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Build Empathy, Set The (right) Boundaries Through Play (0-5)

I'm a proponent of BEST practices in early childhood education and I think you might be with me on this. Even if you're not sure what that means.

If you sometimes feel confused about what we should offer children during their first few years, you're not alone. That's why I'm here. After a 45+ year career in early childhood education, I'm a little bit confused about it, too.

I'm also dedicated to making things clearer and less stressful for parents and providers of very young children.

Luckily, now we have research to pave the way for what we focus on with our youngest. Before the 1990's we had only a few major studies to build on but once we developed the technology to study brain connections with images, everything started to become much clearer.

When I personally need clarification on what's happening in brain science I like to pop over the the Harvard website called The Center On The Developing Child. I trust Harvard, love their focus, and am so appreciative of the way they break hard concepts down into small digestible, and usable steps for parents and providers to use in their daily interactions with young children.

I can really apply the knowledge I find there and I think you'll find it useful, too.

For years I've looked to the largest organization in the country dedicated to the education of young children, NAEYC, for information and guidance. Their publication, Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8, Fourth Edition (Fully Revised and Updated) is a comprehensive guide to everything we know about best practices in early childhood.

One newer area of research becomes evident when taking a deep dive into early childhood through the Harvard website or the Developmentally Appropriate Practices guide.

It might be a bit shocking to some people and challenge what they've believed to be true for years but we know now through research and brain studies that:

Play is the way that children learn best.

Therefore the following statement can and should be used as a guide when searching for child care or a good place to work as a provider.

Contrary to popular belief, one of the most important indicators of quality in any early childhood education program or setting is more play, not less. Nanci J Bradley BS, MA

Here's a short video clip from the Harvard website that explains the role of play in early childhood.

Unfortunately, this information isn't as widespread as we'd like. Also, this isn't a pass for negligent adults to ignore children and let them play without boundaries. Here's an example of that from one of the hundreds of field trips I've organized and supervised over the years.

We were at the public library with a group of 3-5-year-olds waiting for the special library films and stories to begin. The teachers in our group stayed involved and engaged with the children as they waited. We helped them remove their jackets and get settled. We made sure they had enough room and were comfortable. I brought the infant to the back of the room to see if I could sing him to sleep.

Meanwhile, a similar group of teachers and children were next to us. The teachers sat in the back and talked amongst themselves about things unrelated to children or child care. The children in their group repeatedly kicked, slapped, and pinched each other. They didn't look or sound very happy.

Each time a child got up to tell a teacher about getting hurt, the teacher sent them back to work on problem-solving. That's it, then they went right back to their adult conversation until they were interrupted again by a problem.

I don't think those teachers in the second example were teaching problem-solving through play. I do think they were being a little bit self-centered and that's not the best example they could have set. Listening to the children and talking them through those issues with support and care would have been more appropriate.

That's because BEST practices, simply put look like this: Build Empathy and Set The right boundaries. Empathy is great but without boundaries, we're asking for trouble.

For help empathetically setting boundaries in your life, join our community here. We'd love to be on your side and send you a free slideshow on Getting Kids To Listen and Like It!

Nanci J Bradley 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! (click on the word) 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.

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