With so many schedules and plans in flux, a few constants endure. One of them: the first five years of a child’s life remain the most critical for brain development.

In a world of social distancing and remote learning, many parents are taking a fresh look at Early Childhood Education. I sat down with one of our ECE specialists, Michelle Lesser, for her to insights on pre-K (0-5) education:

Get moving

Fine motor skills (movement in the hand, fingers, and wrists) and gross motor skills (whole body movements and movement of the larger muscle groups, such as arms and legs) are developing at this stage. Play materials like Play-Doh are terrific for little hands to manipulate and create! Think of this activity the same way as building blocks – space and supplies. Other examples of motor skill activities such as making a bird feeder with pipe cleaners and Cheerios, or perhaps even weaving a few beads on a string. The variation will keep young children stimulated and allow them to develop how they understand and interact with the world around.

Take a risk

Allowing children to make calculated decisions on risk is critical for building independence. While (of course!) safety takes first priority, if you’re outside and see a downed tree that seems sturdy, encourage your child to climb on it! Remind them to be careful, but give them the option of exploring with supervision. A simple exercise such as traversing a log will help support their willingness to try new things and feel confident in their ability to do so!

No more drama…

Well… maybe a little drama!  Dramatic play is a terrific tool for early childhood education. Young children are taught to follow directions ( important!) but allowing their creativity to blossom is just as critical. Offer them a choice of costume, dress up, or even just encouraging imaginative character enactment is key.  No costumes? No problem. Just grab some fabric laying around or some clothes you were planning to donate to the local thrift store. Having a variety of props allows children to truly create the story rather than having a particular costume dictate the narrative.

Rotate toys

Rotating toys is a clever way to keep kids excited about the toys they might already have in the house. Infinite options can often be overwhelming for young kids, leading to less play. By rotating out subsets of their toys every week or every other week, you can keep them stimulated without having to buy every toy in the store. Make sure your weekly rotation has a few components: ensure each set has some “building” toys (Legos, Magna Tiles, blocks, etc), some books, some craft materials, some creative play options (costumes or props), some things that can move, and so forth!

Try an activity with long-term potential

Much like adults, children like to build upon skills that they already have. We’ve found that longer-term projects such as working with wood can be a fantastic way for children to commit to learn and build upon basic skills for more advanced work.  Not only are the natural materials great for tactile development, but also learning different skills such as cutting wood, screwing in screws, learning how wheels work, etc, can enable children to see that they can build something from scratch, and subsequently understand all of the little parts that go into the construction.  Other projects like this might include a small introduction to gardening, or the basics of an instrument!

Keep the box

Children are immensely creative – more than they’re often given credit for!  More so than adults, children generally understand the world around them as knowing no bounds; they can find so much to learn just by exploring their environment.  Have you ever bought your young child a brand new toy, only to have them play with the box and leave the toy untouched?  They see endless possibilities and potential in a simple object.  A great example of this ability is building blocks.  Building blocks allow children to create so many different structures without any sort of blueprint, relying purely on their developing imagination and intuition. One great way to ensure they stay stimulated rather than frustrated is to ask them gentle questions: why do you think this works, and that doesn’t?  What happens when you put this block here?  Through gentle, leading questions, you can help your child begin to make sense of the small world that they’re creating, right in front of you.

Speaking of leading questions… 

When in doubt, the art of asking leading questions can go an incredibly long way. This is a great way to learn so much about your child’s mind, their vocabulary, and their relationship to the material world around them.  Why, what, how… sometimes the best questions are the most simple!

For Carnegie Prep, the name of the game is that learning can be everywhere – it’s all about finding how and where your child learns best.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to start, we get it! Having work, play, and now Pre-K all in one place is a huge undertaking. If there’s something we can help with, whether it’s support for your young learners in-person, online with a virtual art class or learning to read games, or a consultation with one of our specialists, feel free to call us anytime.