The Important Role of Fathers and Their Impact on Young Children

Daddy Dearest:

Studies have shown time and again that fathers play a crucial role during early childhood. Socially, emotionally, behaviorally and cognitively – young children with a positive male influence in their lives are at a distinct advantage.

The Changing Role of Fathers Through The Years

Dad’s role in the family has changed significantly over recent decades – once looked upon to primarily support their family financially, this began to change as gender roles shifted and women returned to the workplace. No longer necessarily the sole breadwinner, many dads began to become more actively involved in their young child’s (and older kiddos) lives. Similar to how women’s roles began to change in the 1960s, dads have gone through a major adjustment – not only has it become a necessity as mothers may simply not spend as many hours in the home, but also, society has changed it’s view of how dads can and should be involved.

Dad vs. Mom – A Distinct Difference in Parenting Styles

Interestingly enough, having a dad around is particularly important during the early childhood years as dads naturally provide a distinct and unique piece to the parenting puzzle. Studies have shown that dads are different than moms in how they play, interact, discipline, and care for their children.

Young children with an active dad in the picture (and as an important side note, dad does not necessarily need to be married to Mom or living in the same house) often experience a parent who is more physical in nature. When dads play they also tend to enjoy more of a give-and-take interaction with their kids than moms do. Additionally, dads frequently encourage early childhood learners to practice problem-solving and turn taking and, more so than moms, typically encourage risk taking and exploration. Moms, however, tend to be more directive in nature, offering more suggestions about how and what to do during pretend play, for example.

When it comes to basic caretaking, dads have a much more “get-it-done” type attitude. When brushing teeth, getting dressed, or taking a bath, Moms are more likely to chit-chat, making the experience a time for learning and/or play. Dads, on the hand, tend to see the task as a job to complete in a timely and efficient manner.

These distinct differences in parenting styles understandably create different –and equally important – relationships within a family, providing young children with varied and important skills.

Benefits to a Father’s Involvement

During early childhood, a father’s role provides many unique benefits. Starting as early as infancy, children view their father as another safe person and are often calmed by their presence. Dads tend to promote things such as exploration and a child’s willingness to think outside of the box and/or try new things. A father’s role can, and often has, the same amount of influence as a mother’s in shaping a young child’s personality.

Boys, for example, are also less likely to experience behavioral issues and are better equipped to develop their emotional side when their dad takes on an active role. Girls are more likely to grow into confident and independent young women and are put at a lower risk for mental health difficulties down the road when they have a dad who is involved.

Finally, children who are able to witness both parents interacting and working together (again, while married or not), tend to learn more about supportive relationships and are more likely to be trusting in their relationships with others. Watching two parents (or a mother and male role model) interact provides kids with the opportunity to watch how adults problem-solve, work together, accept differing opinions and compromise.

Conclusion

As society continues to change how we think about the role of fathers, dads appear to be embracing the challenge – in recent years, there is an increased number of stay-at-home dads. While this is sometimes done out of necessity as women’s roles in the workplace likewise continue to evolve, moms and dads also appear to be recognizing the important impact dads have on their children’s lives. And, happily, by playing a larger role in their kid’s lives and within the family as a whole, everyone is winning!

 

The Importance of Executive Function in Young Children

The Facts About Executive Functioning

 What is Executive Function?

Executive function is our cognitive ability to manage the many things our brains need to do at once, including thinking, reacting and feeling. It allows us to focus and ignore distractions around us – think of it as our “mission control”.

Even at infancy, children begin to put their executive functioning to work and continue to develop these skills into adulthood. There are three major pieces of executive functioning:

  1. Self-control – Self-control allows us to manage ourselves and our behavior. For young children, it helps them pay attention, remain focused and act and react in appropriate manners.
  2. Working memory – Working memory allows us to hold information in our heads so we can relate it to other information we hear and use it accordingly. It is often crucial in a young child’s ability to spell or do simple math computations, for example.
  3. Cognitive flexibility – This is the part of our executive function that allows us to be creative and flexible and use these traits when thinking and/or solving a problem.

Is Executive Function Important?

Executive function and early childhood learning go hand in hand. Studies have shown executive function to be crucial in a child’s overall development and in future years. It is a major indicator of one’s academic abilities, their general behavior and social skills. Because we aren’t simply born with executive function, it is imperative that parents, caregivers and teachers help young children develop these skills.

We can see executive functioning at work when babies learn cause and effect relationships – for example, if they drop a ball and their parents pick it up, or if they kick their mobile, it begins to spin. As skills continue to develop in older children, they begin to remember to do things such as brush their teeth before going to bed or develop an understanding that they need to study the night before a test in order to perform well.

Studies have shown children from low socio-economic backgrounds to be at a higher risk of having difficulties with executive functioning. Low executive functioning has also been linked to other disabilities, including ADHD, learning disabilities, Autism, and depression – frequently, children with these disabilities display lower executive functioning and may have more difficulties developing such skills.

Helping Children to Develop Executive Functioning

Executive functioning that has not yet fully developed may be best exemplified in younger children with whom you simply cannot reason or who appear to be unable to complete even the simplest direction. However, early childhood learning experiences can go a long way in helping children to develop these important skills and is often something parents and teachers can positively impact. For example, calmer and supportive parents typically have children who display higher executive functioning. Or, early intervention programs can focus on activities that are designed to promote self-regulation. The following list provides some ideas of simple activities anyone can do to promote executive functioning for children in their home or classroom:

  • Create a daily routine
  • Maintain a calm and organized environment where children know what to expect
  • Engage in activities such as yoga, story telling, meditation and dancing
  • Set clear rules
  • Provide children with age appropriate jobs around the house or classroom
  • Encourage empathy
  • Read with children and engage them by asking questions about the text and pointing out things in pictures, etc.
  • Allow for more active learning time in small group and one-on-one environments.
  • Provide plenty of time for pretend pay and encourage early childhood learners to take on social roles when playing.

As always, whether you are helping young childhood learners at home or in the classroom, it is important to keep in mind that children develop new skills at different rates – this is true for executive functioning as well. Meet kids where they are and always provide a supportive and caring environment where they feel safe to try new things, take risks and develop at their own pace.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Physical Activity During Early Childhood

Get Up, Get Moving!

Exercise is a frequent topic of conversation among adults and most people are aware of the importance of leading and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Equally as important is ensuring our young children likewise participate in a healthy dose of physical activity every day. By introducing such habits during early childhood, kids are more likely to develop a healthy lifestyle for years to come.

Part of a child’s job is to simply play and for many kids, they are naturally active both at home and in school. As early as infancy, babies need to be able to move (when they’re not sleeping, of course!) to develop muscle tone and motor skills. Toddlers and preschoolers benefit from both structured and unstructured play time during which they can run, move and be active. And older children likewise benefit from physical activity, often performing better in the classroom when they’re afforded frequent opportunities to be active.

The Benefits of Physical Activity

Adopting a healthy lifestyle and encouraging physical activity during the early childhood years provides a lengthy list of benefits for children, including the following:

• Helps maintain a healthy weight
• Decreases a child’s risk for developing diabetes
• Encourages stronger bones, muscles, heart and lungs
• Develops stronger fine and gross motor skills
• Lowers blood pressure
• Helps create and establish important brain connections that in turn foster improved concentration and a better ability to focus
• Improves children’s confidence and happiness
• Increases energy levels
• Improves balance, coordination, and posture
• Often leads to better sleep
• Encourages healthy habits now and in the future

Types of Physical Activity

Children should and usually engage in various types of physical activity each day. Through organized activities such as basketball, soccer and swimming and unstructured play times that involve running, dancing and jumping, for example, their lungs work harder and their heart gets pumping. This improves both their endurance and releases endorphins that can improve their mood.

By learning how to properly do traditional exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups and also enjoying climbing a tree or the monkey bars, kids build their strength and get stronger. Finally, adults are often envious of children’s seemingly natural flexibility – by simply reaching, tumbling, doing cartwheels and playing during early childhood, kids improve upon their flexibility. This is particularly important – not only does flexibility make bending and stretching easier, but also it helps prevent injuries.

Encouraging Physical Activity at Home and In School

Physical Activity during early childhood should be promoted both at home and in school. In fact, teachers are frequently turning to programs that provide “brain breaks”, yoga or other types of movement to get their students up and active – by doing so, young learners in preschool and beyond are often better able to concentrate and focus on what is expected.

As a parent, you can easily encourage healthy habits – check out the list below to get started today!

• As a family, engage in physical activities such as a quick game of catch, taking a bike ride or walk together.
• Enroll kids in sports or other age-appropriate activities that allow them to both play with others and get moving.
• Be a good role model! When kids see their parents engaging in physical activity, they’re more likely to do the same.
• Keep things fun! Who wants to exercise when they’re bored or uninterested in the activity? Find things that are of interest to your little ones and dive in!

Engaging Young Learners in Meaningful Conversations

Something to Talk About

How many times have you heard people advise new parents to talk, talk, talk to their infants? While this does have some benefits, it may not be as beneficial as researchers once believed. More recent studies* have shown it to be far more important to engage in meaningful two-way conversations with children – and even infants – in order to promote future language skills.

What is two-way communication?

Two-way, or back and forth, conversations with toddlers and other young learners involves both listening and responding. By listening carefully to what children have to say, parents and teachers not only learn more about a child’s interests, but also about how they think. To encourage meaningful conversations with early childhood learners, it’s important not to rush interactions. Give them time to respond, collect their thoughts and find their words. And, when children are speaking, nonverbal responses, such as head nods, won’t interrupt their train of thought but will serve to let them know you’re engaged and interested.

Non-verbal communication

It is important to note that two-way conversation may mean both verbal and non-verbal communication. Infants, for example, may smile or coo at their caregiver and in response, the caregiver may encourage further conversation by reacting and/or repeating the action that initially promoted the baby to engage. Or, when an older baby notices a dog approaching and points, their parent may respond accordingly, “That’s right! There’s a dog! What does a dog say?” Such interactions, though non-verbal in nature, serve as conversations for this age group.

Ways to Promote Meaningful Conversation

When parenting or working with young children, there are many things you can do to encourage meaningful conversation. Whether you’re at home or in the classroom, such interactions are not only important for children, but also for adults as they try to understand the child’s needs, wants and thoughts.

Keep reading for some simple tricks to promote meaningful conversation with your little one!

  • Get down to the child’s level – by doing this, you physical demonstrate to the child you’re talking to that you’re interested and engaged and that you want to be involved in the conversation.
  • Skip the yes/no questions and move on to open-ended questions that naturally have more substance. Rather than asking your child if they had fun at preschool, ask them what they did at preschool. Instead of providing a simple yes/no answer, they’ll be encouraged to tell you about an activity or project they did that day – this, in turn, will lead to further conversation.
  • Use non-verbal responses and facial cues to let your child or student know you’re actively listening. Instead of interrupting with words, simple head nods or a gentle smile can indicate you’re involved in what they’re saying. As an added bonus, this simultaneously teaches young children to interpret social and non-verbal cues from others.
  • Plan around a child’s interests in order to spark conversation – this can be particularly helpful for children who may be more hesitant to engage in conversation. If a particularly shy child has shown an interest in animals, for example, plan a lesson around their favorite animal or plan a family trip to the zoo – as their excitement grows, so will their willingness to chat it up!
  • Encourage play-based learning at school and at home – by allowing children time to be creative and role play, they’ll automatically engage in conversation with you and others. If you’re playing restaurant, for example, they’ll need to ask you where you’d like to sit, and what you’d like to eat, for example.
  • Take time to specifically share other points of view. If your child is upset because they wanted to play with a particular toy, for example, explain to them how the other child may feel if the toy is suddenly taken. Not only does this teach empathy, but also it will likely encourage your child to have a conversation and share his/her feelings on the matter as well.
  • Take a break! Remember to wait after you say something to give your child or student a moment to respond. Interrupting or directing them will likely make forget what they were going to say and may lead them in another direction. Take the time to hear what they were going to say and then, when you’re sure they’re done, respond accordingly.

 

 

*University of California – Los Angeles. “Conversing Helps Language Development More Than Reading Alone.” ScienceDaily 17 July 2009.

How to Cook With Young Kids Successfully

Turn Up The Heat!

There are few other classrooms that offer so many early childhood learning benefits to young children than your own kitchen. Cooking with kids in both your classroom and at home not only allows young children the opportunity to learn about different foods, but also it enhances their math, science, language, and fine motor skills.

The Benefits of Cooking With Young Kids

Have you ever walked into a classroom where a cooking project is underway or into a home kitchen where a little one is helping out? Chances are, the kids involved are completely engaged by the activity. And it’s no wonder as there are so many valuable things to be learned while kids work alongside their parent or teacher in the kitchen.

It’s no secret that tossing your little one an apron at an early age will help promote healthy habits. Early childhood learners are famous for being picky eaters – perhaps they do not want different foods to touch each other or maybe they pitch a fit if things are sliced in the “wrong” direction. Possibly even more frustrating, they’re often simply unwilling to taste anything unfamiliar. However, when they are allowed the opportunity to help prepare meals, they become more willing to try something new with an open mind.

There are also various academic benefits to cooking with young kids. Early math skills are easily promoted as early childhood learners follow steps in recipes, count the number of scoops and develop an understanding for various liquid and solid measurements. Furthermore, think of your kitchen as a mini science laboratory – children are able to watch various reactions when ingredients are combined or how different foods react to heat or cooling.

Early childhood language skills are also targeted in the kitchen as young cooks learn how to follow directions, read through recipes, and increase their vocabulary with each new culinary experience. And of course, a great deal of sensory learning takes place with any cooking project. By exploring various ingredients and textures, kids are able to activate different senses, including taste, touch, feel, and smell. And – if you’re cooking something on the stovetop, they may even be able to hear the sizzling, popping, or hissing.

Tips and Tricks for Cooking With Kids

As a parent or teacher, there are a few simple tips and tricks that can be implemented to make sure your time cooking with young children is both successful and enjoyable. So check out the list below and head into the kitchen – it’s time to get cooking!

  1. Start off simple – don’t try to tackle a five-course menu. Choose one item that your child(ren) can easily help prepare.
  2. Have all of the necessary ingredients out and/or prepped (i.e. dicing or chopping) ahead of time – remember, when cooking with young kids, they’ll immediately want to be involved so be ready when they are!
  3. Assign age appropriate tasks – stirring batter, rolling dough, using cookie cutters, or tearing lettuce for a salad, etc., are all good options. As young children’s fine motor skills improve and their confidence in the kitchen increases, you can move onto more difficult tasks such as measuring items or beating eggs.
  4. Be sure to remain in the kitchen with young children at all times. Spend time to teach them the importance of staying away from the stove when it’s on or touching things when you explain they’re hot or sharp – safety is always the most important thing to keep in mind.
  5. Praise little ones for their efforts and final product. For example, naming a dish after them (Polly’s Pancakes or Jake’s Jumping Jell-O) will help boost their confidence and keep them interested.

 

The Importance of Supporting Creativity in Early Childhood Learning

Get Your Creative Juices Flowing!

Young children are naturally curious – they inherently want to explore new things, create, make discoveries, imagine, and problem solve. Simply put, they want to be creative. And, because creativity leads to further learning and development, parents and teachers alike should provide opportunities that support creativity at home and in the classroom.

There is room for creativity in almost everything – from music and the arts to math and language; creativity is often the key to success. When creativity is fostered at a young age, children grow into more creative learners and thinkers, making them more successful at school in years to come. Perhaps this is best proven when we consider how adults likewise thrive when they develop and use creative solutions in the workplace. Whether an adult invents a new product, creates a new way to promote sales or open their own business, creativity is often at the root of their success. After all, how many job descriptions have you read that ask for “a thinker with little to no creative skills”?

The good news is that promoting and supporting creativity in early learners can be both simple and fun. Coloring, painting, banging on a pot with a wooden spoon, allowing kids to create their own math problems, “write” their own stories, build a fort out of blankets, or dance to their favorite tunes are all everyday activities that promote creativity while simultaneously allowing children to work on various academic, social, motor and sensory skills.

Ways to Support Creativity in Young Children

There are numerous ways parents and teachers can support creativity in children.

  • Focus should be on the process involved in a task or project – and not the end result. For example, adults need to encourage the steps children take when creating or problem solving rather than being concerned about where and how the project will end. Children learn a great deal by being afforded the opportunity to experience things in a hands-on manner and often, mistakes they make along the way encourage additional and valuable learning.
  • Adults should keep in mind that everyone’s final product – whether it’s drawing a butterfly or decorating a cookie – can be different. Children see color, beauty and the world around them in unique and varied ways; those differences should and need to be celebrated.
  • Listen to what children have to say and go from there – parents and teachers should work hard not to impose what they know to be the easiest solution or quickest way to accomplish a particular task. Rather, they should take the time to hear ideas and then support children while they act upon those ideas.
  • Use everyday problems that arise to prompt and support creativity – if a heavy bucket needs to be filled with water, for example, share the challenge with your little one(s) and allow them to make suggestions about how to go about transferring liquid from one place to another.
  • Be sure to provide children with time! When kids are first given materials, they may all gravitate to the same way to handle them or solve a problem. When additional time is allowed, however, many children will come up with unorthodox solutions, thinking out of the box and really getting their creativity flowing.

When creativity is supported and ideas are encouraged in early childhood learning, young children learn how to solve problems and feel safe to explore new things. This, in turn, will encourage lifelong learners and happier children and really, shouldn’t this be every parent and teacher’s goal?

 

Get Your Play On! Young Learners

The Importance of Providing Sensory Play During Early Childhood

In a world where we are often focused on our children meeting certain standards and acquiring particular skills, it’s easy to forget how very important play is – especially for our youngest learners.

What Is Sensory Play?

Sensory play, which involves any type of play that encourages a child’s senses, be it touch, smell, sight, hearing, or taste, is crucial to early childhood learning and provides children with invaluable developmental experiences. In fact, learning is most effective when one’s senses are activated – simply put, by doing, manipulating and physically experiencing things, young children (and adults, for that matter!) are more able to adequately understand and process new concepts.

Consider for a moment concepts such as melting or words such as wet or stretchy. Upon hearing these terms, it is almost impossible for a child to truly process and/or relate such ideas to the real world unless they are actually able to see and feel an ice cube melting or manipulate something that is wet or stretchy. When they are provided with an ice cube, a water table or silly putty, however, instantly the experience becomes richer and the concepts more relatable.

Developmental Benefits of Sensory Play

Specifically, research has shown that sensory play allows children to develop their cognitive, language, social/emotional and physical skills.

By providing early childhood sensory learning experiences, young learners naturally take the materials and/or problem presented and begin to problem solve. Without realizing it, they further develop their cognitive skills while they hypothesize, observe, predict, experiment and draw conclusions – you can almost see the wheels turning in their heads as they make discoveries and find solutions.

Sensory Play also promotes early childhood language skills. By providing children with various manipulatives, they are prompted to describe the materials, what they are doing with them and what they were able to discover. Almost instantly, previously foreign concepts become concrete as words take on meaning and concepts are explored first hand.

Sensory Play has also been proven to benefit a child’s social and emotional development. Sensory tables or sensory tubs that allow for multiple children to engage and work together promotes play, problem solving, and teamwork. Such experiences likewise force young children to respond to each other and manage their own emotions.

Finally, early childhood sensory learning experiences encourage physical development. Depending on the nature of the materials provided, children practice and improve upon their fine and/or gross motor skills as they manipulate objects, cut, push, pull, zip, button, or build – the list is endless.

Encouraging Sensory Learning At Home or In the Classroom

Perhaps the best part of sensory learning is that it is easy and fun to incorporate into any home or classroom. For ideas, take a peak at the list below and remember – sensory learning, above all else, should be fun – and often, the messier, the better!

  • Create a Sensory Table or Tub using a variety of materials (i.e. rice, pasta, shaving cream, beads, water, bowls, strainers, tubes, tongs, rocks, etc.)
  • Engage in physical play – set up an obstacle course or simply have fun by working your muscles – jump, hop, skip, roll, catch – get up and move!
  • Have your child help push your cart at the grocery store or move a box from one room to another.
  • Sort the laundry and/or help transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer.
  • Cut shapes out of jell-o (animals, numbers, letters, etc.).
  • Put shaving cream in a cookie sheet and draw letters or numbers.
  • Roll cookie dough with a rolling pin or form it into balls to make cookies.
  • Using a straw, blow lightweight objects (such as a paperclip or cotton ball) across a table.
  • Use play dough or moon dough to create.
  • Provide finger paint, puffy paints, or other arts and crafts materials, such as feathers, beads, glue, etc. for children to explore and use.
  • Have children help you make slime, goo, or oobleck, etc. Next, let them smell, stretch, feel and describe the material.
  • Sit outside and identify sounds you hear – a car whizzing past, bird singing, etc.
  • Listen to music, use instruments to make louder or softer sounds to consider and understand volume.
  • Bake or cook together – smell, taste and feel the ingredients.
  • Plant flowers, feeling the dirt and water while planting and smelling the flowers when you’re done.
  • Try, test and discuss opposites in the kitchen – salty vs. sweet, hot vs. cold, chewy vs. smooth

Make It Count: Teaching Math to Young Learners

Early Childhood Learning Plays a Great Role in Student’s Future Math Abilities

When we think of toddlers and preschoolers, the word “curious” often comes to mind. Young learners, in particular, naturally want to explore and understand the world around them. As parents and educators, these traits can and should be capitalized upon to provide early childhood experiences rich in mathematical concepts. In fact, research has proven that future math success is often dependent on a child’s early childhood learning experiences and is most beneficial when children are exposed both at school and home.

Children who are encouraged and supported in their math exploration develop increased confidence in their math capabilities and in their ability to learn math concepts. This, in turn, fosters further creativity and imagination. While parents and educators should help children to understand and see mathematical concepts and connections, it is equally as important to allow opportunities for young learners to draw their own conclusions. Furthermore, early childhood learning should allow for supportive environments in which children are comfortable explaining how they arrived at particular conclusions. This will help youngsters develop math language skills and begin to see how such concepts relate to the world.

In particular, when considering early childhood learning experiences in math, parents and teachers should aim to provide opportunities in each of the following areas:

  1. Number Sense

Number Sense refers to an understanding that a particular number can be represented by the same number of objects, or the concept of greater than/less than, etc.

  1. Geometry

Geometry involves patterns, shapes, etc.

  1. Measurement

Measurement refers to sizes, measurements, or distances between two places or objects – standard or nonstandard units of measurement may be used.

  1. Language

Language incorporates math terms such as “in all”, “more than”, “how many”, etc.

  1. Spatial Concepts

This involves an understanding of where things are in space, or that an object or person is behind or in front of something.

It is especially important to note that incorporating such early childhood learning experiences into everyday life can be both simple and fun. Check out the following list of possible ways you can talk teach your child about math and help them make important discoveries about how math is used everyday:

  • Count objects as you go about your day – for example, how many grapes are on a plate, how many books you’re checking out from the library, how many oranges you’re buying, etc.
  • Use simple addition and subtraction – discuss how many crackers or blocks a child has and how many they’ll have if you give them two more, take away one, etc.
  • Notice patterns and shapes when you’re out running errands – prompt a discussion about how the colors of cars make a pattern or how many sides there are on the rectangular sign you pass.
  • Encourage children to create a pattern with toys or other household items.
  • Use a calendar to count down days until a birthday or upcoming trip.
  • Weigh things at the grocery store
  • Discuss which object is heavier or lighter as you clean up
  • Ask questions such as “Do you have more race cars or construction vehicles?”, “Which race car went the furthest”, etc.
  • Ask kids to explain their reasoning and prompt use of terms such as “more than”, “less than”, etc. when they’re asking for more of something.
  • Discuss where a stuffed animal is (i.e. the bear is behind the elephant or in front of the dollhouse, etc.) in their room.

It’s especially important to keep in mind that, when teaching math to early learners, lessons and discussions should meet children on their level. Furthermore, some children will simply understand particular concepts better than others – this is completely normal and can be used to guide future instruction and discussions. Perhaps most importantly, however, whether you’re at school or at home, make math fun for children – you’ll be amazed at how far these early experiences will go in helping your child to become more competent and confident in math!

The Importance of Providing Sensory Play During Early Childhood

Get Your Play On! Young Learners

In a world where we are often focused on our children meeting certain standards and acquiring particular skills, it’s easy to forget how very important play is – especially for our youngest learners.

What Is Sensory Play?

Sensory play, which involves any type of play that encourages a child’s senses, be it touch, smell, sight, hearing, or taste, is crucial to early childhood learning and provides children with invaluable developmental experiences. In fact, learning is most effective when one’s senses are activated – simply put, by doing, manipulating and physically experiencing things, young children (and adults, for that matter!) are more able to adequately understand and process new concepts.

Consider for a moment concepts such as melting or words such as wet or stretchy. Upon hearing these terms, it is almost impossible for a child to truly process and/or relate such ideas to the real world unless they are actually able to see and feel an ice cube melting or manipulate something that is wet or stretchy. When they are provided with an ice cube, a water table or silly putty, however, instantly the experience becomes richer and the concepts more relatable.

Developmental Benefits of Sensory Play

Specifically, research has shown that sensory play allows children to develop their cognitive, language, social/emotional and physical skills.

By providing early childhood sensory learning experiences, young learners naturally take the materials and/or problem presented and begin to problem solve. Without realizing it, they further develop their cognitive skills while they hypothesize, observe, predict, experiment and draw conclusions – you can almost see the wheels turning in their heads as they make discoveries and find solutions.

Sensory Play also promotes early childhood language skills. By providing children with various manipulatives, they are prompted to describe the materials, what they are doing with them and what they were able to discover. Almost instantly, previously foreign concepts become concrete as words take on meaning and concepts are explored first hand.

Sensory Play has also been proven to benefit a child’s social and emotional development. Sensory tables or sensory tubs that allow for multiple children to engage and work together promotes play, problem solving, and teamwork. Such experiences likewise force young children to respond to each other and manage their own emotions.

Finally, early childhood sensory learning experiences encourage physical development. Depending on the nature of the materials provided, children practice and improve upon their fine and/or gross motor skills as they manipulate objects, cut, push, pull, zip, button, or build – the list is endless.

Encouraging Sensory Learning At Home or In the Classroom

Perhaps the best part of sensory learning is that it is easy and fun to incorporate into any home or classroom. For ideas, take a peak at the list below and remember – sensory learning, above all else, should be fun – and often, the messier, the better!

  • Create a Sensory Table or Tub using a variety of materials (i.e. rice, pasta, shaving cream, beads, water, bowls, strainers, tubes, tongs, rocks, etc.)
  • Engage in physical play – set up an obstacle course or simply have fun by working your muscles – jump, hop, skip, roll, catch – get up and move!
  • Have your child help push your cart at the supermarket or move a box from one room to another.
  • Sort the laundry and/or help transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer.
  • Cut shapes out of jelly (animals, numbers, letters, etc.).
  • Put shaving cream in a cookie sheet and draw letters or numbers.
  • Roll cookie dough with a rolling pin or form it into balls to make cookies.
  • Using a straw, blow lightweight objects (such as a paperclip or cotton ball) across a table.
  • Use play dough or moon dough to create.
  • Provide finger paint, puffy paints, or other arts and crafts materials, such as feathers, beads, glue, etc. for children to explore and use.
  • Have children help you make slime, goo, or oobleck, etc. Next, let them smell, stretch, feel and describe the material.
  • Sit outside and identify sounds you hear – a car whizzing past, bird singing, etc.
  • Listen to music, use instruments to make louder or softer sounds to consider and understand volume.
  • Bake or cook together – smell, taste and feel the ingredients.
  • Plant flowers, feeling the dirt and water while planting and smelling the flowers when you’re done.
  • Try, test and discuss opposites in the kitchen – salty vs. sweet, hot vs. cold, chewy vs. smooth

The Benefits of an Early Childhood Musical Education

Raising the Bar for our Youngest Learners

The Benefits of an Early Childhood Musical Education

Music surrounds us everyday and is used by various people in a multitude of ways. Consider how music can easily get you pumped up for a big game, quickly calm your nerves when you’re upset or anxious, or wake you up your children when they’re feeling sluggish. Music can inspire us and get our creative juices flowing – simply put, it has the ability to influence us all, regardless of our background or culture.

As babies, our children listen to music around them and practice imitating and making noises of their own. Just like with language, the more they hear, the quicker and more developed such skills become. And so, why would we consider early childhood education without considering a musical component? Multiple studies have shown that music for our youngest learners is essential – in fact, children who are exposed to music at a young age typically have better motor and problem solving skills, verbal recall, special awareness, rhythm, and listening abilities. Their brains are literally trained differently than their peers who fail to receive the same exposure early in life. According to Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at Johns Hopkins University, “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain.”

While it’s no secret the early years of childhood development are crucial to creating a solid foundation for later learning, too often early childhood programs do not place as strong as an emphasis on music as they likely should. Some teachers and schools may simply believe further musical education is for a select group of the most musically inclined children, while others may feel self conscious about their own musical abilities. However, according to a study published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Infancy and early childhood are the prime times to capitalize on children’s innate musical spontaneity, and to encourage their natural inclinations to sing, move, and play with sound.”

Though it’s quite likely children are exposed to music on a regular basis – perhaps a song before bedtime with their parents, singing the alphabet or a catchy little jingle to encourage everyone to help clean up their space at school, there is typically room for more pre-planned, developmentally appropriate opportunities to provide children with additional musical exposure.

Some ideas that can easily be incorporated into any classroom or early childhood program include, but are not limited, to the following:

  1. Allow time for children to explore and simply play with various instruments.
  2. Create space in classrooms for children to “perform” – perhaps a microphone, costumes, etc.
  3. Provide exposure or time for children to investigate instruments and music from other cultures.
  4. Provide materials that can be used to invent music – pots and pans, cups with water, etc.
  5. Let your children guide their own creative play and encourage them to use music in various ways throughout their day.
  6. Incorporate music into various other learning times throughout the day –rhythms and beats to enhance math and spatial learning, songs to teach new concepts, etc.

When evaluating early childhood programs, parents and teachers can take into consideration whether classrooms incorporate a combination of song, movement, creativity, and opportunities to play instruments. Like other types of learning at this age, music should be play based and exploratory, allowing students to independently self-discover. Such experiences not only help prepare children for future growth and learning, improving their social, emotional and intellectual abilities, but also they may be used to encourage self expression and confidence. So next time you’re playing with your preschooler or working with children at school – go ahead and encourage them to be heard!