Class Review

I've been reflecting on the material I presented in the Toddler (Preschooler) Parenting Class I offered in the month of August.  The class was arranged so that I would present on a topic relevant to parenting a 3-4 year old child, and then provide some fun play/art activities to demonstrate how, as a parent, we can help our children hone important developmental and social skills.  One week we (me and the parents) discussed delayed gratification, learning to wait,  and related skills while the children got to frost cookies (and had to wait to eat them!), make cheerio bracelets (concentration skills), and played a matching game (taking turns/waiting).    

The last week I presented on Positive Discipline.  The play/art activities were not quite as clear as to how they matched the topic of discipline.  We colored "feeling faces" and talked about providing a rich vocabulary and acceptance of feelings of all kinds.  We also made pictures of our hands and talked about the good things we can use our hands for vs. what they aren't used for ("hands are not for hitting").  We didn't get around to it, but we could have played more games like Simon Says, Red Light Greg Light which teach skills like listening and concentration, and group skills.  Free play would have been great too, as children tend to practice social skills, negotiate, and overcome conflict the most in this type of context.  

After the class on discipline I found myself reflecting quite a bit as to how these play and art (and reading... we read lots of relevant preschool age books) activities really are so great for parents who want to practice positive discipline.  Here is why: when children have a rich vocabulary and acceptance for their feelings they are more prone to cope than to act out.  Especially if they have been taught that "negative" emotions are healthy to have.  Everyone gets angry, for example, our anger is informative to us.  It tells us that we have been wronged, or that we are disappointed.  It can tell us that we need a break from a certain situation or person(s).  These are just a couple of examples.  A child that has been taught that they shouldn't express anger tends to either act in (self harm) or act out (hurt others), but a child that knows anger is ok, as long as it is expressed in a healthy way gets through it.  That child will be able to verbalize "when _____ happened, it hurt my feelings" and resolve the problem with the other person.  That child will know that it's ok to step back, take a break, and seek support rather than hit, bite, yell, or do damage.  And that's just the example of anger.  

This all matters in the context of free play as well.  The child with a rich understanding and acceptance of emotions will have an easier time negotiating, sharing, and overcoming conflict.  Of course, this type of coping comes with practice, time, and maturity, but it also happens on a spectrum, and the child who has good understanding of their own emotions is just better at regulating them.  And that matters when it comes to discipline.  Generally speaking, positive discipline is about helping a child learn to regulate themselves emotionally, physically, and socially.  Before I ran the class I was a very firm believer that teaching emotional vocabulary and emotional acceptance from an early age is one of the best things a parent can do to prepare a child to be a social being.  After teaching the class I came away with an even firmer conviction that this is the case.    

The Preschool Dilemma

Choosing between home-care, daycare, and preschool can be a worrisome and gut wrenching decision.  We live in a day and age that places strong emphasis on education, and education is not necessarily an equal opportunity experience.  So it is no wonder that parents, more than ever, are pushing their preschool age children toward preschools and daycares that emphasize an academic environment in hopes of giving their child an extra leg up.  Other parents stay home with their children, and worry that they are not doing enough.  It seems that almost all parents at some point are left feeling guilty or second guessing their decision.  Today I'd like to help ease everyone's concerns about which option is best, and explore what aspects of any of these environments are beneficial, or not.  My intent is not to provide a comprehensive list of pros and cons, but to set out some important information to help you get thinking about what option is right for your family.  Spoiler alert, they are all good options!

The optimal commonalities of home-care, daycare, and preschool:

Caretakers and parents should provide "quality care", defined as frequent interactions that are sensitive, responsive, and cognitively stimulating.  This kind of environment is found in all three types of care, but is most common when the caretaker is caring for a small number of children. The environment that the child spends the majority of their time in should be clean, safe, and physically stimulating (with age appropriate toys, art, and activities).  The competency of the caretaker also matters.  Caretakers with rich vocabularies, or those who read and sing to the children often will provide for an environment that encourages cognitive and language development.  From a social perspective daycares and preschool provide for many opportunities to engage socially which builds empathy, self-esteem, and social competence.  Home-care can do a great job of this as well, but sometimes more effort is needed on the part of the parent to seek out social engagements.  The style of care matters.  Play-based care over academic teaching is more developmentally appropriate.   Children at this age are primed for social and play-based learning.  What I mean is at this age children are learning how to be social beings (sharing, turn taking, mutual imaginative play) as well as mastering gross and fine motor skills (jumping, climbing, dancing, drawing).  Although it is good to learn the ABC's and counting, all kids will get there.  In fact, children that are pushed academically during the preschool years typically are not any further ahead by the time they get to first grade.  By all means, this age group is learning all the time, they are soaking in everything!   Encouraging academic growth isn't a bad thing, but it shouldn't be stressed as more important than social experiences, play, and imagination.    All in all, these three options are most beneficial when the care that is given is stable and consistent.  

Some differences among home-care, daycare, and preschool:

One difference that should be noted is the relationship that develops between the child and it's parents.  Children that spend a lot of time in daycare may be less compliant with their parents.  Although they be more "school ready" when they hit kindergarten.  There are multiple reasons why this relationship dynamic may develop.  Sometimes a family is not equipped to provide a consistent engaging environment appropriate for this age, in which case daycare and preschool can be that place that provides consistency, predictability, and opportunity.  Some daycares are more preschool like in their orientation, and others are just a place for kids to be kept out of danger.  Preschools and daycares have a wide range in their approach.  Some are academic specifically, others are play based specifically, and some are a combo.  Home-care varies widely on the commitment of the care-taking parent, and their particular style of providing engaging activities and experiences.  When choosing the option that is right for your family, hopefully this information will help to guide you.  

 

To sum it all up, "quality care" is what matters most.  If you find a quality daycare or preschool that is great!  If you have confidence that you provide quality care from home, that is great!  So don't worry about which option is the right choice, but rather which option fits your personal circumstances.   

Ring-around-the-rosies on an outing with the grandparents.

 

 

Some information for this post was taken from the 9th Edition of Development Through Life: A psychosocial approach by Newman & Newman