Building Better Brains: Get Ready for Kindergarten with Play

You know your child is happier when she’s allowed to play, but is she getting all her learning needs met? Is she getting ready for kindergarten? Certainly, she should sit down with some worksheets so she can learn to read and write, right?

Actually, while structured learning has its place, one of the best things you can do to get your child ready for kindergarten and help him build a better brain is to allow for play.

Play-based learning is one of the best gifts you can give your child. The bonus is that play will help your child get ready for kindergarten — even if it doesn’t look like it on the surface.

Yes, play will even help your child with reading, writing, and arithmetic. 

Kindergarten Readiness Skills That Are Developed Through Play

When your child and her friend don pirate hats and go in search of hidden gold, they are developing essential kindergarten readiness skills. 

They’re building social skills — negotiating, adapting, taking turns, listening, sharing, problem-solving, and more — which allow them to be more confident. These skills also set them up for more success in academics. A confident child won’t struggle to ask for help or reach out to other children. He’ll also learn from his mistakes. 

In fact, children who attend schools with play-based programs even score better on measures of cognitive flexibility, working memory, and self-regulation — all skills that will help them in the kindergarten classroom… and beyond.

Play also fosters creativity, which fosters both a love of learning and a motivation to learn. No matter how well your child picks up the functions of ABCs and 123s, she’ll need motivation to learn if she’s going to be successful with her knowledge.

Down with Drills

Many of us were taught important concepts with drills. We used flashcards, worksheets, recitations, and more to have concepts hammered into our heads. And while we may have learned some concepts through memorization (and fear of getting them wrong), did we actually take those concepts into ourselves and learn how to use them in real life?

Drills teach children there is only one right answer. This leads to fear of getting the wrong answer, stifled curiosity, and shame and embarrassment for having questions.

When your child is learning to read and enjoy books, do you want stifled curiosity and fear to be the leading emotions in their brain?

Instead, play-based learning allows your child to approach new letter combinations with curiosity and interest. It allows your child to form connections between numbers and their concepts. Reading and math become something that is a fun experience. It’s something that applies to your child’s life, and they can feel confident in their abilities.

Social-Emotional Development — Let’s Be Friends

Don’t underestimate the importance of a healthy social-emotional development in your child’s academics.

Yes, reading, writing, and math are critical life skills. And yes, your child is going to be tested on those for the next 12 years. And yes, the results of those tests are going to influence your child’s college acceptance and future jobs.

Academics are important.

But we tend to focus so strongly on academics (those pesky test scores) that we don’t give enough credit to the other crucial areas of our children’s development. Social-emotional development is actually a crucial component of your child’s academic development (not to mention your child’s holistic development).

Play is one of the best ways for children to develop socially and emotionally. They learn to imagine different perspectives, understand other viewpoints, and how to interact with people who are different.

Children “try on” different lives and roles, coming to understand their world on a new level. Friendships and confidence are developed. They learn to resolve conflict.

And they become empowered in their own decision making, learning to trust their own brains.

Plus, play reduces stress!

Cognitive Development — Building Better Brains

Because we live in a test-based society, academics are of utmost importance to most parents. Fortunately, cognitive development — or the ability for your child to use her intellect — is developed and strengthened through play.

Children learn language and solve problems through play.

They also use math concepts (exchanging money while playing grocery store).

Children build literacy skills (telling stories with beginning, middle, and end, using symbols to represent something else — a key to reading and writing, etc.)

And they even discover science concepts (experimentation: what happens if I do this?, observation, cause and effect, physics of movement, etc.).

Physical Development — It’s Just As Important!

We know we need to make sure our children exercise. But formal, structured exercise is not the only way to go. Play develops both gross and fine motor skills, helps children understand where their body is in space, and gets them moving in fun ways (so they will want to continue!).

Through play, children come in contact with many tactile experiences, helping them understand their world on a deeper level. 

They build their muscles and coordination as they run, hop, skip, climb, and more during active play.

Parents, Relax

If you’re worried about your child’s academic readiness for kindergarten, you aren’t alone. But instead of stressing out, purchasing boatloads of flashcards, and finding a tutor for your child, sit back and let your child play.

Worry less about whether your child can read and write, and look at your child’s skills as a whole. She has many attributes that are going to help her be successful. Value her imagination, problem-solving skills, creativity, and energy as much — or more — than her academic skills. These are the skills that are going to help her be successful in life — and in academics. 

The more she plays and develops confidence through play, the better she’ll be able to handle everything that is expected of her in life and school.

Play is not a waste of time. In fact, it’s the best way your child can occupy their time.

How to Help Your Child Play

  • Give your child open-ended toys. Items like blocks and dress-ups can be used in countless ways.
  • Let your child have open-ended play. Don’t try to guide them to learn a lesson. Let him play how he wants.
  • Play with your child. If you struggle with open-ended play, you can start by playing more structured games (Simon Says; puzzles; Duck, Duck, Goose). In open-ended play, don’t worry about doing it right. Just follow your child’s lead. When you don’t know what to do, ask your child! “What does Princess Mommy do next?” Your child will tell you, and it won’t be as hard as you may have thought.
  • Read stories together, and talk about them. Your child might incorporate elements of the stories into their play.
  • Sing! Learn a few rhyming songs, and sing them while you go about your day. They helpyour child learn concepts and language skills that can be brought into play.
  • Go on family field trips to places that encourage play — the playground, discovery museums, the children’s library, and more.
  • Get outside. Provide your child with fun outside toys like bikes, jump ropes, hula hoops, and chalk.

Everything we do at UDA Creative Arts Preschool in Draper, Utah revolves around play. Our children thrive in this environment, learning crucial skills that will help them in kindergarten and beyond. To learn more or schedule a tour of our preschool, give us a call at (801) 523-5930, or contact us online.

Why Your Child Should Play at the Playground

benefits of playground play

You know your child enjoys the playground, and you feel great about the exercise it provides. But when you take your child to the playground, you’re also giving her many, many more benefits that extend further than you might expect.

Play Benefits Children

Before we even get into the specific benefits of playground play, remember that play, in and of itself, is actually a critical component of a child’s development. It’s not just a nice thing to do. Play is how children learn. It also helps them develop confidence, dexterity, strength, imagination, math skills, and so much more.

{Why Your Child Needs Play-Based Learning} 

Full-Body Exercise

Playgrounds give your child the chance to get their full body into their play, which means they get to exercise their body from head to toe. Monkey bars increase upper body strength, climbing the ladder to the slide strengthens the legs, swings give a chance for grip to be strengthened while legs get stronger, and more.

Unstructured Play Allows for Growth

At the playground, your child can jump, run, and skip from activity to activity as his mood pleases. Unstructured play puts your child in control, lets him discover what he loves, and encourages him to try new things. Interacting with other children is often simpler in an unstructured environment where children can move from trying one thing to another with ease.

Learn Social Rules

It doesn’t take long for kids to learn to wait their turn for the slide. Older kids even develop sophisticated rules for how long a person can stay on a piece of equipment before letting another child try. (Forming a line and counting to 100, etc.) Children have to learn how to cooperate.

On the playground, children are also more free to interact with children of different races, ages, and economic status. There isn’t any ranking on the playground, which is just how it should be.

Therapeutic Benefits

benefits of playground play

Sand and water features are known to help reduce anxiety, provide a way for positive self-expression, and to provide a way to calm down. When these elements are present in a playground, your child has the chance to unknowingly gain therapeutic and emotional benefits.

Resilience

Children learn resilience as they try different playground equipment. Maybe they can’t get very far on the monkey bars at first, but as they watch other children swing along, they’ll try to go farther. Maybe climbing the slide ladder seems scary, but they’ll give it a try for the fun payoff of sliding down.

Because the equipment is fun, and because other children are also navigating it, your child will have the chance — and the motivation — to try, try, and try again.

How a Swing Can Help in Whole Child Development

At UDA Creative Arts Preschool, we make intentional choices about the equipment we put in our outdoor play area. Everything we have chosen is there with a learning objective in mind — to help your child develop and grow mentally, physically, and emotionally.

For example, we chose our swing specifically because it is difficult to climb onto and hard to balance on. This helps the children to develop upper body strength.

And we don’t just let the tricky swing dangle out of reach, frustrating the children. We actually coach the children on how to use their arm muscles to pull their weight onto the swing. This helps them listen, follow directions, and receive a big, fun payoff.

The swing is also tipsy, which helps children develop their core strength and balance as they conquer it.

It’s a difficult piece of equipment for most children in the beginning, but every child eventually masters it, overcoming fear, frustration, and doubt.

They also count to take turns to use it, and cooperate by pushing each other (Bonus: They’re learning Newton’s laws of motion along the way!)

So the next time you head to the playground, pat yourself on the back. You’re giving your child a mental, emotional, and physical boost. Well done, moms and dads!

To learn more about UDA Creative Arts Preschool in Draper, Utah, contact us online or give us a call at (801) 523-5930

The Importance of Storytelling for Preschoolers — It’s Not Just for Fun

the importance of storytelling for preschoolers

We all know the importance of reading to our children, but the act of storytelling is just as important. And while it can involve books, storytelling doesn’t have to come from words on a page. Learn about the importance of storytelling for preschoolers — and how you can incorporate it into your daily life.

The Importance of Storytelling for Preschoolers

A good story keeps kids (and adults!) engaged. Just think about how your favorite movie keeps you glued to your seat, even when you have 100 other things to do. When it comes to oral stories, all cultures have their own stories they tell again and again until they become a part of the culture. Think of the metaphors, phrases, and lessons we attribute to stories like Cinderella, The Three Little Pigs, The Grasshopper and the Ant, and so on. Stories help children and adults alike learn lessons, relate to others, and so much more.

Stories Introduce New Vocabulary

When you tell the story of Cinderella, you introduce words like “cinder” and “ashes.” You use the word “ball” to describe a formal dance. Exposing your child to new words wrapped up in a story makes it easier for your child to understand and remember new vocabulary.

Stories Develop Imagination and Curiosity

When your child listens to a story, she imagines what you’re describing. She may even begin to imagine next steps. She’ll have questions about why different characters made the choices they did. And when she steps away from the story, she’ll keep thinking about it. Aspects of the story will change and grow, and they’ll show up in her pretend play, conversations, and more.

Stories Build Listening Skills

Babies and small children are soaking up and absorbing everything around them. When you tell stories to children, they absorb language and their listening skills grow stronger. And because stories are so fun, listening isn’t as difficult as it could be in other situations. And this helps children learn to listen more closely in other situations as well.

Stories Build Connection

There’s the storyteller, and there’s the listener. The very act of storytelling brings people together to share a common experience. The interaction between speaker and listener is interactive. Not only that, but when you tell stories, you share emotions and experiences. And stories about a child’s cultural heritage will help him feel more grounded and connected to the important people in his life.

How to Incorporate Storytelling into Your Family’s Life

With Netflix, movies, podcasts, and more, the art of storytelling is increasingly something that is done for us, rather than by us. If you aren’t a natural storyteller, it will take a little bit of conscious thought to incorporate more storytelling into your family’s life. Use these tips to help.

  • Read! The more stories you read, the easier it will be to share stories.
  • Treat your life as a story. Everything you do is interesting (even if you don’t think it is!). Tell your children stories about when you were their age. Turn your grocery trip into a story: that person who cut ahead of you in line was rude, and you felt upset — that’s a story! Train yourself to see the story in your daily lives.
  • Ask your family members for stories about their lives, and retell those stories to your children.
  • Start a story at the dinner table, and “pass” it from person to person until you have a whole new story!
  • Look at old family photos and tell the stories of what was happening.
  • Learn a traditional story together. Tell it during bath time or while driving in the car. Ask your child to tell it to you. (The Three Little Pigs is a great one to start with because the repetition is easy to remember.)
  • Take turns telling a traditional story, but change up some of the elements, like character, setting, or even the ending.
  • Act out family stories or traditional stories.

At UDA Creative Arts Preschool, stories feature heavily in our curriculum because we understand their power to connect, teach, and strengthen children. To learn more about UDA Creative Arts Preschool in Draper, Utah, contact us online or give us a call at (801) 523-5930.

44 Things to Do with Your Kids This Summer

We’re halfway through summer, and keeping kiddos busy, enriched, and entertained is starting to feel like a chore. Some of us used up all of our creativity in the first two weeks of summer!

Not to fear. Browse this list, and find something new to do this week — and the next… and the next.

1. Go on an outdoor treasure hunt. Find something enticing to hide, stash it in a place you won’t forget, and draw a basic map to get to the treasure. Bonus: This helps with reading (even if you only use shapes in your map, you’re helping your child practice pre-reading skills), following directions, and patience!

2. Make ice cream sandwiches. Sure, you can buy ice cream sandwiches (and that’s a fun treat and activity too!), but making your own is a fun, novel activity.

Buy or make soft cookies. Scoop a spoonful of ice cream onto the flat side of one cookie (if you make your own cookies, make sure you wait for them to cool). Place the flat side of another cookie onto the ice cream, and press the sandwich together. Wrap it in tin foil and stash in the freezer. Now you have a delicious, cold treat to grab when it’s hot — and your child can take pride in having helped to make it!

3. Eat ice cream for dinner. Trust us — your kids will remember this experience forever. (Just don’t make it a habit!)

4. Make your own ice pops with juice or blended fruit.

5. Make a fort. Indoors or outdoors, a fort is a perfect place to spend the afternoon. Drape a sheet over a few chairs or over a low-hanging tree branch, and enjoy playing, reading, listening to music, and more inside!

6. Go to a farmers market. Give your child a few dollars to spend, and let her pick out a new or familiar fruit or veggie for dinner..

7. Pick berries. Picking your own berries is a great sensory experience for a preschooler. The colors, the tastes, the scents, the feel… it can be a delight to gather delicious berries on your own. It’s definitely different from selecting a basket at the grocery store. Go to PickYourOwn to find farms where you can pick fruit in your area.

8. Explore a nearby state or national park. Take advantage of the junior ranger program at national parks where children learn to explore, learn and protect.

9. Go for a hike. Find a new favorite trail for your family. Handy hint: Walking sticks help with preschooler endurance.

{How to Keep Your Preschooler Engaged on a Hike}

10. Find a new trail for bike rides. Do you have bike paths near your house or in your town? Challenge yourself to find a new one.

11. Go to the library. Participate in summer reading programs, get library events on your calendar, and make sure to let your child learn the joy of wandering through the library stacks to find a new book.

12. Go ice blocking. Sledding in the summer! Buy an ice block from your local grocery store, grab some winter gloves and a towel, and head to a nearby hill. Wear the gloves, place the towel on the ice block, and take a ride down the hill sitting on the ice block!

13. Put a twist on your sidewalk chalk art.
-Print out images of your child’s favorite cartoon character to copy.
-Create a family mural, in which each person contributes their own drawings.
-Make a path for your child to follow on a bike or by foot. Make zig zags, spirals, curves, and more. The only rule is your child has to stay on the path!

14. Go to a museum. Children’s museums are great, but try an art museum too!

{How to Take Your Preschooler to an Art Museum}

15. Explore new splash pads. You’ve probably been to most or all of the splash pads in your area, but what about the next town over? And the one beyond that?

16. Explore new parks. Create your own ranking system in your phone (number of slides, amount of shade, etc.) as a fun way to keep track of your favorite parks together.

17. Paint the fence with water. For a mess-free, but cooling, “paint” experience, give your child a few paintbrushes and a bucket of water. Let him “paint” the fence, front door, sidewalk, and house.

18. Paint rocks.  Leave your creations around the neighborhood for other kids to find.

19. Go for a day trip visit to a nearby city.

20. Vote for your favorite candy and/or ice cream. Like March Madness? Create your own brackets for the best candy and/or ice cream. After tasting and voting as a family or with friends, advance the winners until you have the final verdict.

21. Try a twist on s’mores. Use different candies and flavored marshmallows until you find your favorite combination.

22. Put up a tent in the backyard. Spend the day playing in the tent (find a shady spot to set it up!), or haul out your sleeping bags for a camping night in the backyard.

23. Go stargazing in the backyard.

24. Set up an obstacle course inside or outside.

25. Have a game night. Invite the neighbors over, or have a fun family game night. Snacks should be included, obviously.

26. Give your child a box. Or a bag. Seriously. See what she comes up with.

27. Make up stories.

28. Use craft sticks to beat boredom. Spend a few minutes writing acceptable quiet activities on craft sticks — reading, coloring, calling a grandparent, playing dress-up, stacking cups, etc. When your child inevitably says he’s bored, let him pick a craft stick and do the activity it instructs.

29. Read a chapter book together.

30. Have a picnic with themed food.

31. Go on a pajama walk. Surprise your kids at bedtime and announce it’s time for a pajama walk. Let them bring their stuffed animals as you walk around the neighborhood dressed and ready for bed.

32. Get a giant poster or large piece of butcher paper. Lay it on the floor, and let everyone color on it. Trace hands, feet, and bodies for extra fun.

33. Have a toy wash. Wash cars, Barbies, and other toys outside in buckets of water.

34. Play dress up.

35. Do yard work together. Buy kid-sized shovels and gloves to make your child feel included.

36. Deliver treats to firefighters. Have your child make a personalized thank-you card to include with the treats.

37. Make and deliver thank-you cards to your librarians.

38. Have a bike parade. Invite the neighborhood kids to decorate their bikes and join in a parade. Get the other parents to be parade spectators.

39. Visit a local farm.

40. Take a tour of a local factory.

41. Be a tourist in your town. Look at tourist websites for your town. Is there anything you haven’t done?

42. Cook together. Designate one night a week as your child’s night to cook. Let him plan the menu, and help him prepare the meal.

43. Go to an outdoor movie.  Many cities around the country show outdoor movies during the summer. If your preschooler can stay up late from time to time, this is a great, free, fun thing to do as a family   Here is a list of local outdoor movies for Utah in 2019.

44. Play balloon tennis. Grab some paper plates, glue, balloons, and giant craft sticks. Glue the sticks to the backs of paper plates, and hit a balloon back and forth.

Why Your Preschooler Desperately Needs Time Outdoors — and What to Do Once You’re There

preschool outdoor time

Kids these days seem to spend less time outdoors than we did when we were children. There are plenty of reasons for that: our lives are filled with more activities, we have access to more screens, backyard sizes and green spaces are shrinking, safe outdoor spaces are harder to come by…

Whatever the reason, though, it’s important we do what we can to give our children more time outdoors. The benefits of outdoor time for preschoolers are too good to pass up.

Outdoor Time for Preschoolers Increases Physical Health

As soon as the door is flung open to your backyard or the car door opened to a park or field, you’ll notice you preschooler burst into the outdoors with energy and enthusiasm. It’s almost impossible for a young child to not run, skip, hop, and jump when the space is available to do so.

And that’s such a good thing!

More time outdoors means your child will be moving more, building motor skills, and strengthening muscles and bones.

Exposure to Sunshine Improves Health

The sun is a funny thing. Too much of it can, of course, cause sunburns and serious health concerns. But not enough sun exposure can cause health problems as well. Sun exposure helps your body make vitamin D, which is crucial for bone development and healthy immune systems. It also helps regulate sleep cycles and improves mood. So lather up with sunscreen, wear a hat, and head outdoors.

Time Outdoors Builds Executive Function Skills

Playing outside, especially when the play is unstructured, gives your child the chance to hone her executive function skills. Executive function skills refer to the skills we all need to help us prioritize, multitask, plan, and troubleshoot. Outdoor time is full of opportunities to practice these skills. Figuring out how to climb the tree involves planning and troubleshooting. Tracking down worms  with a friend involves cooperation and multitasking.

Outdoor Time Increases Attention Spans

Multiple studies have found that exposure to nature increases attentiveness, even more so than doing a physical activity indoors. As your preschooler grows and is expected to pay more attention in school settings and other places, this becomes more and more important.

Children who spend more time playing outside are often more curious, self-directed, and confident. They have more opportunity to start and create tasks and activities on their own initiative, and are more likely to stick with a task for longer periods of time.

Ideas for Outdoor Activities for Your Preschooler

Don’t underestimate the power of free, unstructured play outside. You don’t have to do a whole lot of planning to create a good outdoor experience for your child. Just open the door, drive to the park, head to the mountains, or find a walking trail!

In addition to unstructured outdoor time, try these fun ideas for outdoor play.

Take a Nature Walk

At UDA Creative Arts Preschool, we like to take nature walks as the seasons change to look for signs of the new season. You can print out a nature walk journal page for extra fun.

Collect Nature Items

Let your child collect blossoms, blades of grass, rocks, and more (as long as it doesn’t disrupt the area). Keep the items in a spot in your backyard or by the window for a few days. Or incorporate them into an art project.

Add Objects

Get creative, and add objects to your outdoor environment. Bring wooden spoons, plastic bowls, and planks to the backyard. See what your child does with them.

Act Out a Story

Tell a story, or read a book outside, and then encourage your child to act out the parts.

Color with Sidewalk Chalk

It’s such an easy outdoor activity. Hand your child some chalk, and let them draw what they want. You can also make a path for their bike to follow, draw a hopscotch board so they can practice jumping, or create a series of steps for them to follow (Jump up and down 5 times on this spot, do 3 jumping jacks on this spot, etc.).

“Paint” the House or Fence

Give your child clean paintbrushes and a bucket of water. Let him “paint” a wall of your house, the fence, the sidewalk, the trampoline… whatever his heart desires!

Add Explorer Props

Gather a magnifying glass, a clipboard and pencil, a butterfly net, a measuring tape, jars, a backpack, and anything else you can think of to aid in a good exploration. Watch your child’s imagination run!

Eat Outside

Have a family meal outside, whether it’s in your backyard or at a nearby park.

Cut Grass

Really! This is a favorite activity of our students all year round. Let your child use a pair of safety scissors to cut the grass. It won’t do the job of a lawnmower, but it will strengthen your child’s hand muscles and improve fine motor skills.

Take Indoor Activities Outside

Basically, almost anything you can do inside can be done outside in some way. If your child wants to paint, why not do the art project outside? Want to read books? Throw a blanket on the grass and read away. Practicing letters? Do it on a clipboard or with sidewalk chalk.

You get the idea.

Now get outside!