As children grow, they reach milestones every other day. And I have witnessed first hand, as a teacher as well as a mom, how strong foundational skills are so very critical for children to attain their developmental milestones. Developmental milestones are things that most children at a certain age should be able to do. Children achieve these as they observe, explore, play, move, act, learn, speak, and so on. Broadly speaking, developmental milestones can be grouped into 5 major areas: physical growth, sensory and motor development, emotional and social development, language development and cognitive development. Given that these milestones are well researched and scientific in nature, parents, teachers, doctors and nurses refer to these in the form of a checklist for screening purposes. Observing, testing, assessing and recording these milestones from time to time helps parents and professionals to monitor the children’s growth and development. Ideally, attaining these milestones is supposed to be a joint venture for parents and teachers wherein both parties provide the children with umpteen opportunities, consistently, so they can learn and grow in an age appropriate manner. Taking that a step forward, as a teacher mom, I believe that milestones are also about preparing the children for their next milestone. And I have seen that the pandemic is unfortunately having a terrible effect on the growth and development of young children as both parents and teachers are struggling to cope. To address this issue, we, as parents and teachers, need to modify our roles as well as expectations and adapt to the new normal. We need to step up because our children deserve to learn and grow regardless of the pandemic. They have a future and they are the future.
A good place to start would be by finding out “what my child is supposed to do and know, at his/her age. And how can I help?” Although developmental milestones are common to most children, each child has his/her own learning journey. Not only do they have their own strengths and weaknesses but also their own learning styles. To add on, they have their own interests and inclinations as they learn at their own pace. I have a 3 year old, turning 4 soon and thanks to my teaching knowledge and experience, I am well versed with what she’s supposed to do and know at this point in her life. To be honest I am not as concerned for my girl’s physical and socio-emotional milestones because she is generally doing well out there.
However, during the course of the pandemic, I started to get a little concerned about her formal schooling skills: reading and writing skills in particular. Call me traditional, but I do believe that these skills, even today, serve as a strong foundation in education. In my experience, the perfect blend of the traditional and modern educational skills and practises have shown the best result in raising well rounded learners. We don’t know what the future holds, so we need to prepare our children in every way. Young children need to be exposed to all sorts of learning opportunities so they can discover their strengths and work through their weaknesses as they learn and grow. Yes, the pandemic has been rough on young children as well as early childhood educators. And as stressful as it can get to balance the roles of a parent and a teacher to the same child, I still give it my best shot because my child doesn’t deserve to loose out on her developmental milestones just because we are in this global pandemic. I feel so blessed to be a teacher mom and that’s why I choose to make time in our busy schedules to use my expertise and help my child strengthen her formal schooling skills.
How? For starters, to enhance my girl’s reading skills at home, I make it a point to read her a book everyday. My first go-to-activity for her has always been “Let’s get a book.” Why? Her reason will be “because its so much fun!” My reason is “because reading a book has so much value in it.” Through that she learns how to handle a book, how to track the pages from left to right and top to bottom, how to turn the pages one at a time, how to hunt for letters of the alphabet and now even for high frequency words like you, the, and, is. She even understands and appreciates the job of an author and an illustrator. We talk about the story line, evaluate characters and their actions, take turns to ask and answer simple questions and talk about our favorite part of the story. She’s gotten so good at it by now because I remember reading a book to her every single day even back when she was younger… we explored sensory books together, we read picture books, I spoke about the pictures to her, we pointed to identity characters and objects in those pictures and gradually she started to speak about the pictures herself, as she turned 3. She then started to sequence the events of the story and even associate the story with her own experiences. Now, she is interested in not just the pictures but also the print. This is a kid who started recognising her own name so early in life because she was repeatedly and consistently provided opportunities to identify her name. We even sang songs to learn the letters in her name like in the BINGO song. Now, she can not only identify but also spell out and write her name by focusing on each letter in her name. She is sounding out letters, pronouncing the words properly and expressing herself in complete sentences by now; at times even modulating her voice to suit different characters and their emotions throughout the story. I feel so very proud of her as she is learning to experience the “joy of reading”, to not just expand her knowledge but also her imagination.
Coming to writing skills which is the least looked forward activity for any parent, teacher or even children, as they start approaching kindergarten. It’s hard, it needs precision and can be time consuming. Children between ages 3-6 generally love to express themselves by speaking it out and they can go on and on and on…But when asked to pen it down in some form, they tend to make it brief, vague and abrupt. I did get concerned when I noticed my girl lacking behind in her fine motor skills. She has immense curiosity for print around her but didn’t quiet show any curiosity for penmanship: be it through scribbles or drawings even. So here’s what I did. I tapped on technology for this skill. I introduced her to my Apple Pencil and showed her the “power of penmanship” on an iPad. It blew her mind off and got her so ready to pen things down. Hands-on, engaging, creative and exciting for the both of us. I spent time trying to guide her how to hold a pencil correctly which is so very important for her to draw efficiently. Before the pencil, she did use crayons and markers to scribble around, but that was with a reflex grasp called the “palmer grasp” which is great for exploration. But now at age 4, she needs to convey meaning through her drawings and writings which requires her to use her “pincer grasp” and even her “dynamic tripod grasp” for stability and detail. While teaching her about the correct pencil grip, I realized that she does have strong fine motor skills thanks to all the play dough we played with in her toddler days but I had somehow not guided her to apply her fine motor skills on paper. Probably because writing as a skill is something that we as adults rarely use these days. We type, but thats not a writing skill. And I do want her to learn writing as a skill. I do believe in the science of graphology. So, we worked hard and yet kept it fun and interactive with activities involving tracing, colouring, erasing, and simple drawings of people and things around us. Now, she is excited to write her name, and even other’s names by asking them to spell it out for her. She has learnt to write from left to right too. We play fun games like “Copy”, where we take turns to copy each other’s drawings, shapes, numbers and writings. Sure she mixes uppercase and lowercase letters during her writing exercises and makes some directional errors too but that’s just a part of learning at this stage. The perfectionist in me, makes her fix it but then again sizes and formations are something that takes a while to develop. I’m being patient and also am so very excited that we are finally heading forward in our writing quest, and what makes it even more exciting is that she shares my excitement as well!
Here’s what I believe in: Whatever day and age we live in, everyone should have an opportunity to learn reading and writing as life skills. One does learn to write better by reading, and read better by writing. Reading and writing as skills work together to enhance our thinking and communication skills. “The more we engage with these skills, the better we get at them, the better we get at them, the more we like it and the more we do it.” Let’s not forget that these skills make all other future learnings possible and I truly believe that learning is a not only a lifelong process but also a skill in itself. What better way to prepare for life than get a head start in the early years of life.