Category: Child Development

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!

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How to Encourage Independent Play

How to Encourage Independent Play

As a homeschooling family, one thing my girls are REALLY good at is playing independently. Over the last six years, they have learned to entertain themselves while I teach the other child. We’ve also spent many hours playing at our Classical Conversations community, my husband’s choir practice, and the girls’ gymnastics class. Some children are natural learners when it comes to independent play, while others need direct instruction and practice.

How to Encourage Independent Play | child development, independent play tips for kids, life skills, early childhood, parenting tips

When is my child ready for independent play?

I recently had a mom ask, “How early do you think kids are able to do this?”

The easy answer, of course, is that all children are different. I believe independent play is an important life skill that needs to be taught in early childhood and practiced over time until it becomes a way of life.

I would venture to say that some babies can learn to play independently for small amounts of time, maybe 5-10 minutes max. Our oldest daughter loved to look at herself in a mirror during tummy time, even if I was sitting right next to her!

Even our second baby, who much preferred being held or worn, would often have her independent play time in the kitchen while I prepared dinner. I would sit her in the high chair with a special toy and she was free to explore near me (but not exactly WITH me).

As our girls grew into toddlers and preschoolers, their time for independent play grew longer and more frequent. As a homeschooling family, each girl would have a turn for lessons while the other would listen to her personalized playlist and play in the other room.

There is a myth that all children need to be “entertained” all the time, and it’s just not true. As parents, it is important to build in time for independent play–not in a neglectful way, of course. (It should go without saying that parents and caregivers should ensure their children are safe and happy during independent play sessions.)


Grab our FREE independent play learning ideas!


 4 Ways to Encourage Independent Play

  • Environment

All too often, parents send their children “off to play” in a room filled with toys. Immediately, overwhelmed with choices and decision fatigue, children will make a mess or be destructive. The first and most important step for teaching kids to play independently is preparing the environment. You can either set up a toy rotation system or perhaps easier for this purpose, bring just one or two toys to an uncluttered play area, like a rug or blanket on the floor. If your child has a small table, you can also set up an independent play activity on it.

  • Equipment

I am a self-proclaimed lover of toys. There are some amazing learning products on the market these days! When it comes to teaching your child how to play independently, however, you are looking for a certain type of toy. You are looking for something open-ended, that can be played with in a variety of ways.

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

Off the top of my head, I might consider Mental Blox or a train set to start. As your child becomes more adept at independent play, you can bring in the sensory bins or playdough invitations.  (You can click here to see the entire list of our 13 favorite indoor toys.)

  • Educate

As I mentioned in the introduction, some children are naturals when it comes to independent play. Others need to be taught (shown AND told) what it means to play independently. It may take a few weeks, but with good instructions, clear expectations, and lots of practice, you can set up good play habits that will last for years.

If you have a toddler or preschooler (or even an older child!), try this process:

  1. Explain that you are going to try a NEW activity! I think we first called it “room time,” but since we often switched from room to room, I started calling it “invitations to play.” (Now, our six-year-old just asks me to set up “an activity.”) Find a name that works for you both and signals something new and exciting.
  2. Show your child WHERE they are going to be doing the activity. As you lay out a blanket or set up a child-sized table, they will likely be intrigued without you doing too much. Remember to keep it fun–independent play is not a punishment.
  3. Bring out a toy (just one!) that they haven’t played with in a long time or something new you’ve picked up at a consignment store. Choose something they will WANT to play with at first (no screen time, of course). Make sure to keep it open-ended!
  4. Turn on music or an audiobook while your child plays. Stay close by, but don’t get involved in the play unless you want to. (Definitely don’t grab your phone/tablet, or your child will want what YOU have.)
  5. Mark down what time they start playing and when they lose interest/walk away. Hopefully you can get 5-10 minutes the first time! When they are done, ask them to clean up with you before they move on to another task.
  6. Repeat the process tomorrow. And the day after. Keep practicing until your child can stay focused on ONE activity for 30 minutes.

Remember that this should be FUN and light-hearted. If you are having any struggles at all, just reach out and we can troubleshoot together. 

  • Engage

If your child is struggling to play independently, the most likely problem (sorry to say) are the toys. We all know that kids gravitate towards the things that interest them, right? Start setting aside the toys your child no longer seems interested in playing with until you find the “sweet spot.” You can certainly try re-introducing the toy to your child at a later date to see if their interest has returned. (If not, you can resell that toy or donate it to charity.)

Another likely culprit is too much screentime. In our house, we definitely notice a negative effect on our children’s attitudes and attention spans when they’ve had unlimited freedom with either the TV or tablet. You may need to institute a “fast”or strong boundaries around screentime while your child is learning to play independently. We have found that audiobooks are a good substitute–low tech, but still engaging and fresh.

How to Encourage Independent Play | child development, independent play tips for kids, life skills, early childhood, parenting tips

YOUR TURN: How do you encourage independent play for your kids?


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