(Zibby Andrews) Learning goals for your children fall into two categories. One is to build a foundation for the reading and math skills they will carry into elementary school and the second is to build the social, emotional and motivational skills that are critical to their ability to fully fulfill their potential. Your child’s teachers are equally committed to both, primarily because we know that the two goals are interconnected and interdependent. Cooperation, respect, and responsibility are big words for preschoolers, but they are also at the root of the second category. These three aspects of development rely on conscientious parenting and teaching. They stand with specific academic skills as the traits that will nurture the values and skills your children need to develop into confident, competent, moral adults.
To nurture cooperation, respect and responsibility, there are three strategies to keep in mind, both as teachers in the classroom and as parents at home. Number One is to pay attention to the subtle messages your child receives throughout the day. It’s more important than ever to take every opportunity to model and discuss the events in our lives that leave a message about what is truly important to us. Your presence, your parenting style, and your temperament communicate loudly about life and how to manage it and enjoy it. Take every opportunity to notice kindness, cooperation, respect, and responsibility in others. Choose and use books purposefully for their inherent lessons and take the lessons from subtle to concrete in your conversations about characters and their actions. Take advantage of teachable moments and recognize that your subtle reactions turn quickly into explicit teachings. Use the normal ups and downs of a child’s day to be more conscious of the small steps and examples that build so quickly, and so subtly, into a child’s character. Every interaction we have with them “weighs in” as he or she develops.
Number Two is to respect each child as an individual. As you shape the disposition of your child, you’re limited by his or her temperament, skills, fears and strengths. What works for one child, may not work for another. As parents of two or three children who are very different, take cues from classroom teachers who attend to twelve or thirteen different personalities, seeking the balance that will create a community of respect, yet knowing that “fair is not equal.” What one child needs, another may not. It may help to think of “needs” in terms of glasses. If one child needs glasses, the whole family or the whole class won’t be wearing them. If one child “needs” extra nurture or more guidance in a certain area, give it to them. Your own level of patience may be stretched to give your child the attention he or she craves, or your own need for calm may be threatened by a particularly active child and your success with your first child may not help you with your second. So get to know and understand yourself, then you can get to know and understand your child’s individuality and what he or she needs. Know those needs so you can respect them and work to feed them in a way that reduces any negative impact on those around them.
The third strategy is to use the power of “no.” Don’t be afraid of it. Children need limits to understand limits. To give them power beyond what they can understand, or even what they can actually do or choose, tips the real balance of power and confuses and scares them. Don’t give them choices they can’t truly make. Don’t end your sentences with “okay,” when you don’t need their approval and it’s going to have to happen anyway. Having a matter-of-fact attitude about decisions that are yours and about lines of respect that shouldn’t be crossed, doesn’t mean children won’t test you. But they test more if they are confused about who is in charge and about what decisions they can truly make. “No” and a concise reason may have to be calmly repeated once or twice, but raising children is a long-haul job and some of them need more examples than others before they understand and accept what is within their power and what is not.
The level of cooperation, respect, and responsibility in your children shapes your family just as it shapes the classroom community. Attending to subtle lessons, the quirks of each child’s personality, and their understanding and acceptance of realistic choices is important. It should be in the lesson plan books of both families and teachers, keeping in mind the power of our intentions and the time it takes for them to be realized.
Elizabeth “Zibby” Andrews is Head of the Preschool at Garrison Forest School.
In her role, she oversees the programs of the youngest children at Garrison Forest (Twos through Pre-Kindergarten, coed). From Kindergarten through 12th Grade, GFS is all girls. In addition, Zibby is responsible for the school’s on-campus Faculty Daycare. She received her Master’s degrees in Reading and in Counseling from the Johns Hopkins University
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