Advice for Parents and Teachers

As I’m formulating this page of my website, I’m watching my 8 year old son wrestle with his friend.  I have to take a deep breath and smile to myself.  Four years ago, I would have been constantly telling those boys to “Stop wrestling and calm down!” Because of what I’ve learned the last three years, I know my son and his friend are engaging in a very necessary activity that will greatly affect how they perform in school.  Children, for the most part, don’t “play” like they use to.  Children spend more time in front of a computer, television, or video game than they do in school! So what is a parent to do, and what is a teacher to do to make this situation better?



According to Stephen Hinshaw at Berkley, “Even more vital than early reading is the learning to play skills, which form the foundation of cognitive skills.

The following excerpts regarding the importance of unstructured play are from Smart Moves, Why Learning Is Not All in the Headby Carla Hannaford, Phd:

  • Spontaneously co-creating toys with a playmate enhances brain development exponentially.
  • Play represents full body/mind integration with masses of neurons being developed specifically to the generation of rough-and-tumble play. Rough and tumble play, especially during early adolescence when the child’s body is changing so radically, effectively reduces hyperactivity and the symptoms of ADHD.
  • When we play, dopamine is released which induces elation, excitement, and orchestrates nerve net development and alignment all over the brain.If children are given space and encouraged to create, they naturally will entertain themselves without sophisticated equipment or adult intervention.

If you observe development delays or have concerns about your infant or toddler, do not hesitate to call ECI (Early Childhood Intervention).

They will send someone to evaluate your child and provide the therapist(s) required to meet the specific needs of your child free of charge.  My son had sensory integration issues and did not speak until 3 1/2 years of age.  He was provided occupational and speech therapy twice a week until the age of three.  He was then referred to the public school where his therapy continued.

Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of a computer, television, or video game.

This one is hard for me.  Those activities seem to be a “safe” alternative to the dangerous world outside, especially if the programs are educational.  However, research shows TV and video game use is linked to obesity, addictions, autism, ADD, ADHD, aggression, difficulty with printing, reading, and paying attention, poor school performace, poor self image, and health disorders.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under the age of 2 years should not watch TV or play video games.  Children with learning problems should not be in front of the television, computer, or video games for more than one hour per day. Every hour of TVVG (television and video games) use per day increases a child’s risk of attention problems by 10% by age 7.  94% of children with dyslexia and 97% of children with learning disabilities have vestibular dysfunction.  Causes of vestibular dysfunction could be viral or ear infections, allergies, head trauma or sitting in front of a TV.

The research results above are from Smart Moves, Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head by Carla Hannaford, Phd.  She says, “When I speak at schools, I am often asked what I would do immediately to assist learning.  My answer begins with three items: 1st – ban TV, computers and video games before the age of 8 to give imagination a chance to develop.  For older children, keep viewing time to a minimum (less than one hour a day). 2nd – Institute a daily integrative movement program for the whole family that is fun. 3rd – Decrease, or better yet, eliminate simple sugars in peoples’ diets.


Most teachers recognize there has been a dramatic change in the ability of students to pay attention to academic content.  Some of the difference has to be attributed to what children are doing outside the classroom.  Before technology entered the lives of students, children had no alternative but to entertain themselves by playing outdoors.  Prior to 1980, children walked to school and spent the majority of their “free” time climbing trees, building forts, and playing unstructured games with other neighborhood friends or siblings.  Basically, they spent a lot of their time moving in a three dimensional environment where they had to learn to balance and imagine. Children today are driven to school after having spent most of the prior afternoon sitting in front of a computer screen, television, or video game.  Even then, some are watching a cartoon or movie in their car instead of looking out the window at the natural world.  It is no wonder they cannot sit still when they get to school! Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist says this,

“Why has society determined that it was ‘normal’ for children to sit still, when nature designed the human body to move, touch and connect? 21st century ‘techno’ and sedentary lifestyle is not healthy or natural, and is resulting in what can only be described as ‘diagnosis mania’ accompanied by pervasive drugging of children. With 15% of our elementary population receiving psychotropic (mind altering) medication, no one has mentioned to parents a preliminary three month ‘unplug – don’t drug’ trial. Remember 25 years ago, before satellite TV, cell phones and videogames, when children use to engage in rough physical play, create imaginary games, and get lots of exercise and fresh air? Today’s child is different, and so are today’s homes and schools. Children use on average 6.5 hours per day of TV and videogames, with over 50% of children having TV’s in their bedrooms. Parent misperceptions that the world and nature are not safe, keeps their kids indoors. School and community fears of litigation have dramatically changed how children access movement and play. Slides and swings are shorter, merry-go-rounds non-existent and jungle gyms unchallenging. Street hockey, tree houses and sidewalk chalk paintings have been outlawed. Videogames have become the New Parent and Wii the New Sport. Children are physically moving less, and as a result are not getting the necessary motor and sensory stimulation, resulting in developmental delays and attachment disorders that the health and education systems are only beginning to detect, much less understand.”

The current environment and society we live in make it necessary for teachers to provide for students in new ways that will increase their ability to “attend” to the task at hand, which is learning.  Below are a few suggestions:

Provide oral stimulation.

Some students come to school with the need for oral stimulation in order for them to be able to pay attention.  Students with this need are found chewing on their shirts, pencils, headphone cords, erasers… As a  teacher, I provide plastic straws for my students to chew on.  I purchase them in bulk (a box of 3,000 covered straws at Sams Club) and allow my students to chew on them as long as they follow a few rules.  They must have a portion of the straw on the outside of their mouth at all times, they may not suck or blow through the straw, and they must dispose of it when they leave my classroom.

Provide rest for their eyes by following the 20/20/20 rule.

Dr. Stanley A. Applebaum, OD, FCOVD  created this rule after treating countless numbers of students with vision (not eyesight) problems.  A child may have 20/20 eyesight, but may struggle with vision because the muscles of the eye do not work together.  When we gaze at a distance of 20 feet or more, our eyes are at rest.  Encourage your students to look away (at least 20 feet) for at least 20 seconds every 20 minutes to give the eyes a moment to rest.

Incorporate “movement breaks” in your daily routine.

Remember that your students probably have already been sitting still for the majority of their time. In the computer lab and some classrooms, students can roll their feet on chair balls to stimulate their brain while attending to the task at hand.  These are made by stringing six, two inch wooden balls on a length of string tied to the front legs of their chair.  They can also be made by stringing a section of pvc pipe.  When giving instruction, students can have a squeeze ball or fidget to keep their hands occupied and their brains “tuned-in.”  A spin board is useful for those students who have trouble sitting still.  Place it in an inconspicuos corner of the room and allow students to spin themselves ten times to the right and ten times to the left, especially before having to sit and take a test.  Teach your students some BrainGym exercises to do corporately or individually.  Simulate “heavy work” by teaching students to do desk push-ups.  Have students place both hands on the desk and push up.

For more ideas and materials, check out the following sites: – The official BrainGym website. – Contains a list of websites where you can purchase fidgets. – Zone’in is a self regulation program that teaches children to harness their energy to focus and attend, and is complete with simple strategies and tools that achieve immediate results. Designed by pediatric Occupational Therapist Cris Rowan, Zone’in is accessible learning for all students, while making a teacher’s job easier. – Click on RBLM Equipment to purchase a spin board.

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