Babies are born with almost all the neurons in their brains that they will need as adults. Their first developmental task is to start linking those neurons together to form the neural circuits that govern knowledge and skills. Growing babies’ brains is serious work!
In the first year of life, a baby’s brain develops these neural networks very rapidly. That development is driven partly by genes but also by the baby’s experiences and environment. So it is vital that babies get a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment.
Here are my top tips for how parents can help grow their babies’ brains: Continue reading →
When you watch children playing, it is impossible not to be struck by how completely engaged and absorbed they are by what they are doing. Play is the epitome of mindfulness – being 100% in the moment and just going with the flow. Being truly present, without reservation, both in our actions and in our emotions. Children do it all the time.
When was the last time you felt truly in the present moment like that?
There has been a lot of theorising about how mindfulness can improve mental health and emotional wellbeing. Typical mindfulness activities include breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. But, as parents, one of the most valuable ways we can enter an engaged and relaxing flow is through playing with our children.
Now, I don’t mean the type of playing where parents are in charge. Not the type of play where you tell your child what to do or control the activity. I mean joint and reciprocal play where you are both equal and feed off each other’s ideas and signals. Like children do together.
The type of play where you tune into each other, suspend your typical roles and have real fun. Continue reading →
If I had a penny for every time I have been asked about teaching children to share, I would be a very rich parenting expert indeed! It is one of the first post-babyhood problems that parents of toddlers bump up against. Teaching children to share is linked to teaching kindness and to the personal values that we strive to develop in our children. And it can feel like a daily battleground if you have more than one child! Sharing-phobia can also rear its head again during the self-obsessed teenage years.
So, teaching children to share definitely isn’t a one-off activity.
Here’s a quick summary of my most frequently asked questions about teaching children to share and a few tips to help you set off on the right track. Continue reading →
Last week I had a frantic call from The Daily Mirror. They had picked up some research on 50 ‘lost’ skills that today’s children are not learning and wanted commentary from a parenting expert. As usual, when it comes to journalism, they needed a response URGENTLY. Please could I come up with a list of the 20 most important life skills children should learn. I had 30 minutes.
The original research had been sponsored by Addis Housewares so was predictably full of domestic tasks such as darning socks and making jam. In my list, I tried to widen this (and make it a bit less gender stereotyped) to include financial management and car/bike maintenance and communication skills. I can’t say it was my most inspired 30 minutes ever but it did get me thinking.
Mulling it over afterwards, what intrigued me was not so much which exact life skills children should learn but how children learn practical life skills and why it is/isn’t happening.
Looking at my own family and friends, it does seem that children are not picking up the same practical skills they would have been equipped with 30 years ago. By the time I was twelve, I could definitely change a plug, make a cup of tea, repair a bike puncture, sew, knit, dust, hoover, grow plants, make an apple crumble and light a fire. I am not sure I could say the same for many of the kids I know (and certainly not for my own). Continue reading →
Take a look at any school playground and you will see that often boys and girls play differently. How do they differ? What are the implications for their child development? What does it mean for how parents raise girls and boys?
Of late, my most important conversations happen in the bath. Sometimes I find a magic window in my busy household and enjoy 20 minutes of uninterrupted bliss, immersed in Epsom salts, lavender oil and bicarbonate of soda. This combination is supposed to release toxins. I have no idea if this actually works. I emerge from the water, wrinkled as a prune. Happy as clam. Totally reinvigorated.
On other occasions, my ‘alone time’ seems to attract more company than one would think possible. My daughters, if not otherwise distracted, will seek me out and share my bath time in more ways than one. My youngest can disrobe startlingly quickly (this is in amusing contrast to the sloth-like pace at which she gets dressed in school uniform every week day morning, especially when we are running disastrously late). She is so silent and adept at this practise that the first I am aware of my bath time interruptus is her ninja like descent. Tom Daly would be stunned at the lack of splash. A sudden slippery seal pup squealing her delight at surprising mummy. I love these times. Top and tailed in our too small tub, and fashioning foamy hairstyles with gravity defying aplomb. We also have some very serious chats.
Today’s discussion was all about Daddy. And competition. And how much it sucks to lose. Continue reading →
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 →
Sometimes, if you want to tear teens away from their tech and grab some quality family time, the best plan is to get them out of the house for the whole weekend and as far away as possible from the temptations of that Xbox. Occasionally, I have managed to convince my two to leave all their gadgets behind, but usually I opt for a strategy of booking relatively low-tech accommodation and keeping them as busy as possible once we are there.
Camping is the ultimate option for reducing tech (though I realise not everyone shares my passion for a weekend without a warm shower or a good night’s sleep). The lack of Wi-Fi and electricity means there is simply no arguing about who is watching what or playing which device – it’s a game of cards or read a book or have a conversation!
My mission to find new ways to entice my teenagers to make more time for family activities (and less time for tech) continues. Now that the weather is warming up, the options are widening – and our early successes with indoor caving and climbing and bouldering have predisposed the teens (just a little) to come along for the ride.
The trickiest bit is finding family activities that all of us will enjoy. Two of us like running: two don’t. I love high ropes: my husband thinks they are hell on earth. We all enjoy bowling – but I’m not convinced that bowling really counts as a high-energy family activity?
Like many people, I worry about my teens spending too much time staring at a screen. As a family, we are all pretty active but we tend to do our sports separately rather than together. We usually have active holidays (such as trekking in Nepal) and we can be quite adventurous with fun family activities in warmer weather.
But in the winter our family time tends to be indoors and/or sedentary (Sunday lunches, lots of cinema, a bit of theatre and the occasional museum trip).
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 →
There’s no doubt that if you want to boost children’s reading skills the best thing you can do is to encourage them to read. Lots and lots. But not all children are quick to discover a love of books and many children (especially boys) go through periods when reading books just doesn’t float their boat (see Books to make boys love reading!).
When pushing your child to read books is more painful than pulling teeth, it’s time to find some new ideas to engage them in reading! Books are not the only way to boost children’s reading skills and inspire them with a love of words and stories.
Here’s 20 ways parents can help boost children’s reading skills that don’t involve them actually reading books: Continue reading →
Toddlers’ brains are only half-finished. As a result, toddlers think in fundamentally different ways from adults. For toddlers, the impossible is just as likely to be true and the laws of the physics don’t exist. Interpreting toddler behaviour according to adult logic is therefore pointless – and it sometimes leads us to draw conclusions that aren’t always helpful. Toddlers make much more sense if you step inside their heads and try and see the world from their level of development.
So here’s a quick guide to what every parent needs to know about toddlers’ brains in order to interpret toddler behaviour accurately.
Why can’t toddlers walk from A to B without being distracted by a leaf?
The part of the brain that enables adults to focus on a task and resist distractions is called the pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex is involved in thinking, planning and focusing and it isn’t well developed in toddlers’ brains. Continue reading →
“He’s got toddler OCD” is a phrase I’ve heard countless times from parents of 2 and 3 year-olds. Sometimes said with a laugh, sometimes with real concern. My response? “Excellent!”
Why “excellent”? Well, in crude terms, repeated actions are the foundation of abstract thinking. A toddler who is obsessively moving toy cars from one place to another (to the exclusion of all other children or activities) is well on the way to building an advanced conceptual model of the world. Frustrating for his parents (and for any other child who wants to play with those cars) but usually simply a sign of intellectual development.
Young children don’t learn about the world by sitting back and contemplating it – their brain structures simply haven’t developed to do that. Young children learn about the world through physical and sensory experiences: touching, tasting, throwing, jumping, and climbing into things. Continue reading →