Want to increase your preschooler’s attention span, ability to plan, and self-confidence? Here is an idea borrowed from “Tools of the Mind”. Let me describe what the teacher does in a preschool where this idea is utilized. The teacher helps children plan their play before they begin their play. They actually discuss what the children want to do and let them “write down” the order of activities they want to engage in. The “written” order of activities may not have actual written words. It may consist of pictures or what appears like scribbles. Nonetheless, it represents the child’s plan, a symbolic contract.
Children then begin engaging in their activity. As you have likely experienced, they often lose focus part way through the activity and begin to drift to another activity. At that point, the teacher brings the children’s “written contract” out and asks them if they finished what they had planned to do. Often, the children look at the paper and remember their “plan.” “Oh yeah. I have to finish….” A simple reminder and they return to the initial activity and continue with “the plan.” After the activity, the teacher goes over the “plan” with the children again. They acknowledge the children’s accomplishment. This allows the children to enjoy the accomplishment of completing what they began. Adding to the benefit, children gain an increased attention span, a better ability to plan ahead, and a greater sense of self-confidence. Who wouldn’t want that for their child?
Reading about this tool got me thinking. Could we do this with our children at home? Sure, it takes a little more time but preschoolers spend a lot of time planning their activities already. And, it really isn’t that hard. We simply begin to talking with our children about the play activities they want to engage in. We allow them to “write down” the activities and “make a plan.” Then, as we engage in play and our children begin to drift from the plan, we ask them about the plan. We even let them look at the “written plan” and ask if they still want to continue with the plan or change it. Many times they simply remember the plan and return to the activity they had initially written down. And in the process they learn to plan ahead, focus, and build self-confidence. How great is that?
PS-If you missed our couple’s retreat P.L.A.Y. Rx you missed learning more about the joys of play, laughter, adventure, yearning, and rest for your marriage. But, here are some pictures of the times we shared. Hope to see you next year.
Maria Montessori once said, “Play is the child’s work.” All work requires tools, not just any tools but the right tools. It does no good to cut a 2X4 with a hammer or a screwdriver to pound in a nail. No, we need the right tools for the right job. Play is a child’s job. In play, children work to build independent skills. They work to gain confidence and become better problem-solvers. Children gain an understanding of their world and how to navigate that world through play. “Play is the child’s work;” their maturity and wisdom depend on them doing this work with the right tools. What are the right tools for the work of play? Good question.
Toys, of course…but not just any toys. The best toys to get a child’s job done right are those that encourage imagination, investigation, interaction, problem-solving, exploration, or invention. Magda Gerber notes that the best tools, the best toys, for a child’s play, “don’t do anything.” Children must actively engage in and interact with the toy and those enjoying the toy with him to have fun, which brings us to tool #2…
Imagination. Sometimes having too many toys get in the way of getting the job done. Encourage your children to play imaginative games in which they pretend to be various characters and act out various roles. Give them play clothes and costumes, action figures and dolls, props and room to pretend. Like Einstein said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Encourage imagination. (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself” for more.)
Boredom. Boredom is a fundamental tool for learning to entertain the self. Boredom encourages your child to better use the tool of imagination. Boredom sparks creativity. It promotes resourcefulness. Boredom teaches children to entertain themselves. I’m not promoting constant boredom, but some boredom is a great tool in the toolbox of your child’s play. (Read 3 Responses to the Summer Mantra “I’m Bored” for more.)
Friends. Children also need time to play with friends. They learn so many skills while engaged in play with friends, skills like communication, compromise, negotiation, and problem-solving to name a few. Set up play dates. When problems arise, step back and let them solve the problem on their own. Step in only when if they absolutely need your assistance. (Become Your Child’s Friendship Coach will offer more suggestions.)
Outdoors. A recent study suggests outdoor play increases executive functioning skills and decreases inattentive-hyperactivity symptoms. Unstructured play in a natural/outdoor setting is also linked with improved mental health and better emotional regulation (Year round outdoor play can boost kids’ performance in school describes more). So, encourage your children to get off the video games and play outdoors as often as possible.
Make sure these 5 tools remain in your child’s toolbox for play so they can do the work of play in the most effective and productive manner possible. You’ll enjoy watching them build a mature, independent, and kind adult through the children’s work of play.
Twenty-seven years ago I found a beautiful woman standing between me and a cream-filled chocolate-iced donut. She began to talk with me and I, with one eye still on “my” donut, spoke with her. Ironically, I enjoyed the conversation even more than the donut. Two years later, we married. This month, we celebrate a joyous twenty-five years of marriage. We’ve enjoyed many adventures and traversed many a struggle together during those 25 years. And, we’ve learned a few lessons about making marriage work. Maybe these lessons can help another couple enjoy marriage as much as we do. I hope you find them helpful.
Connect often. Connect with one another verbally, emotionally, and physically. Connect multiple times each day. There are so many ways to connect that it really isn’t that hard to do it multiple times each day. Talk to one another. Share stories of the day. Share memories. Talk about your joys and sorrows, fears and courageous acts. Give a kiss good-bye, hello, good night, good morning. Hug. Hold hands. Connect often.
Focus on the positive in your spouse. Express gratitude for your spouse. Thank your spouse for what they do for you and your marriage. Tell your spouse what you admire about them. Focus on what makes your spouse beautiful as a person of character (internal beauty) and as a person with external beauty. Let them know the beauty you see.
Work together. Be a team. When times get tough, work together to get through the troubles. Enjoy the good times together as well. Work together to keep your home and work together to raise your children. Working together will demand you talk to one another, discuss areas of difference, and connect to stay on the same page. Although it can prove more difficult to work together when one of you is irritable or suffering some loss, these are the most important times to make the choice to work together. So turn toward one another in hard times and in good. Work together to get through the difficult times, enjoy the good times, and build a great time. (Building a Purpose Filled Marriage)
Play together. “All work and no play makes marriage a dull thing.” Find activities you can enjoy together like games, adventures, or walks in the woods. Laugh together. “Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good” (Lucia Capocchione). I agree with Plato when he says, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” If you really want to know your spouse in a deeper more intimate way, play! (For more benefits of play read Play for a Better Marriage.)
Dream of tomorrow together. Along with playing together, dream together. Dream about what you’ll do next year, in five years, after the kids leave home, after retirement. Dream about trips you can make together and goals you can accomplish together. Share your spouse’s dreams and help your spouse reach their dream. Whether they dream of becoming a better photographer or preparing a special meal for dinner, support their dream and do what you can to help them realize their dream. I loved the scene in “UP” when Carl realizes he helped Ellie achieve her dreams…and it had nothing to do with where they lived.
Bring out the best in your spouse. Help your spouse become the person they want to be. (Read Husbands…Set Her Free.) One way to do that is help them reach for their dreams (see bullet #5). Another way to bring out the best in your spouse is to honor them daily. When we communicate honor for our spouse we liberate them to become the best they can be.
Marry an amazing person. Choose your spouse wisely. (Read How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk to help in this area.) I must admit, this may be the most important one for me. I truly did marry an amazing woman. She has joined me in many adventures and patiently put up with my shortcomings. She has helped me achieve dreams I never thought possible. (And, I still got the donut when we met!!) I hope I have done the same for her. Thanks for 25 wonderful years. I look forward to another 25.
Our children crave quality time with us, their parents and families. In fact, they need quality time with us. Quality time is the currency of love in our children’s world. It purchases their sense of security and it is crucial to their emotional and mental health. Quality time creates a sense of safety that allows them to explore their world, learn about their life, and grow more mature. One of the best ways to spend quality time with your children is to enter their world rather than expecting them to enter your world. When you enter your children’s world of play, imagination, and thought you learn so much about them and you help them grow more mature. Of course, sometimes we find it difficult to enter our children’s world. After all, it’s just so… well…childish. But the benefits to their emotional and mental health are enormous. Here are some tips to help you enter their world.
Let them lead the play rather than you leading them. As they direct the play, you can narrate what is happening like a sport’s caster narrating the play. When you do this, your children feel valued and appreciated. They know you consider them significant enough to pay attention to. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children will give you more ideas for letting your children lead the play).
Let your children choose the toy. When children are expected to play with a toy not of their choosing, they quickly become bored. Their attention span shortens and their interest wanes. You actually help increase your children’s attention span when you follow their lead and let them choose the toys and objects of play (For more read Nurture Your Child’s Attention Span).
Be available during the play without imposing your desires on them. Instead of suggesting what your children “could do,” delve into what they are doing and enjoy it. Enjoy their imagination, their ideas, and their activities. Your children will learn the importance and power of their ideas.
Allow children to enjoy independent, unstructured play while you remain available to them. Studies suggest that children allowed to engage in independent play have higher IQ’s than those who engaged only in adult led and structured play (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller than Himself” for more).
In other words, a great way to have quality time with your children is to let your children teach you rather than trying to teach them. When we allow our children to teach us, we let them have the joy of discovering themselves.
Play offers innumerable benefits to your marriage. Let me name a few.
Play allows you to spend time with your spouse and enjoy your spouse’s company. This builds intimacy.
Play can deepen and broaden your marital relationship. It provides a time in which we are absorbed in your marital relationship.
Play helps to heal any breaches or damage done to your relationship. It helps to repair the quality of your relationship.
Play facilitates acceptance and openness.
Play contributes to feelings of acceptance and relational safety. In fact, some would call play the antidote to shame and fear. Play can take away shame and fear and allow you to find greater acceptance and security.
Play builds trust. Rather than judging motives or assuming negative intent, couples who play together are more likely to give one another the benefit of the doubt and find the humor in mistakes.
Play can help resolve conflict. Those who play together are more able to admit mistakes and make amends.
Play builds understanding.
So, take time to play this week. Go out with your spouse and enjoy some fun. Joke around. Play some games. Laugh. Laugh some more. And enjoy the play as it strengthens your marriage!
Recent data from Extreamist showed children between 2-18 years old stream about 1.8 hours of content from Netflix, Hulu, Your Tube, or other online services each day. This adds up to 650 hours per year. On the other hand, data from the National Wild Life Federations suggests children spend an average of 4-7 minutes playing outdoors each day. That only adds up to 24 to 43 hours per year. In other words, the amount of time children spend streaming and watching shows is 15 to 27 times greater than the time they spend in unstructured outdoor play. (Read Kids Watch Services Like Netflix 15 Times as Much as They Play Outdoors for more on these statistics.) They spend more time watching cops and robbers on a screen than they spend playing cops and robbers…more time watching fantasy stories created and filmed by others than they spend creating their own imaginative stories. The unstructured, imaginative play they miss out on by watching streaming videos is the very activity that helps fuel their emotional maturity and makes them “a head taller than themselves” in self-control and emotional management (See Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself” for more.)
Another study, led by a professor at the University of Montreal, reveals a few more specifics about the impact of watching TV, especially for toddlers (Couch Potato: Chilling In Front of the TV as a Toddler Can Lead to Being Bullied Later in Life.) This study examined the connection between time spent watching TV as a 29-month-old toddler and the same child’s social experience as a 13-year-old. The results suggest that every 53 minutes of daily toddler TV exposure increased the risk of peer victimization, social isolation, or aggression in that same child at 13 years of age. In other words, the more a toddler watched TV, the greater the risk of poor social interactions as a 13-year-old.
Overall, the more time children spend watching TV, the less time they spend engaging in the creative imaginative, and interactive play that is so crucial to healthy development. Maybe we, as parents, need to ask ourselves some difficult questions:
Do we want our children’s minds, imaginations, and emotions shaped by half-hour sitcoms and frenetic cartoons or by the interactive, imaginative play engaged in with others?
Do we want our children’s intellect and thought life stimulated by the subtle innuendos of shows streamed into the home or by the undivided responsive interaction of friends and family?
Do we want our children’s values to mimic those learned on the internet (where someone can be thrown across the room and stand up unharmed) or those learned from interactions with “real-live” people with real emotions and real consequences?
I’m not suggesting our children never watch TV or stream shows. However, our children will benefit greatly when we learn to limit the streaming and encourage their creative, imaginative interactions with other people.
I love to watch parents interact with their children. Over time, I have observed at least three ways parent tend to interact with their children.
The parent points out a toy or some object in an effort to direct their child to play with that particular object. If you watch closely, you’ll see their child’s eyes wander and the child ultimately gravitate toward toys he likes in spite of his parents’ desires and effort to “direct” their child’s focus.
The child picks a toy he likes and, before beginning to play with it, brings it to show his parents. His parents briefly acknowledge the toy before quickly turning their attention to another toy, a text, or something else in the area. They give very little attention to their child’s activity. The child continues to play, but moves from toy to toy rather quickly.
The child picks out a toy he likes and, before beginning to play with it, brings it to show his parents. His parents not only acknowledge the toy, they join in the play. This parent attends to the child’s manner of play and even follows the child’s lead in play. The parent and child enjoy their playful interaction.
Research by Yu and Smith (read more in Infant Attention Span Suffers When Parents’ Eyes Wander During Playtime) suggests that each of these patterns of interaction will influence your child’s attention span! Parents who constantly direct their children’s play or parents who let their own attention wander during play time (as in scenario #1 and #2) raise children with shorter attention spans. Children who played with toys while their parents actually attended to them, them play, and their play object (Scenario #3) exhibited four times the attentional skills. In fact, the longer a parent attended to some toy with their child, the longer the child continued to attend to that toy, even after the parent stopped!
Based on the findings of this research, you can influence your children’s attention span by becoming a responsive student of them. Pay attention to what interests your children. When you see some object or activity “catch your children’s eye,” attend to that object or activity with them. Follow their lead. Join them in their interests and their world. Be curious with them. Engage in the play they initiate. When you tune in to your children’s interests and coordinate your attention with theirs, you actually train their ability to focus and pay attention—you encourage the development of their attention span!
We had another great Family Camp weekend at Camp Christian this year! Tim Jones was the speaker this year. He shared some fantastic insights for our lives and our families. Let me share three of these insights plus my most cherished experience of family camp.
Adored people become beautiful people. This is true for our world and our families. An adored spouse will more likely become a person worthy of adoration. An adored child will more likely live up to their parents’ adoration. An adored parent strives to live a life that honors that adoration. The take home: honor and adore your family to turn the beast within into a beautiful member of your family in Christ.
A vision of where we are going makes all the difference. Times can be difficult, struggles immense. But, having a clear vision of where those difficulties and struggles take us can make them bearable. For instance, discipline is never fun. It is hard for the one disciplined and the one dishing out the discipline. We hate to see our children struggle with the pain of discipline. But, if we keep a clear vision of where we want to go—the godly behavior and wise discernment we want our children to develop—discipline becomes bearable.
We are called to be “story people,” to live a life of adventure following the “still, small voice of God.” There is no greater joy than following God as a family into the adventure of life in Him.
Thanks Tim for these wonderful insights for our lives and our families. Still, my most cherished family camp experience involves a simple observation. Families of all different stages come to family camp—grandparents with grandchildren, families of infants, families of teens, and even “empty nesters.” Spending time at family camp, I was deeply touched by the sight of all these families enjoying time together. Whether worshiping together, playing together, eating together, or laughing together, I loved seeing families interacting with one another. Interacting with families at family camp allows us all to be part of this beautiful experience. That experience is the one I cherish most.
Thanks to Jim and Terry Jones, the deans of family camp, for organizing such a wonderful family experience. Thanks to all who helped create an environment where families can experience the joy of sharing, playing, worshiping, and learning together.
I’m always on the lookout for family activities; but, I’m often surprised by the multiple benefits some simple family activities produce. For instance, taking the family to a “green area” (an area covered with grass with trees, birds, the singing of locusts, and sunshine) has huge benefits for you and your family. You can enjoy a cookout, play Frisbee, sit around and talk, hike…whatever you want in the “green area.” It’s all a wonderful, fun time. But, did you know that spending just 30 minutes a week in a “green area” can lead to lower rates of depression and lower rates of high blood pressure. That’s right. A recent study actually estimated that we could reduce cases of depression in the city by 7% and incidents of high blood pressure by 9% if everyone spent 30 minutes a week in a “green area.” Even more, this study revealed that the more frequently people visit a “green area,” the greater their sense of social cohesion. In other words, the more time people spend outdoors in grassy, wooded areas the more they will work to promote the well-being of others, include others, create a sense of belonging, and promote trust. (Read the study at Health Benefits from Nature Experiences Depend on Dose)
You may be wondering…what this all has to do with family? It brings to mind a suggestion, a prescription if you will. Find a grassy wooded area near your home and visit it with your family once a week. Have a picnic. Go for a walk. Fly a kite. Sit together and read. Paint a picture of the scenery. Whatever you want, but do it outdoors with your family. If you do it once a week you have decreased the chances of depression and high blood pressure in your family. That sounds a like something I want to pass on to my kids! In addition, this study would suggest that playing outdoors as a family also creates an environment where each family member will feel a greater sense of belonging and trust. They will watch out for one another. In other words, they will feel a greater sense of security, trust, and belonging. I don’t know about you, but I want that for my family…and spending time in a “green spot” can help make it happen. So, consider this your prescription for a “green area.” Identify a “green spot” near your home. Visit it often with your spouse for a romantic walk, with your kids for a rambunctious game of tag, or with your whole family for an enjoyable picnic. Do this for 30 minutes once a week for a happy, carefree, intimate family.