Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Chatting with the terrific moms in my Transitions parenting class has made me think lately about the passage of time.  There’s nothing like seeing my former toddlers entering Kindergarten to remind me about the steady ticking of the clock. 

Hearing about the trials and tribulations of the first few weeks of The Big K from these new Kinder-moms is a great reminder about how foundational human development is.  Everything that we experience today is built on the foundation of all our yesterdays.  And today we’re already working on the foundation for tomorrow!

Working on a lecture for my college level child development course,  I found a research-based list of typical thinking patterns that have been proven to be common to teenagers who get into trouble.  When I look at that list, it seems obvious that the first ingredient for a happy and healthy teenager is a happy, healthy preschooler. 

Even though some of our recent preschool graduates are going through some adjustments right now as they get used to Kindergarten, I know that eventually they will be just fine.  The positive, affirming experiences of preschool provide a solid foundation for just the kinds of challenges those new Kindergarteners are facing today as they’re getting used to the demands of big-kid-school.  I hope their parents will have faith in that sturdy developmental infrastructure through the inevitable challenges their children will face in the next few years.   But it’s probably even more important to understand that in 8, 10, or 12 years, these children will still be building on all of that early learning.  

Here’s an item from that Aggressive Adolescents list:

-Aggressive adolescents tend to have a narrow view of ways to solve problems. 

According to this research, when teens don’t know how to solve problems, they resort to aggression. Even the smallest conflict can quickly escalate to violence, simply because the kids lack the skills needed to handle things peacefully.   

What is the first thing we start learning on Day One in Teacher Annie’s toddler classes?  Problem solving, of course.  “I see you both want the same truck.  What can you do about that? I can help you find another one, or ask your friend for a turn.”  “Oops, the water spilled. How can we clean it up?” Incidentally, today actually was Day One, and yes, that’s exactly what we talked about over and over and over.  And I LOVE it!  Sometime I should try to count exactly how many opportunities for problem-solving lessons naturally arise in the course of a typical morning in my two year old class. I’m sure that each child must encounter dozens of them in our two hours of living, working, and playing together. 

Problem solving is the cornerstone of early childhood curriculum, and any preschool teacher who’s worth their “big salary” understands that. Thankfully do not outgrow those lessons they way they outgrow shoes, and the most important lessons don’t get lost in the “inner space” of teenage brains.  They’re in there.  They have become  part of the hard-wiring, the structure of the brain.  Good parents and good teachers can work together to make sure that important lessons from early childhood are reinforced all along the way.

Another example from that rather alarming Aggressive Adolescents list:

Teens who engage in aggressive behaviors show little capacity for empathy, or seeing things from another person’s point of view.

Again, what better place to begin learning empathy than preschool?  Today in my 2’s class, I observed many, many examples of  our “Empathy 101” curriculum in action.  For example, I saw dozens of signs of real learning and growth in the few minutes I was helping my little newbies meet Freckles The School Bunny for the first time, “What did Freckles tell you when you poked him just now?  See how he moved away from you?  What do you think he wants you to know?”quickly led to “I see Freckles has moved close to you now. And I see that you’re petting him gently.  How do you think Freckles feels now?”  It’s one life lesson after another,  all day every day in preschool.  These lessons are always individualized so they can exactly meet the current developmental path of each child. This way, the learning sinks in deeply and permanently. It becomes a part of them.

Take a look at these other items from The List, and then think about what your child learns in preschool every day:

Aggressive and at-risk adolescents:

-have little or no attachment or sense of belonging

-are unable to think in advance about consequences of their behavior

-do not engage in critical thinking skills, often leading to aggression based on illogical or incomplete information

 It's not hard to see how appropriate preschool experiences can prevent a lifetime of problems.

So don’t waste too much time fretting about the future.  Try to enjoy every minute with your little ones.  Realize that the time, thought, and effort that you and your preschool teachers are investing now will serve your children well for the rest of their lives.

It’s true:  

A happy childhood can last a lifetime!

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