|Good Child Care = Lifelong Learning|
As child care providers, you are paramount to helping children get ready for school. As you well know, school readiness is not about letters and numbers. It is good health, strong motor skills, and language development. It is curiosity, the capacity to share with other children and the ability to follow through on a goal. Children with these skills will easily learn to read and write.
Babies in your care have the potential to love and learn. At just a few weeks of age, babies know who is important in their lives and can communicate happiness, displeasure and hunger. At several months of age, those babies learn that smiles get more smiles, playing with a toy is fun, and sucking a pacifier or thumb is calming. Everything children learn becomes the foundation for school readiness. It happens naturally through play as well as through cooing, babbling, singing, talking and sharing books with you.
Don't forget that good health leads to good learning for children. The brain is the organ that grows at the greatest rate during the first months of life, reaching 80% of its adult weight by the time a child is 14 months old. Children's learning ability may be impaired if they don't receive adequate nutrition during the first few years. Serving a variety of healthy foods strengthens children's immunity and keeps them healthy, active and resistant to disease.
As you check to make sure children in your care have up-to-date immunizations, you are partnering with families to ensure the good health of children. You might use immunization as a doorway to talk about other health issues, such as routine check-ups and to make sure the whole family has access to good health care.
PLAY IS LEARNING
Play is more than just fun for babies and young children. It is the time they learn and practice what they learn. Whether they are playing alone or with other children, they are learning problem solving, cooperation, and language. Through play on slides and bikes, they are developing strength and coordination. When building with blocks and putting puzzles together, they are increasing their curiosity, and self-esteem.
Pre-schoolers love to play "make-believe." It's a way to act out roles, try out new ideas, and re-enact experiences. When you provide a variety of opportunities for play, you are strengthening their abilities to be ready for formal learning. As you encourage children to try many new things, you are helping them think of themselves as excellent learners. They know they can feel unafraid to try new things, to make mistakes, to try again and be proud of what they can do.
Children's speech and language skills develop at different rates. There are easy activities you can do with children to encourage good speech and language development.
Babies use sounds like "ma," "da," and "ba." Repeat the sounds with them, respond with different combinations, and imitate babies' laughter and facial expressions.
Talk, sing, recite nursery rhymes with your children. Help expand their vocabulary. Play word games such as: "This is my nose. I can smell flowers and cookies. What can your nose smell?"
Limit the amount of time children watch television. Choose carefully what children do watch, and make it a learning activity. Watch the selected program or video with children and talk with them about what they see.
Read to children, beginning at the earliest stage. Try to set aside a special time of day to read with the children in your care. Have appropriate books available for children to look at on their own. Your librarian can help select appropriate books with you.
Children need to know that their capacity to care about and cooperate with others is important. Praise children when you see them treating others well. Let them know you expect them to be caring and cooperative. Give explanations of consequences of behavior: "Susan could be hurt, and If you hit other children, you might get hit back, your friends won't want to play with you."
Assuming responsibility for others helps children develop a sense of community. Give children jobs of their own so they know they are important members of the group.
COLLABORATE WITH PARENTS
Strive to work collaboratively with parents. Children need to see their caregivers and their parents working together. They need to sense their parents' deep concern for a safe and loving environment while their parents are working or in job training.
Encourage parents to tell you what has gone on at home that might be helpful to you in caring for their children. This allows children to thrive both at home and with you. Assess whether parents need support with family resources, parent education, literacy, job search or leadership development. Two generation strategies work exponentially--the benefits more than double for a child's optimal growth. You are a gatekeeper for the lifelong learning of the children in your care.