What does being ready for elementary school really mean? It used to mean starting the first day of school with all the supplies on the list, but now we know so much more about how young children's brains develop. More and more parents are aware of the positive effects of a high quality early childhood education for their child's success. This knowledge has also led to extra emphasis on acquiring academic skills. Experts suggest parents take a step back and look for programs with a balanced approach to school readiness.
"With young children, everything is connected: their minds, bodies and emotions; creativity, happiness, security and intellectual progress," says Dr. Robert Needlman, author and nationally acclaimed pediatrician. "A balanced approach to readiness celebrates this reality about children. It's our best hope for turning out students who can think, feel and act independently and effectively."
What is a Balanced Approach to Learning?
From birth through age five, development in all areas of the brain is rapid. Research suggests that the quality of interactions children experience during this essential time can have a far reaching effect on future learning and the formation of satisfactory relationships. It is true that early childhood education programs have become more learning-focused in light of the research on childhood brain development, but high quality programs take a broader perspective. The focus of a balanced early childhood education program should be on helping children develop physical, social-emotional, creative and academic skills.
Nurturing guidance and attention to every part of a child's development during this crucial stage helps children not only learn reading and math skills, but how to show compassion, independence, resilience and curiosity - all qualities that could be taken for granted, but that are taught and encouraged in a quality preschool setting.
"Children who are confident, self-regulating and able to relate to others will have a better experience transitioning to elementary school, regardless of their exact reading or math skill level," said Dr. Mary Zurn, vice president of education for Primrose Schools, a family of 220 private preschools across the country. "On the academic side, it is as important for children to be eager to learn, to ask questions and to be able to think as it is for them to know letter names and sounds and be able to solve mathematical problems."
When looking for an early childhood education program, research is the first step to selecting one that will provide your child with these lasting benefits. Dr. Zurn recommends looking for these five key factors in a preschool:
1. Focus on mastering concepts, not just memorization: Look for a preschool that teaches children to love learning. They develop an understanding of concepts through hands-on activities, play and by expressing what they have learned to others.
2. Physical Activity: P.E. or even recess can often get cut from public programs, but being physically active is key to curbing childhood obesity and to forming positive life skills. Purposeful instruction in motor skills and outdoor play are both part of a well-rounded preschool education.
3. Music: Did you know that early exposure to music not only enhances a child's ability to create and enjoy music, but also fosters other aspects of brain development? Early exposure to music can improve IQ scores, motor coordination and social skills. Research shows that music potential needs to be nurtured with song, dance and play before age five or it is not likely to develop. An early childhood education music program supports the development of your child's sense of rhythm, pitch, melody and motor coordination, all while having fun.
4. Character Development: Look for programs that intentionally and consistently teach your child to be honest, kind, compassionate and respectful. Social-emotional development during preschool is key to a successful transition to elementary school and lifelong healthy relationships.
5. Parent Resources: Finally, it's important to remember that learning does not stop outside the classroom - your interactions with your child at home are equally important. Consider the resources, tips and tools that a school can offer parents. Frequent communication with your child's teacher can give you insight into how your child is advancing and help you reinforce balanced learning at home.
Choosing a Preschool
Dr. Joanne Nurss, professor emeritus of educational psychology at Georgia State University in Atlanta and former director of the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy, has conducted extensive research and published numerous articles in the field of children's literacy development. Dr. Nurss encourages parents to look for high-quality early childhood education programs with the following criteria:
- Physical Development: Is indoor and outdoor physical activity part of the daily schedule? With childhood obesity on the rise and research that shows that movement plays a role in early brain development, daily exercise such as running, stretching or even dance should be a part of the curriculum.
- Social-Emotional Development: Does the curriculum include programs specifically designed to nurture your child's social and emotional development? Look for programs that promote an understanding of concepts like friendship, generosity and honesty.
- Creative Development: Are enrichment programs such as art and music woven into the day's activities? Young children naturally engage in creative activity in their day-to-day thinking, but ongoing enrichment activities lay the foundation for later creative skills.
- Academic Development: Does the classroom teaching method go beyond basic memorization to encourage concept mastery? Academic success is not just about fact memorization. Learning how to think critically, use mathematical concepts and expand listening, speaking, reading and writing skills will help your child develop a love of learning.
Finding the right day-care center requires a balance of many practical issues: location, cost, hours of operation. And you of course also want a nurturing staff. "But bottom line, your child's health and safety is what matters the most," says Patricia Skinner, executive director of the Capital District Child Care Council, a resource and referral agency serving six counties in the Albany, N.Y., region. "After all, it doesn't matter how stellar the caregiver's interactions are if there's broken glass on the playground," she says. Jump to full text of this article.
Kids love summer vacation, but parents often find it difficult to keep them engaged in productive activities. And most kids experience a summer learning slump during their time away from school. According to the National Summer Learning Association, at best, students show little or no academic growth over the summer, and at worst they lose one to three months of learning.
It's possible to give kids a fun way to keep up with learning by providing engaging books that feature hands-on activities. Three new books from DK Publishing will help kids of all ages fill their summer with science fun.
"One Million Things: Space" (July 2010). Perfect for backyard sleepovers and camping trips, this book serves up imagery and information about all things cosmic: from planets, moons, and comets, to black holes, nebulae, distant solar systems and more. Young readers won't be able to wait until sunset to start exploring. Elementary-aged kids will:
* Learn about spherical and irregular asteroids by playing a computer game.
* Find out about volcanoes in the solar system by comparing them to firecrackers.
* Explore the universe with stunning photographic galleries.
"I'm a Scientist: Backyard" (July 2010). Part of a new series for younger readers, this book introduces kids to the world of science with a wealth of outdoor experiments. With clear, step-by-step instructions, the book is full of bite-sized experiments that help children absorb science easily. Preschoolers and early elementary students will learn how to:
* Make a sun dial and tell time using the position of the sun.
* Find out a tree's age and then measure its height with just a stick and a piece of string.
* Learn about centrifugal force with a simple bucket of water.
"Big Idea Science Book" (July 2010). A comprehensive guide to key topics in science with a unique difference - an online component with 200 specially created digital assets that provide the opportunity for dynamic, hands-on, interactive learning. Older children can learn from video clips and interactive animations that take them:
* Inside plants.
* Around the human body.
* Deep below the surface of the earth.
Help kids flex their mental muscles during the summer with exciting projects and experiments that make learning fun. For more on these and other summer learning books, visit DK.com.
Kids think that playing "supermarket" and dress-up is fun; child development experts know it's much more than that. Pretend play is a learning experience for young children. It lets them explore the world around them and experiment with social and emotional roles. It also boosts problem-solving skills. So pick up a wand or sword, put on a cape and get into your child's fantasy world. Who knows, you might just have fun yourself!
Here are some new additions to old-fashioned make-believe games that you can enjoy together:
Teacher knows best If you plan on playing the role of teacher in this game, take a notebook and write out the entire make-believe school day, class by class, to mimic a typical academic schedule. Jump to full text of this article here.
Toddlers love to play with their pals, but as any parent who's refereed a preschool playdate knows, learning how to get along with each other isn't always fun and games. "Kids this age are the most energetic and impulsive that they're going to be their whole lives, and they have short attention spans," says Michele Borba, Ed. D., author of numerous parenting books, including Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me (Jossey-Bass). But this is the perfect time for tuned-in parents to teach toddlers the skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
"If you show them how to play, they'll have a model to copy," Borba says. Here's how you can lay the groundwork for future social success:
Do your advance work There's a lot you can do before a playdate starts to pave the way for a good time. Schedule a get-together for a couple of hours, tops, between your child and one friend -- with kids this young, three is often a crowd -- in the morning or after a nap, when they're feeling freshest. Jump to full text of this article here.
In the environment of openness and communication that is today's world it is strange that parents often have a knee-jerk reaction to their children's questions about sex. When my six-year old kid piped up from the back seat with, 'Mom, what is 'copulation?' I almost crashed the car! Having received my own sex education via the scare tactics of playground gossip I had vowed that things would be different for my own children. In this instance I resisted the temptation to say, 'Ask Dad,' and instead gave a simple and honest explanation. It really wasn't difficult as I had already dealt with, 'How does the baby get out of your tummy?' Teaching children about sex is no more difficult than telling them to wash behind their ears and neither should it be any more embarrassing.
Why is it important to teach children about sex?
Every parent has different morals and religious beliefs but, regardless of these, it is vital that our children learn from us and not from peers, television, pornography, or predators. Studies have shown that children whose parents are open and honest about sex and intimacy are less inclined to become sexually active at a young age and, when they eventually do feel that the time is right, they are more apt to practice safe sex.
What is the best age to start talking to children about sex?
Starting early makes it a more natural process and prevents the subject from becoming embarrassing as the child gets older, but it is important to keep the information age specific. Sex education is not a one-off, sit-down lecture, but an ongoing process of communication between parent and child.
Sex education for pre-school children
Using proper names for genitals is a good precursor for discussing sex and maturation. There is no harm in having pet names for genitals, just as with other body parts, but it is important that children are also familiar with proper terms and are not embarrassed with their use.
At age three to four young children often start to ask questions such as, 'How does the baby get into Mommy's tummy?' This is no time for fairy-tales about storks and gooseberry bushes but neither should it turn into Sex and Reproduction 101. The child will usually be satisfied with something like, 'Daddy has a seed inside him and Mommy has an egg inside her, and when the seed and egg meet they grow into a baby.' At some stage in the not too distant future your child will ask how rendezvous of seed and egg takes place and this is the time to give a little more information. If you still feel uncomfortable you can always say to your kid, 'That's a good question! Let's go to the library tomorrow and check out a book that we can read together.'
Talking to older little kids
Leaving sex education till your children are teenagers may be a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. Puberty can start as early as eight-years of age so it is important that kids know in advance what to expect regarding physical changes. Usually a child's natural curiosity will lead them to ask questions but if this doesn't happen it is important that you take the lead and introduce these subjects into everyday life.
Sanitary protection and contraceptives stored openly in the bathroom will often prompt questions as to their uses and this can lead onto further discussions about growing up and sexual maturity. When my six-year old emerged from the bathroom with tampons dangling from his ears I quickly covered my embarrassment and seized the teaching moment. These sorts of incidents are also invaluable in introducing such subjects as private and public behavior, wanted and unwanted touching, and nudity and appropriate dress.
Big kids and teens
By the time your children get to this stage sex, reproduction, and growing up should be no mystery to them. All the important issues should have been addressed from the difference between boys and girls, to protection against unwanted pregnancy and STDs.
At this stage it is natural for older kids to have a greater desire for privacy and a hesitancy to talk to their parents about sex. However, by nurturing open and honest communication while they are young you will have minimized any shutting down on their part and also reassured yourself that, having all the facts, they are less likely to make mistakes.
Dealt with properly, sex education will not only help your kid become well-informed about important issues, but can also be a vehicle to help nurture the relationship between parent and child. So take a deep breath, talk to your child, and enjoy the wonderful journey of helping your child learn about life and love.
The screaming child in the shopping cart grabs at the candy while his frazzled mother tries to unload the groceries at the checkout. Before she has the chance to react he rips off the wrapper and proceeds to cram the chocolate into his mouth. Does this sound all too familiar? Have you ever asked yourself the question, 'Is My Kid Spoiled?' Well, you are not alone. According to a recent study* 94% of parents believe that American children are spoiled. Deciding if your little angel is, in fact, a little devil is not rocket science. Thankfully, neither is the solution.
Asking yourself these simple questions will solve the mystery for you.
•On shopping trips, do your children always demand candy or a toy?
•Does your child throw a tantrum when asked to do a chore or task?
•Is bedtime a battleground?
If any or all of these scenarios is true in your family then, I'm afraid the answer is a resounding YES! Momma, you have one spoiled kid on your hands! That's the bad news. The good news is that changing this behavior does not require the use of a magic wand. To help them feel safe kids need rules and boundaries. And, because we love our children, we want them to feel safe, too. If you have asked yourself the question, 'Is My Kid Spoiled', and you've ticked at least one of the boxes now is the time to do something about it.
As the mother of the chocolate-guzzling terror what should I do? The fact that the candy is already unwrapped is not an excuse to let the child have his way. Mom should calmly take the bar away from him, tell him that she is going to pay for it, and then drop it in the trashcan. Believe me, this works! Yes, the kid will probably bawl for a few minutes but he will soon get over it. The added bonus is that the mother will have gained some respect from the store staff!
Whether tidy-up, homework, or bedtime, she refuses to do what I ask her. Well, yes, she is a bit of a princess but this is nothing a few routines won't fix. Give her five minutes notice that she will soon have to put her toys away. This will help her mind go from play mode to put-away mode. Likewise, with homework and bedtime, advanced warning helps kids shift gear and prepare for the next task. If she still refuses to do as she is asked then there is always time-out! Children should remain on the designated spot for one minute per year of their life. Three minutes for a three-year old really does seem like an eternity. If she tries to get away from the time-out spot just put her back on, without engaging in conversation, argument, or cajoling. She will be determined to get your attention, one way or the other, but you can be even more determined. Remember, this is a child you are dealing with! You are older, and bigger, and stronger, and you will win in the end. Be patient but firm.
Is bedtime a battle? A good bedtime routine will go a long way to helping your child settle down. A warm bath helps him to relax and is a good signal that it is almost time for sleep. A bedtime story is essential for many reasons. Story time is a great opportunity for parents to spend some one-on-one time with their child. It creates a feeling of love and intimacy between parent and child. It also stimulates an interest in reading, which is of paramount importance in the overall education of children. And, a story will help kids wind down and relax after their very busy, very active day.
Ignore excuses of hunger, thirst, or a sore tummy. If all is obviously well then it is important, just as with time-out, that you put him back to bed without engaging. Should you have to repeat the process ninety-nine times on the first couple of nights it will definitely pay off in the end. He will get the message and a good night's sleep, and you will have a restful evening of 'me' time. What more could a mom ask for at the end of a long day?
Parenting is the hardest job in the world, but it really is the most rewarding. With a bit of consistency and determination you can turn the time you spend with your children into the best part of your day.
* "94% of Parents Polled Say Today's Kids Are Spoiled, But 55% Say Their Own Kids Are Part of Problem:" Cookie Magazine/AOL Survey, 2007.