Toddler Songs

We had our first session of toddler class today, so it’s a good day to post a collection of some of our favorite group time songs, some of which we sang today:

Transition Songs

The Clean Up Song. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mc6Wkab3lYM
Clean up, clean up; Everybody everywhere; Clean up, clean up; Everybody do your share

Group Time: It’s Time to Come to Group Time, It’s Time to Come to Group Time, It’s Time to Come to Group Time, Tra La, Tra La, Tra Lee

Roll the Ball: I roll the ball to _. S/he rolls it back to me!

Lap Bounces

Pony Ride
Riding on a pony downtown, (bounce child up and down your legs)
Better watch out or you might fall DOWN! (child falls between your legs)

Elevator
Let’s go riding on an elevator, Let’s go riding on an elevator,
1st floor, 2nd floor, 3rd floor, 4th floor, 5th floor, (raise legs a little bit each time)
Down, down, down, down, down! (Child slides down legs)

Popcorn. Popcorn, popcorn in a pan, Shake it up, shake it up, Bam, bam, bam (video)

Finger Plays

Rain/Thunder.
Rain. (run your fingers down your child’s back, like raindrops)
Thunder. (gently “pound” on your child’s back)
Lighting. (use your finger tip to trace a lightning bolt on the child’s back)
Chills. (tickle your child’s neck)

Where is Thumbkin?
(Tune of Frere Jacques. The fingers on your hands “talk” to each other, one at a time. On “run and hide” put hands behind your back. Here’s a video.)
Where is Thumbkin, where is Thumbkin? Here I am! Here I am!
How are you today, sir? Very well I thank you.
Run away. Run away.
(Where is pointer? Where is tall man? Where is ring man? Where is pinky?)

Round and Round the Garden (rhyme) words and motions – we use variation 3

Someone is Hiding – Peekaboo
Someone is hiding, hiding, hiding, someone is hiding, Who could it be? Peekaboo!

Someone is Hiding 2. (Tune of Frere Jacques)
Someone is hiding. Someone is Hiding. Who could if be? Who could it be? Now it’s time to come out, now it’s time to come out, peekaboo! peekaboo!

Shaker Songs

Shake and Stop. Oh you shake and you shake and you shake and you stop. (repeat 3x) Shake them up high, shake them down low, shake them on your tummy, and way down to your toes.

Shake your shaker (tune: London Bridge)
Shake your shaker near and far, near and far, near and far
Shake your shaker near and far, shake your shaker.
(Shake your shaker high and low… fast and slow)

Movement Songs

Ring Around the Rosielyrics and motions (kids over 2 or 3 can make one big circle. For younger toddlers, have them circle with just their parent, not the whole group)

Walk Bear: Take a little walk bear, walk bear, walk bear, take a little walk bear, walk bear walk. Take a little run bear…. Take a little wiggle bear…. Have a little hug bear…

Wave Your Hands. Wave your hands, way up high, wave them wave them to the sky. Bend down low, touch your toes. Clap your hands 1 – 2 – 3. Turn around, just like me!

Goodbye Songs

Preschool is Over.
Preschool is over, it’s time to say goodbye. You take your little hand, and you wave bye-bye. [then say: “bye bye preschool!”]

Teddy Bear Teddy Bearlyrics and motions (note: there are variations on these lyrics) Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn around, Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear touch the ground,
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear reach up high. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear wave bye-bye.

More Resources

This post includes lots of links to where to find more great songs for toddlers.

Read more about why singing songs is great for kids’ brain development.

Can We Do Sensory Bins In Class During COVID?

I’m about to return to in-person teaching of toddlers and preschoolers for the first time in 18 months. I have many questions about sensory bins, shared toys, and craft supplies. I don’t have a lot of answers, but here’s what I’ve found.

Official Recommendations for Child Care Settings

Safest Options: Here are some recommended Sensory Ideas from King County public health. These are from May 2020, when worries about surface transmission were high, so the fact that these were considered safe then means they would definitely fit under current recommendations.

  • Individual sensory items in containers. To clean, just wipe down the outside.
    • Double-bagged ziplocks, sealed with tape. Fill with slime, gak, water beads, hair gel, etc. Kids hold and squish around.
    • Fill rubber gloves with sand, lentils, etc. Tie off.
    • Water bottles filled with colored water, oil, sequins, shells, etc. Tape or glue lids.
  • Individual sensory bins in plastic tubs. Each child has their own bin they use each week, filled with rice, beans or other material. Swap tools each week: cups, scoops, toys that can be cleaned.
  • Play-dough in individual containers for each child. For play, put them on a tray, or tape off part of a table. Give the child tools to play with – like cookie cutters. When done, put child’s playdough back in their bag, and clean tools before another child uses them.
  • Give child their own containers of finger paint. Use plastic handled paintbrushes, and clean before another child uses them.

Guidelines specific to sensory bins and shared items in childcare settings

The current recommendations from the Washington DOH (they’re supposedly releasing new recommendations soon) and the CDC, were originally developed when there was high concern about surface transmission.

DOH says (https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/DOH-OSPI-DYCF-SchoolsChildCareGuidance.pdf)

  • “Children should have their own set of items to limit the sharing of supplies or equipment.
  • Some items cannot be cleaned and sanitized. This includes things like playdough and some items in sensory bins or tables, stuffed animals, and dress up clothes. Remove these items from the program unless they are individually assigned and labeled.
  • If using sensory materials, use items that can be disinfected or discarded and replaced between sessions…. All sensory table activities should be supervised for toddlers and preschool children. Hands should be washed before and after sensory table use.
  • Books and other paper-based materials are not high risk for spreading the virus and do not need to be cleaned more than normal.”

CDC adds “Machine washable cloth toys should be used by one person at a time or should not be used at all. These toys should be laundered before being used by another child.” https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/guidance-for-childcare.html

What is known, but not yet reflected in the guidelines

Does the type of surface matter?

Viruses live a different amount of time on different surfaces. There were studies in the NEJM that looked at half-life – how long till it’s reduced in half and Lancet that looked at how long it took before the virus was undetectable. Department of Homeland Security has a page that addresses estimated surface decay. (Here’s a plain language summary of the research.)

When first “deposited” – like if an infected person without a mask just sneezed droplets on a surface – there’s more virus there. As time passes, the amount of virus drops, till there’s no longer any detectable. (Imagine a puddle on a sidewalk – at first it might be two feet across, then it gets smaller, and then the pavement is just damp, and eventually the pavement is pretty much dry… the water is undetectable.)

When the virus was intentionally deposited on surfaces, it’s virtually gone from paper in a few hours, from cardboard in 24 hours, wood and cloth in 2 days, glass in 4 days, and steel and plastic in 3 – 7 days.

So, that’s how long some small amount of virus might be capable of living (if not cleaned with soap and water, or sanitized with bleach, or disinfected.)

So… if we had someone in class with active coronavirus, and virus was deposited on a surface and we didn’t clean it, there is some small amount of virus on that surface the next day. The question is – how likely is it that someone who is masked and washing hands frequently would catch COVID from that?

What do we now know about surface transmission?

  • In April 2021, the CDC released a brief (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/science-and-research/surface-transmission.html) which stated: “… surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low. The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. The risk of fomite transmission can be reduced by wearing masks consistently and correctly, practicing hand hygiene, cleaning, and taking other measures to maintain healthy facilities.” “… the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection via the fomite transmission route is low, and generally less than 1 in 10,000….” “Routine cleaning … with soap or detergent, at least once per day, can substantially reduce virus levels on surfaces. When focused on high-touch surfaces, cleaning with soap or detergent should be enough to further reduce the relatively low transmission risk from fomites in situations when there has not been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 indoors.” “Disinfection is recommended in indoor community settings where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 24 hours.”

How much does cleaning reduce risk?

“From studies of cleaning focused on other microbes, a 90–99.9% reduction of microbe levels could be possible depending on the cleaning method and the surface being cleaned.”

So, if a different group of people is entering the classroom within 24 hours, then cleaning does get you a substantial reduction in risk.

The Context of Our Classrooms

Child care can look like lots of things – there are some 24 hour child cares that are back-up emergency care for essential workers – those might be more likely to have a higher load of any virus, and may be harder to clean between children. A full-time child care with unvaccinated workers might be more likely to have virus, and harder to clean between children.

In the context of my classes, things might look very different and might lead to different decision making. Here are the layers of protection we have in place to reduce the possible viral loads in our classrooms:

  • We require all adults to be vaccinated. (Also, on the Eastside, over 90% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.) We will ask them to do temperature checks, and symptom and exposure checks before coming. This reduces the risk that families will bring the virus to class.
  • We will require adults to wear masks and recommend that children do so. We will also increase ventilation. These practices reduce droplets and the risk of airborne transmission.
  • We will practice frequent hand-washing and hand sanitizing which reduces the risks of fomites being transferred to surfaces.
  • We have much higher adult to child ratios than a typical child care (between 1:1 and 1:5) and can provide closer supervision.
  • Some of our classrooms are only used once a week by one group of families.

Questions there aren’t official answers for

  • If an item is used by one child for a brief period of time, then put away for a week before being used again (like maracas or jingle bells at group time), does it need special cleaning?
  • Given frequent hand cleaning protocols, would it be reasonable to share materials like scissors and markers between children, or is it essential to have a system like a bin of clean markers, and then a bin for dirty markers where any marker that has been used by a child is placed?
  • If children hand sanitize before and after, is a shared sensory bin reasonable? Should it be filled only with materials that can be cleaned with soap and water and sanitized with bleach solution? Could some items (like rice and lentils) maybe be disinfected after class by stirring in alcohol? If health guidelines for child cares allow for sandbox play outdoors (they do) – what about sand in an indoor sensory bin?

These are the things I’m thinking about. If you have additional insight into this, let me know in the comments!

(Re)Adapting to In-Person Classes

This fall, many young children may be returning to in-person classes or preschool after a long time away, and some toddlers may be joining their first group activities with peers. Parents may worry about how their child will adapt. We can support the transition by: getting ourselves ready, choosing the right program for the moment, preparing children by teaching social skills and self-help skills at home plus talking to them about what to expect and what will be expected of them, then supporting them through all the new experiences in the first few weeks of class. We should expect that it will not all go smoothly and all children will have some rough days at school – because that has always been the case!

I know this feels like an unprecedented situation, and yes, COVID is unprecedented. But parents have always worried about sending their child off to school and wondered how they can help with the process. Those steps that parents have been following for decades all apply here, and we’ll throw in a couple COVID specific tips in our suggestions about what you can do to increase the chances that the transition to in-person learning will go smoothly.

Prepare Yourself

If you are anxious, your child will pick up on that, and they’ll be anxious too. So, before you start talking to them about going to classes, do whatever you need to do to build your own confidence that it will be OK. Get support from others if needed.

If you’re worried about COVID – remind yourself that even if children catch COVD, they typically have mild cases. (Yes, there are exceptions – some children who get very sick – but the chances are small.) The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a return to in-person school. You can also think about layers of protection – all the things you can do to reduce the risk for your child. [If you’re evaluating whether or not to return to in-person classes, here are factors to consider.]

If you’re worried your child won’t adapt well to being around other children, listening to other adults, or being away from you, keep in mind that children are very resilient – they often adapt to things much easier than adults do.

Ideally, you should work on your worries out of sight of your child. But, if your child notices your anxiety, then trying to pretend it’s not there can actually cause them more worry than if you just calmly say “I’m feeling worried now – here’s what I’m doing to calm myself.”

Planning for Success

Jumping from social isolation at home to a full-time program could be overwhelming for some children. Some parents are choosing to start small with a program that meets for only a few hours a week, and gradually build up to more. Some are choosing to start with a parent-child class or a cooperative preschool where they can stay with their child in the new setting to help make the transition to being with other kids and adults easier. Some will choose full-time school but simplify the rest of the child’s schedule to keep things manageable.

When looking at programs, I would consider their COVID protocols: Vaccines for the adults, masking for everyone over age 2, increased ventilation / more outside time, and social distancing can all reduce the risk.

I would also look more broadly at their approach to scheduling and rules. I would look for one that has a nice balance between providing structure with predictable routines and a little flexibility to adapt to your child’s needs of the moment. Our children really need both predictable routines at this time and responsiveness to their needs as they re-adapt.

Preparing Your Child

While returning from COVID is new, asking kids to adapt to new situations is not new. So there are a lot of things we know to do to ease transitions into toddler classes, daycare or preschool.

  • Teach self-help skills. Help your child learn how to put on their coat, take off their coat and hang it up. Help them learn how to open their string cheese or yogurt containers by themselves. Teach handwashing skills, and also practice how to use hand sanitizer.
    • During COVID, teach them how to wear a mask, how to take it off to eat, and put it back on, and what to do if their mask gets wet or dirty. (Early in COVID, many parents wondered if they could ever teach their child to do something “as weird” as wearing a mask – but remember, that’s not weird to a kid. It’s no weirder or harder to learn than how to wear pants in public.)
  • Teach and practice social skills: how to make friends, how to invite someone to play with you, how to ask to play with a toy someone else is using, taking turns, and so on. Set up playdates where your child can practice these skills.
    • During COVID, teach them about “giving space” around them rather than crowding other kids. In dance classes and sports classes, teachers have long used the idea of “bubbles” – imagine you have a big invisible bubble around you and so does everyone else and you can’t bump inside anyone else’s bubble. You can teach and practice this. Be careful not to give your child the message that it will always be dangerous / scary to be close to other people. Just say that right now with COVID we need to make extra space.
    • It always helps to teach emotional literacy skills – how you can tell how someone else is feeling. During COVID, be sure teach your child to watch for body language and tone of voice since they can’t see facial expression for people who are masked.
  • Create routines. What routines can you establish at home to make it easier to get out the door in the morning? If you’ll need to be up earlier in the morning than you’re used to, do you need to adjust bedtime? Learn about what routines they use at school and try to have similar practices at home. (For example, washing hands before snack time.) If your child will use new tools at school – like a backpack or a lunchbox or water bottle – get them early and practice.

Preparing them for Class

Talk about what to expect at their class, and what will be expected of them.

  • There are lots of great books and TV episodes about starting preschool. Some good book options include “Rosie goes to Preschool” by Karen Katz. (video) “Maisy Goes to Preschool” by Lucy Cousins (video), Lola Goes to School by McQuinn (video), Pete the Kitty’s First Day of Preschool by James Dean (video). Or watch “Learn what happens when Sadie starts school.” These provide good starting points for conversations and for pretend play.
    • Note: Many books address separation anxiety and other fears. If your child is already fearful, these can be reassuring. But if your child is feeling confident, don’t read these books – you don’t want to introduce anxiety! Some examples: Bye Bye Time by Verdick (video) is great for kids who are just a little anxious – it helps you develop a ritual for goodbye time and a plan for them for what to do if things are hard. “Llama Llama Misses Mama” by Anna Dewdney (video) is about a llama who has a really rough first day at school – it’s a perfect book to read after your child has a rough day. “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn (video) is about a raccoon child who is very reluctant to go to school – if your child is already reluctant, it offers good tools. Or watch Daniel Tiger Goes to School.
    • Here are recommendations for kids starting kindergarten or first grade: https://www.thoughtco.com/childrens-picture-books-about-starting-school-627520
  • Talk about what to expect at their school. Visit the school, if possible. Or, at least look at pictures or a video tour if available. Visit the outside of the building and walk around. Show your child pictures of the teacher. Get some materials like they’ll have in the classroom – like markers – and practice using them at home. There’s an idea called a social story which was created for kids with autism – where you create your own little book with pictures that clearly describes what to expect, what’s expected of them, and what they’ll do if something is challenging – I find these can benefit any child, so you could create one for your child.
  • Teach and practice how to interact with a teacher. Explain that the teacher is there to help them and will take care of them. Explain that the teacher is in charge. Teach how to get the teacher’s attention and how to ask for help. Teach them that sometimes they have to wait for a grown-up to be available to help them. Play listening games (like Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Copy the Rhythm I Clap).
  • Pretend play. Pretend to be going to school – who will play the parent? The child? The teacher? Play at things like: waiting in line (with stuffed animals), doing circle time, taking turns, asking the teacher for help, saying goodbye at drop-off time.

When Classes Begin

  • Don’t make too big a deal of the first day. That anticipation and excitement can turn into anxiety.
  • Don’t introduce all new clothes and shoes and backpack on the first day. Let them wear familiar and comfortable items. Pack their favorite foods, and pack the exact same lunch for the first several days so they know exactly what to expect. Ask your school’s policy about “transitional objects” – for some children, having a toy from home or a picture of family or favorite book, can help them adjust to all the new things around them.
    • Note: pre-COVID, this was often a stuffed animal, but during COVID, only send things to school that can be easily cleaned.
  • Allow extra time to get there – you want time to relax beforehand, remind your child what to expect, and get there with everyone calm. (Note: this is especially true if you have a child you think of as shy – I call them “slow to warm up.” These children do best when they can arrive a little early, before most of the other children and settle in. They don’t do well running in frantic and late to a full and busy classroom.
  • Build a relationship with the teacher(s), other kids, and other parents. When your child sees that you feel comfortable interacting with them all, they will feel comfortable too. Let the teacher know what things most engage and calm your child. (When my child was three, I told his teacher(s) that any time Ben was feeling worried, all they had to do was ask him about the planets, and give him nine objects to line up to show which was closest to the sun and which was furthest… it was guaranteed to calm him any time!)
  • For drop-off programs, ask if it’s possible to stay a while at drop off time in the early days. (It may not be possible during COVID.)
  • When it’s time to leave, keep your goodbyes brief, radiate confidence that they will be OK. Do say goodbye – don’t try to sneak our when they’re not looking. Tell them what they will be doing while you’re gone, and when you’ll return. (Be sure to honor that promise, and be prompt and predictable for your return.)
  • Make your goodbye ritual simple and sweet. Make sure your child is either settled into an activity or knows that to do next, or hand them off to an adult for care so that when you walk out the door, your child has something else they’re focused on other than your absence.
  • Remember that fear of strangers is developmentally normal for all children 7 months and up, and that separation anxiety is common in all toddlers around 18 months. If you see them, they’re likely not due to coronavirus or anything you did or didn’t do. And any advice that you can find for separation anxiety at any time will apply, whether or not it’s COVID specific.
  • Resist the rescue. If your child is sad/crying when it’s time for you to go, be caring and validate their feelings but stick to the plan and leave. Trust the teachers to be the professionals they are and manage the common challenges of separation anxiety. Typically a child who cries at drop off times cries only briefly and will soon calm down.
  • After class, give your child a chance to debrief and talk about how the day went.

Handling the Challenges

You may be one of the lucky few parents that everything goes well for and your child sails on through with no challenges. Or you may have a toddler who bites his classmates. If that happens, it’s not your fault and it’s not because of COVID isolation – it’s because sometimes toddlers bite their classmates. If your seven month old cries when strangers hold them, it’s good to know that 7 month olds have always been prone to fear of strangers. If you have a child who has a hard time sitting still for story time – maybe it’s because they didn’t have to sit still during quarantine… however, there have always been children who had a hard time sitting still! And the teachers will work with your family through the challenges, as they always have.

Be careful not to catastrophize. If your response to every setback is stress, anxiety, and “why does everything always go wrong?” that makes it worse. Try to have a resilience approach – “this is hard right now, but we’ve faced hard things in the past, and we’ve made it through, and look how much we learned.”

Some things to be aware of: if your child is having big feelings, it’s important to acknowledge them, not just try to distract them away. Regression is normal – for example, a child who was potty trained may have accidents – don’t punish or shame, just acknowledge the issue and say “let’s try to do better tomorrow.” If your child is really clingy, maybe they just need more snuggling for a while – soothe and reassure them. If they are misbehaving, remind yourself: children who are loved will always try to do well if they can. If they are misbehaving, ask yourself – is there a skill or support that they are lacking? If so, help them build it. Ask yourself – could it be that they have an underlying need that is driving the misbehavior? If so, meeting that need may resolve the issue.

Be patient and remember that any challenges are just a phase. Just keep doing your best every day and encourage them to do their best, and you’ll make your way through to the other side of this challenging time.

More Ideas

Acceleration or Enrichment for Gifted Kids?

In gifted education, there are two major approaches – acceleration or enrichment. Acceleration just means moving more quickly through the stages of the curriculum. So, if during a typical year, a typical student would do levels one through three of a subject, gifted kids would get through four levels, and end the year ahead of their age peers. Enrichment, or the horizontal approach, adds breadth and depth to each level, either through additional content or with project-based learning which enhances understanding. Children stay at the same overall level as their age peers (which can help with social interaction or ability in sports) but have learned about each topic more deeply.

Acceleration

Acceleration can be done by just skipping ahead and starting at a higher level, or by “compacting” the curriculum by teaching the same content more quickly. (Gifted kids may understand something in the first pass that takes more repetition and drilling down for other kids.)

This can be very helpful for gifted kids.

When you understand the new information at first glance, and you then have to sit through the teacher explaining it and re-explaining it to other children, it can be supremely frustrating and exhausting! A lot of gifted kids actually end up dropping out of school due to this boredom / waste of time factor. So, moving faster can help to keep them more engaged. But, in the end, the kids are pretty much learning nothing beyond what the other kids learned. They just learned it faster. So, maybe they graduate from high school at age 16 instead of age 18. But not much else is changed.

Enrichment

Enrichment …. ‘refers to richer and more varied educational experiences, a curriculum that is modified to provide greater depth and breadth than is generally provided’ (Davis & Rimm, 2004, p.120). … It has often been said of the American school system that with the content standard movement we take a mile wide and an inch-deep approach. We have so many content standards to get through that we just skim the surface and have difficulty getting students to a place where they have an enduring understanding about the content. With enrichment, even though the content standards are all covered, because gifted students usually get the basic understanding fairly quickly, the teacher can go more into depth regarding the topic, digging deeper than your typical classroom. What this might look like is the teacher has a brief explanation on how vibrations cause sound and then allows the students to conduct experiments and put this idea to the test. Or a math teacher who after the class gets the gist of what she wants them to know, might do a project exploring the standard further or ask them to find a way to apply this to real life.

(Source)

I will be the first to admit that acceleration is easier to accomplish. Most teachers can do it successfully. Enrichment takes more effort and skill on the part of the teacher, more advocacy by the parent, and more engagement by the child. It can easily fail.

“Enrichment” is often just provided by handing kids some logic puzzles to work on, or by a teacher-led extra project to work on. These can feel like busywork and not really enhance learning all that much. Not all teachers are able or willing to provide effective enrichment. I found with my kids that in some years, I had to acknowledge that school was boring and slow but they just had to make it through, and we focused on lots of fun and challenging extra-curriculars.

Enrichment is better when a teacher is thinking really intentionally about broadening and deepening the learning. Whatever the main curriculum is for the class, the teacher finds a way to challenge the kids who are up to it – perhaps by assigning hands-on projects that use the skills they’re learning, or challenging them to take a written assignment to a higher level, or encouraging them to read additional materials related to the primary topic.

The most effective enrichment is child-led… when the child has a passion and the teacher gives them the opportunity to explore it and push their learning in that area.

Here are just a few examples of how enrichment has worked well for children that I know:

  • A child had basically taught himself to read and to do math at age 3, so academics were advanced. Instead of pushing him further ahead in those areas, his parents had him spend his preschool years in programs that built social skills, emotional intelligence, and physical agility and strength.
  • A four year old had a passion for learning about space. So, he was in a part-time preschool to build his general skills, but his parents also took him to the library for space books, watched shows about space, and built solar system models together.
  • A kindergartener who was a solid reader was asked by the teacher to read to the other children – it developed her mastery, and was a great model for the other kids. She also read books about their shared interests which helped her build friendships.
  • A first grade teacher knew her students all had different skills and challenges, so several times each year, she gave hands-on projects that she could help them adapt to best engage them and help them grow where they most needed to grow.
  • A second grader who was able to finish her work quickly asked for, and got, her teacher’s permission to always keep a book and some art supplies nearby so she had things to keep her busy and engaged while her classmates finished their work.
  • A school district offered a pull out gifted program where one day a week, children from several neighborhood schools were all gathered together for an enrichment program that had project-based learning – while working as teams toward a common goal, the kids deepened their knowledge of the topics they were learning in their neighborhood school.
  • A middle schooler found that school didn’t fully challenge him, but then he had a woodshop teacher who gave him the freedom to choose projects. During 8th grade, he built a bed, a dresser, and lots more. In the process, he built on his knowledge of math, design, planning and budgeting and more. He ended up as a pediatrician, but still does woodworking on the side.
  • Another middle schooler spent hours working on projects for her robotics team.
  • A high schooler started a small business selling their crafts on Etsy.
  • A high schooler enrolled in the fullest load of the most advanced classes her school offered, but was still able to complete all the work in a short amount of time. So, on the side, she volunteered for 20 hours a week in health care.

When I’m thinking about enrichment for kids who need an extra challenge, I have a few approaches that guide me. First, I think about hands-on options – what could they build, sew, bake, draw… that would deepen their learning? I think about following their passions – how can we take that interest and turn it into a project that will challenge them to learn and grow? I also think about all the areas of development – where do they most need to grow and about the multiple intelligences – where could they be stronger?

Acceleration just helps kids learn the same things as other kids learn – just more quickly. But enrichment can lead to really interesting experiences that make for a more interesting human being, in my opinion.

Learn More

Should I push my child ahead in school?

I often have parents ask questions like:

  • can I enroll my 2.5 year old child in a preschool that’s for ages 3 and up?
  • my child will turn 5 in October – should I apply for early entrance into kindergarten?
  • my child is a few months younger than the requirement for the camp – can I sign them up anyway?
  • my child is gifted – should they skip a grade?

I also see in classes my children take that if the class is for ages 5 to 7, it’s filled with 5 year olds, because all the 6 year olds are in the class that’s for ages 6 to 8, and so on.

It seems as if many parents believe that “the best” education is the most advanced education that they can possibly squeeze their children into.

I know that as a parent, we want what is best for our children. It may seem like starting on skills earlier will benefit them, but that is often not the case. If we push a child up a level in classes, that means they will be the youngest child there. They may be developmentally ready in some areas, but they may be behind in others – they may end up successful in some ways, but perhaps also feeling like they’re always the smallest, slowest or least socially skilled. It is so much better to place them in an age appropriate class that is still able to challenge them. In that setting, it is easier for them to feel successful, easier to feel like they fit in, and easier to develop in all areas into a well-rounded individual.

When we push kids faster along a certain track, they may succeed at that track, but that focus can mean they miss out on other learning opportunities. For example, a child enrolled in academic preschool may move further ahead on reading and writing, but may not have the opportunity to fully develop the social skills and independent decision making they would gain at a play-based preschool. A child whose time is all focused on moving forward in baseball never has the opportunity to learn the physical skills they would learn in swimming or gymnastics classes, or the emotional intelligence that could be learned in a theater class.

Rather than trying to jump your child forward to the next level (the accelerated approach), try to think about what other opportunities there are to broaden their learning at their current level (the horizontal or enrichment approach.)

For example, if you have a toddler or preschooler who is doing well with language and literacy type skills, think of ways to enhance their other intelligences:

  • Could they take music classes? There are a lot of learning benefits to music that go far beyond that realm.
  • Could they spend more time in free play outdoors? Learn about the benefits of nature play, and about outdoor preschool.
  • Could they spend more time learning social and emotional skills through pretend play? Or go to a theatre preschool? Or have more playdates to practice their social skills?
  • Could they build their small motor skills and creativity in art classes?
  • Could they build their knowledge of how to use their body (which will help in all sports, or dance, or just moving through the world) by taking aikido classes? Or dance? Or climbing trees and clambering on rocks?
  • Could you choose play-based classes (like co-op preschools) that offer a wide range of experiences and let your child choose the ones that most engage them at the moment? The most learning will occur when your child is fully engaged in an activity of their choice.

You can find lots more ideas for activities to enhance all types of intelligence in this post on Toys and Activities to Build Young Brains.

At whatever level your child is at, there is always more to learn, without needing to push them ahead to an older level.

As a teacher, I also have to say that when I have let children who are younger than the designated age into my class, it has rarely been the best fit for them, or for us. Not that the children “failed.” They were able to participate in class, and learn from it. But not as much as they could have learned if they had waited a year. Also, I had to leave some projects out of my class that wouldn’t have been safe for the little ones, and I had to choose simpler books to read aloud so the little ones would understand, and I had to do more classroom management to keep the little ones focused, and my older children missed out on some learning they could have gotten if all the children in the class were fully developmentally ready for the content.

So, I would encourage most parents, in most circumstances, to trust the teachers when they tell you what age children their program is the best fit for. Your child will learn best when they are in an environment where all the aspects are age appropriate.

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These articles are all about starting kindergarten, but the concepts could apply to starting preschool early, skipping grades in school, and so on.

Also, be sure to check out my post on acceleration vs. enrichment.