Have you ever wondered why your child scribbles? Congratulations—they’re learning to write! Are they making a long string of random letters, with no clear words in it? That is an important stage to writing called Emergent Writing.  

Learning to write is a very long process that can take 6-8 years to perfect, with many stages and steps along the way. While there are ways we can support a child’s writing skills, it’s important that we do not rush them. They should be allowed to figure it out at their own pace. 

When will they start writing? 

Depending on the child, they will start writing around 5-6 years old. However, a child is learning the skills necessary to write from as young as 6 months old. 

When learning to write, there are a lot of steps that a child must go through before they’re ready.  

  1. Preliterate (Scribbling) 
  1. Emergent (Start of Letters) 
  1. Transitional (Invented Spelling) 
  1. Fluent (Dictionary Spelling) 

(NAEYC, 2017) 

Why do they hold crayons like that? 

As they build up the muscles in their hand, children will hold writing utensils in many ways. The way they hold it right now is simply the most comfortable way for them. 

(Greutman, 2010) 

They may spend a longer or shorter amount of time on any step than this diagram provides. They may even skip a step entirely. This is perfectly okay, as it’s important for them to explore their strengths and grow confidence in their abilities.  

Right vs. left handedness 

A child usually shows their hand preference around age 3, though this may take more or less time, depending on the child. Both right- and left-handed dominance is natural, and there is no difference in how they will learn to write.  

I want to stress that it is NOT a good idea to force a left-handed child to be right-handed. When you force any child to use their non-dominant hand for an extended period, it disrupts the natural flow of their brain, and can cause several short- and long-term effects such as bedwetting, extreme fatigue, poor concentration, and more. (Penwise, 2021). 

How can I support their writing skills? 

There are many ways to help children learn to write, and it’s important to give them many opportunities to practice.  

  • Fine motor activities build up hand muscles. Activities such as playdough, threading beads, or painting/coloring are good places to start. This will help them develop their hand-eye coordination and self-confidence. 
  • Pointing out print around them. Reading to them or helping them read, pointing out the letters in their names, and playing with foam letters/letter cards will help them get familiar with the idea of print. 
  • Asking for communication. When they’re writing or playing, you can initiate a conversation about the activity. Using open-ended questions will get them thinking and help them learn how to express their ideas through words, which will help them when they are ready to learn how to write. 

What are open-ended questions? 

An open-ended question is a question with no clear answer. It’s okay if a child does not answer right away, as it will still get them to think. Even when they are not talking yet, it’s good to help them learn vocabulary and recognize words. A few questions you could ask are: 

  • What are you cooking? 
  • What other materials could you use? 
  • How can we fix that? 
  • Where can we find that? 
  • What happens after that? 

If you’d like to learn more, here is an article that goes more in-depth on why open-ended questions are important to early language/literacy skills: 75 Interesting Open-Ended Questions For Children (firstcry.com) 

Book of the Month: The Boy Who Loved Words, by Roni Schotter 

In this Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning book, Selig collects words, ones that stir his heart (Mama!) and ones that make him laugh (giggle). But what to do with so many luscious words? After helping a poet find the perfect words for his poem (lozenge, lemon, and licorice), he figures it out: His purpose is to spread the word to others. And so, he begins to sprinkle, disburse, and broadcast them to people in need. 

References 

Booe, M. and Booe, J., 2022. Forcing A Left-Handed Child To Be Right Handed: A Good Idea? | Little Ninja Parenting. [online] Little Ninja Parenting. Available at: <https://littleninjaparenting.com/forcing-a-left-handed-child-to-be-right-handed-a-good-idea/> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Greutman, H., 2010. Typical Pencil Grasp Development for Kids. [online] Growing Hands-On Kids. Available at: <https://www.growinghandsonkids.com/pencil-grasp-development-for-writing.html> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Kids, P., 2022. Support your preschooler’s emergent writing skills. [online] Library.pima.gov. Available at: <https://www.library.pima.gov/blogs/post/support-your-preschoolers-emergent-writing-skills/> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Kim, T., 2022. Promoting Preschoolers’ Emergent Writing. [online] NAEYC. Available at: <https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/nov2017/emergent-writing> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Klöppel, S., Mangin, J., Vongerichten, A., Frackowiak, R. and Siebner, H., 2010. Nature vs. Nurture; Long-Term Impact of Forced Right-Handedness on Structure of Pericentral Cortex and Basal Ganglia. [online] JNeurosci. Available at: <https://www.jneurosci.org/content/30/9/3271> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

The start of the school year is fast approaching, and many new children will be coming to the classrooms. Some are used to preschool; others are brand new. It’s a busy time of the year, and a major transition for children of all ages. 

Whether or not this is their first time at school, it’s common for a child to be upset or anxious that you’ll be leaving them alone for the day. Not only is it difficult for children, but it can also be a tough time for parents and caregivers. Separation anxiety can affect everyone, and it should be taken seriously. 

Thankfully, there are ways to ease the stress of drop- off, setting both you and your child up for success. 

Start the day off right. 

Wake up at the same time every day and eat a good breakfast. Get your child active even before you get in the car, either with a morning dance party, a short walk, or even just a short stretch in the morning. When they’re in a good mood, it’ll be a lot easier for them to say goodbye and settle into the classroom. 

Establish a short, simple, and consistent drop-off routine. 

Most children thrive off a predictable routine. If they know what to expect, it will be easier for them to process that you’re going away. It can be a quick hug and kiss, then handing them off to their teacher. If you’re finding it particularly hard, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  

Please do not sneak away; while it may be easier in the moment, it will be harder emotionally on your child when they look up and realize you’re gone, and it can complicate drop-offs in the future.  

Talk it up. 

In advance, talk about how they are going to go to school. Talk about how they can play with toys, eat lunch, make new friends, etc. 

There are also quite a few books that can help your child understand. A few I really like are: 

Let them bring a comfort item. 

A small stuffed animal or blanket can help a lot when they are missing home—just make sure your child’s teacher is okay with this beforehand. If the class doesn’t allow toys from home, then you can offer them something of yours,such as your hat or scarf. You could also write them a note or offer to bring a book from home (just make sure it’s labeled). 

You can also send a family photo with them to school. Many preschools do have a “family wall” in each classroom, but even as they head off to elementary school, it can be nice to have a reminder of home with them. 

Talk to your child’s teacher. 

Progress can be slow, but if it seems as if your child isn’t getting better as the year goes on, try asking their teacher how they are after you leave. Often, children calm down quickly after you leave. You can ask for pictures or send a quick email/message to check in. 

Be prepared for setbacks. 

It’s quite common for children to “roll back” in their progress, especially if there is a teacher change, a new classmate, or an interruption of their routine like a vacation. Even a child who has had easy transitions from the start can decide one day “I don’t want to go to school.” It’s important to keep steady with your drop-off routine.  

Don’t forget yourself! 

I had a mother a few years ago who struggled a lot with separation anxiety. She was so focused on her child having a smooth transition that she forgot to take care of herself. I approached her one day and asked if she wanted to read a story to the children before she left, and it really helped her accept that she was leaving her child for the day. After that, she would ask if she’d be able to read when she was having a particularly hard day, and we were more than happy to have a guest reader. 

Of course, not every parent has the time to stay and read a story. So, what can you do? Some of the same ways to help your child can also help you. Keep a picture of your child close, check in with your child’s teacher on how they’re doing, and remind yourself it isn’t forever, just a short while. Don’t be afraid to talk with someone—a friend, your partner, or a professional. 

Know that you are not alone—many parents feel this way too.  

Book of the Month: Chu’s First Day of School Board Book. By Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex. 

Chu, the adorable panda with a great big sneeze, is heading off for his first day of school, and he’s nervous. He hopes the other boys and girls will be nice. Will they like him? What will happen at school? And will Chu do what he does best? 

References 

Butler, A. and Ostrosky, M., 2018. Reducing Challenging Behaviors during Transitions: Strategies for Early Childhood Educators to Share with Parents. [online] NAEYC. Available at: https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/blog/2017/08/10/parental-separation-anxiety [Accessed 12 August 2022]. 

Hoggard, E., 2017. Understanding Parental Separation Anxiety. [online] Counselling-directory.org.uk. Available at: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/sep2018/reducing-challenging-behaviors-during-transitions [Accessed 12 August 2022]. 

Robinson, L., Segal, J. and Smith, M., 2021. Separation Anxiety and Separation Anxiety Disorder – HelpGuide.org. [online] HelpGuide.org. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/separation-anxiety-and-separation-anxiety-disorder.htm [Accessed 12 August 2022]. 

Robinson, T., 2017. From a Preschool Teacher: The Do’s and (please) Don’ts of Dropping Off your Kid. [online] Scary Mommy. Available at: https://www.scarymommy.com/dos-donts-separation-anxiety-from-teacher [Accessed 12 August 2022]. 

Swanson, W., 2021. How to Ease Your Child’s Separation Anxiety. [online] HealthyChildren.org. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/Soothing-Your-Childs-Separation-Anxiety.aspx [Accessed 12 August 2022]. 

Breakfast: the most important meal of the day. This rings even more true for our young ones. It’s when they get much of the energy required to learn, play, and grow.

A couple years ago, I had a child who would come into school every day absolutely miserable. He would cry inconsolably and refused to play or partake in any of the morning activities. It wasn’t until lunchtime, when he was able to eat, that he finally calmed down. He was the happiest boy for the rest of the day.

We talked to the parents about this, and quickly discovered that his breakfast consisted only of baby mash and a cup of milk. He hated eating it and was refusing to eat enough to satisfy his hunger. Once we talked about changing breakfast to include food that was a little more appetizing, he came in smiling and had much smoother drop-offs from then on.

While doing your own work, whether that’s sitting at a desk or being up on your feet, when do you focus the best? It’s likely you’ve experienced an empty stomach, where all you can think about is what you’ll get for lunch; maybe you skipped breakfast that day, or all you managed was a donut. Either way, you are not getting as much work done as you would on a full stomach.

The same goes for our children. Their work is play, but it’s hard for them to focus on playing if all they can think about is the rumbling in their stomachs.

In childhood philosophy, we often discuss a theory known as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” The theory goes that you need each level of the pyramid in order to fill the needs of the next level. If one level of the hierarchy is not being met or fulfilled, then a child cannot develop to their fullest extent. (McLeod, 2007)

(McLeod, 2007)

For now, we will focus on just the bottom level: physiological needs. More specifically, we will focus on the need “food.” This includes far more than making sure there is enough to eat, we also need to be giving children a well-balanced diet. Every kid enjoys sweets such as ice cream or pastries, some might only want to eat pasta and nothing else, but this will not keep them full or give them the nutrients to grow their brain and body. So, what should we be giving them?

It is best to offer a variety of foods so that they do not get bored with breakfast and help broaden their tastes so that they are more willing to try new and healthier foods.

Proteins: Foods such as meat, eggs, beans, and yogurt that will keep them full for longer. Protein will digest much slower than foods that are high in sugar, as it has many more nutrients to be dissolved into the blood stream and it won’t give your child a “sugar crash” later in the day. Proteins also provide the much-needed “building blocks” to make and repair cells in the body. (Why Is Protein Important In Your Diet? | Piedmont Healthcare, n.d.)

Complex Carbohydrates: Often found in fruits, starchy vegetables (squash, peas, etc), and whole grains. This will help provide your toddler’s brain and muscles with the energy they need, keeping them active throughout the day. Just as with protein, complex carbs keep you fuller for longer. It takes the body a lot longer to digest, and it can use the nutrients found in complex carbs more than in simple carbs such as in sweets, pastries, and sodas. (Younkin, 2017)

Healthy Fats: Ground flax seeds, olive oil, nut spreads, and even avocado can be worked into their breakfasts. Fats are important for a child’s brain development, giving the brain an “insulator for electricity.” (Why Is There so Much Fat in Our Brain?, n.d.)

Liquids: Drinks are important too! Offer them a cup of milk or water. You can even offer them a fruit/veggie smoothie if you have the time to make one.

Try to avoid sugary and artificially sweetened foods. If you’re worried about oatmeal being too bland or yogurt seeming unappealing, try mixing fresh fruits to naturally sweeten it. Bananas, strawberries, or blueberries are a great way to start; just make sure they are cut up into manageable sizes for your little one.

If you’re having a hard time getting them to eat, here are a few tips to help ease them into these new foods:

  • Try presenting it in a fun way! Create smiley faces out of blueberries or use a special plate to entice your child.
  • Eat the same food (and make a big deal out of it). When sitting down, try saying: “Oh, look! We’re both eating yogurt!” Even if they don’t eat it right then and there, it will help show them it is a safe food to eat.
  • Introduce it with familiar/favorite foods.

Here are a few places to find simple recipes to get you started:

Simple Toddler Recipes: 15 Toddler Breakfast Ideas (Easy + Healthy) | Dietitian Meets Mom

Vegan Breakfast options: 17 Easy Vegan Breakfast Ideas | Cooking Light

Nut Free ideas: 17 Nut Free Breakfast Ideas to Jumpstart your Morning| Nut Free

Thank you for reading!


Book of the Month: “Can you Smell Breakfast?” By Edward Jazz. “Can you Smell Breakfast?” | Amazon

Ivy and her mom try to figure out what dad’s cooking in the kitchen by the smell of it. Is it pancakes? Cotton Candy? Oatmeal?



Sources:

Fish, J., n.d. 15 Toddler Breakfast Ideas (Easy + Healthy). [online] Dietitian Meets Mom. Available at: https://dietitianmeetsmom.com/toddler-breakfast-ideas-healthy/#:~:text=Meat%2C%20eggs%2C%20beans%2C%20yogurt%2C%20and%20nut%20butter%20are,and%20corn%29%2C%20and%20even%20whole%20grains%20provide%20energy. [Accessed 6 July 2022].

McLeod, S., 2007. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. [online] Simplypsychology.org. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html [Accessed 6 July 2022].

Piedmont.org. n.d. Why Is Protein Important In Your Diet? | Piedmont Healthcare. [online] Available at: https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/why-is-protein-important-in-your-diet [Accessed 6 July 2022].

Exploring your mind. n.d. Why Is There so Much Fat in Our Brain? [online] Available at: https://exploringyourmind.com/why-is-there-so-much-fat-in-our-brain/ [Accessed 6 July 2022].

Younkin, L., 2017. What Is a Complex Carbohydrate? [online] EatingWell. Available at: https://www.eatingwell.com/article/290631/what-is-a-complex-carbohydrate/ [Accessed 6 July 2022].

Three young children explore transparent shapes on top of a lighted board in their classroom.

Have you ever heard a young child say “You can’t come to my birthday party!” or “I won’t be your friend if you don’t give me that”? Around 3 – 4 years old, children start becoming more aware of how their actions affect others. They are increasingly aware that people may have different feelings about the same situation, and some may use this to their advantage.

Statements like those above may be a sign of relational aggression – “behaviors that are intended to significantly damage another child’s friendship or feelings of inclusion by the peer group” (Crick & Grotpeter 1995, 711). These behaviors often begin in preschool. Like physical aggression, relational aggression is common behavior and developmentally appropriate for this age group. However, we wouldn’t allow children to hurt one another physically, so why do we sometimes brush aside hurtful words? Helping children find alternatives to aggression as early as possible should be one of our main goals as parents, caregivers, and educators.

The following strategies can be helpful when children are displaying relational aggression:

  • Know yourself and whether you unintentionally allow this behavior. When a child tells you to “go away” how do you respond? It is important for the adults to embody the principles they teach throughout the day.
  • If you hear a child telling another child to “go away,” talk with both children. Tell one child to give the other space, but also tell the other child that there are more kind ways to talk to one another.
  • When you hear a child saying something unkind, use the opportunity to teach more positive interaction skills. For example, you could say, “You can tell Sarah that you don’t want to play right now, but you may not say ‘go away,’ because that’s unkind and may hurt her feelings.”
  • Be sure to acknowledge children when they use kind words with their friends or you.
  • Think about games where “everyone wins” if you have a child that choses to leave people out.
  • Teach children appropriate things to say to another child if they don’t want to play with them. Just like you would teach a child to say “thank you,” you can teach them to say things like “I want to play by myself, please” or “can I play with you?”
  • Role play about how to have these conversations. Do so when the child is happy and in good spirits.
  • Use children’s books to point out social themes and how characters problem-solve. This is an easy way to build social skills into daily habits and learning.

Teaching alternatives to all forms of aggression in young children is essential because of the lifelong impacts. Being aware of how we respond to relational aggression, teaching prosocial problem-solving skills, and teaching social skills are critical for our children to experience fulfilling relationships.

Crick, N.R, J.K Grotpeter. 1995. “Relational Aggression, Gender, and Social – Psychological Adjustment.” Child Development 66 (3): 711