Saturday, October 27, 2012

Should Preschoolers Ever Be Wrong?

Children enter our preschool classrooms excited to play and explore the things that make them curious.  We can foster that curiosity and create a love of learning by making children feel capable or we can destroy it.  The way in which we approach extending their knowledge lays the foundation for all future learning experiences.   When selecting a preschool or working with your preschooler at home, parents need to consciously examine the effects of methodology on self-esteem.

A foundation for a love of learning is created by making children feel that their curiosity has merit and that they are capable.  Education theorists such as Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky showed us that children develop at their own rates and that development has to derive from play and other joyful experiences.  Erik Erikson, who studied the psychosocial development of humans, showed that young children’s experiences can make them feel trusting, autonomous and capable of taking initiative or can make them feel full of mistrust, shame and doubt.  As parents, we want our children to be self-assured; yet, we often put them in situations that undermine their self-worth.

What happens when we sit young children in front of endless worksheets and constantly point out their errors and inadequacies?  What happens when their artwork must look like evidence of learning so we tell them that they are wrong to glue something in a certain place or that the sky cannot be green?  What happens when instructors or coaches are exasperated at them because they did not hit the ball, kick it well or perfect the dance? 

We have plenty of time in our lives to be wrong.  It is not true that young children learn to handle criticism well by being wrong.  They learn that they are not capable.  The process of shutting down begins.  They become reluctant and fearful of trying new things.  They stop thinking and start trying to avoid being wrong.  They do things just to get them done so they can do something more pleasurable.  The goal in the early childhood years should be to make learning the pleasurable activity and not the thing that must get done so we can move on.  Young children who enter the elementary school years feeling capable are able to handle correction without a feeling of defeat and are confident enough to try again.

Many people argue that you can’t just let the children be wrong.  We must correct them.  Again, it is all in the methodology.  First, we must acknowledge that worksheets, workbooks and endless pieces of paper do not capture curiosity.  Should we offer young learners the opportunity to write?  Of course.  When we do, we have to accept that their fine motor and cognitive skills develop at different rates.  Let them write only for as long as they want to write and know that they are too young to master the skill.  We can take turns writing with them so they watch and attempt to imitate.  We can smile at them and say, “Do you want to see an easy way to do that?”  We should not force them to sit when they do not want to and tell them that they have done it wrong.  They will not scribble forever.  As their fine motor muscles strengthen, their coordination improves and the pathways in their brains are formed, their ability to write and read will improve.  In the meantime, applaud their efforts so they keep joyfully trying.

Next, we need to understand that just because a child paints the sky green or scribbles and tells us that the drawing is a car, it doesn’t mean that they won’t go outside and say the sky looks blue or that they won’t be able to find a car in the parking lot.  Allowing children to draw, cut and paste freely is actually a window into what they are thinking, not what knowledge they possess.  The minute we hand them a pre-cut window and say “Glue it here on the house,” they stop thinking and just start trying to please us.  Arts & crafts should never have a right and wrong answer.  They should be self-expression.  As adults, we understand that art is self-expression.  We need to stop trying to use it as some grand lesson about the world for young children.  That paper plate full of cotton balls is not a sheep.  We know it and they know it.  It is merely a paper plate full of cotton balls – an exercise in gluing.

Finally, we need to be careful to match our children up with the right coaches, instructors and purveyors of other lessons.  It is okay to pull your child from a team or activity and find another if you see the adults making them feel inadequate.  If it is hard for us to watch how children are being treated, then imagine how they feel being the receivers of the treatment.  Winning is nice but acknowledgement of the effort is important too.  Losing with dignity is something children learn by example.  When adults are disgusted, the lesson becomes “you are not able” instead of “you can try again.”

Poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing…”  It was true when Wadsworth said it in the 1800s and it is still true of our children today.  Consider how we are teaching our young children to judge themselves.

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.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Self Help Skills & Independence - Real Keys to Success After Preschool (Part 4)

Note: This is the fourth installment of a multi-part series. Other articles about “The Real Keys to Success After Preschool” can be found on this blog.

Newborn babies are dependent on us for everything.  In the moments after birth, we hold them, feed them, diaper and comfort them.  It takes seconds to become the person who provides for all their needs but it takes a lifetime to let go.  The challenge of raising children is that it is, at the same time, our job to care for them and teach them to stop needing us.  From the time they first reach for something they want, it is our job to help them to do it themselves.

One of the most important skills that a child can take from the preschool years is the ability to care for his or her own needs.   We instill confidence and a sense of capability when we teach children to be independent.  We know that children need to be potty trained, able to feed themselves and put clothes on independently by kindergarten.  It all sounds simple enough but there are many steps to each of those tasks and others that add up to independence.

True independence begins when babies begin to crawl.  They can get from place to place without assistance.  When they can walk, they can do so even more efficiently.  Children who can walk should be encouraged to walk.  There are times when they need to be in a stroller or be carried for safety or in the interest of time.  There are, however, other times that they could walk and they should.  Help your children to feel more grown up and capable by encouraging them to hold your hand and walk from the car to home or preschool.  You’ll be glad that walking is the norm when they become too heavy to be easily carried.

It is terrific when young children can pull up their pants and put on their coats.  Their clothes also need fasteners that they can manage on their own.  Snaps are very difficult for young children to manipulate.  Fastening snaps takes a great deal of fine motor strength.  The ability to button also requires fine motor strength and coordination.  Pants with elastic that can be easily pulled up are best until approximately 3 years old.  Coats with big buttons are easier to manage than those with small buttons.  Zippers are a challenge until approximately 4-5 years old.  By 4 years old, children should be encouraged to button, snap, zip and buckle.  Some children will master it quickly at that age while others will need practice.  It is important to note that tying shoes is not usually mastered until between the ages of 5-7 years old.  It takes planning to allot enough time each day for your children to attempt those important skills but it will be worth the effort when they look triumphant after they succeed.  Help them to experience that success by selecting clothes are aren’t complicated and by allowing them the time to independently care for themselves before leaving the house, using the bathroom and spending time with their friends.

Eating independently is more than just picking up food with fingers, spoons or forks and putting it in your mouth.  Eating independently includes the ability to open as many food containers as possible.  Resist the urge to open every container and put the straw in the juice box.  You will be amazed at how quickly they master the sandwich bag or straw wrapper when given the opportunity.  Try to avoid complicated plastic containers that are a challenge for adults to open and close.  Switch from sippy cups to regular cups with or without a straw as soon as possible.  Overuse of sippy cups can actually cause malformations that contribute to speech problems.  Sippy cups are not intended to be a substitute bottle and shouldn’t be treated as such.  The transition from bottle to cup/straw should be brief and include a sippy cup for only approximately one month.  

Learning to use the toilet is a focus for a good part of the preschool years.  Some children train earlier than others.  They will begin to use the toilet when they are ready.  We cannot force them to be ready but when they are, we need to ensure that they learn to not only use the toilet but also wipe themselves and wash their hands.  Young children are not the best wipers and they never will be the best if adults continually do it for them.  You can use a combination of toilet paper and flushable wipes to help them become independent users of the toilet.  When they are done, they need to wash their hands themselves.  They need to learn to pump a soap bottle and wipe their hands.

Think about everything you do with your young child each day.  Consider how you can help your child to become more independent. With every triumph of independence comes the self-esteem needed to succeed in the years to come.

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.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Emotional Development & Building Self-Esteem- Real Keys to Success After Preschool (Part 3)

Note: This is the third installment of a multi-part series. To read the first two parts, click on:

Children with healthy self-esteem feel capable.  When children feel confident and capable, they are better able to face challenges and manage disappointment or stress.  Academic skills that are introduced during the elementary school years and beyond seem far less daunting when children have developed a healthy sense of self because they know that they can make decisions, solve problems and work through tough situations.

It is essential that young children know that their emotions are valid. We like when children are happy.   It is, however, just as acceptable to be sad or angry as it is to be joyful.  One emotion is not more valid that the other.  When a child is sad, it should be safe for that child to cry without criticism.  Telling young children not to cry or not to be sad invalidates what they feel.  When we tell children of any age that they are being silly or have no reason to be upset, we send the message that their feelings aren’t real or don’t matter to you.  Sending a child from the room when upset sends the message that sharing emotions leads to isolation.  Is it any wonder that a child whose emotions were invalidated grows to become a teenager who won’t tell adults how they feel?  To make a child feel safe, confident and to promote communication, we must let the child know that we hear and that we care.  Whether we can see their point of view or not, is inconsequential.  We need to give merit to their feelings.  Saying “I see that you are sad.  What can we do?” makes the child feel acknowledged and begins a path from the sadness to a solution.  Children who are acting out of frustration will calm faster if we say, “I see that you are frustrated” than if we express exasperation.

One of the most important gifts we give to young children is the gift of words.  From the time they are infants, we point to things and name them.  Woefully little time is used giving them words for their feelings.  We tend to use only about four emotion words with children – happy, sad, mad and scared.   There are many degrees of these feelings and adults should give children the emotional vocabulary to name them.  Children and adults can be joyful, happy, glad or ecstatic.  They can be sad, gloomy, or distraught.  It is possible to be mad, angry or infuriated.  Sometimes we are scared, frightened or terrified.  None of these words means exactly the same thing.  When we give children the tools with which to more accurately describe their emotions, they can become more expressive about what they are feeling.

Our job is not done when we have helped children to express their feelings in a safe environment.  We must give them the confidence to know that they can cope.  There are two ways that we teach children to cope – by helping them to problem solve and by coping with our own frustrations and emotions calmly.  Children believe what they see.  If they are emotionally out of control and the adults start yelling, they learn that the only way to cope with frustration is to become emotional.  There is no better time to remain calm than when our children are at their most emotional.  Assure children that they are okay and that we can help them when they are calmer.  Give them the physiological tools to calm their bodies.  When we are upset, our hearts beat faster and we breathe faster.  A message is sent to the brain that there is an emergency and hormones are released.  We need to teach children how to reverse this process by breathing deeply.  Deep breaths slow the heart rate, increase our oxygen levels and tell the brain that all is well.  Knowing to take a deep breath is a powerful tool.  At first, adults need to coach children to breathe deeply.  Eventually, you will see that they have learned this mechanism and will use it independently to calm down.  Once calm, it is our job to help them problem solve.  Discuss what they can say or do when in the same situation in the future.  Critical thinking skills are, in fact, a part of coping with emotions.  Just as we help children to solve a puzzle or build a tower, we need to walk them through the steps of coping with their feelings.

Coming soon – Part 4:  Self Help Skills & Independence

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.