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August 2012

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Routines are Learning Opportunities

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My kids haven’t been infants or toddlers for more years than I would care to mention, but my memory of those times would be that those days were anything but “routine.” I think that most families with young kids feel like the only thing routine about their day is “unpredictability.” For most people, a routine is doing the same thing, at the same time and in the same way each day. When trying to use routines as a learning opportunity for kids I find that parents or caregivers often respond that they don’t have a routine.   What does it mean to teach children during daily routines? We think of routines as the parts of your day that have a start and a finish.  This changes our thinking from a schedule to events. I would like to note that for most people schedules seem to imply structure.  While young children thrive on structure and predictability this article is focusing on how to use your daily routines to enhance your child’s learning.   Figuring out your Routine All families are different however we all generally share routines that involve eating, playing, bathing and bedtime.  These routines are great learning opportunities for any child.  For example, when your child is learning to walk, you might carry her to the highchair for breakfast or you could use that opportunity and help her walk to the highchair instead.   Ideas for using Routines as Learning Opportunities First, consider these questions: Think about the daily routines of your family. What skills are you child working to master?  Where are they in their development? What are your priorities as a parent? Consider your own needs. For example, my son was not a morning child.  On the days that I needed to get him to daycare, getting out the door on time was my only goal.  It probably took him longer to learn to dress himself than it took his friends but I was confident that he would learn it one day. In the morning I just didn’t have the time to make it a priority for him to practice that skill. On the other hand, he was a late talker so it was a priority to bring communication strategies into our daily lives. Take the high priority skills your child is learning and your daily routine to see how many opportunities you can give your child for mastering a skill. Practice, Practice, Practice – young children love repetition!   Using Routine Based Learning for kids with unique developmental needs Back in the day (as my grown-up children say), as a young occupational therapist, I would meet the family of a child in the waiting room of a specialized clinic, take the child away for “my” therapy, and return them to their parents at the end of 30 minutes with instructions for “their” home therapy program. Thank goodness we have evolved to understand that parents are the most important and most consistent teacher that children will have.  We have also recognized that children learn best when the task is relevant to their interests and needs.  Out of this research, we have what we call Routines-based Intervention. This process is more natural and creates a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience for your child. Those 30 minutes of therapy that I was able to give a child made little impact on his/her development compared to the number of minutes a child can practice each week with caregivers who have learned to enrich their routines with the learning opportunities that are so important to young children. My role as a therapist has changed from working in a one-to-one situation with the child to being a mentor and coach to the family.  I believe that with my background in development and the family’s knowledge of their child, their activities, and their priorities, we become a powerful team that can problem-solve and invent unique ways to help young children master new skills.

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How to Handle High Energy

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I was a very active little girl and I do mean, really active. I can remember running through the neighborhood backyards and feeling the need to do so. My grandmother affectionately referred to this as “getting the sillies out”. Not the most technical explanation but my parents sure understood what it meant. When it was time to sit down and read a book or to complete something that required a little concentration, my family knew they had to let me run around for a bit first. Now, as an adult with children of my own, I see that need in my boys.   As an Evaluator for Early Intervention Services parents often ask me, “How can I get my child to calm down so we can read a book or work on a puzzle?” My response is, “By walking, running, jumping, skipping, clapping, crawling, dancing and rolling. These are all great ways to get your child moving and active so that they can then sit and attend for a reasonable period of time.   Some, not all children have a need, yes, an actual need to get some of that energy out.  When our dear little ones seem to be bouncing off the walls with physical activity, it seems impossible to get them to sit and look through a picture book with us or to just simply listen. They seem so busy that our words don’t even register with them. Kids tend to be active, but of course, some are more active than others.  Is your child the child that you find on top of the counter tops or refrigerator, or the child that you just can’t get to take a nap, even though they are miserably tired? Regardless of whether your child may just be really energetic or if he or she is truly hyperactive, these suggestions can be useful for all children:   Try to keep a consistent routine:  Keeping things roughly the same each day can help your child program their body. They know what to expect and what is coming next. If nap time is typically the same time each day, they will begin to expect that. A consistent sleeping pattern regulates our bodies. Of course, we can’t always keep the routine 100% of the time. But, give it your best shot at consistency. Give your child plenty of opportunities to be active: If it’s raining outside, put on some music and dance, hop, wiggle, jump around and get silly, get them moving.  You can also walk up and down the stairs a few times. This is not meant to be a strenuous workout for you or your child, just enough to get them active. Go outside, to the park or playground, let them run, jump and play for as long as you are comfortable with. Try to avoid lots of juice or drinks and foods that are high in sugar:  Why make it harder on yourself and your child? Lots of candy and sweets throughout the day won’t make your day or theirs any easier. Try to have periods of activity in short, frequent bursts throughout the day:  Being active can help settle down the mind and body.  Not Boot camp, just a good 5 to 10 minutes of physical play before settling down to read, color or another type of quiet activity.   Letting children be physically active can also help improve their mood and your own. Aren’t you happy after dancing and carrying on to your favorite songs?  Can you think a little more clearly after you have had a brisk walk? Our children often feel the same way though they may not be able to express it with words, but meeting their need for physical activity can help promote their success across all areas of development.   While these tips may not work for every child and they will most certainly not work every time, they may help some children be able to focus, attend or settle down for a little longer than you thought they could. Don’t forget to have fun!

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