Parents are squeezing the role of play out of their children’s lives in favour of the three ‘R’s as they try to prepare their offspring for a competitive world, according to the head of Lego’s education charity arm.
A lack of understanding of the value of play is prompting parents and schools alike to reduce it as a priority, says Hanne Rasmussen, head of the Lego Foundation. If parents and governments push children towards numeracy and literacy earlier and earlier, it means they miss out on the early play-based learning that helps to develop creativity, problem-solving and empathy, she says.
According to Rasmussen, the evidence for play-based learning has built enormously over the last decade, but parents don’t know about it. “Both in the formal education system and in the homes of children, the focus on the value of play is rather limited. That’s really something we want to work on – to improve the understanding of the value of play and what play really can do, where more and more it is squeezed by a desire both from the formal system and from parents that children should learn specific literacy and numeracy quite early.”
The intervention by Rasmussen directly challenges the knowledge-based, heavily tested approach to schooling favoured by the UK government – and questioned by many education practitioners.
The 29-year-old Lego Foundation, generously funded with a quarter of Lego’s post-tax profits, is beginning to flex its muscles. Where once it quietly dished out cash – and bricks – to lots of small projects, it has set its sights on campaigning for a mindset change in education around the world. “Our contribution to the world is to challenge the status quo by redefining play and reimagining learning,” says the foundation’s mission statement.
Part of the mission involves putting £4m into a new “Lego professorship” at Cambridge University – the first incumbent will be chosen in April – and supporting an accompanying Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning (Pedal). There are more links with Harvard, MIT and other prestigious institutions. The aim is to provide an incontrovertible academic underpinning to the educational value of play, and to define more clearly what works and how to measure it, arming Lego with more evidence to support its campaigning.
But can a toy company – albeit the largest in the world and so famous that its every move makes news (David Beckham builds Lego “to relax”; Ai Weiwei embarrassed “non-political” Lego into bulk-selling him bricks for art) – really influence the way our children learn? Conquering the globe with little red and yellow bricks is one thing; changing the minds of governments is another.
As a child in Denmark in the 1970s, Rasmussen recalls there was more time to play simply because there were fewer of the planned activities that clog up the timetables of today’s over-scheduled children. “We had more room to actually engage and keep ourselves entertained and we learned through that and we grew in many different ways through that,” she says. She and her sister played with Lego, but Rasmussen’s real joy was her years in the sea scouts, when she and three or four other teens would island-hop at weekends on a small boat off the coast close to the Danish capital, adult-free and entirely independent.
“All over the world, we see parents spending much energy doing the best for their child, and play is not on that list because they don’t have the background to understand what it could do.”
The problem is not that parents don’t have their child’s best interests at heart, she says. But “global competition, economic development – that has put fear or a concern into parents and into governments over how do we become relevant in 15 years or even right now”.
Countries fear seeing their young people left behind, their workforce made irrelevant. “And in that situation what the parent says is, ‘I want my child to have a job, without a job the child will not have a good life, so what can I do to prepare the child?’ And the answer often ends up being more focus on specific skills, and earlier and earlier.”
Rasmussen laments that “barriers in systems – school systems, homes, longstanding institutions that run on their own structures and methodologies” make it a “heavy, heavy task” to change things. Here in the UK – with a school starting age some three years earlier than that of our Scandinavian neighbours, “instructional” learning from the outset and external testing of seven-year-olds in literacy and numeracy – the barriers look pretty solid.
Lego identifies five types of play – physical, symbolic, with rules, with objects, and pretence – and points to the variety of skills developed through each. Even tech-driven play – that source of guilt and respite for so many parents – can fit in: not mindless screen-gawping but activities in which children can “engage with the technology”, or what Lego calls “hands-on, minds-on”. Its second definition of play is a playful state of mind in which, Rasmussen says, “you are open and try different things and are in a positive flow”.
Nailing the benefits of play seems a bit like describing beauty – the essence of it seems somehow diminished by scientific analysis – but research findings are accumulating.
A Cambridge University project, funded by the foundation, saw children devise, tell and act out stories with Lego before writing them down, with play shown to boost narrative and writing skills, as well as interaction and cooperation. The Cambridge study centre will now look into how early play relates to other aspects of young children’s development, explore what happens to the brain during play and conduct a longitudinal study examining what promotes children’s playfulness and how it helps learning and wellbeing.
With strong evidence of the power of play, parents and politicians can be convinced, Rasmussen says. It’s not a question of rejecting the importance of the “content” so beloved of Conservative education secretaries, “but things are changing so fast in our society so the understanding of how you gain and use content knowledge is for us much, much more important. It has to be a balance. You need skills to interact with others, to be able to seek knowledge yourself, because learnings will get outdated.”
An early school starting age need not necessarily be harmful, she says, providing the learning is based on whole-child development and not “sitting at a desk”. But, in contrast to the UK system, she advocates children learning through play well into key stage 2: “In the early years – and that’s up to around eight – a play-based methodology makes a lot of sense.” She cites New Zealand research indicating that early formal literacy lessons do not make children any better readers by age 11, and may even put them off reading.
If Lego is right, then in Britain, with our early formal schooling, we’re getting it wrong. Critics might say that the Lego Foundation – though separate from Lego’s commercial arm – is simply about flogging more models of the Star Wars Millennium Falcon. But, Rasmussen points out, Lego isn’t producing pro-play research itself: the findings come from some of the most esteemed universities on the planet. The Lego link does not compromise the argument, she insists. “We certainly believe the brick is a very, very valuable tool in learning through play but is it the only way or only tool? No, certainly not.”
Can Lego really persuade fearful parents and governments to trust in play? It’s a safe bet that most of its audience will at some time have locked a few Lego bricks together – and just might be willing to listen.
“They may not be able to fly or leap tall buildings, but when talking heroics, moms fulfil what psychologists have identified as the four important functions of a hero”. Scott T. Allison, University of Richmond
More than 60 years ago, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed his famous hierarchy of human needs, spanning the most basic biological needs to the pinnacle of realizing one’s full potential. Mothers are masters at helping their children meet this full range of human needs: from providing physical nourishment and safety, love and affection, all the way up to supporting emotional and spiritual growth.
Survey respondents report their mothers as heroic in helping them progress through the various stages of Maslow’s model – even if they don’t call it that. A good mother feeds you, protects you, loves you, helps you connect with others and encourages you to become your best self. She’s fulfilling what psychologists including me have identified as the four important functions of a hero: provide defence and protection; embody intelligence and wisdom; model moral behaviour; and promote enhancement and inspiration.
Here’s how moms do it.
1.Mothers defend and protect
Amazing stories abound of mothers doing whatever it takes to save their children, whether lifting astronomical weights or sacrificing their own lives. It is commonplace to see headlines about mothers saving and protecting their children in the most harrowing of circumstances.
The protection function of heroes is seen in the comments of survey respondents about why their mothers are their heroes. Typical responses include, “My mother protected me from neighbourhood bullies” and “My mother kept me safe from predators.” In her review of the psychological mechanisms of motherhood, Rebecca M. Fischer, a student researcher here at the University of Richmond, found that mothers are “biologically driven to protect, care for and motivate their children to succeed.”
2.Mothers provide intelligence and wisdom
Scientists are beginning to uncover evidence suggesting that intelligence is inherited more from mothers than from fathers. Beyond this genetic inheritance, mothers tend to be committed to passing on wisdom to their children. My own mother taught me that the most important things in life are intangible and cannot be bought – love, integrity, character and honesty.
And mothers often impart intentional life lessons to their children. Former first lady Michelle Obama observed: “Life is practice and I tell my girls this every day. You are practising who you are going to be. … Do you want to be dependable? Then you have to be dependable. If you want people to trust you then you have to be trustworthy.”
3.Mothers are moral models
A mother always try to provide an example of high standards of human conduct. Legendary tales of heroism almost always include mentors who possess enduring wisdom and are willing to share it. Mothers serve as mentors to their sons and daughters when they need guidance while growing up.
As children, many people watch their mothers’ selflessness and daily sacrifices, and learn that we’re all called to perform these acts of kindness for others. Heroes are beacons of hope who demonstrate how to behave virtuously. Sounds like a lot of moms.
4.Mothers enhance and inspire
The respondents to my colleagues’ and my hero surveys never fail to mention how their mothers made them better people. Typical responses include, “My mother inspired me to become my best self” and “My mother motivated me to develop my fullest potential.”
Mothers come out on top in our poll of heroes because of the free offering of love that they provide. Good moms are there for you when you need emotional support. They hug you. They comfort you when you cry and let you sit on their laps. They kiss you on your cheeks before school and at bedtime at night.
Article -The Conversation
Scott T. Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond.
09 May 2019
Photo Credit: Photo by Taiana Martinez (Tai’s Captures)
We often hear about the benefits of reading storybooks at bedtime for promoting vocabulary, early literacy skills, and a good relationship with your child. But the experts haven’t been in your home, and your child requests the same book every single night, sometimes multiple times a night. You both know all the words off by heart.
Given activities occurring just before sleep are particularly well-remembered by young children, you might wonder if all this repetition is beneficial. The answer is yes. Your child is showing they enjoy this story, but also that they are still learning from the pictures, words, and the interactions you have as you read this book together.
Kids want repetition
A preference for familiarity, rather than novelty, is commonly reported at young ages, and reflects an early stage in the learning process. For example, young infants prefer faces that are the same gender and ethnicity as their caregiver.
With age and experience, the child’s interests shift to novelty seeking. By four to five months, novel faces are more interesting than the now highly familiar caregiver face.
But even three-day olds prefer looking at a novel face if they’re repeatedly shown a picture of their mother’s face. So once infants have encoded enough information about an image, they’re ready to move on to new experiences.
Your child’s age affects the rate at which they will learn and remember information from your shared book-reading. Two key principles of memory development are that younger children require longer to encode information than older children, and they forget faster.
For example, one-year olds learn a sequence of new actions twice as fast as six-month olds. And while a 1.5-year old typically remembers a sequence of new actions for two weeks, two-year olds remember for three months.
Two-dimensional information sources, like books and videos, are however harder to learn from than direct experiences. Repeated exposure helps children encode and remember from these sources.
How do kids learn from repetition?
Being read the same story four times rather than two times improved 1.5- and two-year olds’ accuracy in reproducing the actions needed to make a toy rattle. Similarly, doubling exposure to a video demonstration for 12- to 21-month olds improved their memory of the target actions.
Repeated readings of the same storybook also help children learn novel words, particularly for children aged three to five years.
Repetition aids learning complex information by increasing opportunities for the information to be encoded, allowing your child to focus on different elements of the experience, and providing opportunities to ask questions and connect concepts together through discussion.
You might not think storybooks are complicated, but they contain 50% more rare words than prime-time television and even college students’ conversations. When was the last time you used the word giraffe in a conversation with a colleague? Learning all this information takes time.
The established learning benefits of repetition mean this technique has become an integral feature in the design of some educational television programs. To reinforce its curriculum, the same episode of Blue’s Clues is repeated every day for a week, and a consistent structure is provided across episodes.
Five consecutive days of viewing the same Blue’s Clues episode increased three to five-year olds’ comprehension of the content and increased interaction with the program, compared to viewing the program only once. Across repetitions, children were learning how to view television programs and to transfer knowledge to new episodes and series. The same process will likely occur with storybook repetition.
How parents can support repetitive learning
The next time that familiar book is requested again, remember this is an important step in your child’s learning journey. You can support further learning opportunities within this familiar context by focusing on something new with each retelling.
One day look more closely at the pictures, the next day focus on the text or have your child fill in words. Relate the story to real events in your child’s world. This type of broader context talk is more challenging and further promotes children’s cognitive skills.
Currently, we are faced with a lot of confusion in the public space and on social media with regards to car seats. Lines easily blur between the law, what regulation stipulate and best practice. Let’s shed some light on this crucial topic for the safety of our most prized possessions, our children. By Peggie Mars
In South Africa, the National Road Traffic Act stipulates that children under the age of 3 must be in a car seat. Children between the ages of 3-14 or 1.5 meters tall must be in a car seat if one is available. In the event, you don’t have a car seat available your child needs to be strapped in with a seatbelt. The Act requires that all car seats be appropriate and correctly certified but doesn’t specify where the seat must be installed or whether a seat must be rear or forward facing.
Car seat regulations set a minimum standard to adhere to and in South Africa we adhere to regulations ECE 44/04 and 129, or I-Size as set out by the European Economic Community. These documents address every aspect of the car seat including the size, width of the harness, the strength of the buckle, the material the seat is made of, the operators manual, the procedures of testing and much more. This sets the bar for all car seat manufacturers and they always issue an orange sticker on the seat to certify it has passed all their standards. Baby or infant seats can only be rear facing and with a weight limit of 13kg or an age limit of 15 months.
In best practice, we go above the Traffic Act and the ECE Regulations in the interest of the safety of our children. It is best to have your child rear facing for as long as you can and there are some car seats which are certified to do this till 25kg. The safest place to install your seat is on the middle seat at the back but unfortunately, there isn’t always a 3-point seatbelt available on that seat, the second best option would be to put the littlest child behind the passenger seat.
Car seats can be quite pricey and we aren’t always able to attain the best-suited seat, but you can rear face your child till the upper weight, height and age limit. It is advised that children under the age of 14 rides at the back, but this isn’t practical most of the time. A child can be seated on the front passenger seat as long as their car seats are correctly installed, and the airbag is turned off. Between the Road Traffic Act, the ECE Regulations and best practice, we must find a happy and legal medium that works for us, for our children and our vehicles. The safest seat is the one that you can afford, that fits your vehicle and child and that you use correctly.
It is all over the news! How much screen time is too much for young children? What is it about this age of technology and the need to understand the dynamics of our changing world? Are we bringing up a generation of children who are comfortably able to live in a world of humans and computers? Are we allowing little bodies to develop fine and gross motor skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, imagination and creativity? Or are we choosing to remain blind to the negative effects that screen time is having on the physical and cognitive development of our children? Or is it just easier to give in and ignore the very real possibility that too much time on electronic devices is stifling our children’s ability to learn effectively?”
Important points for consideration:
Children learn by doing, not by having things done for them.
Building puzzles, creating imaginative games, playing in the sand or climbing a tree require active involvement from children. They need to think, solve problems and use their innate creativity to enjoy these activities. Furthermore, they develop important motor skills. In a nutshell, children learn how to use their bodies and minds effectively. Sitting for hours in front of a screen involves mindless pressing of ‘buttons’ and instant gratification. This is clearly not ideal for growing and developing children.
We live in a world of other human beings.
Playing games with other children, be it siblings or friends, involves learning essential emotional intelligence skills. Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills are learned to a great extent, through interactive play. Parents who spend time playing games or making things with their children enjoy positive relationships and wonderful connections that cannot ever be experienced on a computer.
Children who spend time outdoors enjoy the benefits of natural light, the warmth of the sun, exercise and heartfelt laughter.
Their developing bodies can enjoy the freedom of running, climbing, riding bikes or sitting in the shade of a tree observing the little creatures that make up their world. There is no computer- generated game or activity that can mimic these essential, healthy lifestyle activities.
We live in a world of increasingly demanding technology – that is a fact that we cannot ignore. But Cindy argues that it doe / s not mean that we should deprive young children of essential life and developmental skills by allowing technology to override their natural and innate need to learn through active engagement with their world and all that it offers.
“In short, little children do not need devices; they need trees and building blocks, puzzles and crayons.
Source – Article Absolute Mama Magazine / Cindy Glass, Founder and Owner of Step Up Education Centres
It’s not just cake and candles anymore – planning a toddler’s party these days can be quite a job.
Yashmitha Padayachee chatted to some of South Africa’s best party planners and got their top tips.
Planning a party can be overwhelming and costly. There are so many aspects to consider: venues, catering, photo-shoots, themes … the list goes on
According to K & M Kiddies Parties, your starting point needs to be your budget. Every decision you make for the event will be based on your budget. Allocate an amount as a whole, and then subdivide for your catering, cake, venue, and so on. That way, if you’re under budget in one aspect, you can re-allocate the surplus to another area.
Location, Location, Location
Start by considering when and where you want to celebrate your little one’s special day. Many parents are able to hire out conference-style venues or halls, while others opt for activity-driven venues such as an ice-rink, paintball arena or an indoor trampoline park. Others still are content with a local park or their own back yard.
Your choice will depend on the age and interest of your child and, of course, your budget. Keep in mind the season your party falls into, and whether or not you will need some form of an undercover area.
Can you dye my plates to match my serviettes?
Choosing a simple theme makes décor prep and ‘installation’ all that much easier. Most mainstream party stores stock a wide range of character and generic themed party items, from matching plates, cups and serviettes, to banners and balloons.
Children are exposed to a whole host of television characters and this can easily influence a party theme. Generic themes such as ‘flowers’, ‘ponies’, dinosaurs’ or ‘racecars’ can be a cost-effective alternative. Let the theme carry through all aspects of the party, from invitations, to décor, to the shape of the biscuits.
A party without cake is just a meeting
Baking has transformed itself into an art similar to couture fashion design, and themed cakes, biscuits and cupcakes can make or break a toddler’s party. A first birthday cake smash is must: you can have it professionally photographed if it fits into your budget, or snap a few pictures yourself. It might be easier to have this done on a separate day to the actual party.
Any function often leads to large quantities of wasted food: remember that your VIP guests all have tiny tummies and miniature cupcakes are a cute substitute to a traditional cake. Cupcakes can also be shaped and iced to form a themed cake.
In this age group all parties will still include parents, so your catering choices must accommodate for both palates. Light finger foods are always easier to prepare, and going simple leaves less room for error. Be mindful of labelling possible food allergy culprits such as nuts and dairy, or checking dietary requirements ahead of the big day.
Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened
Last, but by no means least, a small parting gift is just the thing to make your guests feel special and thank them for attending your special event. Goodie bags are customarily given to all children attending, and come in many shapes and sizes. Buckets, baskets, packets or brown paper packages tied up with string, they should ideally contain a juice, chips, candy, and some toy or treat that ties in with the theme. Colouring pages with a mini pack of crayons are a perfect way to let the party go home with your guest.
As your child grows and develops their own likes and dislikes, they can become more involved in the planning process such as the theme and possible catering choices.
A child’s party shouldn’t run unnecessarily long, and shouldn’t be riddled with formality. Children under age five often still need naps, and the event can be quite draining on the adults too.
A toddler party should be kept short and structured, with simple yet entertaining age-appropriate activities.
Decide on whether or not you will be opening gifts at the party or after. While it is delightful for the ‘gift giver’ to see the excitement and joy their gift brings to the birthday boy or girl, it can be a bit too much at the end of a high energy party. It’s a good idea to set the presents aside for after a nap, when your little one is feeling refreshed and ready to rip off all that gift wrap.
Article: Milestones Magazine – MamaMagic | Jun 15, 2018