Monday, June 24, 2013

A Lack of Opportunity

Children are in a state of flux as they learn and grow.  It's not uncommon to meet a child that has strong problem solving skills, but weak fine motor skills, or a baby that may be physically skilled at walking, but little language skills.  I don't like comparing children, we all have strengths and weaknesses, but I probably say something every day that compares my younger son to my older son; "He was already using crayons without putting them in his mouth at that age," or "He is much more adventurous and sociable."  I don't want my children to be exactly the same, and I know my younger son won't be eating crayons when he goes to high school, but comparing their abilities and personalities is a natural thing, because children learn and grow differently.  Even though I think I've treated them in similar ways, there will be differences and exceptions that I may or may not be aware of.  My younger son wasn't exposed to crayons at the same age as my older son, simply because the younger was much more oral as a baby, everything went in his mouth.

When I used to screen children for their developmental abilities, I don't believe I ever played with a child the same way as the one before.  I would follow their lead first to see if they could show me what they were capable of in their natural environment.  Screening is one of the few things that make me comfortable comparing children.  Screening looks for basic developmental skills that are essential for being built upon as children grow older.  Without a proper base it's hard to build onto the next step; without the ability to hold a crayon and make simple marks or movements, it will be difficult for a child to draw specific shapes, symbols, or letters.

There were many times when I met a child behind in an area of their development, whether it was a little or a lot, that simply related to a lack of opportunity.  One of the most common things I saw involved preschool aged children and scissors.  They weren't offered scissors enough, or at all.  I met older toddlers that typically should be able to make marks with a crayon, but didn't know what to do with it.  Many children need more intense assistance due to other causes for their delay, many children catch up, and some need longer term professional assistance, but many just need more opportunities and exposure in their everyday play.

My younger son is now using crayons more often to make marks, and less often as a teething toy because I kept offering him safe opportunities; larger crayons, large paper, and sitting with him while he makes marks.  We start young where we can, as long as its age appropriate, because simply offering an opportunity is the beginning of mastering a skill.  In the photo below, my younger son is dumping and filling colorful plastic bugs into cups, an age appropriate activity.  If you look closer, you'll notice three different colored bugs, and three cups; even though he cannot sort at the age of 14 months, the opportunity is there and ready for when he does.

If you are concerned about an area of your child's development, think about the opportunities he or she is being offered to practice those skills, or if they are being offered at all.  It may simply be a lack of opportunity.  If you are concerned that it may be more than that, talk to your child care provider, pediatrician, or other early childhood professional, to help you get in contact with your local early intervention program for a possible screening.  Screening for development is not a means to rush your child into something they are not developmentally ready for, but a quick snapshot at this time in their life to see if they are on track.  

What opportunities are you offering your children today?  You can find many playful activities that exercise several areas of development in the tabs at the top of this site if you need ideas, or you can follow this group of fabulous kid activity bloggers that are filled with playful ways to practice fine motor, gross motor, problem solving, language, and social skills!

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  1. What a great post, Heather! I agree that kids are just lacking opportunity sometimes, too! Even through my son is only 2, we try to give him real objects to work gardening, working on projects with Daddy, and cooking, for instance. He still has pretend play objects to use at any time of the day, but exposing him to the tools and objects that you use (with supervision) can give them confidence and develop their skills at any early age. Sharing this! :)

    1. It's a passionate topic of mine. Real objects are the best you can get, so why not!?

  2. Lovely post and perspective, I've often thought about how differently I've parented my two boys (ages 2 and 4) based on opportunities and it's great to be reminded to keep trying to give them new experiences. Thank you!

  3. This post really hit home for me. Both of my kids joined our family through adoption. My son joined our family at 1.5 years and my daughter joined our family just shy of her third birthday.

    Both were developmentally delayed when they joined our family. I believe this was because they had had very limited stimulation during their early months and years, and neither had been given many opportunities to practice basic skills.

    Now that they are in a new environment where they have more opportunities, they are blossoming.

    I'm so thankful that my children are thriving now. I do worry, however, about other kids who might be negatively labeled or assumed to have lower intelligence simply because they haven't been provided with the same opportunities.

    1. That is something I have noticed as well Katie. Many of the opportunities needed for development are very easy to provide, it just takes time, and time can be the hardest part for some!


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