Let’s Get Dirty

Last night we were at a neighborhood bar-b-que and the children were running around enjoying being outdoors without adult intervention.

As we were watching the joy of these children, maybe even wishing we could join in, a woman pointed and said, “Look at those boys. They’re are throwing dirt in the air. Why do boys do that?” The truth is girls will do it as well.Girl Shoveling Dirt

While at playgroup at the park, I’ve seen mothers quickly stop such “dirty” play. Rushing in with the anti-bacterial wipe to clean everyone up. In the last ten years, cleanliness has become an obsession.

Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against clean. I do think, though, that getting dirty is healthy for children and adults. Finally the word is getting out that there are others who share my belief.

David P. Strachan wrote in the British Medical Journal in 1989 about the lack of exposure to certain infectious agents might be the cause of hay fever, allergies, and eczema. Since that time other research has been done which reaches similar conclusions. (See Hygiene Hypothesis  and Science Daily.)

Maybe the answer to why children enjoy getting dirty lies in the idea that somehow they know dirt is good for them.

  • Where was your favorite dirt pile when you were a child?
  • Do you play in the sandbox with your children?

Socialization Skills

Last night we took our five-year-old granddaughter to a public meeting with us. We left early, but not because she wasA meeting misbehaving. It was past her bedtime; time to go.

We took a couple of quiet things to entertain her, and she went outside one time with her Papa. She was quiet, sat in her chair, and generally impressed the adults in the room. What would happen if you took your five-year-old to a meeting like that?

This little girl lived with us until about a year ago, when she was four and a half. We had the opportunity to build a foundation of character. Those early learning years are so important so a child’s character.

The key to this foundation that has stuck is consistency. She was, and still is, required to be polite and considerate at home, at friend’s homes, or in public. We have tried to teach her to think of other people before herself. It’s an ongoing process.

Don’t think that she’s a robot or perfect. Right now, she’s playing a video game. When appropriate, she’ll play with friends rather than sit with the adults. And occasionally she whines when having to wait. After all she is human.

I’m glad we used the time when learning is at its prime to impress character qualities rather than focusing on alphabet or numbers. Those she is learning on the way. Character and social skills will serve her better than being an early reader.

What do you think is the most important thing to teach your preschooler?

Play: Key to College Success

The other day my cat was stuck in a tree. He had no idea how to get out. How does that happen? He didn’t get to play in trees when he was a kitten.

We lived in coyote country. Not just a few howls at night, I mean where coyotes wandered through the property during the day. We didn’t want our cat to be “coyote bait.” So he didn’t go outside and play in trees, thus he didn’t learn the techniques needed to get down.

Now that a generation of students who went to the academic preschools are reaching college, we’re learning that they missedPreschooler at playimportant adult skills because they didn’t get a chance to play or play was highly directed.

Erika Christakis and her husband Nicholas wrote in a December 2010 article for CNN Opinion that

Through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment. By allowing children to imagine walking in another person’s shoes, imaginative play also seeds the development of empathy, a key ingredient for intellectual and social-emotional success.

(Other thoughts on the topic: “Preschool Play Could Affect College Success.”)

In other words, children learn to think about others, a skill necessary for later success in college and in business.

We have become so obsessed with academic performance, from two years old to twenty years old, that we forget the important performance—relating to other people. If you don’t want you child to become stuck in the tree, allow plenty of time for imaginative free play.

What is your child’s favorite play activity? Do you join in?

Can Math Skills Be Fun?

Yesterday I read an article that implied that four- or five-year-old children should begin memorizing math facts by using flash cards. The writer’s thesis was math is easier later on when a child knows the basic math facts. I don’t disagree.

one plus one equals threeThe idea, though, that young children should be subjected to drill and kill methods to learn them disturbs me. Isn’t there a better way?

Let’s start with the premise that preschoolers need to start memorizing math facts. To make such a blanket statement assumes that all four- and five-year-olds are ready to learn the math facts. I contend that before learning, there must be some interest in the subject. Also before learning the addition and subtraction facts, a foundation of what the process means is needed.

I remember having to memorize the “Quality of Mercy” speech from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. It was an excruciating experience. Why? I didn’t care, had no interest in memorizing that speech. I’ve memorized lengthy passages of Bible verses and long poems because I care about those.

The same is true of our little ones. If your preschooler doesn’t care that two plus two equals four or why it does, it will be an awful experience to be forced to spend time memorizing “useless” information (useless in the child’s eyes). What could squelch excitement for learning more?

The other concern I have is the flashcard/drill method of learning. Well, it’s not really learning. It is training to parrot information for a reward, and that reward has nothing to do with a desire to know. Without a foundation of the addition and subtraction processes, the memorized facts are meaningless.

A child who has learned facts without a basis for them will not know why two plus two equals four. This poor kiddo, when asked, will be befuddled to explain that if you have two grapes and I have two grapes, when we put them in a pile together we have four grapes.

Isn’t there a better way? I think so. Here are some ideas to encourage learning math facts. All of these can be done in the context of play, not sitting at the table doing school.

  • Help your child make the connection between the number of objects and the numerals.  Read counting books together pointing out the numeral. Use blocks with letters and numbers on them, point to a numeral, and ask you child to pile up that many blocks.
  • At the grocery store, pick up one can, ask your child to pick up one can (use those word, “one can”), then state “one can plus one can equals two cans.” Then move on.. If your child wants to continue, do so. Don’t spoil the fun by doing this with every item on the shopping list. If there is interest, it won’t be long before your child will be telling you “one can plus two cans equals three cans.”
  • One day at a fast food restaurant, my granddaughter was eating her French fries and I casually said, “You just ate a French fry, now you have three left over.” This piqued her interest and she asked what happens if she eats another. I told her that she has three French fries and if she eats one, she’d have two left over. Soon I was asking her how many she would have left.

What informal way do you lay the foundation for learning math facts?

A Play Garden

Eighteen-month-old James begins the day with a smile. Even before breakfast, he is exploring his world. Never has he rolledJames Playingover, reached for the snooze button, complaining that he just doesn’t want to play that day.

An environment that encourages learning is an environment of play. It also has a variety of materials. But variety doesn’t mean many choices, as few as three things can be assortment enough for a preschooler. How many times does the number of toys to choose from overwhelm a four-year-old? When that happens, play stops and so does learning.

Children can learn from a box of crayons with only the basic colors. When you add paints, markers, and pencils, you may add confusion.

Having just a few toys in a child’s play garden is also orderly. A child needs little help to find what is needed. When order exist, it is easier for to put away toys. This is the beginning of the discipline of caring for one’s possession.

Here are some ideas for your child’s play garden of learning.

  • Simple toys. Expense learning equipment or fancy curriculums aren’t necessary. Simple toys are dolls, blocks, crayons, or puzzles.
  • Books. Children will follow your reading example when there are books on a low shelf within easy reach.
  • Outdoors. While not a toy, it’s important for children to play outdoors. They can watch grass grow, follow a ladybug, or just play in the dirt.

What is in your child’s play garden?

Preschool Socialization

It’s no surprise that the most recent Head Start impact study shows no significant academic gains at the end of first grade for children who attended the government financed programs and those who did not. These findings have been consistent since the inception of Head Start, in spite of the purpose of the program being to promote school readiness.

What may come as a surprise to many is the impact study also reports that four-year-olds in the Head Start group were reported to have “socially reticent behavior (shy and hesitant behavior).” I conclude that group activities do not produce the social growth that many have been led to believe.

Parent and child walkingThrough their own studies and the work of others, Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore concluded that children are “better socialized by parental example and sharing than by other little children.”

I agree with that conclusion based on my own experience. As a young mother wanting to provide the best for my first child, my daughter went to a two-hour preschool coop twice a week at age four. She went on to traditional classroom for the next three years, after which we began to homeschool. Our sons were never in those situations. As an adult, we see that our daughter is more peer conscience and more concerned about what others think of her than our sons are.

Socialization is better caught than taught. Take your young children everywhere possible, and they will watch and learn good skills from you.

What do you do to help your preschooler learn social skills?

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