Posts Tagged ‘ preschool ’

Does More Preschool = More (Wrong) ADHD Diagnoses?

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

In principle, no. But if a preschool environment is not designed with developmental principles in mind, and ADHD criteria are tossed around without regard to developmental level, then we could see artificial diagnoses made – maybe a lot of them.

Drs. Stephen P. Hinshaw and Richard M. Scheffler predict (in an Op-Ed in the New York Times) that such a scenario can lead to an epidemic of incorrect diagnoses of ADHD in preschoolers. What are the key factors parents should thing about? Here’s a few tips:

MAKE SURE A PRESCHOOL IS JUST THAT: PRE-SCHOOL

There are tremendous developmental benefits to attending preschool. These are achieved when they are designed with developmental principles in mind. That means, simply, that kids should be playing a lot of the time.

Play includes all kinds of activities, including: arts & crafts, music, using blocks to build things, pretend play, running around, and engaging in playground types of activities. Wait, what about learning letters and numbers and developing advanced reading skills and mathematical proficiency? That will come … when they get older (the idea is to promote academic readiness, not academics). For decades, we’ve known that early learning – the academic readiness that we are shooting for in preschool – operates very much through the body. Both gross motor and fine motor skills are primary for brain development and provide the sensory mechanisms underlying cognitive exploration and innovation. All that exploration sets the stage for fundamental cognitive skills that will be used later to master reading and math and writing. Consider this: the simple act of learning to copy figures in toddlerhood is a significant predictor of later academic performance in kindergarten (even after controlling for “cognitive” skills). So while some “academics” can be introduced in the preschool years, the savvy educators know how to do this in measure, and focus on the ways that preschoolers should be spending their time.

Keep in mind that interaction with adults and other kids is also critical for both social and cognitive development. It’s more important that they are being read to, than “reading” on their own. Their vocabularies are expanding tremendously but so much of this happens naturally in conversation and via planned reading group activities (rather than drills to master letters and words). Kids need to express themselves socially, and begin to learn some age-appropriate rudiments of self-control and emotion regulation. They also need to mix it up a little with other kids and learn how to get along with each other (with a little guidance here and there).

ONLY SEEK OUT ASSESSMENT FOR ADHD IF IT’S REALLY A SUBSTANTIAL CONCERN TO EVERYONE

We are now diagnosing toddlers with ADHD. Some toddlers are getting prescribed medication for ADHD. The rationale for this is to help kids as early as possible before the consequences of ADHD take hold on their development.

While this strategy has been controversial, the fact is that some toddlers show very extreme levels of behavior that are different than what you see at that age. But keep in mind that this is a very low percentage of toddlers, and that it’s very challenging to determine this clinically. Hinshaw and Scheffler point out that inappropriate diagnoses of ADHD often come about because the diagnostic process is not comprehensive, and in fact way too short. The result is then a sloppy (and typically wrong) diagnosis of ADHD, and a potentially inappropriate prescription.

Parents need to be appropriately cautious (but not dismissive) of concerns that their toddlers are showing signs of ADHD, particularly if they are in a preschool that is expecting them to behave like “school kids.” One of the hallmarks of ADHD is that it is pervasive – it should be a big problem at home, at school, almost everywhere. Maybe not all the time, but you shouldn’t see “symptoms” in just one context, like a preschool classroom. And you should see the “symptoms” occurring much more frequently than you see them in other toddlers. Often times (not always) a hallmark is very impulsive behavior that can put a youngster at risk for injury. Being distracted now and then and not wanting to sit still is what we call … being a toddler.

BE A SAVVY PARENT

The reality is that parents need to be savvy, both about the type of preschool environment that’s right for toddlers, and how ADHD gets wrongly diagnosed, especially in very young children. A preschool should look and feel like a preschool when you go in there. Kids should be acting like kids, having fun, but have some structure and purpose in mind. They should be playing a lot more than they should be doing “schoolwork.” Educators know how to nurture their developing brains and bodies to promote the very real and necessary social, emotional and cognitive development that takes place in those critical years that provide a foundation for academic readiness (a term which, by the way, shouldn’t go away in the early school years either). And if your preschool is concerned about ADHD, take the concern seriously, but be discriminate. Here’s an interview with an ADHD expert that provides a good feel for knowing when to be concerned about ADHD, and what to do about it.

Kids Playing via Shutterstock.com

Help your child organize her homework assignments with our helpful worksheet.

ADHD and Five Impaired Abilities
ADHD and Five Impaired Abilities
ADHD and Five Impaired Abilities

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Beyond the ABCs – Teaching Kids About Work and Life

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Remember when kids used to talk about what they wanted to be when they grow up?

It’s troubling to think that kids don’t do that as much anymore. As a culture, we’ve become consumed with the idea that the purpose of education is to build pure academic skills that can be measured by standardized tests. This kind of thinking filters down to the youngest kids – even preschoolers can be faced with an “academic” curriculum that leaves little time for play (the work of childhood), imagination, and connection to the real world.

One way to change this thinking is to infuse children with a sense of wonder of what it’s like to “do” in the world. I’ve been researching the lives of entrepreneurs to find out what makes them tick – not to learn how kids can become entrepreneurs, but rather to discover some keys to instilling them with entrepreneurial thinking. Why? Simply put, entrepreneurial types embrace many principles that will serve kids well – they are positive thinkers who know how to generate their own passion and take on obstacles in order to reach their goals. These are real world skills that all kids should have and can start learning early in life – yet skills that are not part of our mainstream educational roadmap.

One thing I’ve learned from my research is that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Brian Cunningham, successful entrepreneur and co-founder of MyCareerLauncher.com, suggests that many kids grow up without having a chance to develop the type of passion that fuels the entrepreneur and would serve all kids well (no matter what type of career they end up pursuing later in life). He feels that we need new resources to reverse this growing trend and to plant the seeds early in life. To this end, MyCareerLauncher.com is providing both a mindset and new tools – particularly a series of books – to help educators, parents, grandparents (all the supportive folks that kids need in their lives) cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit in kids. Consider this quote that summarizes their mission:

What’s it like to be, say, an entrepreneur, mechanical engineer, infectious disease specialist, marine biologist, biochemist, sculptor, thoracic surgeon, architect, or software programmer? What kinds of knowledge and skills are needed? Where are the greatest rewards, needs and opportunities? Presented in the right way, and with guidance from significant others, insights based on the life experiences of experts can help children “discover a path where their passions can shine”.

In the next few days I will be featuring more about MyCareerLauncher.com as one resource for parents and educators alike that will help kids learn more than the ABCs and begin to cultivate a spirit and motivation that is the core to their potential to be everything they want to be. Next up: an introduction to a terrific new book – Camila’s Lemonade Stand – developed by MyCareerLauncher.com to serve as a platform for conversations with kids to stoke their imaginations.

What career will your child have? Take the quiz and found out!

Spring Cleaning With Kids!
Spring Cleaning With Kids!
Spring Cleaning With Kids!

 

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Is Your Child Experiencing Hands-On Learning?

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

The school year means that kids – even toddlers – will be taking on academic studies. Your little ones will be working with numbers and letters and thinking and talking. But they should be doing other things too – especially things that involve their hands. 

There are lots of reasons for this:

  • Kids learn by physically exploring their world.
  • They learn by manipulating their world.
  • Fine motor skills provide a direct line of stimulation into their brains that connects with cognitive development.

As kids develop their fine motor skills, they are better situated to direct their attention – meaning their brain resources – to the other tasks at hand. For example, a kid in kindergarten who can easily handle their writing utensil can focus more on what they are producing with their writing instrument because they don’t need to focus on how to hold it.

The reason all this is important – especially at the start of the school year – is that there is a collective message that young kids need to be immersed in “academic” work as early as possible. The problem is that, for them, hands-on activities are the academic work! Drawing, coloring, cutting, pasting, and playing with blocks are all examples of academic activities for toddlers. They promote development, engagement, and cognitive growth.

So make sure you – and your school – are thinking hands-on when you are thinking school work for your little ones.

Kids Making Pictures via Shutterstock.com

 

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Should Sharing – Or Not Sharing – Be Mandated In Preschool?

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Should young kids be told that they must always share? Should they be told that they never have to share? Or should they be encouraged to learn how to try to work things out themselves? 

The answer from decades of research on preschoolers is … they should get experience in trying to try to work things out themselves, with good guidance from adults.

To get an expert perspective on this, I contacted Dr. Melanie Killen, who is Professor of Human Development, Professor of Psychology (Affiliate), and the Associate Director for the Center for Children, Relationships, and Culture at the University of Maryland.  She is the author of Children and Social Exclusion: Morality, Prejudice and Group Identity (2011), co-editor of Social Development in Childhood and Adolescence: A Contemporary Reader (2011), and serves as the Editor of the Handbook on Moral Development (2006, 2013). Dr. Killen has a distinguished record of conducting seminal research on the social, moral, and cognitive development of preschoolers (as well as older children), and as such is well positioned to offer a perspective on sharing in the preschool years. Below is her take on a few key issues.

ARE EXPERIENCES THAT ARISE FROM CONFLICTS ABOUT SHARING IMPORTANT IN EARLY CHILDHOOD?

Yes. Sharing toys and resources is a fundamental aspect of early childhood social interactions that promotes the development of social competence. In fact, children who learn how to resolve conflicts about sharing in constructive ways (e.g., through negotiation and bargaining) are more liked by their peers and better adjusted in school contexts than are children who resort to aggressive strategies (such as insistence on one’s own way). What children learn from conflicts about sharing toys under optimal conditions is how to bargain, negotiate, and apply principles of fairness to their peers.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH TELLING KIDS THAT THEY HAVE TO – OR DON’T HAVE TO – SHARE?

A policy that mandates either sharing or “no sharing” is a problem from the start because it removes the opportunity for children to understand the principles that underlie sharing behavior.  These principles include the fair distribution of resources – how do we share resources (or toys) in such a way as to treat others with mutual respect?  This involves explaining to children the conditions in which not sharing toys is being unfair to another child (“If you play with all of the toys then he won’t have any to play with”). However, it’s also important to recognize that there are also conditions in which not sharing toys is viewed as legitimate, such as claims to ownership (“This is her special birthday present and she doesn’t want it to get broken”), or previously agreed upon rules about the use of resources (“She had the toy yesterday so today it’s your turn to use the toy”).

WHAT ROLE SHOULD ADULTS PLAY IN SHARING?

The bottom line is that a unilateral policy takes away from the learning opportunities for young children through which they teach each other what makes it wrong to refrain from sharing (“You had it all morning and I didn’t get to play with it so can I play with it now?”).  Adults need to facilitate the opportunities for children to discuss, negotiate, and interact about how to play with toys, especially in early childhood when the stakes are still low.  Learning how to share toys, which includes the recognition of ownership claims is a fundamental social skill that is related to constructing notions of equality, fair treatment, and mutual respect.

Children Playing via Shutterstock.com

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Is Preschool Essential?

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

No, it’s not essential … but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing for toddlers. 

Think about it this way. Here’s a short list of things that should be part of a toddler’s life:

Opportunities to Play: Play is a broad concept. Toddlers need time to play alone, and also play with other kids. They need to manipulate things to develop their fine motor skills. Being very inclusive here, we can extend this perspective to activities like drawing – which is known to support the later development of cognitive skills. They need to run around and be active. Pretend play is often thought to be at the root of creativity, but recent research shows that it has a large social benefit when done with others.

Opportunities to Socialize: Toddlers need to be around other kids. It’s fun for them. It’s a way to start to learn how to be social creatures and function with peers. They also learn a lot when they disagree with each other, when they don’t share, and when they don’t get along (as long as there is proper guidance from adults). They learn that they are not the only person in the world and sometimes need to take turns – which means waiting their turn now and then.

Opportunities to Regulate Their Emotions: Toddlers have to continue learning how to regulate their emotions. Whether it’s a full blown tantrum or just handling being mad or angry or scared, kids have to experience their emotions in multiple social contexts and develop ways of regulating themselves and functioning around others.

Opportunities to Talk: Yes, talk. Kids can develop their language by being around different people – it helps them learn how to use language to communicate socially (which requires integrating behavioral and emotional and cognitive skills). They should also hear a lot of talking.

If you consider this list, you have a sense of the richness that should characterize a toddler’s life. It’s another way of saying that lots of experiences are needed to give a well-rounded platform for social, emotional, cognitive, and language development. Notice I haven’t said anything about getting a leg up academically, or ensuring top grades later in school. I’m talking about fundamental developmental goals. And kids need to have fun. A lot of fun. A lot of the time.

Now, a toddler doesn’t need to go to preschool to achieve all this. If a preschool isn’t focused on the developmental tasks that characterize toddlerhood, then there is not much utility to it. But a great preschool is a great way to give your kid opportunities during the week to be around other adults and other kids. It’s not essential. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good if you choose to go that way and you find the preschool that delivers what you should be looking for.

Preschool Children via Shutterstock.com

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