How do I help my child get ahead academically?

How do I help my child get ahead academically? How can I make sure my child is on track academically? The answer will surprise you! Let them play! Discover how playing supports all domains of child development and helps prepare your child for school!

A Childhood is Not Complete without Play

I love this video. I share it a lot. I mean A LOT! If you haven’t seen it yet, take time and watch as Dr. Peter Gray so eloquently explains how the decline of play increases anxiety, depression, and narcissism in children and adolescents.

I get asked frequently by parents of young children how can they help their child get ahead? My answer is play.  Just let them play. Encourage play. Allow for good, old fashioned, screen-free play. Unfortunately, it is not the answer everyone is looking for. It seems too simple to be true. As a result, children are not getting the opportunities they need and deserve to play and because of that, they are actually lagging behind.  Don’t believe me? Watch the video!


When outside time does not allow time with the “outside”

Being in my field, I always pay attention to early learning centers and schools while driving around.  Obviously, since I can only see the outside of the center from my car, I pay close attention to the design and makeup of the playgrounds.

I am amazed at how many school playgrounds have nothing …. natural.  The playground equipment is metal and plastic.  The toys are metal and plastic.  The bicycles are metal and plastic.  The ground is rubber.  No part of nature is available at all when children go outside to play.  No grassNo sandNo trees or plantsNo wood.  And, due to awnings that cover the entire playground, some of them allow no access to the sun.

Author Richard Louv introduced the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder” in 2005 with the publication of his best-selling book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” He coined the phrase to serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from nature and it is not meant to be a medical diagnosis (although perhaps it should be).

In a time when children are staying inside attached to digital technology more than ever, the least schools can do is provide actual access to the natural outside world.

The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need. – Richard Louv

What can schools do?  Bring back the sand box.  Plant some grass.  Provide loose parts made out of wood, rocks, sticks, shells, and really anything that comes from the outside world.  Use wood mulch for the ground covering.  Just think natural.

What can we do at home?  The same thing.

We know children need to playing more, but let’s make sure they are also interacting with nature as well!


Here are some great blog posts to give some ideas for a natural playground.

How to Create Natural Playscapes

Ideas for Adding Natural Play Elements to Your Outdoor Play Space

Create a Natural Playscape in Your Own Backyard







Living in a 3D World

What is a major difference in children of this generation and children of the past?

Children today do not live in a 3D world.  Think of life before television; what did children do?  I’m sure when not working or doing chores to help the household, they created their own toys, their own games, and they ran around being a part of nature.  Essentially, they were active and engaging all of their senses and enhancing their motor skills.  They were living in and experiencing their worlds.

Children today spend a lot of time living in a 2D world.  What does that mean?  How much time is spent by today’s youth playing video and computer games and watching TV.  What about all of the apps that claim to help children increase academic performance?  My philosophy is it still is not as stimulating as experiencing real life!  Watching a screen is passive, even if it claims to be interactive!  It is still sitting down and looking at a 2D object.

Keep Calm and Play

Yes – that is right – keep calm and play.  No matter how you “slice and dice” it, play is the way young children learn best.  It is inherent, it is natural, and it is the design of optimal learning.

With early childhood education and preschool being such a hot, trending topic right now, everyone is putting his/ her hand in the pot giving his/ her two cents on what we should do to improve effectiveness and achievement.  It gets overwhelming – test scores, research, assessments, common core, funding, teacher performance – being spewed from people of all walks of life – politicians, reformers, business professionals, policy makers, and yes – even educators.  Being a specialist in education and development of children birth to eight, I just want to stand up and yell, “KEEP CALM AND PLAY!”  Take a deep breath, relax, and just play.  It is amazing what children learn in those unstructured environments – you would be surprised!

Am I saying just place children in an empty room and expect them to develop and learn?  No – but when an environment is strategically planned with intentionality and purpose to promote play by a teacher knowledgeable in all domains of child development for children birth to five, it is compelling how effectively and rapidly the children learn.  And what does that environment look like?  More about that later ….  Until then, “Keep calm and play”.

Practical Approaches with Play Dough!

  • Instead of using the constant drilling tactics of flash cards to learn the alphabet, create the letters with play dough.

Start by separating the play dough into small pieces then have your children roll the play dough between their hands to create long, skinny, cylinder shapes. Using these pieces, children can manipulate them to make different letters. If your children are alphabet novices, it is okay to have a card for each upper and lower case letter available to use as a model so they can either create the letter next to the card or on it. If your children are the alphabet experts already, tell them the letters and have them make those from memory. Make it challenging by encouraging the creation of both the upper and lower case letters! To extend this activity, have pictures of different items available so your children can select the pictures that start with the letters made. This fun activity will enhance letter recognition and is a great basis for literacy development.

  • Order the play dough by different sizes.

Create different sizes of squares, stars, or whatever shapes you choose and have your children put them in order from biggest to smallest or smallest to biggest. (Cookie cutters work great for creating the shapes.) Start with three different sizes then add more if your children need to be challenged. To extend this activity, ask your children to make the different sizes then put them in order from smallest to largest. Like before, ask the children to add more sizes to add a degree of difficulty. Ordering by size develops the ability to compare objects as well as pattern and sequence them which supports the beginnings of math success.

  • Sort play dough by color or shapes.

Buy different colors of play dough and have your children create small balls with them. Place the different color balls in a pile on the table. Have your children sort the balls by the different colors. For more of a challenge, create different shapes with the different colors such as stars, squares, triangles, etc. Encourage your children to sort by just color, just shape, or by color and shape. Have them create their own categories and sort how they desire.  Be sure to have them tell you how they sorted them and how they came up with that category. Categorizing and comparing objects is essential for both math and literacy development.

  • Mix all the colors together!

Okay, for some it is a pet peeve to mix the different colors of play dough, but what a great experiment to see what will happen if you did mix the colors together. Ask your children to predict what they think will happen, and then do it! Ask questions during the activity such as: What is happening to the colors?, Why do you think the colors are looking this way?, and What will happen if we continue to squish them together? Take before, during, and after pictures to document the process. After the colors are mixed, ask your children if they can separate them again? Why or why not? Encourage a lot of dialogue and ask plenty of questions to get their minds turning while doing this activity. Doing basic science experiments like this will encourage exploration and thinking outside of the box!

These activities are simple and fun, but they are also educational and academic! Children need hands on experiences, even when learning the ABCs, 123s, and more! What else, besides play dough, can you use to create academic and engaging learning experiences for children? The possibilities are endless!