Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Before They Can Read & Write...


Children are not born able to hold a pencil, tie their shoes, zip and button.  It takes time and practice to develop the fine motor muscles and brain pathways required to succeed.  While many children will naturally begin to develop those muscles through play and other every day actions, there are activities that further promote fine muscle development.  When setting up a play area or spending time inside on a rainy day, keep these tips in mind:
  • Easel work develops more muscles than using a table to paint, draw or write.  Moving the arm up and down in an outstretched position helps to develop the muscles that lead from the arm into the hand.   It takes more muscle activity to hold the arm out than lean it on a table or have it at your side.   An easel, hanging dry erase or chalk board, or even paper hung on a wall will provide your children with a fun artistic space and gross motor development.
  • Cross lateral movements force both sides of the brain to communicate and are the precursor to moving across a written page.  In order to move across a page to read or write from left to right, both sides of the brain must work in tandem.  Activities that cross the midline of the body help develop the nerve-cell pathway required for the fluid movement from one side to the other.  Play games like Follow the Leader to encourage motions such as putting the left hand on the right leg.  Use songs that encourage movement such as windmills.  Make a game of exercising together using motions that cross the body.  When doing easel work, encourage your children to move their arms in large sweeping motions across the surface and back.
  • Ripping paper is an essential early childhood skill.  Provide your children with a bin of scrap paper that they are allowed to rip.  Great collages are made of ripped paper and the time spent ripping develops both brain pathways and finger muscles.  In order to rip, your children must use finger muscles to grasp the paper and opposing motions to tear.  You may be surprised at the effort it takes for very young children to develop that coordination but when they do, they move one step closer to writing.
  • Tweezer games are fun and develop the pincer grip.  Children love using tools such as tweezers.  Many companies make plastic tweezers especially for young children to explore at home and in nature.  Introduce tweezer games to help your children develop pinching muscles.  Race to see how quickly you and your child can pick up objects with tweezers and put them in a cup.  Try picking up cotton balls, crimpled paper, cotton swabs and other household objects.  They are great for exploring small object outside, too.
  • Use normal size pencils and crayons rather than jumbo size.  The thicker pencils and jumbo size crayons that are marketed as being made especially for your young child actually do not help to promote further development of fine motor muscles.  To learn new skills and develop new muscles, we must practice.  Stopping the pincer grip at the jumbo size does not provide that practice.  If your child fists writing implements at first, remember that is normal.  Keep showing your child how you hold a pen , pencil or crayon.
  • Move from fisting writing implements to using fingers to pinch by using short pencils and short crayons at approximately age 3-4 years.  You may wonder if stores have started selling short crayons.  No, they have not.  Break your crayons and provide your children with a nub that they must use their fingers to grasp.  Using golf pencils are also a good way to encourage your 3-4 year old to pinch between the fingers.   If your child still insists on fisting, he/she isn’t ready to use the pincer grip. As with all preschool skills, some children will master this skill before others.  If you are concerned about your child’s fine motor skill development, consult with your preschool and/or pediatrician.
  • The messier the better.  Finger painting, writing in shaving cream, playing in mud, making snowballs and even learning to eat independently may be messy but they all lead to reading and writing.  Encourage your children to do fun, messy activities that force them to use their fingers a variety of ways – to stretch and pinch.  Do activities that force both hands to work together.  Dive into the mess with your children – it really is fun and a great way to extend the time they spend developing important skills!


Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Teach, Don’t Punish – The Lessons of Positive Discipline


Teaching children about acceptable behavior is one of the most difficult challenges for parents and teachers.  Children can learn that for every action, there is a reaction.  For every mistake, there is a consequence.  After every consequence, there is a chance to do better.  Discipline is an opportunity.  Given the opportunity, will you be instructive or punitive?

In his book Lost in School, Dr. Ross Greene asks the question, “Why is it that when a student that struggles with reading or math… we support… yet when a student struggles with behaviour… we punish?”  The greatest lesson that a child learns from being punished is how to avoid punishment in the future.  They do not learn why their action was inappropriate.  They do not learn the life lesson that will forestall similar behavior in the future.  They learn that they need to be more careful so they don’t get caught next time.  When we yell, children learn that to solve a problem, you must become emotional and angry.  They learn that it is acceptable to yell at people smaller than them.   When you send children to time out, they learn that their feelings are going to be ignored and that you have the power to make them feel isolated.  Hitting children teaches them that it is acceptable to hit people.  Extensive research shows that there is a correlation between children who were recipients of corporal punishment and those who are more apt to exhibit violent behavior as teens and adults.  You can correct behavior in a way that is instructive and sets a positive example rather than in a way that is punitive and teaches only about punishment.

For every action – good or bad – there is a natural consequence.  It is an important lesson for children to learn.  Do something good and good things happen.   Do something inappropriate and something unwanted will happen.  When your child does something inappropriate, think about the natural consequence of that action.  If your young child throws a toy, he cannot play with that toy now.  If your young child isn’t nice to a friend, she cannot play with that friend today.  The same is true for the teen years.  If your child is out too late, he/she cannot go out next time.  It is important to calmly explain the situation to your child.  Rather than yell and grab a toy from a child that has misused it, say, “Throwing toys can hurt someone so you may not play with this toy now.”  Repeat that sentence when the child protests.  After your child calms down, give other activity choices.  “You may not play with that now.  You can come to the kitchen with me or do a puzzle.”  Limit to choosing between two specific alternatives that meet your approval.   Your child may protest.  If so, it is time to repeat the choices calmly.  Repeating an instruction in the same calm intonation over and over is called The Broken Record Method.  Sound like a broken record long enough and your child will choose one of the activities you approve.  When you finally give the offending toy back, be sure to repeat the lesson they should have learned – “Remember we don’t throw toys because we don’t want to hurt anyone.”  It is essential that the same consequence be used if the incident happens again.  It may take more than once for a child to realize that every time they act a certain way, the same unwanted reaction will occur.  Having patience and being consistent will pay off. 

Try “time in” instead of “time out.”  When you send children to time out, you send them somewhere to be alone – still angry and upset but alone.  There is nothing more irksome than the plethora of television shows that demonstrate the wonders of time out.  Episodes on television show children whose behavior is miraculously improved.  Producers don’t show you the unedited film of the families for which it didn’t work.  I would like to see what happens when the cameras leave.  Contrary to the entertainment industry’s opinion, you cannot reason with a child who is hysterical from being isolated.  Isolating them until they say “I’m sorry” is meaningless.  Children need to know why they are sorry and not use the word as the key to opening the door to freedom.  Sometimes children do need time to sit and compose themselves.   “Time in” is an opportunity for you to remove your child from an activity, help him/her to regain control and teach a lesson.  During time in, children are not isolated.  They are asked to sit in a chair near you.  The child will still feel connected to you which provides a sense of security even when he/she is upset.  Children who feel secure will calm down sooner.  Stay nearby so that when your child is composed, you can start a discussion about the inappropriate behavior.   Being in time in facilitates a quicker calming period and the discussion can take place much sooner than if the child were banished from the room.

Above all else, it is essential that adults remain calm and in control.  We are our children’s role model for self-control, coping, composure and appropriate behavior.  We, as parents and educators, are in the position of modeling all behavior.  Children learn good from us and, unfortunately, bad from us too.  Take a deep breath, stay calm and instill life lessons.


Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What Does Learning Look Like In Preschool?


Learning in a preschool does not look like children sitting at a table for 30 minutes of workbook activities.  Learning does not look like rote memorization and repetition of facts, words and sounds.  Adults tend to look for evidence of learning that we can see.  We look for sheets with smiley faces, stars and 100% circled in red.  Learning in a preschool classroom looks like children making choices.  They may choose to write on paper.  They may also choose to play with blocks.  Some are wearing dramatic play clothes.  Others are finger painting.  In a preschool classroom, learning looks like play because children learn best when at play.  The lessons learned are not always evident to the naked eye – unless you really look closely.

Building blocks are a favorite in preschool classrooms.  Children gravitate toward them.  Preschoolers build the most amazing structures.  The feats of architecture are evidence of learning.  Children who build learn about spatial relationships, balance and weight.  They have made size comparisons and solved problems.   Building blocks are geometry in action.  Children working together have learned about cooperation and team achievement while melding their creativity. 

The dramatic play area is full of pre-literacy skills and confidence building activities.  Children may use dress up clothes, pretend to cook meals, care for dolls and more.  This area is full of opportunities for oral language development.  Children and teachers share new vocabulary words as they play in a magical pretend world.  Cooperation and communication is the key to pretending together.  Role playing is the beginning of understanding symbolism – one thing can stand for another.  Inanimate objects come alive.  Children can be someone other than themselves.  It is through being others that children begin to learn empathy.  A child pretending to be a parent is experimenting with how it feels to be that person.  For a few precious minutes, egocentric preschoolers can step outside themselves.

Manipulatives are generally defined as items that can be used on a table and require the use of fine motor skills.  A great deal of fine motor development occurs as children use puzzle pieces, small building items and lacing tools.  Children using manipulatives can often be seen classifying, sorting and patterning.  They collect and group items.  The children are building their pre-math skills and knowledge.   They also develop an understanding of one-to-one correspondence.  One-to-one correspondence is an essential pre-reading skill. 

For far too long, adults have embraced the idea that uniform art means the children are learning.  Learning through art does not look like sheep made of cotton balls or pre-cut shapes glued perfectly onto a piece of paper to make a car.  If all of the children leave school with identical projects, they were passive participants and learned little. Art is an activity that should emphasize creativity and decision making.  When children are given the freedom to make decisions with art materials, they learn valuable lessons about cause and effect.  They mix colors and see what happens.  They find out about how different combinations of materials produce an end product.  They learn that they can make choices without concern for being wrong.

Your children are learning everywhere in their preschool classroom.  It is perfectly acceptable for a child to choose to play with blocks every day and forego the art table or visa versa.  The child is trying to add to existing knowledge and master a skill.  It is also acceptable for children to have preferred activities – don’t you?  No matter what they prefer, they are learning. 


Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

Dealing with Your Preschooler's Separation Anxiety


It’s almost back-to-school preparation time.  There are backpacks to buy and clothes to select.  Parents also have the important task of helping their children to adjust to a new school year.  Facing a new experience can be daunting for children as well as adults.  Parents bringing their children to preschool or kindergarten often worry about both how their young child will react and how they will feel if their child tries to cling to them.  Here are some hints for getting through separation anxiety:

Remember that separation anxiety is a common experience that can start and reoccur anytime during the early childhood years.   Separation anxiety is not only normal but is your child’s first opportunity to deal with fear and coping.  It is a healthy learning experience.  It can start on the first day of school or any time after that.  Some parents and children slide through the first few weeks of school anxiety free just to find that their children suddenly don’t want to leave them in October.   Some children start preschool at age 2 or 3 years old and become clingy the following year. 

“School” is an abstract and unfamiliar concept to young children.  Visit with your children before the year begins so they know where they will be going.  Many schools will have an opportunity for your children to meet their teachers.  If there is no formal opportunity to do so, ask when you might stop by.  Visiting will give your child a frame of reference when you use that mysterious new word – school.

Talk about school by using positive words.  When you talk about school starting with your young child, the conversation should center on how the children will play, have fun, make friends and other happy experiences.   Do not prepare your child for being scared by mentioning crying or fear.  When a parent says, “There isn’t anything to be afraid of” many preschoolers will feel fear instead of happiness.  When we say, “Don’t cry,” they will be more apt to do so because they are thinking about it. 

Tell your child what you will be doing while he/she is at school.  Young children cannot imagine where you go when they are not with you.  It will help them to know what to expect and where you will be spending your time.  It is a good idea to explain to your preschooler that you will be saying good-bye and then going to work, shopping, etc.  When dropping your child off, repeat where you are going within earshot of your child’s teacher.  If you say, “I am going to work” or “I am going food shopping” in front of the staff, it enables them to tell your child the same thing that you’ve told him/her.

Avoid sneaking away at drop off.  Part of getting over separation anxiety has to do with trust.  Your child needs to trust you as well as their preschool teachers.  It is just as appropriate to say good-bye to a crying child as a smiling child.  The key is for the parents to smile throughout the experience.  If parents look sad or anxious, the child’s fears will be exacerbated.  They take their cues from you.

Keep your good-bye short, happy and do not linger.  Smile at your child even though he/she may be crying, say good-bye and leave.  If you linger, the message that you give to your child is that you don’t think he/she will be alright.  If you leave, you give the message that you are confident in the teacher and in your child’s ability to adapt.  Most preschools have a place where you can wait out of sight to find out if your child is calming down.  When you leave (and you do need to leave at some point), do not hesitate to call the school to find out how your child is doing.  Your child’s preschool staff should recognize that just because you physically leave your child, it doesn’t mean that you have emotionally left.  You are entitled to know how your child is doing at any point during any day.

Keep in mind that children cannot measure time like an adult and the statement “I will be back later” is meaningless to them.  Young children do not have a sense of time.  They measure time by activities.  Ask your child’s preschool for a sample schedule of the day.  Children will easily learn that mommy returns after they play, have snack, go outside, listen to a story and do art.  Ensure that your child’s teacher has a fairly predictable routine.  The teacher should remind the children of the day’s activities that will lead up to your return.  In no time, many children will be able to recite the routine of their day.  That predictability gives your child the security of knowing when to expect you.  If they cannot predict your return, the day can seem endless.

Some children are less anxious quickly while others may take more time.  It is important to work in partnership with your school director and classroom teacher to help your child feel comfortable, gain confidence and move beyond their separation anxiety.


For information for parents who are surprised by their child's lack of separation anxiety, read my follow up article -  http://cindyterebush.blogspot.com/2013/08/no-separation-anxiety-advice-for.html



Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

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