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!




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