Most teachers, when asked what parents can do to support their children at school, would suggest parents spend more time with their children, encouraging active learning. They’d ask for televisions, Playstations, iPads and other devices to be turned off, and for children to get outside to play, go biking, do sports, or other such activities with their family. Find out how playing with your children will help them at school.
How Playing with kids at Home Helps Them at School
There are many well-known reasons why, as parents, we should be encouraging our children to keep active.
These reasons are focused, in the main, around the health benefits for children, particularly in a time when such conditions as diabetes and childhood obesity are on the increase.
But many parents may not consider the indirect benefits for their children when they participate alongside them in physical activities such as a family game in the garden, or heading out for a Sunday afternoon family walk.
Often, children who are not exposed to a variety of social and team activities are observed at school struggling to play appropriately alongside their peers. They often are the ones unable to cope when they find themselves on the losing side of a game. Some struggle to follow the agreed rules. Some find it difficult to even join a game in the playground, as they haven’t been taught how to, and are often the ones who sabotage others’ games by stealing the ball, or pushing in front.
Others find that if the game becomes even a little difficult or a win is potentially unachievable, the easier option is simply to give up – leaving the others to wonder what happened.
If left, these children over time become isolated from their peers as their peers learn their friend will not play fair, or will ruin a game or simply give up.
Parents can teach these social and emotional skills to their children from a very early age by ensuring their family are an active family. Setting up a game in the back garden-throwing a ball about-provides a wealth of learning opportunities for a child. Depending on their age and stage, they may learn not only how to catch a ball, but what the appropriate response is if a catch is dropped.
When Dad throws his head back and laughs because he missed a ball, a child is taught that mistakes are OK and to try again. When Mum says, ‘that was a great catch – you’re getting so good at catching’ the child is given a model of team-playing and positive compliment giving – all tools to build positive self-esteem and teamwork skills.
Teaching your children to cope – or resilience skills
For the child who struggles to manage their emotions and finds themselves becoming easily angered or frustrated as rules work against them, parents can coach their children in strategies to cope with their emotions.
A good game of Snakes and Ladders can teach children how it feels to both win and lose, and how to behave appropriately in any result.
Parents (where possible) can ensure that children do not always win the game, modelling how to be a gracious winner in the face of others’ disappointment.
Equally they can model being a gracious loser when their child gleefully wins the game, making statements such as ‘wow you played a great game, congratulations.’ and ‘ooh, you beat me this time, how about another game’?
Teaching your child how to deal with stress
When a child struggles to contain their frustration, parents can be on hand to ensure the child learns how to calm themselves down and how to manage their disappointment.
If parents comment on the feeling they are seeing their child display the child also increases their emotional literacy knowledge, a key area teachers would welcome parents to focus on more at home.
Many children are arriving at school with little emotional literacy, often unable to identify how they are feeling and what it is called. By parents commenting on how their child looks-happy, sad, worried, frustrated, mad etc-the child learns the name for the feeling they are experiencing.
For those children who frequently feel negative emotions-such as angry, mad, sad or worried-parents can give them strategies around how to manage these feelings in an acceptable way.
For a child who begins to tantrum because they didn’t get to go first at the start of the game, a parent can acknowledge their feelings ‘you look very frustrated’ and pair this with a coping statement ‘you need to take some deep breaths to calm down’. Over time, a child who is consistently given this message will learn what the feeling is called, and what to do with the emotion in an appropriate way.
For children who are taught this type of emotion management, school will become a much easier place to negotiate with their peers. Parents play a vital role in ensuring this.
So along with all the health benefits that can be gained by families becoming active learners together, there are numerous benefits on a social and emotional level for children. All these benefits will only assist children in navigating their way at school, allowing them to make positive connections with their peers and teachers. And eventually becoming well-rounded and emotionally balanced adults.
Find out more about the benefits of play in our article Benefits of creative play.