Has it ever happened when you’re talking to your child’s teacher, they are telling you something wonderful that happened during the day, or something they have been working on with your child, and the teacher uses some terminology that is new to you? Creating a common ground between parents and teachers, especially with communication, is essential to a successful classroom experience for any child, and their family! For my introductory post, I want to de-mystify some commonly used teacher jargon to help facilitate communication between the classroom and the home-front:
*Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP): Teaching strategies that are based on scientific understanding of how young children develop and learn, what makes each child unique, and the child’s community and family culture and home language. When we use DAP activities in the classroom, they aren’t too easy for the children, nor too challenging, but just right! For instance, in most cases it is developmentally appropriate to introduce a 4-year-old to the letters in his name, with the expectation that over time he will learn to write his name on his own. On the other hand, it is not developmentally appropriate to ask 4-year-olds to write letters over and over again on worksheets. Worksheets limit the child to tedious fine-motor practice related around an abstract concept. Whilst on their own, a worksheet isn’t going to make-or-break your child’s ability to learn how to write, the goal for teachers is for us to find more hands-on relatable ways for your child to experience the joy of creating letters!
*Cognitive development: Children’s developing knowledge, skills, and dispositions, which help them to think about and understand the world around them. This the variety of processes through which your child remembers situations, applies knowledge to make current and future decisions, and solve problems in their environment. We can help strengthen a child’s cognitive development by asking them questions when faced with a problem (What can we do to get the bike unstuck? Is there a different way you can build your tower so it won’t fall down again?) or by playing games that test their memory (I like to sing familiar songs, such as Old MacDonald, switch up one or two words, and see if they’ll catch it!) Another activity you can do at home (or in a restaurant/on the road) is place five items in front of your child, have them close their eyes, take one away, and see if they can recognise which one is missing! Children as young as 2.5 years can enjoy this game, and as they grow older and more adept at the game, you can add more items.
*Language Acquisition: The process through which your child develops the ability the understand and manipulate language, both by comprehending the language and learning to use words/sentences to communicate. Children can acquire language in multiple languages at one time! Children love to play with language, and because words, letters, and sounds are prevalent in nearly every environment, helping their language acquisition grow can be fun and easy: one of my go-to games is playing I-Spy; depending on the age group I’m playing with, I can adapt the clues to make the game accessible but also fun! For instance, if I were playing with a group of 2 year olds, I would tell them I spied something purple, and then give them more hints that described the item: it’s round, we kick it, you can pick it up with your hands, etc. Children that have shown an awareness of letter sounds can play the game with you spying something that starts with a certain sound: ‘I spy something that starts with an ‘S’ sound.’
*Fine Motor Skills/Fine Motor Development: Your child uses the smaller muscle groups in their body to complete everyday tasks. Tasks that strengthen their fingers and wrists are of particular importance in early childhood, as children strengthen muscles that will help them manipulate their cars, their writing instruments, their food…almost everything! Teachers and parents can help develop fine motor skills with fun, everyday activities such as cutting playdough with scissors, using tongs to put cotton balls in containers, or turning shaped blocks to fit in specific holes. I recently did an activity with my class that celebrated Chinese New Year- they enjoyed folding the paper over and over to make fans. This can be done with your children anytime you have paper! With littler ones, such as toddlers, you can help them work on their hand-eye coordination and strengthening those little hands by threading pipe-cleaners (available at Target, Wal-Mart, Michaels) through your pasta strainer at home!
I’ve only listed a few of the more common terms that I hear both myself and fellow teachers using. Our goals as teachers is to create a powerful team with the families that allows us to build our children into the best possible people they can be! If you hear your child’s teacher using a term that maybe you don’t quite get, please ask!