Sowing the Seeds of Friendship

Nuturing strong social skills in your child is an important aspect in helping them nurture a sense of self and find lasting friendships

I had an interesting chat with a parent of one of my students this past Friday afternoon; she has a little girl in my class and the conversation had turned to the different ways that children seem to follow each other. I am sure that many, if not all of you, have seen your child adapt their likes/dislikes to fit in with their classmates and their friends. Sometimes this can be endearing, sometimes it can be a challenge, and other times it can be alarming. I can tell you that one of the things I take to heart the most as an early childhood teacher is helping my little ones develop strong social skills. In this post, I want to touch on some of the more common behaviours I see crop up when preschoolers are navigating the social scene, the goals that are most beneficial for them to be working on, and ways we can help them through the highs and the lows of friendship.

The Nuts and Bolts of A Preschooler’s Friendship

Watching a child figuring out who they are is absolutely awesome. I have taught hundreds of children and I still get amazed when I see their little personalities really emerging in the classroom. Sometimes, however, I can see the social tactics that are emerging as well, and I don’t like those as much. Thankfully, I am in the perfect place to set them on the right track.

Children like to categorise things in their world around them; when things are labelled and put in compartments it helps them make sense of things. As they are figuring out ‘what works for me’ and ‘what doesn’t work for me’, these labels become more complex. As teachers and parents/families, we see these labels come into play with who they pick and chose as friends, their clothing choices, the colours/movies/things they like, etc. For instance:

  • I only like Rapunzel now. She has long hair, like me. That’s why I can only like her.
  • I used to play with John, but he didn’t wear red today. Zack and I wear red, it’s our favourite. So we don’t play with John anymore.
  • Pink isn’t for boys. Only girls can like pink.
  • Grey is an ugly colour, princesses don’t wear grey!
  • We don’t want to play with her, because we’re playing ponies, and there’s only 3 ponies. She’s too many ponies.
  • Mary is my friend and her mommy says the red part of the apple is yucky. I don’t want to eat the red part of the apple.

These are all actual quotes from students I’ve had throughout the years! A key to a happier preschooler, which will lead to a happier adult, is the ability to both enter play well and handle the disappointment when their attempts aren’t always successful. We want to help our kids be able to communicate with the friends they’re trying to play with, to be able to enter a game that’s already established successfully, and be able to cooperate with others when they aren’t able to get what they want.

Way to Help Friendship Skills Grow

We can’t dump too much abstract wisdom on our children; telling them that colours don’t really matter or that everybody can be friends are too far-fetched concepts for them to truly grasp. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use more concrete things to get their social skills growing!

  • I have found over and over again that the best thing I can do for the kids in my classroom is be aware of the things I model to them. How can I tell them the importance of talking nicely to their friends if I don’t talk nicely to them, even when I am really frustrated that the same child has been caught hitting for the umpteenth time that day? Children are naturally curious and they will eavesdrop when I am talking to a child about the wrong choices he/she made in my classroom. No matter how angry I may be, I have to show them I can be angry and still be respectful.
  • Help children become aware of others’ feelings– this is especially important for your toddlers. They are so egocentric at this stage in their life, they are physically incapable of understanding the world outside of their own lens. If they get into a disagreement with their friends, talk them through what’s going on: ‘Jessica, John is unhappy because you took the crayon he was using.’ Make sure this applies to positive feelings as well: ‘Look at how happy Sally is playing with you in the sandbox!’
  • Let’s Cooperate! With my older preschoolers, I’ll often see a scenario like: Tom and James are building in the sandbox. Everything is going well until Tom decides he can’t wait for James to be done with the digger. He grabs it from him. James screams ‘Heeeeeeeey!’ and grabs back at him. Everything disintegrates and both of them run to me yelling about how one took the other’s digger. I like to take them back to the sandbox, ask them each to tell me their own version of what happened, and then paraphrase back to them what I am hearing to be the problem. Then I ask them: ‘How can we fix this?’ This is a great problem solving question and it helps them understand that they need to solve their social issues together; I am not going to fight their battles for them (although I will be watching, even if they don’t realise that!) Some children need prompting with solutions at first, but the goal is to help them understand how they can work together and overcome an issue on their own, allowing their play to flow freely.
  • Helping them get into the (already established) game– One of the things I hate hearing is that little voice say to me ‘Miss Jaide, I don’t have a friend’ or ‘Miss Jaide, nobody wants to play with me’. Many times, the child that is telling me will have a habit of lingering on the sidelines of games he/she wants to get involved in, but doesn’t really know how. Forcing this child onto the already playing children with statements like ‘Girls, you need to let Susan play with you’ will only breed resentment for Susan and resentment for me. The better way for me to handle it is for me to say something like: ‘Hey girls, I see you have built an awesome house here in the block area. Susan is looking for somewhere to play, and it seems that you could use another person to help you build. Can you please show her how she can help you work on your house?’

I don’t expect all my children in my classroom to be friends and that’s fine. But they can act friendly and always treat each other with respect. When I hear hurtful things coming from one to another such as ‘You’re not my friend anymore!’ or the grand-daddy of insults ‘You can’t come to my birthday party!’ I will cut off things like that at the source. Saying things to hurt someone’s feelings is never acceptable, and for a preschool age child, it is usually because they are unable to correctly assess why they are upset, or they have reached a limit with their communication and pulled the ultimatum. I like to get conversation going with my kids, asking them why they said those things, why they’re angry, telling them it’s okay to be angry and offering them the right words to say so. I also like to tell children that sometimes, it’s okay to not play with a particular friend, especially if that friend are having a rough day and making you feel badly! I explain this with things like: ‘I know it upset you that Sarah said you can’t be her friend. But I don’t think it’s a good idea that you are trying to be Sarah’s friend right now anyway, because she is making you feel bad. Let’s go find a friend you can have fun with, and Sarah can be friends with you when she is ready to treat you nicely.’

I know this ended up being a bit on the longish side, but it was an important topic! I still haven’t said enough, but it sure is a good jump-off point. Looking forward to hearing any thoughts you have on how your children socialise.

Miss Jaide

What Is Week of the Young Child, Anyway?

The Week of the Young Child is upon us again! My center is one of 1000s that takes part. But what does that even mean?

All this week, my preschool is one of the thousands across the nation that is celebrating The Week of the Young Child (WOYC). For many parents, you may have received flyers and seen posters that have heralded the arrival of this exciting week; some of you may have wondered ‘That sounds very nice, but what is the Week of the Young Child, anyway?’ There may be many more of you that will be wondering ‘Why are you doing it? What is the intended point?’ Well, worry no more. These are some questions I hope to help answer by the end of this post.

To first understand the WOYC, it helps to understand its origins. I’m not going to burden you with any lengthy history lectures, don’t worry about that! But it helps to understand the heft of the organisation that has put the WOYC into motion; that organisation is the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The NAEYC is one of the largest, non-profit, education and advocacy groups for early childhood; they promote furthering of research, education, and professional development and they center their focus around children ages birth through age 8 years old. They firmly believe in developmentally appropriate practice, involvement of family in the child’s education, and keeping teachers on top with continuing education. Understanding that some of the greatest scientific and educational minds back WOYC really helps give the movement some great momentum!

So every year, the Week of the Young Child is a week long event when the NAEYC wants to increase public awareness and education about young children, their needs, their abilities, and better ways for families, educators, and the community as a whole to help them grow! A theme is established with suggestions for activities, projects, and events by the NAEYC, but it becomes truly exciting and inspiring when local communities take the themes and interpet them their own way. And today, with social media, many preschools and early learning facilities are able to upload images and videos of their classrooms participating in daily activities on the NAEYC’s facebook page, and you can see children contributing to WOYC all across the entire nation! This is the kind of stuff that I get really passionate about, I am not kidding you.

So What’s Going On In WOYC 2016?

We’re two days into WOYC already.

*For Music Monday, the children in my classroom each picked out musical instruments, we sat in a giant circle, and took turn requesting song favourites as we tried our best to play with rhythm. We enjoyed talking about different instruments make different sounds. Some children brought musical instruments from home, and we enjoyed hearing the new sounds they shared with us. And of course, plenty of singing!

*Today was Taco Tuesday, this day was terrific! We read a delicious story titled Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin (a student brought us this book to read, great idea!) We got really hands on, mashing and cutting avocados to make guacamole, stirring and rolling both flour and corn tortilla dough, and having tacos with the works for lunch! We also kept the conversation going with talks of different things we could put on our tacos, other things that are good to put in our bodies, what ways can we keep our bodies healthy…the hands-on activities are fantastic ways to keep the kids both engaged and so entertained they don’t even realise they are learning.

For the rest of the week, I thought it might help if I offered some ways that parents and guardians at home could help tie-in the different daily themes. It’s a powerful thought; literally thousands of children across the country are celebrating this same event all week, and all in the idea of bettering our young ones and trying to make the next generation that much more intelligent, creative, and happier!

*Work-Together Wednesday: The goal of this day is to help enhance math and science skills through building activities. You want to think, blocks, blocks, ramps, Lego, and blocks! If you have a child that is already an avid block builder, challenge them to build something that they don’t normally build: have them count only thirty blocks and then ask them, ‘Now, what can you build with these blocks?’ If they come up with something pretty quickly, take away five blocks and have them try again. An easy and fun science experiment with a ramp is simply take a ‘ramp’ (cardboard, a tray, a long wooden building block) and then take an assortment of objects. Next, have your child guess which ones will roll down the ramp (if they are old enough to grasp the concept, tell them that this is called a ‘hypothesis’!) Now, test your hypothesis! And of course, you can’t forget the joy of building pillow forts!

*Twin Thursday– Our center has chosen for this day to be designed for helping children in each classroom build relationships and develop their social skills. Whilst this may deviate a little from the NAEYC’s ‘Artsy Thursday’, this is what I meant about centers being able to interpret the themes for the betterment of their children and their needs. For Twin Thursday, our kids drew names and randomly picked a twin, they also agreed on a colour; on Thursday they will both dress up in this colour. There is also going to be a focus on working as a team to get things done, helping children come out of their comfort zones to build new friendships and develop their social skills, etc. For your child at home, you could engage them with activities such as a three-legged race, where you would tie yours and their legs together and cooperate to get from one place to another. You could put on a blindfold and have your child give you verbal directions on where to walk (I recommend this in your living room or another safe place!)

*Family Friday– I love this one. It’s all about letting the child share photos and stories about their family with the classroom and the classroom recognising that ‘the family is at the heart of supporting our youngest learners…the NAEYC applauds family members’ role as young children’s first and most important teachers’ (The NAEYC’s wording for this was too perfect, I could not have said it better myself). You can help prepare your child for this day by printing some copies of family photos they really enjoy, writing some stories or notes on the back (this way, we teachers can use them to prompt them if needed for story-telling), or maybe asking them to dictate to you something they love about their family.

The WOYC really is an awesome concept. It’s about focusing intently on the ways children learn, about getting families and the community both aware and involved, and about trying our best to make it as fun as we can. I hope you guys enjoy celebrating our young ones; I know I have one heck of a time teaching them!

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts,

Miss Jaide

 

Parents! Tell Me What You Want To Read About!

Time to tell me what topics you have been jonesing to ask your kid’s teacher about, but either didn’t have the time or didn’t really know how.

When it was suggested to me that I start a blog, one of the hardest hurdles for me to jump was coming up for a title for the blog itself. I settled on Just Ask Miss Jaide not only for the flow and the alliteration (definitely a fun aspect!) but also to imply my willingness to take suggestion on the material I write about. As I’m getting up and going, I want to ask the readers (parents, fellow teachers, childcare providers, nannies, whoever!) of this blog what topics they are most interested in seeing me post about!

Even though I am currently working with 3 – 4 year olds (that’s the age group many of you may associate me with) I have plenty of experience with toddlers as well. I was an assistant head teacher in a toddlers and 2’s room for almost four years! Please feel free to suggest any topic in the comments; knowing what my readers want to read is a big thing!

Just to get the ball rolling and those thoughts flowing, here are some things I have been asked about my parents over the years:

  • Songs that I sing in the classroom(Which ones? Lyrics to take home?)
  • Books to help get your children interested in reading
  • How can I help saying goodbyes easier for my child?
  • Any tips on potty-training? (I know this could be a loaded topic, but I also know a lot of parents ask it.)
  • My child says that so-and-so doesn’t want to be their friend, what can I/you/we do about it?
  • Letter recognition
  • Teaching kids how to actually use their words!

Your feedback will help give this blog direction. Whilst sometimes I may feel a calling to particular topic, I have accumulated so many opinions on so many subjects that I feel a little guidance picking something may be a good way to get started. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts,

Miss Jaide

Translating That Teacher Talk!

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!

  Miss Jaide