During the first years of life, babies and young children acquire the skills that are necessary for healthy growth and development, setting the stage for later success in school and life.
Some physical skills, such as gross and fine motor skills, happen in predictable ways as part of a child’s development. Other skills, particularly skills in managing emotions, are more usually acquired through learning and practice.
The healthy social and emotional development of babies and young children depends upon their ability to manage their feelings, develop trust with others, and learn about the world in which they live. Healthy social and emotional skills also help a child to initiate and maintain friendships.
Skills in listening, concentration, willingness to learn and persistence, help to prepare a child for success, even at the preschool level.
The importance of play
Play is crucial to a child’s development. Through play, a child learns about their world — how to do things, how to solve problems, work cooperatively, be creative, use their imagination, develop a variety of skills in language and logic, and how to share and take turns.
Play is vital to healthy growth and development. It is crucial to a child’s social, emotional, physical, intellectual and creative well-being. Through play children acquire life skills in their most basic form.
- freely chosen and directed by the child
- pleasurable and enjoyable
- done for its own sake
- actively involving the child
- developing and supporting a child’s interests, needs and abilities
- essential for the child to reach their potential.
To support play, the best gifts parents can give their children are not more and more toys. Rather, give uninterrupted time for play, opportunities to take risks within a safe place, a love and curiosity about nature, open spaces to enjoy physically active play, friends to play with, lots of conversations and new experiences to explore and share.
Enthusiasm for learning
Most children are eager to explore and discover their world. To inspire their initiative, curiosity and enthusiasm to learn, children need nurturing. A child raised in an environment where they have the opportunity to form close and trusting relationships with significant adults who help to build their self confidence and esteem, is significantly more likely to enjoy the process of learning.
- Set aside some time each day to help your preschooler investigate their world.
- Pose and answer questions.
- Demonstrate how things work.
- Experiment with cooking or gardening.
- Provide materials for cutting, pasting, and drawing.
- Go for short walks or a play in the park.
- Count the birds in your garden or shells on the beach.
- Help to put a model together.
- Watch documentaries with your child, or read books about how animals live.
Developing a vocabulary
Children develop key early literacy skills during the first five years of life. When children hear language, they learn language. Talk to your child, make time to listen, and encourage your child to talk and explain things to you. Children need a vocabulary to be able to explain and relate. Language, reading and writing skills develop simultaneously and are intimately linked, and one of the best predictors of later reading success is a well-developed oral vocabulary in kindergarten.
Reading to children is the one early childhood experience identified as making a difference in later success in school. As children are read to, they acquire an enormous amount of information about reading and the world of books. They learn what books are, what you do with them, and how you talk about them.
Reading builds the foundations for understanding features of written languages. Children learn that black marks on the page are letters and words, and that print is read in a certain direction. Gradually, children learn that print has a fixed meaning. And, they come to expect that books will be appealing, challenging, and comforting.
- Repeat words to your child in context and conversation.
- Tell stories or make up stories together.
- Sing songs, nursery rhymes, jingles.
- Use finger puppets for your child to tell the story.
- Keep up a running commentary when shopping or walking.
- Provide a dress up box.
- Read, read, read.
- Select television programs as listening and language tools.
- Look for books with bright colours and rhythmic text, or straight text that is simple but engaging.
The ability to listen is a key component in school success. Once at kindergarten and school, children are required to concentrate on what the teacher is saying, listen carefully for directions, and tune in to the sounds in letters and words.
Role modeling is one of the best ways to help teach kids skills in listening. Give a child your full attention when they want to talk to you, and encourage them to stand or sit, make eye contact and listen to you when you want to talk. Model patience and empathy and how to listen respectfully, without interrupting.
- Speak carefully and clearly to your child.
- Keep it interesting, funny, or to the point.
- Try rephrasing if the message doesn’t seem to be getting through.
- Try not to nag, talk down, talk back, interrupt or condescend.
- Ask your child to repeat what you’ve said, so you know they’ve understood.
- Keep instructions and directions concise and to the point.
- Avoid negatives and baby talk.
- Play games like Whispers, where a child is required to listen and memorise and then pass on what was said to the next person.
Children who are encouraged to be self-reliant and independent are more likely to feel confident to embrace new experiences. Everything about school is new to a young child, and if they possess a healthy self esteem and the ability to self-initiate, they are more likely to enjoy the learning process.
Friendships can teach children how to cope in different situations, and chores, hobbies and responsibilities help to encourage independence.
- Help your child with a project or task, but don’t do it for them.
- Explain how something is done and then leave the child to work it out.
- Let them learn from their mistakes.
- Encourage age-appropriate chores and responsibilities.
- Show your appreciation for a job they’ve done to the best of their ability.
- Model resilience and persistence.
- Let your child know that you expect them to be self-reliant and independent.
The ability to socialise is paramount to success in the school years. Naturally egocentric, most young children need encouragement to refine skills in sharing, taking turns, resolving conflict, problem solving and compromising.
Empathy doesn’t come naturally to a young child, and so helping them to understand that other children have feelings and recognising the difference between a sad face and a happy face, or that tears mean another child is upset, can help to nurture feelings of compassion and care.
- Encourage an emotional vocabulary.
- Talk about emotions such as happiness, sadness, disappointment and anger, and ask your child to tell you about how these emotions feel.
- Encourage and celebrate the concept of sharing.
- Help children to problem solve by asking them to come up with a solution.
- Promote opportunities for group play.