Have you ever watched a child turn a common rock into a precious treasure? Or play far more with an empty box than the toy it contained? Somtimes parents and caregivers purchase books, dvd’s, and programs to promote brain development and kindergarten readiness and what do kids do? They use what’s in the recycling bin as learning tools. My kitchen now has a drawer with pastry trays, strawberry baskets, styrofoam cups, egg cartons, plastic bottles, jar lids and more “junk”. All used for learning and playing.
As children play and manipulate these items they are using their imagination. They practice math with counting, sizes and sequencing. There’s language galore as they chatter away and interact with whatever they are creating. Building, balancing, exploring how objects fit together and the noises they make are part of science discovery. Children direct their own actions and practice self-reliance and regulation of their emotions.
Here is part of a young dad’s email to me regarding something he made for his son: When he was around 1 year of age I found rinsed-out pop-bottles filled 1/2 with water +/- a bit of dish-soap or sparkles, then recapped tightly to be great toys. The children can stack them, shake
them, and learn their colors / numbers. For little ones, there’s also learning to focus and track with eyes, to coordinate movements, and developing attention. Paying attention is another thinking and learning skill.
Making this restaurant (see photo) needed most of a morning to set up and create. I was able to observe as I tidied in the kitchen and, best of all, play a little too. I noticed that children’s ability to use what’s available can be a powerful thinking and learning strategy. What might you have at home or in your care center that kids can turn into different kinds of learning tools?
Kindergarten readiness is not just learning a package of information; after all, children are not robots. Instead, to help children become powerful learners we need to support them as they discover how to make sense of their world.
It seems like children already have some built-in learning strategies. As I was watching a baby less than a year old she was making a variety of sounds. As the family cat sauntered by, the baby meowed. Sounded just like the cat. Later, she went to visit a family with a small dog. The dog wasn’t sure what to do and growled at the baby that was sitting on the floor. Quite quickly, the baby changed her position from sitting to being on her hands and knees and growled too. She was imitating. No grownups had taught her that strategy. Fortunately, children’s brains seem to come already wired with this ability.
Imitating is a valuable learning skill. What are some ways to encourage kids to practice imitating? Play phones, dress-ups, kitchen sets, airplanes, doctor kits, and other toys promote imitating. Kids will imitate reading a story. Some games are appropriate for different ages such as patty cake, peek-a-boo, and all the way up to Simon Says. Movement activities done with an instructor and small groups of kids require lots of imitating. Sometimes, there are free community programs for parents and tots where kids have time for both free play and some structured see and do games.
Because April started with April Fool’s Day, I got the idea to write about how kids can help adults learn. As I thought about the strategy of imitating I realized that as adults we dismiss imitating as an easy skill; instead it is very powerful. Did you know that imitating is used in robotics to make programming more efficient? We usually think that children who are struggling with some activities are having difficulty with attention but it could also be that they are having problems imitating. Can you find some ways for your child today to play and practice imitating?
Learning is not just for young children. All of us need to keep learning. The inspiration for this set of blog posts came from wondering on April Fool’s Day what if instead of writing about how we can help kids learn I wrote about how kids can help us. By observing them we help ourselves and discover ways we can support their learning and kindergarten readiness too.
A rainstick makes a wonderful sound. Just in case you haven’t seen and heard one, a hollow bamboo pole has been poked with thorns or cactus needles then partially filled with pebbles, beads, beans or other seeds. Once the ends have been sealed, when the stick is turned over the beans trickle down through the inside striking the needles and making a sound like rain. Rainsticks were used to encourage rain; nowadays they are used to make music.
When I used a rainstick with a young child, I first demonstrated how it made a sound when turned over and over. Then, I gave it to her to hold. The first thing she did was hold it to her ear. I couldn’t understand why; I had shown her how it worked. All she had to do was turn it over. But making the sound was not as important as listening to it. She had grasped right away that the sound had come from inside the bamboo tube and so she held it to her ear to hear what was happening inside. Only after listening carefully with her ear pressed against it for a minute or two did she turn it over and restart the sound.
What I interpreted as not understanding how to make something work, was not that at all. The child was responding first and doing later. As adult learners we often skip the step of responding or appreciating and just go to the doing. It’s important as we help children learn that we give them time to take something in, to simply respond to it. This gives them time to get their thinking on track and also allows them to be very much in the present with what’s happening rather than thinking about how to be doing it in the future. Asking children to tell us about what they see or what they hear at a point in time will help them practice this thinking and learning strategy. How will the rainstick help you and your child as you learn today?
This series of blog posts looks at learning a different way. Instead of what we can teach kids, it’s what kids can teach us. Thinking about what we can learn from kids, helps us to better support their learning and kindergarten readiness. In this photo, 2 children are at an aquarium and show that we can … Continue reading Kindergarten Readiness – Learning/Thinking Strategies #2
At the beginning of the month, because I write kindergarten readiness posts from Mon-Sat but not on Sunday, I missed doing one for April Fool’s Day. I had a great idea, too. Instead of blogging about something kids can learn from us, for April Fool’s I thought of doing the opposite — something that we … Continue reading Kindergarten Readiness – Learning/Thinking Strategies #1
Assessing a child’s readiness for kindergarten is more than evaluating how much the child knows. Of course, there are some basics such as colors, numbers, letters and more but these are specifics. There is also a general attitude or expectation, a sort of warming up. I will try to explain what I mean by using … Continue reading Kindergarten Readiness – K= in the Know