It's important for adults to remember what children are designed to be doing during childhood--challenging social play outdoors in the rhythms of nature. During the school-age years, children build their sense of belonging, competence, autonomy, purpose, as well as trust and understanding of the world. This is best done through self-directed play.
But children these days must be in school during these key years. How can parents in the modern world help children thrive despite needing to be in school all day? Here is a general needs checklist to think about for every school aged child.
Does your child get extensive exercise each day? This prevents ADHD. See this book for a school program that increased academic performance.
Does your child have self-directed free play time (no electronics or structures) outside in nature? A child's work is his or her play. Children build confidence as they learn to guide themselves outdoors. Full-body play is how the brain grows and builds knowledge for use throughout life. Lots of ideas here.
Does your child get enough sleep? (10 hours on average) See guidelines here. If not, cut out computers and television 90 minutes before bedtime. Establish a quiet routine to look forward to together (e.g., reading a book). Not getting enough sleep can lead to symptoms that look like ADHD. See more on sleeping from this PT blogger.
Does your child avoid highly processed food with its disturbing additives?See more here. Processed food typically has "excitotoxins," flavor enhancers that addict the tongue but kill brain cells.Try to wean your child off these foods with natural foods. Even manufactured breads can lead to gluten allergies. Bread that you quickly fry in a pan (fry bread) and dip into a homemade sauce is better. Try barley flour for high fiber and great nutrition.
Does your child eat wholesome foods? Try ways to make vegetables tasty with sauces and cheeses.
Does your child get held, hugged and cuddled everyday? This fosters calmness and happiness (through oxytocin). See more here.
Does your child feel like he or she is an important member of the family? Are his or her ideas listened to and respected? This will foster a sense of belonging which is linked to wellbeing.
Is your child called on to contribute to family well being in some fashion (e.g., taking out the garbage, setting the table)?
Does your child have a skill under development, a skill that can be shared with the community (e.g., lawnmowing, babysitting, playing a musical instrument, being a volunteer)? This is a protective factor against risky behavior in adolescence.
Does your child have autonomy to make choices and take risks on his or her own? Don't over guard your child from activities you, your parents or grandparents were able to do at the same age. See specific ideas here.
Do you read together? Build an interest and capacities for reading by sharing interesting stories.
Does your child have at least one friend to spontaneously call on to play with and hang out?
Does your family share in happy routines that build a positive family identity and cohesion?
Does your family participate in a larger community (e.g., church/synagogue/temple, neighborhood) where you all feel welcomed and supported?
All these things contribute to developmental assets, skills and supports that help children thrive.
Please suggest other activities and practices that help school-aged children thrive.
PARENTS should thrive too: Here is a checklist for you.
BABIES have special needs for thriving; see here.
Read more about these various needs:
Resiliency in Action
Masten, A. S. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56, 227-238. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/56/3/227.pdf