From cradle to kindergarten

From cradle to kindergarten
Early learning should never be at the expense of the social and emotional areas of development. Emotional development is actually what gives wings to the desire to learn

Knowing how to count is good, but being independent and learning how to socialize are just as important! Nicole Malenfant, Early Childhood Education Techniques teacher at Collège Édouard-Montpetit, often reminds parents and the educators she trains of this fact.

“Early learning should never be at the expense of the social and emotional areas of development. Emotional development is actually what gives wings to the desire to learn,” notes Malenfant.

Promoting motor development

For your child to be ready to hold his pencil, he must already have developed all of his gross motor skills (walking, running, jumping, etc.) and his ability to disassociate the movements of his shoulder, elbow and hand. “Going to the park with your child and playing ball with him helps prepare his motor development and, therefore, his ability to write,” says Caroline Bouchard, education professor at Université Laval and child development psychologist.

Activities that promote motor development

  • Plan free play periods during which your child has the time and space to run, climb, dance, etc.
  • For children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old, use spaces and materials that stimulate motor function: small stairs, tables and chairs, various size balls, pull and push toys, finger-paints, puzzles, etc.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities to write and scribble with various tools (brushes, sponges, crayons) and surfaces (tissue paper, sand, chalkboard).
  • Give your child enough time to practice fine motor skills: buttoning a sweater, zipping a zipper, putting on shoes, etc.
  • Balance periods of rest, calm play and more vigorous activities throughout the day. The motor development and harmonious growth of your child depends on respecting basic rhythms and alternating between activities.

Promoting social and emotional development

When we talk about social skills, we often talk about a child who is able to wait his turn, remain attentive and be considerate with his friends. But there are also socio-emotional skills that will allow your child to express his needs and emotions with words and to recognize and understand the emotions of others.

“These are skills that will help him interact positively with others and avoid conflicts, which will give him a good start for school,” explains Sylvain Coutu, professor at Université du Québec en Outaouais and specialist in early childhood emotional development.

“Social skills are a huge criteria for academic success,” adds Malenfant. When a child has friends, he is more likely to enjoy group activities, playing with others in the schoolyard and going to school. You can do a lot as a parent. “It’s up to us to value and help our child develop his social connections. Since the desire to learn is developed through emotion, it is first and foremost developed within the family,” she explains.

Activities that promote social and emotional development

  • Spend quality time with your child: be coherent and consistent, set clear boundaries within a sensitive and loving relationship.
  • Observe the way you manage your own emotions: are you a good example? When your child expresses his emotions, are you quick to take notice and are you receptive to his moments of sadness or anger?
  • Act as a social model: show him how to interact with others and resolve disputes. Help him to initiate contact with others as well as to understand and properly express his emotions. Don’t hesitate to use a rich vocabulary to talk about your emotions and to help him better express his own: “If I understand correctly, this hurt your feelings because…”
  • Use moments reading or watching television to highlight the emotional experiences of characters and to talk about them.
  • If your child doesn’t attend a daycare, put him in regular contact with other children to let him practice his social skills.
  • Play games where your child has to modulate his behaviour and develop self-control. For example, play with traffic light colours (green, yellow, red) to teach him when to go ahead, slow down or stop.

Promoting cognitive development

Cognitive development is thought and logic development. This isn’t knowing how to count, but rather understanding the use of numbers and math. “It’s been proven that children who are made aware of mathematical language (more than, less than, equal to) and reasoning (“How did you manage to do that?”) early on and on a daily basis do better in school,” explains Bouchard.

Activities that promote cognitive development

  • Provide your toddler with plenty of opportunities to touch, manipulate, and fit together various objects.
  • Encourage your child to expand his thinking, in his games or activities, without giving him the right answers. “The idea is to teach your child how to think, not what to think,” says Bouchard.
  • Stimulate your child’s curiosity and general desire to learn. Look for answers in books and through concrete experiences you can present in the form of a riddle (e.g.: it’s red, round, and you eat it).
  • To introduce mathematical thinking, seize everyday opportunities, such as the number of plates for the table, quantities for a recipe, and so on. “It’s preferable to have this type of thinking emerge through an experience that has caught the child’s interest,” she explains.
  • Help your child plan and realize his activities. This exercise promotes concentration and his sense of control over events. It also requires that he stay focused on his goal and that he be specific about his ideas and choices.
  • Help your child recognize the effects and consequences of an act (making cubes fall, overfilling a bucket, etc.).

Promoting language development and reading

“Studies show that difficulties at school and falling behind are linked to difficulties in learning to read and write. Introducing these two skills at home will be key to avoiding these stumbling blocks,” explains Natalie Lavoie, professor at Université du Québec à Rimouski and specialist in reading and writing acquisition. Having fun reading and writing are even directly linked to ongoing enthusiasm for school.

Activities that promote language development and reading

  • Create an environment full of various types of writing: children’s books, newspapers, brochures, magazines, as well as writing material.
  • Place this material within your child’s reach so that he can read and scribble at any moment.
  • Set the example: write and read in front of your child and explain why you are writing or reading. Also write with your child (cards, letters, grocery lists, etc.).
  • Read stories. “This is the most rewarding activity,” says Lavoie. Reading is, in fact, one of the rare activities that solicits both cognitive and emotional thinking, which is a powerful combination to promote reading and writing acquisition at school.
  • Interact in relation to what you read: ask your child questions when you read with him and answer his questions in return. Have him notice and recognize symbols and pictograms (H for Hospital, W for women’s washroom, etc.).
  • Have fun recognizing sounds that sound the same and make up rhymes.

Daddy, tell me a story!
“It’s important that fathers set an example for their sons with regards to reading and writing,” explains specialist Natalie Lavoie, professor at Université du Québec à Rimouski and reading and writing acquisition specialist.
Why? Because the lack of male models gives little boys the impression that these activities are not for them. “They associate these activities only with school and girls’ activities. It’s one of the leading factors for the dropout rate we hear so much about.”
It’s most often mom who reads to her children, whether they are girls or boys. She’s also the one, a few years later, who gets involved in helping with homework, meeting with teachers, getting report cards, and so on. Even at school, boys are most often in contact with female models (teachers).
“If, as a father, you become associated with reading and writing activities and show your son how fun, useful and necessary they are to a man’s life, he will change his perception of them,” says Lavoie. It starts with the first plastic covered books and wax crayons you show your baby!

If you’re worried about your child’s development, your local CSSS can help.