by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D.
What allows toddlers and young children to develop great executive functions and the ability to organize themselves toward a goal?
They must be allowed to engage in a lot of active, self-directed learning, and to correct their own mistakes whenever practical. In addition, when adults give young children a meaningful role in the community, we see more initiative, concentration, persistence and self-control in young children. It appears that purposeful activities are better for engaging children’s brains!
HOW YOU CAN GIVE YOUNG CHILDREN A MEANINGFUL ROLE IN THE COMMUNITY TO MAXIMIZE THEIR DEVELOPMENT
- Provide young children with many opportunities to participate in the real activities of people in their community, such as self-care, care of the environment, and meal/ snack preparation. It is truly amazing how much more courteous, caring, and contributive young children are when they are treated like genuine and valued members of the community, so you will be helping them develop healthy brains AND responsible behavior.
- Assign tasks based on children’s personal interests and emergent roles in the community.
- Scaffold their participation in such activities, making it easier for them to become increasingly independent. For example, while they are learning to dress and undress and use the toilet independently, dress them in clothing they can manage without adult assistance.
- Establish rotating “chores” for children to take responsibility for.
- Begin activities with the child getting the materials out and end with the child putting the materials away—as people must learn to do.
AVOID THESE COMMON APPROACHES TO YOUNG CHILDREN THAT MAY INTERFERE WITH DEVELOPMENT OF EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONS
- The adults do all the meaningful community activities.
- Wait until young children can do things perfectly before allowing them to try real activities.
- Assign arbitrary and meaningless tasks—“busy work” – disconnected from children’s developmental interests.
IN SUMMARY– Keep in mind that young children are intrinsically motivated to develop the skills and capabilities they see in the people around them. So, it’s only natural that, when adults give young children a meaningful role in the community, young children participate meaningfully in the activities of the community — and find their brains and their natural learning instincts engaged in purposeful activities. They perceive a sense of belonging and purpose in participating constructively in common community activities. They help each other and experience pride in their community. They develop a sense of responsibility for others and the environment. And they demonstrate increased ability to concentrate, focus their attention, and persist at tasks.
Give toddlers a meaningful role in the community, and they will develop great brains and great behaviors!