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Parent Engagement in the Early Years

November 15, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Parent Engagement in the Early Years | Several examples of how you can practice parent engagement throughout the early years—from day one through kindergarten. | A father reads with his young children.

When raising a child, it’s hard to know when parent engagement begins. With a baby, you’re doing your best to meet the baby’s needs and fit in sleep when you can. Once the baby becomes a toddler, you’re working on small things, like motor skills and reading. But when should you start actively being an engaged parent?

The answer is at the very beginning, but the shape of parent engagement changes as your child grows. Here are several examples of how you can practice parent engagement throughout the early years—from day one through kindergarten.

Infancy and Stress
Raising a healthy and secure child starts in infancy as you hold, soothe, and interact with your baby. That nurturing helps the child develop a healthy sense of self that will allow him or her to better cope with stress when he or she gets older.

In addition to that nurturing, you can further help your baby by keeping your stress away from him or her. When you are stressed, your body produces toxins that affect your major systems. Babies and children can sense your stress as well, so keep the stress away by taking deep breaths, practicing yoga and/or meditation, and seeking therapy if necessary.

Toddlers and Vocabulary
Help your child develop his or her vocabulary by experiencing new things together.

For example, if you live in the city, take a day trip to the country. Your child will see new things and ask about them. If you see a silo on a farm, explain that it is used to store grain. Once your child seems to understand, point to the silo and ask what it is. Help your toddler continue to learn these vocabulary words by taking pictures and looking through them at home, asking him or her to name the things seen during the trip.

Early Childhood and Preschool
When your child is around three years old, you might consider sending him or her to preschool to start the formal learning process and prepare your child for kindergarten. Attending preschool can provide your child with many benefits, such as:

  • Learning concepts and skills, like colors, shapes, numbers, and letters.
  • Learning to play, share, and cooperate with others.
  • Learning to talk and listen to others, along with new words and proper grammar.

Starting Kindergarten
When entering kindergarten, it’s important that your child starts making his or her own choices. You can encourage making smart choices by giving your child healthy options. For example, ask your child if he or she wants yogurt or an apple as a snack. Does he or she want to play t-ball or basketball today? These options allow your child to eat healthy and exercise regardless of the choice, while it also empowers your child to have control over something in his or her life.

It’s not difficult to practice parent engagement. It’s as easy as nurturing your child, encouraging him or her to learn new things and meet new people, and slowly helping him or her learn to be independent.

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The key to academic success? More play!

September 27, 2016

By Jessica Vician

The key to academic success? More play! | As higher education and strong academic achievement become more important for our children, so does the pressure to start teaching as soon as possible. But how should we be teaching our young children in daycare or preschool? | Toddlers play on a playground.

As higher education and strong academic achievement become more important for our children, so does the pressure to start teaching as soon as possible. But how should we be teaching our young children in daycare or preschool?

Researchers have conducted several studies regarding the effects of traditional academic learning and play-based learning on young children and have found that more fun can equal more academic success in the short and long term.

For example, one study suggested that children who go to preschools that take a traditional academic approach—children sitting in desks, completing worksheets, and learning specific rules on how to play—learn to read and write later than kids who attend play-centric daycares and preschools. The play-centric approach means letting the children engage in imaginative play, figuring out how to play with toys rather than being told how to play with them, and less formal instruction.

So what does this mean for parents? For one, it means that you can relax about putting your child in a hyper-academic daycare or preschool. Look for options that encourage both independent and group play so that your child learns social skills and expands his or her imagination. Those skills will not only help your child succeed socially and creatively, but research suggests it may also spark a greater thirst for knowledge.

Second, put away the high-tech toys and go back to your roots with Lincoln Logs, building blocks, basic Legos, and books. Let your child lead the way as you play with these toys together. See what his or her imagination can build with the blocks, and talk to your child about what he or she is building. Discuss the books you read together by asking questions about the story or characters after every few pages.

These techniques encourage your child to develop critical thinking skills and teach him or her to create, rationalize, and develop a desire to learn, which will help your child succeed in school and in life.

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Fun and Safe Websites for Kids

August 16, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Fun and Safe Websites for Kids | How do we allow our toddlers, our kids under 12, and our teenagers to use the internet for all of its benefits while keeping them away from its dangers? | A laptop sits on a table with the article title, "Fun + Safe Websites for Kids" on the screen.

Your kids are digital natives, which means they have always lived with the internet and digital devices. For those of us who remember the exciting yet frustrating sound of AOL connecting to the phone line, it’s a part of parenting that we don’t have our own stories to model after.

How do we allow our toddlers, our kids under 12, and our teenagers to use the internet for all of its benefits while keeping them away from its dangers?

There are fun and safe websites out there for kids of all ages. When in doubt, I recommend checking Common Sense Media, as they are constantly rating and evaluating various media to give parents the information they need to determine if the TV show, app, or movie is appropriate for their kids.

Toddlers
If you’re going to give your toddlers screen time, limit them to TV cartoons, movies, and apps made for their age range. Most of the apps designed for toddlers focus on learning in a fun way, so try some of these.

Elementary School
For younger elementary school kids (grades K–3), focus on their favorite TV shows and topics they’re interested in. PBS Kids has great options that include cartoons and learning activities for varied interests, including science, engineering, and nature.

For older elementary school kids (grades 4–6), games that reinforce the learning they’re doing in school, like Minecraft, can be great opportunities to keep learning at home. As a parent, you need to enforce playing in moderation and not physically meeting up with people your kids might meet online in the game.

Use game time as a reward for completing homework. You could even use coding games and apps to teach your kids how to code.

Preteens and Teenagers
It’s important to know what apps and sites your teens are on so that you can set guidelines for safe usage. Again, Common Sense Media has a great breakdown of the apps your teens are using now and what you need to know about them.

The good news? The most popular sites and apps that teens are using are pretty safe. As with all screen time, it’s important to enforce using it in moderation and after homework is done. And make sure you require these privacy tips on your teen’s social networks.

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How to Teach Your Kids and Teens Gratitude

July 12, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

How to Teach Your Kids and Teens Gratitude | Gratitude is a learned behavior. If your children are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to be happy now and later in life. | A child holds a chalkboard sign that says, "Thank you."

Have you ever heard the phrase, “No one is born grateful?”

Gratitude is a learned behavior, which can be tricky with toddlers as they are a bit selfish by nature. Instilling gratitude in young children will help them remain grateful as they age, but it’s not too late to influence your teenagers, too.

If your children are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to be happy now and later in life. In fact, according to a Harvard Health Publication study, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

So, how can you teach your children gratitude?

In Early Childhood and Elementary School
Children model their behavior after their parents’ actions, so it is important to lead by example. 

  • Are you are saying please and thank you when you are around your child?
  • Are you reminding your child to say please and thank you to others?

The earlier you model gratitude with your child, the more successful your child will be at both demonstrating and feeling it.

  • Practice daily.
    To teach my son the concept of gratitude, I started asking my son what he was thankful for before we went to bed every night. He won’t necessarily say, “I am thankful for blah blah blah” because he is young, but he will express what made him happy that day. For example, he will say, “I liked my popsicle,” or “My cousin came over to play,” or “Mommy made pizza for dinner!”
  • Point out gratitude in action.
    When your child is watching a TV show or reading a book, point out when the characters show gratitude. “Did you see how Big Bird said, ‘thank you?’ He is grateful to Elmo for helping him.”
  • Include in playtime.
    Another great way to get children to acknowledge gratitude is to include it in their role-playing or imagination time.

In Middle School and High School
Teaching a teenager gratitude can be a bit more difficult. As teens embrace their individuality, they also distance themselves from their parents. Sit down with your teenager and discuss the difference between a person’s rights and privileges. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have what we do.

For example, you can explain that in our country, your child has a right to a public education, but it’s a privilege for him or her to participate in afterschool programs, events, and social functions.

Here are some other ways to introduce gratitude to your teenager:

  • Encourage volunteer work.
    Whether it is participating in community service through the school or volunteering through a local church or community center, the opportunity can teach your teenager to be thankful for what he or she has and to give back to the community and help others who are less fortunate.
  • Thank their teachers.
    Is there a teacher who goes the extra mile for your child? Ask your teen to write his or her teacher a thank you note. Explain to your teenager that the extra effort the teacher put in was out of the kindness of his or her heart to see your child succeed.

Regardless of the age of your child, be patient. Children are constantly growing and changing, but the investment you make now will be worth it in the future.

Do you have a routine, approach, activity, or conversation topic that has helped instill gratitude in your child? Please share what has worked for you in the comments below.

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5 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Preschool

July 5, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

5 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Preschool | Start preparing your child for preschool about a month before the first day of school. Keep these five tips in mind to ensure you and your child are ready for the big day. | An empty preschool classroom is filled with small tables, colorful plastic chairs, and artwork taped to the walls.

They say time flies when you’re having fun. Parents know that time flies faster once you have a child. Whether you are transitioning from daycare or from home, preschool marks a new beginning in both the child and parents’ lives.

Start preparing your child for preschool about a month before the first day of school. Keep these five tips in mind to ensure you and your child are ready for the big day.

1. Establish a routine.
A new schedule or routine may take a few days or weeks to truly stick, as transitions in a child’s life take time. Create a bedtime routine and a morning routine so your child knows what to expect every night and day.

Be patient and stick to the routine you establish, no matter how difficult it seems at first. Your child will adjust and soon come to expect and need that routine.

2. Visit the school.
In the weeks leading up to the first day of preschool, visit the school with your child and meet the teacher(s) who will be involved in his or her schedule. Becoming familiar with your child’s new classroom will reduce his or her anxiety in the weeks leading up to school.

3. Read books.
There are so many children’s books about starting school. Read a variety of these books together so your child can learn what to expect in the first few days and months. He or she will also start to look forward to the fun activities and new friends illustrated in the books.

4. Get organized.
Nothing excited me more as a child than getting new clothes and school supplies. Get your child excited to start preschool by letting him or her choose a special backpack and new clothes. Check with the preschool for a list of other classroom supplies your child might need.

5. Talk with your child.
It’s normal for your child to be nervous before starting something new like preschool. Talk with him or her about the school, the fun activities, and the new friends your child will make. Ask questions, like how your child feels about starting preschool or what he or she is most excited about or scared of.

By learning how your child feels about starting preschool, you can figure out how to best address any fears, answer questions, and prepare him or her for a structured classroom environment. Establish school-year routines in advance and the whole family will be ready to go on Day One!

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