Helping Children Make FriendsWhether you have a shy child or outgoing one, it can be challenging for children to make new friends and navigate social situations on their own. Though it’s not a good idea to manage every aspect of your children’s friendships or even bribe their peers to play with them, parents can provide opportunities and gentle coaching towards helping children make friends.

  • Give children lots of opportunities to play with peers. Arrange playdates for preschoolers and school age children. If your preschooler is not in child care, enroll him or her in a preschool or a playgroup that meets regularly. Go to the park or other places where your child will have a chance to meet peers under your supervision. There is no substitute for the experience children gain from interacting with peers. Children who have had many opportunities to play with peers from an early age are clearly at an advantage when they enter formal group settings such as child care or elementary school.

Playground play teaches children about partnership, teamwork, and fair play. It is through play that a child’s primitive understanding about “rules” is reinforced because most games and social situations have rules. While our home environments may be more forgiving and tolerant about bending the game rules, it is quickly apparent to children that their peers aren’t always as tolerant and forgiving. Michele Borba, EdD, summarizes the importance of social skills, “Friends play an enormous part in the development of children’s self-esteem. If we want our children to become their personal best, it’s essential to improve their ability to get along well with others.”

  • Play with your child like a peer. Get on the floor and build with blocks or act out imaginary roles. For school age children, play an outdoor activity like basketball or soccer or grab a board game for fun inside. You will learn a lot about how your child plays when you play with him. Observational studies indicate that the parents of the most socially competent children laugh and smile often, avoid criticizing their child during play, are responsive to the child’s ideas, and aren’t too directive.
  • Talk to your child about their friends. Ask your child about what happened in preschool or school. “Whom did you play with today?” “Why do you like playing with that friend?” Have your child tell you about interactions that upset him. “How did you feel when he took your shovel at the park?” “Why do you think he did that?” “What could you do next time to play together?” Or if it was your child who took the shovel, ask the same questions, but talk about other ways to express his feelings and wants.
  • Make your conversations opportunities to solve problems together. Remember, these are conversations and not lectures. It makes sense that we want our children to learn from what we say, but sometimes we need to just listen to how they feel and then develop coping strategies together.
  • Try not to interfere in your child’s play situations. Unless your child or the other children are in danger of getting hurt or the situation has escalated beyond their ability to work out the issues, let your child work out her own social challenges. Children can benefit from learning to compromise on their own in a safe, supervised setting.

Helping Children Navigate Social Situations

Despite our best efforts to teach them, our children may still need help learning to take turns or accepting the ideas of others. As eager as we may be for them to succeed, here are some suggestion from Richard Lavoie, author of Teacher’s Guide: Last One Picked…First One Picked On, when coaching our children about social situations.

  • Encourage children to make friends with kids who are a year or two younger. Although the children are different ages, they may be at a similar developmental level. By befriending younger children, your child may enjoy a degree of status and acceptance that he does not experience among his peers.
  • Give children the opportunity to opt out when they do not want to participate in large groups play activities.
  • Avoid highly charged competitive situations for young children. Competitive sports or other activities are often a source of great anxiety and failure for children trying to make friends. Parents should focus on participation, enjoyment, contribution, and satisfaction in competitive activities.
  • Listen to children as they share about difficulties during a social situation and discuss optional strategies without judgement or punishment.

Resources for Children Who Need More Help Making Friends

Some children are born needing more help in forming friendships. Shyness, empathy, and the ability to read social cues are traits heavily influenced by our genes. Some children are very shy and need more arranged opportunities and gentle encouragement. Some children have less empathy and have trouble understanding the feeling or behavior of others. They may not recognize social cues or have insight into their own behavior that turns off other children and need our help.

Conversations about real life help. Here are some children’s books about making friends.

  • Making Friends: A Mister Rogers’ First Experience Book, written by Fred Rogers
  • How Kids Make Friends: Secrets for Making Lots of Friends, No Matter How Shy You Are, written by Lonnie Michelle
    We want our children’s lives to be happy, healthy and filled with good friends. Helping young children make friends and manage social interactions is a great way to prepare them for a life of navigating a social world.

For more information on childcare and parenting, check out Premier Academy’s Blog Page.

Baby Safety Tips for the HomeBringing home a new baby is an exciting and magical event for any family. Preparing your home in advance for the big day helps parents to proactively provide built in safety for the new addition to the family.

There are a range of different baby safety products on the market today that can make Mom and Dad’s life a lot easier. However, there are also some simple and very traditional types of safety practices that will keep your infant out of harm’s way.

Before your baby is up and about crawling and playing look at each room of the home. General safety issues that can be put in place include

  • Baby safe latches on all drawers and cabinets in kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and storage areas to prevent injury if baby pulls the drawers or cabinets open or gets into the stored contents.
  • Check all electrical cords and remove any that dangle or hang down. Cover all electrical outlets with spring loaded covers that automatically close when the cord is removed.
  • Roll all cords for blinds or drapes up to well above the height that a crawling baby, toddler or infant can reach.
  • Have a new crib and mattress for the baby that is designed to prevent the baby from getting hands or limbs lodged between the posts. The mattress should fit correctly in the crib and extend to the frame on all sides.
  • Limit items in and around the crib and ensure any mobiles or hanging items on the crib are safe and secure and approved for use for a baby.
  • Always have the correctly sized, approved car safety seat for your baby and do not travel with the baby in a vehicle when the child is not secured in the baby car seat.
  • Avoid using any types of room freshening or air treatment products in the nursery or the home as an infant may be extremely sensitive to these products.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, never leave your baby unattended unless they are in a safe, secure location such as their crib. This ensures that the baby can’t get into anything that is potentially dangerous in the few seconds you step away.

For more information on childcare and parenting, check out Premier Academy’s Blog Page.


It's Better to Give Than to ReceiveIt can be a difficult task teaching children that it is better to give than to receive – after all who doesn’t like to receive a gift right? However, by teaching your children this valuable lesson is one of the most rewarding things you can give them.

Going about teaching your children about giving can be difficult, so here are a few ways to work with your children:

  • Start small, especially if you are working with very young children. An example would be making cookies for a sick friend. Let the child know that he or she is doing something nice for the friend, even though your child may want to make and keep the cookies. Avoid this by making enough for both of them.
  • Next, teach them that money isn’t necessary in order to give. They can draw a picture, do chores without being asked or even make breakfast in bed.
  • Let your child be involved in deciding who will benefit from the gift. Maybe you’ve given to the cancer research society for years, but your child heard about a need at the local pet shelter. By allowing them to help with the decision they feel important and learn the value of giving to those who are less fortunate.
  • Children learn by watching their most influential role model: YOU. If you volunteer at a local soup kitchen, when your child is old enough, let them go with you and start helping.

By teaching your children the value of giving rather than receiving, you’re instilling a sense of pride and self-esteem. These are character traits that will take them far as they grow.

For more information on childcare and parenting, check out Premier Academy’s Blog Page.

Talking to Children About Healthy Eating Habits and Positive Body ImageFew topics are as sensitive to talk about with children as weight and body image. How do we as parents contribute to positive body images in our children and teach healthy eating practices without making anyone feel guilty or bad? That can be a tall order. We know we need to start young and set the stage for healthy lifetime habits early. Before we even talk about the topic, however, we can model positive practices.

Children Learn Healthy Eating Habits from Modeling

If we have healthy eating habits, chances are our children will too. Or if we are selective eaters and avoid fruits and veggies, they will likely follow our lead. We can model by building family nutrition and fitness into our family’s day on a regular basis. Can we share meals together – lunch or dinner – at least four days per week? Are there ways we can exercise together, for example, swimming, walking or bike rides to promote healthy exercise habits?

While modeling healthy eating habits, be careful about the messages you send to children about food and eating. Try to avoid the practice of requiring children to eat everything on their plate at meal time which may have been required of us as children. There are different opinions on this, but some health educators encourage children to try one bite of everything, never pushing or forcing. Others advocate for offering children a favorite food and a new food together so they will have at least one healthy food option that they like.

Steer clear of labeling different foods as “bad” or “unhealthy”.  If you label a food unhealthy, it is confusing to children when they then see a beloved caregiver or friend eating that food. You can say that healthy eating refers to the whole of what we eat, and not one individual food or foods which are “bad” for you. The Partnership for a Healthier America is embarking on a campaign to encourage everyone to eat more fruits and vegetables. Taking the approach of encouraging healthier snacks may be more productive than singling out “bad” foods. offers “Go, Slow, and Whoa!” as another approach to healthy eating:

  • “Go” foods are the healthiest options for kids and can be eaten almost anytime
  • “Slow” foods are those you can eat sometimes but not every day
  • “Whoa” foods should make you think, “Wait, should my child eat that?” These are the least nutritious and should only be eaten occasionally.

Healthy Eating Habits for Young Children

  • Infants: With infants, we pay attention to their cues, and stop feeding them when they indicate they are finished by turning away or refusing the breast, bottle or spoon. Be careful what food choices you make for your baby. Solids are not recommended to be served until at least 4 months of age or often later. And even infants can develop preferences for sweets over other foods, particularly if their first solid foods are desserts or fruits.
  • Toddlers and Preschoolers: With toddler and preschool children, provide healthy snacks and beverages such as water. Eating slowly together as a family is a good practice. Never require children to eat when they are not hungry. And try not to use food as a reward or punishment. If you notice that your child is developing eating issues, they should be discussed with your pediatrician right away.

Talking to Preteens and Teens about Positive Body Image and Healthy Habits

From their earliest years, children are immersed in images and talk of the “ideal” body, typically slim, light skin tone and well-proportioned. And yet we all know genetics gives each of us a unique body type, few of which fall into the “ideal” category. And even those with “ideal” body types often feel pressure to maintain their “ideal” body.

With tweens and teens, subtle and not so subtle messages about weight and body type have an impact. These body images come from people, television, magazines, social media, etc. If your son or daughter opens up the subject, use it as an opportunity to communicate that very few people look like models; models also feel stress about their bodies; and being really skinny isn’t a good thing.

If your child says “I’m too fat” rather than jumping to “No, you’re not” right away, ask “What makes you think that?” to try to keep the conversation open and keep your child talking about this issue. It’s important to know how to communicate with your teen. Spend time listening to him or her. Express your feelings about the topic, but rather than negating your child’s feelings, try saying, “Here’s what I think. . . ” so it feels more like your personal thoughts than a judgment on your child. At the same time, if you ever suspect an eating disorder, talk right away to your pediatrician to find resources.

Talking about weight, body image and health can be sensitive, but it is also very worthwhile to keep the topic on the table and encourage children to talk about what they think and feel. Remember that feelings about this body image start early so be thoughtful about the impact of your words and actions in your child’s life.

For more information on childcare and parenting, check out Premier Academy’s Blog Page.

Helping Children Cope With ChangeWe live in a constantly changing world. The pace of change is the most rapid that it has ever been. New products and processes are continually available and the rate at which we are exposed to new information is continually increasing. This can be overwhelming at times. Sometimes we are able to shelter our children from so much change, but often not. If it is overwhelming to us, how does it feel to children? And that is just “normal” everyday change. What about the big unexpected changes?

Most of us, and especially children, appreciate some level of “sameness” in our lives. That doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate the new and the novel, but we’d like more sameness than change. Children need time to process all of the information that they are exposed to and appreciate daily routines and repetition or they may become stressed. They like knowing that when they arrive home from child care, mommy and daddy fix dinner and then the family eats, and then there is a bath and then two stories. Children thrive on the predictability of daily routines.

So how then do we help children handle change – both the big changes (new sibling; family illness; new school) and the little changes (new breakfast foods; new morning routine; new shoes)?

Tips for Helping Children Cope with Change

  • Give advanced warning. Have a discussion something like, “The place where Mommy works thinks she will be a bigger help if we move to another place. We are going to look for a new house in a place called Georgia. Will you help us pick out the house?”
  • Keep as much the same as possible. During a big change, like adding a sibling to the family, try to keep as much the same as possible. For example, this is not the best time to also move your child from a crib to big bed.
  • Answer all their questions. Depending on your child’s age, he may have a lot of questions. Do your best to answer them all, even if some are repeated many times.
  • Expect that some regression may happen. At times of change, children may regress to earlier behaviors. For example, a child who was toilet trained may revert back to having accidents. This is normal – strive for patience.
  • Be accepting of grieving. Your child may go through a process that looks a lot like grieving as she navigates new waters with a new house, sibling, teacher or school. Listen, don’t be too quick to distract, and at the end, remind her of all the positives.

During times of change, a little extra attention will go a long way in helping children deal with stress. Plan an hour or a half hour each week where your child has your undivided attention. It is important to use play time to help a child’s development. Let your child pick the activity or follow your child’s lead. For example, if your infant wants to drop a toy over and over again from her high chair, retrieve the toy and let her drop it again. Or your preschooler wants to make cookies. Find time to do that and let him take an active role in the process even if he makes a mess. How does that help your child deal with change? Extra attention and patience from you helps your child understand that although some aspects of life are changing, your love and care remains constant.

Sunglasses and Eye HealthIn the summertime, it’s second-nature to apply tons of sunscreen on our children to protect their skin from the harmful effects of the sun. But many times, as much attention as we give to their skin, we often overlook another area that can be damaged by the sun – their eyes.

We put sunglasses on to shield our eyes and our children should have the same protection. This protects them now and also helps to prevent them from developing common eye problems later on in life. Keep in mind that UV rays are radiation and radiation is damaging to the eyes just as much as it can damage anything else. Here is just a partial list of those common eye problems that you should be aware of:

  • Over-exposure to the sun’s UV radiation can cause the cells of the eye – inside and out – to divide abnormally. This abnormal division can cause tumors – both malignant and benign.
  • “Surfer’s Eye” is common in coastal regions and is caused by sun exposure. This affects the cornea which can affect your ability to focus clearly.
  • Overexposure to the sun also effects the lens of the eye as well as the retina which can lead to macular degeneration and cataracts later on.

A good rule of thumb to help protect your children’s eyes is to put sunglasses on them if they are going to spend any extended amount of time in the sun. It’s never too early to start this practice. You’ll want to use standard tinted glasses not the colored lenses that are popular with kids.

If you have younger children who are having a hard time wearing the sunglasses, a large hat with a wide brim or visor is the next best thing. You can also try attaching an elastic band to the sunglasses to help hold them in place.

Sunglasses, sunscreen and your children should be a common routine in the summer!

For more information on childcare and parenting, check out Premier Academy’s Blog Page.

Preparing A Child For A New BabyWhen is that baby going back to the hospital?” asked the preschooler to her mother holding her new baby brother.

For you, the arrival of a new baby is a happy event. This is not necessarily true for an older child. The excitement and adjustment of a new baby in the house may naturally cause an older sibling to feel left out, abandoned, and less special – even as you reassure him that that isn’t the case. Many children may be jealous or tired of all the commotion and attention towards the new baby.

Sibling Rivalry & How to Help Siblings Build Relationships

What is sibling rivalry?

All children want the love and attention of their parents, and when a new child arrives, parents must divide their attention out of necessity. It’s important to remember that a child’s feelings of jealousy and fears of abandonment can exist simultaneously with feelings of love and pleasure about the new baby. Children may feel the new baby is a replacement or not yet understand how to assume the role of a big brother or sister.

With a little effort, parents can help foster sibling relationships and guide older children through this family transition.

  • Accept that sibling differences are normal.It’s natural for parents to track milestones between their children especially if they are keeping a baby book. Rather than compare, accept that children are different and come with their own unique characteristics.
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings.Your child may display a wide range of emotions towards the new baby. Rather than dismissing it, acknowledge his feelings: “Is it frustrating that I have to help the baby while I am spending time with you?” Spend time remembering your own experiences and feelings as a sibling or talk to friends about their sibling relationships. Share your own stories with your child that help to illustrate that sibling differences are natural and it’s okay to have various feelings about the new baby or becoming a sibling.
  • Walk down memory lane with your child.Show your child pictures from his “babyhood” to illustrate the love and attention you gave him when he was an infant. Tell your child stories about all the wonderful baby things she did.
  • Plan one-on-one time with your child.Schedule special dates with your child and keep them. One-on-one time doesn’t have to be elaborate, a simple walk outside or snuggle time with a book are great ways to connect with your older child.
  • Integrate your child in the infant care routine. Make one of the baby’s daytime naps a special time to spend with your older child. During feedings, have your child join you to read a book or play a simple game such as iSpy. Give your child a special job during diaper changes or have her gently pat the baby’s back when he or she is crying.
  • Give it time.Some children may take longer to accept a new sibling into the family. Try not to force the relationship but let it grow over time.

Individual Reactions Children Have to New Babies

Why is it more difficult for some children to adjust to a new sibling? The University of Michigan Health System suggests many factors that can contribute to a hard adjustment:

  • Research indicates that a child’s personality has the greatest effect on how he or she reacts to a new baby.
  • Children with the closest relationships with their mothers have shown to become more upset after the baby is born.
  • Your child’s developmental stage may affect how well they can share your attention. Often toddlers have more trouble getting used to a new baby, because their needs for time and closeness from their parents are still great.
  • Stress on the family can make your older child’s adjustment harder.

Children’s Books About Adjusting to a New Baby

There are many great children’s books available about pregnancy, birth, adoption, and new baby siblings. Reading together will help your child realize her feelings and ideas are normal and that no matter what happens, you love her in a very special way and always will.

Toddler books:

  • Waiting for Baby by Rachel Fuller
  • My New Baby by Annie Kubler
  • We Have a Baby by Cathryn Falwel
  • The New Baby by Fred Rogers
  • The New Baby at Your House by Joanna Cole

Preschooler books:

  • Baby Brother by Tanneke Wigersma
  • Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes
  • Will There be a Lap for Me? by Dorothy Corey
  • When the New Baby Comes, I’m Moving Out and Nobody Asked Me if I Wanted a Baby Sister by Martha Alexander

Pre-Kindergarten through School-age books:

  • A New Baby Is Coming! by Emily Menendez-Aponte
  • My New Baby and Me by Dian Smith
  • Arthur and the Baby by Marc Brown
  • Pinky and Rex and the New Baby by James Howe
  • Welcoming Babies by Margy Burns Knight

How To Get Children To Try New Foods“Jack will only eat white food, nothing else.”
“The only way I can get Simone to eat her vegetables is if I bribe her with ice cream.”
“Elia is so picky. I have to serve everything on separate plates so nothing is touching.”

These are all sentiments, or variations of, spoken by exasperated parents of finicky eaters each day in all parts of the country. The truth is, some children embrace new foods heartily while others, not so much. Being choosy about food is often a stage children go through, common when children are experimenting with control.  And it is true that many children will grow out of it, at least to a manageable level.

But what is also true is that many children become choosy because of the way we introduce and consume food. And those children often remain choosy, at least to some extent, into adulthood. This means they will spend a lifetime missing out on important nutrients and food experiences. Of course, there may be a medical reason a child is a finicky eater and this deserves professional attention, but typically it is a choice they are making.

While picky eating can be a battleground, there are a few things you can do to minimize it from starting or getting out of control. Remember that each child is different and has varied preferences; celebrate progress, rather than hold out for perfection. At the same time, know that turning a child who picks at their food into a willing and eager eater is quite possible.

  • From infancy, introduce a variety of food to expand your child’s palate: flavors, textures, smells, and temperatures.
  • Cook together. Making something always makes it more appealing. Even better, let your child chooses what to make (out of a few healthy options you provide, of course).
  • Try to avoid kid’s meals at home or restaurants. They typically have minimal nutritional value and do nothing to encourage diverse eating. Kids can and should eat what adults are eating.
  • Do not avoid foods you don’t like – let your child have a chance to develop his own tastes.
  • Avoid heavy snacking (including beverages) between meals to ensure your child is hungry at mealtime.
  • Don’t save room for dessert; it sends the message that other food is what you have to get through to get to the good stuff. Healthy food should be the prize. Dessert should be for special occasions and moments only.
  • Don’t bribe your child to eat. Their focus shifts from the food to the reward. This is a form of emotional eating; a bad habit to start.
  • No cutting crusts. It’s a short-term win, but a long-term loss. Avoid food preparations that encourage being picky. Sometimes parents do this before a child even asks, starting a habit without thinking about it.
  • Clean plates are over-rated. Sure, you don’t want to encourage wasting food, but forcing children to finish an item or meal teaches them to ignore their internal ‘full’ signal and potentially associate a bad memory or feeling with a specific food. Start with small portions and offer seconds.
  • When serving a new food, keep your expectations small: one spear of asparagus, one shrimp, etc.
  • Replace one thing at a time. For example, don’t stop baking cookies altogether, just switch to whole-wheat flour. Don’t eliminate juice; just try cranberry, peach, or mango instead of apple (100% juice, of course).
  • Create balance. Include a favorite at each meal when you’re serving something new.
  • Take the pressure off and introduce new foods away from the table: a whole-grain bread or cheese taste test, a “name that fruit” challenge, a French or Greek themed picnic at the park, grocery store sample challenge, etc.
  • As a last resort, introduce new things in favorite ways – if you have to fry zucchini once or twice to get your child to try it, it’s ok. They’ll be less hesitant when you add it to a salad or grill it later.
  • Do not, do not, do not make a face when you don’t like something. Be a good role-model.
  • Trying should be for everyone in the family – consider incorporating these ‘rules’ into your routine.
  • Family rule – try everything at every meal, even if it’s only one pea and even if you’ve tried it before.
  • Respect preferences. If a child doesn’t want to eat more, don’t force him. He may hesitate to admit he likes something in the future if he feels pressure.
  • Everybody tries. That means mom, dad, big sister – everyone.
  • Trying a food item one day does not exempt anyone from trying it again another day. It often takes ten or more tries to develop a taste for something.
  • Let kids not like a few things. No one likes everything. If a child clearly doesn’t like something, be okay with that.

To the parent of a choosy eater, this may seem impossible. But in actuality, most children respond to these methods. With a strong commitment to lifelong healthy nutrition and the willpower to withstand a few days of whining, you can turn your child’s eating habits around.

NOTE: If your child complains of physical symptoms after eating, doesn’t eat much of anything, is underweight, or has other potential medical symptoms related to eating, consult a physician.

Teaching Children About Dental HealthIt’s never too soon to teach your children about the importance of good oral health and get them in to a routine that will carry them throughout their lives. While some children will take to the task at hand easily and without much fuss, everyone learns differently and may take a little extra coaxing. Here are a few tips for you from us at Premier Academy to help your little ones keep their teeth and gums healthy.

  • Teach your children about their teeth. Explain the different types of teeth, how many they have, where they are located and even what their jobs are. As adults we have 32 teeth – twelve molars (in sets of three and are in the back of the mouth), eight premolars (also known as bicuspids and are used to crush and tear food), four cuspids (next to the bicuspids or premolars and are pointed which make tearing food easy) and eight incisors (located in the front of the mouth and are used to cut food.)
  • Read books specifically about dental health. A trip to your library or local book store will provide plenty of age-appropriate reading material that talk about good dental health. For younger children, books with more illustrations are a better choice. If you are able to connect to the Internet, the American Dental Association’s website offers an animated book about going to the dentist.
  • Experiments are fun, too! You can come up with your own experiments or, if you prefer, Crest offers a great experiment on their website that shows how teeth can become soft and weak if they are continuously exposed to acids that are normally found in foods we eat every day.

The younger your children are the better when it comes to teaching about good oral health habits. Don’t put it off another minute!

The Importance of Free & Unstructured Outdoor Play for KidsDo you remember having long extended periods of time outdoors where you invented elaborate play scenarios? Perhaps you played pirates or were part of a new made-up family. Maybe you planned adventures like building a fort or tried new skills like catching salamanders. Children benefit greatly from open-ended time where they are in their parents’ view but have some independence in solving problems and determining how the play proceeds.

Child Development through Structured & Unstructured Play

Structured play is the kind of play where there is typically an adult leader and a specific, planned way in which the play will go. For example, organized sports or dance classes are structured play. Playing a board game with specific rules and directions with an adult playing or looking on is also an example of structured play. Your child can benefit from finding the right structured play activities but it should be complemented with opportunities for unstructured play. These are the types of activities that are typically child-directed with no set goals or direction.

The Benefits of Unstructured Play for Kids

Why is unstructured outdoor play important? There are so many benefits. A few are below:

  • Children need more physical activity. Many sources agree that today’s children are too sedentary. In addition to 20 – 30 minutes of daily structured physical activity, children should get at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity daily, and more is even better
  • Unstructured outdoor play offers opportunities to develop executive function skills. Executive function skills have been compared to an air traffic control system in each of our bodies. These essential life skills help us remember information, filter out distractions, switch gears when needed, and sustain focus over time (Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, 2015). Among the many benefits of imaginary play, one is helping children develop these executive function skills. Children develop rules for the imaginary scenarios they create, remember and try out complex ideas, apply the rules to the scenarios as they go along, and regulate each other’s behavior. Given the time, children can extend imaginary play for hours.
  • Children who play outdoors regularly are less likely to be nearsighted (Shephard, 2015). Sunshine and natural light help children have better distance vision.
  • Social skills are enhanced. There are many different skills children learn from unstructured activities. Children who have opportunities to work together with their peers towards a goal learn friendship skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, care and cooperation, all critical skills for school and life.

Younger Children and Unstructured Outdoor Play

Younger children need closer supervision than school-agers. You can help them get started by asking them what they could do with a basket of smooth stones or a net bag filled with balls of varying sizes. Then step back, keep them in view, but let the play unfold and resist the urge to intervene too much. (Note: children also benefit greatly by having you engage in play with them; but occasionally let them figure out the direction of the play with their peers without much adult intervention). Consider loose parts for a variety of open-ended play possibilities. Examples of loose parts include natural items like sticks and stones of varying sizes, sand, water, small logs, and leaves and/or man-made items like hula hoops, balls, jump ropes, stepping stones, trikes, wheelbarrows, buckets, tubes, large blocks, or sifters. The possibilities are endless with these kinds of materials.

Children want to play outside because it is fun. That is enough of a reason to offer it. Look for ways to build unstructured outdoor play into your child’s week with many potential benefits for your child.