As the parent of a preschooler, I constantly wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Especially when it comes to her social-emotional growth. I want her to be able to handle her emotions and interact well with others.
Psychologist Erik Erickson suggested ages three through five are a big time for social-emotional growth.
It’s the age when kids start learning they can control the world around them. That’s a big realization! They feel the tension between what they want and what the people around them need.
During this time, kids learn to take initiative. They discover how to lead and interact with those around them. And they gain the confidence to persevere while trying new things.
A child’s home and classroom environment both play a part in this development. These are the places they explore these new realizations.
So how can we help preschool children navigate this stage of social-emotional growth?
Let Them Play
As preschoolers play with others, they practice interpersonal skills. A three year old on the playground learns how their friend reacts to their choices.
And they begin to learn to lead others! By initiating play and creating games, a preschooler is practicing leadership skills as they guide others through the activity. They gain confidence in their ability to make decisions and take initiative when interacting with others.
This is why Manzano Day School is grounded in play-based learning.
Preschool teacher Ms. Bentley says parents sometimes ask, “They’re just playing . . . when will the learning start?”
Play may seem like it’s just fun. But it is a crucial part of a child’s learning process!
When children play they often practice crucial math and critical thinking skills in the process. A child playing with blocks will practice counting, basic engineering skills, and even fine motor skills. And they learn how to communicate well and respect those around them.
As parents, we can give our children space to learn during their playtime to encourage social-emotional growth.
Sit back and let your child play! We don’t need to guide and direct too much. Allow them to interact and practice these interpersonal skills with their friends.
Often we want to intervene and tell our child to share or how to respond to a friend. But that takes away the chance for them to problem solve on their own. Instead, give them the power to practice decision making.
And if something requires correcting, avoid panic and overreaction. This can lead to feelings of guilt that make your child less likely to practice initiative in the future.
Calmly correct them, model how they can make different choices, and then allow them to continue practicing those skills with their friends. Use phrases like, “I see you and Alex both want to play with the swing. What can we do about that?”
Let Them Explore
This is also an age when kids are curious. Learning about their world will naturally lead to questions . . . and more questions . . .
Anyone else get asked five billion questions a day?
As a parent, it can be exhausting to field them. But we also have to remember this is part of our child’s learning and growing.
Lean into those times of curiosity.
Instead of dismissing their questions or making them feel like it’s dumb, engage. Talk with them and ask your own questions about their thinking.
The other day we were reading a picture book and my daughter noticed a volcano in the background. Since she asked about it, I took the chance to explore this curiosity! We found pictures and videos about volcanoes. I did my best to help answer her questions, and it gave her a chance to explore and learn on her terms.
At Manzano Day School, their classrooms utilize child-centered learning.
This practice allows children to be partners in their learning. When students are given some ownership through choices and other avenues, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated.
Child-centered learning fosters social-emotional growth by giving children chances to take initiative and also grow their confidence.
And their small class sizes are key as well!
With an average class size of 18 students, teachers are better able to tailor their curriculum and activities to each child.
The teachers get to know their students and their interests. Teachers then bring those interests into the curriculum and classroom whenever possible. It helps the students get excited and also fosters their joy in learning.
Practices like this let preschoolers explore their curiosity, thoughts, and feelings. It teaches them that wanting to understand and learn more is a good thing! And it helps them be more confident in trying new things and exploring their world in the future.
Routine and Rules Are Also Important for Social-Emotional Growth
Space to learn and explore the world is crucial for preschoolers. But they also need structure, stability, and models to help them learn key values such as responsibility and respect.
In a time where they are experiencing new things in the world, routines make the home and classroom feel safe and predictable for preschoolers.
There are many options when creating routines for your young one to foster their social-emotional growth!
One way is to have routines for certain points in the day, such as the morning or evening. We use a “Chore Chart” with my preschooler each morning. It teaches her responsibility and makes our morning predictable.
Routines teach my daughter she has a part in this family. And she learns that there are certain things we need to do because they are important. Every morning she helps feed the dog before playing, she learns that sometimes someone else’s needs must be met before your own wants.
Manzano Day School understands that these values, such as responsibility and respect, are learned over time through key periods of social-emotional growth.
That’s why they start teaching these values at a young age. Preschoolers have daily planners to teach them the importance of responsibility. Even at a young age, they learn to take charge of their learning.
The school also teaches positive conflict resolution. Ms. Bentley practices with her students, teaching them how to use their words when something is not okay with them or when they want to share. This gives them the tools for communicating with their friends.
Both parents and teachers are important resources as children navigate social-emotional growth.
It feels like a big job. But you’ve got this, mama. And the teachers at Manzano Day School are here to help.
To learn more about the school you can visit their website or register for their Virtual Open House on September 29 at 9 a.m.