December 2013 Parent Post
The Campus Child Center will be close at the end of the day on Friday, December 20th and reopen for care bright and early on Thursday, January 2nd. Care provided from December 12th through January 24th was by special sign-up that everyone has completed. If you signed up for care during that period of time, we will be here, ready and waiting for you! We have already scheduled staff and ordered food for this time period, so additional requested care hours will be difficult to add.
As long as the weather is not bone-chilling and/or overly wet, we will continue to go outside during the winter months. Please send snowpants, boots, mittens, and hats with your child. And...please label, label, label!!! Labels truly help us know what items belong to whom. Lots of winter gear looks alike...it's very easy to mix it up with another child's belongings. It's also a wise idea to have two sets of mittens...mittens can get wet quickly and a dry pair is always appreciated.
Birthday Party Invitations
I am more than happy to send birthday party invitations for your child's party through the regular U.S. Postal Service. Please place a stamp on the envelope, provide the envelopes to me with your guest list and I will address the envelopes and get them into the mail. We ask this for two very important reasons: we firmly believe that the birthday child (not to mention you, as the parent!) will reap the most enjoyment on his/her birthday from having a small and manageable number of guests. Since this means that your child's entire group of friends at the center could not be invited, it also helps cut down on those hurt feelings that may occur when a small and select number of invitations are posted on lockers.
Social Growth and Development Series
"Stages of Social Development," which is Part 2 of the series on children's social growth and development, is included below in this newsletter. Please scroll past Part 1 to find it! If you would like a hard copy of this article, please let me know. Unless I hear from a number of you yearning for a paper copy, I'm just going to post these articles in our newsletter.
2013-14 Series on Children's Social Growth and Development
(scroll to the bottom for the most recent addition to the series)
The Importance of Building Friendships - First of the Series
If you were with us last year, you may remember that we published a series on our vision for our children. At our annual meeting, the parents in attendance suggested that we publish another series during the course of this year highlighting the social growth of young children. We will do just that. Only this year it will be a little bit different. Instead of each of the teachers taking a turn at writing a portion of the series, I will be the sole author. You’re stuck with me. Of course I will pick their brains so that I can include their wealth of knowledge, but they will be off the hook in the actual writing of the series.
Although this series will be on the social growth of young children, you will probably find that the overriding theme will focus on friendship and relationships. We will explore the importance of building friendships and relationships, look at the various phases of social growth, take a peek at what makes children socially competent, consider parental influence in this process, and talk a bit about the bumps one runs into along the way.
So...starting at square one: why is this topic important? One of the reasons to explore this topic is simply because your child is here with us. When you think of it, placing children in a setting such as ours is the equivalent of us adults going into our daily work or social scene. We are placing our children in a demanding social situation, and often doing it on a daily basis. They are side-by-side with other children and they are compelled to get along with others. And although they are expected to be respectful of all of the other children, in this very full social setting they will find those children they will choose as friends and those they don’t. (Don’t be shocked…we adults do the very same thing!)
Another reason for this exploration is the fact that friendship is so very important. Friends make life more pleasant. They help us think things through. They teach us about right and wrong. Our peers teach us what is and is not considered normal social behavior. We learn loyalty through them (our children are more affected by hurting a friend’s feelings than by hurting their parent’s feelings!). Socially successful children also fare well in other areas of life, particularly in school. The fact is that friendships are exceedingly significant in life. Parents have a tremendous influence over their children’s social lives (even during the teen years…don’t be fooled!). And since social competence is important and parents have influence, it makes perfect sense to explore this topic.
Friends may also cause a wealth of angst or problems for you and your child. When we place very young children together and ask them to do this dance of social competence without the dance lessons, there are plenty of hurt toes. Competent parents respond to their child’s needs in socially competent ways. Because of our deep desire for our children’s success, we sometimes respond in the wrong way. It is truly worth exploring the ways in which parents can support social competence.
I think this topic will be interesting and informative and I hope you enjoy reading more about it. Next month we will take a look at the various stages of social growth and development.
Stages of Social Development - Second in the Series
It’s probably not a good idea to take a look at how we can help our children navigate their social growth unless we have a better understanding of what that growth should look like. This particular piece of the series will focus on the various stages of social development in young children. The caveat always remains: within any stage there is a range of development. There also exists a variety of rates in this growth. Do you ever think: wow…my child is eating an incredible amount of food lately and then a week later wonder why she isn’t much interested in eating? We normally nourish our bodies when we are hungry. In a way, rates of development can proceed in a similar manner. In our children we see leaps and bounds…and then we see periods of “rest.” Ranges and rates are all a part of the typical development of young children.
Children, from a very young age, have the enormous task of developing connections with other people. And this includes infants and toddlers. As our adult eyes look through our toddler room window, we would say that our toddlers are not actually playing with or socializing with each other. But look again. They are really “tuned-in.” (We also know this to be true through good, sound research.) Here’s an example…when someone’s “lovie” is misplaced and found, the toddler who finds it always shows concern in promptly returning the treasure to its rightful owner. Although toddlers lack the skills to engage in meaningful play with each other for more than brief periods of time, they indicate through their awareness and curiosity of others, that they are indeed part of a group.
Go back to that toddler room window and this time take a gander at how the children relate to the trusted adults in the room. Children, at a very young age, seek adults for play. They attempt conversations as they coo and babble and they play that perpetual game of “drop the spoon from the high chair so the adults in my world can play fetch.” Think of patty-cake – they are even involved in situations that have “rules.” If we change the words or actions to patty-cake, infants and toddlers indicate by their adjustment in attention that they know we’ve “twisted” it somehow. Although their play is solo or parallel (side-by-side with another child, but without much interaction), they are truly becoming social beings.
Children proceed from solo/parallel play to dyad play. Children start to develop friendships and will actually identify others as friends. But most of the actual play is done with one other child. They often mimic each other’s actions and remain together for some period of time. But the play remains “loose,” (I don’t know how else to describe it) – it can and does change quickly and abruptly. There isn’t a real rhythm to the play. Think of the children in Dawn and Angela’s room. They tend to play with one or two other children (more than that is too many) and the play is usually brief. Although their play is indeed intentional, sustaining any one idea for a longer period of time is not yet in their play cache.
Take a peek at Kate or Cindy’s children. In those areas you may see five, or six, or seven children playing together. As I watched outside today, there was a group of seven three-year-olds playing a chasing game. This game had rules! These rules were established by the participants and the rules changed as the play proceeded. Remember I said that changes to play happen in Dawn and Angela’s room? Changes to play for Kate and Cindy’s children are entirely different. Before the play (or the rules) could change, it was agreed upon by the participants. They are genuinely working together to sustain their play. Their theme-building in play gets deeper and richer. Their play takes longer – they have the desire to allow and nurture the flow of their play. And not only do the rules of their play change, so do the participants. Children involved in small group play are more successful when they are able to enter and exit play in what is viewed as an acceptable way by the other participants. These children are now taking turns – they share not only toys and tools, but also different roles during their play.
Earlier in this piece, I encouraged you to go back to the toddler room window and look at the ways in which the toddlers make connections with adults. They actively seek adults for comfort, care, and socialization. Take another peek at Kate and Cindy’s children. They too, seek adults for the same reasons toddlers do…but not as often. They seek peers. The importance of peers becomes increasingly noticeable, as these children lean toward interactions with each other more often than they seek interactions with adults.
Because we have a commitment as a staff to offer direct teaching time (which we refer to as group time) to each of our groups of children, we have to concede that we encourage each of our children to be a part of what we would refer to as a large group social circle. The groups get larger in size with the age of children in them. Kim’s group is the smallest; Dawn’s a bit bigger, and so on, until we top it all off with Cindy’s large group of four-year-olds. Each group time also gets a little longer. Kim’s group time is brief, Dawn’s a bit longer, and it climbs in each area with Cindy’s being the longest. Our children are successful in these large groups due to significant adult support at the time. Although group time is child-centered and child-focused, it remains adult-led and guided. Removing the adult from this particular social circle equates to challenges for the children. Because the adult is integral to the equation, one may view this social situation as perhaps not belonging on this social scale. But if you were to ask the children, they (at least those who are 2 ½ or older) will firmly tell you whose group they are a part of. And for those who are younger, they physically band themselves together as “Dawn’s Group” or “Kim’s Group.” Being a member of a much larger group is important. It’s their first opportunity for building community – a community of which each is an important member.
I simply love watching all of this as it unfolds around me. And if you ever have the time to hang around sometime, I invite you to join me in watching something that is truly amazing. Of course, it comes with joys and challenges. And those are some of the things we’ll talk about as this series continues.
Skills in Self-Regulation - Third in the Series
At the start of our series we talked about the importance of building friendships and the stages of social growth and development. In my mind, the next logical step in this series covers how parents support their child’s social competence. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two pieces to this. One piece concerns the much broader ways in which we support our children’s social growth and development and one piece I refer to more as the “nitty-gritty” of competency in general.
Socially competent children almost always have socially competent parents. As parents, we react and respond to our children’s nature, needs, and desires. And when we consider their social development, we often respond in a way that fits our own social reality. In other words, much of our own social mannerisms - the ways in which we navigate our own social world - appear in our reactions and responses to our children. That’s part of the big picture.
But what I’d like to talk about this month is a part of the “nitty-gritty.” Over the years, my work with young children has made me more and more aware of the importance of helping our children explore and master skills in self-regulation.
Self-regulation is being able to manage one’s emotions and behaviors. It’s being able to refrain from doing something we really, really want to do and to do something we really, really don’t want to do. Self-regulation means understanding that our actions have consequences (both positive and negative); it’s knowing what is and is not culturally acceptable; and it’s understanding that we – not our feelings – control our behavior. Children who have skills in self-regulation can remain focused and attentive, they can manage feelings of frustration, and they have more resiliency and self-confidence. Children who have skills in self-regulation are less impulsive – they are able to wait, share space, and deal with change. Think about these self-regulation skills. Aren’t they the same skills and behaviors you really want to find in your friends? And if that is true, isn’t it what your friends also hope to find in you? And if you buy into this, shouldn’t this be one of our very first considerations for our own children’s growth and development? The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that skills in self-regulation are absolutely essential not only for the social growth of our children, but for their development in general.
So what does this all mean for us as the adults in our children’s lives? It means we are exceedingly important! Every human has to learn to regulate feelings, thoughts, and actions and this learning begins in childhood. It is our role to model, shape, and guide and this role is a big one.
Children learn little in the skills of self-regulation when the adults in their lives are harsh, inconsistent, impatient, demanding, and controlling. But when we establish expectations and boundaries and consistently remind the children of them, we establish a secure and trusting environment in which children feel loved, comfortable, and safe. In this type of environment, children know the limitations and expectations. They see adults modeling even temperament, patience, and respect for others and they come to a better understanding of the positive results of being patient and in control of their actions and responses.
Our words are powerful sources of help. When we say things such as, “When you pushed, Macy got hurt. Let’s check on her to make sure she’s ok,” we are helping children understand cause and effect, the feelings of others, and our expectation to make things “right.” When a child is crying and we say, “What do you need to help you feel better?” we are modeling patience and respect for others. Sometimes we can make it better – we can honor the request. Sometimes we can’t make it better and when this happens, we are helping children gain a deeper understanding of emotions (that everyone has times when things don’t go our way) and how to manage them. When we say, “First pick up the blocks and then we can go outside,” we are reaffirming expectations while also helping a child learn more about waiting. When we remind children that it is currently another child’s turn to use a much-wanted toy and that their turn is soon approaching, we are again reaffirming the ability to wait and also helping them learn to share space and materials with others. Sometimes I find myself saying, in the presence of the children, things such as “I’m waiting right now…I’m practicing being patient,” or “I wish I could ___ right now, but it’s not time to do that. I’ll have to think of something else to do.” Not only does this reinforce my self-regulation skills for our children, it also reminds me that I can indeed manage my emotions and behaviors!
Children also learn little in the skills of self-regulation when the adults in their lives are hyper vigilant, smothering, and overly affectionate. When we respond in a sensitive and reassuring manner, the children know we are keeping them safe, but that we are also encouraging them to take on new challenges and experiences. They know they can try things out and have a safety net (trusting adults) to fall back on and they know they have the support and encouragement needed to try new endeavors. There are going to be many bumps along the way – frustrations, disappointments, and challenges – these are a part of life. When we teach our children to “brush themselves off” and move on they will gain skills toward persistence and resiliency.
I guess that if I was to sum all of this up in a few words, I’d say: model resiliency, practice patience, encourage persistence, and display respect for oneself and others. In the end…this will support self-regulation skills and the skills needed to establish and maintain friendships.