The Best Historical Sites to Show Children in Hoboken

by Tori Galatro

Hoboken has a rich history. It contains stories about Lenni Lenape Native Americans, Dutch settlers, baseball, land and water transportation, immigration, diversity, and booms and busts of growth and development. There’s something that every age group will find interesting, including children. The City of Hoboken has put a strong emphasis on historical preservation, and a lot of resources are devoted to keeping these treasures intact and accessible to the public. Families have a lot to discover in Hoboken.

The Hoboken Historical Museum

The Hoboken Historical Museum is a great first stop on a historical tour of Hoboken. The museum has a strong emphasis on their children and family guests, featuring storytime, childrens’ nights at the museum, family fun days, holiday concerts, and summer and day camps. The museum is open six days a week and totally free for children. There are rotating exhibits as well as permanent ones, featuring everything from old photographs, to artifacts, to local art.

The Fire Department Museum

The Fire Department Museum is also owned by the Hoboken Historical Museum, and is also free for children. Open Saturday and Sundays from noon to five, children love looking at the old fire trucks and getting a chance to meet some of the firefighter veterans and their dogs. There’s a historical shiny red Ahrens Fox fire engine that children can sit in and ring a big brass bell. The Museum caters to young visitors, and offers storytime and other family-friendly activities.

The Historic Walking Tour

The nice thing about Hoboken history is that so much of it can be explored on foot, simply walking from place to place. This is ideal for children to let out some energy and explore whatever strikes them. You don’t need to worry about your children being noisy and running around when everything is outside!

A guide is available to The Historic Walking Tour on the Hoboken Historical Museum website, and you can adapt your own tour according to what you think your children will find most fun. The tour includes buildings, parks, and monuments.

Children will most likely find the visually stunning sites to be most interesting. This includes an old firehouse, steeples, buildings that look like castles, large brass monuments of historical figures, cathedrals, and the train station terminal. Elysian Park is a stop on the tour, where the first recorded baseball game was played. Daring children will want to peer into Sybil’s Cave, where a body was once found in the 1800s, and which inspired an Edgar Allen Poe story. But don’t fear. The entrance to the cave is completely safe for children. The tour also includes Castle Park, which is the highest point in Hoboken, and offers a breathtaking view of Manhattan. Children love to identify the distant buildings like the Freedom Tower and the Empire State Building.

Hoboken has a great history of land and water transportation, so just pointing out the fire trucks, trains, and boats is enough to inspire many young children. There are also so many opportunities to point out historical landmarks while you’re out doing errands, or going on a walk, that aren’t so commonplace in many other cities in the U.S. It’s one of the things that makes Hoboken a great place to live.

The Long-Term Benefits of a Great Preschool

Traditionally, parents and even many educators have often thought of preschool as mainly a place to send kids to socialize, have fun, and get acclimated to a regular schedule. However, more and more research suggests that preschool actually has a profound effect on children’s intellectual and emotional development.

The Surprising Impact of Preschool

Here are some key findings on how preschool plays such an important role in children’s development.

  • According to author and journalist Suzanne Bouffard, preschool may be the most important educational experience of a child’s life. In her book, The Most Important Year, preschool is when children learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In addition to getting introduced to some key academic areas such as reading and math, kids learn social skills such as sharing and cooperating.
  • One of the best-known studies of the long-term advantages of preschool is the Perry Preschool Study, which followed children from the age of 3 all the way to age 40. It turned out that those who participated in a quality preschool program were more likely to graduate high school, hold jobs and had higher earnings than those who didn’t attend the program.
  • Pew Charitable Trusts report that children who attend quality pre-K programs are less likely to be held back a grade and more likely to graduate from high school. Their research also points to the problem of kids getting left behind due to a poor start. Once a child is held back, it’s hard for him or her to catch up. Attending preschool reduces the risks of children getting stuck in such a downward spiral.
  • There’s even evidence that preschools can help to reduce crime. A study conducted in Chicago public schools found that kids who participated in a preschool program were less likely to commit crimes later in life.

There’s little doubt that preschool can make a substantial difference in children’s lives and that the benefits continue all the way into adulthood.

Choosing the Right Preschool

Quite a bit of the research on the benefits of attending preschool specifies that the program must be of a certain quality. The Perry Preschool Study, for example, looked at children who attended a “high-quality preschool program.” The Pew Charitable Trusts research makes a similar qualification, saying “high-quality pre-k increases a child’s chances of succeeding in school and in life.” Thus, the advantages of these programs aren’t necessarily gained by sending kids to any preschool. But how do you evaluate the quality and choose the right one? There are several criteria you can apply.

  • Be clear about what you want from the preschool. Some parents are mainly interested in providing their children with a social experience. Others want them to get a solid head start on reading and academic subjects. When looking at preschools, make sure you select one that matches your needs.
  • Recommendations. Ask other parents whose children attend or have attended a preschool and whether they’d recommend it. When researching preschools, see if they publish any testimonials.
  • Consider the school’s approach or educational philosophy. Some schools are faith-based. Others follow a system such as Waldorf or Montessori. Research the alternatives and find a school whose approach is in alignment with your ideas.
  • Visit the school. It’s always best to visit a school in person. Call a preschool that you’re considering and make an appointment to visit. You can also see if they have any special events where you can meet some of the staff and teachers.

Sending your child to the right preschool can be one of the most important decisions you can make as a parent. Children are ready to absorb all kinds of knowledge and life skills that can be fostered in a preschool environment. Before choosing a preschool, however, make sure you do plenty of research so you find one that’s the ideal match for you and your child.

Tessa International School is a top preschool in Hoboken, NJ, and considers its program to be as high-quality and enriching as they come for young children who deserve the best start. Tessa prepares children to become leaders of the 21st century. For more information, contact us.

Bilingualism Can Help Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

If you’re a parent who has a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), then you’re familiar with how tough it can be for some children to unconsciously shift their attention between tasks. Shifting attention from one task to another is known as task switching or set-shifting and is an executive function that involves specific parts of the brain, like the prefrontal cortex. This brain structure also plays a role in the development of ASD. Recent research suggests that learning a second language may boost cognitive flexibility in areas like this and benefit those with ASD.

What is the Prefrontal Cortex?

The prefrontal cortex is part of the cortex that covers the front part of the frontal lobe. This is an area in the brain that helps you shift your focus and attention, unconsciously, and is also a brain structure that’s involved in ASD’s development. Automatically switching from one task to another without breaking concentration or re-focusing on the new task can be a tad difficult for some children with ASD. New research recently published in Child Development reports that being bilingual may possibly help children with ASD improve their ability to do just that—unconsciously shift their attention between tasks.

Being Bilingual May Increase Cognitive Flexibility

Being bilingual, and having the ability to switch between languages, may help increase cognitive flexibility, especially in children or adults with ASD. Over the past decade scholars and researchers have significantly debated whether having the ability to speak two languages improves executive functions. In fact, the term “bilingual advantage” was eventually coined because so many within the field believed that being bilingual clearly improved the executive system. With advances in technology, brain imaging studies have plainly demonstrated that bilinguals suppress their desire to use certain words from one language, in order to use words and grammar from another. In other words, speaking two languages is a workout for your brain.

Speaking Two Languages May Train the Brain Differently

Bilinguals learn a range of social tasks, such as verbal or non-verbal communication and how to read people. Some researchers think that bilingualism may even enhance some executive functions, like conflict resolution and working in a group, because switching between two languages helps the speaker see the world in different contexts.

Being Bilingual May Help Build Brain Muscle

It seems research is suggesting that speaking two languages may help flex some brain muscles and enable the brain to switch focus from one task to another without even breaking a sweat! So you can imagine, then, why so many within the field are focusing on these new research findings and why they desire to repeat studies with a larger sample size: it has huge implications for those with ASD.

Bilingualism May Even Offer Brain Protection  

Another benefit of being bilingual is that it may help protect the brain from dementia, stroke and brain injury. The thought process is similar: bilingualism boosts cognitive reserve. When executive function begins to decline, like in dementia, being bilingual seems to offer some cognitive protection by keeping parts of the brain fit. In other words, these brain structures may not age as quickly in people who are bilingual because these areas of the brain are more resilient. Whether you have ASD or not, it seems learning a second language can benefit your overall brain health. Just like briskly walking thirty minutes every day helps your heart to stay healthy, being bilingual is a way to stay cognitively fit.  

Being Bilingual Offers Those with ASD an Advantage

It’s evident that current findings may affect families when making educational decisions for their child with ASD. This research is only the beginning; hopefully, families who have a child with ASD will see more rigorous studies from scholars and scientists in the future.

 

How Bilingualism Supports Math Skills in Children

For many students, speaking two languages is a way of life. Navigating the world as a bilingual student provides many rich benefits for learning. Yet while being bilingual has been shown to increase students’ language skills, parents often wonder whether navigating two languages also has an effect on their child’s ability to learn math.

When PBS explored the issue, they found that bilingual students not only solved word problems, but all types of math problems, in a unique way. Unlike students who only spoke a single language, bilingual students were using the visual and spatial parts of their brain while solving the problems. Scientists are still theorizing as to why this is the case. One theory is that students are visualizing the elements of the problems in their heads (in other words, they’re actually creating pictures to represent multiplying apples or two trains leaving a station at different speeds).

As the New York Times reported, bilingual students also have a host of advantages in education, including the ability to focus on demanding tasks and solve difficult kinds of puzzles. By using dynamic language practices (in other words focusing on the all the linguistic strengths of bilingual students), teachers can help students take full advantage of their bilingual strengths. A 2011 study showed that allowing bilingual students to use both languages to discuss and solve problems increased the mathematical productivity of students. The flexibility bilingual students show in switching between languages also grants them an increase in creativity and problem solving that can enhance their math education.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that students, especially bilingual students, have been shown to be ever adaptive to new surroundings. While bilingual students may initially find it easier or faster to solve problems using their first language, research from the University of Texas at San Antonio found that while students tended to solve arithmetic problems in the language they first learned them in, they were more likely to solve word problems in the language they use regularly. Such research indicates that bilingual students may be more adaptable in solving math problems than first believed.

Bilingual students are uniquely prepared to meet the challenges of mathematics head on when supported by strong teachers and parents.

At Tessa International School, we may have a focus on bilingual education, but we also teach the whole child. We believe that each aspect of learning is connected. To find out more, visit our website or learn about our Summer Camp.

Is Your Child Ready for Preschool?

by Tori Galatro

The typical age children enter preschool is 3 or 4 years old to prepare them for kindergarten at age 5. Many parents worry that their child may not have reached the appropriate developmental milestones for preschool, and don’t know when the right moment is. Deciding on the readiness of your child for preschool is not an exact science. No child enters preschool perfectly developed in all areas, and they shouldn’t be. Preschool should challenge them and help them to develop skills they don’t already have. So if they don’t check all of the skill boxes, don’t panic, and you don’t necessarily need to wait either.

However, there will be certain elements your child will have to deal with in preschool. They will be separated from you for multiple hours, asked to follow a routine, and follow simple instructions. In some cases, they may be expected to be potty trained. If they feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or alienated by these demands, that won’t help them to develop those skills any faster. Feeling calm and confident is important to social and emotional development, which helps with every other life skill. If your child is excited to be at preschool, and feels positively about the environment, they are more likely to learn and develop in that environment. It’s totally normal for children to experience separation anxiety and feel overwhelmed or upset, but preschool should not feel consistently scary and negative for long periods of time.

Pay attention to your child’s development and wait for the moment where they reach the happy medium, where the demands of preschool are fun and challenging at the same time. If you’re not sure if they are ready, remember that you can always start helping them to develop these skills at home. They can also begin by going part-time, and increase to full-time at a later date.

Potty Training

Some preschools don’t require that children be potty trained, while others are very strict about it. Either way, it’s a great skill to focus on with your child at home to help them learn other important skills like communicating their needs, personal hygiene, and using self control. Make sure your child understands that hand washing is part of the same activity, no matter where they are or who they’re with.

Concentration, Independence, & Communication

Unlike potty training, these “soft” skills will help your child to participate in activities, have their needs met, and learn from the lessons being taught to them. Help your child to practice doing designated activities for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, do simple chores by themselves, and express themselves verbally, even if they aren’t using complete sentences. Get them to be around other children, even if they aren’t directly interacting yet.

Emotional Coping

Most children need to be eased into being away from their parents for an extended period of time. Few children can be expected to adapt to this right away without a little practice first. Leaving your child with a babysitter of family member is also great practice for you if you’re feeling just as apprehensive as them about the separation.

Energy Levels

Preschool requires some serious energy and the ability to follow a routine. If your child is taking long mid-morning naps and isn’t used to a schedule, a great way to get them ready for preschool is to mimic the routine of preschool at home. Also, making sure they get good quality sleep at night starting at a reasonable hour in the evening, and exercise during the day, will help them stay energized and healthy overall.

The quality of the preschool you choose is just as important to their development as the age they start. At home and at school, your child will learn and grow best if the people around them are showing them care and attention, listening to them, and paying attention to their needs. Again, don’t worry too much that their age match the exact average for their class.

It’s always possible that they could skip a grade later if they are placed in the correct developmental age group now. And remember that if you’re concerned about your child’s development in any way, you should always talk to their doctor. Addressing concerns about their development now, even if that means holding them back, will help them in the future.

 

At Tessa International School, a nurturing, caring and challenging environment is who we are. Potty training is not required for the younger ages. We’re committed to creating a partnership between home and school environments. To find out more, feel free to contact us at 201 755 5585.

3 Hands-On Pre-Reading Activities for Preschoolers

By Tori Galatro

Your child can get a head start on reading if they learn to recognize letters and sounds at an early age. There are plenty of apps and TV shows that can help your child learn their letters, but hands-on activities are just as great for a number of reasons. For one, they can help your child to develop fine motor skills beyond tapping a screen. Hands-on activities can also help with memorization by providing spatial and physical interaction. Most importantly, hands-on activities tend to be more social, and involve contact with parents and other children. This social emotional contact is essential for learning and developing other crucial skills, as well as helping to create meaningful memories associated with their pre-reading skills. The following three pre-reading hands-on activities are easy to set up, easy to clean up, safe, cheap, and so much fun for young children.

Activity #1: Make an Alphabet Book

This idea comes from the mommy blog Teach Mama. Sick of throwing away those ads you get in the mail from the grocery store? Put them to good use by making an alphabet book! Gather 26 pages of colored construction paper and write one letter at the top of each with marker. Write both capital and lowercase. Even if your child isn’t learning to read yet, they can start to recognize these symbols and learn that they have meaning. Then, go through the magazines and ads with you child and help them to look for items that begin with each letter. Help your child to cut or rip out each item as they go and paste it under the letter. When you’re done, you can help your child to bind the pages together into a book with yarn and a hole punch. Don’t worry if they don’t finish the book. They can add to it anytime the mail comes in and continue to build letter-sound associations.

Activity #2: Play the Alphabet Memory Game

This is another game that you can return to over and over. Take a pack of paper plates and write uppercase letters on half and the equivalent lowercase letters on the other half. Then, mix them up and spread them out on the ground face down. The object of the game is to match the upper with their lower case letters by remembering where each letter was. Each turn, your child turns two letters face up, try to remember them, and then turns them face down. If they get a match, those plates get removed from the board. This game can be challenging for anyone, so it can be played in a group of varying ages. You can join in too! You can try this game several different ways depending on your child’s level of development. They can match equivalent capital letters, match letters to words beginning with that letter, or even match letters to pictures of words beginning with that letter. They can even write or draw on the plates themselves for a whole other activity!

Activity #3: Learn with Alphabet Bingo

All you need for this game are a few printouts which can be found at the mommy blog Crazy Little Projects, available in both capital and lowercase letters. This game is great for any number of children. When you pick the letter, you can show it to them, or just call it out for an added challenge. Children can use candies to block off the letters as they go, or if you don’t want to spoil dinner, they can use cotton balls, coins, or anything you can think up. Since every board is different, younger children can even look at the older children’s boards for help, and it won’t be cheating. Children can use the skills they’ve learned, but everyone has an equal chance of winning.

Social Emotional Learning: Implementing Sociograms

Classrooms are fundamentally important for the intellectual and emotional development of children. What happens in the classroom has a lasting effect on the rest of a child’s life. Outside of the home, this is where children commonly learn values and behavior norms. To this end, preschools are incorporating the concept of Social Emotional Learning into their education.

Why is Social Emotional Learning important?

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) integrates various aspects of education and life skills into the school curriculum to help children grow in all aspects of their life. SEL involves coordinating several aspects of the child’s life together to create a dynamic education strategy; this strategy helps children succeed in school, in their careers, in their relationships, and in their lives.

Research shows Social Emotional Learning increases the achievement rate of an individual by 11 percentile points, as well as encourages positive habits and behaviors in a child. These behaviors include kindness, empathy, sharing, gratitude, and other positive traits. This education helps children grow up to be responsible adults who are comfortable with social interactions, reducing the risk of stress and depression in growing children.

There are 5 key skills that are taught through Social Emotional Learning:

  • Self-Awareness: SEL helps a child to understand her or his own emotions, judge his or her strengths and weaknesses and become self-aware of inner thoughts and the personal and societal consequences of their actions.
  • Self-management: It guides a child into independence as she or he takes control of emotions, behaviors, actions, and reactions.
  • Social Awareness: SEL also helps children become aware of other cultures and backgrounds, to understand them, and empathize with them.
  • Relationship Skills: It guides children into developing and maintaining healthy relationships and helps them act within social norms.
  • Responsible Decision Making: SEL teaches children to make responsible decisions for themselves, knowing the consequences of their thoughts, and actions for the community.

It is important for teachers to implement this kind of learning into their classrooms. SEL helps young children learn these valuable skills at an early age. This way, as adults, they are able to manage relationships, both social and professional, with ease. Teachers can implement these life lessons through sharing personal experiences, allowing the children to partake in daily social activities, teaching children about different cultures and social norms, helping them develop social skills, and creating a diverse social and cultural mix in the classroom where everyone interacts with each other. And this does not need to be stand-alone lessons. It can be incorporated into all learning.

Teachers can use the help of sociograms to map out social interactions and create a socially dynamic classroom, especially with older students.

How to construct a sociogram:

To begin, ask each student to write down the name of two other students with whom they would like to partner up with in a group activity.

Now, collect the names from all of your students and construct a flow-chart. Circling the different names in different sizes, you will be able to create a visual of the degree of popularity among students. Here’s an example of a completed sociogram.

You will be able to observe three distinct patterns on your sociogram:

  1. Isolates- These are students who have not been chosen by any other student in the classroom, or those who have been chosen only by other isolates. This could be a matter of concern for the teacher.
  2. Gender- Another division that is observable is a gender division. This can be very common among kids of a young age, yet teachers make take note to try and encourage greater unity across gender lines.
  3. Groups- This pattern involves a certain group or “clique” which has been formed, and could be a matter of concern in the classroom.

While sociograms won’t provide all the answers to social problems in the classroom, they are a useful guide and tool. By identifying the groups and patterns, teachers can concentrate their attention more specifically.

Sociograms can help a teacher identify the relationships between groups in their classroom. By using the data they have collected, teachers can implement SEL in a more organized fashion, tailored to the needs of their own, unique classroom.

If you have questions or concerns about Social Emotional Learning or implementing Sociograms, contact Tessa International School.

 

The Remarkable Advantages of Social Emotional Learning: A Case Study

Educational paradigms are currently undergoing a profound and fundamental change. As we learn more about how children’s brains develop, educators are increasingly shifting away from a narrow focus on content, punctuated by occasional standalone lessons on social and emotional development, and into a new mode of instruction in which these formerly separate realms are integrated into one holistic curriculum. A recent case study demonstrates the success of these principles put into action.

CASEL, SEAD, and SEL

In order to understand the significance of the case study, we must first understand the principles of Social Emotional Learning (SEL). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has developed a coordinating framework to be utilized by educators, families, and communities to promote intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive competencies in students. To that end, CASEL has developed a framework of 5 Core Competencies.

  • self-awareness
  • self-management
  • social awareness
  • relationship skills
  • responsible decision-making

The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (SEAD) works closely with educators, community leaders, families, employers, and partners like CASEL to fully integrate this approach into K-12 academic curriculum. The goal of SEAD is to compile and release a Report From the Nation, which will outline specific actions intended to usher in a new era of education. This model will support the full development of students, providing them with the skills and emotional maturity to excel not only in academics, but into adulthood.

Case Study: Capital City Public Charter School

SEAD’s first report in the series is a case study of a Washington, D.C. charter school. Capital City provides an innovative learning environment for its 1,000 K-12 students by being part of the Expeditionary Learning network, which emphasizes mastery of academics, production of high-quality work, and development of character.

In practice, this results in “learning expeditions”, such as when 3rd and 4th grade classes compared Washington’s temperate forests with tropical rainforests, incorporating trips to a local park and the National Zoo into the lesson plan. Another example is when 9th graders studied the ecology of local fish, with an emphasis on habitat preservation/restoration and the impact of human activity on fish populations.

This holistic and engaging approach to education makes Capital City fertile ground for the integration of Social Emotional Learning. SEAD’s case study demonstrates this by zeroing in on teacher Samantha Clark’s 6th grade math class. In this lesson, students have been learning geometric concepts by working, alone and in groups, on blueprints depicting their city. Clark calls a volunteer (Brandon) to the overhead projector to display a tightly scripted “peer critique” protocol for the feedback process.

  • First, Brandon describes exactly what he is working on and mentions problems he is having completing his portion of the project.
  • Next, Clark asks “clarifying questions” to fully understand Brandon’s concerns.
  • Then she provides specific feedback, leading with positive comments and following up with helpful guidance.
  • Brandon is then given a chance to respond before returning to his group to put into practice what they have just learned.

This process keeps students engaged, on task, and working together harmoniously. “I don’t see social and academic skills separately at all,” Clark says. “I don’t think first about designing a lesson and then think next about how to develop students’ social-emotional skills. It’s all one.”

To ensure high-quality instruction such as that provided by Clark, Capital City teachers are supported by instructional coaches, given dedicated time to create lesson plans, and frequently meet with other teachers across all grade levels to discuss overarching concerns and goals.

As a result, this charter school outpaces its overall district in growth of student proficiency (as measured by PARCC), and 100% of Capital City’s graduates go on to enroll in college. Despite these impressive achievements, head of school Karen Dresden is always striving to improve. “Our job is much broader than preparing kids for a test;” she says, “we’re preparing kids to do well in college, in careers, and in life. We want to make sure that they have all those skills.”

Other Examples

Also included in the case study are four other examples of successfully implemented SEL approaches.

  • San Francisco Unified School District – The pre-K – 12 math curriculum is taught using principles of “growth mindset,” in which students are taught to expect and embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. This approach focuses on enhancing conceptual thinking, problem-solving skills, and procedural fluency, avoiding the strict right/wrong binary that has led so many students to believe they are “bad” at math.
  • Facing History and Ourselves – This non-profit organization engages students in an examination of social justice issues throughout history with the goal of encouraging students to engage in and understand their role in an active democracy.
  • New Tech Network (NTN) – The NTN focuses on project-based learning, integrating content knowledge with critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and student responsibility.
  • Center for the Collaborative Classroom – This non-profit provides continuous learning for teachers to support the academic, ethical, and social development of children.

Integrating SEL into academic curriculum is clearly beneficial for not only students, but for teachers, parents, and communities as well. By utilizing these principles we can raise the next generation to be socially conscious problem solvers, effective communicators, and well-rounded humans, leading to a better future for all of us.

For more information on innovative approaches to learning, contact us!

Why Free Play Is Critical for Child Development

Free play refers to activity that is child-centered, child-initiated, child-controlled, and above all, fun. Children have been engaging in this sort of play naturally, and with enthusiasm, for millennia. But as play has become more structured and planned in the modern era, child development experts have been raising concerns about the potential ramifications of a decrease in free play. It turns out that many crucial skills are developed when children are allowed plenty of unstructured play time. Free play benefits children cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically. In fact, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has declared that engaging in play is a universal right for every child on earth.

Cognitive Benefits

Children’s brains are designed by nature to learn and grow through play. Unstructured play is necessary to allow every child’s brain to flourish and reach its full cognitive potential.

The open-ended nature of free play lets children exercise their imaginations, thus enhancing their creativity. A group of children playing pretend will naturally engage in world-building, characterization, and storytelling. Activities such as building or designing structures can facilitate problem-solving skills and encourage innovative thinking.

Most importantly, free play helps children develop something called self-directed executive functioning. This refers to the cognitive control processes that regulate thought and action in support of goal-directed behavior. Developing executive functions as a child is critical for achieving independence as an adult. Free play is about children making their own choices, often in service of a clearly defined goal. Practicing this mode of thinking, in the low-stakes world of play, leads to habitual and natural decision making in adulthood. In fact, studies show that self-directed executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic performance and positive life outcomes.

Social Benefits

Collaborative free play teaches children social skills they will not pick up in any classroom. In order for everyone to have fun, each child in the group must practice resolving conflicts and must be flexible to accommodate the others. This kind of play fosters a sense of empathy and cooperation by reinforcing the idea of other children as individuals, each with their own set of needs and desires.

Physical Benefits

Any kind of rigorous physical play is good for children’s muscles, bones, and cardiovascular system, but free play can take this development even further. Children who are choosing their own physical activity are likely to be more engaged and focused, leading to longer play sessions and more devotion to mastering desired skills. By deciding on, and following through, with their own self-imposed challenges, children become stronger, faster, and more coordinated. They can also develop better spatial awareness by actively exploring and interacting with their environment.

Emotional Benefits

Any parent who has ever nervously watched their child climb too high, run too fast, or attempt to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time can attest that taking risks is a big part of play. The unbridled nature of free play leads to heightened risk-taking, as children are motivated by the desire to maximize their fun and to impress their friends. Trying and failing leads to resilience and perseverance, and successfully navigating risks enhances a child’s confidence and self-worth.

Free play can also help children practice self-regulation, or the ability to control one’s emotional responses. Children engaged in free play must learn to manage their own interactions rather than relying on an adult to facilitate. A child who frequently yells at his friends when angry will soon learn that it’s in his best interest to control his temper, especially if he wants those children to remain his friends. Learning to regulate one’s own emotions is an important part of becoming an adult.

Free play is a critical component in any child’s development. By fostering and encouraging more unstructured play, we are helping our children develop the tools they will need to succeed as adults. For more information on how to nurture your child’s development, contact us at Tessa International School, where we value free play and so much more, and encourage children to explore and express themselves in a safe and enriching environment.

 

Why Do Children Learn Languages Faster than Adults?

By Tori Galatro

It’s a commonly held belief that children learn languages faster than adults. For the most part, science and research support this belief. However, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. For example, why do children learn languages faster? How much faster do they learn them? Do they learn them faster because of their environment, their brain chemistry, or some combination of both? Is it possible for adults to learn the same way children do? Let’s look at some of the factors that attempt to answer these fascinating questions.

The Environmental Advantages Children Have When Learning Languages

Children have environmental advantages when learning language that most adults don’t have. Very young children aren’t formally instructed in language the way adults and older children are. They learn by being immersed in multilingual environments. They passively “absorb” the language through contact. When formally instructed, it is through games and songs, not verb conjugation and exams. In fact, adults also learn much faster through immersion, but the cost of immersion is much higher for adults than it is for children. Children have virtually no responsibilities in life, so they have the time and energy to spend hours in environments that challenge their communication skills. Most adults don’t have that luxury.

Children are also better candidates for immersive language learning because they have fewer inhibitions. It’s much easier to learn a language if you’re comfortable making mistakes and sounding foolish, a hurdle that makes most adults extremely anxious. Also, the standard of language competence is much lower for children than it is for adults. They aren’t judged the way adults are so they don’t receive, or give themselves, as much negative feedback when they make mistakes. They also aren’t tested the way an older child would be, so there is less pressure. The learning process is more playful and natural.

As an adult, if you move to a foreign country and nobody speaks your language, you’ll quickly start to learn the new language because you’re motivated to communicate and connect with others. But few adults willingly put themselves in that situation. Young children are often exposed to language in such a situation, but they don’t need to deliberate the merits of their decision. They don’t even know they are learning a new language or know how it may serve them later in life. They just think, “this is how I talk to Dad” or “this is how I talk to my classmate”. It’s the pure desire to communicate that drives the learning.

The Cognitive Advantages Children Have When Learning Languages

Environmental advantages may be important, but it’s hard to deny the cognitive advantage very young children have when learning new languages. Babies and very young children form neural connections at a rapid pace. As the brain develops, it becomes more specialized, reinforcing the neural pathways that are regularly used. This is a good thing because it makes the brain more efficient, but it also makes learning new things more challenging. That’s why those who learn a language at a very young age have the accent of a native speaker. Later in life, those neural shortcuts our brains have created to increase efficiency force us to fall back on the sounds, or phonemes, of languages we already know.

It is because of the brain’s elasticity and rapid neural formation that babies and young children are able to learn languages at a faster rate. This is sometimes referred to as the “critical period”. It is theorized that if a child does not learn any language, including non-verbal languages, during this time period that they may never be able to learn any language, because the necessary neural foundation for it has been permanently damaged. We can’t know the answer to this question because testing it would be inhumane.

The Critical Period of Language Learning

It’s difficult for us to know just how important these factors are when judging the speed of child language learning against the speed of adult language learning. Whatever the primary factor, there are so many advantages to learning languages as a child that it would be a shame not to take advantage of those critical years.

To learn more about how you can enroll your preschooler in a fully immersive bilingual environment, where they can learn languages naturally, visit Tessa International School in Hoboken.