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Show and Tell
Look What I did Over the Summer: Building Courage

Summer is here. Parents can take a step back from the daily school routines as their children finish yet another school year. Although summer is meant to be fun, it’s important for parents to make sure that young children continue building healthy minds and bodies, even during the summer. Research shows that children need different learning opportunities year-round.

Young children are fast learners and are growing by leaps and bounds. They are also learning important life skills that set the foundation for how they communicate, play, think, and act as they grow. Summertime is perfect for parents to focus on building their children’s curiosity so they can become enthusiastic and self-confident learners who feel good about themselves. A child’s curiosity drives his or her investigation of new things, and that exploration leads to discovery. If the exploration is fun, children will want to keep seeking new things to explore and discover as they feel more comfortable with their own abilities. This process of repetition leads to mastery, which, in turn, leads to self-confidence (adapted from Curiosity: The Fuel of Development).

Summertime Courage
Summer is the ideal time to show kids new and fun outdoor activities, such as exploring water, insects, or plants; building a garden; cooking summer meals; learning to play a new music instrument; and making new friends. These activities go hand in hand with vocabulary building, reading, science, math, negotiating, and social skills. Two main ingredients can nourish your kid’s curiosity: courage and fun.

Courage is characterized as the willingness to try new things, take chances, and move out of our comfort zone. Courage is also an “essential piece of character development, and one that’s never too early to learn.” Some children are naturally adventurous and jump into new experiences feet first. They are the risk-takers who may need to be restrained from going too far. Other children may be alarmed when they step out of their comfort zone, even slightly. They pull back or dig in their heels rather than pursue anything unfamiliar. Most children fall somewhere in between: They are curious enough to want to try something new, but they are a little hesitant. They will eventually venture forth if they receive some coaching, some coaxing, and, maybe, some modeling.

Courage is important because it allows curious but hesitant children to try something new. The simple ability of children to try something new is success in itself, since these attempts raise their self-confidence and sense of security. The ability to try new things, even if they fall, trip, or ”fail” a thousand times, is a success—it is determination to keep trying. This energy promotes the cycle of learning for children to learn about themselves and feel the results of repeating and rediscovering, that is, mastery of new abilities, confidence, security, and a desire to seeking new exploration.

Tips for Building Courage
Parents can take different opportunities to fuel children’s courage by (adapted from “Fostering Courage in Your Preschool Child”):

  • Reframing the situation: Try to change the way your child perceives the “scary thing” by creating a new “story” about it. Ask your child what makes the “scary thing” so scary. Try recreating the story so it’s funny and colorful.
  • Starting small: Never force your child to confront his or her fears all at once. Instead, move toward the goal in small steps—each step is a success.
  • Making it a challenge: Remind your child that practice is the key to learning new things. Identify together the various things that your child has already accomplished and the way he or she did it—through lots of practice and through trial and error until he or she succeeded.
  • Allowing some space: Add space for the child to grow, learn, figure out, and manage situations by himself or herself; such space allows children to overcome their own fears. If parents allow safe space, they are encouraging their child to try new things, which, in turn, will carry over to the next activity. Soon the child will develop a range of new abilities and feel good about his or her own accomplishments.
  • Modeling courage: Share with your child some of your own fears and how you learned not to be scared. Children love to hear personal stories, and if the story is good, they will ask you to repeat it again and again.

Keeping It Fun
Keeping activities fun is the best encouragement for children to want to explore more on their own. Free play pushes children to use their creativity while developing their imagination and dexterity as well as physical, cognitive, and emotional strengths. It’s through free play that children create and explore a world they can master, conquering their own fears while practicing adult roles. Studies have shown that through free play, children can develop new abilities that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency that they will need to face future challenges.

As children continue to try new and exciting activities, they will soon become natural seekers for more new activities. As they increase their abilities in various areas, their interest will extend in different directions, such as new books on insects, mammals, people, or seasons; willingness to write or draw more shapes, letters, and numbers; and news sports, such as riding a bike or a scooter, swimming, climbing a new slide, or jumping on a trampoline. These activities seem small, but together they are key for building children with solid social, emotional, and physical health. Remember that when parents are involved in their children’s life from the beginning, the children have a much greater chance to develop into healthy, knowledgeable, responsible, and caring adults. Be creative and have fun this summer!

Family Activity: Let’s Learn Something New!<
Educator Activity: Learning Something New: How Does It Feel?


Kids Health
The following resources provide information for parents and caregivers about raising confident kids:

The National Summer Learning Association provides parents and educators with resource tools to promote summer learning:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Summer Learning” provides tips for parents to reinforce what their children learned during the past school year, as well as prepare them for the next one, by setting simple summer learning goals depending on the child’s age and interest.

Building Blocks for a Healthy Future

U.S. Department of Education
Help My Child: Reading Resources provides parents and caregivers a list of resources to help children learn to read.

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Updated on 3/22/2014