Regular readers will know that I am passionate about play. Play helps children organise their brains and wire up their neurons. Children need room to roam, physically and imaginatively, so their opportunities for play are as wide and as varied as possible. That’s how they develop flexible and adaptive brains that can rise to challenges and solve problems. Good quality play builds intelligence.
If children’s play is confined to a particular type or activity or location then they can miss out on that full range of developmental opportunities.
Parents’ desire to keep children safe is natural and right. But, in the modern world, keeping children safe often equates to keeping children indoors. That increased time indoors (in often sedentary or low-movement activities) is having a direct impact on children’s physical development and future health. But it also impacts on their brains. Continue reading →
Contrary to popular belief, being able to read, write or do arithmetic are the least important skills that a pre-schooler needs in order to be ready to start school. In fact, only 4% of teachers rate these as important factors in ‘school readiness’.
So what is school readiness, why is it important and what can parents do to ensure their pre-schoolers get off to a flying start at school?
The most important factors that determine whether a preschooIer is ready for learning have nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with attitude. The best learners (whether they are four or eighty-four) are independent, confident to try things out and, above all, curious. For a four-year-old, that means being able to manage their own bodies and interact competently with their environment, being able to recognise similarities/differences, trying different solutions to solve problems and using words to ask questions. Continue reading →
Lots of the characteristics that we associate with maturity are related to the brain’s frontal lobes. This part of the brain governs our higher executive functions such as being able to switch between tasks, weighing things up and planning ahead. The frontal lobes are not fully developed until early adulthood (around 25 years old) – which goes some way to explaining why teenagers can look so mature on the outside but make such bad decisions.
There is quite a bit of evidence that girls’ frontal lobes tend to develop faster than boys’. This might explain the truism that girls mature earlier and might also be one factor in why teenage girls do better at GCSEs than boys. Being better at task planning, time management and self-organisation is a real advantage when it comes to studying.
But, while we are waiting for our teens’ brains to catch up and get with the programme, there is a lot parents can do to provide external structures and tools for teaching teens self-organisation skills (regardless of whether they are girls or boys).
And it is a truly admirable book. Sara Meadows sets out to summarise everything that science currently tells us about how children develop. Encyclopaedic in scope, each chapter examines the science of children from a different angle – from genetics to psychoneuroendocrinology to epidemiology and beyond. A commitment to scientific method runs throughout this book and Meadows’ rigorous examination of the evidence base is welcome in a field where so many so-called ‘parenting experts’ base theories of bringing up children on anecdote and subjective experience. Continue reading →
There is so much parenting advice out there and so little time to sift through it. So I thought I’d come up with a handy summary to help you out. If you’ve only got five minutes and are going to read just one thing about parenting this month, then here’s my pick of the best advice for you!
Give me a baby and I can’t help experimenting on her. Sticking out my tongue to see if she will copy, striking up a ‘making-faces’ conversation, looking at an object to see if she will follow my gaze, playing peekaboo. Now that my children are older, I don’t get much baby time but The Psychology of Babies by Lynne Murray makes a great substitute.
This fabulous book recreates classic developmental psychology experiments in an easy-to-follow photo format specifically designed to support parents and practitioners in decoding babies’ behaviour and understanding why babies do the things they do.
In terms of child development, the differences between boys and girls are far outweighed by their similarities. All children basically have the same needs regardless of their gender. And yet “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” is almost always the first piece of information we give (or ask for) about a newborn baby. Socially, gender is a very important fact.
There are different schools of thought as to whether gender differences are hardwired into babies’ brains or are a product of social conditioning. In reality, it’s almost impossible to disentangle whether differences between boys and girls are biological or social because, right from birth, adults treat boys and girls differently. Continue reading →
If you are a bit of a brain geek (like me) and a parent of teenagers (or nearly-teens) then this is the ideal book for you. It charts the changes that take place inside teenagers’ brains and how the differences between teenagers’ and adults’ brains can explain typical teenage behaviour (such as impulsivity, risk-taking, mood swings, lack of insight, forgetfulness, and poor judgement).
For a parent of teenagers, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults is both an enlightening and a frightening read. It will help you understand why your teenagers behave the way they do (and why they can’t control it) but also just how dangerous that teen thinking and risk-taking could be. A teenager’s brain is basically a recipe for disaster: a hormone flooded, jacked up, stimulus-seeking explosion incapable of weighing up risks or making mature decisions. It’s amazing any of them survive at all…. Continue reading →
It takes time for children to learn to recognise and manage their feelings. Talking to children about emotions can help this process. Talking is usually best done when everyone is calm and no-one is overly emotional. Reading a book together can help young children to reflect on feelings (their own and other people’s) and can prompt conversations about how emotions are expressed.
Here are my favourite books for talking to children about emotions – I hope you find them useful. Continue reading →
Amazing! magazine is a monthly children’s educational magazine for boys and girls aged 7+. It’s aim is to educate whilst entertaining by providing engaging content that children will actually want to read. The content is based on the UK Key Stage 2 national curriculum and covers core subjects such as Maths, English, Science, History, Art etc. – but in a fun and accessible way that draws on children’s fascination with the gory, rude and funny. If your kids like Horrible Histories, then Amazing! magazine might be right up their street.
Unlike cheap and cheerful keep-them-quiet-in-the-supermarket comics, there are no free plastic toys (hurray!) but 36 pages of cheeky puzzles, brainteasers, jokes and funny factoids. The academic subject matter is all re-interpreted to have a child-fascinating focus (think zombies, cheesy feet, aliens and bogeys) with high quality illustrations and a child-friendly font and snippets layout. If only all learning could be like this… Continue reading →
Why do children lie? Let’s be honest, all children experiment with lying. It is normal and – although it can be quite shocking for parents – it is not necessarily the start of a slippery slope to immorality and delinquency. Apparently, the average 6 year old lies about once an hour!
But why do children lie?
Although we might feel that we are setting a clear moral example, society’s attitudes towards lying can be a bit confusing for young children. Sometimes lying is ok. In those circumstances we urge our children not to tell the truth – e.g. not saying that someone has a fat bottom (when they have) or not telling someone about a surprise or a present. Continue reading →
Triple P parenting self-help workbooks are an ideal solution for parents who want to learn more about positive parenting but who can’t attend a parenting course.
The books cover all the same material as the acclaimed 8-week Triple P parenting courses – helping parents to discover and implement positive parenting strategies for managing, educating and caring for their children – but with the added convenience of being able to read it on the train or dip in and out as time permits. The workbooks guide parents through a 10 week series of reading, thinking and practice tasks designed to build good relationships with children, encourage their learning and development and manage their behaviour in a positive way. There are three Triple P parenting self-help workbooks to choose from, depending on the age and needs of your child: Continue reading →
We all want our children to do well – at school and in life – and to reach their full potential. But battling over homework and bribing them to complete extra maths booklets isn’t always the best way of supporting your child’s development. Young children are like scientists. Their play is a series of experiments conducted on the world to find out how it works. Play helps children master key skills and develop neurological pathways in their brains: the more they use those pathways, the faster and more established they become.
The internet is jam-packed with practical ideas for busy parents to stimulate their child’s learning whilst also having fun. But most of us are too busy to wade through it to find the best ideas! So – to help out all you busy parents – I have compiled a handy resource list of articles and websites that cover all the bases when it comes to supporting your child’s development. From 2-minute games to 2-week projects, this resource list gives parents concrete do-able ideas for using learning through play to optimise their children’s development at different ages across key developmental areas: Continue reading →
A new baby means big changes for the whole family. Second (or third) time around, you’ve got a pretty good idea what’s coming. But your toddler has no idea what’s about to hit them and there’s a good chance they won’t particularly like it when it happens. A new baby means lots of things toddlers don’t like: sharing toys, sharing the limelight, sharing mummy, well, sharing in general!
It’s not uncommon for toddlers to have confused reactions to the arrival of a new sibling – one minute being the perfect big brother or sister, then angry, jealous or aggressive, or even self-harming. My eldest son reacted to his brother’s arrival by banging his head – hard – against walls, the floor, people, sometimes hard enough to cause a bruise. It was very distressing (though thankfully passed quickly) and I will always be grateful to the lovely mum who came up to me in the pub garden and told me not to worry, her son had done the same thing.
There’s no guarantees that things will go smoothly, but preparing your child in advance for the new baby’s arrival should help to get things off to a good start. Continue reading →