Friday, July 22, 2011

Growing Smarter Children--Guest Post from Shelley Joy

Strong Beginnings - Pre-K Graduation - Friday, June 11, 2010 - Vicenza, Italy  - CYSS - FMWRC - US Army
Image credit familymwr on Flickr

I have learned many things throughout the years working with children and families. I have never met a parent who did not want his child to be smart and to do well in school. This unanimous goal holds true regardless of the socio-economical, cultural, educational, professional, or geographical differences within families. Each of us wants to raise bright children who do well. And who wouldn't want their child to do be successful, smart, and self-reliant?

An almost universal conviction is our children are a reflection of ourselves. We must keep our children clean. A dirty and unkempt child is a sign that, somehow, we have failed as parents. This is not necessarily so!

When I worked as an early childhood educator and administrator, parents would often complain of how dirty their child was at the end of the day. They were splattered with paint and glue and often times their feet were encrusted with mud between their toes. Even the most stalwart parent would cringe at the sight of their messy child!

There is a secret formula to "make kids smart." Let them get dirty! To the parents who expressed their desire for smart children, I would say, "I can make your child smart, but you have to let me let them get dirty! I can make them just a little smart and let them get a little dirty, or I can make them really smart and let them get a lot dirty. It is your child and definitely your choice."

Children learn best through play. It is their work! And play is often dirty, messy work. Play enables children to progress naturally through the developmental stages necessary to acquire reading and writing skills in school, as well as the important socio-emotional skills required to become successful and self-reliant students. Child initiated play, supported and facilitated by loving adults, is the single most important factor in early childhood learning.
woad-painted savage
Image credit nowviskie on Flickr
Children learn by doing
Children need years of play with real objects and events before they are able to understand the meaning of symbols such as letters and numbers. Learning takes place as young children touch, manipulate, and experiment with things and interact with people. Throughout early childhood, concepts and language gradually develop to enable children to understand more abstract or symbolic information. Children learn by manipulating their environment and materials, and the messier the better!

Activities should be open-ended, meaning there is no right or wrong way to use materials. Children are their own best teachers through the process of "doing," with the focus on process rather than product. Any activity that stimulates one dimension of development and learning affects other dimensions as well.

Mud, sand, and water along with cornstarch and water, are excellent open-ended materials. Combine these materials with regular household items such as spatulas, whisks, plastic measuring cups and bowls, and nature's finest learning materials turn into imaginative creations of expression and creativity.

Crayons, markers, paper, and glue are other open-ended materials that, combined with buttons, glitter, colored salt, and old magazines, make astonishing collages that are process-oriented.

Make a bowl of pudding and finger paint. The texture of pudding makes smooth and practical finger paint for young children. Add food coloring or a scented flavoring extract, like vanilla, almond, or citrus for a heightened sensory experience.

Preschool-age children enjoy the smooth, soft, and fluffy feeling of shaving cream as finger paint. Allow your preschool child to paint directly on the kitchen table if you desire. Shaving cream is easy to clean and leaves the room smelling fresh.

Using real household items, rather than child size plastic replicas, gives value and integrity to children's projects. Children enjoy, and also learn, by doing "real" work. Mortar and pestles for grinding, scrapers for scraping, wooden spoons for stirring, and wire whisks for whisking, make excellent "toys" for children.

Holly plays chef
Image credit david.james55 on Flickr
Fresh herbs, cinnamon sticks, cornmeal, and dried flowers are wonderful for grinding, scraping, and stirring. Children learn by using their senses: Imagine the smell of freshly ground herbs, cinnamon, and flowers! Simply add water, and you have a new "recipe" for success.

Garage sale pots and pans are excellent for "cooking" and recipes for learning. Just as easily, pots and pans also magically turn into the basics of a rhythm band.

Dollar store gardening tools that are not sharp, such as hand trowels and scoops, make excellent and long lasting sand toys and are great for digging worms.

Save old food boxes, cartons, and packages for children to use as props for their "house." When they begin to become worn and torn, as they will, throw them away and provide new ones.

Take a walk with your child in the rain, jump in a mud puddle, take off your shoes, and feel the mud between your toes!

Ordinary dish soap in a wash pan with water makes an excellent base for bubbles. Bubbles are joy-filled and magical. Use wire whisks, straws, strainers, and even your own hands to create different sized bubbles and a delightful "science" project. Dish soap in a small wading pool with water and a hula-hoop will add magic to any hot summer day and you'll have the entire neighborhood begging for more.

Real and authentic experiences are remembered. They are integrated into the very heart of the child simply because they are real. Authentic experiences are child-powered, not battery powered. They are experiences that integrate concrete, real-life experiences that are the key to motivated, meaningful learning in kindergarten and the primary grades. You say you want smart children? Let them play and get dirty!

Shelley is the author of Little Bird You are Perfect and numerous articles on parenting and enjoying life.  You can also find her on Facebook, where she is offers up encouragement and inspiration.  <3  I am so grateful for her voice of peace, love and joy in my life! <3


Libby Anne said...

Yay! This is my philosophy too - and I love it! Thanks for all the good ideas!

Pippi said...

Amen to that! This is what I love about the Friends' schools. They believe in hands-on education.

Amy said...

I love all these ideas. I especially love "Authentic experiences are child-powered, not battery powered." A great philosophy for children's play. Thanks for sharing :)

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so much! <3