Every child needs and deserves a strong, bonded relationship with a significant adult for normal, and especially, for optimal development.For most children this is the parent.Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of a former national bestseller, The Magical Child, and the recently released, MagicalParent – Magical Child, The Art of Joyful Parenting emphasizes the importance of the parent – child relationship and the ultimate importance of play.Children learn about play from their early interactions with the parent.These early play interactions will prepare the child to engage in play with peers when older.Play with the parent and later with peers is regarded as a crucial ingredient for helping the child to have a happy, well-adjusted, intellectually active, and creative life.
The optimal learning environment for the child is play, especially with the parent.During play, the child’s focus, attention span and interest are at their peak.Researchers have identified very specific parent behaviors that create, sustain, and even increase the play experience for the child.These include getting down on the ground or floor with the child, focusing full attention on the child, following the lead of the child, exaggerating body gestures and facial expressions, and using expressive vocal intonations and non-directive language.
The child will notice and delight in the full attention and lead following of the parent.This will eventually evolve into a turn-taking relationship where the parent and the child take turns initiating an activity.This is an important learning that will transfer into peer play. The use of large gestures and expressive vocalizations help to attract and sustain the attention of the child.Use of questioning rather than command language stimulates more cognitive involvement and creativity.Rather than telling a child what and how to do something, in a play setting it is preferable to ask questions that guide attention rather than demand it.
While playing with the child and a ball, ask questions such as:
·Can you show me how you can send (throw/toss, kick, or strike) the ball to me?
·Can you show me another way to send the ball to me?
·Can you tell me about it? (This stimulates further thinking when the child is challenged to put his or her thoughts and actions into conversational language!)
·Can you send the ball so that it stops in the hula hoop (or other target area)?(This simple task triggers the brain to become mindful of force control.)
·Can you send the ball to me when I am moving?
·When I am moving, do you send the ball right to me or do you send the ball in front of me in the direction I am moving?
As simple as these question are, questioning in an open fashion allows the child to think about an important element of passing. This approach is called “scaffolding” a child’s learning.By role modeling the use of questioning, you also will be stimulating the child to use a questioning manner to prompt you to new “adventures”.
The strategy of “scaffolding”, also known as “guided participation”, is a fairly new area of interest in early child development and learning in the U.S.It couples what is known about the importance of language to the development of higher order cognitive processes and the use of guided questioning that is sensitively tuned to the developmental needs of the child.This is best accomplished in a one-on-one situation with a parent or other adult that has a good understanding of the developmental progress and developmental needs of the child.When it is undertaken in the setting of play, the learning can be rapid, well integrated into the child’s mental structures and processes, and unstressful.
It has been demonstrated that when learning takes place in a stressful environment, the child actually develops an aversion to that environment and tunes out.This occurs far too often in traditional school environments.For an enlightening presentation on scaffolding, I recommend the book, ScaffoldingChildren’s Learning, by Berk and Winsler.It can be purchased on the web site of the National Association For the Education of Young Children (www.naeyc.org).You will find many other excellent books and resources in the catalogue section of this site as well!
There are two, usually contradictory, recommendations regarding how to respond to a child’s efforts.
·One recommendation is to continually praise a child’s efforts and achievements.The advocates of praise, or positive reinforcement, are large in number.They argue that children like praise and will work hard to keep it coming.The critics of praise, or at least indiscriminate praise, argue that praise alone quickly becomes meaningless and ineffective as a motivator.They argue that it provides no information back to the child with which to build or “scaffold” new learning.They also argue that external praise “robs” the child of the confidence to judge his or her own effort and achievement.They add that the ability to be self-reflective contributes to the child’s ability for self-evaluation, and this is the foundation for self-regulation – a critical skill in school and all other social settings.
Those who argue against indiscriminate external praise often advocate “augmented feedback”.In essence, it is simply describing the behavior you just witnessed; for example, “Billy, I see how you carefully kicked the ball with the inside of your foot and directed the ball very accurately to me”.The parent/teacher/coach might follow up by touching the inside part of the foot while remarking, “kicking the ball with the inside of your foot usually results in more accurate passing”.
A compromise verbalization, and one often used by Sport4All trainers and coaches, combines elements of positive reinforcement and augmented feedback; e.g., “Billy, I like the way you carefully kicked the ball to me (or to your partner) with the inside part of your foot.“I like the good control of the ball you get when you use this part of your foot”.
Enjoy playing with your child and remember, “to play or not to play”, is an important choice for the child.Once the choice to participate or not, to pay attention or not, is taken away from the child, it is no longer play.Once the child notices that this is not play, the child may decide not to come back.In this scenario, the child loses.So, I repeat, do everything you can to make your child’s experience a playful one for him or her AND yourself!
For more information, consider purchasing Pearce’s book mentioned earlier; the childhood roots of adult happiness by Edward Hollowell, M.D., Ph.D.; Follow Me and Follow Me Too by Marianne Torbert, Ph.D. (available from www.temple.edu/leonardgordoninstitute; and/or Your ActiveChild by Rae Pica.
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