Not Just Scribbles

Scribbles done by a young child may seem to be senseless and unimportant, but they are so much more. The first mark your child makes on paper will likely be a scribble of some sort, and when your child enters preschool, he or she will likely create may “scribbly” masterpieces.

The act of scribbling, itself, helps build the muscles in the hand that make writing possible. As your child gains more and more control over the scribbling, fine motor skills develop.

You’ll notice your child pointing to their scribbles and declaring what they are, often in great detail. The scribble likely looks nothing like what she is describing, but her words will let you know what she intended–the picture she had in her head. The act of describing the scribble helps build imagination and encourages thoughtful drawing. As her skills develop, the objects she intended will become more recognizable. As real shapes start to appear in your child’s drawings, your preschooler will build confidence and become excited about drawing and writing things that can be recognized by others, all the while, refining fine motor skills.

It is important to help your child learn to hold their writing instrument properly so that he can develop muscle memory for proper writing and drawing right from the start. Small children will likely first grip the writing instrument in a fist-like position. An early transition to the proper position is important for developing writing skills.

At Square Roots Preschool, we practice proper pencil holding. Our younger children create lots of scribbles. We ask them what they draw, and they give us lengthy explanations. We help them label their drawings so everyone can enjoy what they intended. We also work on tracing our names each day. In addition to the parent sign-in book, we have a child sign-in book. The youngest students start out scribbling on the sheet. Then the markings become more localized, and then the name appears! It’s a progression, all stemming from those first scribbles.

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It’s the Journey, Not the Destination: Learning to Write Your Name

When a child learns to write his or her name, it is a huge milestone. This achievement often happens during the preschool years. We often focus singularly on the end product without realizing all that is involved. Learning to write your name takes a lot of developmental skills working together, all at the same time–skills, for a preschooler, that have only just been learned or may still be in process.

In order to write his name, a preschooler has to have the fine motor skills and hand muscle strength to hold the pencil, have hand-eye coordination to put pencil to paper, make a brain-to-hand connection, and be able to recognize and write the individual letters in his name in the correct order. Whew! That’s a lot of work!

In order for all of this to happen together, each individual skill must be introduced, practiced, and developed. Various activities throughout our day at Square Roots Preschool help us develop these skills. For example:

• An art project that requires students to glue small objects onto paper works helps develop the pincher grasp, a fine motor skill important to holding a pencil.

• Practicing with scissors builds hand-eye coordination and also hand muscle strength, both essential to the writing process.

• Working on letter recognition in a variety of ways, including art projects, songs, and sound repetition all leads to letter recognition and, thus, execution.

• Before a child can form letters, he forms pictures, and before he forms pictures, he forms scribbles. Scribbling is important, and young preschoolers in our class do a lot of it!

• Playing catch during outside exploration time helps develop hand-eye coordination, a skill critical to writing.

• Crawling, for both babies and preschoolers, helps build upper body strength and wrist strength, which is essential to writing.

So there are many activities that seem completely unrelated to writing but are critical to developing writing skills. By encouraging our preschoolers to build writing skills in a variety of pre-writing activities, we keep them engaged and interested so that they come to the table with a solid foundation, ready to write their names for the first time.

Learning About Our Senses by Doing

Each day at Square Roots Preschool, we work on a group project that requires the students to work together. Sometimes we focus on phonics, sometimes science, or gardening, or cooking. We recently learned about our five senses through hands-on exploration and observation, which is much more effective for preschool-aged children than simply discussing the concept.

We used a familiar object that would intrigue the students so that they could look at it in a new, detailed way: the marshmallow! By passing around one marshmallow and allowing each child to have a turn to make observations, the students were able to listen to one another and absorb all of the information. We saved the sense of “taste” for last so that each of the students could have their own, fresh specimen. The children made some insightful (and sometimes funny) observations:

SIGHT: “I see bumps,” “looks like a lofty snowball,” “lots of white dots”

SMELL: “smells like good,””smells like nothing,” “smells like gluten-free bread”

TOUCH: “feels soft and silky,” “sticky,” “squishy,” “feels like bread and white chalk,” “powdery”

HEARING: “I hear touching,” “a gerbil scurrying around,” “nothing”

TASTE: “vanilla,” “not spicy,” “good”

By observing, experimenting, and discussing the marshmallows, our preschoolers learned all about their five senses by doing. We asked our parents to reinforce these concepts at home by finding objects to explore and describe.

Preschoolers and New Years Resolutions

About our contributor, Christine Reese, MS, RD: Christine has a Masters in Nutrition and has been a Registered Dietitian for 8 years. Although she is vegan and cooks accordingly, her 3-year-old son eats an omnivorous diet. Her background includes counseling on weight loss, diabetes, and kidney disease in adults. She loves talking about all things nutrition.

 

Many of us are familiar with new years resolutions regarding weight loss and improved eating habits. Perhaps this year we want to include our preschoolers in the desire for health-promoting eating behaviors. Why not? Children learn by watching us, and there is no time like the present to incorporate brain-boosting, immunity-enhancing, bone-strengthening foods into our kids’ snacks and meals. It is also a good time to reduce reliance on (and perhaps even addiction to) foods and drinks that more closely resemble a chemistry experiment than something edible and nourishing. 

With opinionated preschoolers, some of whom are highly selective eaters, it is easier said than done. Take heart, however, because the effects are worth the effort, and armed with some tips, we can start our preschoolers’ new year on a nutritious note that flourishes into long-lasting, health-promoting eating behaviors. 

Tip #1: Compliment the chef. Why do companies use famous cartoon characters and celebrities to market food (and toys) to our kids? Because our kids like and look up to the characters and are thus influenced by them. Though sometimes hard to believe, we parents have the most influence over our children, and it is my thought that we should try to sell our cooking. I speak from experience here, and think part of the reason my son so willingly tries, at least one bite, most everything I make, is because he frequently hears compliments about my cooking. And, fortunately for me, the comments are usually addressed directly to him, such as, “your mom is a good cook.” As his influential mind absorbs this information, he possibly comes to the conclusion that what I make tastes good and can be eaten. (Sorry to toot my own cooking horn; I just want to provide a tangible example). So give compliments freely to whoever is the chef of the family.

Tip #2: Repeat. Perhaps we feel great about our cooking, but our little ones are not into that new broccoli dish we made last night. If you and/or the rest of your family agree the dish is tasty, wait a few weeks and serve (and compliment) again. Research indicates preschoolers may need up to 15 tries to accept and like a new food. 

Tip #3: Let them have opinions. When deciding on the weekly meal plan prior to grocery shopping, I think of a few meals to prepare for sure. Next, I think of several more options and ask my son if he is interested in eating them in the coming week. If he answers yes, I am ready to go; if not, we come up with some foods that do sound good. Of course, they have to pass the “mom test” and be nutritious, but we usually reach an agreement. If worse comes to worse, or involving kids is not in the cards, then use your best judgment, and/or have PB & J handy. 

Tip #4: Dessert for all. As human beings, we are inclined to prefer sweet, fatty foods, because eating them helped ensure our survival when food was scarce. Our preschoolers seem to exhibit this desire more than anyone else, which can make it difficult for us to steer them toward healthy offerings. Although this post is about decreasing such sugary, fatty foods, it is not about entirely eliminating them. So, when you do have dessert, include everyone, whether or not they ate all their veggies. I am against using food as a reward, especially when it makes eating healthier fare a punishment. Either everyone at the table gets dessert (if desired), or no one. And when you do decide to have dessert, then…

Tip #5: Be selective. Not all goodies are created equal. The path of healthful eating will have many diversions, and we must choose the best direction for our preschoolers. When selecting goodies for my son, I try to choose the items that contain more substance than sugar. For example, dark chocolate, and dark chocolate-containing desserts, are my preference, and after that, things that don’t contain artificial ingredients. As for cake and cookies, homemade options are best, because you can control the quality of ingredients, including reducing sugar a little. 

Tip #6: Out of site, out of mind. This motto really works. If the cookies/candy/potato chips are not around to grab, they can’t possibly be eaten. Have alternatives available, including in-season fruit, pre-washed and chopped veggies with hummus, or blue corn tortilla chips and salsa. Skip the Capri-Suns and Sunny D and instead stock 100% fruit juice, sparkling water, even tea, depending on the tastes of your child. In this case, we say “in sight, in mind.”

Tip #7: Fruit/Veggie each meal. Speaking of “in sight, in mind,” one of the simplest ways to help our preschoolers eat more produce is to serve fruit and/or vegetables with each meal. Perhaps they will not eat it, but the idea forms in their minds that fruit and veggies are a part of the eating plan. If you consistently serve fruit/veggies they like, odds are they will eat it. For example, my son loves green peas, but not green beans, so I only serve the beans every so often. As many of us can attest, kids typically prefer fruit, and some days that’s what will be served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Usually, I aim for vegetable servings at dinner, because I have a little more time to prepare this meal, and the veggie usually compliments the main dish much better than a lunch dish. Really, the goal is to get our children used to eating produce at each meal.

Hopefully, some of these tips will be useful to you and your family on your journey to nutritious eating. Just one more thing: it’s okay to not eat “perfectly;” I don’t know anyone who can manage that feat. The goal is to incorporate more fruit and vegetables in our children’s daily meal plans, and if we fall short one day, we try again the next. 

Classroom Conflicts and the Benefits of Smaller Class Size

Conscious Discipline cites that a typical preschool classroom has sixty conflicts per hour. That’s one per minute! The main reason for this is larger class sizes of same-aged children who have the same needs and skills. This is a recent problem that is on the rise. When young children are in classrooms filled with conflict, there is less learning time, their social skills are hindered, and the environment can create lasting behavior problems.

In the past, young children were typically taught in multi-age groups, and conflicts were fewer. Students of different ages offered different skill sets to contribute to the group and had different needs, so there was not as much competition.

At Square Roots Preschool, our class sizes are much smaller than an average preschool. Our classes have six students maximum. Those classes have students ranging in age from 2-5. The teacher has time to attend to the needs of individual students, and there is more instruction time since conflicts are fewer. In our classes, we practice conscious discipline in order to help our students resolve conflict. We help them communicate how they want to be treated by asking them questions about the situation with the goal that they will learn to manage conflict situations on their own in a respectful manner. We help by suggesting words that they can use and talk about how we can handle a conflict situation better in the future. We practice our skills and learn to treat one another with respect.

The Conscious Discipline video, “Are Children Safe in Preschool?,” illustrates the importance of empowering children to be socially successful as well as develop cognitively during their preschool years.