Nurturing IDENTITY in the Preschool Years  (5 to 10yrs        11 to 14yrs         High School to College)

Awareness

Meaning: Nurturing awareness in the early childhood years means projecting wonder, awe, appreciation, respect, and amazement regarding the child’s environment. The child’s environment includes everything: the natural environment of sky, ground, and grass, rocks, sand and plant life. It includes the physical environment beneath, above, and surrounding the child, like the carpet, the cushions, the shelves, the chairs, the tables, the playthings, the objects. It certainly includes people: fellow students, teachers, and visitors to the classroom or to the home.

Actions: When in the child’s proximity, take time to name the things surrounding the child, whether things, nature, or people. Even for pre-verbal children, a cheerful naming of the item, in addition to a gentle touch or a pointing toward what is being named, and modelling a tone of care and appreciation, can help the child learn how to be aware of surroundings or aware of otherness. There are many kinds of modelling.  Projecting a sense of curiosity about things, or of care in how to treat things and people kindly, is vital for the child to experience a healthy and learning-oriented childhood.

Learning: The literature and scholarship on this topic are thankfully abundant.

Here are two sources to get you started on learning more:

  • Look into the NAEYC site [www.NAEYC.org: National Association for the Education of Young Children] and search for “Promoting Young Children’s Social and Emotional Health.”
  • Another standard site I like to recommend would be the Scholastic site [www.scholastic.com]; on that site is an excellent foundational article, entitled, “Ages and Stages: All About Body Awareness” with a helpful subtitle, “How young children learn about themselves and their bodies in relationship to the people and objects around them.

Celebration

Meaning: A constant theme of this website is that the brain develops rapidly during the first few years of life, and these early childhood years are indeed a time of amazing cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, motor and spiritual development. “Celebration” is not referring to a child’s ability to party, but rather refers to the value a child’s family or perhaps school teachers places on key moments to pause and exhibit satisfaction, gratitude, and joy. The opportunities for these moments are plentiful throughout any normal day—it’s really the simple things, the good things, and not just birthdays.

Actions:  Assume that so many things the child does when in his/her first years as brand new experiences or brand new capabilities: going potty independently; holding a book and turning a page; putting a toy back where it belongs; sharing with others without being prompted; using the floor technique of putting on one’s jacket. Of course, this list can go on for pages and page. The opportunities to express joy, for the parent or teacher, are infinite.  The child learns that every day offers a new round of right choices and their confirmation and celebration.

Learning: While there are many more things in life, and in any single day, to celebrate than one’s birthday, it is helpful, and transferrable, to learn some of the ways that Montessori programs conduct the “Celebration of Life Ceremony.” Their way of combining a child’s birthday with the opportunity to learn concrete things about our world and the passage of time and about the story of one’s life is very instructive and should lend ideas as to creative ways to celebrate little ability milestones in a child’s life. Just search for “Montessori: A Celebration of Life,” and you will pick up ideas quickly.

Confidence

Meaning: Building confidence in a human being must start right away, during infancy. These youngest of children don’t know who they are, or that they are even a being separate from others. Confidence starts with love, comfort, touch, holding, feeding. As the months accumulate and the child enters years one and two and three, confidence building expands to encompass so many daily tasks and activities. A parent or teacher projecting a tone of love and assurance is crucially important for the healthy emergence of identity and instilling of confidence.

Actions: Establishing routines; calmness and reassurance in the face of tiny failures; assigning responsibilities; explaining alternative approaches (like when building with blocks) when the blocks tumble; enunciating names for things in the child’s grip or in the child’s vicinity; role modelling for the child: Instilling confidence is perhaps the central role an early childhood teacher plays in the development of the young child.

Learning: Confidence-building activities are available in great abundance. One prominent source is the non-profit Child Mind Institute, an organization dedicated to helping families with children who are experiencing mental health and learning disorders. Their confidence building tips will of course have universal application. TeachHub.com and Psychologytoday.com are other excellent online sources to pick up advice and tips.

Family

Meaning: The early childhood years are the most important, as well as the most rapid, years for learning and socialization, and the family’s role is absolutely central to this growth. In fact, no matter which educational model a child experiences during the preschool years, the family’s role is far more influential to a child’s performance than a teacher’s approach in the classroom.

Actions: The single most important component of a family’s support to the child’s development is creation of a lasting emotional tie between a child and his/her parents. Closely associated with emotional bonding would be parental involvement in the child’s learning. A parental tone of curiosity and joy, and exhibiting the esprit and delight of learning, becomes far more effective in developing healthy learning habits in the young child. This tone should not just be for school-based or academic-oriented tasks, but an eager and joyful tone should be projected for the numerous daily actions that are part of the child’s routines.

Learning: Here’s a simple source to know the key parenting steps for raising/teaching young children healthy learning habits: search kidshealth.org and select “for Parents.” For a more thorough understanding of this phase of a child’s development, consider the book, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.

Sharing

Meaning:  One’s identity as a helper, particularly when formed at a young age, will have enormously positive consequences later on during the maturation years. Sharing appears to be a simple action from the perspective of adults, but it happens to be rare in very young children. Sometimes what seems to be sharing is something else, like when an infant shares a toy with a parent, which may have to do more with getting attention than benefitting another. A young child’s act of giving up something for the benefit of another is quite an accomplishment, but encourage and guide toward sharing is what we adults must do. Sharing means an awareness and appreciation of otherness; it is an act revealing empathy and trust and mutual support.

Actions: Inculcating the concept of ownership [this is yours; that is theirs] can contribute to desired pro-social outcomes. This may seem counterintuitive, but a sense of what “belongs” to one can help emphasize the value of sharing. Modelling sharing and confirming the goodness of sharing when it happens—these are the most likely approaches to creating an environment where younger children can develop an inclination to share with their peers.

Learning: The Australian parenting website, raisingchildren.net.au, is an excellent source for learning about sharing and about teaching sharing to young children. Another wonderful learning site is www.zerotothree.org, which has a wealthy of articles on teaching sharing plus so much more.

Play

Meaning: So often I encounter a parent perspective that says play is wasting a child’s time in the school setting. Nothing can be further from the truth, particularly for the youngest children (and I contend play is vital for older children as well). Guided play, creative play, project play, dramatic play—there is an abundance of strategies for the kind of play that elevates learning and development across the spectrum: social, emotional, cognitive, creative, and physical. Play will highlight and help deliver on all the categories above. The role of play in healthy brain development can never be overestimated. The “I” section on “Imagination” on this website will explore this topic more thoroughly; however, play is a key component in healthy identity formation.

Actions: Enact both free play—play that is child-determined and child-driven—and guided play, which is the effective way teachers of young children develop a full array of skills and habits. Introducing new objects into the child’s play environment, inviting the child to factor in the new object; set up scavenger hunts that require memory and sequencing; any play game that emphasizes exploration and discovery; guessing games are always playful approaches to learning; dramatic play can give children a sense of confidence and boundaries and a respect for rules. Even for the mundane actions of daily living, an approach that is playful will yield buy-in and competency.

Learning: The literature on play as an effective learning approach is widely available. The NAEYC site certainly is a key source to read about the effectiveness of play. For play at home, the site familylives.org.uk offers excellent resources and ideas for play at home. For more project-based play ideas, click into pbskids.org/games. Thankfully, books and pamphlets on play ideas abound. You don’t have to be a teacher at all to appreciate or apply playful approaches to everyday tasks and routines—those kids whose parents assume playful attitudes are the real winners in this world!