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Home » Notes to Parents »

Your Involvement

Extensive research has shown that the two most powerful factors of home environments that promote learning are:

  1. the availability of play materials, and
  2. the quality of parental involvement.

Moreover, the impact of these two factors increases as children mature.

That's why the Interact, Understand, and Expand buttons next to each activity in this site offer ideas for parental involvement with children's play. You will find ideas for interacting with your child as he or she plays with the activity, information on how the activity can stimulate creative thinking, and suggestions for continuing the activity's learning with books, field trips, home projects, and more.

In addition to interaction with you, children need adequate time to think their own thoughts. Often, a private space can encourage such thinking. For additional inspiration, consider providing a space for your child outdoors, when and where safety allow.

Your Child and Electronic Media

Contemporary play materials often take electronic form through computers or television. In both cases, interaction with adults is critical for helping children make sense of their electronic experiences. A 2003 study of computer use in schools found computers are misused or ineffective when teachers fail to assist children with the technology. Other recent reports show that children who watch television alone in their rooms do worse in school than those who view programs in areas shared with family members.

Here are some general principles for helping your family get the most from electronic media:

  • As often as possible, let your child have a real-world experience with the topic before exploring it on the computer. Handling materials is incredibly important for effective understanding. Also allow your child to explore in many different ways, such as telling, enacting, drawing, building, or writing.
  • Notice what your child can do on her own. If she becomes frustrated, will she let you help? If not, determine whether she is happy to observe you doing the activity. If not, she simply may not be ready to explore the topic, and that's okay, too.
  • Choose computer activities that build on your child's interests.
  • Show your child you are interested, too. Smile, ask open-ended (rather than yes-no) questions, and explain what you think, know and observe, as well.
  • Let your child take breaks. The brain processes during times in between learning activities, too. Creativity and creative problem solving often occur quite a long time after the first experience or problem. Scientists refer to this as "incubation" of the ideas. You might compare it to the long time when nothing seems to be happening during the incubation of an egg.
  • After breaks, follow up. This Web site's activities  can be played many times, or the experiences in Expand sections can serve as follow-up to help develop your child's thinking.

For further information, the PBS TeacherSource Web site has an excellent Media Literacy resource.

On A Practical Level

Play materials need not be expensive. Most parents are familiar with stories of children receiving elaborate toy presents and having just as much fun playing with the box the toy came in. One mother saved a large but shallow round cookie tin and filled it with beach sand to have a sand table in her apartment.

Try to find ways to say yes to messy explorations when you can. Mrs. Spielberg apparently cooked cherries for her eleven-year-old son Steven to make ooze from her kitchen cabinets for a horror movie he wanted to make. Still, respect your own temperament and know your own limits regarding mess because happy parents are also good for kids.

As you engage in your child's creative explorations, you will learn a great deal, not only about the topic at hand but also about your child. And when it comes to perceptual flexibility (seeing things differently), you will get a fresh look at anything if you follow your child's point of view.

For more information about ways parents can provide for creative development, see the related articles:

Sources and Further Reading:

Goleman, D., Kaufman, P. & Ray, M. (1992) The Creative Spirit: Companion to the PBS Television Series. New York: Dutton.

Gottfried, A. W. & Brown, C. C., editors. (1986) Play Interaction: The Contributions of Play Materials and Parental Involvement to Children's Development. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Howard, P. J. (2000) The Owner's Manual for the Brain. Austin, TX: Bard Press.

Oppenheimer, T. (2003) The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning can be Saved.

Singer, D. G. & Singer, J. L. (2005) Imagination and Play in the Electronic Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Smith, S. M., Ward, T. B. & Finke, R. A. (1997) The Creative Cognition Approach. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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