Why is ‘STEAM’ important in early childhood education?

Over the last decade, STEAM has gained significant momentum in the education field, attracting the attention of students, policymakers, and educators alike. Many parents have asked us what STEAM is, what it has to do with their pre-schooler and why it is so important to integrate into early childhood education.

What is it?

Put simply, STEAM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art, and math. STEAM education is holistic in that there is no one method of inquiry for tackling these subjects; all require creative processes and persistent investigation. STEAM seeks to blur the lines between all these subjects to foster interdisciplinary knowledge.

Why is it important?

In today’s world, it is not enough to merely equip children with academic knowledge confined to the four walls of a classroom. The development of technology and innovation in the 21st century requires that children are able to adapt to the changing needs of the world. The best way to prepare our children, according to President of Enterra Solutions Stephen F. DeAngelis, is to integrate holistic STEAM programs into your child’s early education, as this “prepares students for life, regardless of the profession they choose to follow.”

Why should it be implemented in early childhood education?

It develops a solid foundation of pre-existing skills:
To many parents’ surprise, children actually have the ability to learn STEAM skills even during preschool ages. In one study, researchers showed one-year old children a car hovering in mid-air. These toddlers often dropped the car to explore the concept of gravity. The STEAM framework builds on these skills that children already have during early development. Using each of the five subjects, STEAM helps to nurture problem-solving, critical thinking, awareness of scientific and mathematical ideas and basic executive functioning.

It develops transferable skills:
In contrast to traditional learning, STEAM education integrates all the subjects together to foster inter-disciplinary knowledge and experiential learning. As a result, children gain transferable skills that they can later employ throughout multiple areas of their lives. They also gain crucial life skills early in their lives, such as perseverance, creativity and working as a team.

It promotes child-centred learning:
STEAM builds on preschool children’s innate eagerness to explore by exposing them to novel objects and ideas, making the process of learning both effective and enjoyable. For example, if a class of children were interested in learning about nature and how things grow, a teacher could support this by having the children plant, grow, nurture and be responsible for their very own plants. Children could measure the growth of their plants and observe the factors that aid their growth. This is a STEAM process of investigation, observation and measurement.

It encourages hands-on learning:
STEAM can be classed as a form of inquiry-based learning. This means children are often active in their learning and are not just taught what to learn, but how to learn, how to find solutions and how to test out new ideas. With hands-on learning, children can tackle spatial awareness and geometry skills through exploring size, colours, patterns and sequencing, which can all be explored in science, maths or art. A recent study found significant differences between a group of students who took STEAM programs and a group of students who took science textbook-based programs. Those in the STEAM group had significantly improved levels of scientific creativity after taking the course, including greater verbal and figural creativity.

We understand the importance of STEAM education for your child’s learning journey. We also understand the importance of bilingualism in the modern world, and its significance in nurturing children with an open view of the world. We therefore incorporate STEAM all year round in our preschools and Kindergartens using the instructional medium of Chinese Mandarin. Our bilingual English and Chinese Mandarin immersion summer camps also focus on STEAM activities and dual-language acquisition. For more information, click here.

What is early literacy and why are early literacy practices important?

Contrary to popular belief, early literacy, or emergent literacy, is not merely teaching reading and writing. The focus is rather to train your child so that they are equipped with a solid set of pre-literacy skills to draw upon when they are ready to read. It is particularly important to build early literacy during the childhood years, as this will help to maximise their potential in later years. During the ages of zero to three, a critical window of opportunity arises, as a child’s brain is two-and-a-half times more active than an adult’s. The brain is operating at an extremely rapid pace, rendering this period crucial for learning. Recent research demonstrates this, highlighting that early literacy skills predict literacy in later life even after controlling for socioeconomic status and IQ.

So, what does this look like in practice?


There are five core early literacy practices you can start doing with your child today: talking, singing, reading, writing and playing.

Talking
Developing early literacy practices can start from anything as basic as simply talking to your children or involving them in environments where they may be constantly surrounded by conversation. Many of us parents have witnessed moments, either to our delight or dismay, where children have suddenly blurted out a word for the first time or repeated a word over and over that they have learnt. This is no surprise, given children naturally observe, remember, and mimic words that they hear in different contexts.

Singing
Likewise, early literacy practices can also involve singing to children, which is why many preschools and kindergartens incorporate nursery rhymes, breaking down every sound, letter, and syllable to help children recognise rhythm and articulation.  

Reading
In terms of early reading, the best way to develop this is through shared reading. Shared reading is also known as interactive reading, as children share the experience of reading with the support of a teacher. Often, the language used in books is richer than the language used in normal conversation. Therefore, the benefit of shared reading is that the teacher may guide the child through techniques such as alliteration, rhyming and onomatopoeia. They may read with expression and emphasis, at times dramatically even, so that children develop early phonological awareness of linguistic elements.

Writing
As both reading and writing are vital ways to communicate, it is important to encourage your child to mark-make, scribble and draw pictures. Writing is dependent on fine and gross motor skills, which these activities help to facilitate. Eventually, when your child is comfortable with drawing pictures and symbols, you can gradually add new words and point out the sound of these with them.

Playing
Finally, play is an effective method for developing all of the above, as play enables children to explore ideas and make sense of the world around them. Play provides the platform for which children can learn to express themselves. In play, children will use objects to symbolically represent other things. This lays concrete foundations for the later use of abstract symbols such as letters, helping to enhance literacy skills in the long term. If you would like to read more about the benefits of play, you can head to our other blog titled ‘The Power of Play’.

There are factors to support the effectiveness of early literacy, including the use of high-quality teaching instruction, close teacher and child relationships as well as consistent exposure to safe learning environments. At Mulberry House, we promote early literacy development through our holistic, bilingual immersion environment. Our teachers are knowledgeable and certified, and are able to passionately guide your children through early literacy practices. If you would like to learn more, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Anxiety, Stress and Mental Health in Early Years

Children can feel anxious and worried at different times during their childhood, and many of these worries are completely normal and age-appropriate. However, in some cases, childhood anxiety and worry can grow to an extent where it takes over their daily lives. According to a mental health review report by the Food and Health Bureau (2018), children’s mental health in Hong Kong is a rising concern, with estimates as high as 16.4% for children and adolescents facing unsettling mental disorders.

Mulberry House is dedicated to employing all resources to ensure students do not become a part of this statistic. For this reason, the Principal of our Tai Po campus, Susan Ward, has given a remote seminar on anxiety, stress and mental health in early childhood on Thursday, March 3rd. With more than 20 years of educational experience both in Hong Kong and abroad, Ms Ward has a wealth of knowledge to share on combatting mental health issues in the early years.

Ms Ward framed the lecture by outlining the most important factors surrounding early age anxiety and stress;

  • Identifying stress and anxiety in young children.
  • Parents’ role in helping their children cope with stress and worry.
  • Tools needed to prevent and lessen stress and anxiety in children.
  • Importance of routines in daily life to provide safety and security.

In this blog post, we will summarise the most important points of the seminar. However, we do encourage parents to join future seminars to ensure that they get the full picture of the topics discussed.

Susan Ward, principal at the Mulberry House Tai Po campus, hosting the parent seminar.

Identifying stress and anxiety in young children.

Worry and anxiety in certain situations are natural – both among adults and children, which makes it so difficult to spot the difference between age-appropriate worries and serious signs of anxiety and stress. It is one of the most challenging hurdles parents face when it comes to keeping a check on their young children.

Nevertheless, it can be helpful to have some guidelines for what is ‘normal’ behaviour in young children and what is not. Ms Ward put it best in saying, “The marker for anxiety is the proportion. A child suffering from anxiety disorder might be overwhelmed with fear or worry which does not match the situation (…) and this anxiety is getting in the way of everyday activities”. If certain fears are limiting your child to an excessive degree, it could be cause for concern, she notes.

This could show itself in a multitude of ways;

  • Seeking continual reassurance through questions but not finding relief in the answers.
  • Normal, age-appropriate behaviour regresses (e.g. wetting the bed after being toilet trained).
  • Increased sense of danger and watchfulness.
  • Regularly having intense or prolonged temper tantrums.
  • Continual negative thoughts and a pattern of turning positives into negatives.
  • Ongoing physical symptoms like headache or stomachache.

However, Ms Ward highlights the fact that these symptoms can be completely normal in moderation, and it is only when they become a pattern or increase in frequency/intensity that it should be cause for concern among parents.

Parents’ role.

Parents play a crucial role in both the prevention as well as the identification and treatment of anxiety and stress. “As a parent, you strive to make (your child’s) early years a carefree and joyful time. However, even in a safe environment, anxiety can rise. “It is hard for us parents to navigate (…)”, Ms Ward says. Therefore, it is crucial that parents play an active role in the mental health of the family. Ms Ward means that this starts with the parents themselves; “Dealing with your own anxiety can be the most powerful thing to do.”, she states, as mental health can have a trickle-down effect on the children of the family. She mentions routines (for parents and their children) not focusing on uncertainties of the future but on the day-to-day, and having time for self-care can be important measures for parents to ensure their mental health.

When it comes to the direct role parents play in their children’s mental health, one of the best and most simple ways is to be present and in communication with your child. Checking up on how your child is doing is extremely important as children often show signs of stress or anxiety. Therefore, being observant of their behaviour and being available to talk to your child when they express their desire to, is key. When in dialogue with your child it is important to use open-ended questions, listen to non-verbal cues, and validate their feelings. “We have to remember that young children don’t have the same understanding of the world as we do. (…) It is not always rational.”, Ms Ward says. By not limiting them or dismissing their worries or fears, you’re able to open them up for further dialogue about their emotions.

Tools needed to prevent and lessen stress and anxiety in children.

Lastly, Ms Ward goes into detail on tools that can be employed to help children deal with stress and anxiety. “We can’t always be there to solve their problems or provide reassurance. We need to give children the skills to help themselves” she comments on the importance of developing tools for children.

One of the most impactful ways parents can prepare their children for feelings of stress and anxiety is by giving them the language to describe their emotions from an early age. Ms Ward cites feeling charts (charts with visualisations of different emotions) as a way to help children to identify and express their feelings. Especially younger children can benefit from feeling charts, as they still have a limited vocabulary. Instead, they are able to point to the emotion they are feeling. Furthermore, it is a good way for parents to start integrating communication about emotion into a daily routine and encourages further dialogue.

Ms Ward also points out that calming strategies, like the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique (for older children), the rainbow grounding technique, and the star breathing exercise, can be helpful tools to use once a child starts feeling stressed or anxious. 

These techniques may not work for every child, Ms Ward notes. Feelings are very individual and so is the effectiveness of different techniques. However, by finding the one that fits your child, you could be giving them a lifelong coping mechanism for triggering situations. Moreover, when trained, children are able to develop their ability to self-regulate their emotions and stressors.  

Closing thoughts.

At Mulberry House, we’re happy to be able to provide parents and teachers with resources and knowledge to better understand and cope with their child’s mental health issues, and we hope to host many similar seminars in the future. However, if you are concerned about your child’s mental health, do not hesitate to contact Mulberry House to seek further action. Mulberry House is in contact with Hong Kong-based services that can work in partnership to support the best interest of your child.

Play & Learn at Home

(Play & Learn at Home I 如何在家也能遊戲中學習)

Staying indoors doesn’t mean children can’t have fun and learn at the same time. Ms. Joey -Head of School, Mulberry House International Kindergarten (Southside) is going to share some creative ways to make use of those playful moments at home.

Join our seminar and get some ideas! 

Topic: Play & Learn at Home I 如何在家也能遊戲中學習

Date: January 29th, 11:00-11:45

Language: Cantonese I 廣東話

Participants: Parents with children 0-24 mths

Speaker: Ms Joey – Mulberry House International Kindergarten (Southside) 

How to Raise Chinese and English Bilingual, Biliterate, and Bicultural Kids in Hong Kong

Having the ability to speak several languages is an important skill to instill in our children as globalization grows rapidly in society. Finding the ideal method to do so may be difficult.

Parents, particularly those who are bilingual, sometimes opt to have their children learn other languages through language classes. However, there is a far better method. Learning one or more languages via an immersion approach entails utilizing them in daily life instead of as subjects while studying them. These languages are being utilized as an instructional medium for math, science, and exploration time.

We also can’t overlook the other language. Dual-language programs are one of the most well-researched methods to learn several living languages. A dual language curriculum, for example, would combine learning English and Mandarin in all day-to-day life and academic content instruction.

Children who participate in dual language programs become bilingual, bicultural, and bi-literate. They not only keep their native language but also develop into fluent speakers of another. They will develop into a balanced, bilingual individual (having the same amount of understanding in both languages and culture) through more focused methods such as greater exposure to a weaker language.

“What’s the difference between an immersion and a pure language course?” some parents may ask.

  • Immersion programs are designed to teach students how to communicate in a new language without the need for translation by having them spend time with native (and non-native) speakers and absorbing the language around them. It focuses on how to utilize a new language to learn rather than simply practicing it. The target language serves as the medium of instruction for learning areas. An immersion program develops a child’s linguistic knowledge, cultural and contextual understanding, social benefits, and problem-solving and critical thinking skills in the target language; not just on the technicalities of a language such as vocabulary, pronunciations, grammar, etc.
  • In contrast, this is not the case with language lessons. In a language class, students focus on details such as sentence structure and grammar before becoming fluent in listening and speaking. Translation is frequently used by language schools to achieve faster results by converting to and from another primary language such as English.

Parents also ask “why is immersion the best way to learn a new language?”

  • Jessica Ye Trainor says the simple answer is that language can’t be learned alone without context. It is as if swimming can’t be learned by practicing on land without getting into the water. By living life in the immersion language, learners embrace it just as they learn their first language.
  • The leading brain researcher at the Public Library of Science (PLOS Org) published a study that found those who had learned a new language with the immersion method had brain waves similar to native speakers of a language. Those who trained with the traditional language class also became more native-like in their brain processing, but only the immersion group showed full native-like processing of grammar.

How does dual language and dual immersion work in school?

English and Mandarin language and culture are fully integrated throughout every aspect of a child’s early years learning experience at Mulberry House International Kindergarten. Children effortlessly absorb and enjoy both English and Mandarin as “Living Languages” in their everyday lives. There are two qualified instructors present in each classroom at all times. One leads in English and one leads in Mandarin.

Children’s language exposure takes place at home and in the playground, as well. If a kid missses out on a specific language input at home, we advocate that they make up for it in other ways. During just 2-3 months of continuous immersion, we’ve seen youngsters under the age of six years old close the gap in a weaker target language.

How do we learn in an immersion school?

  • Children will be completely surrounded by the language they’re studying. Full immersion implies that the kid is only hearing and seeing Mandarin and that he or she is interacting with people just in this language. Learners have the opportunity to hear the same words and phrases repeated in natural circumstances, and fluency develops naturally as a result of doing daily activities in Mandarin
  • The ideal situation is to group children with various language skills together so that no single group of kids feels like the odd one out or in charge.
  • The more fluent youngsters will acquire advanced phrases and information, such as how friction works. The less fluent ones will pick up basic words while still being able to learn about the world around them.

What if the child doesn’t understand?

  • Some parents may be concerned that their child will feel left out if he or she does not understand what is going on. It’s quite common for children to take some time to get acclimated to a new setting at first. They may not comprehend everything at first, but as they become interested in the class and motivated by their new friends, they will gradually pick up the tone, facial expressions, body language of teachers and other children. 
  • Students who learn and experience new words in a foreign language also develop the confidence to talk as they increase their vocabulary and knowledge. Students in language immersion programs gain “greater aspirations” for the future, greater self-esteem, perseverance, cognitive flexibility, and ambition.
  • Immersion is the most effective approach to learning a language like Mandarin. Children learn in an appropriate learning atmosphere, with the option to naturally inquire about the world utilizing different languages, as opposed to language lessons.

What to look for when choosing the right primary school for your child

Choosing a primary school can be a challenging and worrisome process. How do we know which Primary school is best for our children? What are the types of things we should look out for when choosing schools? To help parents make well-informed decisions, Ms Susan Ward, our founding principal, along with Ms Becky, our K2 English teacher, share some insight as to the challenges faced by parents and highlight 4 key considerations to take into account when looking for the right school.

Parents often start their Primary school search by listening to the recommendations of friends, relatives, or colleagues. Many of us might have heard things along the lines of ‘my child goes to X and he loves it’, or ‘my friend goes to Y and it’s great!’ Some of us might even have liked what we heard so much we even chose those same schools for our own children. Yet, the problem with this is that when judging a school by the opinions of others, we often get emotional opinions not factual information. How do we know that the school Emily mentioned would be suitable for our own child too? Or what about the one Susan recommended…what is it about that school their child likes? Although recommendations can be useful when researching schools, it is necessary to dive a bit deeper, asking questions like ‘what makes this school my friend mentioned good?’ Or ‘why does my friend like this school in specific compared to other schools? What is it about this school that they like?’ Make sure to get specific information on each individual school as choice of school is often not a one-size-fits-all. Every school has its own merits and downfalls, and must be considered together with the needs of your child. Without further ado, let’s get into some of these considerations…

Consideration # 1: Start with a discussion amongst your family on what you want for your child
First of all, it is very important for you to be thinking about your child and what is right for him/her and not what is right for other people. A good starting point would be looking at what your educational beliefs are. What type of curriculum would suit your child best? What about the language of instruction? Does the school adopt bilingual/dual language presence at school? What homework expectations are there? Are you a parent that wants your child to have more homework or would you prefer the school to have a more equal balance of extracurricular activities with homework? Homework can often affect the home work life balance; would you be available to help your child long term if they are in a school that gives out a big workload? Location considerations are needed too; your child will be at school 5-6 hours a day so it is important to factor in travelling times as your child may be very tired. Budget may also make or break your decision as there may be additional hidden costs involved so try to research this beforehand.

Consideration # 2: School tours and visits
Secondly, it is good to do your research online to find out more. Look at the websites of different schools…what is their philosophy, curriculum, language etc? When you have contemplated these, choose your preferred 3-5 schools and visit them. Prepare some questions to ask on-site and make sure you know everything you need to know about them. Take your child with you and try to see the school from the perspective of your child. There will be things you like and dislike about each school, but what is important is that you look for a balance in these and focus on the right ‘fit’for your child and family. 

Consideration # 3: Year of birth
Each school has a year of birth for admissions. Schools only accept children born within that birth range. If your child was born late in the school year, it could result in non-acceptance. If your child was born early, it could result in him/her not being ready for Primary school socially and/or academically. You can research this information on school websites. Remember that it is not a race and that it is better for a child to be older amongst the year group than the youngest socially and academically.Again, think about the needs of your child and what is right for their learning.

Consideration # 4: Apply to a few schools
Finally, do not put all your eggs in 1 basket. Parents should apply to a few schools so as to make sure there are options to choose from.

So there you have it! The 4 key considerations to take into account when choosing the right school for your child. We all want to give our child the best advantage possible, but it is important to make sure your choice of school is somewhere that is suited to the needs of your child as well as fitting into the values of your family. The right school for your child will differ according to his/her individual case. Importantly, remember to look at where you would see your child being the best version of themselves they can be. Looking at your expectations of education, online websites and info, cut off dates for year of birth and applying to several are all good places to start.

In March we will also be giving a live Facebook session on ‘Primary School interview readiness: 5 things you need to know’ so stay tuned to learn more!

5 Myths about Developing Bilingualism in the Early Years (Part 1)

In working closely with over thousands of families during the past six years, we have come to notice some myths on bilingualism, especially amongst 1st time parents. In fact, we have been asked about these almost daily!

Before we begin to debunk these myths, let us first define bilingualism and language acquisition. Language acquisition is made up of two major parts: oracy (listening and speaking) and literacy (reading and writing). The goal of language acquisition is to understand and communicate with others.

Every parent wants their child to be fully bilingual and biliterate, however, depending on where they live and their expectations, families may want a spectrum of bilingualism, with varying levels of oracy and literacy. The levels of oracy or fluency are dependent on 3 types of exposures: what languages are spoken at home, at school and also at the playground or children’s playdates.

A 3-6 year old child spends their waking hours at school, and 1-3 hours with their friends and playdates, and lots of hours with family. So all these hours spent on multiple languages need to be taken into consideration. It is easily taken for granted what languages each family member speaks, yet, language is a long acquisition process, without planning especially during the early ages, you may have missed the golden window of language exposure.

Now let’s go through the 5 Myths:

  1. Will my child get confused if we start with more than 1 language?

Not at all! Not only does research show it won’t confuse children, research also indicates average exposure time a child needs is 2-3 hours per day. So if your child has 8 waking hours, a child can start with at least 3 languages at birth, provided that later the exposure time can be sustained.

Critical Period of Language Learning: 0-5 Yrs (700 synapses formed per second)

Diminishing Ability After Puberty: 12-16 Yrs+

* Research in 1989 by Charles A. Nelson, PhD. Professor of Paediatrics Boston Children’s Hospital, Published with the Harvard Medical School

This is a brain development chart published by Harvard medical school in 1989. A child’s golden period of language development is between birth to 5 years old. Before they were born, they were already listening to loads of speeches, and when they were born, their hearing senses were constantly absorbing all sounds around them. As they began to develop their tongue muscle, they were typically ready to make sounds and speak words between 8 to 12 months old. Essentially, all the languages exposed to children before 5 years of age can be thought of as native languages and there can be as many as possible.

  1. Will my child experience a speech delay if we start with multiple languages?

Possibly. Research shows that vocabularies for bilinguals frequently seem to perform at lower levels than monolinguals, the reason being that bilingual children have to learn two different labels for everything. Research by Mayo clinic in the US shows a monolingual child has between 200-300 word vocabulary when he/she is 2 years old, and 900-1000 word vocabulary when he/she is 3 years old; this number will need to be halved for each language for a bilingual child. However if a child still prefers to use gestures rather than vocalizations to communicate by the time they are 18-24 months old, parents should seek help from a speech therapist.

  1. Should I translate while teaching my child multiple languages?

If your child is under the age of 5, absolutely not. Children are learning about the world through their senses and social interactions. The best way for them to learn is to immerse themselves in a particular language and build their framework of the world and knowledge system in that targeted language. We have seen young children who are absolutely capable of learning and conversing with an English-speaker as well as a Chinese language speaker.

Follow this great quote: “Tell Me and I Forget; Teach Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I will Learn” So involve them, teach them through interactions rather than feeding them the answers by translating for them.

  1. Should I worry if my child is mixing words from multiple languages [code-switching]?

As long as language learning is done in a consistent way, in the early years a child may code switch and mix words from multiple languages. They are trying their best to express themselves through all vocabularies they have learnt, so they may end up mixing words together as well mixing up both Chinese and English words in a sentence. When this happens, don’t worry. Simply give them the equivalent vocabulary in each language.

If you are introducing a new language to your child, expose them to it for about 10-20 minutes a day, then gradually step up the time, and focus on your child’s interest and engagement rather than instant results.

  1. Should I worry if my child speaks one language more than another?

As with the above, the answer is no. Being a bilingual adult, I have realized that I rarely see a balanced bilingual person. The vocabulary you learn in different languages may not completely overlap, and depending on how much you use each language, you may get more fluent in one language than another.

Periodically reflect and assess how your child’s fluency and literacy level is in each of the languages he/she is trying to acquire. When you realize one language may be behind another, you can look into their language oracy input and output (listening and speaking at home, at school and with their friends), and also their language literacy level (reading and writing in classes). You can adjust these levels as you go, and it will be a process but one that continually improves.

After debunking these myths regarding Bilingualism and Language Acquisition, you may hopefully have a greater grasp of how to develop bilingualism in your child. We will also have part 2 to discuss other problems related to this topic in order for you to understand more about the golden window of language exposure for your child.

How to Manage Screen Time

With the rapid development of technology in the modern day, children are spending more time than ever on electronic devices. A lot of studies have shown that excessive use of the screen can affect the development of children, with studies referencing obesity, a lack of concentration, a lack of sleep, emotional anxiety, social disturbance and other factors. We have also heard many parents complain about their children staying on their phones all day and many seem to be believe electronic products hinder their child’s development too. Yet, internet and social media can also increase children’s interest in reading and learning. So how should parents balance this? What is the appropriate screen time for children? How can we encourage our children to use these devices effectively to learn? Can we prevent them from excessively using them mindlessly? Let us discuss these questions today!

  • What is the appropriate screen time for children 

According to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Children, a child under 18 months of age should not have any screen time, though as they get older, the screen time can be increased appropriately. The following is a reference table of screen time for preschoolers.

Age Screen Time
Under 18 months – 
18-24 months accompanied by parents 30 minutes/day
2-5 years old1 hour / day
after 6 years old2 hours / day
  • How to Manage Children’s Screen Time Effectively?

1. Set a good example with your own device use

Children see us as role models, so model the behaviour you want to see in your own children. If you start reading books or newspapers, they may also follow you.

2. Schedule “screen-free” mealtimes

Family mealtimes are important opportunities to connect with each other, and for kids to learn mealtime etiquette and practice conversational skills. For adults too, mealtime is an important time to switch off digital distractions. So, you might decide to enjoy a screen-free dinner with family.

3. Indoor or outdoor activities

Lack of entertainment is one of the reasons why children stick to digital devices. Therefore, parents should provide a variety of games, such as storybooks, musical instruments or sports, etc. In addition, you should enjoy the game with them, explore the fun of various activities, and organize outdoor activities.

4. Set up a shared space

Dedicate one area of the house to electronic devices. Here is where you store your phones, ipads and other devices. That way, you can observe how long children are spending on electronic devices. You may also download some learning games and apps for them or direct them toward educational websites

5. Agree an appropriate length of time that they can use the devices

Put in place a family agreement to set some boundaries and do not break them. For example, screen time is only from 7pm – 8pm, or only after finishing homework. Treat it seriously!!

6. Discuss together about the time they spend online

Parents should accompany their child when they are watching television programmes or using digital devices. You can try to understand what they are doing and explain your concerns. You should respond actively when children have questions during the process.

7. Electronic products belong to you

Children will cry when they cannot get what they want and ask for satisfaction. Before providing the devices, parents should inform children that they are not the owners. They should ask for consent every time and return within the specified time.

The right amount of screen time is an important part. Parents should design methods in response to family conditions and each child’s personality. That way, electronic resources can instead be advantageous in improving children’s learning and growth.

Developing Writing Skills in the Early Years

How young children develop their writing skills, and the different ways in which we can support them with their emergent writing in the early years

What is emergent writing?

Emergent writing is when children use mark-making, as a means of communication. Children as young as 2 years old will start making marks for many reasons; for pure physical enjoyment as they delight in the opportunity to explore and experiment using their senses, and to communicate their ideas, thoughts and feelings to us. Before they can even use words to express themselves, they use mark-making to make their thinking visible to us.

What can we do to support children in their journey to writing?

Physical activities

The first thing we can do is provide children with lots of physical activities. When children are physically active, they develop their core strength, dexterity and hand-to-eye coordination. Therefore, providing children with lots activities to develop their fine-motor and gross-motor skills will help children to become physically ready for the demands of writing at a later stage.

With fine-motor skills, this involves using smaller movements of the body, such as our hands and fingers. Activities to develop these skills can include threading beads through a piece of yarn, or using tongs to transfer objects from one container to another. With gross-motor skills we are using controlled movements of our whole body, such as our arms and legs. Children enjoy playing games such as ‘throw and catch’ using a ball, which makes use of their whole body as they move and adjust their bodies to catch the ball.

Mark-making through multi-sensory activities

It is important that we provide children with plenty of opportunities to engage in mark-making through multi-sensory activities. Children who engage in these types of activities are less likely to form bad habits in writing at a later stage. Providing children with a range of tools and materials will make these sessions engaging and fun for them. This can include providing children with different coloured paper with different textures, or even interesting mark-making tools to experiment with, such as corks, straws and sponges.

Adult participation and encouragement

Children enjoy the participation of adults, so invite your child to join you with every-day tasks and activities. For example, when you are writing a shopping list or doing other daily writing tasks, encourage your child to watch you write so you are modelling the writing, and ask your child to give you suggestions as to what you should write.

Children are more inclined to think creatively in a secure and trusting environment. By praising children for their efforts and showing an interest in what they are doing, this will encourage them to feel more confident and excited to continue with similar activities.

By providing children with strong foundations during the early years, we are enabling children to develop into confident and able writers. So, let’s celebrate their achievements along the way and help them to develop into independent writers, who write with purpose and joy.

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