As kids make the transition from toddlerhood to childhood, they grow at a remarkable rate. Their cognitive and language skills develop dramatically during these years, as they transition from simple "why?" questions to enjoying jokes, riddles, and telling stories that follow a sequential order. During these years, children also have rich imaginations, strong fears, and love to play, so it's important to employ educational strategies that are both adapted to their current developmental stage while also challenging them to grow. Whatever your role in a child's life (teacher, parent, or other caregiver), you can make learning productive and enjoyable for both of you.
EditTalking With Children
- Ask open-ended questions. Because children are developing foundational language skills during this time period, it's important to engage them in communication as much as possible. Asking questions is a great way to converse with your child while encouraging them to think about the world around them. But make sure to use "open" questions that lend themselves to more conversation.
- Examples of open questions are: "Why do you think that happened?" or "What do you think is going on?"
- You can also make "open" statements that will stimulate discussion: "Tell me more about your idea!"
- You can find great resources online that give lists of other sample open questions: http://www.decal.ga.gov/documents/attachments/Questions_Children_Think.pdf
- Closed questions typically lend themselves to one word answers. Asking, "are you happy or sad," can be answered with a single word. Yes/no questions also fall into this category.
- Closed questions can be informative, but you want to ensure that you are also asking open questions that will get children talking.
- Listen to children and answer their questions. Children will naturally come up with questions while learning something new. Take time to listen to their questions and encourage them to think of an answer to their own questions. This can stimulate their cognitive development by wondering aloud with you. Once you've supported your child to think of an answer to her own question, you can also try to formulate the best answer you can think of that directly answers their question."
- Sometimes you might have to ask if you understand their question correctly. You can find out by rephrasing it and saying, "Is that what you're asking?" After you answer, you can ask, "Did that answer your question?"
- If your child asks questions at times that aren't good for you, be sure to explain to tell them why it's not a good time. Be sure to say, "I really want to hear about that (or talk about that), but right now isn't a good time. Can we talk during dinner (or at another specified time)?
- Read aloud to your children. Reading to children is the single most important activity for language development and for laying the groundwork for later literacy. It builds sound-symbol awareness, which is an important factor that influences a child's later ability to learn to read. It also builds motivation, curiosity, memory, and of course, vocabulary. When children have positive experiences with books at a very early age, they are much more likely to enjoy books, see themselves as readers, and have a strong foundation in literacy.
- Find books with pictures for the younger ages (3-6) and allow children to stop and ask questions or talk about the book during your reading times.
- Seek out a diverse array of books that both reflect your child's own life, experiences, and culture and expose them to different ones as well. There are numerous excellent book lists online.
- Keep a variety of age- and interest- appropriate books around the house or the classroom to foster children's independent reading. Ask children what they like to read and make those types of books available.
- Continue reading aloud to older children. They never really become too old for it! Before bed time each night or at the end of the school day are great times for this activity.
- A great way to bring stories to life and interact with older children, ages 6-9, is to use Reader's Theatre scripts, which you can find online: http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/readers_theater
- Speak in a kind and respectful manner. It's important to talk to children in the way you would like children to talk. Kids learn best by imitating. If you want your children to be polite, practice good manners yourself and pay attention to the tone of your voice.
- Be sure to say, "please," "thank you," "excuse me," and "I'm sorry" when interacting with your children or when talking to other adults in front of them.
- Imagine the tone of your voice through the child's ears. Children often pay more attention to tone than they do to what you're actually saying. Have you ever had a child say to you, "Why are you yelling at me?" when you weren't actually yelling? Your tone may sound angry or frustrated without you realizing it.
- Discuss emotions with your child. Children have very strong emotions. Even if their emotions don't seem important to you, never downplay how they feel. Instead, talk with them to help them make sense of how they're feeling.
- You can start by saying, "I understand this is upsetting to you. Let's talk about why you're upset."
- Then try to calm them down by helping them learn ways to cope with feeling upset, or explaining other points of view.
EditTeaching through Play and Example
- Play pretend games with your children. Playing house or other types of fantasy play is very important for children's imaginations as well as their social, emotional, and language development. They will love nothing more than to have you enter into their little fantasy world. Pretending with kids is a great chance to let them take the initiative.
- Mimic their activities occasionally. If a child picks up a stone and zooms it around like a car, pick up another rock and do the same. Chances are they will be delighted.
- The pretend play of 3-6 year olds can be very elaborate, with its own roles and rules. When entering a child's pretend play, start by asking them what's going on: "What are we playing?", "Who are you in this game?" "What role should I play"? You will be amazed at how your child will direct you and allow you to join their fun game.
- Keep a "prop box" for pretend play in the house or classroom that is filled with empty boxes, old clothes and hats, purses, telephones, magazines, (non-breakable) cooking utensils and dishes, stuffed animals and dolls, fabric pieces or blankets and sheets (for fort-making), and other random items like post cards, old tickets, coins, etc.
- Do art projects together. Coloring, drawing, and crafts are not only a great way to keep children entertained on a rainy day, but they also help develop children's fine motor skills, express themselves artistically, and help them see and explore the different properties of art materials like glue, paint, clay, watercolors, and markers.
- For younger kids, try making finger puppets, pasta jewelry, or felt collages together.
- Older kids often enjoy more focused projects like magazine collages, making pottery, and making masks.
- Have an "art center" at home or in the classroom where you keep paper, markers, crayons, colored pencils, scissors, glue, and other art materials like felt, foam, pipe cleaners, tissue paper, etc.
- Make sure to keep the experience open ended as much as possible: You provide the materials and let the child's imagination take it away!
- Try to join in the art-making whenever you can in order to build a connection with your child.
- Sing songs and play music. Music has long been linked with the development of mathematical thinking. Hearing rhythm and counting beats supports the development of math skills, and hearing words put to song also fosters language skills. Listening to and playing music can also support a child's physical development: they can dance, rock, shimmy and jump (large motor skills), as well as press, pick, strum and tap (fine motor skills).
- Sing nursery rhymes to young children. They will love the silly nature and repetition of them, and will learn to sing them along with you.
- Find popular children's songs on the internet and play them around the house or as a transition time in the classroom.
- Older children (7-9) may develop a particular interest in an instrument or in singing or dancing. If they do, try fostering this interest with a beginner's instrument of their own, or in lessons with a music (or vocal or dance) instructor.
- Play sports together. Even if you're not the most athletic caregiver in the world, exposing children to sports and playing with them is important for their physical development and motor skills. Participation in sports also teaches honesty, teamwork, fair play, respect for rules, and respect for themselves and others.
- For 3-4 year olds, introduce: soft balls of various sizes or soccer balls.
- 5-6 year olds can try: volley balls, tennis balls, or ping pong balls.
- Choose a sport or two you'll play sometimes with your children and get the necessary things together for playing. For example, get a basketball and find some local courts you can go to, or get a baseball, gloves, and a bat and try organizing a neighborhood game.
- If you're a classroom teacher, support your students' interests in sports by providing sport equipment for recess, asking about their games, and going to see them participate in school or local sport events.
- Bring your children along on errands. Exposing children to errands can help them develop "real-life" skills in a fun way. Explain what you have to do for different errands in a way the children can understand. Talking with children stimulates their brains and encourages them to observe and to be curious.
- Make sure you use rich, descriptive language while you're out and about. Share facts about items or places you're visiting. Tell a story about when you were little and visited a similar place. Or explain how something works at a post office or where food comes from when at the grocery store.
- Make sure to select time and age appropriate errands, so your kids don't get too tired.
- Set expectations for behavior during errands. Use positive language and reinforcement like "You are so helpful to me when you pick out just the cereal I ask for! Thank you." Saying something along these lines communicates what you want (them to help when asked) as well as what you don't want (them to pick items off the shelves without permission.)
- Remember to slow down. You won't get errands done as quickly with children as you would without them and that's okay. Use the time as an educational experience for them.
- Ask for their help. Young children naturally love to help. It makes them feel important and valued by you. Foster this feeling into their older years by asking them to help you with various chores. Gradually, through watching and imitating you, they will learn to take over certain chores themselves and develop a sense of responsibility.
- Ask your preschooler to help you pick up their toys and put them away in the appropriate places. Give positive reinforcement that's specific, such as "I like the way you put the broom back into the right spot in the corner."
- Begin giving older children (7-9) actual chores for them to complete on their own. Give a small allowance in exchange for completing chores well and without complaining. Advise them to save allowance.
- If you're in a classroom, develop a rotating system of class jobs for students to complete. For younger children, jobs can include the "door holder" or the "pencil sharpener". Making a simple chart of each job written in a word, along with a picture cue, along with the children's names can help develop a sense of responsibility as well as support literacy development.
- Demonstrate patience when spending time together. Patience is an extremely important quality to have while working with children. Learning happens best when there is a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.
- When you spend lots of time with kids in any capacity, it's important to take care of yourself too.
- Get enough sleep, drink enough water, exercise and eat a healthy diet, and allow yourself some occasional breaks away from them to regroup and gather your thoughts.
- Break new information down into small chunks. When you're teaching something new to a child, you need to remember that what they know is at a different level than an adult level. You'll need to simplify ideas and start with what they already know. Teachers often refer to these methods of simplifying and building on prior knowledge as chunking and scaffolding.
- Find out what the child already knows about the new concept and go from there. If you're teaching new words, use words the child already knows to define the new words. If you use a certain word while explaining and you're not sure if the child knows it, it's okay to ask, "Do you know what that means?" If not, use another word to clarify.
- Review material often. You will probably need to say the same things in different ways multiple times while teaching children, especially if you're working with more than one child at a time. All children learn at different rates and in different styles, so you should anticipate repeating yourself and practicing some skills over and over again.
- Use visual aids and tactile aids whenever possible. Between the ages of 3 and 9, children learn best when material is presented in a concrete way that allows them to process it with multiple senses. Pictures and charts are helpful in providing children with multiple ways of learning new information.
- Graphic organizers are specific tools often used in classes for young children that help them to break up (chunk) information into smaller parts. They can use them to organize information into a variety of ways, like sequencing or cause and effect for stories, or categorizing for learning new science terms.
- Tactile materials such as beads or rods for counting also help children process information at this stage of development.
- Entertain Kids
- Encourage Your Child to Love Learning
- Inspire Creativity in Your Kids
- Be a Good Parent
- Make Letters of the English Alphabet
EditSources and Citations
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