Category Archives: Milestones & Learning

Interactions Matter!

Interactions Matter!

Written by: Hannah de Vries

Everyday interactions between caregivers and children build the foundation for children’s social-emotional and cognitive development. Research shows that when caregivers are responsive, warm and sensitive to children’s needs, children develop confidence, resilience and communication skills. These skills help to prepare children for interactions with others and to work through problems, manage stress and form healthy relationships. Caregivers who engage children in different opportunities and experiences help them to develop a love of learning. For example, caregivers might encourage shared book reading, constructive play, independent exploration and participation in decision making. Children also benefit academically when caregivers engage them in conversation, use new vocabulary words, provide a literacy rich environment and embed problem solving in everyday family activities

What do high-quality interactions look like? Here are some simple and effective strategies to promote meaningful interactions:

Engage in responsive, warm and sensitive interactions.
• Attend carefully and listen actively when your child speaks to you by using eye contact, head nods, caring facial expressions and encouraging gestures that demonstrate empathy, engagement and validation. Allow enough time for your child to share, and avoid interrupting. 
• Provide toys and activities that are appropriate for your child’s development and understanding. Check the labels on toys to see if they are age appropriate.
• Be available when your child needs support, and recognize that all children have different needs. Perhaps your child needs your help with a transition routine, or to get ready for bed time. Perhaps your child needs you to arrive a bit early for school pick-up so they do not wait nervously. As you consistently identify and meet your child’s needs, they learn to trust and respect you. 

Follow your child’s lead.
Engaging in intentional number play with your child can help them to learn numeracy skills and get excited about learning more! Research shows that number play is more effective for a child’s skill-building when an adult guides the play. 
• Let your child take the lead in conversations and play by supporting their ideas. Avoid the temptation to direct all interactions, but instead show acceptance. For instance, if your child is pretending that stuffed animals are alive or wooden blocks are food, that is okay.
• Notice your child’s interests and play preferences. Suggest doing what your child enjoys and have fun together!

Engage in turn-taking.
• Establish predictable, back and forth verbal and social interactions with your child to enhance their language and cognitive abilities.
• Be patient and provide time for your child to take a turn. For instance, if you are working on a puzzle together, give your child enough time to explore how to place a puzzle piece in a space before helping. Talk your child through the interaction by modeling and prompting with statements like, “First it’s my turn to place a puzzle piece. Now it’s your turn.”

Challenge and support your child’s learning.
• Try elaborating on your child’s communicative attempts by repeating, rephrasing and expanding on your child’s words and non-verbal cues. 
• Use phrases that build on what your child is thinking about and contribute to what they want to investigate. Support your children’s language development by introducing and defining new vocabulary. 
• Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.” When you ask children to provide detailed responses, you support their developing thinking and comprehension skills. 
• Model, encourage and build trust with your child to develop their independence. Practice different skills with them. For example, model how to tie a shoe, brush teeth or fold a shirt and then say, “Now you try by yourself.”
• Encourage and comment on your child’s interests. For instance, if your child is pretending a cardboard box is a car, ask “Where are you driving?” or “Should we draw wheels on your car?”

Be a good role model.
• Be aware of your own emotions because children look to you for ways to express and regulate their emotions. For example, if you model self-talk for calming yourself when you are angry, you will model for your child how they can use the same technique. If you control your voice volume when you are excited, you will show your child how to experience intense emotion and use self control at the same time. 
• Children attend to everything you say and do and may imitate words and actions – try to be your best self. However, it is okay to make mistakes. Consider it an opportunity for modeling. If you make a choice you regret, take responsibility and help your child understand what you wish you had done instead.

These strategies can be used anytime and anywhere. You can create high quality interactions during transitions, travel time, daily routines, meals, bath time and play time. Everyday interactions matter!

Preschool Number Play: Countless Benefits!

Preschool Number Play: Countless Benefits!

Written by: Clarissa Alfes

It might be surprising to know that it is important for preschoolers to learn about math. Children’s math skills at kindergarten entry have been found to best predict their later school achievement. Research has also shown that children’s early math play contributes to their math achievement and attitudes toward math in later schooling.

“Early math” references a broad area of child development. Of early math skills, numeracy is arguably the most important area for kindergarten preparation and is one of the main areas that families can work on at home.

What is early numeracy?
To develop early numeracy skills, preschoolers need to learn about numbers. This could look like counting out loud in the right order, counting objects one at a time, finding and naming the number symbols, comparing and estimating amounts, and understanding ‘how many’ objects there are total. The state of Washington has guidelines that outline, by age, important early math skills, including preschool numeracy (pgs. 64, 78, 93).

Learning numeracy through play
Engaging in intentional number play with your child can help them to learn numeracy skills and get excited about learning more! Research shows that number play is more effective for a child’s skill-building when an adult guides the play. 

1. Read books
Research shows that actively reading books with math content to young children can boost early numeracy skills and provide an engaging method for lots of practice. Books that focus on numbers and colorful images of quantitieshelp to teach numeracy. When reading books together, add in observations using math words (i.e., “I see 6 dogs on this page”). Ask your child questions about the story that target numeracy skills:
• How many ____ are there?
• What number is this?
• Can you count up to the number you see on the page?
• Let’s count all the ___.
• Find the number ___.
• Match a verbal number with objects (i.r., find 5___ ).

2. Play games
Board game play can strengthen early numeracy enjoyment and skill-building. Choose board games that already target math learning (e.g., Chutes and Ladders, Hi-ho Cheery-O) or adapt other board games you have at home (e.g., Let’s Go Fishin’, Candy Land) for numeracy play. Tips for making game play effective for numeracy learning:
• Simplify the board game to only focus on number play.  
• Add number stickers to board games that only have color spaces. 
• For younger learners, start with a limited set of numbers (e.g., 1-3 or 0-5).
• Play on board games that have straight pathways rather than circular pathways. This makes it easier for children to learn number order. 
• Ask your child to count up from their current number spot. For example, if your child is on space “3” and they spin a 2, ask them to count “4, 5” as they move to their new spot. 
• Incorporate math-targeted questions (see above).

Your family can play dice or dominoes and ask about comparing quantities (e.g., “Who has more?”) or play bingo, cards, or UNO to identify number symbols and connect to number names.

3. Use “math number talk” 
Using “math talk,” or language related to math concepts, supports early learning. This can be incorporated into daily activities and all forms of play. “Math number talk” can be added to:
• Meal times with counting and comparing amounts of treats or walks in the park searching for certain numbers of animals or plants.
• Your home environment with identifying and naming numbers (e.g., calendars, appliances, clocks, etc.), the store (e.g., prices) or in the car (e.g. road signs).
Songs, rhymes, and hand games including learning the order of counting aloud and matching finger/sound amounts to number names.
• Outdoor play such as the game “What time is it Mr. Fox?,” which matches the number said to the amount of steps taken. 
• Pretend play, like dolls or vacation, and asking questions about counting objects, total amounts, comparing quantities, sorting amounts by least to most and simple operations (e.g., sharing food equally between 3 dolls at a picnic). 

It is important for caregivers to model, or use examples of “math number talk,” through narrating play. Provide opportunities for children to answer numeracy questions and use “math number talk” too. 

4. Attend events
Attending STEM events is another way to change up early numeracy learning and have hands-on play.Check out Imagine Children’s Museum’s Little Science Lab for engaging classes where preschoolers and their grownups can practice categorizing, playing with numbers and drawing conclusions. These free classes are available in Spanish and English.

Learning through adult-child play can be a fun and meaningful way to develop key early numeracy skills!

The Power of Play

The Power of Play

Written by: Jessica Anderson

As the new year begins, many parents make resolutions, set new priorities and shift routines. But how many of these changes in daily living include increasing children’s imaginative play?

Imaginative play, or pretend play, happens when a child uses his or her imagination to act out a situation based on their experiences and interests, and often includes props.During this type of play, children act out events in a scenario (e.g., restaurant, safari, pirate ship) but there are no set rules or goals. The focus is on creativity.

Research shows there are many important reasons for children to engage in pretend play. Here are a few reasons to prioritize play this year:

1.Play Gets Kids (and Adults) Moving
Child-directed play promotes movement. During play, children constantly move, run, crawl, climb and jump. In a day and age where it is so easy to live an inactive life, researchers suggest that taking time to play can encourage healthy activity and get everyone in the house moving!

2.Play Connects Children and Caregivers
Research shows that play is important for building emotional connections between children and parents, allowing them to build healthy relationships that are a necessary part of child development. These positive connections built through play help both children and parents manage stress well. The moments that caregivers and children spend together stampeding through the living room on horses or playing restaurant servers can make all the difference in building strong and safe bonds.

3.Play Builds Confidence
Play is a safe way for children to practice being adults. Children constantly imagine they have new roles and often pretend they are adults. In the world of pretend play, children can drive the local bus, give their stuffed animal a wellness checkup, parent their baby doll or talk on the phone to a good friend. This kind of play is important for children to take on new roles, practice resiliency and master new skills, routines and ideas. Play gives children a safe place to practice life and build confidence.

4.Play Boosts Social-Emotional Skills
Unstructured play with peers is important for boosting children’s social skills. For example, when two children pretend they are in a bakery, one child might be the cake decorator and the other the customer or the baker’s assistant. Maybe they will decide to switch roles, or in a change of events, they will host a cake party. Even in a simple game, children practice taking turns, figure out what happens next, make decisions and solve problems. Research shows that these skills are important for a child’s development and lead to strong social skills as adults.

5.Play Gets Kids Talking
Research shows that creative play can help children to learn new words in a new setting. For example, when children pretend they are dinosaurs, a unique scene unfolds. In the land of dinosaurs, the kitchen table becomes a cave or the bookshelf a volcano ready to erupt at any minute. Maybe there are dinosaur nests, teeth or tails to talk about. Creative play gives children and parents a unique way to use new words and strengthen language skills.

There are so many strong reasons for giving children time to engage in pretend play. We hope you all have a playful and fantastic 2019!