Early Childhood Education, Illinois Early Learning Project, Parenting

Try and Try Again

Newborns are completely dependent on their caregivers. As the weeks and months go by, they are able to do more and more. “New” skills develop quickly: smiling, reaching and grasping a toy, sitting up, scooting and crawling, cruising, and, eventually, that first independent step. Families and caregivers are excited to cheer on each new skill.

Families, teachers, and caregivers want young children to be successful. It can be hard to watch a child struggle or become frustrated. Sometimes, well-meaning adults think they are helping young children by doing things for them. However, it can be both safer and better for adults to encourage children to try things on their own or provide limited supports that encourage children to use their skills to complete part of a task.

You may have noticed that some children start talking sooner or later than others. Children reach developmental milestones at different times. Some children will need different or special supports and will meet milestones at a very different pace. Regardless of a child’s timeline on a particular skill or understanding, there are many ways that parents, caregivers, and teachers can help them develop abilities to help themselves and others in daily activities.

Imagine a group of 4 year olds trying to climb a slide’s ladder. One child may climb on her own, while a teacher may need to show another how to alternate his hands and feet by tapping on which foot or hand should be used next. Another child might be too afraid to climb up and need verbal encouragement and emotional support from an adult.

In the case of a child who is fearful or struggling to get up the ladder, adults may be tempted to help a child “too much” and just put them on the top or slide down with them. After all, the child may be focused on just being able to use the exciting slide. However, a child will be much safer, confident, and competent in using the slide by herself if adults resist that first impulse to just get her to the top and instead encourage her to try harder to climb up the ladder.

Here’s some ways adults can encourage young children to try and try again while providing a little support so they can do things on their own:

  • If a child is upset about a lost item, help them develop their problem solving skills by asking questions or helping them look for it rather than finding it for them. Ask them “Where did you think you last gave teddy a hug?” or say “let’s start looking in your cubby, and then we will check the block shelf.”
  • If a child is overwhelmed by a cleanup task after playtime, rather than clean up for him, break it down and provide a specific plan to get the job done together. Say, “I will be in charge of putting the books on the shelf, and you are in charge of getting the animals in the basket.”
  • If a child gets frustrated trying to zip her coat, rather than zipping it for her, reach from behind and show her how to start the zipper. Then encourage her to finish by letting her pull the zipper all the way up. This will give her a feeling of success and helps her slowly learn how to zip her coat by herself.

There are many moments throughout the day when young children are gaining skills to become independent. Finding the right level of support for a young child is a balancing act for the adults who care for them. Adults can find that balance for a child over time through experimentation and self-reflection. With the right balance, children can develop the persistence to try and try again, which will benefit them as they meet future challenges.

Originally written for the Illinois Early Learning Project: Try and Try Again

Parent Savvy, Parenting

Is my child ready for Kindergarten?

This blog post was written as an “Ask the Expert” for Parent Savvy:  Ready for Kindergarten?

One thing these questions all have in common is that parents are trying to figure out if their children will be comfortable in a Kindergarten classroom, and how to help their child settle in successfully and thrive. In a child’s early years, a few months can make a huge difference developmentally. While it is natural to compare a child to his peers, it is important to refocus on understanding each child’s unique developmental profile.

The first step I recommend to parents is to get in touch with their local school district or Educational Service Unit to find out about Kindergarten Screening opportunities. Five year old children are big kids compared to those tiny infants we remember cradling in our arms, but they are still quite young. There is a lot of variability among children this age with regard to social, emotional, cognitive, language, and physical development. By taking your child for a Kindergarten Screening, you will be able to take a big picture look at all of the different skills and abilities that your child will need to be successful in Kindergarten, and talk to her new school about strategies to make the transition easier for their unique developmental profile.

What is a Kindergarten Screening?

A Kindergarten Screening is like a check-up in the pediatrician’s office, with more of a focus on the social, emotional, cognitive, language, and motor skills your child needs to be successful in school. In a Kindergarten Screening, you will answer a questionnaire about your child’s developmental milestones. Your child may be asked to play some fun games, talk with a Kindergarten teacher, or demonstrate their physical abilities by skipping, hopping, or walking on a balance beam. You will have an opportunity to talk with the Kindergarten teachers and school district staff about whether your child is ready to make the big leap to elementary school.

The screening tool that school districts use provides a helpful guide for looking at your child holistically, so you can work together to make the decision about whether your child is ready to transition to Kindergarten, needs more time in a preschool classroom, or would fit in best with a group of first grade children.

Relationally Ready for Kindergarten?

Finding the right fit for your child involves more than whether your child knows letters and numbers. Working and playing with peers is a huge part of the learning that happens in Kindergarten and provides a foundation for children as they progress through their schooling.

The Screening can provide another bonus for children who are worried about the new school building, new friends, and new teachers. Going to a kindergarten round up event or a visit to the Kindergarten classroom your child will enter can help her become more familiar with the place and people. This can alleviate her anxiety about the transition.

Children build on the foundation of their earlier relationships to build new friendships and attachments to their teachers in Kindergarten. You and your child care provider can talk about going to Kindergarten as an exciting new adventure and send a positive message to your child about this next step. Sharing stories of other friends that have made the transition to Kindergarten can help your child realize that this a natural next step in growing up.

There are also many great stories about getting ready for Kindergarten that might be fun to read. Some stories I enjoy are Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate, My Kindergarten and Yoko by Rosemary Wells, and Froggy Goes to School by Jonathan London. Visit your local library and ask the librarians for their favorite recommendations, too.

Good luck with the leap to Kindergarten!

Parent Savvy, Parenting

Activities to Help me Grow

Every day errands and chores are a great time to involve your child and help him or her learn and grow. Parents and caregivers often think they need to use computer software, videos, or workbooks for “learning” but actually, young children learn from every day experiences and learn best when they are involved in hands-on activities. Plus, they love to help and be part of what you are doing. Here are some ideas to help you get started with suggestions for different ages of children.

1. Talk about what you are doing.

It may feel funny at first, especially with a small infant or toddler who cannot talk back to you or ask questions. Try to pretend you are on a cooking or “do it yourself” show while your infant or toddler is watching you or playing by your side. You can describe the actions you are doing while cooking or working in the garden. Describe what you see around you as you are driving in the car or at the grocery store. Your child is learning new words and concepts just by hearing you talk.

2. Read signs and words around you.

Children learn that printed words carry a message from the signs and words that are in their world. Try pointing out the signs of familiar stores, traffic signs, and signs with information. You might be surprised at how quickly your child learns to point out “S-T-O-P Stop!” Through these experiences, children learn that letters come together to form words and these words carry a message…key things for readers to know!

3. Laundry time is math time?

Even toddlers can sort out all of the socks from a basket of laundry. Preschoolers may be able to match the socks into pairs. Young children can fold simple things like pillow cases, washcloths, and towels. Try giving your child their own little basket and asking them to sort or fold a certain type of laundry. They are learning early math skills of classification, shapes, fractions, (learning to fold in halves and quarters) and building their sense of competence as they help you.

4. Dusting, picking up, and direction following?

Try giving your child a damp rag and asking them to dust certain surfaces. Make it a game by giving interesting directions… “Can you dust three things that are green? Can you pick up all of the purple blocks and put them in the basket?” Then encourage your child to look for furniture or the toys that you have described. Being able to follow directions and use clues are both important early learning skills. Children may be motivated when you make a job a game.

5. Let’s watch things grow together!

Your child will enjoy working by your side in the garden. They may enjoy planting seedlings or flowers with you. They can learn important science skills about their natural world when working by your side. A small child sized rake can be fun to use in the fall. Children can help bag leaves, pickup sticks, and dig up weeds in the garden if you show them how to identify plants that are weeds.

Work and play side by side with your child and they will be learning every day!

Written for Parent Savvy:  Activities to Help Me Grow

and also posted on the Learning Child Blog: https://learningchildblog.com/2014/10/

 

Parent Savvy, Parenting

Focus on Family Time

Time…everyone wishes for an extra hour in the day! Time always seems to be running short for busy families. Balancing a calendar filled with work, school, children’s activities, caring for the home, and other obligations can seem like building a house of cards… add one more event to the calendar and the whole house falls down! No matter how busy our schedules seem, it is important for families to make time to be together and connect.

Children and parents need “down time” to talk, laugh, and explore together. Finding focused time together without distractions can seem overwhelming. Try to remember that regular and repeated time together matters for building strong family relationships. These times do need not be long; everyday moments add up. As a working mom of a preschooler, I often find myself feeling like I am running from morning until night trying to finish everything that needs to be done.

Here are some ways I have found that help our family find moments to be together even on hectic days.

We cook together…

Even though this may mean a bigger mess! Some chores my four year old can help with include shucking corn, washing fruit or veggies, and stirring and mixing when we are preparing recipes. Young children are quite capable of many tasks and will continue to grow in their competence if they are given opportunities to help. While we cook, I get to hear about my daughter’s adventures with friends at preschool and other things she is curious about.

We try to keep screens away from our table…I haven’t had a smartphone for long, but I try to avoid the temptation to take it out at the table. We try to focus the time we have at the table on mealtime conversation and developing healthy eating routines. I must admit the temptation to check something on the web or Facebook on my phone gets to me, too. I try to remind myself that by keeping screens away from the table, I am modeling healthy habits for using media for my daughter and showing her family time is important. Research has shown that family mealtimes also help families build stronger relationships and promote their children’s health.

We’re growing together…

We are in a rental home, and we don’t have a garden like we did when we lived in Illinois. Instead, we have some container veggies and flowers that we are nurturing this summer. Being outside together gives us opportunities to talk about nature and growth, look for bugs, and talk about where our food comes from. It also gives me an opportunity to enjoy the sweetness of my daughter’s growing generosity when she says, “Mama! I saved this tomato for you!”

We make time to play…

We love to go to the playground, nature center, and to the local pool. Sometimes we go with other families with kids or connect with our family members for this playtime when they visit. These opportunities help children see that their families are part of a community of friends, neighbors, and extended family.

We use routines and in-between times as moments to connect…

Having set bath time and bedtime routines help us reconnect even on hectic days. Bath time is usually a quiet conversation time with my daughter. My spouse and daughter look forward to reading library books together each evening, and the promise of him reading an extra story, sometimes motivates her to get her pajamas on quickly!

Also, when the routines actually help get my daughter to bed – on most days – my spouse and I can also find a little downtime to talk and reconnect as well. Keeping in sync helps us be better partners in parenting, too.

Written for Parent Savvy: Focus on Family Time

Parent Savvy, Parenting

No! No! No!

If you are a parent or caregiver of a toddler, you are sure to hear this word many times. “No,” is a very powerful word for a toddler. For many children, the word “No” is an early expression of their growing sense of autonomy. Developing a sense of autonomy is an important developmental milestone that toddlers reach. A toddler becomes aware that she is a separate person from her caregivers and peers. As a separate individual, she realizes she can make choices and decide what she wants to do. “Wow! I am me and look at all the things I can do! No! Don’t want to stay in bed! No! Don’t want to take a bath!” thinks the toddler.

Most of us fall into the trap of saying “No!” right back to toddlers. It’s a natural response when someone opposes you. Unfortunately, saying “No!” back can make power struggles more intense and actually keep a toddler from cooperating with you. One key way caregivers can help toddlers to cooperate is by finding ways to say, “Yes!” more often than “No!”

“Yes,” helps the toddler figure out what they should do. Encourage toddlers to make safe and appropriate choices by redirecting their attention to the behaviors you wish to encourage. Here are some examples.

  • If he says, “No! Don’t want to take a bath,” try responding by directing his attention to something in the bathtub he enjoys. “These toy boats are so dirty! Help me wash them so they can sail in the bathub ocean!”
  • If she pets the dog gently but then gets excited and pulls the dog’s tail, it could be that she is just showing her excitement about the wagging tail. Hand her a stuffed animal to give her something to squeeze and then remind her, “Doggy has feelings. Pulling his tail hurts him. You can hug your stuffed puppy when you are excited.”
  • If he is dropping food to the floor from the highchair or table, try saying, “It looks like you are finished eating.” Then take the child from the table and help him wash his hands and move onto a new activity. Saying, “No dropping food!” may encourage him to continue dropping food on the floor so he will see your strong reaction.

Save your “No,” responses for situations that will require the child to immediately stop. When the child’s safety is at stake, a “No,” is an appropriate response. If your child is running towards the street, you will likely shout, “No!” Follow up by reminding her we walk on the sidewalk and grass. If your child is trying to unbuckle his carseat while driving, say “No!” firmly. When you stop the car and are in a safe place, look him in the eye and say, “Buckle stays locked. The buckle keeps us safe.” If she tries to bite you, say, “No!” and then remind her that biting hurts people and give her something safe she can bite, like a teether, washcloth, or try to figure out if she is hungry.

Another way to reduce the amount of times you need to say “no” is to set your space up for success. Toddlers are interested in everything and want to imitate what you are doing. The stove, electric outlets, and high bookshelves look SO interesting to a toddler, especially after they watch you plug things in, cook, and put things on high shelves. Use outlet plugs to discourage toddlers from exploring the electric outlets. Try knob covers or closing the door to the kitchen if your toddler is particularly interested in the stove. Anchor your bookshelves to the wall and keep their toys on lower shelves to encourage them to explore the low shelves.

More information about how to set up your home or child care space to support toddler’s safe exploration is here. You can find other information about keeping your children’s space safe on the Learning Child Team’s pinterest board.

Good luck turning, “No! No! No!” into “Yes!”

Written for Parent Savvy: No! No! No!

Parent Savvy, Parenting

Learning While Dressing and Diapering

Do you have a wiggly baby or toddler who you have to wrestle during diaper changes? Diapering and dressing times can be a struggle as babies become more mobile and toddlers become more interested in exploring and playing than being still. Here are some quick tips to make diaper time enjoyable and a time for learning.

Organize Your Space!

Make sure you have all of the supplies you need in one location. You might also keep a basket of interesting toys to hand your child while you change their diaper. This may hold their interest and help them be less wiggly. A very wiggly child can be hard to keep safe on an elevated changing table. You might consider moving your changing pad to the floor to avoid accidental falls as your child grows. There’s no need to struggle! Stop dreading diaper time! When you are changing your child, it is actually a great time to talk, sing, and learn together. Diapering is actually a time when you and your child have direct eye contact, so while you are changing them, looking into their eyes and talk to them!

Describe What you are Doing.

Your child is learning all about their body and how it works. Name your child’s body parts as you change them. Point out their feet as you take off their socks and their belly button when you take off their shirt. Help them learn the sequence of changing and dressing. “First the socks, then the shoes.” First the new diaper, then the pants…” This will help them learn to do these self-help tasks on their own as they grow bigger. Name the colors or textures of their clothing items. Your child learns new words by listening to you.

Sing a Song!

You can sing a favorite nursery rhyme or even make up your own little tune about getting dressed. For example, to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell,” you can sing, “Socks go on the feet, socks go on the feet, high ho the derio, socks go on the feet.” Babies and toddlers love to hear songs over and over again, so even singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” over and over will capture their attention and build their vocabulary. Singing ABCs is a great way to help your child develop knowledge of letter names. They need many chances to hear this information, so diaper and dressing time is a great way to make sure you get these important early learning moments in!

Written for Parent Savvy: Learn While Dressing and Diapering

Parent Savvy, Parenting

Winter Activities for Preschoolers

This blog post was written as an “Ask the Expert” for Parent Savvy:  Winter Activities

December is chilly, but the holiday times are full of glittery lights and gatherings with family and friends that help us to forget the cold outside. January and February can be a tough months. It can be gray and cold outside. The spring weather that draws everyone outside to play is a few months away. Young children crave active play and time to move, but it can be hard when the weather is chilly and the days are short. Feeling the wintertime blues can be a common experience for caregivers of young children. Here are 9 ideas from The Learning Child Team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension to keep you and your little ones busy and learning through the winter months.

1. Bundle up and take a walk in the sunshine.

Take advantage of days with less extreme temperatures to be outdoors. Observe the winter changes and talk with children about where the animals, insects, and plants have gone during the winter months.

2. Build a Snowbox

If it is too windy outside to play in the snow, bring the snow inside. Fill the sink with some fresh snow or place the tub on a towel on the floor. It can be fun to build little snow people or play with toy cars, animals, or containers in a “snowbox”.

3. Indoor Active Spaces

Find indoor spaces where you can play. Faith organizations, community centers, and schools may have open gym times where your kids can run and get a dose of active play.

4. Deep cleansing breath… how about yoga?

There are many books, dvds, and even websites that provide instruction in yoga for children. Try different poses and pretend to move like different animals. Yoga is a great way to channel children’s desire to for active play and motion in a small, indoor space. Yoga can be a great stress reliever for caregivers, too, on those days when you are feeling stressed.

5. Use your imagination…

Put on some lively calypso music and dance. You can even put the kids in the bathtub in their bathing suits. Pretend you are at the pool. Give your children a suitcase suggest they pack to go on a pretend trip to the beach. Your imagination can take you anywhere! Lemonade, anyone? Pretend play helps children build language and social skills.

6. Art, anyone?

If you have a big box around the house, use markers, masking tape, and paper to turn it into a sailboat for an imaginary journey. Boxes, bottles, and other beautiful “junk” can be great fun for children to use for constructing all sorts of things. Take photos to document your amazing creations and recycle the materials when you are finished playing with your constructions. Set up some drawing materials by the window and encourage your child to draw what they see. They might draw snow on trees or simply try to scribble the directions the snowflakes are flying.

7. Cook your blues away!

Focus on healthy cooking with your kids. Your child might enjoy helping you prepare a hearty vegetable soup in the crockpot. Let your child help you wash the veggies and do other age appropriate mixing and cutting of soft veggies. They will be proud of their creation and even excited to eat their veggies. If you need some ideas, we have a Pinterest board created for Healthy and Fun Foods for Kids.

8. Check out your local library.

The children’s department can be a great place to meet other families. Many library branches have family story times for families and young children. You can find books, music, and other media that can fuel children’s learning and curiosity.

9. Try some cold weather science!

How long does it take for a cup of snow to melt when you bring it indoors?  How long does it take for a cup of water to freeze into ice? Make a prediction and then see how close your guess is to the answer. Predicting, observing, and recording information are all great skills for budding scientists to develop.

For more ideas to keep you busy this winter, follow The Learning Child Team and ParentSavvy on Pinterest.