Lesson:One of the most influential times in anyone’s life is his or her formative years. Children are very impressionable! Birth to third grade sets the foundation for a person’s physical, mental, spiritual, social and emotional wellness. As an educator, I can tell you that the achievement gap that we see rapidly increasing in schools right now takes place from birth to 5 years of age. Children who are not stimulated with physical activity, positive non-verbal communication, healthy adult–to-adult and adult-to-child conversations, consistent routines and a safe learning environment where they can thrive, learn and explore prior to starting school, do not perform as well as their peers who are exposed to such things from birth to 5 years of age. In addition, the years from birth to 3rd grade are vital to developing fundamental relationship skills, habits and foundational reading, writing and math skills.
Here are the four areas to focus on:
1-Physical Activity: It’s important that we get our kids moving! Child obesity is at an all time high and a lot of it is due to a lack of physical activity and the increase of sedentary activities that usually involve technological devices. A majority of children just don’t play outside anymore and they are missing out on valuable skills that develop through free play. When children play they cultivate problem solving skills and creativity. Playing also helps children begin to understand cause and effect, it builds social skills, refines language skills, fosters experimentation and open-mindedness, relieves stress, develops imagination, and stimulates brain development.
2-Verbal and non-verbal communication: The way we respond to and interact with our children is very critical. The way our children observe how we respond and interact with others is equally as important. Consider everyday life situations: when our children misbehave, when they frustrate us, when we see them for the first time after school, when they make a mistake, when they get hurt, when they wake up in the morning, all of those interactions matter. How do we respond when someone cuts us off in traffic or when someone frustrates or angers us, how do we talk when we are on the phone? Our children are constantly taking in all that we say and do. The hugs and kisses (or absence of them), the facial expressions, the comforting touches, the words we say, the tone and volume we use when speaking, it all leaves an impression on our children and it affects how they will communicate with us and with others in the future.
3-Consistent Routines: I recently overheard a parent say, “I’ll be more structured with her when she gets older. I just want her to be free now.” I found that statement to be very interesting. Is there a misconception that structure and routine prevent children from developing freely? I guess that could be true if done in excess. However, I hope it is also understood that children can thrive the most when they have consistent routines and structure in place and then they have the space to develop freely within those parameters. Boundaries are a realistic part of life, so the earlier we can get our children used to operating within them the better prepared they will be for adulthood.
4-Safe Environment for Thriving: Creating a safe environment where children can learn and explore is something else would should aim for as parents. What do our children see and hear on a regular basis? We have to have things in our children’s environment that will help them grow and learn. A few things I like to do are put out random sorting games, puzzles and blocks for my children so they can explore as they play. I also have letters and words and numbers in different forms around our house in different places. Additionally, I like to play songs and nursery rhymes throughout the day or while they play. I am amazed at how much my children learn through songs. You don’t have to be an educator to create this type of environment. A lot of it is being mindful of what not to have in their environment such as arguing and yelling, violent or sexually explicit TV shows, movies or video games, raunchy music etc.
As I said in other blog entries, it’s never too late, until its too late. Even if your children are past the birth to 3rd grade stage, don’t be discouraged. It’s not too late to start being intentional about having an impact in areas listed above. What you do or don’t do now will count later.
Application: Reflect on the four areas above and determine what things you can do right now to positively affect your child’s foundational years.