Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Long Term Benefits of Learning Young

President Obama’s call, in his State of the Union address, for making preschool available to every four year old in the country is a welcome statement. Studies have proven beyond any doubt that children who attend preschool do far better when they reach kindergarten than those who were denied this benefit. To put it in monetary terms, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the United States Chamber of Commerce, has found that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, savings of up to $17  in the future are possible.Another way of defining the benefits of good preschooling can be found in a Cincinnati program known as Success 6 where effective preschool education has raised the volume of “ready to read” children entering kindergarten to 57%, a significant improvement over the 44% level of a few years ago. An interesting fact is that over 80% of these “ready to read” children continue to read at or above their age levels even at the end of the third grade. The significance of the is number lies in the fact that research shows that children who are not good readers by the time they reach the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than children who can read at the appropriate age level. This is a testament to the long lasting results that effective preschooling provides.

The Growth Years

A child’s brain grows to about 85% of its full capacity in the first five years of life. This, coupled with the development of evaluation and assessment abilities, albeit underdeveloped, in the child, means that what is internalized by the age of five is what will remain as the foundation for further knowledge acquisition as the years pass.

The argument that educating children before they are of kindergarten age is damaging to them may be seen to have some at least partially valid points. But a carefully planned and effective preschooling program can overcome all of these. It is thought that making young children attend preschool regiments them too much. However, if done properly, preschool will help them to focus and refine their curiosity and natural enquiring instincts so that they are better able to find and retain the information and facts they are in search of. And the argument that preschool denies a child the essential freedom to play is easily countered. The knowledge and cognitive abilities that preschool provides to a child add to the value and meaning of the playing that is done. And the balance that naturally comes between preschool and less organized play activities at home allow for an understanding to develop of the difference between formal and informal activities. This in turn leads to an instinctive appreciation of the benefits that both have to offer.

We Cannot Afford To Be Left Behind

While the benefits that come from effective preschool education cannot be denied, it is often seen as affecting only the children who receive it. What is often not understood here in the USA is that the effect is on the nation and its future as a whole. While debate rages about universal preschool in the country, China is reported to have set itself a goal of ensuring that at least 70 % of the children in the country get 3 years of preschool education. India is spending huge amounts to modernize and increase the reach of its primary and preschool education system. Both countries are today prime movers of economic growth and are seen as the future economic superpowers. The focus that nations like these are placing on preschool as a means to ensure long term development and strength is something we cannot afford to ignore.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Playground Risks for Young Children

Children are by nature adventurous and often do not know their own limits. Because of this young children and toddlers need careful supervision while playing. But the natural desire of adults to keep children safe often comes into conflict with the natural need of children to explore and develop risk taking abilities and judgment. That is why assessing playground risks for young children is very important and why an objective evaluation of the quantum of risk is essential.  To allow unsupervised play is obviously dangerous. But to cosset children too much will stifle their creativeness and ability to learn the art of making risk assessments – a loss that could hurt them in many ways as they grow older. An understanding of risk levels in common playground activities will allow for an effective balance to be maintained between supervision and cosseting.

The Levels of Risk

Recent studies have identified six risky play activities. These are:

·         Climbing and / or playing at heights
·         Running and other high speed activities or motions
·         Playing with potentially harmful objects
·         Playing with or in dangerous element
·         Play that becomes excessively rough
·         Any activities where the child may be lost of disappear from sight

Of all of these, the most dangerous has been found to be play that requires climbing or movement at considerable heights above ground.

Children Are Inconsistent

While the risk areas can be broadly identified, the reaction of children to these risks varies greatly. For example, most children are aware of the rules for safe use of playground equipment, and that many activities can be potentially harmful. But these same children also usually admitted that the rules were often flouted because to do so was attractive and increased the “fun” element. Another problem is that children’s attitude to risk factors is not consistent. Some children will understand the risks involved with playing near water or a cliff, but others will not.

The bottom line here is that while there are some generalizations that can be made about the nature and types of risk that children are exposed to while playing, no generalization can be made about the type and nature of supervision that is required. The psychology of each child will need to be understood in order to evaluate the amount of risk the child will accept and in consequence, the amount of supervision that is required.

Rebels Without A Cause

To say that young children need careful supervision when playing is to state the obvious. But overdoing this can be counterproductive. Children,as already stated, are by nature risk takers – either because they do not see the risk or cannot appreciate the consequences and dangers or because they are in search of new experiences. If new experiences and the exhilaration that comes with them are denied to these children, the frustration levels will rise. And after a time this will build to the level that rebellion, albeit unconscious, against the restrictions will arise. Because the children are not able to understand the reasons for their frustrations or communicate them, their attitude and perceived negative behavior is often seen as simple indiscipline and unwillingness to accept authority. The common reaction to this is often to increase the levels of supervision and control exercised on these children without any effort to understand that it arises from the natural need to experience the exhilaration that comes from new experiences – an exhilaration that should not be stifled.

Parents and preschool teachers need to go the extra mile to ensure that while children are kept safe, they are not prevented from feeling the rush that comes from new experiences and limited amounts of risk.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Gardening For Preschoolers - What Teachers Should Know

Gardening is one of the most satisfying of all activities, irrespective of age. Planting a seed and seeing a plant grow from it offers a sense of achievement and pride that even a toddler will feel, even if the process by which it has happened is not completely understood. While the colors and beauty of flowering plants will add to a child’s appreciation of nature, being part of the process of growing vegetables will encourage children to eat even those for which they have an instinctive dislike.
Gardening can be a very positive preschool or day care activity and the children will love it. It doesn't to need a large amount of space and expensive equipment.  A small patch of earth and a few basic child friendly tools are all that is required. Having said this, teachers must ensure that the children are closely supervised at this time – putting dirt and unwashed vegetation in their mouths is something all kids love to do.

Tips For Gardening With Toddlers

The basic principle to keep in mind is that gardening must be made safe for the kids – having fun while doing it will come naturally to them.
  • Use gardening tools that are designed for use by young kids. These are safe with no sharp edges on which they can cut themselves. And the small size makes it easy for small hands to hold, lift and use.
  • Find age appropriate gardening tasks for the kids. The youngest ones may not be able to do any planting, but watering plants will come naturally to them. Most of them will enjoy plucking and picking and helping to keep the garden area clean. And they will all love to dig in the dirt and make shapes with the mud they dig up.
  • When flowers and vegetables are ready for plucking, let the children do it. Show them how to do the plucking without damaging the plant. This may take a few repetitions. But once they learn how to do it properly, they will truly enjoy collecting the flowers to decorate the classroom or the vegetables which they can eat themselves.
  • Gardening need not always be outdoors. Find some visually appealing and fast growing plants and place the seeds between layers of wet paper towels. Place this in a plastic bag and keep it in a warm place. The kids will enjoy watching the seed germinate and being able to see the changes happening in front of their eyes will be fascinating. Toilet paper cylinders and egg cartons make great planters into which the germinated seeds can be transferred.
  • When the sprouts in the planters have grown big enough to be planted outside, let the kids do this. Be prepared for a lot of plants to be lost – kids can be too rough with them. But when they see the damage they are doing by being too rough with the plants they grew, they will learn the need for being gentle and careful
  • Keep the gardening fun by installing a fairy house or placing a few small plastic animals around the garden for the kids to play with. Here too some of the plants may be damaged in the early stages of playing, but the kids will naturally become more careful when the see the damage that is being done to their loved plants.
If there is enough space, keep some aside for the kids to try and plant and maintain a garden on their own – but under “hands off” adult supervision. Of course they will mainly make mistakes and do the wrong thing, but that is the whole point. When they see the difference between their own efforts and what is done with adult guidance, they will want to do better.

Friday, 13 September 2013

What Are The Best Ways To Teach A Child To Read?

Reading is the foundation of all learning and the more proficient a child’s reading ability, the easier studying is. The mistake that many parents, and a number of teachers, make is to pressurize children into trying to read too early. Studies show that a child actually begins to read, in the sense of being able to understand basics concepts and ideas from the written word, only at the age of 6 or so. To force an attempt at such comprehension on a toddler can lead to confusion, a dislike of reading caused by not understanding what it means and offers and future problems in comprehending school curricula.

However, this does not mean that younger children should not be encouraged to look at books and try to understand the alphabet, words and perhaps even a few simple phrases and sentences. If they can do this, it will help them to progress faster when formal reading begins. But if they are not happy with this, it should not be forced on them. Some kids start later but then progress very fast and leave the early beginners behind. Here are a few tips on encouraging a child to read.

Teaching Reading

  • The first step is to begin reading to a child at a very young age – even a few weeks old is fine. Not only does this develop a bond with the child, it makes books a part of the child’s life. As time passes and the words being read and the pictures to be seen make sense, the attraction for books and being able to read on their own will grow.
  • Read from the right age appropriate books. For children of up to 18 months of age read lullabies, board books with real pictures, song books and cloth books of different textures. For the ages of 19 months to 3 years song books, nursery rhymes and board books with short stories are the best. For children between 3 and 6 song books, rhyming books, picture books and story books will attract and retain their interest.
  • Once a child is able to comprehend at least a small part of what is being read, begin to ask a few simple questions. Watch the child being read to and note any parts of the story that seem to elicit special interest. These are the parts on which questions should be asked as the child has been more involved here and would have paid special attention. Keep the questions simple and basic and help and prompt the child to give answers. If the answers are not right, work with the child to encourage the correct answer to be given. At all times offer encouragement and aim to keep the child involved as an active participant in the discussion.
  • Set a good example by doing your reading in front of the child. Children are heavily influenced by what adults do and will often try to copy what they see. Even if the child is resting or playing with toys, the fact that you are reading and enjoying it will register and the child will wonder what is so nice about reading.
  • Once a child is familiar and comfortable with books, it is time to start reading. Begin by sitting with the child and allowing him or her to see each word you read. In time common sight words – the most common ones in the language - will be understood in the same way pictures are. From this will come an association of letters of the alphabet with specific sounds and with this the basics of reading are in place.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Is Preschool Mandatory In California?

One would think that with the increasing focus on providing children a good grounding at a young age so as to allow them to learn and achieve more in school, preschool would be necessary and even mandatory in all states, including California. Surprisingly, this is not so. In California parents and guardians are not required to register their children for kindergarten or preschool because the children are not of legal age and so cannot be mandatorily enrolled in an education establishment. According to estimates around 50,000 kids, (10% of preschool or kindergarten aged children) skip enrolling each year because state law does not make education compulsory till the age of 6.
But while the law does not require parents to send their children to preschool, most of them do or at least want to. And finding the reason why is not hard. In a world that is getting increasingly competitive, giving a child the right grounding and start in the learning process is something that will stay with him or her for the rest of his or her life. Many educators find that first graders who have not been to preschool or in kindergarten are behind other children in the same age group when it comes to academic or social development. These children are also more likely to flunk a grade sometime during the elementary school years.

Starting Too Late

There are many reasons why children are not sent to preschool. In the case of California many are from immigrant families who are unfamiliar with the American educational system and cannot navigate their way through school district bureaucracies. Or parents’ work schedules do not mesh with preschool timings.  In some cases children are put into day care when they are infants and when parents find that the children are happy there, they do not think of moving to preschool later because they are not aware of the differences between daycare and preschool.
But preschool does not exist just to provide parents with a place to send their kids before they are old enough for school. It is a place where a child is given the tools and encouragement to begin the learning process in a way that is pressure free and fun. The aim of preschool is to waken children’s innate curiosity and show them the satisfaction that comes from finding the answers to the questions they have. Thus the acquisition of knowledge, even at a very basic level, becomes an interest and not a chore that is to be avoided whenever possible.  Children who learn because they want to are usually academically ahead of those who learn because they have to.
Just like adults, children can become set in their ways and if the concept of learning does not become part of their lives at a young age, the difficulty in accepting it as a part of life increases with age. Children are malleable, physically and mentally, when very young and this is the ideal time to encourage them to focus on learning. Unfortunately, many parents do not appreciate this or feel that by sending their children to preschool they are depriving them of their childhood. This is completely incorrect. In preschool there are no judgments or competition to see who is learning more. All that is done is that the children’s cognitive abilities are stimulated to enable them to want to learn. And being in a preschool with their peers means that the transition from home to regular school is not as traumatic as it can be for those who begin their education only from the first grade.
So even though preschool is not mandatory in California, parents who want to give their children the benefits of a happy and fruitful school life will be well advised to consider sending their kids to preschool.