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If your family is anything like mine, you love big dance parties. With three energetic kids and two adults who love music, dancing together in the living room is a special bonding time.
But dancing is so much more than just a fun thing to do together. As an elementary school teacher, I know of the many benefits of dance for young children firsthand. Aside from being a great form of exercise, dancing also teaches kids to listen and pay attention to rhythmic and melodic elements of music. It can help strengthen a sense of vestibular balance, and many studies have shown that dance can help release stress and anxiety. Dancing with others even encourages social bonding as kids intuitively respond to each other's movements.
While dance is not taught in many of our schools, educators Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica believe that learning dance is just as important as "the other arts, languages, mathematics, sciences and the humanities in the general education of every child." Dance empowers children to express themselves and be comfortable in their bodies. Studies show a positive correlation between creative movement and learning.
If you'd like to help your child get more dancing in, here are a few ideas to kickstart your own mini dance program at home:
- Dancing is always better with more participants. Get a small group of kids and their friends together and kick off a game where they mirror each other in pairs. One child leads and moves their body however they want to while the other mirrors their movements. Switch after a few minutes so both children have a chance to lead and follow. This video on teaching strategies for creative movement and dance shows a group of students doing mirroring at 2:56.
- Vary the music or don't use music at all. There's something to be said for moving your body to silence or dancing to the beat of your own heart. Try a drum for a simple beat and see how your child moves in ways you wouldn't have imagined!
- Let your child improvise, compose, and choreograph on their own or in a partnership. One approach is to encourage them to explore one dance movement such as gliding, crawling, running, skipping, or sliding with different types of music. You can also have them create a dance that uses two of the dance movements listed above and has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Have them try dances that and move from a low to a high level. Yes, a four year old can do this, too! Of course, their dance may change from practice time to performance, which can lead to a fun conversation about improvisation.
- Use props! Especially in the beginning of a child's exposure to dance, giving them something like a scarf to dance with can help take away some of the performance anxiety. I like to pair up kids and have one of them move the scarf in creative ways (up, down, zigzag, slowly, in circles), while the other child moves their body as if they were the scarf. Then, they switch roles.
After any dance activity, have your child reflect on their experience. The reflection could be a quick conversation or a written task to help the child process their experience. Some questions to ask are:
- What did it feel like to dance today?
- What did you enjoy about this activity?
- What part of it was challenging for you?
- If you could change something about the dance you created, what would it be and why?
Children are natural dancers and movers. Giving them the opportunity to explore creative dance can help them develop their inherent talent. Remember that you can modify your dance activities according to each child's abilities.
- Elements of Dance: A framework developed by the Perpich Center for Arts Education in partnership with the University of Minnesota which identifies five elements of dance: Body, Action, Space, Time, and Energy and identifies suggested activities to teach each element.
- PreK to 12th Grade Dance Standards, National Dance Education Organization: These specific standards provide clear guidelines to parents and educators on what kids should know and be able to do when it comes to creative movement.
If you're anything like me, the following scenario might sound familiar. You walk into a crowded grocery store with bright lights and enticing rows of food. You start to feel overstimulated as you dodge the oncoming carts, and before you know it, you've forgotten the reason you were there in the first place. You soldier on, forgetting most of the items that were on the list that you left at home. You end up spending way too much time and money on random items you don't really need. By the time you get home, you are totally depleted.
Distractions bombard us every day. With product overload at grocery stores, televisions at restaurants, electronic billboards, and text messages and other phone alerts vying for our attention, we are constantly challenged to filter stimuli to stay in the present moment. Our senses, which enable us to modulate sensory input, play a major role in the way we react to the world.
According to Barbara Sher, expert occupational therapist and author of Everyday Games for Sensory Processing Disorder, "There is a great advantage in helping children become more aware of sensory information. Homing in on one sense can be an exquisite experience for everyone involved." Because young children learn through using multiple senses simultaneously, sensory play is a proven way to build cognitive skills. Sensory play supports brain, motor skill, and language development, and encourages scientific thinking and problem solving.
Capitalize on the benefits of sensory play by trying out these activities with your child:
Activities for Touch
- Create Your Own Slime: This gooey, squishy recipe will introduce your child to the world of measurements in a playful way while supporting sensory integration.
- Ice Cube Necklace: With this activity, your child can watch liquid water turn to solid ice and back into water. Your child will work on following verbal instructions and using small muscle control for beading as well as experience what it feels like to hold and play with ice.
- Scented Play Dough: Your child will be fascinated by their new fragrant play dough, but they will also be giving the muscles in their hands the workout they need to get ready for all the writing, drawing, and cutting to come.
Activities for Taste
- Blow Painting: Increase your child's ability to blow by showing them how to create a beautiful art piece you can display after.
- Create a Santa Face with Fruit: This activity will expose your child to new types of food and stimulate their taste buds. It can be modified to create any type of face your child wants.
Activities for Smell
- Your Nose Knows: With this experiment, your child will give their nose a workout by examining objects to find the matching scents.
- Play the Senses Guessing Game: In this fun guessing game, your child uses their sense of smell and taste to figure out what is in the containers.
Activities for Sight
- The Magic Magnifying Glass: This hands-on activity has kids using magnifying glasses to engage with the world around them and look closely at what they find.
- Color Spy and Make Your Own I Spy Game: These fun games support your child's visual development.
Activities for Sound
- Play Musical Statues: This simple activity helps improve listening skills as your child will be required to discriminate between sound and silence. It also offers a great opportunity for self-expression and to practice self-regulation.
- Make a Story in a Bag: Help your child practice listening skills by making puppets and telling your favorite stories. The purpose is for your child to tell the story back to you in their own words.
Please remember to consult an occupational therapy professional if you have concerns about your child's sensory needs. The benefits of sensory play are proven and provide meaningful learning experiences for kids of all ages.
More About Sensory Play and Sensory Processing Disorder
- "Occupational Therapists, What Do They Do?" Child Mind Institute
- : "Sensory Processing Disorder in Children" ADDitude
- "'Sensory Diet' Treatment: What You Need to Know" Understood.org
- "Webinar: Sensory Diets 101" Understood.org
- The Games Lady
- "Sensory Experiences Can be Messy Fun" Earlychildhood NEWS
We recently celebrated the only United States federal holiday designated as a day of service, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. With Black History Month just around the corner, this is the time of year when many people are talking about social justice, diversity, and inclusion. To help our children become culturally competent, we should welcome these important conversations year-round. Indeed, I want my children to grow up with a deep understanding of the legacy of activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and acknowledge that anti-bias work begins at home. Here are some ways you can model and support anti-bias learning throughout the year:
Read Books with a Range of Characters
The We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) site has a great list of books featuring a diverse range of characters. Read stories with characters who don't look like your child, have different abilities, or represent different cultures or beliefs. Use stories as an opportunity to talk about how people are the same on the inside and can look or be different on the outside. Offer examples of similarities and differences that your child can easily understand and identify with. For example, "Our family has two kids and two moms, and this family has a grandma and one kid. What other kinds of families can you think of?" As you read, explore how differences make each person unique. Stories are a wonderful way to express interest in others, have open conversations about stereotypes and bias, and model empathy for others.
Seek Out New Sources of Media
In my house, we have reasonably strict parameters around screen time and media use. Teaching media literacy is often viewed as something to address with older children, though there are many benefits to introducing these conversations earlier. When considering which types of media to introduce to your child, be strategic. Even young children can understand that the images in TV, movies, videos, advertisements, and magazines don't always reflect lived experiences. Talk about the content of the media you and your children consume and the ways in which they might portray people. Point out when you see stereotypes or under-representation. Then discuss what you are seeing and how the ideas and information might inform or impact their views about the world. For example, "Why do you think all of the characters in this show look the same? In the real world, people have all different skin colors, not just white."
Many wonderful movies and shows depict characters that represent diverse backgrounds and beliefs. My 3-year-old is obsessed with a relatively new PBS show Molly of Denali about a 10-year-old indigenous Athabascan girl living in Alaska. Not only does it have a strong female lead, but the show also has cultural advisors from each region of Alaska depicted in the series. This is just one example of an excellent source of culturally relevant children's media with many opportunities for rich discussion as you and your child watch together. Check out the article "Diversity in Kids TV: Let's Tell Stories That Include Everyone" for other movies and shows featuring strong characters from a variety of backgrounds. Common Sense Media is also a great source of independent reviews and information about media literacy.
Model Respect and Empathy
Start by modeling empathy and respect through your day-to-day interactions with your child. Notice their feelings and ask them to share how they feel, offer support in challenging situations, and share personal stories about your own experiences. Consider doing the same with others as well. Your child notices how you interact with people out in the world, from close friends to a stranger in the grocery store. How do you show respect, empathy, or appreciation for friends and neighbors? How do you show care for those experiencing challenges or needing extra support? Children learn best by example—and they are always watching their parents!
Talk About Bias and Stereotypes
While it can be hard to talk about topics like race, class, and injustice with young children, it is actually the best time to begin these conversations. Young children have an innate sense of fairness and are naturally curious about others. Be honest about bias and stereotypes—in an age appropriate way of course! Teaching Tolerance has a great parent guide with resources by age to support these conversations, as well as all kinds of useful resources to use when talking about social justice with your child. Teach your child that it is okay to ask questions about differences. Children are curious about the world and teaching them to ask questions in a respectful way can encourage open-minded attitudes and inclusive behaviors.
I hope these ideas help you and your child learn about the world and the ways that differences enrich our society. Think about ways to celebrate differences as your child begins to explore what makes them and their friends special, and encourage them to think critically about the world through an anti-bias and social justice lens.
I remember when I was growing up in New York. My brother, mom, and I would wish for snow days every winter. Despite the weatherman's prediction of a potential dusting of snow, we'd hope for a full-blown snowstorm that would drop several inches on our small town.
Many people have snow-day superstitions that they hope will bring on the wintery weather. These include wearing pajamas inside out and backward, putting an ice cube in the toilet, and putting a spoon under the pillow. But that's not how my family rolls. We literally made up our very own song and dance! While it was not technically advanced (we just repeated "Snow day! Snow day! Snow day!" while doing the Cabbage Patch dance), it was our tradition for wishing that we could have just one of those coveted days. To be honest, we kept this tradition when we moved to Texas (good luck, right?), and I took it with me as a teacher, too! Old habits die hard, I guess.
So in the event that you're lucky enough to score a snow day or two with your kids home from school, here are some indoor and outdoor activities to keep the kids entertained-- and to keep yourself from losing your marbles!
Send them outside.
Sending kids outside takes a lot of work. Between the gear, potty breaks, runny noses, and sweaty kids stuffed in icy clothes, it might be easier to enjoy the snow from inside. However, if you have some gung-ho, active kiddos who are really excited to spend time outside, go ahead and send them! And if they come knocking on the door to say they're bored, here are a few ideas you can give them to keep the fun going:
- Build a snow person or snow family. Give your child scarves, carrots, and any other fun decor to help them create a memorable snowperson or snow family. Older kids can experiment with different snow-packing techniques as a design challenge.
- Build a fort or a shelter. Use softball-sized snowballs to create a fort or a shelter. Remind your child to be careful about getting inside or underneath as it may not be sturdy enough.
- Take some indoor toys outside. There is something so exciting about playing with the same old toys in a new setting.
- Make a snow volcano. Combine the joy of a snow day with the fun of STEM with an explosive volcano. With dish soap, vinegar, baking soda, and food coloring, this activity will keep your kid engaged for a while.
- Create an outdoor obstacle course. Check out what you have in the garage or shed and create an obstacle course. Think beach toys, hula hoops, pool noodles—you have the idea!
- Take a walk around the neighborhood to observe the snow. Have you ever noticed that snow settles on the ground differently? Stroll around the neighborhood and notice the drifts, undisturbed snow, and areas where the snow has already been thoroughly enjoyed. Observe with your child how snowflakes are all different and invite them to draw their observations upon returning home.
Even the most adventurous kids will need to come inside during a snow day. After a change of clothes and some warm cider or hot chocolate, your child can enjoy some quieter activities.
- Take out the board games. Many games now have instructional videos on YouTube which you can watch together with your child. This is both an exercise in following directions as well as an opportunity to ensure everyone understands the rules together. Your kid will enjoy this time with you as you play together.
- Make snow ice cream. All you need is fresh snow, vanilla, and condensed milk to make this yummy treat. Have your child help you make it and enjoy it together with some sprinkles.
- Cuddle up with some books. Find a comfy spot in the house and a stack of books to read with your child. If you're looking for some great titles, check out this list.
- Paint the snow. Bring the snow inside in a baking pan and give your child food coloring. They can use the droppers to paint the snow and even make miniature snow people.
- Play balloon sports. You can still be active when you're inside. Blow up a balloon and play balloon soccer or volleyball. If tennis is more your speed, grab some paper plates to use as tennis rackets.
- Work on fine motor skills. Painting a detailed winter scene, creating marshmallow snow people, or using tongs to transfer cotton balls from one container to another are just some of the ways to work on fine motor skills with your child.
Despite the initial excitement of a snow day, the thrill often wears off pretty quickly as kids jump from activity to activity. If you've gone through the above list and are looking for more ideas, check out this Winter Activities To-Do List worksheet to make it through the rest of the day.
Schools around the United States often dedicate the days leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to lesson plans and literacy activities that revolve around peaceful protests, unpacking the famous "I Have a Dream" speech, and other scratch-the-surface attempts to teach kids about the legacy and complexity of the civil rights movement Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) helped to lead.
Although well-intentioned, the lessons and stories we use to teach kids about MLK are often standalone entities, disconnected from the regular curriculum in the classroom. If we are going to empower our kids to be changemakers then they have to understand that change isn't easy and it involves a lot of risk-taking, mistakes, and hard work. They also need to understand the greater concepts and messages that civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. were trying to convey.
Here are five ways you can help your child begin to understand the complexity of the civil rights movement while empowering them to become change-agents:
Teach kids to embrace their identity. Martin Luther King, Jr. called upon people to love each other regardless of skin color. Make sure not to confuse his message with the "kids are colorblind" trope, which has been disproven by research. The message is clear: kids who are informed about race and differences are more inclusive and ready to fight against injustice when they see it. Use these activities to explore what diversity is with your child and make sure to provide examples of how people's differences can make a positive change in the world.
- Loveliness in Diversity. This activity asks children to discuss what diversity is and why the world is a better place because of all the different people in it. Children will write their very own poem about the beauty in diversity.
- Drawn Together. This lesson plan explores how appreciating each other's differences can bring people together.
- Appreciating Diversity and Differences. This lesson plan, which adults as well as educators can easily follow, teaches kids to articulate how they appreciate diversity and differences by writing a story or creating artwork.
- My Rich Cultural Heritage. This activity teaches kids the importance of social engagement, self-awareness, and the appreciation of diversity.
Talk to your kids about the importance of service to others. Help your child become comfortable with service to others by volunteering in your community. Research organizations including food banks, programs like Meals on Wheels, locally run thrift shops, humane societies, Goodwill, and local nursing or assisted living homes. Check the organization's website for volunteer opportunities, or reach out to the program director to see what opportunities are coming up. Set up time and space to volunteer once a month with your child. By using your own two hands and putting in the work to drive change in your community, you will honor MLK and continue his legacy.
Read books that focus on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s activism. While there are many books that talk about MLK and his legacy, try to find books that dig deep. Here are some ideas:
Lower Elementary: I am Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Ordinary People Change the World Series is a great way to introduce kids to MLK and how he bravely led the way toward racial equality in America.
- Before reading: ask your child to think about someone they look up to. Can they think of some words that describe this person? Explain to your child that they are going to learn about a very important person named Martin Luther King, Jr.
- During reading: pause and ask your child to think about something interesting they learned about MLK or something they are wondering about.
- After reading: have your child create a piece of artwork to express what they learned from reading the story.
Upper Elementary: A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney illustrates the role a community of activists played in writing the renowned "I Have a Dream" speech through the use of lyrical prose and beautiful illustrations. Here are some activities you can use to engage your little before, during, and after reading this beautiful book:
Before reading: provide child-friendly definitions of important words, such as these from The Little Book of Little Activists or Merriam Webster Learner's Dictionary:
- protest: disrupting the usual flow of things so you can call attention to an injustice and demand that it be changed
- activist: someone who takes action in order to create social change
- democracy: a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting
- During reading: pause to define tricky and academic words, learn more about the people mentioned in the book, and clarify any difficult concepts. Point out stanzas in the text that reinforce what MLK stood for and his passion for driving change.
- After reading: jot down all of the questions your child still has. Support them in researching the answers and learning more about other leaders of the civil rights movement. Challenge your child to create a poster, poem, play, or piece of artwork to express what they learned from their research.
Extend your learning of black changemakers. Repeat after me: black history is American history. To truly teach the message Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted us to learn, we must teach our children about black changemakers all year long. Books like Young Gifted and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past and Present by Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins as well as Black Women in Science by Kimberly Brown Pellum, Ph.D., and Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison and Kwesi Johnson provide in depth information about black trailblazers and change agents. Extend your child's learning by checking out black educator-created resources such as Mamademic's Black History is American History mini monthly curriculum that teaches children (and their parents) about black history all year long.
Teach kids about how change really happens. Depending on your child's age, there are many ways to teach kids how to stand up for what they believe. Start with books like A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara and the aforementioned The Little Book of Little Activists by Penguin Young Readers. These books teach kids of all ages that they are never too young to care about their community or stand up for their beliefs. The books will also unpack difficult concepts, teach kids what the First Amendment is, and how to exercise their rights in their day-to-day lives. Extend their learning by checking out these activities:
- Take a Stand. This activity will help give your child the tools to resist inappropriate social pressures and learn to practice empathy and mindful communication.
- Community Mobile. In this social emotional learning activity, you and your child will read a story and create a community mobile that describes aspects of healthy relationships (such as listening, gratitude, appreciation, teamwork, and so on) in order to explore what it means to live in a supportive community.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a great opportunity to lead an ongoing exploration of the black experience in the United States and its history, as well as learning about the current experiences of black Americans. To take your family's learning a step further, check out these resources:
- Before reading: provide child-friendly definitions of important words, such as these from The Little Book of Little Activists or Merriam Webster Learner's Dictionary: