that new, not the phenomenon. The older girls, ten and twelve, continue to play with our set of wooden blocks as much as, if not more than, the younger ones. They have continued to be available, rather than put aside for more “age-appropriate” (this usually means “more electronic”) toys. So, they’ve just kept playing with ’em.

And, I believe, they continue to hone their spatial recognition and gross and fine motor skills just as much now, at their own level, as they did all those years ago when they first figured out how to stack them (and of course, immediately knock them down again).

Crucially, I think, there has never been any sense that the blocks are something that they could outgrow; that some toys were just “for babies.” They’re just another tool at their disposal.

By the same token, since the picture books are still on full display for the six and eight-year-olds, their older sisters continue to put them –new acquisitions and old favorites alike– in rotation along with their endless fantasy novels and 19th Century classics.

One of my (amazing) professors in the Education program at Western advocates for the use of picture books all the way through high school (and by extension college, given that she, you know, used them. In a college class). Once we get over the stigma of directing our attention to something that was made for younger people, their value and beauty are simply obvious.

 

Fathers, Real and Imagined

So I know Father’s Day was last weekend, but we can still talk about them, right?

Fathers. We all had ’em at some point. Some of us are one! I mentioned a while ago that I was about to start teaching a Nurturing Father’s class at Family Tree Relief Nursery.  Well, we’re a few weeks in now and I am happy to say that it exceeds my highest expectations. There are so few places for men — fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers, godfathers — to get together and talk about the experience of being male and having children in your care. Every week I see light bulbs of recognition or the shock of the new. Both are valuable.

The currency of fatherhood is devalued in our society. Worse, this has happened even while the expectations for men to care for children and participate in household labor have increased. At least part of the problem is that it is easy–and largely tolerated, if not encouraged–for men to opt-out of parenting altogether. There is a price, of course (in the form of child support payments). But the real cost is borne by children. When it comes to fathers and male caretakers, any degree of (safe) presence and involvement makes an outsize difference.

There are a lot of mistaken assumptions about fathers and fatherhood (and many of them carried by fathers themselves). Here is an excellent piece from the Washington Post last weekend called Five Myths About Fatherhood. Among the takeaways is this explication of the dilemma of men who, like many mothers, want to “have it all:”

“Men with children say they feel continued pressure to be the primary providers for their families (in opinion polls, about two-thirds of Americans say a married man should be able to support his family), and at the same time, they want to meet modern fathering ideals (in polls, they are just as likely as mothers to say that parenting is ‘extremely important’ to their identity). Even when flexible schedules and other family-friendly work arrangements are available to men, there’s often a stigma associated with taking advantage of them.”

Workplaces in America obviously have a lot of catching up to do. But so do those very institutions–government and law–that have traditionally not exactly been seen as ignoring the needs of men. I, too, will be a post-feminist in a post-patriarchy.

But when it comes to the rights of fathers, misconceptions about men and children can skew things the other way. As a parent coach working with families seeking reunification, I sometimes have to explain to state agencies that a father engaging in wrestling and roughhousing with his kids is not necessarily “unsafe” (that’s what I’m there for), but a perfectly valid way for men to nurture their children.

Guys, I hope you had a good Father’s Day. Keep celebrating.

 

 

 

Tending the Childhood Garden

Most of us would appreciate having some rules for good parenting; some ironclad procedure to follow in order to give our children the best of what we have. New research in the burgeoning field of neuroscience is taking what we know about the brain, how it works, and how it grows, and giving us some clues. But because it’s the brain we’re talking about, there are no simple answers.

What has been emerging is some support for certain approaches over others. And often this research brings us back to older ways of thinking about children and what they need to grow, thrive and succeed.

Alison Gopnik, in her new book The Carpenter and the Gardener: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children offers this very thing. Her central metaphor contrasts the model of the carpenter–the parent who attempts to construct their child through micromanaging and fine-tuning–with that of the gardener, who allows space and nourishment for a child to grow in the way it naturally wants to. Guess which one is more effective?

I have written about the metaphor of nurturing as cultivating the things we want to grow. We give our positive attention to the traits we want to encourage rather than focusing on the negative traits we would like to see less of. This is both a good and useful thing. However, there is more to it than that, and also less.

As Gopnik tells us, it is easier to allow children to do what they do best–learn–than try to will them into the shapes we want to see.  It sounds great, and quite a relief besides, to just move out of the way and let children grow. But that’s when we see that some approaches work better than others.

I encourage you to read the linked article, which provides a great summary of Gopnik’s research. And, of course, to read the book (I have it on hold at the library). Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Let children under 6 just…play. Academic preparation is just not effective for small children. It’s not a matter of getting them ready earlier, because that’s just not where they’re at. They learn through play. So give them ample opportunity to do so.
  • School-age children are ready to learn. So give them things to learn: cooking, building, cleaning, making. Show them, watch them, and offer ways to improve their skills.
  • Teenagers benefit from practical skills. Less homework, more real-world experiences. Teens used to enter the adult world through apprenticeships, and we can offer them internships, community service projects, and guided projects such as putting together a newspaper or, heck, starting a garden.

In each of these stages, children learn by doing. Our job as parents is to let them do it, in a safe and nurturing environment.

Sounds simple, right? Simple work is often the hardest. But really, the hard part for modern parents is just letting it happen.