Foundational Skills that Help Learning Activities Succeed

Hopefully this week’s posts are helping some out there!  Next week will be back to normal, but I thought this was worth the break from the norm.  Here’s the question for today:

I’ve tried to do some crafts with my daughter and it just doesn’t go well. She has a hard time following my directions and accomplishing the craft. Are my expectations too high for her age and when will I start to see some improvement on her attention span?  (comments from reader)

First off, I won’t be able to judge whether expectations are too high because there are too many unknowns from my perspective.  I’m living and working with my son everyday and can still manage to misjudge my own expectations for him!  I try to learn from it and move on.

Think about all the skills your little one needs in order to do well with the activities you’re attempting. Don’t forget that this includes more than ability to color or glue.  Table activities can test their fine motor skills, listening skills, ability to follow directions (and willingness to), ability to sit still, attention span and focus, etc.  That’s a lot of skills to suddenly expect from a toddler or to push them to excel in through a 15 or 20 minute activity. They will most likely not find the activity enjoyable if we push them too far too fast.  All of us are more likely to get frustrated (and act out inappropriately) when trying to do something too far above our abilities.  Hand me a violin and expect Bach in 20 minutes and I’m gonna lose it… my teacher would likely lose it too!  (btw, does Bach even compose violin pieces?)

 I personally did not attempt crafts with J at first. It would have been too much for us both to handle.  As a teacher, I focused the first weeks of the year establishing rules, authority, respect, and classroom procedures so that the entire class knew what to expect from Mrs. T.  Establishing these things really helped make sure the rest of the year was spent on efficient learning… and once that respect was truly gained, my job was MUCH easier.   The year was more enjoyable for my students tooSince I wasn’t fighting to get them to listen and obey we could have fun with the lesson or activity. I took a similar route with J.

I think there are certain foundational skills that our little ones need in order to gain full value from any learning activity (and eventually at school).  To be completely honest, I see the foundational skills as essential to make each part of the day run smoothly.  Self-control, obedience, prolonged attention span, listening and comprehension skills are a few essentials.  As a junior high teacher, these skills were still a huge determining factor in a student’s success in school.  And a toddler can definitely begin to learn each of them. 

Of course these are things we will constantly build upon as J grows.  We started working on them very early, long before I sat him down to do a formal learning activity.  Today at almost 3 years old, we are still practicing them.  There’s no crossing it off as completed, just further development of each.  

If you think your little one first needs more success with foundational skills, you can structure acitivities that will help them practice. Make that your starting point. If the foundations are already being consistently practiced, start working in the new skills.  They don’t need mastery of the foundational skills before you can start learning activities.  I’m an adult and I haven’t mastered those skills!  

It will be a slow process.  Expect that.  We’re putting the foundational skills into practice WHILE we’re teaching abc’s.  Start with a small amount of time and build up over time instead of fighting through a full 30 minutes at first.  And build up a storehouse of patience for your sanity (and your child’s!).  You will see improvement over time. 

Please share your own thoughts!  What other skills would you consider a foundation for success?

(To see the other posts in this series, click here.)

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