If you are the father of a child in day care, preschool or organized childcare such as our Prime Time Early Learning Center in Paramus, NJ, you have likely received or are about to receive a precious artifact of your child’s affection. Whatever it is, it was hand-made by your child with the help of his or her preschool teacher or childcare provider. What an honor! Where will you place your new handmade picture frame, paperweight or …is that a giraffe? Ask any preschool or childcare teacher and they will tell you it is much more challenging to come up with new, original Father’s Day creations each year than for Mother’s Day. We do have our own secret weapon…but you’ve probably never heard of Pinterest, right?
Here’s some fun we are having with dads in the Paramus Preschool:
As the father of a young boy, connecting was not always easy during the early years. I admit I secretly yearned for the day when my son would be old enough to participate in the activities I enjoyed. But between the ages of two and four, he was still not ready for me to teach him how to keep his eye on the ball or tap out a four-beat pattern on some bongos. Luckily, my experience as a preschool teacher and early childcare provider came to the rescue. If I wanted him to develop an interest in what inspired me (baseball, football and music), I would first have to set an example by taking an interest in what inspired him. That means learning how to play- and who better to teach me than my toddler?
Playing with a young child is a skill like any other. It demands commitment and practice. I wish every mom and dad in America could spend an hour with Prime Time Paramus teachers Kaylina, Anna, Alisha or Amanda – all experts at playing with young children. The skills we use at our Paramus center to build relationships that lead to skill and brain development are the same skills you can use as parents to connect and enhance your bond with your child:
- Let your child choose the activity and allow him or her to be in charge. This may be tea party, superhero play, blocks or art projects. It might be a completely invented game where the rules are hard to follow because your child makes them up and changes them as he goes along. Try your best to keep up!
- Avoid your adult agenda for the time being and don’t overthink it. Let go of your adult world and authentically engage in her world. Offer ideas, but don’t be surprised when they get shot down. Again, always set an example; even when the traditional roles of parent and child are reversed.
- Use descriptive praise to acknowledge accomplishments you notice. Rather than saying “Good Job” or “I like that,” use language to describe the action or accomplishment you want to reinforce: “Billy you built a tower with ten blocks!” or “Lisa, you mixed yellow and blue to make green in your painting!” Describing what you see to your child provides the attention they crave, words to enhance their language development and information about what exactly it was they did that you found valuable. Follow it up with a high five or fist bump and you are in the zone.
- Have fun! When you let go of the grown-up stuff and are truly present in your child’s world, you can experience the innocence and freedom they enjoy on a regular basis. When it gets boring or tiresome for them or for you, take it to the kitchen and make something to eat! Your child will LOVE helping you prepare something to eat for the two of you!
Between birth and age five, children develop their foundational understanding of how people relate to each other. When parents actively engage in listening, cooperation and empathy with their young child at his or her level, the child is more likely to be successful developing relationships and solving problems in childcare, preschool and beyond.
Enjoy the day!
Michael Reisman is Director of Operations for Prime Time Early Learning Centers in New York and New Jersey. He has been a Preschool and Pre-K Teacher as well as Center Director in Early Childhood Education since 2003. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Laura and their school age son, Holden.