ARE YOUR CHILD'S "FIRST TEACHER"
You are your child's first teacher. Does that statement scare you?
It shouldn't. If you feel uncomfortable with the term "teacher,"
substitute "guide." Most children are more explorers than
Dr. Jean Piaget, upon whose theories many of the foundations of Early
Childhood Education have been built, said: “the young child
is an explorer, and it is the job of the adults around her to provide
the experiences and materials to stimulate her development.”
Very briefly, Piaget found that children go through different stages
of development. In the first stage, from birth to eighteen months,
the child begins actively to take part in her own learning without
any real understanding of what is happening. At first, the child believes
that things exist only if they can be seen, heard, or touched. The
younger child thinks very differently from older children and adults.
Her idea of the world is full of misunderstandings.
In the second stage, from eighteen months to seven years, your child
begins to separate herself from the world around her. She begins to
show that she thinks about things before doing them. This is the time
when the child often has a hard time separating fantasy from reality.
"Is Kermit, the frog, real?" she says.
Piaget saw the tremendous importance of play during this stage. When
we give a child the opportunity to play, experiment, talk, and enjoy
her surroundings, we are helping her learn more about the world, other
people, and herself.
Just as you are your child's "first teacher," play activities
make up her first lessons. Play is a child's work. Her first job is
to learn how to get along in the world, and she does this through
play. By encouraging her play and exposing her to new experiences,
you are being a first-rate "teacher." Part of your teaching
job is to know and make available the toys, games, materials, and
"playful" experiences that are right for your child.
A baby is interested in watching, tasting, and touching everything
in the strange and wonderful world around her. Thus, her first playthings
are her senses. The toddler is mainly interested in getting around
and using her body to learn and do new and interesting things. Objects
from the "real world" are important to the toddler. Pots,
pans, telephones, pocket books, umbrellas, and gardening tools give
the toddler a sense of self-confidence because she can use the things
she sees grown-ups using.
The preschooler has developed a good idea of how the world works,
how to get her body to do what she wants, and how to get along with
others. She practices her newly learned skills through play. She doesn't
require a lot of toys, but she needs a variety of structured, semi-structured,
and open-ended toys and materials to practice her skills and to express
her ideas and feelings. Games, books, and tricycles help your child
to master skills. Less structured materials, like blocks, balls, and
a large scarf, help her use her imagination and add her own ideas
to the play. Unstructured play materials such as paints, clay, and
water, allow the most freedom of expression. These materials often
allow children to express their feelings in a concrete way. Thoughts
and ideas can take shape and almost become real when your child constructs
them with a play material. She can be a sailor in the bathtub or a
chef creating a gourmet meal out of play dough. She can draw that
monster under her bed with crayons and then tear it up, along with
some of her fear.
You need to keep both of these types of toys and play materials around
the house to maintain a balance. After all, your home is your child's