Recently, I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Kimberlee Kiehl, Executive Director of the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (the place where Smithsonian staff can send their kids!) speak about non-traditional learning opportunities in early childhood. The Center uses the museums as classrooms, and encourages children to learn by “building upon past knowledge and experience.” They focus less on rote learning and instead work to build executive function skills – the “soft skills” that allow us to learn and think and grow into successful humans. They include self-regulation (or self-control), critical thinking, perspective taking, problem solving, persistence, and more.
These skills are extremely important to a child’s development – as much or even more so than the ability to count, identify letters and colors, and other knowledge that we work to build in the early years. Dr. James Heckman, nobel prize-winning economist, and his colleagues studied these skills and found that they “predict success in life, that they causally produce that success, and that programs that enhance soft skills have an important place in an effective portfolio of public policies.” In other words, soft skills are a better predictor of a child growing into a successful adult than knowing one’s abc’s.
I’ve been thinking about how we help children develop these skills in the library – especially in storytime – and so I decided to write about each skill and what we can (and do) do in storytime to help children develop these skills. It’s yet another selling point for storytime as a great resource for parents and caregivers to help their children prepare for formal schooling.
the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.
So, let’s talk about that last one: controlling impulses. Self-control. Self-regulation. Something I completely lack when faced with a bag of potato chips. And this kitty is exhibiting well:
Self control includes the ability to pay attention, stay on task, regulate one’s body, and carefully look and listen, and sort information.
How do we develop help young children develop their self-control in storytime?
- Ask them to try and sit and listen. We know they can’t do this for very long periods of time, but the more they practice, the better they get. We’re also asking them to focus on the task at hand – listening and paying attention to the book or activity
- Ask them to keep their hands to themselves. That’s regulating one’s own body and not giving in to the impulse of putting their hands on their neighbor’s head/your flannelboard pieces/the puppet/whatever it is they really want to touch.
- Ask them to answer questions about the book – especially when we’re asking them to look at the pictures and identify objects or actions. If they have to find something on the page, I like to have them “use their words” to explain where it is, rather than pointing and saying “there!”. Vocabulary-building, y’all.
- Taking turns. It’s HARD for a young person to wait until it’s their turn to answer a question or put a piece on the flannel board. But we’re asking them to try, and they’re learning.
- Through movement activities, like a “freeze dance,” they’re having to regulate the movements of their bodies. Dancing requires them to figure out their place in space (proprioception!) compared to others and how to move themselves without bumping into others. If you’ve ever done the “Sleeping Bunnies” song and seen the storytime rug turn into a mosh pit, that’s your kids trying to figure out and regulate their bodies.
As always, storytime is a great time to remind parents and caregivers how their children are developing not only cognitive skills but also these great soft skills. You might include soft skills in your early learning reminders/tips so everyone knows just how much learning is happening.
I think this is also a great reminder to be patient with our young kids. They are learning, practicing, and figuring out their bodies and minds.
How else do you encourage self-control in storytime? Please share! And look for part 2 of this series coming soon….