Tips to Help Your Preschool Child Make Friends

Toddlers are very content to sit next to another child and play, each doing their own thing, basically ignoring one another. But as children grow and develop, this “parallel play” transforms into a need for social interaction. By the time children reach the age of 4 or 5, the need for friendships and playing with peers becomes very important to children. But for many children, wanting to play with friends does not mean that they know how to make it happen. When the desire is there, but the skills are not, children get frustrated. They may become aggressive as they try to get other children to interact with them. Or you may notice children becoming reclusive as they try to avoid the frustrating situation.

As a parent or caregiver, you can help. Successful play experiences, and eventually friendships, require important social skills like empathy, problem solving, and communicating. Children who have difficulties in any of these areas may have a harder time making friends. Here are some strategies to support a child’s social development and encourage friendships:

  • Bring your child along as you go out in the world and interact with others. Children learn by watching and seeing you successfully interact with people you don’t know very well can help your child to learn some of these skills.
  • Give your child many opportunities to meet and interact with peers. Whether through play dates, group activities like story time, music classes, etc. or frequent visits to a local playground, the more your child is able to meet and interact with peers, the more opportunities he will have to develop and practice emerging social skills.
  • Pay attention to your child as she navigates play opportunities. Watch her verbal and non-verbal interactions. How does she approach peers? Does he play cooperatively? Is he able to communicate with playmates? Is there a pattern to when and how problems arise? Once you have a better idea of where or why your child is having troubles playing with others, you can better support him in developing new skills.
  • Model the behaviors that you would like to see in your child. Listen to his thoughts, feelings, ideas and stories. Be kind to others, greet them, give compliments, show empathy. Avoid complaining. Have a sense of humor about your own weaknesses.
  • Help your child to see her strengths and feel good about herself.
  • When arranging play dates, start small. Begin with one friend for one hour and then gradually increase the length of time and number of friends as your child’s skills grow. This will help to avoid frustrating or overstimulating your child.
  • Don’t be afraid to guide your child through activities as he learns about social and behavior expectations. You don’t need to be a “helicopter parent” but instead support your child as needed to encourage success.

Friendships are  important to young children and learning how to start and maintain friendships is an important life skill. Like everything else, children are not born with these skills and some will need more guidance than others as they navigate the world of friendships.

Supporting the Learning Process for Babies

Babies are natural learners. They are curious and eager to explore and experiment. As care providers, the best thing we can do is sit back and support the explorations that drive them.

This video was taken by Janet Lansbury, a trained parent educator, and highlights the innate curiosity of infants. In her blog, Lansbury reminds us:

All babies need is a safe, peaceful environment, some basic objects to examine (unnecessary until they are 3 or 4 months old) and many opportunities throughout the day to move freely and make their own choices without our interruption.

As you watch this video clip, notice:

  • the child is free to move about and develop his motor skills
  • the simplicity of the materials that the child chooses to explore
  • the opportunities the child has to problem-solve as he explores these simple materials
  • many of the child’s senses are supported and engaged (visual, tactile, auditory)
  • adults respond to baby when he initiates interaction (getting adult attention through eye contact or sounds), and don’t intrude upon his exploration

As caregivers we want to make sure we are doing all that we can to help our babies learn and grow. What we need to remember is that there really is very little that we need to do! Our babies are experts at doing. All we need to do is have confidence in their abilities as self-directed learners and be there to support them when they need us.

 

Using Play to Boost Academic Skills

The case for play in early childhood gets stronger and stronger every day. The more we learn about how children grow and develop, the more we see that children need to play to flourish- socially, emotionally AND academically.

A recent article in Newsweek’s The Daily Beast, Let Preschoolers Play! says:

a growing body of research supports the very real benefits of exploratory and playful learning experiences. A 2007 study published in Science evaluated a play-based program, Tools of the Mind, against a non-play-based one. After two years in the play-oriented classrooms, children scored better on self-regulation, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. The self-control kids learn through interacting and playing with others has an academic payoff, too; it’s more strongly correlated with future academic success than either IQ or early reading and math skills.

The article goes on to explain that one of the problems with teaching preschoolers in the way elementary school students are traditionally taught is that learning through trial and error is eliminated. Instead children are “fast tracked” by adults to learn basic skills. The result is limited problem solving skills and diminished creativity. The fact that these are essential skills for our children to be competitive in the business world of the 21st century should have parents and the larger community very worried!

It’s an easy fix. Let young children learn through play and hands-on experimenting!

5 Ways to Help Children Love Learning

With so much focus on accountability and test scores, much of a child’s time at school is spent focusing on his or her weaknesses. If a kindergartner is having trouble learning letter sounds, teachers make sure extra time is spent practicing letter sounds. Makes sense, right? The trouble is that even very young children begin to see school and learning as an experience that makes them feel frustrated and bad about themselves. So what can teachers and parents do to help build important skills without turning children off to learning? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Make sure your expectations are developmentally appropriate– Remember, all children develop at their own rate. Some preschoolers may be ready to sound out simple words, while others are still working on matching the correct sound to a letter. These developmental differences exist into early elementary school. Know the child you are working with and don’t push a skill that the child isn’t ready for!
  2. Build a positive relationship with each child– children are more willing to take risks and persist with challenging tasks if they feel safe and comfortable with you. Get to know children as individuals and let them know as often as you can that you appreciate them for who they are.
  3. Teach a weakness through a strength– If a child is having a hard time learning letters, but loves to move about, create a hide-and-seek letter game or scavenger hunt. Look for letters already out there in signs when you walk around the neighborhood, school or classroom, or hide letter cards around the room or playground.
  4. Create opportunities for positive experiences– Pair a struggling first grade reader with a preschool or kindergarten child who is learning letters and sounds. Give them a chance to be an expert in an area where they struggle. Encourage a child struggling with number identification help you with counting jobs around the room (Can you help me make sure I have 10 pencils in my pencil box?)
  5. Let children take the lead– if you notice that a child is really interested in dinosaurs (or any other topic), let the child lead the learning. Find out what he might want to learn about these creatures and help him to explore. As you do, encourage him to count the teeth in the T-Rex skeleton or identify the first letter sound in that big dinosaur word. The child can take the lead with the topic and you can insert skill development.

WoWKit Activity Binders can help you to reach and teach every child. Each binder is full of skill building teaching ideas for preschool and kindergarten that enable you to teach children through their strengths and interests and tap into their natural curiosity.

Making a Difference Every Day

Whether you are a teacher, a parent or a child care provider, your simple, every-day interactions with children are powerful. The way you say “good morning”, the way you show your support, the simple questions you ask or comments you make can build confidence, self-respect, inspire learning, provide motivation and build a stronger relationship between you and your children.

These “powerful interactions” don’t have to be complicated. Simple moments like these can do wonders for a child’s self-image and interpersonal relationships:

  • Say good morning with full eye-contact and your full attention. A hug is great too!
  • Sit quietly next to a child while the are absorbed in a task or project and watch with your full attention. You don’t even have to say anything. A simple smile of awareness or appreciation for their efforts lets them know you’ve noticed them and value their abilities.
  • Catch a child being good and thank them for their actions.
  • Ask permission before joining in a child’s activity.
  • Acknowledge children’s emotions- you don’t have to agree with their behavior, but let them know you understand or are aware of their feelings.

These simple actions can help you to make a difference in a child’s life every day. Do you have a favorite simple moment to share?

Do Babies Really Understand Words?

We’ve all been told to speak to our babies to encourage their language development, but how much does an infant really understand? New evidence shows that they understand quite a bit!

A recent study out of the University of California, San Diego shows that baby brains process words just as adult brains do. This flies in the face of the idea that baby learning is more primitive and with time the brain processes information in a more sophisticated way. You can learn more about this study in this article in PsychCentral.

So, talk to your baby. Use real words. Read with your infant. Create an environment full of wonderful language and know that every word is soaking in.

As for future implications of a study like this, I worry it may be used to support the idea that even infants should be placed in a “school setting” similar to that of older children. I hope it will help people to see that even older children would benefit from the more holistic, integrated natural learning environments that help babies to thrive.

New Data Supports “Old-Style” Kindergarten

Today, kindergarten looks a lot like any other elementary school classroom. Dramatic play and block building have been replaced by desks and writing assignments. Supporters of this academic focus in kindergarten say that today’s kindergarteners are smarter then previous generations of 5 and 6 year olds. They are ready for these challenges and we need to prepare them to be competitive in first grade.

A recent study put out by the Gisselle Institute at Yale University challenges this idea. Researchers looked at the developmental and cognitive abilities of over 1,200 children ages 3-6 in 56 public and private schools across the country. They found that children have not gotten smarter. A child today follows the same path of learning and development as their parents and grandparents did. Developmental milestones continue to be reached at roughly the same time.

So why do today’s young children seem so smart? It may be a question of training vs. learning. A three year old can be trained to write her name, but it is unlikely that she understands the sounds that the letters make and how these sounds blend together to form words. Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gisselle Institute provides this example:

children must be able to see and understand the oblique line in a triangle to recognize some letters in the alphabet. Until children can draw a triangle they cannot perceive angled lines in, say, the letter “K,” nor can they write it, or recognize it when printed in different fonts.

Drawing a triangle is a developmental milestone usually attained by children around age 5 and a half.  Just like you can’t make an infant walk before he is ready, you can’t make a child read, understand numbers or add before she is ready. The result is a frustrated teacher and a child with a lessened sense of self-worth.

What children need is time. Time to manipulate objects to further their understanding of numbers and shapes, time to engage in meaningful conversations that expand their awareness of language. And because every child develops at his or her own pace, they need time to explore concepts at their level of development. Schools need to be well-versed in healthy child development, support children at their unique level and communicate this information to parents.

This study is a wonderful resource for those looking for data to support a more play-based kindergarten curriculum. Learn more about it, and the insights of others in the field, in this article from the Harvard Education Letter.