Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thoughts on Early Learning, Jaimmie Stugard, LifeWays Caregiver

Thoughts on Early Learning from Miss Jaimmie

Children learn through exploration, imitation and relationships. A very young infant has no sense of himself as an individual. To him, there is no boundary between his own body, his parents and the world around. Gradually, he becomes aware of his ability to impact the world. He learns that he can manipulate objects by swatting and eventually grasping. He learns by his loved ones' response to his coos and cries that he can affect another and indeed that his beloved is another. What begins as observing a parent's response gradually develops into deeper social understanding. A toddler continues to play this call and response exercise to enhance his social skills. For example, when he hits another person, there is a negative response (the other child cries, he is scolded, etc). Each time a child "calls", he is seeking a predictable response to teach him how to properly interact with his world. This is why we strive to be both patient and consistent when helping our little ones develop socially. For a child questions with action and finds his answer in reaction.

When children are permitted to actively engage in their world, they are able to truly learn. Experiential learning leads to an understanding that regurgitating facts cannot provide. Day after day, I observe children exploring nature in the forest, finding slugs and snails and worms. Here I see them identifying and sorting without any overt instruction from myself. They are keenly aware of which sticks are big, bigger and biggest without ever cracking open a workbook. Nor do they need flashcards to teach them that the sun is round. Which is not to say that books and worksheets are necessarily bad. As a child, I loved to fill out the workbooks that my father brought home from the print shop. It was fun to play school and feel accomplished for correctly matching the dog to his bone. Looking back, I think I especially responded to these books because I knew that my father made them. But, I am certain that I would not have enjoyed them nearly as much if they had been homework rather than playwork.

Occasionally I am asked how I teach children their colors, days of the week, numbers and letters. To some, the days of the traditional play-based kindergarten and preschool seem like a fond memory. While parents look back on their own kindergarten fondly, they worry that it is not "enough" for their own child to get ahead in this day and age. Learning through doing is always my answer. Rather than asking a child to count objects in a book, I ask her to help me set the table for snack. We always begin by counting together how many people we will have in attendance that day. As the child sets out 7 chairs, place mats, cups, spoons and bowls she is able to have a real and tangible experience of the number 7.

A child's interest in letters can be nurtured by helping them identify letters that have meaning to them, like their name or the letters on a stop sign. In our suite, each child's drawer, hook and utensils (hairbrush, toothbrush, etc.) is labeled with a symbol as well as their name. This helps the children have a sense of where their things belong before they are able to recognize their name. When the child is ready, she will begin to become more aware of the letters that accompany the symbol and will eventually learn to recognize her name. Oftentimes, an older child will ask me to spell out "Happy Birthday" or "I love you, mom and dad" while coloring. While I am always happy to answer, I am careful not to drill a child or put pressure on him to read. Rather, I strive to foster their early literacy skills through storytelling, puppetry, and clear, articulate speech.

The days of the week are "taught" through living in the rhythm of the week: Monday is set-up day. On Tuesdays we snack on granola and hike in the woods. Wednesday is painting day and on Thursday we bake cowgirl cookies and savor the aroma of Miss Jane's delicious rolls. "Fort Friday" is also clean-up day, a day for working together to wash the furniture, floors and walls. The children delight in spraying and scrubbing with homemade cleaner (water, lavender and a drop of tee tree oil) and crocheted cloths. Then comes everyone's favorite days, Saturday and Sunday - Family Days.

Since young children learn through imitation, it is crucial that the adults closest to them are striving to be worthy of imitation. When a child is learning to speak, he needs to imitate right speech. A child who is struggling to control his impulses or anger needs to see the adults around him displaying this self control. Child rearing can be an emotional experience because our children are our reflections. They are like little mirrors that shine back our beauty and our blemishes. Rather than shrinking from the challenge or allowing ourselves to be racked with parental guilt, let us stand upright and demonstrate our striving, compassionate, curious, humorous and loving humanness.

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