Raising Intelligent, Self-Reliant Kids

Raising self-reliant kids

Have children changed?

“Kids have changed.” We have heard this statement repeatedly from educators, parents, and the media. However, in reality, kids haven’t changed; society, parents, and schools have changed. These changes have transformed the way our children play, interact, and learn. Fluctuations in social and educational norms have created issues beyond poor behavior in children. We have raised a generation of socially, cognitively, and physically underdeveloped children, leaving parents and teachers struggling to find solutions.

The United States faces an epidemic of unparalleled proportions. The social concerns that must be addressed to help our children have three primary causes: abuse of technology, aversion to risk, and a decline in physical activity.

1. Abuse of Technology: Lev Vygotsky, theorist, teacher, and psychologist, stated that we learn through a cultural lens. Learning takes place through interactions with others. Children, therefore, must interact with other people and the environment around them in order to grow and develop into productive citizens. However, because of technology they are increasingly isolated from the world outside, relying on video games and TV to provide them with their social rules and norms.

2. Risk-Aversion: Risk taking is limited or non-existent when you are not interacting with others. With adults scheduling almost every aspect of their day, school-age children are not given chances to simply play and make up their own games. They have little free time to just be kids and the free time they have is often spent in front of the TV or computer. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, there is a direct correlation between reading and risk-taking. Reading out loud means you are opening yourself to possibly be ridiculed or embarrassed. Children who never risk being vulnerable have a difficult time becoming fluent readers.

Risk has also been eliminated from our playgrounds. In the name of safety, the slides, swings, and merry-go-rounds of the past are gone. These items provided children with the chances to practice appropriate risk taking. Children could successfully navigate the “risky” playground equipment, gaining self-confidence and courage.

3. Physical Inactivity: The United States has become a still society—from the oldest to the youngest. Adults ride to work in cars, sit at desks, watch TV, play video games, and socialize on the computer. Infants spend up to four hours per day in car seats, carriers, baby backpacks, bouncy seats, and infant swings. Because of this, they do not develop the muscles needed to crawl, which help with later visual perception skills, and the spatial awareness needed to copy notes off the board or read fluently.

Providing the Antidote

What can we do as educators and parents to ensure that children are provided with the proper tools to succeed in today’s society against these odds?

1. Provide Space and Time for Physical Activity: Movement is the catalyst for cognition. Physical activity influences the part of the brain, the cerebellum, which handles memory, attention, and spatial perception. Children need plenty of time and space to exercise their large muscles in order to be successful in school.

It is ironic that, in an educational world where we know many children are kinesthetic learners, we expect them to sit still at desks to learn. Movement increases the blood flow that carries important nutrients to the brain. Recent scientific investigations have proven that movement stimulates dendritic growth, even in Alzheimer’s patients. Dendritic growth creates new pathways for information to be processed in the brain. Movement must be present in order for learning to take place.

Physical movement also provides opportunities to develop important “cross-lateral” skills: the ability to coordinate movements crossing the midline of the body. Every time the midline is crossed, a window is opened in the brain creating new connections and enhancing cognition. Activities that cross the midline help facilitate reading development. For example, scarf juggling is an activity that teachers can include in class that crosses the midline and helps develop eye-coordination.

Playing games also encourages social development. When children participate in sports they learn how to work on a team, compromise, lose gracefully, and offer encouragement and empathy to others.

Image 1
Movement is the catalyst for cognition

2. Provide an Environment that Fosters Curiosity: A disposition for curiosity is the common characteristic found in inventors, scientists, explorers, and entrepreneurs. They are all creative people with a strong sense of wonder who are not afraid to take a risk. Steve Jobs, John Glenn, Bill Gates, and Thomas Edison, all innovative and resourceful people, who wondered what would happen if. . . . Curiosity is what education is about. Unfortunately, for many children, their developing sense of wonder is constricted by overly structured programs and testing in school.

An appropriate environment is crucial in fostering curiosity and wonder. Children should be allowed to explore, experience risk-taking, and create without the fear of ridicule or being hurt. As parents and teachers we can set up the environment to encourage wonder and creativity. This can be accomplished by providing children with open-ended materials such as flour, vinegar, baking soda, play dough, blocks, and finger paints. Let the children explore and experiment. What happens if you add baking soda and vinegar together? What happens when you use an eye dropper instead of a paint brush? Remember it is not the product we want children to be interested in, but the process. All experiences in the classroom must be authentic.

Children must experience their learning in order to retain and comprehend knowledge. Imagine trying to learn to swim, or ride a bike, from a book or YouTube video without hands on experience! Experience is not just the best method for teaching; it is the only method for teaching. The more a child is allowed to experience the thrill of exploring and experimenting, the more their disposition for curiosity and their love of learning will increase.

An environment that fosters creativity will also generate constructive play. Children who play with blocks and construction materials are gaining background knowledge in mathematical and science skills such as gravity, stability, measurement, fractions, and spatial awareness. When adults create an environment that allows children to build structures and take things apart, they are creating an environment rich in technology, mathematics, and exploration.

Image 2
Experience is the best teacher

3. Bring Back the Arts! In the United States, we have a traditional hierarchy of subjects taught in school with math, science, and literacy predominating. Creative arts fall at the bottom. We believe that the academic subjects are the most important to prepare children for the job market. However, we cannot predict what the job market will be like 20 years from now due to the fact that our world is changing so fast. It is of vital importance that children develop the ability to innovate, create, and adapt to future changes. Subjects such as music, art, and dancing allow children to be creative, take risks, and express themselves in innovative ways.

As children enter school we must see the child as a whole and not educate them only from the neck up. If we think that the purpose of education is to just develop the brain, we forget that there is a connection between the mind and body. If we only honor academic ability, we forget that music, art, and dancing, are part of the humanities. We must acknowledge that these subjects are an integral part of our culture and should be honored and encouraged. It is a myth that not everyone is creative. Each child has the potential for creativity unless it is educated out of them.

Image 3
The vital connection between mind and body must be nurtured in early childhood.

The Importance of Risk Taking

Why should we want children to be risk-takers? When children take risks, it builds resilience, develops an inner self-esteem, improves reading skills, and prepares them for their future. As an adult, risk-taking is an inevitable part of life. We need to be willing to take risks to speak in front of a group of people, attend a job interview, or join a new club. When we over-protect or criticize children in a personal way, we knock the capacity to risk out of them. If you are not prepared to make a mistake, you will never take a chance, experiment, or try something new.

As parents and teachers we only want the best for our children. We want to ensure that they have the skills needed to succeed as an adult. In order to help children become productive adults we must allow children to engage in activities that are age and developmentally appropriate. The best education we can provide our children is experience—let them experience the world around them. We must allow children to be creative and take risks if we want them to grow into productive, well developed citizens.

References:

Bos, Bev. 1996. Engaging Your Preschool Learners: Resource Handbook. Bellevue, WA.: Bureau of Education & Research. Print.

DAP Position Statement | National Association for the Education of Young Children | NAEYC

Grace, E. 2013"Vygotsky & Socio-Cultural Theory." Kids Development, 4 Aug. 28 Jan. 2016. http://www.kidsdevelopment.co.uk/VygotskySocioCulturalTheory.html.

Robinson, K. 2011. "Positive Psychology: Sir Ken Robinson-Changing Paradigms." Lewison Positive Psychology 28 Jan. 28 Jan. 2016. http://lewisonpositivepsycholgy.blogspot.com/2011/01/transcript-sir-ken-robinson-changing.html.

Join the conversation (9 comments)
About the Author

Gina Fontana & Ralph Barrett

Regina Fontana

has thirty years experience in education. She has taught all age groups from infants to college students. Regina owned and operated a Pre-school in central Florida for many years and is currently teaching at Seminole State College in Sanford Florida. She graduated from Rollins College with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and Sociology, attended Nova Southeastern for a Masters in School Law and Administration with a concentration in primary education, and received her doctorate from Nova Southeastern in Education. Regina is a firm believer in the importance of play and an advocate for play at all developmental stages.

 

Ralph Barrett

has spent over 30 years teaching in public schools. Additionally, Barrett has over 20 years gymnastics coaching experience. With a master's degree in educational leadership, Barrett has been recognized for his ability to take educational theory and put it into practice. His SMILE Lab (Sensory Motor Intensive Learning Environment) was awarded the Walt Disney Teacheriffic Special Judges Award.

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  • Mary Ann Biermeier

    A wonderful article to pass along to parents. Thank you.

  • Pearl L. Waxman

    For many years I have believed in and practiced all of the points made in this article. Yet, too many programs I have observed in simply do not trust the valuable information written here. None of us can stop believing in the philosophical approach explained in this article. We must continue to advocate for children with what we know to be right for young children. How can we do this in a way that actually catches on? Besides helping potential and practicing teachers understand how to implement such a program, we must also help parents understand what we are doing and why. Parents want the best for their children. We all agree to that, yet without their understanding of what we practice, the dangers will increase in the continuance of an education that will ultimately stunt our population. Thank you for this article.

  • Lori

    This is a great article. It's so sad how we rush children along, or try to, but in reality, you can't. Children need the time to develop--let's take kindergarten back--why and how did it become the new first grade? Let's allow our preschoolers to play, paint, build, run, sing, dance, snuggle, and learn the way they should, not through some forced curriculum that expects 4 year-olds to master the alphabet--and tests for it too! Children are natural learners--so curious and inquisitive--let's embrace the joy that comes from learning through play.

  • Elizabeth Weidman

    I really enjoyed this article, especially the part that talks about Providing Space and Time for Physical Activity. Without it we are doing damage to our children. I remember my mother would say to us , "Just go play and be a kid." Although it sounded to me like she was just sending us outside to play, she was sending us out to explore, exercise, and learn about the world around us with only limited materials to play with. We went out and ran, rode our bikes, dug in the dirt, built tree forts, played in the snow, played tag, played games that we made up ourselves and the whole time we were using our imagination. The longer I work with children the more I see them not having an imagination. Everything is already made up for them, or an adult is doing it for them, or they are brain dead because they sit in front of a television, computer, ipad or the cell phone (yes even the shows/games that are "Educational" take away from our children). If its not glowing or they are not able to push a button to make it go for them they don't know what to do. I see children who do not know how to play when they go outside and will just stand around like they are lost. I see children who are obese because of lack of movement. I also see the lack of outside time and physical education in the school is becoming less and less so that we can "educate" our children better so that they will be successful. My question is: When are parents and educators going to realize the damage we are doing to our children and do something about it before it's too late and our future adults have no imagination.

  • Vivien Allen

    I agree with much of this article. I would have liked to see the issue of children being kept in restrained devices for up to 4 hours a day be unpacked a bit more. I think that the lack of holding and cuddling is having a very bad effect on young children at this time. Maybe an article for another time.

  • Lora Shull

    This is a wonderful article. Yes we need to implement the arts back into our schools. Children need to be able to express themselves creatively. There is so much learning that we as educators know is occurring. Often children are not given opportunities to be creative at home so it is our job to offer children these experiences. I also agree that it is sad to see so many children sitting in front of television and other technology at home rather than being given opportunities to have true PLAY experiences. We educators really know the importance of what we are striving to accomplish for each and every child we teach. Let's enjoy children and their curiosities and foster their development. They are amazing to watch in their journey to develop and learn!

  • Dorothy Holdorf

    Such a refreshing article! Throughout the history of education, it is a shame that we often throw the baby out with the bathwater. We may turn our backs on the "tried and true" when something new comes along. Technology is an amazing and valuable tool, but it should never replace the opportunity for human interaction, especially when we are talking about children. The mind/body connection cannot be overlooked. Children must be given the chance to explore and experience the world around them. They must have the realization that they can affect the world around them. Spending hours using various forms of technology is making for a generation of children who have become passive recipients of this world they are part of. As an educator of almost 30 years, I applaud the authors of this article and I have hope that educators, and parents alike, can be the catalysts for change.

  • Lynda Keddington

    I hail from Oxford England. I have lived in the United States for many years now and certainly do find education in general is in disarray. I love this article, but my main concern is that it is being read only by early childhood educators like myself. How do we get this information to the parents? Are we holding classes for the parents where this information can be taught? I would love NAEYC to add parenting classes to their requirements for certification.

  • Nina Pension

    You are so right. Children have NOT changed. When they are raised according to the sane principles outlined in this article, they will be joyful, curious, resilient, caring, and a pleasure to be with. For the past 20 years, we have operated a school for children in grades 1-8. (Plumfield Academy in Danvers, MA). Our children read great books, do hands on science and math, enjoy cooking and the arts, spend time in nature, have an hour of free play everyday, are given no homework, speak in complete sentences--minus "like" every five words, serve in the community, AND go on to excel in the high schools of their choice. As you point out, children have deep, but simple needs. When these needs are met, they thrive. Thank you for keeping these ideas before us.

More Articles
View Comments 9
Close

Comments (9)

Leave a Comment
  • Mary Ann Biermeier

    A wonderful article to pass along to parents. Thank you.

  • Pearl L. Waxman

    For many years I have believed in and practiced all of the points made in this article. Yet, too many programs I have observed in simply do not trust the valuable information written here. None of us can stop believing in the philosophical approach explained in this article. We must continue to advocate for children with what we know to be right for young children. How can we do this in a way that actually catches on? Besides helping potential and practicing teachers understand how to implement such a program, we must also help parents understand what we are doing and why. Parents want the best for their children. We all agree to that, yet without their understanding of what we practice, the dangers will increase in the continuance of an education that will ultimately stunt our population. Thank you for this article.

  • Lori

    This is a great article. It's so sad how we rush children along, or try to, but in reality, you can't. Children need the time to develop--let's take kindergarten back--why and how did it become the new first grade? Let's allow our preschoolers to play, paint, build, run, sing, dance, snuggle, and learn the way they should, not through some forced curriculum that expects 4 year-olds to master the alphabet--and tests for it too! Children are natural learners--so curious and inquisitive--let's embrace the joy that comes from learning through play.

  • Elizabeth Weidman

    I really enjoyed this article, especially the part that talks about Providing Space and Time for Physical Activity. Without it we are doing damage to our children. I remember my mother would say to us , "Just go play and be a kid." Although it sounded to me like she was just sending us outside to play, she was sending us out to explore, exercise, and learn about the world around us with only limited materials to play with. We went out and ran, rode our bikes, dug in the dirt, built tree forts, played in the snow, played tag, played games that we made up ourselves and the whole time we were using our imagination. The longer I work with children the more I see them not having an imagination. Everything is already made up for them, or an adult is doing it for them, or they are brain dead because they sit in front of a television, computer, ipad or the cell phone (yes even the shows/games that are "Educational" take away from our children). If its not glowing or they are not able to push a button to make it go for them they don't know what to do. I see children who do not know how to play when they go outside and will just stand around like they are lost. I see children who are obese because of lack of movement. I also see the lack of outside time and physical education in the school is becoming less and less so that we can "educate" our children better so that they will be successful. My question is: When are parents and educators going to realize the damage we are doing to our children and do something about it before it's too late and our future adults have no imagination.

  • Vivien Allen

    I agree with much of this article. I would have liked to see the issue of children being kept in restrained devices for up to 4 hours a day be unpacked a bit more. I think that the lack of holding and cuddling is having a very bad effect on young children at this time. Maybe an article for another time.

  • Lora Shull

    This is a wonderful article. Yes we need to implement the arts back into our schools. Children need to be able to express themselves creatively. There is so much learning that we as educators know is occurring. Often children are not given opportunities to be creative at home so it is our job to offer children these experiences. I also agree that it is sad to see so many children sitting in front of television and other technology at home rather than being given opportunities to have true PLAY experiences. We educators really know the importance of what we are striving to accomplish for each and every child we teach. Let's enjoy children and their curiosities and foster their development. They are amazing to watch in their journey to develop and learn!

  • Dorothy Holdorf

    Such a refreshing article! Throughout the history of education, it is a shame that we often throw the baby out with the bathwater. We may turn our backs on the "tried and true" when something new comes along. Technology is an amazing and valuable tool, but it should never replace the opportunity for human interaction, especially when we are talking about children. The mind/body connection cannot be overlooked. Children must be given the chance to explore and experience the world around them. They must have the realization that they can affect the world around them. Spending hours using various forms of technology is making for a generation of children who have become passive recipients of this world they are part of. As an educator of almost 30 years, I applaud the authors of this article and I have hope that educators, and parents alike, can be the catalysts for change.

  • Lynda Keddington

    I hail from Oxford England. I have lived in the United States for many years now and certainly do find education in general is in disarray. I love this article, but my main concern is that it is being read only by early childhood educators like myself. How do we get this information to the parents? Are we holding classes for the parents where this information can be taught? I would love NAEYC to add parenting classes to their requirements for certification.

  • Nina Pension

    You are so right. Children have NOT changed. When they are raised according to the sane principles outlined in this article, they will be joyful, curious, resilient, caring, and a pleasure to be with. For the past 20 years, we have operated a school for children in grades 1-8. (Plumfield Academy in Danvers, MA). Our children read great books, do hands on science and math, enjoy cooking and the arts, spend time in nature, have an hour of free play everyday, are given no homework, speak in complete sentences--minus "like" every five words, serve in the community, AND go on to excel in the high schools of their choice. As you point out, children have deep, but simple needs. When these needs are met, they thrive. Thank you for keeping these ideas before us.

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