As a parent, you are uniquely suited to set your child up for success and happiness in life, but you may not know how. To be sure, there is no road map to helping your child grow into responsible adults and if one existed, it would likely offer as many routes to the same goal as there are children.
And when it comes to early education, parents have many questions. What preschool or daycare centers should I enroll my child? What camp or playgroup will nourish his talents? What activities will support and enhance her social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development?
We talked with early care and education experts and experienced parents across our community to identify some of the top ways they recommend to enhance the early education of children and brighten their futures.
1. Give your child an active role in your daily activities.
Grocery shopping, errands around the house and cooking dinner, all offer wonderful opportunities to engage your child and expand his or her learning. When you go to the grocery store, let your child help pick out fruits and vegetables. At home let them help prepare the meal (i.e. peel the fruits, wash the vegetables, or pour the spices). Sure, you may have to get creative in the kitchen or research recipes using a new food, but you may even end up with a new favorite dish. Tell your child how proud you are that he or she helped you make the most delicious meal in the entire world. By incorporating your young explorer into your daily tasks, you can build on the skills and awareness he or she is learning in preschool or day care. An added bonus is discovering how much fun you’re having spending time with your child.
2. Establish routines and clear expectations.
Like most children, your child likely thrives in environments in which he or she knows what to expect and what is expected of him or her. Adhering to a regular and reliable schedule of daily activities and routines helps to avoid childhood power struggles, tantrums and meltdowns. This isn’t to suggest that you should never change your schedule or routine. But, if you have to change your plans, try to let your child know ahead of time, and explain the reasons and what he or she can expect. From time-to-time, expect your child to resist or struggle. This is to be expected; children don’t like change. But, when your child rises to the occasion, celebrate the success.
3. Slow down and take the time to enjoy your child.
Your child is naturally curious, energetic, and eager to explore the world. Let him or her take the lead and share with you the world he or she discovers. Start this as early as you can. Your child, no doubt, notices more than you think, including who comes to the swim classes, who helps in the classroom at school, and who he or she can be silly with. Yes, parenting can be stressful, but it can also be some of the best times of your life. Take time to enjoy these moments; they are fleeting. Set aside as much time as you can to spend with your child, especially when it comes to teaching him or her about the world. Enjoy the experience and let him or her see and feel that enjoyment in the words you speak, your smiles, your groans, your sneezes, and your moments of doubt or anxiety. We are important role models for our children, when we get involved in their early education; we spark their innate love of learning.
4. Build strong relationships with your child’s school, child care provider, or play group.
It’s a fact: It takes a village to raise a successful, happy child. If your child goes to school or participates in a playgroup (both of which we suggest!), there are other adults and children that can play an important role in his or her early life. Engage in activities offered through these venues and get to know the educators that care for your child and the parents of your child’s friends. Join your child and his or her friends for lunch, drop by school to read a story, and volunteer to support field trips or other activities. The more time you spend engaging in these activities, the more opportunities you will have learning about what is developmentally appropriate for your child and how to support him or her on the way to becoming a smart, caring and responsible adolescent and adult.
Lindsey Groark is Assistant Vice President at Hopkins House and Greta Duncan is the Principal at Hopkins House’s James L. & Juliette McNeil Preschool Academy. Founded in 1939, Hopkins House operates three nationally-accredited, Virginia quality rated, and fully licensed education enriched preschool academies for children, birth to 5 years old.