Category Archives: All Kids

Amazing Moms

I remember one mother’s day when I asked my  mom why she got a Mother’s day and I never got a Kid’s day?  She explained, “everyday is kid’s day.”  It’s true.  Everyday is kid’s day. Our moms deserve more than a lovely breakfast in bed or a huge bouquet of flowers… the problem is what our moms are owed cannot be bought, delivered, or made.  There is no way to give back and appreciate our moms the way they should be appreciated.   But every year for one day, we try to in some way say “Thank you mom.  You are the best. And I couldn’t have done any of it without you!”

Thank you mom.  Thank you moms for giving birth to us.  We know that probably wasn’t your favorite moment, but we should start there.  Thank you moms for all of the free-labor jobs you have taken on for us:  being our taxi driver, teacher, personal assistant, public relations person, coach, monster catcher, fashion designer, hair stylist, cheerleader, counselor, sounding board, emotional rock, alarm clock, personal chief, personal ATM, motivator…. the list goes on.  Thank you for your patience, your hugs, and your reminders that everything will be OK.  Thank you for waking us up for school, teaching us to love learning, and to always try our hardest and give our best.   Thank you for listening: when we were afraid  about monsters under the bed,when we were anxious  about starting kindergarten, when that mean girl teased us,  when we first got our hearts broken, when we were excited about getting into college, when we were panicked  about not finding a job, when all of life’s challenges feel like they are built up and about to crash.  Thank you for ALWAYS loving us even when we were at our toughest, most miserable stages.  Thank you mom.

You are the best.  Moms you are the best when we needed a hug, or a cuddle, or just a shoulder to cry on.  Moms you are the best when we just want someone to talk to.  Moms you are the best because you always know just what to say, and you always do the right thing, even when we tell you you are always doing it wrong.  Moms you are the best because you have patience, love, and giving unlike anyone else we have ever met.  Moms you are the best because you are able to give your everything for someone else. Moms, you are the best.

I couldn’t have done it without you.  Moms, we couldn’t have done it without you.  We wouldn’t have been dressed for school; our hair would have been all crazy and we would have gotten teased. We wouldn’t have arrived at soccer practice on time.  We wouldn’t have gotten our homework done. We wouldn’t have learned to be nice and kind and treat others the way we wanted to be treated.  We wouldn’t have applied for college.  We wouldn’t have learned to drive a car.  We wouldn’t have learned to be strong and powerful adults.  We wouldn’t have learned that we could do it all.  We wouldn’t have tried things that seemed too hard.  We wouldn’t have learned to love and give back without you.  Moms, we couldn’t have done any of it without you.

As my mother said, “everyday is kid’s day.”  Our moms get one day a year despite the fact they should be recognized, appreciated, and loved every moment of every day.  So on your one official day, moms, please remember that you are an amazing mother.  We thank  you.  You are the best! And we couldn’t have done any of it without you! WE LOVE YOU!

Send me pictures of you and your children or you and your mothers and I will happily add them onto this post:

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How kids watch TV

One of the goals of this blog was to bring child development research to the hands of parents, child care professionals, and others that are just interested in knowing what is happening with kids and research!    Well today I have some fun and interesting (and really well done) child development research!

In the most recent journal of Child Development there is a fabulous article about how people (infants, preschoolers, and adults) watch TV.  This study is fascinating!

Drs. Heather Kirkorian, Daniel Anderson, and Rachel Keen used eye-tracking software to examine where infants, preschoolers, and adults were looking on a television screen when watching a video. Their finding is pretty interesting- infants, kids, and adults do NOT watch TV in the same ways.  Maybe not surprisingly, parents are much more focused when they watch TV- they follow the cues from the program, like sound effects and various cuts and zooms very well and are able to direct their attention quickly and easily to the part of the screen that really is providing the most essential information.  This is not too surprising.  Adults have been watching TV for their whole lives and like everyone’s parents always say, “practice makes perfect.”  This seems to be true with TV viewing.  It takes time and practice for us to get used to the medium and how the information is presented.

That’s interesting, but generally very few people are concerned about adults’ TV viewing.  The hot topic issue (still!) is exposure to screens in infancy (see the NYT article about the American Academy of Pediatrics recent recommendation).  The questions about whether infants and toddlers can learn anything from a screen and whether they should be watching at all are important and challenging questions (that I’m not going to attempt to answer here).  Instead lets focus on the data!  This study shows that when infants (1-year-olds) watch TV their eye movements are more scattered and less focused than the movements of older children (4-year-olds) or adults.  (Preschool children’s eye movements seem to fall in between infant and adults- they are less focused than adults but more focused than infants!)

The authors also found that when there was a cut from one scene to another, adults and older children adjust and orient their eye gaze almost immediately to the new content whereas infants take a few seconds to get oriented to the new scene.  This is an important concept for parents and media creators to recognize.  If infants take a few extra seconds to just get their eyes in the right place on the screen when a program has cuts to new scenes it likely will take them a few more seconds to process what they are seeing on the screen.  By this time many programs have already changed to another new scene, causing this process to repeat! Therefore programs that have very rapidly changing scenes are likely going to be very difficult for these youngsters to follow both visually and in terms of learning.

Tip for Parents: Next time you are watching TV (either with or without your children) focus on scene changes.  See if you can count or keep track of how frequently the screen cuts or changes to a new scene.  It’s amazing when you stop and focus on this, you realize how complex TV viewing is and how challenging it might be for a very young brain to follow!


Age Differences in Online Processing of Video: An Eye Movement Study (pages 497–507)
Heather L. Kirkorian, Daniel R. Anderson and Rachel Keen
Article first published online: 30 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01719.x

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Filed under All Kids, Preschoolers

Executive Function

What I really love about child development is many of the concepts and ideas really, truly make sense to most people. Unlike many other fields, the terms that developmental psychologists use to describe concepts are usually pretty straight forward. For example, “Attachment” yep, it means exactly what it says, how well attached- or emotionally connected-is the child to an adult caregiver.“Reinforcement” and “punishment”, clear as day, reinforcement occurs when you do something to increase the chances of a behavior happening again (e.g., giving a child and M&M when they use the potty during toilet training) and punishment is something you do when you want to stop a behavior from happening again (e.g., time outs as punishment for hitting a sibling).
Of course there are quite a few concepts that have wacky names that don’t seem at all intuitive to most parents.  What am I talking about? Things like Executive Functioning… To me this sounds like something that is done in a large, stuffy board room, with a bunch of people dressed in suits, in order to get some big deal accomplished. (Much like The Apprentice Boardroom below)

When it comes to child development Executive Functioning, is actually a really interesting and almost overwhelming concept.  And actually the name is a pretty accurate description if you can disassociate the term “executive” from “businessperson”. Executive functioning is the group of mental processes that a child uses to achieve a range of goals. That makes perfect sense, right? No it doesn’t! Executive function is really hard to explain because it encompasses a whole bunch different mental processes (meaning things that you do in your head!).

Its easier to understand executive functioning by understanding some of the parts that make up the whole:

Attention: The ability to focus attention when needed is an important part of children’s executive functioning. For example, a child’s ability to sit still and read a book or their ability to attend to a long list of directions before starting an activity.
Working Memory: This is the ability to keep something in mind and to pull it out of memory when you need it. This can be something like remembering to take out the garbage after you finish your homework or remembering to complete all parts of multi-step math problem.
Task Shifting: This is the ability to switch between tasks and directions depending on the situation. For example, in music class children may play freeze dance. Children have to understand the rules of the game and shift and adjust their behavior depending on whether the music is playing (they can dance) or if it turns off (they must stop).
Inhibition: This is a child’s ability to STOP their behavior. For example, if you leave a cookie out on the table and tell a toddler not to touch it until you come back, you are testing his inhibition skills (same goes for adults!). (The image above of a child with 2 marshmallows is a classic executive functioning task)
These are just a few of the concepts that fall under the umbrella of executive functioning. Planning, flexible thinking, problem solving, and multi-tasking also play a role.

Why should parents care or think about executive functioning? Well, executive functioning skills tend to be highly correlated with a range of academic abilities. Kids who have better executive functioning skills (meaning kids who can pay attention, inhibit their behavior, plan activities, switch and adjust appropriately to directions, etc) tend to better in school (Blair & Razza, 2007;Bull, Espy, & Wiebe, 2008; Graziano, Reavis, Keane, & Calkins, 2007).

It is important for parents to understand that this is a developmental process.  Executive function skills develop over time- a long time!  Some research suggests that the prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain behind your forehead that is largely responsible for controlling executive functions) doesn’t fully develop until your 20’s (Department of Health and Human Services)!  So parents, be aware of executive functioning skills with your children and  practice and reinforce behavior that is related to executive functioning (attention: sitting still; inhibition: no hitting, etc) but remember that these skills are developing and will be developing for quiet some time!

Note: Lindsay Lohan is 25 years old (DOB July, 1986).  Her prefrontal cortex and executive functioning abilities are likely not fully developed yet.

Blair, C. and Razza, R. P. (2007), Relating Effortful Control, Executive Function, and False Belief Understanding to Emerging Math and Literacy Ability in Kindergarten. Child Development, 78: 647–663. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01019.x
Bull, R., Espy, K. A., Wiebe, S. A. (2008). Short-term memory, working memory, and executive functioning in preschoolers: Longitudinal predictors of mathematical achievement at age 7 years. Developmental Neuropsychology, 33, 205-228.
Graziano, P.A., Reavis,R.D., Keane, S.P.,& Calkins,S.D. (2007). The role of emotion regulation in children’s early academic success, Journal of School Psychology, 45, 3-19.

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Child Care Options

Just the other day, I was talking to a soon-to-be father!  In the excitement of the new baby news we discussed the gender of the baby, the due date, and whether or not they were going to tell the baby’s name.  Very basic, “so you are having a baby” conversation.  And like most soon-to-be parents, they had figured out their doctor, birthing plan, and were now at the stage of figuring out childcare.  Yes, in America, it seems that planning for childcare is something that many parents do well before the baby is born and often times well before the baby is even conceived!

Sadly, that is the state of affairs for American families.  Before you have a baby you need to figure out who the heck is going to take care of that baby, likely for up to 50 hours a week!  So what are the options for new parents? Good public schools? Yes but unfortunately, public kindergarten doesn’t start for about 5 more years, if you are lucky to live in one of the few states with a universal Pre-K program you may have only 4 years to worry about… So what are parents to do for the first 4 years?

Best Option:.  Win the lottery, quit your job, and get a PhD in child development and an MD in pediatrics and stay at home with your baby.

If that doesn’t work out for you here are your alternatives to consider and evaluate in  your area:

1.  Center Based Care.  An expert in child care Beth Meloy posted about the details of childcare on PlayLearnParent back in February of 2011.  There are a lot of options and a lot of resources out there for helping you to pick a quality child care program.  Child care programs can introduce your children to other kids, teach lessons about sharing, encourage social-emotional development, etc.  But with very little ones be sure to ask what the teacher to infant ratio is.  At  under 1 year of age, love, comfort, attention, and interaction by a caring adult is crucial for healthy development, so make sure the center can offer lots of one-on-one time for your baby.

2.  At Home Child Care.  These programs can range dramatically so be sure to spend time to learn as much as possible about the specific family center that you are interested in.  Generally at home child care is offered at someone’s home.  Usually, the provider has fewer children in her care than a center based program but there is often a larger range of ages of children in her care.  Many programs will have 1 infant, a couple toddlers, and a few preschool-aged children all in the same room for the day.  Whereas center based program usually break kids into classrooms based on their age or developmentally ability.  Most at home child care centers will only take 1 or 2 infants at a time whereas centers can have upwards of 15 infants.  Again, ask about adult to child ratios and be aware that infants and toddlers need more one-on-one attention.  At home child care centers are usually at someone’s home so it is important to ask about the facilities available.  Are there separate rooms for sleeping? What type of outdoor area is there for playing?  Remember that children of different ages have different needs.  Ask how the program maintains safety for each of the different children (for example, infants and toddlers can easily fall down stairs where as 4 year olds are much more capable of maneuvering around these obstacles).

3.  Nanny.  If staying at home full-time with your baby is not an option for you, consider hiring a nanny to spend that time with your child.  Your child will become attached and comfortable with a nanny (don’t worry your child will not love the nanny more than you!) and the nanny can offer many of the affordances that you would have if you stayed at home with your child.  Some benefits include: more individual attention, interaction, and care as well as keeping your child in your home so they can sleep in their own crib and play with their own toys.  Nanny’s of course can be quite expensive depending on where you live, between $15 and $25 an hour is not unheard of (that can cost more than $600 per week!).

4.  Nanny Share.  This is the new hot thing in many metropolitan areas and is exactly what it sounds like- families with babies will share a nanny. Rather than each family paying $600 a week for a nanny, two families get together, generally with children of similar ages, and hire a nanny to watch both kids.  Prices vary for the nanny but this can often save families up to 50% on childcare costs.  Nanny shares can offer benefits beyond just monetary ones.  By sharing a nanny you can rotate who’s house the nanny comes to, which increases your child’s access to new toys, parks, and experiences.  Of course sharing a nanny with another kid can also help your child develop their social emotional skills like sharing and patience like they would get in childcare but with a 1 adult to 2 kid ratio which provides lots of interaction and time for hugs and kisses!

5.  Get Creative.  Yes, babies do well when they have routines but that doesn’t mean you cannot be creative with your child care schedule.  Some creative things I have recently heard about. A friend of mine did a different kind of nanny share, she only needed childcare for 2 days while her friend needed child care for 3 days, so they split the nanny that way and kept the nanny busy 5 days a week but still got one-on-one care for their babies.  My mom nanny’s for twins in the middle of the day during the week, the mom goes into work early and comes home early, and the dad goes into work late and comes home late, to decrease the amount of child care time/costs.  Another friend is a dentist and is going to opt to work Saturdays instead of a workday so she can be with the baby at home one day a week and the father can stay with the baby on Saturday.  Share child care time with friends and family.  Offer to watch a friend’s kids on Tuesday evenings when they have late meetings in exchange for them watching your kids monday mornings when you have to teach a class, etc.  Bring on the family members!  If you have family in the area (especially retired grandparents) see if they want to participate in child care responsibilities (but please do not drop this expectation on them!).

 *REMEMBER* In all cases be sure to ask for multiple references! You want to ask a range of parents about their experiences leaving their children in this person’s or center’s care.


Day Care: Choosing a Good Center

Choosing a Day Care Provider ivillage


How to Hire a Baby Nanny



About Nanny Shares:

BabyCenter Nanny Shares

Nanny Network Nanny Share


Filed under All Kids, Infants

That’s a Bad Word

A few weeks ago the  Modern Family Episode “Little Bo Bleep” brought up the ever common experience of kids swearing.  While, I wasn’t impressed with the “realness” of Lily’s swearing escapade it did provide an excellent viewpoint of the options that parents tend to take when their child swears.  Cam found the swearing uncontrollably funny and Mitchell, true to character, found it inappropriate and vowed to teach Lily that it was bad to say that word. The lesson in the end is that children will swear, likely at inappropriate times, especially if they are as old as Lily is realize that using this word results in attention and laughter from others.

OK great.   Don’t laugh.  Lesson learned. We can move on to the next subject.  Yeah we all get that you aren’t supposed to laugh, but trust me, when a kid swears and it comes completely out of the blue, it will take more will power than most parents have NOT to laugh.  With a Ph.D. in child development, years working in a preschool, and decades babysitting children, most times when I hear a child swear, I have to either leave the room or shove a dish towel in my mouth to contain the laughter.  Literally just this morning I had to bury my face in a couch cushion, when out of nowhere, a friend’s 2-year-old daughter said, “No, that’s not a *BLEEPing* doll.”

To me, Modern Family failed in the realness factor with the arbitrary use of the swear word.  Most kids, actually don’t say these words completely out of the blue or without any sort of context, unless they are older and already have picked up on the fact that it is a bad word and will get some sort of reaction.  Language learning occurs through hearing adult speech and through repetition.  As children get older they begin to copy the sounds they have heard over the years. First it’s things like: “momma” “dadda” “doggie” “no”.  Then as they get older they begin putting two and three word phrases together “more please” “that’s mine” “doggie running.”  It can be around this stage when your kid might drop a swear word in a sentence they have heard before.  As children begin using full-sentences you may start to hear swear words used in an appropriate but novel context rather than a direct imitation.  We are impressed when our children hear us saying something like, “wow this dinner is delicious” and then on their own transfer it to a new context “wow, mommy, this ice cream is delicious”.  Great!  the word delicious was learned and is now being used in novel ways by our children.  Unfortunately for us, bad words are learned in the exact same way.

A good friend of mine (with a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology- so don’t worry it happens to all of us!) has a great story of when her 2-year-old went to the store with his father.  The father was in hurry and looking all over for diapers and the kid said, “Dad, where are the *Bleeping* diapers”.  The context was correct (frustration and stressed).  Placement and use of the word was correct in the sentence. Apparently the word was successfully learned.

So, word (sometimes bad word) learning happens and what’s amazing is how quickly and easily young children pick up on language.  Anyone else have a good “bad word” story they want to share to spice up our Fridays?

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Happy Birthday!

PlayLearnParent has turned 1 (DOB: 1/9/2011)!  Amazingly, just one year after the launch of this website, research has  come out to back up the importance of a space like PlayLearnParent where parents can get child development information!  Zero To Three, a wonderful organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of infants and toddlers by informing policy makers, professionals, and parents, just reported in their Journal of Zero to Three about a survey they conducted to understand the complicated world of parents today.

The findings from this survey indicate that parents have a better understanding about the importance of reading, singing, and communicating with their children than they did 10 years ago, but parents still struggle to grasp the importance of babies earliest experiences.  Additionally, parents still struggle with common challenging situations like: temper tantrums, controlling emotions, and sleeping and eating issues (Hart Research Associates, 2010).

Other findings from the survey indicate the value and role that technology has on parenting today.  Parents frequently turn to parenting websites, especially when their children are very young.  About 25% of parents use parenting blogs, chat rooms, and other social networking sites to find information on a regular basis.

In response to these findings, Zero To Three has created a new podcast series Little Kids, Big Questions to provide parents with more information on important topics.  And of course PlayLearnParent is here to help translate some of this complicated research and information for parents too!


Hart Research Associates.  (2010).  Parenting infants and toddlers today: A survey among parents of children birth to three years old in the U.s.s. for the period June 4-11, 2009, Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE.

ZERO TO THREE website:

University of Minnesota: Parenting Education

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Wrap an App

When I was younger the high-tech toy that children desperately wanted Santa to bring was a Teddy Ruxpin, a toy that could move his eyes and mouth and would read books to children when they put an audio cassette into the hard tape player he had in his back.  Today kids want an iPad; 31% of kids age 6-12 according to a new Nielsen Survey.

Now, I never got a Teddy Ruxpin, so this isn’t a push for parents to buy iPads for their children.  But if you are going to buy one, or if you have some type of touchscreen app-using device (like an iPhone, iTouch, Amazon Kindle, or android phone) that you let your children use, it’s helpful to know what types of apps to look for. Unlike the days of Teddy Ruxpin with a handful of tapes you could purchase, today new apps are being introduced daily and just like websites, they can be created by almost anyone!

Here are some resources to check out before downloading:

Common Sense Media provides reviews, age appropriateness, and some description of the content.  For example, “Eddy’s Number Party! HD” is reviewed as “A hidden gem!” for 4 year olds.  It receives 5 stars.  It gets 4 A+ for its educational value and 5 controllers for ease of use.

Parents’ Choice 2011 Holiday Gift Guide posted a blog by Warren Buckleitner, Ph.D. Editor of Children’s Technology Review about best apps for kids.  For example, Doodlecast is listed for Preschoolers and Cinderella Nosy Crown Animated Picture Book for Elementary Schoolers. (Two of my favorites!)

Of course there are also apps to help you find apps:

KinderTown (free) is an app to help parents find appropriate apps for their children.  You can search apps by platform, age, subject matter, and price.  This app doesn’t offer much beyond a searching service (meaning it doesn’t review the apps) but it will link you to the app’s page where you can read more about the app from the app developer.

Moms with Apps App  (free) allows you to search apps based on general categories (e.g., art, games, geography, parents), books, developers, apple pics, new releases, etc.  Again, this app doesn’t offer reviews of the apps, just another way to search for them.

Lunchbox Reviews provides reviews and ratings on a variety of apps both for kids and for parents.  Ratings are provided using a star system and users can rate the apps and include comments for others to read.  Lunchbox reviews also categorizes the apps by age group, platform,  categories, and device.

While all of these systems are helpful ways of organizing and helping parents find apps for their kids, from a research perspective we are very far off from actually understanding what kids are learning from these various apps. As a parent here are some other things to consider when buying your child an app:

1.  Child.  Think about your child specifically.  How old is your child?  How developed are her fine motor skills (e.g., controlling her finger movements on small objects)?  How well does she understand different types of content? Try to pick apps that move slowly, allow the child to set the pace, and are relatively simple.  Children will likely only be playing each app for a few minutes, there is no reason that the app needs to teach them EVERYTHING!  Think about the activities your child can do outside of technology – if he likes coloring, look for coloring apps that can allow him to expand his coloring experiences by mixing colors, etc.

2.  Content.  Think about the areas in which your child excels (e.g., running, counting, colors, drawing) and which areas she needs more help.  Also consider the topics that interest her (e.g., soccer, coloring, building) and topics that she hasn’t been exposed to yet but might like (e.g., travel, history, art).  Try to look for apps that push her to further develop her understanding and interest in topics she already likes and ones she may not have experienced yet.  Make sure the content is age-appropriate and help her to understand what she is playing with (the same way you help your child understand the content of a book when you read it!).

3. Context.  Before you buy apps think about how you want it to be used by your child.  If you plan on playing and engaging with your child while you use the app, look for apps that encourage interpersonal interaction (e.g., Toca Tea Party).  If you are looking for apps to keep kids busy in the car, look for ones that provide the interaction through the app (e.g., Sesame’s The Monster at the End of this Book).  How you engage with your child while they are using apps will influence how/if they are able to learn from the experience.

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