making choices

How to Steal a March #11: Helping Kids Learn to Make Choices

Making choices is a skill, and during the early years is the best time for helping kids learn to make choices. Kids need opportunities and experience, as well as our example and guidance.

kids can be friends with boredom

Have you ever noticed how kids will play with anything? It’s every bit as likely a child will play with sticks, rocks, bits of paper, plastic containers, raw pasta, buttons, empty bottles and other items in the recycling basket, as s/he will play with cars, dolls, puzzles, and other toys. As adults, we often forget that play is in the child, not the toy. In addition to that, there’s a critical reason kids will play with stuff: the child gets to control the play. With non-toys, kids get to make up the play. They have the choices and the control.

Jeff A. Johnson at Explorations Early Learning quotes authors and early childhood teachers Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky, “Nothing gives children a greater sense of power than being in control of the materials they are using. Because loose parts are open-ended, children can make choices and decisions about how to use them–and learning to choose well is part of social-emotional development. ” Now that we understand what’s going on in a child’s mind, we can better support and encourage play and making choices.helping kids make choices

Loose parts are small, numerous items that kids can interact with in various ways. They really can be almost anything. One mom shared how her son had used several tampons to load as logs on his dump truck. Anything. While I was doing some spring cleaning, Little Sister found several items in a drawer, including a small bear that had come off a birthday cake decoration, a tissue, a cotton ball, comb, and other bits. She set these out in a flat basket and made a home for the little bear. Next, she placed the bear in various spots in the basket and pretended the bear moved things around. She was making choices constantly as she played. Her voice changed as she called me to come see and then decided she was done. Check what you have available for loose parts play. Kids will have suggestions too. As in this case, sometimes helping kids learn to make choices means staying out of the way.

Usually in a day, there are several times when kids can choose. What to wear is an opportunity for helping kids make choices. So kids don’t end up wearing just a swimsuit and rubber boots for going to the store, we can give them three or four options and let them pick the one they want. When setting the table, kids may be able to choose the color of their bowl or cup. Any time during the day, ask your child to go pick out a book and then you can sit down and share a snuggle and a story. You might want to ask your child why s/he chose that particular book. You can suggest some unrelated reasons, such as, “Did you choose this story because it smells good?” Kids will usually come up with a better reason.

reading books and storiesKids will imitate others around them. We can tell our reasons for the choices we make. “I think the sky is cloudy and the wind is chilly so I am going to take a sweater, just in case.” Of course, kids seem to choose not to follow our example when it’s sensible, and to do exactly what we do when the choice isn’t so great.

Choices affect all of us our entire lives. Helping kids learn to make choices is a way to give them an advantage, or in the words of the old expression, to help them “steal a march.” Can today’s play-of-the-day for your child include making choices?

February Heart Connections: What Is Your Child’s Favorite Object?

The month of February invites us to connect with the heart; to start, what is your child’s favorite object? What’s yours? Choices give clues–and practice.

Recently, I registered in a video challenge event. Each day, for 30 days, we create a short video and share it with the group. This helps to get past the reasons why and we get support and encouragement from others. The challenge for today was to ‘show and tell’ about a favorite object. Here is mine, entirely unedited and done all at once.

When we think about what objects we would choose, we get information about our own values. We reveal something about ourselves. Are the items rare or valuable? Or is it something these items represent and mean to use at a deeper level? In the video below, I’ll share with you two of my favorite objects. Obviously, there must be some meaning to choosing a potato masher. You are welcome to be an armchair psychologist but I hope you got a chuckle too.

Choosing isn’t easy for adults or kids. It’s a process and involves lots of thinking. As a skill, it’s critical. Where we live and what we do has depended on choices we’ve made in the past. To make good choices, kids need opportunities and lots of practice. This could be choosing what clothes to wear or toys to play with, what color of cup for a drink or book for story-time. You may need to guide the choices by making a few alternatives. Another way to play with choosing and choices might be showing someone a favorite object or telling about the best thing that happened in a day.

How a child makes choices also gives us clues about what kind of support is needed. Hesitant kids may respond to encouragement and need more time. Children who make choices impulsively, can name their number 1 choice and tell us about it, their number 2 choice and explain again, and a third choice. Then, they can choose from those 3. This way, they have engaged in some thinking beforehand.

Picking a favorite object was hard for me. There were so many things I could choose. When I did find something, I realized the choice was based on the story of the object and its connection. A super way to start February. For some fun and play today, what is your child’s favorite object?


Kids Learn the Skill of Making Choices

This week’s news has been all about making choices. Candidates have dominated the airwaves. Do kids need to learn the skill of making choices? They sure do!

skill of making choicesAs adults, we are constantly faced with choosing, and some of our choices affect millions of other people. The skill of making choices is first developed as a child and practiced all life long.

Choosing for kids starts out with Yes or No. We’ve all had experiences with kids who say no to everything, even ice cream, although they soon change their minds. But choosing is  really only the start. After that, there is dealing with the choice. Children’s reactions to choices, even their own, can vary from delight to temper tantrums. No wonder having to choose can be overwhelming.

Some children make choices based on their first impulse. There’s no pause to think if it’s a good decision or not. Others will wait for someone else to choose and copy that choice. A few children are almost frozen by even a few possibilities so choices have to get made for them. Some kids have a strategy of choosing everything, but that doesn’t really work either. Choosing is not easy at all.

We can support children as they learn this skill by giving them opportunities to choose. Instead of asking a child what s/he wants to wear today which is a huge amount of possibilities, we can guide the choice: “Do you choose to wear your red pants or blue pants?” Kids may be able to select the color of the bowl for cereal, pick out a book, or decide on which fruit for snack. Later on, choices can be more complicated.

skill of making choicesThere are a few games that we can show kids how to play to help make choices like Eenie, Meenie,  Miney, Mo and Rock, Paper, Scissors. Talking outloud about our own choices gives children a model to imitate. Stories, books, and conversations can also be part of the learning curve. Can your child have some fun and play today with the skill of making choices?

Off to School Toolbox: Helping Kids Make Choices

Another way to support children as they are becoming more independent is by helping kids make choices. Decision-making strategies are great school tools. At first glance, this may not seem to be important but every choice we make influences our lives in ways both big and small. Choosing cereal or toast for breakfast may not … Continue reading Off to School Toolbox: Helping Kids Make Choices

Skill of Making Choices Important for Kindergarten

Series Part #19: How Does Your Child Make Choices? On a list of things kids need to learn before starting kindergarten, you probably would not expect to see ‘Making Choices,’ but this is an important skill. You may be skeptical, but have you ever been too tired to even choose what cereal you want for … Continue reading Skill of Making Choices Important for Kindergarten