Sunday, May 22, 2005

What Children Really Need During the Preschool Years

Essential Christian Preschool

Some things are crucial and need to be learned in the preschool years. Certain foundational aspects of character, family life and self-care development sets the stage for future growth and learning. Molding your child to fare well within the family unit and within society at large as well as nurturing a love of spiritual life and a love of learning are all that your preschooler really needs. Everything else can come later. Eventually, your child will learn how to write his name and count to 100. But if you wait to inspire a love of all that is truly important, you may wait until it is too late.

I have two sisters who are kindergarten teachers. Yes, they do get children who are sometimes unprepared for the rigors of today's kindergarten. But for the child who still needs help writing his name or counting, help is available. What is much more difficult and disruptive for them is the child who does not know how to put on or take off his own coat and boots and who can not get along with peers or who seems disinterested in learning. It is the child who does not seem to know how to have fun without a television or a video game, the child who has no sparkle in his eyes, that they find especially troubling and sad.

As I am finishing up the end of the official preschool years with my son, I have been reflecting on many studies as well as my own clinical experiences working with troubled children to formulate what I believe to be essential building blocks of the preschool years.

1. Love of learning. Nurture the curiosity of your child. Experiment as requested. “I don’t know what will happen if we mix the flour and the water. Let’s try it and see.” Answer questions patiently and as accurately as possible. Thank goodness for the Internet when you need to know ‘how does God make refrigerators’!
2. Love of family. Spend time with grandparents and other extended family. Model healthy family relationships. Teach responsibility within the family unit. Encourage observation of sibling’s growth and development. Encourage love and respect for all family members. Teach family history and genealogy. Pray for family members and others’ families.
3. Learning self-care and chores. Allow your child to take responsibility for certain chores. Spend time teaching and reinforcing how to brush teeth, button clothing, and choose clothing. Kids love to help out so make sorting laundry, putting away silverware and setting the table fun and learning. Teaching the child about and seeing that they receive proper nutrition, sleep, fresh air and exercise are also important.
4. Love of the Lord. Children are very in tune with the spiritual realm and have a natural curiosity about God. Feed the curiosity and fan the flames both by example and by providing ample opportunity for the child to learn about God and his creations. Make the Bible essential reading for the preschool years.
5. Peer relationships/conflict resolution. Relationships are filled with conflict and the preschool years are no exception. Conflict will be present throughout our lives but how will we teach our children to handle it? The myth that merely being around peers in groups of 10 or 15 for 8-12 hours a day will socialize children is entirely untrue and anyone who has studied child development knows that. However, well-chosen experiences with small numbers of peers under the watchful eye of a caring adult can help children to learn about relationships. If the playmate has a toy that my child wants, how will he choose to handle the matter? He may try several approaches, some appropriate some not, to get what he wants. Judicious adult guidance can serve to point out options and help the child understand what works and what does not. This is impossible to accomplish if one teacher is caring for ten children. Children are mostly socialized by watching and interacting with adults within their family units and peer relations will flow from these experiences.

Any other ideas from you moms who have perhaps gone through the preschool years several times already? Please leave your comments. I am still learning!
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