By: Jennifer Deibel
When my oldest was about a year old we had some friends over for a meal. As we bowed to pray, she started going nuts, kicking, screaming, thrashing. I managed to get her calm enough to ask her what was wrong.
“No nite-nite!! NO nite-nite!!!”
I looked at my husband, “I think we might need to start praying more with her…like, more than just at bedtime.”
Thus began my odyssey in teaching my children to pray. To really pray.
I wouldn’t say I’ve “arrived” by any stretch. I have a lot to learn myself, and then figure out how to pass on to my children. But, here are a few steps we have found helpful in teaching our children to pray.
1. Fight Repetition. I’m not against memorized prayers, and that is not the focus of this post. But, for myself and my children (my type-A, first-born, just-like-mama daughter especially), our lives are dictated by routine. It is tempting for me to let my prayers become rote, or formulaic, out of laziness or superstition. Be sure to model starting and ending your prayers in different ways, just like you initiate conversations with your human relationships differently. (ex., as a child, I thought no prayer had a hope of being heard unless it ended with “In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”)
2. Anything is Fair Game. God loves us. Just as the things that are important to, or concern, our children become important to us, so it is with God. So, if my daughter wants to pray about finding her other sock, I let her. I want them to know they can talk to God about anything and everything. You can’t build a deep, meaningful relationship by only talking to a person on Christmas, Easter, and in a major crises. And hopefully, your conversations during non-structured prayer times will shepherd their little hearts to begin to echo the things that are important to Him.
3. Give Guidelines. While we are teaching our children that they can come to God with anything, we also want to help them have quality times of conversation with Him. So, taking our cue from the Lord’s Prayer, at bedtime we make sure they thank Him for at least one thing, and ask His help with/for at least one thing. They can include other things if they so desire, but we make sure these elements are included.
4. Encourage, Model and Foster Spontaneity. When we find out someone is ill, see/hear an ambulance, or see a really beautiful rainbow, we pray right then (usually eyes open, head not bowed…Gasp). Many’s the time our daughter has prayed for a friend who wasn’t at school in the car on the way home. Let them see you do this, too.
5. Watch For Answers/Listen. Take time to be still and listen for His voice. Sometimes its a good exercise for littles to just sit quietly and ponder. Then, be sure to recognize when God answers prayer! Talk about it together, thank Him, and celebrate! You can keep a simple prayer journal with the date, request, and date/way in which it was answered. I’m not that organized (understatement of the century!), so we tend to keep it verbal. Be creative and keep it in line with who you are as individuals and a family.
I hope you have found these ideas helpful, and that as you pray for and with your children He guides you all into a deeper friendship with Himself.
What ways have you found helpful in teaching your children to pray?
Preschoolers have boundless amounts of energy and are always looking for the next thing to get into. Coming up with fun and education activities for them can sometimes be a challenge, but the internet is a GREAT resource to help you come up with ideas. Here are a couple activities from the website Net Mums:
See how many objects you can find lying around the house and use them to make different textures across paper (try pine cones, combs, coins or leaves). Lay some paper over the top of the item and use crayons or chalk to rub across the top of the paper. The result will be a mixture of interesting patterns and offers a creative way to teach children about varying textures and shapes.
What you’ll need:
- Lollipop sticks
- Felt (various colours)
- Glue/needle & thread
Great for role-playing, book marking or as treats in goodie bags, these mini puppets have a multitude of uses and are super-easy to make. The best place to start is to make your animal head. Go for an elephant option (like the one illustrated above) or opt for a tiger, lion or monkey – you can draw sketches first, look for pictures in books or simply let your child use their own creativity to make the face.
Help them cut the shapes out with scissors and stick the felt together with glue. For the eyes, use white felt with black felt tip on top or buy some ready made ‘beady eyes’ from your local craft shop. All that’s left to do is mount it onto the stick and hey-presto, you have a ready-made lollipop puppet!
Big feet, little feet
Encourage your child to think about size. A fun way of doing this is to do hand or foot prints and then see whose print is the biggest. Help your child to cut the prints out and add additional decorations (crayon or pen patterns over the dried paint prints). Get the whole family involved so children can see the difference between, say, Baby Brother’s footprint and Daddy’s footprint. Your child can then line them up in order of size, with each family members name written on them.
Letters in the sand
Make a sand tray using some play sand and place it on the table in front of your child. Cut out some letters or use your child’s magnetic letters as a visual reference and let your child practise writing different letters in the sand with their fingers. A simple activity, good for younger children, which works equally well with paper and finger paints.
Preschool — it’s not just about the sandbox anymore. As elementary school becomes more rigorous, so does preschool. Children are expected to learn certain skills in preschool so that they are prepared for elementary school. Considering the limited time in a preschool setting and the pressure for success later on, where does play fit in?
Play is work for preschoolers
Children are playful by nature. Their earliest experiences exploring with their senses lead them to play, first by themselves and eventually with others. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has included play as a criterion in its accreditation process for programs for young children. “They call it their work,” says Peter Pizzolongo, associate director for professional development at NAEYC. “When they’re learning and playing with joy, then it’s a positive experience. They develop a positive approach to learning.”
The teacher’s role as children grow
As children develop, their play becomes more sophisticated. Up until the age of 2, a child plays by himself and has little interaction with others. Soon after, he starts watching other children play but may not join in. This is particularly relevant to kids in multi-age settings where younger children can watch and learn from older preschoolers playing nearby.
Around 2½ to 3 years, a preschooler starts to play sitting next to another child, often someone with similar interests. This naturally shifts, through the use of language, to the beginnings of cooperative play. An adult can facilitate this process by setting up a space for two or more small bodies and helping children find the words to express their questions or needs.
Between 4 and 5 years, preschoolers discover they share similar interests and seek out kids like them. They discuss, negotiate and strategize to create elaborate play scenes; take turns; and work together toward mutual goals.
The preschool teacher’s role in the development of play is critical. “Parents should look to see that the teacher has organized the environment,” says Pizzolongo, “and is using her curriculum in a way that guides her to plan for how the children are going to be engaged in play. It really is a structured way of learning. It just looks like a different structure than what you would see in fourth grade.”
Types of play
Children’s play can be divided into categories, but the types of play often overlap.
- Dramatic — Fantasy-directed play with dressing up in costumes, assuming roles as characters, using toys to represent characters in stories, creating imaginary settings, and pretending to take on the roles of adults.
- Manipulative — Holding and handling small toys often used to build objects but also found in puzzles, characters, beads, etc.
- Physical — Using the whole body in activities with bikes, balls, jump ropes, hoops, play structures, etc.
- Creative — Using art materials such as paint, clay, markers, pencils, glue, etc. The play takes place in the process of using the materials, not in the end product.
Benefits of play
Through play, children develop skills they’ll use in their school years.
Both gross and fine motor development occur through play. When kids play outdoors, if they feel comfortable and supported, they’ll push themselves to new challenges and build motor skills. Developing fine motor skills, such as handling small objects, is a way for children to practice using their hands and fingers, which in turn builds the strength and coordination critical for writing skills. “When you’re a preschooler or toddler, your attention comes out in a different way,” explains Pizzolongo. “Your attention works best if your body is involved, as many parts of it as possible. So children learning to play where they’re physically engaged with materials and interacting with each other would work best.”
Children build language skills through cooperative play. Their success depends on their ability and patience in explaining themselves. Teachers repeat the words children say to help others understand. They also teach words about the objects the kids are interested in handling. Students may talk to themselves while playing side by side with other children and then begin to repeat what they hear or start talking to each other. This develops into back-and-forth communication about play, becoming increasingly sophisticated by age 4. Children will now set rules, have specific roles, express their interests or objections, and chatter about funny situations that occur in the course of play.
Play builds a strong sense of self-confidence. Trying to do a certain trick on a play structure or build with blocks is hard work for a preschooler. Teachers acknowledge these experiences by articulating what they observe and letting the preschooler absorb these accomplishments again. There are also therapeutic benefits to play that help all children. For example, understanding that a parent is going to work and will come back at pick-up time can be reinforced through a play scenario.
Listening, negotiating, and compromising are challenging for 4- and 5-year-olds. Though children at this age are still egocentric, or unable to think beyond their own needs, working with others helps them develop an awareness of differences in people around them. These experiences in preschool provide a foundation for learning how to solve problems and communicate with peers. Play also helps build positive leadership qualities for children who are naturally inclined to direct but must learn how to control their impulses.
Loss of play later
For many school-age kids, their time outside of school will include solitary time spent plugged into video games and computers, so it is especially critical for preschoolers to have the opportunity to develop naturally in their play.
Julie Nicholson, an early-childhood instructor at the Mills College School of Education in Oakland, Calif., notes, “We know from decades of research that young children’s play is very beneficial for their development, so we have to look at such immensely important topics as the decrease in children’s outdoor play, the loss of extended periods of unstructured time for children to engage in imaginative play, and the toys being marketed to children that are increasingly violent, sexualized, and closed-ended.”
Ask about play when choosing a preschool
When you tour preschools you’re considering, ask about their philosophy about play. Preschoolers need opportunities to play, prepared spaces for them to explore and responsive teachers to support their learning. Such a setting prepares children not only to become students who will work with others cooperatively and approach learning with joy, but also happier people who will not lose their love of play.
By Karen Golembeski, M.ED
As the new school year begins, parents and teachers of preschoolers have much to think about. Research in recent years has highlighted the importance of early education, and we all want the best for the children we care about. Parents and teachers of four-year-olds might not realize, however, that this is also the perfect time to begin thinking about kindergarten.
Many parents and teachers do not start thinking about preparing for the transition to kindergarten until a month or two just before kindergarten begins, because they may not be aware that successful transition to kindergarten is a process that begins the year before. Whether your child is in preschool, daycare or at home, the transition from early education programs to kindergarten can be a stressful time for both parents and educators. It is important to have tools and resources that can inform practice and guide children and families through the process.
Through community building and early recognition and response to children’s individual learning needs throughout the pre-kindergarten year, parents and educators can provide for the smooth flow of information about specific children from home and/or early learning programs to kindergarten teachers.
Starting early to prepare for kindergarten does not mean learning kindergarten skills in preschool, but rather, it involves making sure children have preschool skills such as being able to retell a simple story and being able to recognize the letters in their name when they enter kindergarten. If they have these skills they are more likely to be able to start the following year strong.
The year before kindergarten is the time to learn important skills, such as tracing the shapes of letters and numbers on paper, following simple instructions, recognizing the title of a book, and matching rhyming sounds. All of these skills are important for future school success, because together they form a foundation of strong prereading and prewriting skills necessary for future work with letters and sounds in kindergarten.
Getting ready for kindergarten involves more than just learning the ABCs. Along with juggling learning letters, sounds, numbers, and rhymes, new social experiences like taking turns and going to school for an entire day need to be considered as well. For many children, kindergarten is their first experience in a formal school setting.
Tasks that may be second nature to older children, like properly holding a pencil and listening to a story with a group, are some of the vital skills kindergarteners will be expected to know when school begins. It is important for you to gradually expose children to these types of experiences during the year before kindergarten so your child will become familiar with them. Joining a play group, attending story hour at the local library, and encouraging interaction with new friends are great ways to introduce your child to new social experiences, which will help them do better in school both academically and socially.
An additional benefit of preparing early for kindergarten is learning more about what activities excite and frustrate your child. This is valuable information to share with kindergarten teachers; the more a kindergarten teacher knows about a child in the beginning of the year, the better it will be for the child as the year moves forward. Keeping a list of activities you have tried with your child and making note of skills your child has and has not mastered are great pieces of information to pass on to kindergarten teachers.
Getting ready for kindergarten is a process that starts long before kindergarten begins. By starting early and learning new skills along the way, your child will have a strong start to the exciting year of learning that lies ahead.
There are many free resources available on the internet and through early education organizations that provide ideas for introducing children to new experiences at home and in the community. Below are some helpful resources for parents, educators and day care providers. Check out our Transitioning to Kindergarten Toolkit for resources for administrators, pre-K teachers, child care providers, kindergarten teachers, and parents to enhance children’s transition to kindergarten.
- Early Childhood Research & Policy Briefs: Transition to Kindergarten
- Getting Ready
- Foundation for Early Learning
- Getting School Ready
- Enhancing the Transition to Kindergarten: Linking Children, Families, & Schools