The beginning of a new year is upon us and, as usual, social media is ripe with “best of” and “top 10” posts. In an attempt to be a little more creative this year, I’m focusing on information we learned last year that we can actually use in 2017 to help our parenting lives and hopefully our kids as well.

Reviewing some of the best parenting articles of the year, a few general themes kept jumping out at me. Here are a few big ideas that we learned from child development research in 2016 that can help inform us as we head into this new year.

Too much too soon isn’t helping our kids’ academic growth

Repeatedly this year, we saw how a push to include formal academics into preschool is just setting our kids up for failure. We’ve seen the research coming out on this topic over the last few years, but I think 2016 offered the clearest yet – that academic preschools are a case of “putting the cart before the horse.” Young kids need to be active learners who engage with new material primarily through play, not “rigorous instruction.” 

Playful learning means using a child’s innate interests and abilities in a setting with strong positive relationships. Guided play is a perfect example of this. Adults guide (not control) the play, and kids make it their own and thus learn through it. 

Outdoor play – for kids and adults – is key

In an era of smart phones and voice-activated shopping, it’s easy to stay inside on your couch virtually all the time. Of course, we all know this isn’t healthy for us and or our kids. Research this year pointed out how outdoor families are happier, healthier, and actually get along better.

More surprising, however, is that kids who play outside with friends gain valuable skills in empathy as well. We also learned that “risky” play can have its benefits, too. Turns out kids learn some pretty valuable lessons from a skinned knee or scratched arm. 

Emotional skills are just as important as academic

One of the best parenting books of the year (“Unselfie” by Dr. Michele Borba) focused not on how to get your kid into the best college, but on how to teach them empathy. After a tumultuous 2016, I think we can all agree that empathy should be a big goal for all of us. Empathy not only helps us be better people, but it also makes us happier, more creative, and ultimately builds a sense of unity in our communities. 

Empathy and compassion are wired into us from birth (to some degree), but they must be fostered by adults for it to grow and develop. Research showed us this year that kids pick up on our lack of consistency when it comes to emotional learning. Many teenagers feel their parents talk about kindness, but actually value academic or sports achievement more. If we just “talk the talk” but don’t actually “walk the walk,” they notice and follow suit. 

Simplification should be the new parenting buzzword

In contrast to what we may think, kids actually flourish in an atmosphere of simplicity. Too much stuff, too many activities, and overstimulation can be stressful for kids. Childhood is never stress-free, but we can do things to help our kids learn a slower pace and value meaning.

One thing I’ve learned this year, and hope to continue into 2017, is the value of simplicity. Some days I feel overwhelmed by the vicious circle that is toys, storage for toys, toys that don’t get played with, getting rids of toys, etc. When I feel stressed and the kids are cranky, I know the key is to slow down and simplify.

Although we just finished Christmas with usual onslaught of toys, I’m trying to make simplicity my goal for the new year. I’m hoping to slow down, clear the clutter, and treasure the time we have together. 

To sum up, some important themes from 2016 can guide us into happy parenting for 2017: playful, outdoors, empathy, simplicity. These are some goals I can get behind!

This post originally appeared on the author’s site, The Thoughtful Parent