Your Child’s First Teacher

Our babies and toddlers have possibly spent a portion of this school year in a class of some sort. There are swimming, art, music, and gym classes. There are so many options for our children to engage in great learning environments!

As parents we often work hard to be sure our children have these fun learning experiences because we are told that we are their first teacher. We are responsible for the education and learning in the years before our children even enter preschool. This can feel like such a scary responsibility, and we are lucky to live in a state that supports this role so fully, with so many opportunities for families.

What does it mean to be your child’s first teacher? What will help them be prepared for their early school experiences – what will create the strongest foundation for their learning?

The Hopkins early childhood staff would like to assure parents that the natural teaching that happens within parenting is often enough! As parents, we don’t need to put pressure on ourselves or our children to learn early and quickly. What we provide through our relationships with our children helps them to take the lead on the learning they will need to do. We are creating future learners by being present with our children right now!

We teach our children they can trust
At the most basic and beginning level, a child needs to learn to trust those around her. When a parent responds to a crying child, when a parent offers a hug when a child is nervous or scared, when a parent provides for the most basic needs of eating and a space to sleep, then the child has learned that those who love her can be counted on to provide love and care. This is one of the most important early lessons that can be learned – and a parent is able to teach this by being responsive to a young child when she is asking for help.

We teach our children about curiosity
Our young children grow quickly into active and curious creatures! A child needs to learn that the world around him is safe to explore, and that he is supported in learning about his world through exploration. As parents, we need to create limits for mobile babies to ensure their safety. We need to balance this with an encouragement for children to move about the space they are in. It is through concrete, physical experiences that the child learns about the world around him. Find opportunities for your child to move through space and explore in ways that are natural to him – and he will learn that his own curiosity is a valuable tool for better understanding the world. This exploration can happen anywhere that is safe- as all parents of young children know,  there is nothing left untouched and unexplored when a child is nearby!

We teach our children the value of communication
Whether our young children reach out to us with coo’s and babbles, first words or complete sentences, our response to them reinforces that what they have to say is important. When we offer interest in our child’s verbal and nonverbal attempts to communicate, we encourage more communication. Parents begin with eye contact, move to imitation of sounds, end up talking about what is being done or seen, and finally having real conversations with children. All of these communication exchanges are essential to engaging young children and helping them to learn about the world of words and meaningful relationships. Finding the patience to be truly present during these exchanges is so valuable!

We teach our children about limits
As we follow the lead of our children, parents also need to create and reinforce limits on their child’s behavior. This teaches young children that the boundaries created are real and consistent. A young child will not often admit to it – but they feel more secure when they understand that the parent is making the decisions and sticking to them. This limit setting, when upheld in a firm and calm manner, can teach so many valuable lessons. For example, how to be resilient in the face of disappointment, how to delay gratification when necessary, how to regulate emotions in the face of anger. Parents of young children will find multiple ways to teach their young child about limits throughout any given day. Remember that it is such an important lesson to learn in the early years!

We don’t have time to be teachers for everything!
Just these four life lessons are so much work for parents of young children!  When parents are present and connected to young children, and busy teaching these lessons, it is really hard to fit most other things into our busy days. This is ok, for now. Take the time now for the big lessons – the foundational lessons – by focusing on the important early learning young children are looking for. If they understand these lessons, you have been a very successful first teacher indeed!




Is Your Child Slow to Warm Up?

The Hopkins early childhood programs are filled with exciting opportunities for children of all young ages. As parents we are delighted by the variety of playing and learning activities. Not every child reacts the same way to our classrooms, however.  You may have a child who is not inclined to jump in and participate at the art table or during song time. Parents can sometimes become worried that a child who isn’t in the middle of all the activity is learning less than his peers, or not getting the most out of the experience.

The Value of Watching
The early childhood staff for Kaleidoscope preschools would like to offer insight into the child who is “slow to warm up”. The teachers in the preschool programs often meet students who are not yet ready to jump in with both feet; some children would rather take time to get comfortable and learn by observing. The teachers know that the student is not going to have fun in the classroom if he is pushed into activities.  There is also comfort in knowing that lots of children learn from watching, especially at the younger ages when they are not yet used to the routine of preschool. If your child is experiencing a drop-off school for the first time, be patient with him. The difference you will see in his willingness to participate over the course of the school year may be remarkable, once you have had the chance to see the year with hindsight. The year of growth and maturity in the child, as well as their improved understanding of the systems of the school day will result in a much more confident and participatory student!

The Teacher’s Strategy
When a teacher sees that a student is not participating as actively as others, she takes steps to encourage participation by building on the interests of the child. The teacher will observe the child and see what sorts of toys and activities he enjoys, and then build on those things within the classroom to encourage more exploration and interaction with others. For instance, if the teacher sees that a child enjoys playing with a race track during open play, she might dip racing cars in paint and use them as paintbrushes in the art corner. In addition, if the teacher sees that a child hesitates to do an activity the group is working on, she might alter that activity slightly to suit his interests and keep him engaged. Lastly, a teacher may create small groups for activities rather than have the whole group participate. This encourages interactions on a small scale, and can help a hesitant child feel comfortable with a smaller group of children.

How Can A Parent Help?
You can support your child by not pushing him to participate if he isn’t ready. Instead, convey the message “I know you will do this when you are ready.” This shows confidence in your child’s ability to approach something new in his own time.

Lay groundwork for familiarity by setting up some play dates with preschool friends. These play dates can be very simple – a meeting at the local library or park for an hour – and they help your child get to know his peers on a more intimate level.

Try your hardest to be on time to class each day. For the child who is slow to warm up, it is doubly hard to join activities once they are already happening. By being on time or even a bit early, your child will have the chance to get into the room and settle in before being expected to participate.

Sometimes a child is not participating because they have not yet mastered the skill required to do so. Talk to your teacher about skills you can work on at home. For instance, it may help to be singing the songs your child hears in school while you are at home. It may help to have your child use a child-safe pair of scissors for cutting to help him learn this skill. Your teacher can direct you to activities that will help build the skills your child needs to build confidence in the classroom.

Realize how much learning is going on even if your child is not participating in every activity. Learning how to be part of a classroom, interact with new friends, follow directions and structure, and be focused on others for hours is so much social work. This may be taking all the energy your child has. Be proud of his ability to handle the school day, and be confident he will have energy for other things as he masters all these foundations.

Trust Your Child
Very often, your slow-to-warm-up child is doing what feels right for him when he hesitates to participate in the classroom. Trust that he will follow his interests and his curiosity as he becomes more familiar and comfortable with his school. In his own time he will take part in the activities that feel most meaningful to him.

Saturday Family Open Gym

Hopkins ECFE has the cure for the winter wiggles! Fun and energetic activities for children ages birth through 5 years old – the whole family is welcome to these classes! Parents and children play together in the classroom and the gym. Register for one class at a time, or for the whole series.

Register for the series online, or call our front office at 952-988-5000 to register for one class at a time. Please call the office 24 hours prior to the date of the class you would like to attend.

Saturdays, January 16-February 20
Harley Family Center, room 36
125 Monroe Avenue South
Hopkins MN 55343
$5 / family / class