As I am one of the first educational environments that children in my care will experience, I feel a great responsibility to help them develop a positive outlook to learning. Children have a natural curiosity about the world around them. It is my job to protect this sense of wonder; to keep it healthy and strong in the midst of frustration. This positive outlook to learning is the most important thing a child must be armed with in order to reach his or her potential later in school. I believe in fostering this attitude in the following ways.
Children need physical safety. What is often overlooked, however, is psychological safety. Each child needs to feel valued for the unique person he or she is. Care, observation and intuition must be used in order to protect the child's self-esteem, particularly when they are sad or frustrated.
Each child, at any particular point in time, has strengths and weaknesses in various areas of learning. A child should be praised for areas he is strong in. He should feel proud of the skills he has mastered, as this will help him to develop confidence as a learner. As well, a strength can be utilized to help a child learn a skill in which he is weak.
A weak area for a child is anything but static. It is simply something that has not been mastered at this point in time. It is important to make the task doable for the child (there are a number of strategies for this) so that the child is successful to some degree. In addition, I must try to impart to the child that the task itself is fun (e.g. trying to get the puzzle piece in), not just the end result.
Self esteem is key. A child's increasing self-confidence has a snowball effect: feeling good about mastering a skill motivates him to take more risks with learning, and increases his frustration tolerance so that he will pursue a task for a longer period of time. This, in turn, makes it more likely that he will succeed in learning a new skill.
It is important for a child to see me make mistakes and to witness my positive and healthy attitude about these mistakes.
In order to stimulate a child's curiosity, my daycare is equipped with toys, toys, toys. I believe it is important for there to be a wide range of toys not only for different developmental skills (gross motor, fine motor, musical, mathematical, language, artistic, etc.), but also for different levels of learning. In addition there should always be access to some toys (or activities) that are slightly beyond a child's current skill level.
Familiarizing children with books at an early age does wonders for their future literacy skills. I believe that it is my job to entice them to listen to the story; I must "sell" the book, in other words. When a reader is enthusiastic about what they are reading, children will (in time) follow. Knowing each child's personality and interests means I can help them to relate to the book in some way.
Circle Time is an activity that can greatly enhance language skills through music and rhyme. Actions can be paired with the music or rhymes to give kids a visual representation of what a word means. Songs that the children have learned can also be referenced when the teachable moment arises, to improve understanding. (E.g. If I come across a star in a book, I may sing "Twinkle, Twinkle" and point to the star as I say the word "star".) The value of nursery rhymes for a child's future literacy skills has been well documented.
My biggest responsibility in this area is to model positive social behaviour. If the children feel that I respect them, they are more likely to listen to me when I encourage them to respect others. If they feel I am listening to them and caring for their needs and wants, they are more likely to empathize with others.
Some of the social aspects I find it particularly important to teach children at this young age are: taking turns, not grabbing toys from others, respectful behaviour towards others, putting their feelings into words, responsibility for behaviour.
These are the bare bones of my philosophy. I hope to, over time, take parts of this philosophy to examine more closely on my blog. I encourage any readers to ask for clarification on these ideas, or to offer their own ideas. Raising and teaching children is, in my mind, rocket science. Just when I think I have things figured out, they teach me something new. So please, even if you are not a parent or a caregiver, share your ideas. We were all children once, so we can all relate.