One of the most difficult things for family members and children new to child care is adjusting to the initial separation period. Experiencing tears from your child when he or she realizes you’re about to walk out the door is not easy. However, knowing that your child’s reactions (and your own!) are quite normal and predictable can help with the process.
Most children begin showing signs of concern about a family member’s absence around six to eight months of age. At this stage in their development, children do not yet grasp the concept of object permanence—that things and people still exist even though they are out of sight. The child cries because, in his or her mind, Mom may never return. As children grow, they learn that Mom or Dad will return. In the meantime, there are some things you can do to make this transition smoother for everyone.
Begin slowly. Children need time to adjust to new environments and caregivers, so plan to visit the center several times before leaving your child the first time. Consider leaving your child at the preschool for only a few hours at a time in the beginning, eventually building up to a full day.
Be prepared. Recognize in advance that you and your child may have difficulties separating. Young children often gauge situations by how adult family members respond to them. Therefore, try not to make your concerns too evident to your child. On the other hand, do not ignore or diminish your child’s concerns. For example, it is okay to tell your child, “I know you are sad when Mommy leaves, but I will think of you all day and will be back to get you after your nap.” Remember, too, that staff members at The Grove School have a lot of experience with issues of separation, and are always willing to help you and your child work through the transition.
Be consistent. Having a routine during the first few weeks is essential. Because young children cannot tell time or even recall day-to-day events, their sense of security comes from predictable routines. Waking up in the morning, leaving your home, saying your goodbyes in the same way each day, and picking your child up from the center at the same time of day will provide much-needed consistency. Even if your routine occasionally changes, try to keep your child’s routine the same. Sometimes, having special rituals during drop-off and pick-up times can be helpful.
After time, your child will learn that you will come back when you say you will. As important, a foundation of trust is established between you and your child—one that will make any future transitions easier.
As parents, many of us have watched in wonder as a lullaby or a gentle rocking motion turned an inconsolable infant into a sleeping bundle in someone’s arms. Actually, it’s no mystery why babies are comforted by music and rhythm. Even before they are born, infants are comforted by the steady heartbeat and rocking motions of their mothers’ bodies. After they are born, these same rhythms continue to console them. Babies begin responding to music in other ways, too, such as swaying their bodies and imitating the rhythms and sounds they hear.
As children grow, activities involving music naturally foster pre-language skills—listening, being attentive, and concentrating—which lead to anticipating what comes next and being able to follow directions. In addition, the rhythms and melodies of music help children anticipate and recognize when it’s their turn; as children grow, they will be ready to take their turn. All of these things and more help build the foundation for learning conventional communication and social skills. Music “works its magic” when we involve children in musical play activities that encourage:
• physical contact
• taking turns
• nonverbal responses
• vocal play
• action as well as speech
• an awareness of appropriate timing for action and/or words
Music can work its magic with your child anytime—during mealtimes or other daily routines such as riding in the car, bath time, and bedtime.
Play is one vehicle through which young children learn about their world. Play fosters children’s development in many areas: social and emotional, language and communication, cognitive, and physical. As children grow and change, the types of play they engage in also develop and change—beginning with simple manipulation of objects and moving toward imaginative play and sophisticated games involving others.
Where children play can also affect the type and quality of their play. Indoor play often allows for a more structured and controlled environment, but the less structured environment of outdoor play is also beneficial. Outdoor play offers unique opportunities for growth unmatched by play indoors. Recent research shows that time spent in natural environments influences children’s ability to be sensitive, expressive, and creative in their later years.
Many of the developmental skills children acquire naturally through play are enhanced in outdoor environments. For example, large, open outdoor spaces encourage active play and whole-body movement such as running, jumping, climbing, and lifting. Children’s cognitive, or intellectual, development is fostered when they explore, experiment with, and create using open-ended materials found in nature, such as water, dirt, sand, and leaves. There are also fewer restrictions when play occurs outdoors—adults are often not as concerned about any messes or spills children may create.
Children’s language and communication skills are enhanced when they share and describe their outdoor observations. For example, one child may be fascinated by the fact that water disappears when he or she pours it in sand. Another child may wonder why a ball rolls effortlessly down a slide but a shovel doesn’t. As they search for answers and explain their discoveries to others, children use new and different vocabulary to express their thoughts and ideas about their outdoor surroundings.
Outdoor play also provides children with new opportunities to experience the impact and consequences of their own behavior among their peers. Outdoors, children can be noisier and move their bodies in ways they might not while inside, which might affect how they do or do not get along with each other in social settings.
During their early years, children go through critical stages of development, and consistent, high-quality education can have long-lasting, beneficial effects on the overall development of children. Choosing a preschool in which your child will be loved and cared for is of utmost importance, of course. But it’s also important to select a school that will partner with your family to ensure your child’s healthy development throughout his or her early years.
Social and Emotional Development
Having your child attend the same preschool program throughout his or her early years allows him or her to develop relationships with the adults and children in that environment, which provides a sense of security. A child who is comfortable with the people in his or her life is more likely to participate in learning opportunities and in advanced cooperative play, such as roleplaying with others, playing games with rules, and working with others to accomplish goals. Children who experience consistency in their program demonstrate less aggressive behaviors, because of their ability to interact with others and use their language to resolve conflicts. For young children, the knowledge that teachers, other children, and daily routines will be consistent over time fosters confidence and competency in social settings.
Consistency in the preschool program can significantly impact a child’s cognitive development. High-quality programs that provide developmentally appropriate curricula enable children to develop specific cognitive skills at the appropriate age. Developmentally appropriate curricula help children develop cognitive skills through a developmental continuum, meaning the curricula builds on children’s existing skills and knowledge to help them acquire new skills and knowledge. In addition, curriculum programs that incorporate developmental objectives ensure children follow a scope and sequence of age-appropriate developmental milestones throughout their time in the program.
Language development occurs at a rapid pace in children between the ages of one and five years old. Children who are secure in their environment and with the people around them are more likely to engage in frequent, age-appropriate conversations. These daily interactions lead to more advanced language skills by promoting vocabulary development and conversational skills. Through activities such as daily group discussions, fingerplays, songs, and read-alouds, children develop the fundamental language skills they will continue to build on throughout their lifetimes.