Do you want your little one to enjoy preschool and have a positive experience before she begins her formal education? Here is some expert advice from Ms Charlotte Wong, Senior Manager at Kinderland Educare Services for parents of preschoolers
The baby and toddler years of your young child’s life seem to have passed by in the blink of an eye, because before you know it, she will be already be starting preschool!
Some people may view kindergarten as an introduction or preview to formal education and an opportunity to prepare your little one for Primary One — but should preschool really be all about endless worksheets, piles of homework, memorising facts and figures, sitting hunched over at a desk indoors all day long, and learning regimental rules without any room for fun and play?
theAsianparent spoke to Charlotte Wong, Senior Manager at Kinderland Educare Services for her expert advice on why it is important to make preschool a positive experience for young children and what is the ideal learning environment.
How can parents find a balance between giving their children the freedom to explore but also protecting from harm?
Firstly, it is important to understand the wonderful benefits of giving young children the freedom to explore.
Infants and toddlers learn through meaningful relational interactions — whereas babies, once born, make crucial neural connections in their brains through their daily experiences, to learn and develop their understanding of what is around them.
Every experience, whether it is playing peek-a-boo with a parent, or being fed a new fruit, excites the neurons or brain cells.
Recurring experiences will develop a “neural synapse highway” which helps infants comprehend the world a little better.
Exploratory play is to allow infants to learn about things which interests them, in a purposefully created environment and the intention is to create a curiosity in the infants to reach out and discover new information while ‘investigating’ his surroundings.
Exploring their physical environment comprises a great deal of the learning for mobile infants and toddlers — for example, if a young seven month old is placed on a mat with a shiny reflective bowl and a soft velvet cloth near him, as he reaches out to the bowl with his finger-tips, he will soon realise that it moves away easily.
Conversely, the experience when he reaches for the velvet cloth will be quite different and provides a new experience for the infant.
Similarly, an older infant who is figuring out how to use a spoon to feed himself will soon learn what motion is required from him to get the delicious food from the bowl to his mouth.
Another toddler who is learning to climb up and down a play structure will also ascertain after a few tries that it is safer and less daunting to descend legs first.
Exploratory play also promotes:
- Stimulated brain connections
- Early cognitive development
- Problem-solving skills
- Good self-esteem
- Critical thinking ability
How can parents encourage free-play and independence?
Now that we understand some of the learning benefits of exploratory play for young children, how do we as parents strike a balance by protecting them from getting hurt?
Here are three important steps parents can take:
1. Prepare the environment
For immobile infants, a small mat area will be sufficient for play time.
For mobile infants or toddlers, define a play area like a corner in the living room or the children’s room, and parents may provide a padded area with a mat or carpet to cushion falls, not to prevent low-level falls, like while the toddler is learning to walk.
Sharp corners which may hurt or cut should be removed or covered up with protectors.
Encourage independent play by providing sensorial and frequently changed resources for learning which need not be expensive toys as parents may use recycled materials like empty milk bottles, household items such as baskets, scarves and spoons.
Outdoor soft areas such as grass in a park or a playground will also be safe for exploratory play.
2. Change your mind-set about exploratory-play
Infants and young children get their world view and perspective of what is good or bad from adults.
Research has shown that most children have an innate perception of depth from as young as five months old, although they may still look to adults for guidance — it is therefore important for the adults to allow children the opportunity to learn how to overcome obstacles and to differentiate from a young age between what is safe and what is harmful.
When parents are overly anxious about a child’s safety, the same vibes are quickly picked up by the young ones.
3. Facilitate the play
Play alongside your children.
Besides providing the vocabulary, introduce discovery questions like the 5W and 1H, which are:
- What if
For the pre-verbal younger children, you may need to provide the answers after a short pause.
This helps your child find meaning in what he is experiencing and for parents to provide respectful, responsive and relational interactions.
Keep reading to find out what else will help give your child a positive experience in preschool