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Expand on Your Child's Learning

 
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Cognitive Development

Studies have linked poor self control and inability to focus to poor skills in both literacy and math. This gap widens by the second grade and becomes even wider still. by sixth grade.  

Executive function, working memory and inhibitory control are all essential to the learning process. Here are a few ways you can practice these skills at home. 

  • Self Regulation: Children establish their own unique strategies that come naturally for them to use in challenging situations. Look for these in your own children. Help children build upon these natural abilities in order to gain control over managing stressful situations. Once your children become older & have gained more mastery in accessing these tools on their own, gradually let go & give them the control to self-regulate. For infants, find a technique that helps them to calm down, such as switching the light switch on & off and/or holding them until they are able to calm down & take over on their own. 

  • Rewards: Praise & acknowledge your child when they have overcome a frustrating experience. But praise for effort & not for abilities, such as intelligence or personality traits. Children praised for intelligence, for example, have been found to avoid challenges in order to always reach that end-goal of "I am smart," rather than the effort it took to get them there. With this in mind, teach them to have a growth mindset (nothing is set in stone but can always be improved upon), rather than a rigid one. These are great learning opportunities for your children to develop the internal mechanisms needed to work to overcome struggles on their own. 

  • Play Games: Games played at home can help your child to work on all of these skills. Sorting games are always fun. A two year old can have fun playing one-dimensional sorting games, while a three and four year old can enjoy sorting according to more than one dimension. Four year olds enjoy the additional challenge of switching between rules of a sorting game. For example, they can order the same set of cards, first by color, then by shape, while younger children still struggle with this concept. Another fun &  familiar game is "Simon Says." You can vary this game up with older children by adding more than one element to each command. An additional challenge for older children is a similar game of opposites in which children are asked to touch their head but instead must touch their toes or asked to turn left but instead must turn right, etc. LIkewise, Stroop-like excercises are always a hit with older children. Show them the word "Red," written in green and ask them the color they see. Try to devise games of this nature for older children to help develop working memory & inhibitory control.

  • Limited Television Time: There is little evidence that children under the age of two learn much from television. Conversely children, aged two and up, gain from limited exposure to content that is supervised, age-appropriate, meaningful & educational. Work on limiting background television noise. Even if the television is running, in the background, it will affect the quality (sophistication & focus) of children's play periods.

 
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Language & Literacy

Language development begins within just the few short months, after birth. Children at this age, respond to familiar voices and gestures. Infants can even follow another's gaze & intentions, anticipating what you are going to do, well before you reach your end-goal. Here are some ways you can help your child develop language skills at home. 

  • Parentese: Speak Parentese that slow, deliberate musical voice that most of us speak with babies. Research has shown that this type of speech helps infants to understand & pull out the various properties of language even before they begin to utter their first words.

  • Gestures: Use gestures & pointing when referring to objects or actions. Infants tend to use these intentional gestures as guideposts to understanding language. Longitudinal studies have found the more children gestured to express themselves at 14 months, the larger their vocabularies were by 5 years of age. 

  • Vocabulary: At 18 months, there is an explosion of language acquisition.  Children at this age & older benefit from exposure to more sophisticated vocabulary. Provide them with open-ended questions when reading, expose them to & let them participate  in dinner-table conversations in which the content contains the complex vocabulary & ideas of adult conversations & those that are child-centered. In addition to this, asking children to retell a story about or invent one of their own leads to a greater & more complex vocabulary & thinking skills that enable them to make sense of the world, by kindergarten.

 
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Physical Development

Physical movement is essential to the development of the whole body. In fact, all other aspects of development hinge on the development of the systems that control the human body. The vestibular system, or the ability to detect motion & respond to provide balance, works in conjunction with the propioceptive system to accurately control our body movements. It is the propioceptive system that gives us our sense of self & activates parts of our brain for learning. The more in tune children are with their bodies, the more confident, capable & resilient they become. Development of the physical body is so important to holistic growth that children naturally seek out play that stimulates & activates these vital sensory systems. 

The ways in which you can aid your children's development in these areas are many. 

  • Self-directed Play: Let your children be the guide in their physical activities. They often seek the type of physical movement they need. Play that involves all types of movement, such as spinning, pushing, pulling, swinging and hanging are examples of the type of play that will help to activate these vital sensory systems. Moreover, play that is child-initiated & self-motivated is the most engaging & rewarding for them. 

  • Rough & Tumble Play: With adult supervision, appropriate limitations & safety words, such as "Too tight," "Please stop, you're hurting me," rough & tumble play is a great source of physical movement play that allows them to develop physically as well as to gain important social skills. 

  • Sensory Play: Sensory play that involves fine motor skills is also a crucial part of play. Place some small toys in a tub of water or sand to allow children to freely explore. Play dough is also a great way to exercise both tactile & fine motor skills. 

 
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Socio-Emotional Development

If there is one magic rule to helping children manage behavior, it is establishing consistent guidelines with consistent expectations. It may not always be easy to find the time to consistently apply this to your children's routine, but if you do, the rewards will be great. Children learn best with consistency. Any break in consistent expectations will be remembered, making it twice as difficult to apply the same guidelines next time. Within those guidelines, support your children's development as they navigate through challenges. 

  • Self-regulation: Research has shown that children's biology is only a small piece of the puzzle of temperament. Biology is the push that biases children in a certain direction, with regards to temperament, but it is their experiences that set the end-point. Therefore, temperament is not predetermined but malleable. Let's look at temperament & some of the ways you can help modify it.

  • Temperament: Children's temperament has two components: Reaction & Regulation. Observe the triggers that cause your children to react in certain situations & note the strategies they, themselves, use to self-regulate. then help them to also notice these triggers, so that they can become proactive in handling them. As a way of managing stress, for example, observe the coping-mechanisms that your children use & work with them to help them to manage stress in ways that work best for them. Assist them even further by suggesting additional tools & helping your children to incorporate these into their self-regulation strategies.This gives them some measure of control, as you aid them in self-regulation. These strategies & results, then become a feedback learning-loop for your children to learn how best to manage setbacks & challenges.

For preschool aged & older, sit down with your children during calm periods & ask them to think of appropriate ways to de-stress that might work for them. Once these are established, work towards supporting children in their attempts to self-regulate, providing appropriate guidelines, while giving them control to manage these challenges on their own. ​

  • Modeling: From infancy, children are using social referencing to pick up cues from caregivers that help them learn about the world. Be sure to model positive emotions & appropriate behavior, even when feeling stressed. When learning that stressful situations don't have to cause a fearful or anxious reaction, children tend to feel more confident in their own abilities to handle such situations.