Category: Child Development

3 Powerful Types of Play Every Parent Needs to Know

3 Powerful Types of Play Every Parent Needs to Know

It seems that no matter where we look these days, experts are talking about the importance of play. Doctors are prescribing it. Child development experts are advocating for it. Parents everywhere are clamoring for more play in the classroom. It’s no exaggeration to say there is an educational crisis in the world today, and it stems directly from a lack of play in our children’s lives. Play makes learning fun and helps our children build executive function skills for a happy and successful life. But did you know there are THREE different types of play that have a powerful impact on our kids?

Three powerful types of play every parent needs to know!

3 Powerful Types of Play Every Parent Needs to Know

1) INDEPENDENT PLAY

Sometimes called free play or creative play, independent play is critical to the emotional and social development of our children. When children play independently, they are in charge of which materials they want to play with and what the rules of their play entail. True independent play allows young children to develop and practice new skills, which is why you’ll see toddlers and preschoolers do the same action (dump and fill, for example) over and over again.

(Read more about kids and repetition here.)

Independent play builds these executive function skills:

  • making a plan
  • solving problems
  • self-monitoring

Learn how to teach independent play to young children.


2) CONNECTED PLAY

When a child and a trusted adult do an activity together, I call it “connected play.” This type of play can be kicking a soccer ball around in the yard, going for a bike ride, or working on a puzzle. The purpose of connected play is to strengthen relationships and spend time together.

Connected play can be adult-directed or a shared process between child and parent. It’s important to take turns choosing the activity, though it’s okay to give your child a few choices to pick if you need some variety. 😉

Connected play builds these executive function skills:

  • taking turns
  • regulating emotions
  • understanding different points of view
  • having empathy and recognizing the needs of others

Learn more about executive function skills here.


Learning through play is the best way.

3) LEARNING THROUGH PLAY ACTIVITIES

If you’ve spent much time on our Facebook or Instagram pages, you know that we are a BIG fan of learning through play. It’s worth mentioning that learning through play activities are not TRUE independent play, because they are often parent- or teacher-directed. They are fun and help reinforce important academic skills, for sure–but they cannot be the only play experience for our children.

If your child attends a preschool program, be sure to ask the director what percentage of time children are given for independent (child-directed) play. These are often called “centers.” A good program will give young children the freedom to learn through exploration along with adult-directed learning activities. 

Learning activities build these executive function skills:

  • paying attention
  • staying focused
  • completing tasks

Click here to see our full directory of learning through play activities.


Until our education system remembers how children learn best, the responsibility falls on parents to make playtime a priority. The ideal is giving your children all three types of play on a regular basis.

SMARTplay mini-class

Learn more about the types of play in our SMARTplay mini-class–absolutely FREE!

Developing Emotional Intelligence with Children’s Books

Developing Emotional Intelligence with Children’s Books

As I have mentioned before, our entire family represents the feeling side of the Myers-Briggs spectrum (ESFP, INFJ, ENFJ, ISFP). We have regular conversations about our emotions, identifying feelings, and working through conflict in a healthy way. And since we LOVE reading, we often jumpstart these discussions with our read-aloud choices. After all, developing emotional intelligence with children’s books is a great parenting strategy!

Click here to read more about our strategy for dealing with emotional outbursts.

image of books with text overlay: How to Develop Emotional Intelligence Using Children's Books

Developing Emotional Intelligence with Children’s Books

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

Recently, I connected with author and licensed marriage and family therapist, Leanne Richter, who has written two children’s books about developing emotional intelligence along with two of her colleagues, Shauna Havlina and Ceth Ashen. She sent us both books in exchange for an honest review.

Using picture books to teach kids about growth mindset, stress and anger management, and the power of positive self-talk makes parenting much easier! After all, books frequently become part of the family culture, a “shorthand” if you will. Both of our children enjoyed reading Jameon’s Closet and Maribel’s Rainy Day. These books will be treasured for years to come.

Jameon’s Closet is all about dealing with hard things (overall theme) and talking about feelings (specifically).

Jameon is a boy who lives with his grandma. He is asked to clean out his closet, but feels overwhelmed by the size of the task. His counselor Jon comes over to help him work through the process step-by-step (“little by little”) until he is done.

Since both of my girls are often overwhelmed by their feelings, I loved the message of Jameon’s Closet. Any book that features strong adult-child relationships is a win in my book!

Maribel’s Rainy Day is about asking for help and positive self-talk.

Maribel is a girl who lives with her foster mother Ana. She is trying to get to her friend’s house, but it is raining and she keeps getting soaked. The book goes through a few humorous scenarios before Ana helps her put on her rain gear.

The scene with the cat makes both of my girls giggle every time we read it. There are family activities included in the back to help develop growth mindset skills, like breathing, visualization, and calming techniques.

Each book starts with a relatable story before getting into the specifics of developing emotional intelligence. It is clear that the authors have spent tremendous amounts of time with children and respect the sometimes-difficult journey of childhood.

The books include:

  • diverse characters
  • non-traditional family structures (grandparents and foster parents)
  • and concise language that makes the point incredible clear (without being heavy-handed)

There are no religious overtones in either story, but it would be incredibly easy for families of faith to include verses and prayers into the techniques taught in the books. (The idea of Maribel’s “worry gear” definitely reminded me of the armor of God passage from the Bible.) Helping children write down positive affirmations from the book would be a simple, healthy activity.

If you are looking for books for developing emotional intelligence, I would recommend both Jameon’s Closet and Maribel’s Rainy Day for any family or classroom teacher!

What are your favorite books for developing emotional intelligence?

images of picture books with text overlay: Teaching Our Kids Emotional Intelligence Using Picture Books

6 Simple Tips to Improve Attention Spans for Kids

6 Simple Tips to Improve Attention Spans for Kids

Imagine this:

Your four-year-old wakes up in the morning, cheerful and ready to start the day. He eats his breakfast in a reasonable amount of time. Then he gets dressed and puts on his shoes without reminders from you! You leave the house five minutes earlier than you had planned and have time to drive-through your favorite coffee place for a little treat.

When you get home in the afternoon, he joins you at the table for a fun learning activity or craft project. He listens well, follows directions, and excitedly engages with you for 20 minutes. Once you’ve cleaned up together, he runs off to his room to play with his LEGOs for another 40 minutes while you get dinner started.

Sound impossible?

While I certainly can’t promise it’ll happen every day, I can give you some simple tips to improve attention spans at your house and make life a little more peaceful!

Image of child riding a bike with text overlay: 6 tips to improve attention spans for kids!

Improving attention spans in young children is not hard, but it does require intentional parenting choices.

  • Model it Ourselves

Let’s get real with each other. When was the last time you focused on any one thing for more than 20 minutes without your mind wandering? I’ll be honest! I am very easily distracted, especially with my phone nearby. It’s so easy to click on that new notification or scroll Instagram!

And yet, we get frustrated with our children when they bounce from activity to activity! If we’re going to help our kids improve their attention spans, we need to be more mindful of our multi-tasking when they are in the room.

Commit to one 15-minute block each hour where you put the phone down (or whatever distracts you) and do just one thing. Take a walk, read a chapter of a book, or play a game with your kids!

  • Simplify the Environment

In order to improve attention spans, we need to remove unnecessary distractions. If your child is struggling, set up a “quiet space”: maybe the kitchen table or a desk in the living room. Make sure this workstation doesn’t have extra noise, screens, or toys that might draw attention. You can add a privacy screen or noise-cancelling headphones for children who are very easily distracted.  

(Note: some children actually find it easier to pay attention with background noise, a chair that moves, or some type of fidget tool. Try different things to see what works best for your child!)

For young children, set out a blanket or sheet in the middle of the room with the one activity you want them to focus on. We used to do “tot trays” right after nap time, and our little one knew that a fun new learning activity would be waiting in the same place for her each day.


Grey banner with small blue bowl of red and blue pom poms.

Click here for simple learning activities for toddlers and preschoolers.


  • Make it Easier

When I polled our online community about this topic, the most common concern was children who couldn’t sit still for homework or meals. Too often, we put young children in adult-size chairs at home, which is neither comfortable nor age-appropriate. Consider investing in a child-size table & chair set or setting up a footrest (or empty box) for your children so their legs don’t dangle uncomfortably.

Be sure to prepare for wiggles by allowing your children to MOVE their bodies before and after sitting. Jumping jacks, dance parties, and tickle fights are all fun ways to expel some energy!  

  • Build Stamina Slowly

Keep in mind that attention spans can be strengthened with just a little bit of practice every day. Just like we don’t expect our children to hop on a two-wheeler and ride a mile without any experience, neither should we expect focus and persistence to come naturally. Start small, and watch your child soar with a little bit of hard work and positive reinforcement!

  • Set Boundaries and Routines for Screen Time

There are so many fun and educational things to see and do on the T.V., tablet, or computer! I am a big fan of screen time, but in healthy moderation. In our house, we often start our day with outside time, followed by free play and quiet time/reading. Most of our screen time happens in the late afternoon, when we all need a little break.

Set a time during the day when your kids CAN watch screens (if you allow that sort of thing), and declare the rest of the day screen-free! After a while, your kids might not even ask for screen time because they are having such a fun time doing something else.

These six tips should give you lots of simple activities to improve attention spans in your family. I would love to hear (in the comments) which of these tips you’ll be trying first!


Interested in learning MORE about age-appropriate expectations for our young children? Be sure to check out our best-selling parent workshop: Age-Appropriate Learning!

Jar of markers with text overlay: Age-Appropriate Learning Parent Workshop