Author’s note:This is the first in a series of 6 blog posts I will publish over the next 6 months, which are my first 6 months as an owner of The Little Gym. These posts will draw from my 20+ years as a preschool teacher (and a mom!), with the intention of dropping in some nuggets of knowledge on how parents can best help their child. I will also draw direct correlations to what we are doing at my new home at The Little Gym of Danvers (soon to be renamed The Little Gym Cherry Hill).
Is your child returning to school in the fall? Thousands of children will do that this year. For those who tend to learn from their peers, that is very positive. As a preschool teacher for most of my adult life, I know that's especially true when learning social skills, like knowing when and how to join in, taking turns, reading facial expressions, and conversing with others. Learning these soft skills is critical for young children. It often serves as a base for a child's overall social development. Missing school last year cost many young children a whole year of social development. Don’t worry though - it can be done!
Returning to school, however, will challenge many children. Many of them aren’t used to being in groups anymore. I saw it throughout this year in my classroom at the McKeown Preschool, which is part of Beverly Public Schools. What we saw early on was the audio & visual stimulation generated by being in school would be overwhelming and anxiety producing. These children may also lack either the awareness of social space and boundaries to interact well with other children, or the confidence needed to put oneself out there and learn something new.
Whatever the case, overcoming the isolation or other unintended toxic situations they may have experienced at home won’t be easy. If you’re like most parents, you don’t want your child to have a hard time at school when he or she returns. Fortunately, there are things we can do as parents to make our children’s return much more smooth.
From my experience in this pandemic, I believe the best thing is for parents to work towards reintroducing their children to social situations by creating opportunities for them to practice the soft skills they missed out on. Rebuilding these skills gives a child what he or she needs to navigate school successfully. Combining physical and musical activities while supporting emotional and social development are winning combinations for success. This is an extremely successful way to build self-confidence and social awareness. These are skills children may not have used in a long time and fortunately, the summer is a great time to do this.
You may also, for example, involve your child in activities that include using modeling language, where you say things like “My turn. Your turn”. Activities where parents can provide specific positive feedback (SPF), such as saying “I like the way you put your toys away so quickly,” instead of saying something generic like “good job.” These activities give your child the opportunity to build confidence in social situations and let children know they’re affecting not only themselves but other people as well.
For instance, some things parents can do to help your child prepare for school include naming emotions, which is a great way to help children regulate them. So is discussing your feelings with your child or about the feelings of characters in books, which helps them identify those emotions and gives them ways to address those feelings.
One of the primary reasons why I bought into The Little Gym is because our detailed curriculum prioritizes socialization in its activities. Our professionally designed curriculum, developed with younger children in mind and honed over 30 years of use, focuses on a child’s social development through a fun environment of learning a sport. Many of our activities put children in situations where they need to share with others, practice saying each other’s names, or encourage another child to do something.
We also have parent/child classes that include eye contact between parent and child and a lot of touching, yet give the child space to take a step back if needed. Plus, we have classes where children can work on a specific skill of the week, allow for the free expression of emotions, and encourage parents to follow their childrens’ lead in activities.
Summer is here! And it’s a great time to engage in activities that can rebuild the soft skills your child will need come September. These activities are especially beneficial for those children that may not even remember pre-pandemic life. Engaging in these activities builds the kind of self-confidence your child needs to be in social situations. Plus, it teaches him or her what it feels like to be interactive with their peers again.
By working together we can rebuild the skills your child needs to return to school and be successful!