Are you a weird (or unconventional) parent? If so, give yourself a round of applause. I really hope you're about to feel good about yourself and your parenting style because you've been put through the wringer of uncertainty and worry lately and I wish it could be different for you but I guess it can't. At least not for a while, anyway.
So I just want to take a little minute to help you celebrate all you do for your kids and let you know I've been noticing how well you cope. Though it obviously hasn't been easy, it's amazing to see your innovation, perseverance, and compassion.
This insight is a byproduct of my current quest. I'm searching for the best experiences for learning and family fun in Madison WI, where I've lived and worked as a child and family educator for the last 34 years. I've been walking all over town, some days as many as 20,000 steps, looking for the circumstances that lead to the kind of emotional and sensory learning I've based my career on.
The kind of experiences that make it possible for young children to succeed in life, preschool, or any other environment they find themselves in.
So far I've found more than a few great places that offer these sensory and emotional experiences, even during COVID. Vilas Zoo, Vilas Park, Bernie's Beach, Wingra Park, Law Park , Zuzu Cafe, my own Rock Art Studio , and of course Ground Zero Coffee Shop, which is where I started my quest, are just a few.
I've also talked to a lot of great parents who are both worried and hopeful about what the upcoming school year will bring for their children. They wonder if their kids will be able to cope with on-line learning. And they worry about being able to support their kid's learning while somehow doing their own job at the same time!
And if their kids will be attending school in-person, they worry about them getting sick! That's a lot of pressure. Most of all they just can't wait to get out with their kids more. And to be able to interact.....(more on interaction during COVID later in this post)
So what exactly is this sensory and emotional learning I've been searching for? And why does it matter?
Let's start with sensory experiences. These are the experiences that allow your children to perceive the world around them.
The most common sensory experiences are seeing, hearing, and touching but there are actually many more to consider, smell, taste, and balance being just a few.
Children use play to connect these experiences and wire their brains for smooth and effective learning. The most efficient way for their brains to do this is through multi-sensory learning which is when our senses work together to process what's happening and put it all together.
These kinds of experiences create pathways that make it easier for your child to learn new things. Kids seek these experiences out and are drawn to them. So do adults, when they allow themselves to.
That brings me to emotions and emotional learning. Since most of what we know about anything is gleaned in our first 3 years, parents and childcare providers are mostly responsible for teaching emotions. That's a pretty important job.
But it doesn't have to be worrisome. Here are 2 simple ideas you can use today to be sure you're doing it right.
#1 Talk about your own emotions and struggles without painting yourself as perfect. Make your stories short and sweet but don't sugarcoat them for the sake of your child. Answer their questions honestly and let them know that you've had negative as well as positives in your life.
#2 Read and snuggle with them often. This is one experience that combines sensory and emotional learning and gives all of the right messages. That's why it's the best predictor of success in reading. You can enhance the emotional impact reading has by talking with your child about the characters in the story and the way they might be feeling. Talk about the expressions on their faces and their body language, too.
Many parents and providers may be familiar with the book "The Rainbow Fish" by Marcus Pfister. It teaches a great lesson about the importance of sharing and caring for others. If you want your kids to learn to take care of our natural resources, give back to society and feel compassion, don't miss this less well-known, book by Pfister called "Milo and the Magical Stones". It's great for lap reading because it has two different endings your child can choose from, happy and sad.
A basic need of all human beings is to make a positive contribution to the world and to our fellow beings, as well as to improve and enjoy our personal lives. We all have a great deal to offer the world and to each other, each in our own unique way." Shakti Gawain
I couldn't agree more. That's why I developed my Rock Art Project which encourages kids to make art to help provide emotional and sensory experiences to kids.
And coming soon to a park near you is the fantastically fun fitness and learning experience I call Family Dance Party. The dance party will be live, socially distanced and limited to 25 individuals because of COVID.
It's free and open to the public on a first come first serve basis and we're in the process of deciding on a Saturday morning date and place, so sign up here and be sure not to miss it!
In the meantime, try making rocks to encourage empathy and teamwork! You'll find all of the instructions here, and if you want a short cut, you can get a complete rock making kit with everything you need here. Check out the examples I made below. All proceeds for the Rockit! go to funding more emotional and sensory experiences for young children.
Nanci J Bradley, M.A. is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI