What if Everybody Understood Child Development? Part 3

Rae Pica


Explicit learning may get the facts across more quickly than learning through exploration and discovery, but the latter has far more meaning to children and stays with them longer.

Adult personality is built on the child’s play. Among the social skills learned are the ability to share, cooperate, negotiate, compromise, make and revise rules, and to take the perspective of others. Play provides opportunities for children to meet and solve problems – the number-one ability they will most assuredly require in this rapidly changing world. It helps children express their thoughts and feelings and to deal with stress. To cope with fears they can’t yet understand or articulate. Through play, children acquire literacy, mathematical, and creative skills. Make-believe play, in particular, has been linked to self-regulations skills, which in turn have been linked to greater academic success than IQ has. How is social development supposed to be fostered? Do we imagine that one grows up and suddenly knows how to effectively communicate and collaborate and to be part of a community?


Everyone benefits from a break. As far back as 1885 and 1901, the research is quite clear on this: both children and adults learn better and more quickly when their efforts are distributed (breaks are included) than when concentrated (work is conducted in longer periods).

Outdoors, children can engage in behaviors (loud, messy, and boisterous) considered unacceptable and annoying indoors. And because recess is a break from structure and expectations, children have an opportunity to take control of their world, which is a rarity in their lives and which offers more preparation for adulthood than does memorizing the state capitals.



Research has demonstrated that children learn better when they learn on their own or from each other.

Nowhere else in the world do standardized tests play such a large role in education. Standardized tests promote the myth of “one right answer”. There is a real danger to our children if they grow up believing there is only one right answer to every question.

Alina Tugend, author of Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, said that as a result of all the pressure placed on them to be perfect, today’s children lack resiliency, a key characteristic in happy, successful adults. The first time they make a big mistake, they fall apart. Additionally, she said, we’re raising a generation of kids afraid to take risks and to try creative things. They just want to “stick to what they know, pass that test, get that A, and move, on.”

Just because the things in children’s lives have changed, it doesn’t mean the children themselves have.

The homework debate has a long history, dating back to the 1920s and the 1930s. But one has to wonder why there’s any debate at all, when the research clearly shows no correlation between academic achievement and homework in elementary school.

      There’s also the value of relaxation, which is both a learned skill and a necessary one. Acquiring the ability to relax enables children to find a quiet place inside themselves that allows them to cope – to maintain control over their bodies and minds. The child who learns to relax will have the ability to manage stress and therefore lead a healthier – and more serene – life. But it will also ensure a more energetic life, as stress is most certainly an energy robber. There’s no debate over whether learning is important for kids. The thing is, they’re learning all the time; it’s just unfortunate that learning about such things as oneself, nature, and stress management are not considered as worthy today as are math equations and spelling words.



People tend to misunderstand what positive reinforcement is. Ellen Ava Sigler said, “They believe that positive reinforcement is sweets, treats, and empty praise, when positive reinforcement is positive attention. Simply acknowledging a child’s work or talking to a child about what they’re doing is positive reinforcement. The child who has come to expect an intrinsic reward – who has become convinced that everything she does is worthy of praise or prizes – will be the adolescent or adult who can’t handle life’s realities.

I just read a review of a soon to be released book entitled, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. It struck me what a small percentage of self-help books are on improving your math skills, reading sills, or note-taking abilities and how many are on themes like emotional agility. There is a disconnect between how we are pressuring children in the educational race with narrow goals with the assumption that this will help them later in life and the problems that they are most likely to have as adults – those without a single correct answer. The goal of education should be to prepare the whole child for both ethical and pragmatic reasons. School has many opportunities and should have the expertise to help children develop skills other than math and reading which have been determined to be more important to their ultimate happiness and success in life.


Reclaiming Childhood:Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement Oriented Society

The Other Side of the Report Card: Assessing Students’ Social, Emotional, and Character Development

The End of Average

The Mislabled Child

Assessing and Helping Children with Learning Challenges

The Mislabled Child is one of the first books I would recommend for concerned parents and educators. The authors, Brock and Fernette Eide, are neurologists who were invited to address the College of Optometrists in Vision Development in 2006, due to their enlightened understanding of children with learning difficulties. They recognize that learning problems have neither a single cause nor a single treatment. They explain why children with learning problems require a thorough, multi-disciplinary evaluation based on their signs and symptoms. They also explain who should do the evaluations and how diagnosed problems should be treated. Continue reading

Thinking Goes to School:Piaget’s Theory in Practice

Hans G. Furth and Harry Wachs

There has always been a temptation to ignore the influence of child development. Development takes time; not everyone develops at the same rate; and all areas may not develop on the same schedule within one individual. There is an increased temptation to ignore development when there is pressure to push students to meet short-term academic goals. Continue reading

Sleights of Mind


By Stephen L. Machnik and Susana Martinez-Conde

With Sandra Blakeslee

This book, written by two specialists in visual neuroscience with the help of a science writer, uses magic and visual illusions to explain perception. The use of magic makes the book fun to read and it is fascinating to realize that magicians have had an empirical understanding of visual attention, perception and distraction for centuries. The following excerpts address some of the illusions that we have about how we function. Continue reading

Balanced and Barefoot



Angela J. Hanscom

While I advocate free outside play, I surprised myself when my first reaction to Angela Hanscom’s recommendation that children have three hours of free outside play a day was, “that’s not going to happen”. And yet that is how most of the parents of today’s children grew up and how almost all of their grandparents grew up.



I am writing this after spending most of my day outside in the yard. I did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, and how I wanted to do it – a fairly good definition of play. It wasn’t an organized sport at a scheduled time with people telling me what to do and judging how I did it. It was for my satisfaction. And the smells. Do you know what people and clothing smell like when they come in from outside? It is a subtle, ephemeral sensation that is nothing like fabric softener. We can’t top nature or even match it for that experience.


I am not advocating that we go back to a “simpler time”. I am arguing that the pendulum has swung too far. While the world has changed, the developmental needs of children have not changed and most of the skills that children need to develop also have not changed. Using technology is a surface change. It doesn’t change the core needs of learning about ourselves, to use judgment, to inhibit our impulses, and to make decisions and live with the consequences. It has not changed the importance – or challenge – of getting along with others, nor has this gotten any easier to learn to do. Angela Hanscom’s thoughts about these issues are as follows….


One problem that many therapists are seeing today, as opposed to thirty years ago, is that more and more children have trouble using the muscles of their eyes in unison, say to scan a room to find an object or to read a book accurately. Oftentimes, these vision problems go undetected, and children struggle in all aspects of their schoolwork. Typically, schools only assess a child’s ability to read letters or numbers off a chart. This tests their visual acuity. However, it is rare for schools to assess children’s ability to track and scan and effectively use their eye muscles.




Children literally thrive by challenging their bodies. When their bodies aren’t challenged, they fall behind in their development.






Without adequate gross motor strength, coordination, and control, it becomes very difficult to master fine motor skills, such as buttoning a shirt, cutting with scissors, and taking off shoes.



We start to develop core strength as infants. If children are given frequent opportunities to be on the floor as babies, especially on their bellies, they will start to develop their core muscles. For instance, when babies are given “tummy time”, they learn to start lifting their head up. This develops the muscles in the neck and back. The neck muscles need to be strengthened to support better looking and listening.


The inner core (muscles of the hips, spine, pelvic floor, and diaphragm) establishes the midline! Without good core strength, there is no perception of center – no anchor on which to support smooth and efficient body movements.kid-1493889_960_720

For babies, crawling strengthens and develops the arches in the hands, later needed to grasp small objects (and to write).

Proprioception regulates how much force you need to use when completing tasks, such as peeling a boiled egg, without crushing it, holding a baby chick without squeezing too hard, and writing with a pen without ripping the paper.chick-in-hands-1446893155zjo

Although all children are born with the capacity for healthy sensory integration, they must develop sensory integration by experiencing many physical challenges during childhood.



Children learn best through hands-on and meaningful play experiences – something that is significant or important to the specific individual. When children can make connections with something that interests them, they are far more likely to engage with all their senses. When their senses are engaged, they are strengthening their sensory skills. And strong sensory integration results in a higher incidence of learning.


The increase in how much time the school system expects children to sit is due to the expectations of teachers to fit in more and more curriculum at an earlier age. In fact, even kindergarteners are expected to sit for thirty minutes at a time at many schools. Teachers are under constant pressure to produce “results” in their students. By the end of kindergarten, children are expected to read, write, add, and subtract; if they don’t learn these skills, the children have failed, along with the teacher.



Busy routines leave little time for free pay outdoors – the type of play that rebalances them and gives them respite away from an unnecessarily demanding world.img_6867




Organized sports can be an okay way for kids to get exercise, but they should be a supplement to active free play. Sports should be the icing on the cake, not the cake, when it comes to providing an environment for kids to thrive developmentally.

Triathlon de Belfort



Children need to experience failure which is necessary to develop the skills of persistence, control, and hard work.

Interpersonal intelligence needs to be learned through real-life experiences; it can’t be taught through textbooks or lectures.


The vestibular sense is necessary for attention, balance, eye control, and postural strength and more. Spinning in circles is one of the best activities to help children gain a good sense of body awareness. It basically establishes their center, or core. Until children have good awareness of where their center is, they will have trouble establishing a dominant side for writing and throwing, and coordinating the two sides of the body will be difficult. This is why it is important to allow your child to roll down hills and spin in circles just for fun.


The lymphatic system is vital for maintaining a healthy immune system. However, unlike the circulatory system, it doesn’t have a pump and moves only in one direction. This means it relies on the movement of our muscles and our diaphragm (muscle that aids deep breathing) to effectively replenish the system and get rid of toxins. If a lymph system becomes less active due to lack of movement, the body can be less protected against colds and illnesses.children-772275_960_720

Children in highly decorated classrooms are more distracted, spend more time off task, and demonstrate smaller learning gains when compared to when they were in classrooms with blank walls. Keeping things simple, as nature has already done for us, can assist with learning.

The Happy Kid Handbook

Reclaiming Childhood:Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement Oriented Society

The Importance of Being Little

Book Review: Nuture Shock: New Thinking about Children



Being able to write comfortably, quickly, and automatically is still an important skill in the digital age. Attending to the details of letters as we learn to form them also supports learning and remembering their names. Poor handwriting is a common, and logical, reason for children to be referred for an assessment of their vision. Continue reading