How Dramatic Play Supports Children’s Development

 

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Dramatic play happens when children take on a role and act out a play, a story or act in a video.  When children engage in dramatic play it helps them build social skills, makes them more aware of emotions, and encourages problem solving. As children play and interact in dramatic play, they practice skills in the following areas:

  • Social/emotional: working with others to successfully act out most stories or plays helps children learn to get along with one another to keep the play going
  • Physical: using large and small muscles to put on costumes, manipulate props, and practice eye-hand coordination
  • Cognitive: thinking up and acting out a story requires cognitive ability, organizing and expressing ideas, paying attention to how other people see the world,  and finding creative solutions to challenges
  • Language: asking and answering questions, using language related to a role they are playing, for example, “Did you find everything you were looking for today in our store?”, early literacy and writing skills

Dramatic play is most effective when children come up with the story and decide how it should be acted out.  Adults can help children use the following skills as they act out their plays:

  • Role play: pretending to be someone else
  • Use of props: using objects to expand and enhance pretend play
  • Make-believe: copying the actions of persons from various settings (e.g., waiter, doctor)
  • In-depth play: spending an extended amount of time playing out a theme or idea in dramatic play
  • Interaction: playing cooperatively with others and exchanging ideas about roles and other details
  • Verbal communication: using language skills to act out roles and negotiate play details

adults support dramatic play

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Adults can also help children engage in more complex and extended dramatic play using the following ideas:

  • Model pretend play: Use books, songs, or stories to engage children in using their imagination, such as having children climb a tree, swing on a vine like a monkey, or crawl through a tunnel. Have the children suggest what happens next.
  • Observe children’s play: Pay attention to who is playing, the language being used, and the roles they are acting out. Observing may also give you new ideas for props and dramatic play themes of interest.
  • Participate as a supporting character: If children don’t seem to know what to do next, consider entering their play as a supporting character to give them ideas. If the area is a restaurant, you could sit down at a table and say, “Will someone please take my order?”

Source: eXtension.org

Leanne Manning, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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My Potty Party, Personalized Books that Teach

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Vera is 3 years old and recently started toilet training.  She spends the early mornings at her grandmother’s home before going to preschool.  Her grandma is teaching her to go “tinkle” in the adult sized toilet, puts her in a pull-up, and takes her every 3o minutes to ensure success.  When Vera gets to school her teachers help her change into underwear and go to “the bathroom” in a child-sized toilet open to several other stalls.  By the time she gets home in the evening, her mother rewards her with a star sticker for initiating use of the “potty chair” but still asks Vera to wear a diaper to avoid messes.  Vera is learning one skill in three different settings in three different ways.

Personalized Books That Teach

Toilet training is arguably the most stressful milestone of early childhood.  Complicating this is the fact that in Nebraska, according to the 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska Report, nearly 72% of children aged 0-5 have both parents in the workforce, and the national average is not far behind.  The stress of toilet training can also be extended to child care providers who, due to licensing ratios, may have multiple children in their care toilet training at the same time with little assistance.  The investment of time and stress involved in toilet training is exacerbated when the home and school environments do not have consistent toileting practices.  Using self-modeling in the form of a personalized story book is one approach to teaching the skill of toilet training in a fun and educational way that children and parents will both enjoy.

Toddlerhood is a time of rapid growth and milestones.  These milestones often involve learning new and complex tasks such as sleeping in a bed and toilet training.  While these are exciting new developments, they can also be stressful for young children, families, and teachers.  Even in the best situations, children have multiple adults teaching them the new skill, often in multiple settings, and with varying materials.  Making a personalized book to teach a skill can ease transitions for young children and support families.

Personalized books can be used to teach a skill by uniquely creating a story that teaches a sequence of skills with the child as the main character.  In a personalized book, the child serves as his own model and can see himself be successful from the very start.  Creating a personalized book to teach a new skill accomplishes three main goals important for transitions: using familiar language and terminology, providing a visual image of what success looks like, and maintaining consistency between the home and school environments.

Language and Terminology

When writing the text for the personalized book it may be helpful to keep a children’s book nearby as a guide or imagine yourself talking with the child.  Be sure to write the text in clear, plain language using the family’s preferred terminology.  Gathering input from the family or child care provider will help to identify how the child communicates about the topic at home and school.  This could be the difference in using “potty” or “toilet” or incorporating the correct word used in a child’s native language.  Using specific sequencing words such as “first”, “next”, “then”, and “last” can cue children to the order of the steps and help them remember the sequence.  In the case that a specific reinforcement is used to celebrate a child’s success (such as a high-five, reading an extra book at bedtime, a sticker, or fruit snack) the reward can be written right into the book.  Although it is temping to try to use rhyme, a popular feature of many children’s books, it is best if the message is simple and factual.

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Visual Image of Success

The old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” has never been more true.  A personalized book provides visual images depicting the child completing each step of the new skill successfully.  Research indicates that children find personalized books more engaging than even their favorite picture books (Kucirkova, 2012).  When a child sees her or himself as the main character of the book it draws their attention to the necessary steps, can increase motivation to achieve, and prompts conversation about the topic.  All three of these benefits can be incredibly helpful for parents beginning toilet training with their child.

Consistency Across Settings

The goal of learning a new skill is to be able to generalize that skill across materials and environments.  However when the skill is being acquired, it can be challenging to learn in multiple environments and with different materials.  For the toilet training child this may mean success at home on a potty chair but difficulties at school with a child-size toilet.  In addition, well-meaning adults often use a variety of terms to communicate about expectations, but this can lead to confusion on the part of the child.  Overall, it can be a challenge for all adults to be on the same page.  A personalized book can quite literally keep everyone on the same page.  For this reason, it is helpful to print multiple copies of the personalized book, one for each home the child resides in and one for school.  This allows one uniform message to be shared in multiple places and serves as a reminder to busy adults about the agreed upon process, how to talk about it with the child, and how to reinforce it.

Online Resources

Of course, the busy lifestyle of today’s parents doesn’t always allow for time to create and write your own personalized book.  Luckily, several online resources are available that streamline the process or do it for you.  Advances in technology have improved and led to innovative ways to integrate children into stories that teach a skill or lesson.  Below are online resources that personalize books to support children not only in potty training but through other early transitions as well.

potty resources

References

Kucirkova, N., Messer, D., & Whitelock, D. (2012). Parents reading with their toddlers : The role of personalization in book engagement.  Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 13(3), 445-470. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798412438068

Voices for Children. (2016) Kids Count in Nebraska Report. Ralston, NE: Chrissy Tonkinson.

Erin Hamel, MEd, Guest Blogger | THE LEARNING CHILD

Erin holds a masters degree in Special Education and is currently a doctoral student in Child Development at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and is a licensed teacher in the state of Nebraska. Erin began her career teaching internationally and has worked with children of all ability ranges from eighteen months to sixth grade. She is passionate about teacher development, connecting young children to nature, and supporting parents and children.

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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The Power of Storytelling

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 We have all heard the “back in my day” stories told to us by our parents and grandparents and most of us almost instinctively started to roll our eyes because they were often used to show us how easy we have it compared to them.  But these stories and others like them have played a powerful part in our development.

Storytelling is the oldest form of education. People around the world have always told tales as a way of passing down their cultural beliefs, traditions, and history to future generations. Why? Stories are at the core of all that makes us human. (Hamilton & Weiss, 2005)

Storytelling helps improve children’s listening and attention skills.  Along with language skills, which are strengthened by exposing children to new vocabulary.  It also models how speech inflections can alter meanings to words and sentences.  During storytelling, children have to use their imagination to picture in their mind characters and plots.  This then strengthens memories as they have to remember details from one time to the next.  It enhances cultural understanding by exposing them to their own culture and others.  It helps children become aware of changes through time and gives them a chance to imagine what life was like for people in those times.

So be brave and tell a story.  Use different voices, get silly, and animate your face and body and watch as your child’s eyes light up.

Share your favorite story with us.

 

TASHA WULF, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Leslie Crandall, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Nature’s Gifts

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Have you ever given thought to all the benefits to children of letting them explore the natural world?  When they are outdoors and climbing trees, skipping stones, scaling rocks, or rolling down the hill they are getting much needed physical activity which can help curb childhood obesity.

The visual beauty of nature also has a calming effect on children.  They can relax, breathe deeply, and reflect on their surroundings.  Think about when you were young and you laid down in the grass and looked for shapes among the clouds in the sky and how relaxing that experience was.  Children can also use their senses to explore nature.  Ask them, “What do you hear as you stand here under the trees?  What do you smell or what does the branch of the evergreen tree smell like?”  Try taking paint chips to the outdoors and give them to children to go and find something in nature that matches the color of the paint chip.  Use the sense of touch to feel the texture on a plant’s leaves, the bark on the tree, the surface of a rock, or the roughness of a pine cone.

By having children care for a plant or garden they are learning to be responsible.  If they don’t water a plant it might suffer or die.  The same goes for caring for a pet.  This helps children develop empathy as they make the connection between their timely and responsive care giving to their pet’s or plant’s well-being.

Give children tools to further their nature exploration.  Some ideas include:  collection boxes, small hand tools like shovels or trowels, packets of seeds to plant, a bucket or tub for water play, magnifying glasses, binoculars, pencils, crayons and paper.  Having nature-related storybooks will also encourage children to explore outdoors.

Adults can help children explore nature by planning developmentally appropriate activities and by taking children on trips to parks or other nature areas.  Adults can take infants outside and talk to them about what they are seeing or hearing, for example, “Do you hear that cow mooing?  Cows use mooing to talk to each other.”  When children get older, ask them higher level questions about cows such as, “Where do cows live?  What types of food do cows eat?” It is also important to let children explore on their own.  When given the time to freely experience nature, they will build their own relationship and sense of wonder with nature.

Source: Children and Nature: Are We Supporting the Connection? extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/early-care/tip-pages/all/children-and-nature-are-we-supporting-the-connection.

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Keeping Children Active

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According to the State of Obesity, Nebraska ranks 5th in the nation for childhood overweight and obesity in children ages 2-4.  Yikes!  Nebraska also has the 13th highest adult obesity rate in the nation.

I recently read the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development?  By Rae Pica.  The book is broken down into 3 parts with a total of 29 easy to read essays which reference real-life stories shared by teachers and parents.  At the end of each essay, Rae provides the reader with ideas for what teachers can do as well as where teachers (and other adults) can go to for more information on the topic.

Part two of the book is all about understanding the mind/body connection.  Rae discusses what the research says about active learning, how important physical fitness is to children’s health and development and why we should push our schools to review the research on recess and active play breaks for children.

Benefits of physical activity:

  • reduces the risk of dying prematurely
  • reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
  • helps control weight
  • increases the body’s infection-fighting white blood cells and germ fighting antibodies
  • helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints.

Based on research, it is clear that we need to keep our children and youth (and the adults too) more active.  Fit Activity For Kids, What’s Your Name? is a developmentally appropriate active activity for adults to play with the children.  To play, the player picks out the letters of their name, and then do the physical activity that goes with each letter.  You might be wondering what would your child be learning during this activity.  Literacy (Letter recognition), turn taking (social emotional), physical activity (healthy bodies, balance, core strength), and more!

Are you looking for new, creative ways to keep your children active and happy?   Visit The Learning Child on Pinterest at  https://www.pinterest.com/unlextensiontlc/.

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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What is the Best Preschool to Prepare My Child for Kindergarten?

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A friend of mine asked me the other day to give my professional opinion on whether she should enroll her child in a preschool within the public schools, or keep them in the childcare where they are currently enrolled.  The parent wanted to know if their child would be ready for kindergarten. She loves her childcare but is concerned that the center is rather small in numbers, and didn’t know if this was the best choice to prepare the child to enter a larger classroom with twice as many peers. This is the $100,000 question, and I didn’t give her an easy answer, because the fact is, it depends.

Types of Childcare Licenses in Nebraska

It is important to note that there are several options for licensed childcare in Nebraska and all must meet compliance by Childcare Licensing. For more information on childcare licensing, see The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services website.

Family Child Care Home I

Program in the home of the provider; maximum capacity is eight children of mixed ages and two additional school age children during non-school hours.

Family Child Care Home II

Program in the home of the provider or another site; maximum capacity is twelve with two providers.

Child Care Center

Program licensed for at least 13 children.

School-Age-Only- Center

Program licensed for at least 13 children who are attending or have attended school.

Preschool

Program providing educational services where children do not nap and are not fed a meal.

I believe this parent was looking for some key indicators as to whether the childcare was doing an adequate job in preparing children for kindergarten.  Well, the fact is, the only requirement to enter Kindergarten in Nebraska is that the child is five years old on or before July 31, which is the cut-off date for Nebraska.  The idea is that schools must be ready to educate children of a multitude of abilities.

There are some good resources available for parents through the Nebraska Department of Education that can aid in making this important decision.  The important thing to note when looking at state standards for kindergarten is they are written toward the future, as to what the child should know and be able to do by the end of the kindergarten school year.

I gave my friend a few resources from the Nebraska Department of Education to explore. These resources emphasize that kindergarten readiness is more than what children know at this age, but also includes key behaviors and social skills linked to success.  They also include how parents and caregivers can support the child’s growth and development in all domains to be successful in the next level of education. If parents are searching for childcare, or contemplating the shift from a childcare center to a public school preschool, the quality indicators can be used as questions to ask the childcare provider. Many childcare providers are educated and well trained, and implement research and evidence based curriculum that does provide children the foundational skills needed for kindergarten readiness.

Questions to ask caregivers

  • Tell me how you promote good health and physical skills
  • How do you encourage appropriate social skills among children?
  • How do you support the child’s knowledge and thinking skills?
  • What do you do to support children to transition to kindergarten?

Check out these sites for more information:

Nebraska Department of Education, School Readiness

Getting Ready for Kindergarten: What Early Care and Education Providers Need to Know

A parent’s guide for preparing your child for school

There are many childcare options available in Nebraska that are committed to quality; it is up to families to determine the type of setting their child will learn and grow in, and isn’t that a wonderful thing?

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Beth Janning, 4-H Youth Educator

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A New Perspective

Introductions are always a good place to start!

Hi, I’m Katie!

I wanted to use my first blog on the TLC page as a place to introduce myself. I live in Ralston, Nebraska with my husband Kent, our son Weston (7 months old) and our dog, Tilly.  I have been in the field of Early Childhood Education, working as a teacher with infants, toddlers, preschoolers and children with special needs, as a director and for the state licensing office.  I now work for Nebraska Extension with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as an Extension Educator.  My job is to utilize research based information to develop programs and help connect people to the resources they need relating to caring for children ages 0 – 8.  My extensive background in working with young children gives me a unique perspective on the experiences I now have as a mother.  In addition to my roles as mom, wife, and Extension Educator, I also am working on a PhD in early childhood at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and try to get out to a local stable to ride horses in my ‘spare’ time!  Oh, and Kent and I are remodeling our 1922 home in Ralston!  So we have a LOT going on, and it’s a blast J.

Weston, Katies blog

I am really looking forward to sharing stories about Weston as he learns and grows that are both from a child development perspective, and from the ‘mom’ perspective!  For now, I will leave you with his most recent picture, his ‘7 month’ photo!  Yes, he’s got lots of healthy baby rolls.

Image source: Katherine Krause

KATHERINE KRAUSE, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Applying Developmentally Appropriate Practices: Book Club Reflections

For the past several months, I have been participating in a book club with other colleagues reading Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children Ages Birth through Age 8.  Each week we have explored a chapter and asked ourselves the following questions:

linda DAP blog
Image source: Reposted with permission  www.littleravenheart.com/
  • What does the author(s) tell us about this particular period of development?
  • How do we see that period of development in action with young children?
  • What can we do in our role as adult educators to support those who are working directly with young children and families regarding DAP?
  • How do we lift up the work others are doing in order to spotlight educators in the field using developmentally appropriate practices?
    • A great example of this is Jaclynn Foged, Carrie Gottschalk and Dr. Holly Hatton Bowers’ work with child care directors.

We recently finished the book reviewing some of the Frequently Asked Questions when the following question bubbled up during our discussion:

How do you support an individual, particularly an early care and education teacher who finds themselves grappling with the implementation of developmentally appropriate practices with children?

Our team had a long pause, longer than usual.  Then we began sharing examples, some that we did when we first started teaching.  I shared that when I was teaching mobile infants and toddlers, I would try and make them sit during a circle time activity which involved reading long books.  I could not figure out why they would not sit and listen to the story.  As I continued taking additional coursework and specialized in infant-toddler development, I realized that mobile infants and toddlers developmentally needed to manipulate materials using all of their senses, and have the freedom to move about their environment.  As their caregiver and educator, it was my responsibility to respect their need to play.  It was my responsibility to have appropriate and reasonable expectations for what they could do, and be patient when they asserted their independence.  During those early years of teaching, I learned the art of balancing, like a mobile hanging above a crib, staying sturdy at the center as the children spun around me.  Sometimes I turned the dial to set the pace, other times they bounced around to their own tune, and every once in a while, the batteries just ran out, and the mobile stopped.  It was during those times I learned how to be patient and use those moments as opportunities to take a step back and observe the situation for what it was, with no judgment.

Patience.  Accountability. Reasonable Expectations.

It seems we are back at the first part of the question.  What do you do?

During our call, we agreed going back to the position statement which first, and foremost states no harm to children*.  From there, the rest of the document and principles serve as a foundation early childhood professionals can use to brainstorm and create strategies on how to begin the conversation around developmentally appropriate practices.

There are several resources, but there is one document I tend to utilize to when reflection and guidance are needed.  It was one of the first items I received during orientation when I became an early care and education teacher.  The National Association for the Education of Young Children Code of Ethical Conduct has several position statements that “offers guidelines for responsible behavior and sets forth a common basis for resolving the principal ethical dilemmas encountered in early childhood care and education.”

Personally, as an adult educator, I found the supplemental document Early Childhood Adult Educators helpful and I’ve included three insights I gained directly from the position statement:

  1. To adopt an attitude of continual learning and growth.
  2. It is important that any information shared, or teaching strategies recommended are based on present and accurate research when it comes to early childhood education, child development and adult learning theory.
  3. When early childhood educators present information that is contrary to your own beliefs and knowledge, acknowledge the different perspectives and if appropriate explore your own biases.

I invite you to review each of the position statements suitable for your particular role. There are statements for educators, administrators, and adult educators.  I hope that you find it as beneficial as I did and can utilize it to address any issues you may potentially experience in your work with children, families, and adult learners.

* If you are a early childhood educator and have questions regarding mandatory reporting laws, click here.

LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaclynn Foged, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Dr. Holly Hatton Bowers, Assistant Professor of Child, Youth, and Family Studies and Early Childhood Extension Specialist Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Road Scholars: My Reflections

 

Last week, I had an opportunity to participate in a three-day tour that began in Douglas County and ended in Scottsbluff.  During the tour, I had an opportunity to visit the Raising Nebraska exhibit, the West Central Research and Extension Center, Cedar Point Biological Station, Lake McConaughy Visitor/Water Interpretive Center, Panhandle Research and Extension Center, Western Sugar Factory, Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory and the Wagonhammer Education Center.

As a state coordinator, I wanted to take this trip for several reasons. First, as new Extension Educator personnel I wanted to learn more about UNL Extension facilities throughout the state.  Second, I thought it was important to see local communities, and learn more about the strengths and challenges each faced.  Finally, as an early childhood professional, I also wanted to network and meet innovative people in the region outside of my field’s discipline.

My favorite location was the Raising Nebraska site.  If you’d like to visit the Raising Nebraska exhibit please join me August 26th, 2017 and The Learning Child team in the Raising Nebraska exhibit at the Presentation Stage during the State Fair! – http://www.statefair.org

Our team will have an interactive hands-on activity based on Head To Toe by Eric Carle.  We will have Kids Yoga and other physical activity games for children to participate in.

 Raising Nebraska

I learned this exhibit was a collaborative effort between three major partners including the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR), University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, and the Nebraska State Fair. The goal of this exhibit was designed to help visitors understand the larger picture of what it takes to plan, prepare, and present food.  It was the first time I learned about how a pivot works and the various innovations currently at work in our state addressing economic impact and local hunger. Before leaving, I took a quick detour outside to see the natural playground exhibit. Check out some of the photos to explore the outside play spaces.

 

 

Image Source: Linda Reddish

LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah M Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Code-a-pillar! Where Development Comes into Play

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Preschool teachers, imagine turning your room into an obstacle course and preschoolers working together for 45 minutes problem solving and programming.

The Code-a-pillar inspires little learners to be big thinkers by encouraging preschoolers to arrange and rearrange the easy-to-connect segments. This learning toy helps children to learn that the arrows indicate different directions. This is a perfect time to introduce the difference between right from left by using the color-coordinated segments that hook together with USB ports. Every time a child changes or rearranges the segments the child is working on learning directions, how to problem solve, planning and sequencing and critical thinking.

Teaching preschoolers about coding and the binary system foster curiosity, experimentation and problem-solving. Allowing the children to become engineers and robots all at once allows a child to work in a fantasy world while learning. The binary system has only two numbers so preschoolers can learn and be successful almost immediately. The number 1 stands for stepping forward and 0 stands for turning right. While one preschooler writes his code on the whiteboard, another preschooler follows the directions given through the coding. The children learn very fast that they can navigate the entire room using only the two codes.

Bringing the preschooler’s attention back to the Code-a-pillar is very easy. Their little brains are ready to arrange and rearrange the segments to get their Code-a-pillar to a particular place in the classroom. They soon realize adjustments (problem-solving) are needed so they can navigate around the tables and chairs in the classroom.

Once the preschoolers understand what a sequence is or program a path, the sky’s the limit. Thinking as they figure out how to get the Code-a-pillar to go wherever they want.

Coding is an excellent way to supports children’s curiosity and develop children’s inquiry skills by asking children to brainstorm solutions, or use open-ended questions like: How did you get that caterpillar to move?

Using open ended questions encourages children to listen, reflect, and then respond back how they made decisions or describe the actions they took to reach a specific goal.  This is an important scientific skill to learn and develop because it will allow children at an early age to practice using the scientific method! (Predict, Collect Data, Describe, and Reach a Conclusion, then… TRY AGAIN!)

As an early childhood educator, and interested in learning more strategies and specific ways to increase children’s scientific knowledge, please join us for an Early Learning Guidelines training on the Science Domain.  For more information visit: Fall 2017 ELG Classes

Image Source: Linda Reddish

RUTH VONDERHOE, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Paulos, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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