Tuesday, 27 November 2012


I had a conversation with a father recently about how parents know whether their child is developing as they should. He asked an excellent question because it is a source of concern for parents, is my child doing what they should be doing at this time? How might I support them to progress further?

This conversation is similar to ones we had with several parents at the parent evening we presented at earlier in the week. Parents do worry that their child isn't developing as they should. They look at other children, compare them with theirs and wonder why they are different. Each child is an individual just as each adult is an individual. Adults do things differently, we think differently and that's what makes us unique. Children are exactly the same.

Developmental milestones were established many years ago and give a guide to the average time children may achieve certain milestones. Physical milestones are relatively easy to establish, such things as walking, sitting up and crawling. Typically developing children reach these milestone at different times, within a broad range although it seems that this may be culturally bound.

An example of a milestone is walking, and any parent knows that a child achieves this complex skill in their own time at their own pace. Learning to walk is difficult to hurry, it takes lots of practice. We asked the group of parents last week when their children walked. The range was from between 7 months to 15 months and this seems to be a typical range. Yes, children can walk at 7 months, amazing when you see that some children are just sitting at that age and some just beginning to crawl.

The developmental milestones for children say that 12 months is the average age that typically developing children should begin walking. Looking at our range above, the children of the parents we asked seemed to have walked a little earlier than average. In this very non scientific study, the show of hands at 12 months demonstrated that the majority of children did indeed walk at this age. When the parents were asked if all their children are now walking, they all said yes. They laughed when we asked if they were all running, it seems that the child who walked at 15 months was every bit as active and physically capable as the child who walked at 7 months.

The father was also asking about more difficult to milestones to judge, the educational milestones, for example when  a child should be able to read and write. Children develop these skills at different times and the range can be similar to that of the physical milestones. If you refer back to the Emergent Writing entry, there are examples of the stages children need to practice so they can develop their writing skills. Yes, being able to scribble is a skill children need to practice before they develop the control to begin to write. We will concentrate on using writing as an example, although the same concepts apply to all learning.

By the age of 4, some children are enthusiastic writers, that is they produce lots of drawings and mark making; some children prefer to engage in social play and are not that interested in drawing; some children prefer to play outside exercising their physical skills. The most important thing for us to remember is that all these activities lead to children developing their writing skills. Children come to writing in their own time, at their own pace when provided with the materials, support and encouragement.

The key is to support children at their own pace, to support them to be enthusiastic learners, to take a risk and not fear failure. When we supply young children with adult models of handwriting and expect them to copy, they will fail this task because they may not have had time to build the foundation skills required for this task. Writing is complex. To give you some idea of just how complex, try this excercise:

మీ పిల్లలు ప్రేమ.
1. Copy the writing above on a piece of paper three times
2. Turn that paper over and write the same thing on the back of the paper from memory
3. Finally, read what it says

Was this a difficult task? Did you manage all the steps? How did you feel while you were copying the writing? Did you write in the correct direction, was it left to right or right to left? Were you able to read what the words said? Did your writing look perfect, like the model?

The words say "we love your children" in Teluga.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

How children learn responsibility


Miniature toys such as dolls, action figures, toy vehicles, animals, dinosaurs, aliens, and the like are powerful tools in the hands of little ones. And for good reason. This kind of play shrinks the world down into manageable, kid-sized experiences for working out complex, emotional and social concepts. Like power...

If you think about it, when you’re little, it’s easy to conflate size with power. After all, grown-ups are big and seem to think they can tell children what to do. So when children play with miniatures they naturally take on the power role, trying on what it feels like to be big... to have the ultimate say...  to control events. And through that power, like Spiderman, children naturally learn how to take on responsibility.

You see, children aspire to be the hero they see in us everyday – the one who responds to their needs – the responsible, reliable, "go to." And that desire to be like us is often reflected in this kind of play... feeding your baby doll, gassing up your Tonka truck, defeating the bad guys or kissing the frog to turn him into a prince. Even "smash and bash" play, such as an all out Hot Wheels demolition derby in the living room is about controlling events... smashing things up, putting it all back together, then smashing them up again!

In short, miniatures let children figure out how to make everything right with the world according to their own world view.

Around the time children start exploring these play patterns you may begin to notice differences between what boys and girls choose to play with. And often, this seems to come out of no where. I’ve had many parents swear to me that they provide a balanced, non-gender selection of toys, don’t allow television or computer time, yet still their sons choose trucks and army guys, and their daughters choose dolls and tea sets.

There has always been a nature/nurture debate about whether or not these play choices are part of a child’s organic wiring or if it’s due to what they are assimilating from their environment. And I wish I could tell you I know the answer, but I don’t. Instead, here’s what I believe.
In these early years, a child’s play choices have little – and maybe even nothing – to do with his/her gender and everything to do with what he/she needs to experiment with and solve for emotionally and socially. And because miniatures give all the power to the child, they are ideal for this kind of internal exploration of self. Any “meaning” ascribed to a child’s choice of doll or action figure, magic wand or light saber, princess carriage or Batmobile, is an adult filter that misses the point.

Take a moment to consider these iconic play themes and note the direct parallels between traditional boy and girl play...

So often, boys and girls play the exact same way... to tend to, fix, take care of, nourish, rescue, solve, defend and restore. In short, TO MAKE BETTER THE LIVES OF OTHERS.

And in my view, when children are reaching for these values this early in life, something really right is going on with their upbringing, no matter what they pick out of the toy box.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Emergent Writing

Learning to write is much more complicated than we think. After all, most people can write so what is so difficult about it?  It's second nature to most of us, yet take some time to look at yourself when you write. What muscles are you using? Switch hands and see if you can manage writing with your other hand. This may give you some idea of the level of control required to make meaningful marks on paper.

Building muscle strength and learning to control those muscles is an integral part of children learning to write.  Core muscles, the large arm muscles and the small muscles in the hand and wrist all need strengthening and developing in order for children to be able to gain control of a pencil or crayon.  In addition to strengthening and controlling muscles, refining depth perception and visual tracking skills are  important.  Hand-eye coordination is essential as the hands and eyes have to work together to enable children to form letters and write across the page. 

While your child's first writing experiences may look like scribbles to you, if you ask them what they have drawn you may get a very complex story. Children recreate and make sense of their world first through their drawing and later through their writing. This takes time to develop and develops alongside their language. When a child can tell you all about their drawing and you can record that for them, they are  learning that their words are valued and can be represented. When children begin to understand that symbols  have meaning, they are on their way to being motivated to record these symbols for themselves.

Their first efforts at writing recognisable letters will possibly begin with them writing their names  between four and five years old. It's vital that children see their name written and have opportunities to write their names independently. This is their signature, it's not a copy or tracing of an adult's writing. Children who can write their names are very proud of this and this achievement needs to be celebrated, whatever the writing looks like, so they will be enthusiastic about writing.

When their child is beginning to write, parents should not worry about letters that are not properly formed, letters that are back wards and that their child may have missed out letters. This is a natural part of children developing their writing style. They get plenty of practise at forming letters later on, the early years is a time for children to experiment as they develop the brain connectors needed to control their hand eye coordination and make writing on the lines possible.

Source: Words their way
Children need experiences to write about so exploration and interaction with the world around them and other people is essential.  Children learn to express themselves through their writing  when they have opportunities to:
à draw, paint and create and a collage
à practise their skills in a variety of contexts through different experiences
à strengthen their muscles through manipulating materials during play
à develop their coordination through physical activity
à interact with their peers and adults

Ideas to develop muscles and hand-eye coordination include:
à playing outside, swinging, running, pouring sand and water, playing tag, swimming, riding a bike
à exploring and experimenting with a variety of materials such as sand, water, glue, tweezers and tongs, boxes and puzzles
à finger painting and gloop
à working with playdough     

The more children are engaged in purposeful play; the more opportunities they have for interactions with others; the more they are positively encouraged; the  stronger their foundations for both writing and reading will be and the more rewarding their progress will be for them as you celebrate each success together.

Some examples of emergent writing

Friday, 2 November 2012

The confident reader

There is always a lot of discussion about children learning to read and write. How do children learn the vitally important skills of reading and writing? What do teachers do to teach children these skills? What can parents do to support their children? All very important questions that we hope to address through this Blog by sharing information, links and resources with you.

For this, the first of a series of posts on the literate child, we would like to share with you a diagram that the Unit uses in our trainings to illustrate the development of a confident reader.

Like all houses, the foundations have to be strong to support the  rest of the building. The development of language lays the foundation for reading. Talking and listening skills must come first. When a child can communicate effectively, that is they can listen to others and engage in conversation about what they are doing, they are practicing important skills that are needed as they learn to read and write. If your child is constantly chatting to you, sharing their ideas and observations, they are practicing these skills.

When you engage in conversation with your child they develop a bank of words, a vocabulary, to enable them to respond to you, their peers and the other adults in their lives. They learn the rules of engagement of conversation, how to respect the other person in the conversation by listening to what they have to say and when to take their turn to speak. This is a skill for life and is established in the early years.

The development of language links with the next level of our house, exploration and experiences. Young children need to be exposed to books, books that they can choose to enjoy when they want to, for as long as they want to. Reading to your child from an early age and discussing the story and illustrations begins children on the pathway to understanding that print and pictures have meaning. Reading to your child promotes a healthy relationship as you sit together and enjoy the story, discussing the characters and predicting what might come next. Children love to turn the pages, taking a peek at how the story develops.

As they grow older, they will have favourite stroies that they want read over and over until they can rote read the story with you. You will tire of the story long before your child does! It's important that your child is exposed to lots of stories as well as developing favourites. This is when your child will develop a love of reading and this will provide one of the most important factors of children learning to read, motivation.

When a child enjoys books, they will want to know what the words mean, want to be able to read the book for themselves. This begins with their rote reading of the story with you and, as the child becomes more familiar with a range of books, you will notice them making up the story using the illustrations as a guide. This is very important as it aids with their comprehension. They may read to their teddy or to their friends or to you. Your encouragement at this time will ensure that your child wants to read to you and is motivated in their attempts.

We will continue this entry soon and share with you more information and suggestions on how you can support your child to become a confident reader by looking at the rest of our house and the stage at which these levels develop. If you have any questions or comments to make regarding this entry, please do so in the comments section.