What is the “Best” Preschool?

As shocking as it might seem to those of us just trying to slog through the winter months, it is time to jump into action and plan for the preschool year next September.

The process of choosing a preschool for your child can seem overwhelming, as it is the first time for many parents that they are asked to delve into the details of their child’s academic future. What parents remember doing in school as children does not always correspond to how schools are engaged in teaching now. In addition, preschool memories are at best murky for parents, and sometimes we overlay how we learned in elementary school onto what we expect out of a preschool. As parents it is important for us to remember that the needs and development of a three-year-old are vastly different from the academic needs of a third or fourth grader.

It is overwhelming to start learning about all of this just at the time when you are expected to meet registration deadlines. It is, after all, winter. We should all be snug under a blanket reading a good book to our children rather than working so hard to plan for something months and months away. This is why the early childhood staff of Hopkins offers this list of advice and criteria to help you make the best judgment as to which preschool system would suit your child’s and your family’s needs.

When deciding how to best judge a preschool, the early childhood staff suggests assessing the following areas. Pay careful attention to the details in each of these areas, and then decide what provides the best environment for your child. Remember, there are a wide variety of preschools in our community, and they offer a wide variety of programs. Schools sometimes market perks to parents which may not match what your child needs from a preschool. Look carefully at each program and see how it will work best for your own individual child, rather than deciding beforehand what is “best” based on marketing materials.

The first way to assess a program is by looking at the building itself and understanding the program details. This includes understanding how the preschool operates, and how this will affect you as a parent. Understand the communication system used by the school and the teachers. How will you know what went on during the day? How will your questions or concerns be addressed during the course of the school year? In addition, find out how you can be involved in the classroom activities. Are there volunteer opportunities that you can take advantage of? Are there activities within the classroom that you will be invited to join? Another program detail to address is whether or not there is an advisory board for the school. Do parents have a formal opportunity to provide insight, work with the teachers, and help to meet the goals of the program? It is also helpful to find out if parents arrange play dates for the classmates outside of class time. This can build deeper connections between the students.

Look to see the level of diversity within the classes. A wide variety of cultures, socio-economic backgrounds and worldly experiences in the classroom provide a rich experience for the children. When assessing this aspect of the program, it is important to understand how the school celebrates holidays and yearly rituals. In what ways are families invited to share their traditions and experiences? A parent needs to be comfortable with the way the teachers will be celebrating and talking about these sorts of events throughout the year.  So much of a young child’s “work” is learning the social graces of getting along with others. Building a strong foundation of respect for all people based on day-to-day familiarity is a fantastic way to teach children how to get along with others.

When looking at the classroom, examine what is being displayed on the walls. The artwork, pictures, and posters used to decorate the room can provide clear insight into the daily activities of the classroom. Assess what the teachers are using to represent their methods of teaching and the outcomes of their lessons.

Get to know the staff. Minnesota state law requires that the ratio of children to adults in a preschool program is 10:1. Remember, the staff of a program are much more important than what a simple ratio tells you. The teacher is your child’s first introduction to the joy of school. Therefore, it is beneficial to know as much as you can about this person. For instance, what is the expected education level of the teachers in the school? What is the process for teacher development and staff training? How many years of experience has the teacher had with preschool children? It is helpful to understand the teacher turnover rate within a program. Teachers who have stayed with a program for a length of time often have a genuine love of what is going on within that program.

Interaction between children and staff is important to watch. Does the teacher make an effort most of the time to get on the child’s level to communicate? Are the teacher’s words developmentally appropriate and easily understood by the children? Does the teacher model the sorts of behaviors expected of the children? These sorts of interactions provide the environment that your child will be entering every day, so make sure you are comfortable with what you see.

It is helpful to get a sense of what we as parents expect of a preschool, but it is also important to have an understanding of what the program will expect of your child. Often preschool programs require that your child be potty trained. Some children have a difficult time meeting this expectation. Remember that the preschool program is asking that the children who enter their program are potty trained, they are not expecting that all children who are between the ages of 2 ½ and 3 ½ be potty trained. If your child is not yet potty trained, do not feel pressure to “catch up” to others. Pressuring a child to perform in this area in order to meet a deadline for school could cause many difficulties around potty training. Preschool registration can happen whenever your child has reached this milestone.

It is important to understand what self-help skills will be required of your child throughout the day. Are there things that you are currently doing for your child that they will be asked to do for themselves during the school day? Can your child manage with clothes and outerwear (for instance jacket, mittens, hat)? Will the students be expected to pour milk or water from a small pitcher? When the teachers sing the “clean up song”, what will the children be expected to help with? What will the teachers be asking of your child, and how can you practice these skills now to create success in preschool?

Teachers expect that children will be learning many skills during the preschool years. Some of these are the academic foundations for later learning, but much of preschool is geared toward helping children learn to get along with each other, learn to follow rules in a group, learn to adjust to the demands of a school day. This is a very difficult shift for children, and requires a lot of energy from them. Throughout the school year it is likely that all children will have some sort of difficulty with meeting these expectations. Teachers expect that there will be challenging behaviors from children and between children. It is important for a parent to understand what the behavior expectations of the students are, and how the staff will handle the situation when expectations are not being met. Parents need to feel comfortable with the system of discipline used within the preschool system.

The teachers should also expect children to be excited and lively and engaged in the activities that are provided for them. When observing the classroom, check to see that the day-to-day environment provides a place for children to explore and enjoy their surroundings. Children learn best when they are immersed in something that interests them greatly, surrounded by people who care about their well-being and encouraged to “dive in” to activities that are developmentally appropriate. Teachers should expect children to do just that within the classroom.

Preschool curriculum. A quality preschool curriculum is, as often as possible, open-ended and play based. This means that activities for learning do not have a definite “right” or “wrong” answer, but that the materials encourage exploration and understanding through play. The preschool program should not have all the children doing the same thing at the same time in the same way.

It is important to note, however, that most preschool programs have a certain amount of time set aside for “group time”. In this instance, all the children are expected to do the same thing at the same time. This group time generally includes story time, songs, calendar activities and special seasonal events. This portion of the school day usually lasts about as long as a three-year-old’s attention span — somewhere between 10-20 minutes.

The preschool should be set up to incorporate a variety of activities. For instance, it is important to understand how the large motor needs of your child will be addressed. Is there a large play space or gym? What is the school’s policy for playing outside? In addition to training the small motor skills of your child through art work and more detail-oriented activities, the large motor movements of your child should be daily addressed.

A portion of the classroom should encourage dramatic play—the acting out of the roles that children come into contact with every day. For instance, a “house” area is usually a favorite of children in preschool. Other ideas that the teacher might have throughout the year are “store” , “bakery”, or “fire house”. These role-playing activities are beneficial for your child’s social / emotional health as well as the development of their “world view”. Preschools often avoid popular culture toys and play items. Items that are already “labeled” (by already having a name, such as Sponge Bob, or Dora) tend to be played with in prescriptive ways. Often preschools will avoid these sorts of character toys and use more generic items, which allow children to explore different ways to play with them. Other play areas to look for in the classroom are: a library area that is soft and comfortable and invites students to page through books at their own pace for enjoyment, an arts area that invites open-ended projects, a sand/water table that encourages sensory experiences, separate and distinct areas of the classroom that allow free movement from one activity to another.

Assessing progress throughout the year. What does a “successful” year in preschool mean to the school, and how will they show that your child has accomplished this? What formal and informal tools are they using to understand what your child is learning throughout the year? It is important that a parent is comfortable with the curriculum goals of the school, and comfortable with how those goals are being assessed in the student.

Another piece of sage advice to heed is to make sure the school will be a good match to your own individual child. When observing, find a child in the classroom who has the same characteristics as your child. For instance, is your child shy around groups of people? Is your child active and have the need to burn lots of energy? Do you have a child who tends to concentrate for long periods on one activity? Find a child in the classroom who best matches your own child and see how the staff interacts with that child. Find out how the staff and the environment meet that child’s needs. In this way you will have an idea of how your own child might flourish in this environment.

Ultimately, understanding how your preschool of choice operates and what their goals are will help you to feel confident it is the right place for your child. As a parent you will make the most informed decision because you know best what your child needs. Take the time to assess the schools you are interested in, and then feel comfortable that the decision you make for your child will begin a wonderful school career!

Family Mealtime Frustration

This time of year families tend to focus on feasting. We eat to celebrate, we share a meal when we get together with family and friends, and sometimes we eat just because we are so cold!

With all of this eating happening around us, it can be troubling to have a toddler who is in the habit of refusing to eat! However, it is common during the toddler years to become more selective and opinionated about food. What can a parent do? The early childhood staff of Hopkins Public Schools would like to share some tips and ideas to help your family meal-times feel fun – not frustrated.

It is helpful to remember that toddler behavior is often erratic, so it isn’t surprising that your young child will like a food one day and decide she doesn’t like it the next. The power struggle that erupts around food is often due to the toddler’s desire to assert her independence, not because she has any real or lasting opinion about the food on the table. The more we see their whims as being permanent, the more we reinforce their selective behavior. For this reason, keep family meals as stress-free as you can manage. Don’t let your child think that her eating is more important to you than it is to her.

  • Make meal time enjoyable – sit with your child and eat with her. Your toddler loves your company, it makes every activity more enjoyable and longer lasting.
  • Allow your child to experience her food fully – even though it creates a mess. Children are sensory creatures – then need to really “get into” food to enjoy it. A mess-free meal will be a future goal, but for now the mess is leading to a joy around food.
  • Have a place and time for eating established in your routine. When it is time to eat a meal or snack, sit down at the table and make space for doing so. Allow your child to eat as much or as little as she wants. Keep meal times and snack times short to respect their natural attention span. Ten to 20 minutes is enough time to eat. If your child is dropping food or playing more than eating, then she is telling you she is finished even if it hasn’t been the full mealtime.
  • Three meals and two snacks will allow your child the opportunity to eat every 2-3 hours. Between these times, don’t offer food – only water. If your child is not eating between the scheduled times to eat, her body will naturally grow hungry and ready for the next scheduled meal.
  • If your child refuses to eat at the scheduled time, honor her assertion that she is not hungry. Children need to eat a lot less than adults to feel full. We all know how uncomfortable it is to over-eat, and children have much smaller stomachs than we do. Your child will certainly survive a skipped meal or snack –especially if you and she both know there is another eating opportunity within the next 2 hours.
  • A child may need to see or experience a food 10-20 times before he is comfortable trying it. This does not make him a picky eater – simply cautious about trying new things. This is a great strategy for young children – if they jumped into new things constantly they would be in grave danger most of the time.
  • When you serve a new food that might be challenging for your child, be sure to have something that you know your child usually likes. Then allow your child to decide when he picks up the new food. If he refuses or doesn’t seem interested the first 19 times, don’t pressure. Remember, this is very typical behavior for toddlers.
  • Parents often have an influence on their child’s eating that they don’t even realize. If you have been referring to your toddler as a “picky eater”, she will believe that is what she is. Even if your toddler is going through a phase of refusing food, avoid talking about it with her or to others as a permanent situation; it won’t be. In addition, be mindful of how you present food to your toddler. If you are making a face when serving a healthy vegetable, your daughter will understand quickly that you don’t like the food. If you don’t like it, there is no reason for her to try it!
  • The more matter of fact we can be around food during the toddler and preschool years, the less likely your toddler will be to engage in a power struggle. To be sure – every toddler will attempt to engage in a power struggle, but if his parent simply doesn’t engage then there is no “game” to play over food. The fact that he ends up hungry and waiting for the next meal only creates more of an incentive for him to get to the business of eating the next time your family sits down to the table.

Fall Fun!

The changing seasons mean cooler temperatures, shorter days, beautiful trees and a bounty of fall activities! Fall is a perfect time to build some new traditions with your family whether it be something as simple as a nature walk to admire the fall foliage or something more involved like a trip to pick apples for a delicious homemade pie.

Traditions are a great way to build a sense of family and security in your young ones. Traditions bring meaning and purpose to family time and, as research is increasingly showing, are what help teens feel attachment to their family as they’re making their way towards independence.

This may seem like a daunting task, but forming a new tradition is simply about finding something your family enjoys and continuing to do it year after year. Inevitably what the activities look like will change from 2-year-old to 12-year-old, but the fundamental aspects remain the same: time together that you look forward to each year.

The following are some ideas to help get you started!

  • Apple Orchards. Minnesota has an amazing selection of apple orchards open in the early fall ranging from small “pick them yourself” farms to larger, more commercial farms that offer activities and food galore. Each has it’s own charm, its simply a matter of what you are in the mood for!
  • Nature Drives and Walks. Fall colors can amaze even the tiniest of passenger. Plan a family excursion to an out of the way destination, pack a picnic and take in all the beauty that surrounds you. Older toddler and preschoolers would love collecting leaves to take home and press or make sketchings of. Younger babies enjoy watching the wind blow the through the trees.
  • Embrace the Pumpkin Spice craze and do some family baking! Children love to help in the kitchen and are more compelled to try new foods if they have a hand in preparing it. Take a trip to the farmers market (or grocery store) for the “special ingredients” and work with your child to create a delicious new treat.

Think back to when you were growing up. Were there activities that you just came to expect each year? What memories stick out to you about those? What memories would you like to create for your own children?

 

 

 

Our Morning Traffic Flow

The early morning rush tends to get on everyone’s nerves! Fighting slow moving traffic, moving around obstacles that seem to just sit in your way, trying to jumpstart and then outmaneuver everyone around you is just exhausting.

For parents of most young children, this description accurately explains what goes on in your own home in the morning! Often the goals of a parent who is hoping to make it to work on time are completely opposite the goals of your young child who is hoping to just relax all morning long.

How to get everyone out the door, every day, without having to spend so much time banging on the horn?

The early childhood staff of Hopkins Schools would like to offer a roadmap for morning routines.

  • Work with your children to make a routine chart. They can draw pictures if they are young, or write out steps if they are older. Put your children in charge of following the chart – “what comes next?”
  • Do as much preparation the night before as possible: make lunches, put out clothes to wear, organize the backpacks or outerwear.
  • Speak with excitement about what you are going to do. Talk about the thing your child most loves to do where he is going.
  • Provide a simple incentive for getting ready on time: “When we finish breakfast, then we can read your favorite board book.”
  • Make getting ready fun as much as possible. Have songs you sing during certain activities like getting in the car, putting on your jacket, getting out of bed.
  • Give your child a job to do that will provide motivation for getting outside: closing the garage door, carrying the diaper bag, something they can do only when they are out the door.
  • Relax your standards for what it means to be “ready”. Your 2 or 3 year old often looks adorable in less-than-perfect outfits and bedhead hair!
  • Consider what you are modeling when you are getting yourself ready in the morning. If you are feeling rushed, anxious and tense in the mornings, then the rest of your family will as well. Consider getting up 15 minutes earlier to get yourself ready; have your own checklist to ensure you have everything you need, have a special place for important items so you don’t lose them in the morning rush. Our children are learning from what they see us doing.

Mornings are hard on most of us! Use some of these tips to keep the traffic moving in your own household.

Time Flies By—How Do You Capture It?

The beginning of the school year moves us swiftly from the lazy days of summer into a fast-track structure of running from one thing to the next.  It is also a time when many parents reflect on just how fast time flies by.  Watching our child board the bus for the first time, or dropping him off at preschool and watching him walk excitedly but nervously into the classroom for the first time, makes an impression on us.  It really wasn’t all that long ago that we were holding him over our shoulder, lulling him to sleep.

There are times when we see our kids are growing so quickly that we wish we could just capture a moment, so that we will have the memory in the future. Taking time to create family rituals can do just that. Having a ritual that allows your family to come together and do something that feels special to all helps to slow things down, and creates the memories that our children take with them into life.  One example of this is the practice many parents have of creating bedtime rituals–the events that begin to calm our child’s body and mind. The books we read, the songs we sing and the activities we have each evening are a ritual that your child can count on, and that you use to create routine and structure. Rituals like this become deeply ingrained in a child–the songs we choose to sing now to our children are likely to be the songs they sing to their children one day.

Families can often create rituals around holidays, seasons or life events.  For instance, the time around back-to-school is often a ritualized time. We as parents want to mark the beginning of each school year with something special–a picture or a meal or a family event that marks the end of one season and the beginning of the next.  We document these rituals with pictures and as we add years and years, we add pictures upon pictures marking the passage of time. As our children continue to build their identity, they begin to see that they are a part of a unit that is held together through ceremony and tradition as well as daily schedules and activities.  They being to say to themselves “We are a family that goes for a walk every Saturday morning” or “We are a family that has a special dinner on our birthdays”. When children see their family as a strong group tied together through joyful activity, they are often inclined to make the effort to preserve that connection.

The early childhood staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center discussed the ways they worked to preserve memories and mark the passing of time with their children.  We thought we would share some of our favorite family ideas with you:

WAYS TO MARK GROWTH

1) Taking pictures with a treasured object each year helps to mark time. Using the same stuffed animal, or the same backpack, or something meaningful to you year after year shows the growth of your child. Each year the object miraculously gets smaller and smaller!

2) Every birthday mark the height of your child on the wall, or the door frame, or a special poster designed for the purpose.

3) Each birthday take a picture with your child holding a sign that says “I am 3 (or the age that your child is that year).

RITUALS AROUND THE SCHOOL YEAR

1) On the first day of kindergarten, (or any first day of school–or last day of school for that matter!) have a special outing with just that child to honor the day. The first and last days of school tend to be great days to go to the kid friendly places that are usually packed, because on these special days of school they are usually ghost towns!

2) On the week before school, have a crazy dinner day to celebrate that summer is ending and school is beginning. One of our staff has an “Ice Cream for Dinner Day!”

SEASONAL RITUALS

1) In the summer, one of our staff remembers having her Friday nights be “Stay up til ya drop night!”. This was the evening that the kids could stay up as long as they lasted.  Gratefully, the kids lasted usually until about 8:00 each time. But they felt as though they had made it into the deepest part of night!

2) Families on staff have spent year after year going apple picking in the fall, strawberry picking in the early summer or raspberry picking in the later summer. These seasonal experiences helped shepherd the new season in, and created a better knowledge for the kids of how their favorite foods grew throughout the year.

3) One family we know of kept her Christmas tree in the back yard throughout the winter and spring. The first day of summer was marked by a bonfire in the back yard with the Christmas tree.

4) Grow a sunflower throughout the summer. By the end of August the plant is tall and impressive, and taking a picture beside the large flower every year shows just how much a child has grown.

5) Summer time for older families can involve movie marathons. One member of staff has her kids pick a movie title out of a hat and then the family watches that series of movies over the Labor Day weekend. Her family does the same thing over the Memorial Day weekend. This marks the beginning as well as the end of summer.

6) On the coldest day in winter one staff member takes her child out to ice cream.

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

1) Throughout the school year our students tend to collect lots and lots of art, examples of work, and precious treasures. One way to keep all the items, without having to actually keep them, is to take a picture once a month of everything hanging on the fridge, or wherever it is kept. Then keep the most important pieces, and let the others go.

2) During the start of the new school year, one staff member asked her child to go through last school year’s paperwork. After the summer, and with the start of the new school year, many of the items had lost their “specialness” and it was easier to decide what to keep and what to let go of in order to  make room for the new school year’s items.

3) Summer time can be a good time to go through a child’s toys and clothes and decide what is no longer necessary, what has been grown out of, and what can be given away to someone who needs it more. The trip to the local thrift shop to drop off items no longer necessary can be combined with a special trip to the park, or some other refreshing activity.

4) Birthdays are a natural mark of time moving forward, and a good time to talk to your child about making room for the new by letting go of some of the old.

SPEAKING OF BIRTHDAYS

1) Special dinners chosen by the child make a birthday special. One staff member remembers providing mashed potatoes, corn and peas for years and years as a favorite birthday meal.

2) Children who have been adopted have another day to celebrate–the day they arrived to their adoptive family. One staff member marked this day by writing a list of new things she had seen in her children throughout the year, and three or four wishes for the upcoming year. She then shared this list with her family.

T-SHIRT QUILTS

Our staff also discussed the practice some of us had of keeping favorite t-shirts or outfits throughout the years. It is so hard to let go of that favorite shirt that your child loved and loved, but what exactly to do with all of them? A few of the people on our staff made (or received) t-shirt quilts. The quilts are handmade from all the t-shirts that had been worn throughout the years. When was the favorite time to offer this gift? High school graduation! So if you start planning now, you can begin collecting those t-shirts, and you likely will have years to learn how to actually make one of these magnificent pieces of art.

Marking time throughout the years by creating special rituals and meaningful events helps to keep a family focused on togetherness throughout the year. Do you have a favorite activity you would like to share with others? Log in and let us know what you do with your family to create and capture memories.

Foundations for the Future

When a parent sees a child playing in the park with his friends, we sometimes glimpse a shade of what he will be like as he gets older.  We sense the older body in the younger one, we can see the mannerisms that will one day take shape as preteen reactions. There is a part of parenting that looks forward to the older child even as we sit admiring the child we have today.

The future focus of parenting turns our thoughts to preparing our child to be the teen who will overcome the inevitable difficulties involved in growing older.  We hope he will be happy and strong and able to face challenges. We worry that the choices he makes will not suit him well or keep him healthy. Already as we look to our preschooler in the park, we sometimes consider how to protect him from falling into the use of drugs, keep him on a path that will ensure academic and social success, teach him to focus on his own health when faced with peer pressure to partake of a chemical or activity that can hurt him. How do we help to lay the foundation for a strong young adult when we are currently faced with a strong-willed young child?

Although it is hard to see the link between the preschool years and the teen years, there are many things a parent can do to reinforce values around making healthy choices, avoiding unhealthy chemical use, and finding ways to manage stress in a way that focuses on problem solving rather than avoidance. These  age appropriate strategies build a foundation of open communication and information-sharing which can help families talk about the situations preschoolers face, and find ways to address and support each other.

  • Talk to your child about the healthy choices you are making as a family
  • Celebrate your child’s ability to make decisions – choosing an outfit for the day provides good practice at decision making
  • Turn frustration into learning opportunities – find ways to work through a frustrating situation and focus on problem solving

Sometimes a child will notice the people around him are making unhealthy choices and ask about it. These conversations can be difficult to have – especially if the people who are making these choices are people you love and want to support. There are ways to approach your child’s questions in an age-appropriate way that supports your values while still supporting your family members.

  • Reinforce that adults can make decisions about themselves, but that you agree that sometimes adults make unhealthy choices
  • Talk to your child about the medicines and vitamins he sees you or others use. Stress that these medicines can help the person they are designed for, but could make others sick

We can not be sure of what the future holds. We will not be able to safe guard our children through every situation, and they will make mistakes as they grow. Use these early conversations to establish a family habit of open communication, support and learning from mistakes, and a modeling of healthy choices.

 

Have a 90%-Child Summer!

Although the weather has never allowed us to warm up to it this year, summer is just a weekend away. Children are yearning for the free feeling of playing outdoors, playing without structure, playing with whatever is at hand. All of this creative, imaginative and energy-intense play is valuable for mind as well as body; how do we help children to delve into summer-time play?

While discussing play and toys with a group of early-childhood colleagues from many different school districts, I heard one esteemed teacher say she talks to parents about encouraging playthings that are 90% child, 10% toy. This seems like an especially wonderful framework for summertime play.

A 90%-child toy has no right or wrong ways to play with it–and it won’t come with instructions. A 90%-child toy has no end-product or desired result. It is a toy that takes on purpose only through the eyes of the child–and that purpose can change from day to day as a child’s game changes.

A 10%-child toy has only one clear way to play. Once a child has mastered what the toy requires, there is nothing to do with the toy but repeat the game. A 10%-child toy speaks for the child, rather than allowing the child to create the action himself. A 10%-child toy allows the child to passively take in the entertainment, rather than be asked to provide the entertainment himself.

Summer-time is the ideal time to find the 90%-child playthings. They can often be found on a casual walk outside: sticks and stones, sandboxes or sand beaches, water puddles or water tables, open spaces in playgrounds or backyards for running and jumping. By keeping the playthings you offer as simple as the entertainment provided by nature, you can encourage all kinds of creative play with a minimal amount of money or investment: balls and blocks, simple toy cars or dolls, blankets for fort-making or picnic lunches, and swings and slides at the playground.

A child most often enjoys outings when families are spending time together and attention is paid to the quality of the interaction. A trip to somewhere fun while mom and dad are distracted by their email is a 10%-child excursion. Your child is most enjoying himself when he knows that you are also interested in the event at hand and in your shared experience of it. A 90%-child afternoon for the young child is a trip to the local pond with a no-phones policy strictly enforced for all in the family.  When he has your full attention, he will want to continue the conversation about the ducks and the mud and trees and all the other things he is noticing.  You will have had the opportunity to gain insight into what he is thinking about, what he is interested in and what he is most excited about that afternoon. He will get to store a childhood memory that involves the very special time you spent together.

Use your summer-time moments to let your child take the lead in play. Don’t worry too much about whether the game or activity you are doing together is turning out the way you would expect it to if two adults were taking it on. Enjoy the joy you see when your child inches ahead into exploring, and encourage the path he is taking. Young children aren’t concerned about the correct way to do things, they are most driven to understand what is in front of them–that often means playing with things in very different ways than we would imagine. You are encouraging play that is 90%-child centered by watching and following more often than leading.

Use the summer as an opportunity to practice 90%-child focused play. Enjoy the simplicity, the act of slowing down and the shared experiences it brings.