Before there were assembly lines, shopping malls, computers, and commuting, families chopped wood, raised vegetables, and built homesteads. Fathers and mothers performed these chores at home with their children at their sides, and the children learned their familial and societal roles. Presently, fathers and mothers spend much less time at home than in the past, and a great deal of early childhood education is now left to child care providers and preschool teachers. So what role do you play in the early education of your child?
The Role of Parents
There are numerous factors involved in the learning process. Some are determined by a child’s inborn temperament and gender, but the most important factor is your relationship with your child. Knowing and understanding your child will lead you to follow her interests and nurture her curiosity. Keep in mind that education includes everything that enters your child’s brain, everything her senses encounter, and her every experience. For an infant, toddler, or preschool-age child, the exposure to everyday, ordinary life is more meaningful than any formal program. As a parent, you interpret and filter the world for your child, answer her questions, impart your values, and enrich her mind. Even the most mundane event such as going shopping, cooking meals, and going for walks can be expanded into a learning experience.
The Role of Child Care Programs
How do children’s programs fit into the education of young children? A preschool program that starts children at about 30 months, lasts several hours per session, provides an experienced, mature teacher, and focuses on social interaction and conflict resolution will prepare your child for success in school, but even more importantly, the child care experience teaches your child how to get along with other children in a group. A child can only learn how to be with other children by being with other children. It is not likely that you will fight with your child over a toy, cry if your child hits you, or push your child aside to get a certain seat at the table; other children will. Being with other children teaches them how to solve social problems and resolve conflicts, which are important skills for children to learn before entering kindergarten.
Here are some more ways to be involved in your child’s education and learning.
1. Set a good example. Show delight in ordinary things and point out details such as the petals of a flower, the design on your child’s shirt, or the shape of clouds floating overhead. Your enthusiasm for the world will foster a love of learning in your child.
2. Provide your child with sensory experiences. Encourage your child to sift, pour, and explore by filling a tub with water and adding bubble soap, plastic measuring cups, and other interesting containers. Or fill a tub with kosher rock salt, colored rice or beans, corn grits, scoops, funnels, and plastic containers. Be sure to have a towel on hand for wiping up any mess, and supervise your child closely to keep these materials out of his mouth.
3. Buy toys that have multiple uses. Children need challenges in order to advance their learning capacity. An educational toy should be complex but not frustrating, and interesting but not trendy.
4. Keep a supply of creative materials. Paper, crayons, washable markers and paint, play dough, and collage materials encourage children to express their creativity. When participating in creative activities with your child, try to avoid making models. Each creation should be a child’s own. Comment on his creations with specific statements such as, “I see that you like green today” or “Wow, look at those swirls, dots, etc.”
5. Read to your child every day. Read books at your child’s level, but also choose books that will extend your child’s reading ability to the next level. Read a book yourself before buying it or checking it out from the library to ensure that it is appropriate for your child. Too many children’s books are tedious and boring, have hidden agendas, or advertise movies and TV shows without providing a real story.
6. Expose your child to music. Music encourages emotional expression, a sense of rhythm, language development, movement, balance, and so much more.
Eleanor Reynolds is the editor of The Best of the Problem-Solver: Articles for Parents and Teachers. For more information, call 800-989-7643 or visit her website at www.problemsolver.org. Reynolds is also the author of Guiding Young Children: A Problem-Solving Approach.