Your baby has ventured out of toddler-hood and perhaps they are entering or are already in the world of Junior and Senior Kindergarten! Whether or not you have put your child in daycare leading up to Kindergarten, this is the time where play becomes more dynamic, imaginative and most of all, social.
The biggest struggle of all is helping our kids learn to navigate themselves in a social setting, often with a more rigid schedule than they are used to. There is a combination of learning and playing, exploring and trying, listening and communicating. They require more independence but still need lots of support! Kindergarten is a HUGE learning milestone. They say that you learn all you really need to know in Kindergarten and to some extent, that's true!
When it comes to the big life lessons, we really learn them all at the start. Here is an excerpt from Robert Fulghum's book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living."
There is a reason why "play-based learning" is such a popular style of learning in Kindergarten. Here is an info sheet from the Government of The Northwest Territories all about the benefits of Play-Based Learning. Looking for more information? Here is a link to the Ontario government's curriculum page regarding the play-based learning model in Kindergarten classrooms. Here is a summary:
Play-Based Learning is the idea that kids can learn meaningful concepts through the act of play. It is founded in the roots of curiosity, exploration and inquiry. It aims to get kids to ask questions, wonder about possible explanations/solutions and try to solve problems.
What it's NOT:
- kids running around doing unstructured activities for 8 hours
- the same selection of toys/objects day in and day out
- kids focusing on the same toy for 8 hours
- kids staring at a screen or tech-based toy for 8 hours
- adults telling kids what and how to play
What it IS:
- sensory exploration of different textures, materials, sounds, etc.
- deepening of intellectual, physical, social, and emotional skills
- developing a sense of inquiry and curiosity, as well as innovation and problem solving
- children-guided (within boundaries set by adults) and of course, supervised
How Parents Can Support This At Home
Here is a great chart from the Ontario Ministry of Education website that explains the aspects of the Inquiry Process and our role as adults within it. Check out the column on the far right to see how we can be a part of this process without taking over. Click the chart to take you to the website for more information.
Adults and kids work together to co-construct learning. Although the chart below says educators, it really should say adults. As the parent, you don't necessarily need to document or evaluate learning but all of the other actions are things you can and should do while engaging in play with your child at home!
Socio-dramatic play is a great way to bring a sense of creativity and wonder into the home. Think back to when you were a kid - did you play "house"? Dress up in costume? Pretend to be a teacher at school? Pretend to run a restaurant in your kitchen or a vet clinic in the family room? All of these experiences were ways that you made sense of your world through play. We can create these opportunities for kids by establishing a "drama center" or even a smaller explore station at home. For more information on imaginative play spaces and explore stations, you can check out the Toddler section of Part One of the Play All Day series where I mention how to set up a drama center in your home!
Toys in the Home
You are probably at the point where you feel like your house is being overrun by toys. The truth is, you don't need so many! Take inventory of the toys your kids are really playing with and store, sell or donate the rest. A cluttered space with tons of toy options encourages bouncing from one toy to the next and leaves little time for creative or imaginative thinking. It reinforces the state of instant gratification that we all know a little too well in these modern days. Boredom is OK. It forces kids to use their brains to come up with something interesting instead of relying on the next toy they see.
The best toys to have on hand for this age? My same rule applies, the more a toy does, the less the kid does!
Toys can be found everywhere - I love to support local. Try local toy or bookstores before rushing to Amazon. In Toronto, we've got ToyTown, Treasure Island Toys, Advice From a Caterpillar, Silly Goose Kids and many more. Of course, there is also Mastermind Toys, Toys 'R' Us, Indigo and larger name stores that you can look at! Here are some great options that allow for open-ended play that also aid in learning other skills:
- duplo or lego
- wooden, pattern/shape blocks or magnatiles
- Geoboards and/or Tangrams
- Magnetic letters/numbers or stamps
- open ended design games like K'nex or Marble Run
- playdough (plastic cookie cutters, child-safe scissors, rolling pins, mat for easy clean up)
- an easel with big paper, paintbrushes or large crayons/markers (a smock for preventing stains on clothes!)
- a tent or pop-up play house
- a play kitchen, laundry set, or cleaning set
- "pretend" real items such as a cash register/money kit, food/kitchen set
- a water/sand/sensory table (outdoors for less mess!)
- a modular couch made for kids (fort building!)
- a learning stool for helping hands in the kitchen
- gross motor toys: scooter, balance bike or tricycle, soccer or other balls, etc.
Social Skills and Big Feelings
Kids at this age are learning how to navigate their world from a social and emotional perspective. They often have big feelings that they don't know how to process, and get into difficult situations socially because they haven't quite gotten the hang of it yet. A great example of this is the notion of sharing and turn-taking.
Kids eventually learn that it's more fun to share with a friend or take turns because when you do, both people playing feel happy and included. When one person uses the toy and doesn't share, the other person feels disappointed, sad, or even mad. Most kids start out fairly self-centered (and this isn't a bad thing, it's simply biological). They consider their own needs and wants and those are usually at the forefront of their actions and behaviours. This is normal and expected in toddler-hood and beyond.
At some point (and this point is different for all kids), they start to consider the feelings, wants and needs of others. Some kids need a bit more support with this than others. Some require lots of practice, guidance and modeling, and others are naturally perceptive of other's feelings. Regardless, using playtime as an opportunity to practice this is a great idea.
Teaching kids the important social-emotional skills can happen during play. Skills such as
turn-taking, sharing, winning and losing, accepting "no", cognitive flexibility and managing disappointment/changes in plans, expressing feelings using words, coping with big feelings, transitioning from one activity to another (especially to a non-preferred activity).
If your child struggles to manage big feelings, there are a plethora of resources out there for you. There are amazing picture books out there (check out this awesome list for reference). You can likely find many of these at the library or local bookstore, otherwise you can probably find a video reading on YouTube!
There are also mindfulness apps/videos for kids to build self-awareness and calming techniques such as five-finger breathing and body awareness. I also like the "My Feelings" Board Game. It is for ages 4+ and focuses on acknowledging feelings and developing coping strategies!
Lastly, if you're looking for a more formal Social Emotional Learning program, there are great ones such as The Zones of Regulation or Superflex. These programs help kids to develop the language needed to recognize feelings in themselves and build coping "toolboxes" to use when needed.
As always, I am available if you are looking for extra support on planning your at-home learning schedules or resources.