Tap Into Your Child’s Need For Order
Brain research shows that cognitive development in children requires some very specific conditions be in place for optimal learning to occur. Angeline Lillard, Steven Hughes and Eric Jensen, to name three, agree that a recipe that includes order in the child’s environment is both effective and necessary.
As adults, we should work hard to help children feel both physically and emotionally safe and secure. Relationships should always be kind and positive of course, but this includes not only caregivers, but siblings and classmates. We are responsible for teaching young children to be kind and positive with each other as well.
The daily routine should be as predictable as possible, both at home and in school, and the setting should be simple, calming, and beautiful. Remember that stress, whether from home or in school, can ruin potential learning, so security really is a foundational ingredient for cognitive learning in children.
Get the Adults On the Same Page
I love the thought that a child’s day can have all of the adults on the same page! If both parents, all grandparents, teachers, and caregivers speak the same “language”, and have at least similar goals and approaches, the child and adults will benefit.
If we can practice strategies that create predictability and order into their day, the children can use their energy for important cognitive, social, emotional, and physical growth.
The Physical Environment
This is probably the easiest thing to adjust. Start here.
- Sit on the floor in the middle of the room. What view does a young child have? Make it beautiful and comfortable for them. Pictures, hooks, drawers and baskets at their eye level. Everything within reach.
- Get rid of the toy box! It does not encourage careful care of belongings.
- Buy or make a 3-tier shelf. Limit the amount of toys to two or three per tier. Rotate them to keep the choices fresh.
- Simplify. Less is more. More is overwhelming.
- Left to right. Easy to hard. Arrange pieces on a tray, or put them in a basket.
- Buy a work rug that will define their work space.
- Bins can end up being mini toy boxes, so if you use them, keep them ordered.
- Put a handful of books facing forward in a box so that the covers are visible to the child. Rotate often.
- Invest in sturdy child-size furniture. Buy real cooking, gardening, and cleaning tools (not toys) to help children “do it themselves.”
Adjusting your home environment so that your children can mange belongings and toys helps them work toward their important goal of independence. The way we interact with children can also help minimize their feelings of dependency, and help them become responsible people who can function on their own. Opportunities to encourage these important life skills present themselves every day.
- Let children make choices. “Are you in the mood for your grey pants today, or your red pants?”
- Show respect for a child’s struggle. “Boots can be tricky. Sometimes it helps to sit down and use both hands.”
- Don’t ask too many questions as soon as they get in the car. “Glad to see you.”
- Don’t rush to answer questions. “That’s a good question. What do you think?”
- Encourage children to use sources outside the home. “Let’s ask Mrs. Conway how she gets so many butterflies in her garden.”
- Don’t take away hope. “So you’re thinking about being an astronaut? Tell me about it.”
With this age group, this is called “temporal” order. We do things in the same sequence every day, but we allow plenty of choices and freedom within the boundaries of our schedule.
- Young children can’t tell time. It is stressful not to know what’s coming next, so talk about what will happen during the day. First we will ________, then we will ________, then_______.
- Give your child a five or ten minute “heads up” about upcoming transitions.
- Give them enough time to put on coats and shoes without you feeling so stressed that you end up doing it for them.
- Individual children vary in their ability to adapt to unexpected changes. By kindergarten, they can usually understand the need for flexibility or the need for a “Plan B.” Preschool children, are different. Stick to Plan A if at all possible. Routine and predictability are your friends.
Boundaries Are Good For the Long Term Too
Research has shown that permissive parents who are warm and well meaning, but have a hard time saying “no” or following through with the family rules, are teaching their children some important negative life lessons. Children without clear boundaries grow up to be less compliant in social settings (that’s a bad thing, by the way), they tend to be more rude and messy, display a sense of entitlement, and often have more behavior problems. Finally, the saddest outcome for these children is that they report that they are depressed and anxious as young adults. After all their parent’s efforts to have happy children, they grow up to be less happy than the children who had parents who were warm but firm. (Lillard, p. 268).
Find Out More…
Hughes, S. http://www.goodatdoingthings.com/file/Montessori_Lectures.html
Jensen, E. (1998). Teaching with the Brain in Mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Lillard, A. (2005). Montessori The Science Behind the Genius. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.