Helping brain development in young children

Do you know that you can help your child’s brain to develop? Here’s how, from The Growing Child newsletter distributed by Lifestart.

There is increasing evidence that a young child’s environment plays an important part in brain development.
Providing a child with appropriate developmental activities and experiences can lead to an increase in brain cell connections.

By so doing, the child is not only using existing brain cells but these increased connections can actually reshape the brain and enhance the brain’s power to learn and remember new material. Here is a short checklist to serve as a reminder of what parents can do
for their child’s brain development:

  • Provide opportunities for your child to explore and gather information both in your home and outside the home.
  • Give your child many opportunities to develop new skills, such as sorting, putting things in order, comparing, and discovering relationships, such as cause and effect.
  • If your child doesn’t know how to get started on a new task, you can provide some guided rehearsal, but have her become actively involved as soon as possible. She will learn better as an active participant than as an observer.
  • Don’t push if your child’s behavior indicates that a task is too difficult. Back off to a simpler task at which your child can experience success.
  •  Avoid disapproval, mocking or teasing if your child makes a mistake.
  • Talk to your child in simple language to explain new words and concepts.
  • Give praise and encouragement for good effort and celebrate new accomplishments.



The GROWING TOGETHER NEWSLETTER is issued by; GROWING CHILD Inc., and is distributed free, courtesy of: THE LIFESTART FOUNDATION, 2, Springrowth House, Balliniska Rd., Springtown Ind. Estate, L’Derry BT48 OGG
Tel: 028 71365363.

How do babies learn?

How do babies learn? Here is a piece from the Growing Child newsletter distributed by Lifestart which gives us some insight into that.

Exercises in Learning

Around her first birthday, what kinds of things is Baby now doing on her own? If you watch her carefully, you will notice she is likely to try to do something in a different manner the second, or at least the third time she tries to repeat an action. For instance, when she discovers the fascination of dropping objects, she doesn’t drop the same toy the same way each time. Instead she holds her arm in different positions She also tries out all possible surfaces for dropping.

This is quite a change from her younger months when she used to do the same thing over and over like banging an object or shaking her arms and legs to sway the bassinet. What has happened is that she is no longer so fascinated with the effect she can produce when she simply makes the same thing happen over and over again.

Her interest has shifted to the world of causes and effects outside herself. She is willing and able to make variations in her actions to learn about the nature of the objects themselves. She has now begun to sort and classify her experiences in a simple way.

Jean Piaget, the noted psychologist, divided a baby’s learning experiences into two categories.
First, she tries it out with a number of variations. She exercises the idea, so to speak. Baby’s various ways of dropping an object is not just a onetime occurrence but a predictable
happening. Then, along comes a situation where an idea doesn’t work. Let’s say that Baby is exercising the idea that she can put objects into a box through a hole in the top. All of a sudden, an object refuses to go through the hole—push though she will. Now comes a tiny crisis.
Baby’s idea, which had been so stable, suddenly becomes unsettled. She must either reconcile the idea with this new happening or give it up entirely.

Of course, Baby soon learns to modify her idea slightly. All objectswill go through the hole except those that are “too big.” Her process of adapting an idea to new circumstances is the second category of learning experiences and it is really the more important of the two. By this means, all of us have gained a more highly refined understanding of the world and its ways.



The GROWING TOGETHER NEWSLETTER is issued by; GROWING CHILD Inc., and is distributed free, courtesy of: THE LIFESTART FOUNDATION,
2, Springrowth House, Balliniska Rd.,
Springtown Ind. Estate, L’Derry BT48 OGG
Tel: 028 71365363. Fax: 028 71365334.
Web Site:

The importance of play

Here is another good piece from The Growing Child newsletter distributed by Lifestart

The Importance of Play

It is generally through play that a preschool child learns about the world around her and then assimilates what she has learned into her concept of reality.

Preschool children enjoy three different forms of play: physical, manipulative, and symbolic.
Physical play refers to activities that involve the use of the muscles. These activities emphasize action, and include running, hopping, jumping, climbing, throwing, sliding and playing with a ball.
Manipulative play refers to activities by which a child learns to gain better control over her environment. These activities include the use of puzzles and building blocks (which also require some physical play skills) as well as games that involve social manipulation (“What can I do to make Daddy come to me?”)

Symbolic play involves manipulation, not of people, but of events and objects. These play activities
would include the use of fantasy, pretend play, and nonsense rhymes. In symbolic play, a child can
change events, identities, and emotions for the sake of her play, thereby gaining more complete control over her newly created world. In a child’s life, play has many important effects on development.

Physical development. Play activities that involve physical exercise help to promote a child’s general health. Specific activities that involve, for example, perceptual-motor skills also help to develop the child’s eyehand coordination.

Cognitive development. Through play a young child is able to try out her understanding of how the world works. What we see in a child’s play is not just trucks, dolls, teacups and saucers. It is the child’s cognitive conception of the world as she experiences and understands it.

Emotional development. Perhaps the single most important contribution of play to emotional
development is the role it has in the formation of a child’s self-concept. Play is also a means by which a child can deal with emotional conflicts (for example, by using puppets to talk about hurt feelings).

Social development. In play activities, a child has an opportunity to experiment with different roles,
power relationships, and rules. For example, a young child may tell a doll or teddy bear to “sit in a corner” for some type of misbehaviour. Because young children enjoy play, it becomes a very natural way for them to learn about themselves and the world in which they live.

So, the next time you see your child engaged in play, you will know that she is not just “messing about.” She is engaged in the “work of childhood,” namely, promoting her physical, cognitive, emotional and social development.

Now’s a good time to teach your kids how to play on their own

With parents trying to work from home, prepare meals and deal with other children it is important that our children are able to play independently. Here are some tips on how you can help your child develop the skills to do just that. If you wish you can download the original article here

Now’s a Good Time to Teach Your Kids to Play on Their Own

Independent play is a skill your kids will use for the rest of their lives — and a way to claim some time for yourself during quarantine.

(image by Haein Jeong)

“When I was a kid, there was lots and lots of free play with no parental interaction. My kids cannot be alone for five minutes. WHERE DID WE GO WRONG?”

That post was just one of many desperate pleas that came across my Facebook feed as parents in coronavirus quarantines vented online. Parents are trying to work from home while home schooling kids who came up in the era of planned play dates, packed schedules and screen time. This is new territory for many of us.

“We’re not bad parents because we give our kids tech and routine and we work,” said Meghan Leahy, a parent coach and author of “Parenting Outside the Lines.” And now, when all of those routines have been upended, we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Research has shown that our heavily scheduled lives have contributed to a significant decrease in the amount of free time kids have, so their independent play skills may not be ready for the moment we are facing.

That’s OK. With a few tools, experts say, we can teach our kids how to play more independently, which will reward them with lifelong benefits. “Independent play encourages time management, executive function and organizational skills, and emotional and physical awareness and regulation,” said Dana Rosenbloom, a parent and child educator in Manhattan. “All skills that help us be successful individuals as adults.” And, in the process, we can make our lives right now just a bit easier. “Our kids aren’t broken,” said Leahy, “but this can also be a nice time to tell them, ‘You have parts of your brain you’ve never used, and we can get there.’”

Here’s how.

“In this time of anxiety and uncertainty, it’s really natural for children to regress, which means their dependency needs” — for comfort, physical closeness, affection and communication — “are going to be paramount,” said Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., author of “Playful Parenting.” “It’s a bit of a paradox, but independence and exploration are not the opposite of dependence, safety and security. They flow from them.”

If you want your kids to feel confident enough to play on their own, Dr. Cohen said, “start the day with some really high-quality connected play. Set a timer for 20 minutes, put away your phone and say to your children, ‘I’ve got 20 minutes just for you. What would you like to do?’” And then, put yourself “at their service as a helper and a follower,” he recommended. “Don’t tell them what they should do.”

But you can encourage them. “Describe and comment on what they’re doing with no judgment,” recommended Laura Markham, Ph.D., founding editor of the online parenting resource, Aha! Parenting. “It might be a little bit boring for you, but your child’s takeaway will be, ‘Wow, my mom or dad likes to watch me play, I’m good at this.’” When the timer goes off, tell your kids, “I loved watching you play, and I can again later.” Give them a hug and go take care of your stuff. “Usually they will keep playing,” said Dr. Markham.

“For a kid who doesn’t play at all by themselves, an hour is an eternity,” said Catherine Pearlman, Ph.D., author of “Ignore It!” “Start with five or 10 minutes and grow from there.” She also recommends offering to do something with them that they really enjoy afterward.

There is a concept popular in the world of “unschooling” (a home education approach that allows children’s interests to drive learning) called “strewing”: creating prompts for play time that children discover on their own. “It’s one of the best tricks of the trade,” said Avital Schreiber-Levy, a parenting performance coach in New Jersey who has created a play guide for parents on lockdown. You put “spotlights” on toys or other objects by setting them up in an unexpected way, and then let your kids stumble upon them.

For example, create a vignette on a cookie sheet — such as a few dolls having a tea party or a group of trucks with little piles of dried beans. Sort Legos into piles by color or build half a structure. Put out a puzzle with all the pieces flipped over and ready to go.

Schreiber-Levy also recommends moving toys in and out of rotation. “When toys sit out too long, they go stale,” she said. “It’s about making them novel again, either because we take them away or we set them up in a new way.”

“Messy or tactile play — with paint, sand, clay, beads or water — is something many parents avoid, because it’s inconvenient,” Schreiber-Levy said. But, for kids, it’s “really soothing and will keep them engaged for a long time.” One way to contain the mess is to designate a space for it. The outdoors is the obvious choice, but you can also make a space inside with buckets, large trays and towels. Schreiber-Levy said her 2- and 4-year-old will play in the bathtub with shaving cream for an hour and a half, so she sets up shop with her computer on the toilet while they have at it.

“Kids are not going to sleep or behave well unless they have exhausted their body,” Schreiber-Levy said. Outside activities are great, but you can also create a safe space inside for them to tumble. Clear away furniture and then pile in soft things — pillows, cushions, yoga mats, sleeping bags. With any luck the kids will end up making a fort that keeps them entertained for hours.

“Often when parents present independent play, it’s like slamming a door on the child’s face and saying, ‘Go play outside,’” Dr. Cohen said. Instead, challenge your kids to do activities you can participate in later, like creating a piece of art for you, coming up with a surprise for another adult in the home, or building an obstacle course in the living room using cushions and chairs. “Say to them, ‘When you’ve figured it out, come show me and I’ll time you,’” Dr. Cohen recommended. “Then it’s still about connection, even though they are playing independently.”

While independent play is a “teachable skill,” Rosenbloom said, she noted that it will look different for different kids, depending on their age, as well as their developmental age.

For children with A.D.H.D. or executive functioning skills that are developing more slowly, Rosenbloom recommended using dry erase boards to help them plan out their time. “One of the greatest strengths of many people with A.D.H.D. is that they can get hyper-focused on things they love and stay engaged for a long period of time,” said Rosenbloom. Choose those things for play time. “They are going to be independent for a longer period of time if we have set them up appropriately,” she said.

And don’t compare your kids to others. “Don’t look over your fence at what your neighbors are doing,” Leahy said. “Don’t look at Instagram. If you have a neurodiverse family, don’t go to the neurotypical families and compare. Play your own game and reach out to your communities.”

“If your kids are in school all day or on a screen all day, they need to stretch their independent play muscle that may have atrophied,” said Schreiber-Levy. “We want everything to happen instantaneously,” Rosenbloom said. But, if we can understand that this is a transition for all of us and have patience with the process, she added, it will work.

And this will not only help parents get work done, it will also help reassure your child in this scary time. “Play is therapy for kids,” Schreiber-Levy said. “If kids get to construct their own worlds and inhabit them, they play out themes that are troubling them. They get to seize control and emotionally process what is going on.” That’s something we all need right now.

Kate Rope is an award-winning journalist and author of “Strong as a Mother: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood.”


Making the most of family time

Families are probably spending more time together during this pandemic than we ever have before. How do we make the best of that time together and build positive memories for ourselves and for our children? Chloe McGinty who is a Family Support Worker with Springboard Family Support Project offers some ideas in the booklet ‘Parenting through Covid-19 – helpful hints to keep home life happy’ which is produced by the team at Springboard and Finn Valley FRC. You can download the booklet here

Making the most of family time

Social distancing has provided us with an opportunity for more family time. While these restrictions have brought great disruption to our lives, we can use this time to keep our children safe, and provide them with support to maintain their happiness. It can allow us to further strengthen relationships with our children and families.

This gift of time is not about making comparisons to friends, family and
neighbours. While some will bake beautiful cakes, make a wooden play house or complete all their school work, some will simply watch a movie, draw a picture or read a book. This is your time and your family. This is not a competition about productivity or success. It’s likely that you are doing more as a family now without realising; maybe eating together for meals or simply being in each other’s company.

It is a time to get to know each other, our likes/dislikes, our hobbies and interests and what gets on our nerves. Ignore the detailed daily schedules and do what works best for you as a family. We have no control over the re-opening of schools, crèches or sports clubs. If you are cooking and cleaning a lot, you are not alone. A few months ago a large number of us parents could be heard moaning about the school lunches, school collections and Mum’s/Dad’s taxi to and from afterschool activities. We have more time to
teach our children how to help or to learn how to use a hoover or empty the bins. These are life skills that they can bring with them in to their adult life, even if they will never do it just the way we would.

We have a responsibility as parents to provide love, reassurance and security. Our children will display challenging behaviours that could very likely be a result of the worries and emotions that they cannot manage alone. Let’s not be hard on them or ourselves.

Why not involve your children in the daily plans. Take one day at a time. Ask your children what they would like to do and make a plan together.

Go back to basics, this time at home doesn’t summons you to learn a new language or invent a new gadget. Enjoy the sunshine, nature, family, music, dancing and imagination. Be careful of the time spent on social media as a parent. Be mindful of the conversations we are having in front of the children. Model the behaviour we want. Try to remain positive, despite the doubts and fears we face about life returning to “normal”. The more positive you can be; the more valuable the family time will be.

Take care of yourself; children are watching how you are coping. The simple but wonderful opportunity we have to play with our children can allow us to forget, for a moment the seriousness of the world around us.

You can get more handy hints to keep home life happy here


Let’s Play Links and Resources

Published: 24 April 2020 From: Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Here’s a list of some great organisations that have really useful information and resources on their websites.

The Ark

At home arts activities and other creative resources for children.


Helping transform children’s lives through their services; support parents; and challenge society where it fails our children.

Children in Hospital Ireland

Making hospital a happier place for children through play and advocacy.

Cork healthy cities

Games promoting social inclusion, healthy lifestyles and energy awareness, place-making can economic prosperity.

Cork Sports Partnership keeping active at home

Resource from Cork Sports Partnership team and partner organisations to support families to keep active at home.

Creative Ireland

Supporting the mainstreaming of culture and creativity in our lives, our communities and our society.

Early Childhood Ireland

Early Childhood Ireland is the largest organisation in the early years sector, representing 3,800 childcare members, who support over 100,000 children and their families through preschool, afterschool, and full day-care provision nationwide.

Help My Kid Learn

Help My Kid Learn is a website where people can see that supporting a child’s literacy and numeracy development is a natural, easy and fun activity that can be integrated into any part of their day, with a dedicated Play Tab.


Activities for children during COVID-19.


The National Centre for Youth Mental Health.

Libraries Ireland

Irish public libraries provide all users with a wide range of free online services including eBooks, audiobooks, eMagazines, online courses and online newspapers.

One Family

One Family is working to ensure a positive and equal future for all members of all one-parent families in Ireland – changing attitudes, services, policies and lives.

Parents Plus

List resources for individuals, families and parents on how they can help themselves and their children during COVID-19 including articles, visual aids, stories and stories specific to COVID-19.


ReCreate online videos of activities mainly using items that can be found at home.

Parenting and Education in Ireland.

You can find out lots of information about the importance of play plus ideas for play on the Let’s Play Ireland website at


Let’s Play – Ideas for Families

Let’s Play – Ideas for Families

Published: 24 April 2020
From: Department of Children and Youth Affairs

While there are lots of ideas around for different age groups, here are some ideas that the whole family can enjoy together:

  • have a movie night, choose a movie together and add some popcorn
  • play a game of chess, dominoes, jacks or card games
  • try a board game – they can be great fun!
  • how about a dance mat or playing a game on the Wii
  • ping pong, air hockey, tennis, darts, pool or snooker
  • have a pamper night with facemasks, foot soaks and hand massages
  • if you have a ‘gamer’ in the house – play together. Teens find it hilarious to see how bad their parents are at gaming!
  • go outside – play some football, frisbee, dodgeball, piggy in the middle or stuck in the mud or go for a walk at night (within 2km of your home). You’ll be amazed at what fun can be had!
  • share some of your old traditional games – kerbsie, two ball, kick-the-can, skipping
  • have a picnic, cook a meal together, or plan a BBQ. Sleep outside!

You can find out more about play on the Let’s Play Ireland website