Over the last two weeks, I’ve been regularly substituting at a local preschool. While I’ve spent most of my time explaining that LMNOP is five letters (not one!) and how Free Willy is not the name of a species of animal but the name of a whale, I’ve also spent my time discussing the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and families.
For example, the other day in the three year old room we talked about how one little boy is about to become a big brother because his mommy has a baby in her tummy. We talked about how having a little brother or sister means that you’ll have someone to play with and someone to share your toys with. Other kids weighed in on how sometimes brothers and sisters can make you mad but how you love your brother or sister anyway.
Later that day we did an art activity where the children drew the people that lived in their home. The teachers then go around the room and write the names of the people in the drawing. Some of the children understand and draw something that at least resembles the family and other kids just draw – we still write down whatever they say.
We get the typical responses:
“That is daddy and that is mommy. And that is me. And that is Jon and that is Zoe.”
“Is Jon you’re big brother?” I’d ask.
“And who is Zoe?”
(Yes – 3 year olds consider their cats to be part of their families and those of us who are pet lovers would probably agree.)
Later, we asked the children to tell us what a family is:
“Yes, but what makes these people a family?”
“Daddy said a bad word in the car.”
(Have I mentioned that 3 year olds will also divulge every single secret, embarrassing, and humiliating moment that they see or hear to their classmates and their teacher? Because they do.)
“Yes – Daddies are part of families. Anyone else know what a family is?”
“A mommy and a daddy and a baby.”
“What happens when the baby becomes a big kid? I’m not a baby and I have a family.”
“A family is people who live together.”
“My Nonna and Nonno live in Italy.”
“So families are people who live together but it can also include people who don’t live together?”
“Santa is going to bring me an umbrella! I’m so excited!”
(Yes, a child actually said they were excited that Santa was going to bring them an umbrella. And yes, young children can’t stay on topic for long.)
Tips to Discuss Family with the Little Ones in Your Life:
- Keep it short, simple, and brief. Young children can’t handle long explanations and they don’t want to hear the exceptions to the norm. If something comes up and they ask about it, then feel free to discuss it. But otherwise, keep it short and sweet.
- Get Prior Knowledge. Instead of starting a discussion with “A family is ______”, the teachers asked the children. As each child added a bit to the discussion, the teachers helped them fully develop and express their ideas. This helps them with critical thinking skills.
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. When asked to draw her family, one girl drew herself as a princess with the sun shining behind her. For her, the princess was much more interesting at the time than drawing her family – and that is OK. We don’t sweat the small stuff.