Mrs Patricia Koh, 68, education ambassador of the Maplebear Singapore chain of preschools, sums up the work-from-home and home-based learning dilemma for parents with toddlers and preschoolers: “I think most of us are more fearful of the fact that we have to stay home with our children than fighting the virus.”
Mrs Koh, who has 48 years of experience in early childhood education, uses the acronym Fear to explain how many parents feel about this age group – they are Fast and furious, Energy-draining, Attention-seeking and Restless. A child below age three, she notes, cannot sit still for longer than three minutes.
Now is the time to “develop a new view of quality time – instead of imposing adult expectations, let yourself be led by your child’s needs”, advise early childhood teacher-educators at the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC). Set up by the Ministry of Education, it trains early childhood educators.
Toddlers up to age three demand attention in two ways, the experts explain. There is “want something” time, which includes routine care, where parent and child cooperate to do something together, such as meal and bath times.
Then there is “want nothing” time, where the child just needs the parent to watch, listen and anticipate his or her needs.
As toddlers have a short attention span, parents should keep activities to 15 to 20 minutes long and let the children lead, rather than forcing them to follow adult cues, the experts advise. Use positive language to verbalise your instructions.
Managing your assertive preschooler
Preschoolers aged four to six thrive on activities that engage their senses, “so ensure those little hands and feet keep moving”, they say.
If parents find themselves in a power struggle with a preschooler who is asserting independence, avoid insisting on activities he or she is clearly not interested in. “Keep the activities open-ended and let the children set the pace,” the NIEC experts suggest.
While preschools have provided parents with activity packs and, in some cases, online lessons, there is no need to be fixated on online learning, says Mrs Koh.
“Lessons are often caught rather than taught, so do not expect your preschool teachers to teach a lesson, but rather, share something interesting that can last them a lifetime.”
At the same time, setting a daily routine is important. While some parents may baulk at the thought of a structured timetable for young children, a “consistent routine will help children and their body clocks with many day-to-day processes”, says Ms Chow Keat Yeng, who owns Artistic Expressions, a speech and drama school.
“It also makes them feel safe. When it’s time to read, they know how to quieten down; when it is time to play, they look forward to the time and play their hearts out.”
(Also read: 5 things not to say to your kid when you are angry)
Raising independent kids
This circuit breaker period is also an excellent opportunity to teach young children to help themselves, says Ms Fynn Sor, 37, a former secondary school teacher who runs Happy Tot Shelf, a website offering learning activity ideas to parents of toddlers and preschoolers.
“This is the best time to teach children independence. Communicate confidence in them to take care of themselves while you are working.
“Look around the house and see how you can improve the space for your children to help themselves easily. Examples include a stool for children to reach the tap and a self-help snack corner,” says the stay-at-home mum of three children aged one to seven.
Sibling squabbles are also amplified when the family is together all the time, but parents do not have to resort to raising their voices every five minutes, says Ms Chow. The 40-year-old is also a adjunct lecturer in communications and mum of two girls aged 3½ and two.
“My daughters, Michelle and Nicole, squabble all the time. Most times, I let them be. I give them space and encourage them to sort the problem out by themselves.
“Even if I intervene, I guide them to find a solution. More often than not, we come down very hard on the children because we get agitated.”
Above all, make this time a memorable one for your little ones.
Maplebear’s Mrs Koh says: “This is the time to sing to your child, laugh and dance like there is no tomorrow, paint rainbows for the world to see, go meet all our friends in the storybooks and write lots of love letters to the ones who care for you.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.
(Photo: The Straits Times)
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