Posted on Child.com, September
A mother tells me how excited she is about her toddler’s “educational” computer game. Just click the mouse and presto – one, two, three oranges bound into a bucket. Click again, and they reappear, one, two, three. Isn’t that a fabulous way to learn counting? What is my opinion, as a preschool teacher?
“How about giving him a bucket and three oranges?” I ask. “Then he can touch and hold them, smell them, toss them, and enjoy a real experience.”
“That seems so old-fashioned!” she says.
Old-fashioned is right! And often, old-fashioned is better. Times change, but children don’t. They still need the good old experiences that kids have always relished. They need to run and play outside, take risks, and try again when they stumble. And they still need thoughtful, available parents.
Want to raise a confident, competent child? The kind of kid who loves to learn and play? Who actively participates in the world around her? Who thinks independently while still considering others points of view? In 25 years of working with young children and their families, I’ve found these 10 tips most helpful for raising can-do kids.
#1 Provide concrete experiences. Children are sensory-motor learners. Sensory-motor means that sensations come in, and motor (movement) responses go out. Thus, playing with an orange engages most senses and encourages the child to try different motor responses. She can squeeze and sniff it, roll it across the floor or around in a pie pan, play catch with you, and maybe peel, section, and savor it. Many physical, hands-on activities like these nourish the brain.
You can enrich your child s play by providing meaningful sensory-motor experiences. For example, furnish footwear to play “Shoe Store.” Your child can: Sort shoes by shape, size, texture, and how they fasten(laces/Velcro/buckle). Sequence them (sneaker, pump, boot; sneaker, pump, boot). Seriate them according to size. Try them all on. Box and stack them. Be the “customer” and “salesperson.”
Hide the videos. Ban TV. Jane Healy, PhD, of Colorado, an educational psychologist and expert on brain development, advises that children sit before an electronic screen no longer than 30 minutes a day. Video time deprives children of the sensory-motor experiences that build healthy brains and bodies. A Chinese adage says: “I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.”
#2 Get physical with your child. “Everyone needs 12 hugs a day for optimum emotional health,” claims a wise colleague. Hugs are therapeutic – not only emotionally, but also physically. Research shows that at-risk infants who are cuddled are more likely to thrive than babies who are not. While you’re at it, roughhouse with your child – especially your girl! Baby girls arrive with the same physical requirements as boys. Every child needs to move through space.
So, get on all fours and play Horsey. Play Up and Over: hold her hands, let her scale your legs, and flip her over and down. Play Helicopter: hold her at the waist or underarms and swing her through the air.
Learning and active movement go together. For instance, the first time your child plays Horsey, she may feel unsteady. She must judge how to stay balanced, how hard to clench her knees, and how not to choke you! Subsequently, she’ll be more confident and relaxed because she has integrated countless body-brain connections. Someday, she ll generalize these lessons about balance and body position when she mounts a real pony or bicycle.
#3 Get his muscles moving. Fine, or small, muscles, which mature gradually, control the hands, fingers, toes, lips, tongue, and eyes. To encourage small muscle development, first you need to get your child’s big muscles working.
“Every child must organize large muscles before concentrating on complex small motor skills,” says Patricia Lemer, Executive Director of Developmental Delay Resources, a nonprofit organization dedicated to healthy alternatives for children with special needs. “Before sitting and writing, children require many opportunities to climb on ladders, toss balls, and paint broad strokes while standing at an easel.”
For little kids, think big: large Legos, foot-long trucks, life-size baby dolls, thick paintbrushes, chubby chalk and crayons. After preschoolers practice manipulating big toys and tools, they can graduate to smaller ones, such as Matchbox cars and watercolor brushes.
Get your child’s eyes roving. Play flashlight games, such as chasing each other’s beamed zigzags on darkened walls. Lob beach balls back and forth. Play tetherball and pingpong. Lie outside on summer nights and watch fireflies. Point out things in the distance. These visual exercises help young eyes track moving objects, change focus from far to near, and function as a team.
Get your child’s tongue wagging. Play mouth games with your baby: mimic the ways you curl, shake, and poke your tongue. Stretch your lips in great Os and wide grins. These games strengthen speaking skills.
#4 Encourage critical thinking. Wonder and hypothesize together. Why do melons float and potatoes sink? What may happen if we run out of gas? What snack will Grandma serve? Asking, “What do you think?” may elicit profound insights. Kids give thoughtful answers when we ask thoughtful questions.
Suppose your child is curious about a cartoon his schoolmates discuss. You’d prefer to read stories, but he wants to watch TV. Relent; in the long run, watching a short, mindless show is less damaging than feeling left out by classmates. Seize this opportunity to guide him into thinking critically. Critical thinkers are not complainers, but people who evaluate situations with discrimination and care.
Watch the show together. Later, ask questions: Would the hero make a nice friend? How does he treat less powerful characters? Does he have a plan, or just let stuff happen to him? When things go wrong, does he use his words to solve the problem? What helps him succeed – fancy equipment or his own wits?
Do not accept “Dunno.” Get an opinion!
#5 Let your child speak for herself. You and your daughter go to the ice cream parlor. The familiar clerk says, “Hi!” Your daughter freezes. Before you jump in with, “Say ‘hi’ to Mike,” give her time to respond. A child capable of speaking may simply need a few extra beats.
And suppose Mike inquires what flavor she wants today, and she just stands there. Don’t give the answer yourself; you may not know your child’s preference. You weren’t asked the question, anyway. Producing “language on demand” is a prerequisite for school success. A child must learn to respond to direct questions and to ask for what she wants. If you do the talking, the danger for your child is “earned helplessness.” Why should she make an effort, if you always take over? Model friendly conversation to encourage her to be responsive and considerate.
#6 Encourage good reading habits. A cartoon shows a boy holding a book. He regards his father, who is simultaneously using a laptop and watching television. The child says, “Daddy, can you read?” Take time to read. When you show an interest in books, you teach your child that reading is a lifetime pleasure. Let him catch you at it. Talk about what you are learning from the book.
A preschooler doesn’t need details about front-page news or the plots of best-sellers, but he can benefit from understanding that all kinds of challenges beset all kinds of folks. Children learn empathy from their parents. Discuss how problems may be overcome when people care about one another and work together.
#7 Champion chores. Children love and need heavy work. It activates the large muscles in the arms, legs, and torso; puts the brain in gear; and prepares them to pay attention to the surrounding world. The easier we make life for our kids, the harder their lives will be. Without sufficient motor activities, they may have low stamina, poor muscle tone, and scant experience in accomplishing simple tasks. Insufficient movement can also lead to poor sleep patterns and appetites.
Having your child help with chores is a great first step. He can rake leaves, shovel snow, dig in the garden, brush the dog, wash the car, push the stroller and vacuum cleaner, carry laundry upstairs, and haul nonbreakables (rice, plastic soda bottles, and cans) from grocery store to car and from car to kitchen.
Not enough heavy loads? Make some! Recycle those plastic bottles as Bottle Babies: fill them halfway with water, tinted with food coloring or tempura paint; tighten their caps; and hand them over. Outdoors, your child will lug them around, roll and kick them, hide them under the bushes, bury them in the sandbox, wrap them in blankets and pretend they are babies, and consider them a perfect toy.
#8 Make mealtime memorable. Sit down and share a daily meal. Dinner is best; breakfast will do. With you as a model for mealtime decorum, your child can learn self-help skills such as cutting and pouring, as well as more complex life skills such as patience, sharing, and participating in the give and take of conversation. Should conversation get stuck, ask each family member to relate one incident of the day. Or say, “Tell us something funny (confusing, scary, incredible) that happened today.” Make sure that everyone has a turn to listen and comment.
Food, like movement, is essential nutrition for growing bodies. Around the table, your child can also be nourished emotionally, so she feels a sense of belonging and learns to be mindful of the needs of others; socially, so she learns to function in a group; and cognitively, so she learns to meet challenges and plan solutions.
#9 Honor your child’s interests. Say your daughter is fond of earthworms. She rescues and carries them home in paper cups. And let’s say you hate worms. Before you say, “Yuck,” look at her face. Is she emotionally invested in these creatures? Curious and compassionate? Eager to share her thoughts with you?
This is bad? No, this is wonderful!
#10 Make fun a priority. Play helps children learn. It stretches the imagination, encourages thinking skills, strengthens motor coordination, and enhances social development. Our daily charge should be, “Have fun!” – not “Be good!” Fun, like manners, empathy, and the desire to read, begins at home. If you know and show how to have fun, chances are your child will, too. So…
- Dress up for Hallowe’en.
- Play make-believe games, like “I’m the kid and you’re the Mommy.”
- Celebrate Backwards Day; eat dessert first.
- Switch the initial sounds of words to create Spoonerisms, such as “Please heed the famster,” or, “Remember to toss your fleeth,” or “All ready for proccer sactice?” Because they are old enough to get it, preschoolers are tickled by such… nensonse.
- Have Silly Contests. Who can crunch carrots the loudest? Blow the biggest bubbles? Invent a word to rhyme with “raccoon”? Stare into another’s eyes without laughing?
- Make music together. Music restores order, improves communication, and is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Homemade rhythm instruments include spoons, pots and pans, oatmeal-box drums, pencil mallets, and cigar-box guitars (sturdy boxes encircled with rubber bands). Inexpensive kazoos and slide whistles can add hilarious melody. Beat a simple rhythm and invite your child to join in. Take turns following each other’s beat. Change from simple to complex, from slow to fast, from loud to soft. Making music is especially fun when you and your child actively make it happen.
Some of the most important skills your child needs at school come from lessons that begin at home. Try these 10 Can-Do Tips, and you will help get your child on the path to success.