Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mirror, Mirror

Remember that line from Snow White?  The wicked queen had a magic mirror that she would ask everyday, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?".  The mirror always answered that she was, until the day it named Snow White.  And so the story began.

 Wouldn't it be lovely to have a magic mirror that could honestly evaluate our strengths and weaknesses?  Self-awareness is so hard to achieve.  In a way though, we actually do have such a mirror.  We learn a lot about ourselves by the ways in which people respond to us. Part of growing up is figuring out who we are how we fit into the world, and we get much of that  information from the caring adults in our lives.  Children know how we feel about them and what we think of them, regardless of the words we use.  They intuit our true thoughts and feelings.   Our eyes are magic mirrors that reflect who they are.

I interviewed many potential teachers when I was an early childhood director.  One question I learned to omit from the interview was, "Why do you want to teach young children?".  The answer was always "Because I love children".  Unfortunately, this statement is meaningless.  Most everyone claims to love children, but what does that really mean?  Sure kids can be adorable, and affectionate, and funny and cute, and make us feel needed.  But they can also be mean and rude and defiant and hyperactive and messy.  They test our patience and can make us feel incompetent.  Loving a child isn't about saying it or even feeling it; it's about our actions.  Loving a child means working very, very hard to understand what her behaviors are communicating to us; to reach deep within ourselves for all the patience and positivity we can muster to get her through this stage, then the next.  I used to tell my teachers that they would not fall in love with every child in their class, but that every child had some lovable qualities, and it was their job to identify, appreciate, and build on those qualities.  It's no easy task, but it's the only way that children can learn.  They need to know, deep in their bones, that we really care for them. 

One day a prospective teacher was giving a model lesson to a toddler class.  A little boy in that class had been presenting behavior problems; frequently hitting the other children, pulling their toys away, and even biting.  The teachers, parents, and I were working together to identify his needs and help him learn better behavior.  At the model lesson, the prospective teacher asked each child his/her name.  This little boy said, "I'm Connor (not his real name) and I'm a bad boy".  My heart dropped to my feet.  I'm sure no one ever told him that, but he felt it.  He understood that he was attracting a lot of negative attention, and as wonderful as his teacher was, it was only human for her to feel the need to gird her strength day after day, paste on a happy face and try to manage this child's antics.  On some level, he caught all that.  

Children can sometimes misinterpret our reactions.  How many times have you heard a child say, "My teacher hates me."  This is surely an exaggeration, as anyone capable of hate is certainly incapable of teaching.  Nevertheless, the child is probably sensing something and it would be a good idea to contact the teacher and hear her thoughts.  At home, one of my daughters was convinced that every time I became angry at her I stopped  loving her. She would wail, "Mommy hates me!".   It took lots of one-on-one time and conversation for  her to believe that I loved her no matter what.  Even if she did a bad thing and even if I was very  angry, she was my precious child and I still loved her. Behaviors can be bad; but children are not.  It's important to separate the behavior from the inner-self.  I wanted my daughter to know that there was nothing she could ever do to make me stop loving her.

These examples show how exquisitely sensitive children are to the feelings of  adults .  It's not terrible for them to see our disappointment or even anger.  Disappointment shows that we know they can do better.  Anger, as long as it is controlled, can even serve as an important teaching tool.  Children see that anger is a normal human emotion, and that the speech or behavior that prompted it is deeply offensive.  By observing how we behave when we're angry, children can learn ways to manage their own angry feelings.

I've heard it said that eyes are the window to the soul.  I personally believe that children are almost like angels.  They're so new to the earth, and haven't yet sinned.  Maybe that's why they can look into our eyes and read us like a book.  For their sake, I continue to work on myself, so that when a child looks into my eyes all he sees is love and kindness.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Say What??

Kids say the funniest things.  How often have you been surprised by a child's unintentional laugh-out-loud comment?  As my kids were growing up, and I worked with so many kids at school, I kept saying I would write these things down; it would make a great book.  But I never did, and now I'm left with the few quips that made their way into my long-term memory.  I've sort of categorized some of these sayings here.

One of the first that comes to mind is the way that small children can confuse names.  For example, when my daughter was little, someone asked her the name of her doll.  She said, "Allison".  We didn't know anyone by that name, so I asked her, "Who's Allison?".  "Allison Wonderland", she replied.  In the early childhood playground one day a girl said to me, "I know your name.  It's Georgia".  I said, "You're right.  But do you know my Hebrew name?  I'll give you a hint.  It's the same as yours".  She lit up with a bright smile and said, "Princess?".  Another girl told her mother that I was the princess of the school.  Someone had told her that I was the principal, and she confused the words.  And then there are the children who think Ella Mennow invented the alphabet: " l-m-n-o-p".

Some of the things that kids say demonstrate how they are beginning to acquire vocabulary, even though they lack mastery.  Like when my daughter told me she was "boring" because she had nothing to do.  Or a little girl came to class with no pennies for the charity box because her daddy was "broken". I once told a two year old to hit a ball with a bat.  After I tossed it to her, she watched it fall to the ground and then proceeded to beat it with her bat.  A little boy listened as I read Where's Spot? to his toddler class.  On one page there is a big speech bubble next to a turtle and he said, "The turtle's eating a potato!".

I love the way kids can be so unselfconscious about their appearance.  The picture above is of my granddaughter, minutes after she raided her mother's make-up bag and said, "I no do nothing!".  Another time, she was at a family gathering where I had served chips, veggies, and dip.  She came into the kitchen with her face covered in white.  "What's on your face?", asked my daughter.  "Face paint!", she said.  It was dip.  Then there was a little boy in a four year old class that covered his face with a thick layer of white sun block before going out to play.  I told him to look in the full length mirror we had in the housekeeping corner.  He framed his face with his hands, tilted his head, and said, "Adorable!".

Bathroom words are hilarious to young children, and often used to break the ice.  When my daughter was five, she was shy to attend birthday parties.  I once brought her to a party and two little boys ran over to her.  "Doody", said one.  "Pee-pee", said the other.  Done.  She ran off laughing to play with them.  Another time, I brought one of my grandsons to visit his cousin.  They were both five at the time.  At first they were a little shy.  Then one said, "I farted".  The other answered, "I made doody in my pants".  They cracked up laughing and were inseparable all day.  Another grandson was on the toilet with the door ajar.  He called out to his mom, "Mommy, right doody's a bathroom word?".  "Yes" confirmed my daughter.  "Well, I'm in the bathroom now" and he made up a song/chant, "doody, doody, doody, doody,".

There are times when we are surprised by our children's perspectives of the world. My daughter had a treasured Grover doll that she lost.  Weeks later, we were in Toys R Us, and she spotted a Grover doll on the shelf.  "Grover!", she caIled.  "I looked and looked for you!". In a Pre-k class, the teacher was reading a book to the children on the carpet while the assistant prepared the tables for the next activity.  One boy said to the teacher, "Why does the other teacher do all the work?".  An incredibly touching moment happened to me several years ago.  A little boy immigrated from Israel in September and started kindergarten without a word of English.  He began acting out, hitting the other children.  I carved out some time each day to teach him English in my office, with books, songs, and finger plays.  He was very bright, and by December, he was acclimating well to his class.  The next year when he was in first grade he saw me in the cafeteria. He looked up at me and said, "I knew you when I didn't know anything". Wow.  He remembered feeling lost and confused, and he remembered that I helped him.  A definite highlight of my career.

Sometimes kids say things and we scratch our heads, clueless as to where they come up with these things.  A group of four year olds was playing airplane.  They lined up their chairs and were preparing for take-off when one little girl shouted, "No sex on the airplane!" .  ???!!!  In another class, a teacher of three's played music at clean-up time. Each time it started, one little boy jumped up and yelled, "Cha-cha!".  The class started a routine of dancing at clean up time!

Not everything kids say is funny.  I have some very poignant memories too, which I'll save for another time.  But whether funny or serious, we can learn a lot by listening to our children. Maybe it's not too late to start writing things down.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


 Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  It continues to hold deep meaning for me, from both its historical and spiritual perspectives. Thanksgiving commemorates a successful harvest for the newly arrived Pilgrims, achieved through the beneficence of the host culture of Native Americans.  Two peoples, seemingly completely different, sat together to celebrate the bounty of Mother Earth and the collaboration of her children.  A societal ideal for which we still strive today.

For my family, Thanksgiving is the one holiday that we can fully celebrate together.  Gratitude for the blessings of life transcends religion.  While we try to live gratefully everyday, it's so nice to have one special day dedicated to being thankful.  Just like we try to respect our mother everyday, but treat her extra specially on Mothers Day.  Filling our homes with family and friends, filling our table with festive foods, taking time to acknowledge the goodness in our lives; this is the essence of Thanksgiving, and a huge cause for celebration.  

Gratitude is a difficult character trait to instill in our children, because it stems from a feeling.  What we can teach are the physical actions that demonstrate gratitude, such as saying "please" and "thank you".  At first, saying these words may not mean much to a child, but when practiced over and over, they do plant seeds of gratitude.  Children who are accustomed to saying "thank you"  come to recognize the actions or words that prompt that response.  For example, if they are taught to say "thank you" every time someone gives them a snack, they will eventually identify receiving a snack as a signal for thanks.   We can also encourage them to perform acts of kindness, such as calling grandma or a sick friend,  and let them know how much their actions are appreciated.

Children learn best by observing the important adults in their lives, so we can teach gratitude through our own behaviors. We can be sure to say thank you to people who serve us, either at a gas station, restaurant, supermarket, etc. If  a child says something nice, or makes us a picture, or picks up his toys when asked, we can let him know how grateful we are for his thoughtfulness.   We can talk about how much we appreciate the people and things in our lives, helping children see that everything we have is a gift; nothing should be taken for granted.

Prefacing a request with "please" can engender gratitude too.  By saying "please", we acknowledge someone else's control over what we want.  Even if we are sure to receive it, whatever it may be, "please" teaches us that we are not owed or entitled.   We respect the kindness of others. In this way, "please" is an advanced expression of gratitude.  I once met a boy in the supermarket parking lot who was clearly being taught good manners.  I had just emptied my cart into the trunk of my car.  He approached me and asked for the cart.  I said "Please", meaning please take it.  He said, "Please?", thinking I was telling him to say please.  

If  we truly believe that everything we have is a gift, then gratitude becomes easier.  And when we feel grateful, we feel happier, and more at peace.  That's a wonderful gift to pass on to our children.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cooking With Kids

The kitchen is the heart of the home.  It is the central gathering place for family members, a place of warmth where we feel cared for and safe .  Cooking for our family expresses our love for them, as we nourish them with healthy food that enables them to grow, and we nurture them with tastes that bring them pleasure.  Food preparation involves all of our senses: the kitchen fills with aroma; we feel the warmth of the oven; we hear the sounds of boiling or frying or perking (coffee; notice the coffee pots in both pictures); we're given a sample to touch and taste.  These are very soothing sensory experiences, so we feel comforted, secure, at peace.

Involving our children in cooking is so good for them, in so many ways.  At home, children learn the life skills of food preparation and forge a generational connection that will follow  them into adulthood.  Children generally love to be included in the cooking process, and gain a feeling of competence and value as they contribute to the family.  Including children however adds time to the process, so it's not always feasible.  Still, if they start with small tasks they will gain proficiency and be ready to take on more.  The longer we do something the better we get at it.  Even small children can be taught to add ingredients, to wash vegetables, to crack eggs (tap, crack, and use thumbs to separate), to peel and cut, pour and mix. 

I think children gravitate toward preparing their favorite foods.  As a child, it was my job to make the salad.  My mother taught me to tear the lettuce and dribble just enough olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat each piece.  To this day, I make the best salad (just sayin) and never measure.  Her father did all the cooking in their house, and we visited them at least once a week.  My job was to taste the macaroni.  Grandpa would trust me to know when it was ready.  Again, to this day I do not time anything I cook.  I just sort of know when it's done.  In my family, one of my daughters makes the best french fries.  Another is an incredible baker.  And another has a favorite dessert she makes every Passover.  It's a touching experience to eat at their homes, enjoying so many of the foods I normally cook.

Cooking is an integral part of most early childhood classrooms.  It's a wonderful experience for young children who are just learning to separate from their parents, because it evokes homey feelings, fortifying the home-school connection.  It's also a terrific way to learn math and science, as children measure ingredients and observe the changes that occur when foods are mixed and/or cooked.  The caveat to all this learning is that children be allowed to cook independently. Teachers know that children learn by doing, but tend to take over for them when it comes to cooking.   In too many classrooms, I have seen the children watch the teacher measure and mix, while they sit around a table waiting for a turn to stir.  To be effective, cooking should be done in small groups, so that each child has an authentic opportunity to learn.  Children can be taught to follow a recipe, maybe in rebus form (with pictures).  They can learn to measure, to cut, to mix, to pour, etc.  School supply stores sell child-size utensils for cooking.  A good one is, a Montessori catalogue. 

Children are most often recipients.  We do a lot for them.  Teaching them to cook allows them to become givers.  It feels good to give, to be generous, to be loving, to be needed.  Opening the doors to giving is a precious gift to children.  Mix in the sensory experiences of preparing foods, and the math, science, and reading lessons is pretty much the ideal teaching tool!

Sunday, November 12, 2017


A reader asked for my thoughts on bullying.  I've avoided the topic for awhile because I don't think I know that much about it.  Nevertheless, bullying is so common, so harmful, and so relevant to our times, that I find I'm thinking about it a lot.  

Most of my experience has been in early childhood education, where we see the seeds of bullying, but not real bullying per se.  It begins when children try to attach dire consequences to not getting what they want:  "If you don't let me play with your new toy, you can't come to my party", or "I won't be your friend".  They've learned that undesirable behaviors have consequences, and they try to intimidate their friend to satisfy their wants.  These children can be taught to use better language.  The adults in their lives should point out that words can be as hurtful as as hitting.  Telling someone they can't come to your party will hurt their feelings, and not be true anyway.  It's better to be direct:  "That's a great toy.  Can I have a turn?".  If the child is denied a turn, we can help her find something else to play with, talk about her favorite playthings, involve her in another activity.  We can also ask the child with the special toy to grant a few minutes to his friend, or think about a way that they can play with it together.  Without adult guidance, can this turn into bullying as they get older?

Another germ of bullying in early childhood can be seen when a child is excluded from play.  "You can't play with us".  This is very difficult for adults to witness and so painful to the child.  We expect everyone to be friends and get along.  Realistically though, this is not so easy.  Even as adults, we click better with some people than others, we prefer to spend time with some friends over others.  This happens with children, too.  However, telling someone they can't play is rude and hurtful.  We made a rule in my early childhood programs that "You can't say you can't play".  In school, learning to get along with others, maybe especially with those who are different, is a core part of the curriculum.  

Of course no one would ever ask, but any four year old could name the "weird" kid in his class.  Children who present differently than their peers can make those around them uncomfortable.  It's hard to relate and find common ground.  This is where the teacher must step in and seek ways to "normalize" the child; show respect and use positive language for his ideas and his class work; find ways to include him in play with others, either through a board game, which forces turn-taking, or simply sharing toys at the play-dough or sand tables.  Sitting with the child at these times to facilitate conversations will help him integrate with his classmates.  Again, if there is no adult guidance in this scenario, can this become bullying?

Bullying among older children is harder to pinpoint because it does not take place in front of adults.  I remember a girl in my elementary school that was called the "Cootie Queen".  Boys especially would laugh and make fun of her regularly.  I'm ashamed to say, I did nothing, and even understood why they called her that.  She was always dirty, with greasy hair and raggedy clothes.  She was very quiet and withdrawn.  In this case, the bullies were saying aloud what others were thinking.  And in this case, I think the adults could have done more to prevent the taunts.  A caring teacher could have talked to the girl about hygiene and called the parents.  One of the hardest calls I ever made as an early childhood director was to the parents of a child who smelled terribly.  The parents determined that she wasn't wiping herself properly after toileting.  I don't know, but I like to think that we saved her from being teased.

There are many school programs to combat bullying.  In general, I think the best way to fight it is to make it cool to be kind.  Adults should refrain from gossip.  We need to watch our words when talking about people or institutions, like the school.  We should not allow our children to talk badly about anyone.  Talking badly about someone can turn to talking badly to someone. Children should also either avoid, or at least be taught about, TV characters who are portrayed as 'stupid', 'nerdy', less than others.  It is so important to find the good in everyone and speak kindly.

Victims of bullying need support. Teachers and parents should encourage them to report any incident that makes them uncomfortable.  Reporting incidents of bullying is not tattling.  Parents can take note of any social skills that their child may need to strengthen.  We can teach her to make eye contact, to use good posture, to modulate her voice so it's not too loud and not too soft.   Encourage children to pursue  their special interests in a club or summer camp where they might meet other children who share those interests.  We can also encourage play dates, and participation in social events at school or in the neighborhood.  A child who can count on trusted adults, who feels good about herself, and who has one or two close friends should be less likely to feel like a victim.

The effects of bullying can be fatal, as we've seen too many times.  Teens especially are so sensitive to what others say and think about them.  Maybe that's one reason they're addicted to social media.  Technology can be our worst enemy in fighting bullying.  We all must recognize the power of words, and teach our kids to never put anything in writing that they wouldn't say to someone's face.  Words hurt, maybe more so in writing, where the tone is left to our imagination.

I believe we were all made in the image of G-d.  Every life is sacred.  If we try hard to speak and act as if we really believe that, maybe our children will learn kindness and stop bullying.  I hope so.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Parent Teacher Conferences: Making Them Work

The home-school connection is a vital component of education.    When school and home share the same philosophy and approach to learning, children thrive.  Parents and teachers become partners. They work in tandem for the benefit of the children. By  communicating openly with each other, they enable seamless guidance and support for the child in both environments.   The key ingredient to making it all work?  Trust. 

Developing trust takes time.  Teachers gain parents' trust when they reach out at the beginning of the year to introduce themselves, to let parents know how their children are adjusting to the new school year, to share information about their availability for calls or emails.  They can write newsletters or blogs to keep parents up to date on class happenings and upcoming events.  They can share photos and anecdotes with parents, giving a peek into their child's school experiences.  They take the time to get to know the child, and find ways to communicate that to parents.

Parents  gain teachers' trust when they respond to requests for supplies or information; when they make sure their child comes to school on time, well rested and well fed; when they let the teacher know of any extenuating circumstances at home that may affect the child's behavior in school; when they keep a sick child at home.  A parent who demonstrates respect for school rules and culture is the ideal partner in a child's education.

Parent Teacher Conferences are brief meetings at which teachers  share their observations of a child's performance in class, and parents  give feedback about how they see their child responding to the learning program.  Teachers can show work samples and discuss ways in which the child relates to classmates and activities.  Parents may have questions about areas of specific interest to their child.  The teacher is an expert in working with groups of children; the parent is an expert in his own child.   Both have valuable information that can facilitate the child's healthy development.

Any behavioral or academic concerns ought to be addressed prior to the Parent Teacher Conference.  If the teacher notices that a student struggles to complete tasks, for example, the first thing she does is keep a log of her observations, to try to find a pattern.  Does he finish some tasks but not others?  Are there distractions?  Is the work too easy? Too hard?  Once she identifies a pattern, she can take steps to remediate.  She contacts the parent to  explain her concerns, her observations, and the steps she is taking to help.  She can ask for reinforcement at home, and/or find out if the parents have a better strategy.  

Behavioral issues are often more difficult to address.  Parents are naturally very protective of their children, and may be quick to blame the school for any reported behavior problems.  This is where trust becomes critical.  If a parent trusts that the teacher understands and appreciates his child; if the teacher communicates her concerns through a lens of caring and is using positive strategies to address the child's behaviors, the parent and teacher are more likely to work together in the child's best interests.  Naming a problem is not enough.  Placing blame is not enough.  The goal is to understand the child's individual needs and temperament, and to find ways to accommodate those needs and that temperament within the classroom.  It's hard work, and  requires teachers and parents to pool their knowledge and plan accordingly.

There are no surprises at Parent Teacher Conferences.  Any issues have been discussed beforehand.  At these meetings, teachers and parents can share their pride in a child's achievements. Parents get a little window into their child's life away from them. Teachers and parents share snippets of the child's personality in action.  And they marvel at the amazing privilege of` having a hand in the growth and development of a precious child.

Monday, November 6, 2017

That's Not Fair!

Young children seem to be hyper-vigilant about getting their fair share, especially of things like treats.  If we offer them jelly beans, for example, we must count out each one so that everyone gets the exact same amount.  Otherwise we are sure to hear, "No fair!  He got 6 and I only got 5!."  Each slice of cake must be as close to the same size as possible.  That goes for drinks, too.  Kids will line their cups up next to each other to make sure that one doesn't have more than another. They even covet the color of things given out, like balloons, or cereal bowls, or whatever.  Anything we plan to give to more than one child has to be counted and calculated to make sure that there are enough for everyone to have the same.  There seems to be an unwritten rule that another kid's treat is always better.

With very young children, this unwritten rule also applies to toys.  A toddler often wants to play with the same toy as the child next to her.  This problem can often be resolved by having doubles of toys, although I've seen plenty of children carry on tearfully even when given an identical toy because it is not that one.  In these instances, we have an opportunity to teach our children about sharing.  Perhaps the one with the prized toy is willing to trade with the one who feels short-changed.  If so, he deserves praise for being kind and rising above those petty and false feelings of injustice.  If he won't give it up, we can teach both children about turn taking and waiting for what they want.

As adults,we know that these demands are unreasonable.  Does it really matter if someone else has an a half ounce more lemonade than me?  Will that diminish my enjoyment?  I don't understand the origins of these innate feelings that young children have, but I do understand the need to prove, in these small ways, that each one is loved and precious.  No one is better or more deserving than anyone else. 

 There are times however, when it is very important to treat our children differently, especially when it comes to their individual needs.  In this arena, treating them differently is a testament to our deep love and concern for them.  Accommodating children's individual needs is just as important at school as at home.  At home for example, I would not buy sneakers for all of my children if only one had outgrown them or worn them out. If one child needed sneakers, he would get them.  The other children knew that when the time came, they would also get new sneakers, or a backpack, or a jacket, or whatever they needed.  Fulfilling a child's need at the right time is a reassuring sign that he is well cared for.  Buying him new sneakers when his sister needs new sneakers does nothing to respect his individuality.  

Every child enters the world with her own unique temperament and personality.  Even with the same parents, home, and upbringing, children will differ in their behaviors, interests, and talents.  Part of the work of parenting is to understand who our children are and to provide an environment and experiences in which they can thrive.  A very active child might enjoy sports or gymnastics.  A quieter child might prefer art, cooking, or music.  A very sociable child can visit and invite friends frequently.  We don't necessarily sign all of our children up for the same activities.  We look for ways to nurture their individual inclinations.

 There is a famous Jewish proverb that states, "Teach a child according to his way and he will not depart from it."  This is a hallmark of high quality education, known as differentiation.  All children can learn, but not all children learn in the same way.   Teachers look at each individual student to find his/her way.  How does this child learn best?  Does he need more visuals?  More movement?  Materials to manipulate?  Just like at home, the best way to nurture a child and help him learn and grow is to appeal to his own, unique way of navigating the world.  

Life is not always fair.  Some of us have more than others, whether it's money, health, beauty, or anything else .  To be happy, we must appreciate the value of what we do have.  Figuring out our child's individual needs and spirit, and taking steps to nurture her  accordingly, will help her to recognize her own value.  In that way,  she will have what she needs to be happy.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Child Art

The Spanish artist Pablo Picasso once said, "All children are artists.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

Art is a form of self-expression, one of many modes we can use to communicate our thoughts and emotions.  Through art, young children express themselves fearlessly, without inhibitions.  They are not self-conscious about their work as they paint or draw.  For them, the joy is in the process, with little, if any, forethought to the outcome. Unfortunately, as we grow older, most of us lose the capacity to engage solely in the process.  Adults are more concerned with the product: what should this look like when it's finished?; what does it represent?  Perhaps that's why the first question many adults ask a child about her art is, "What is it?".  More often than not, it's nothing.  It's the movement of her hand in response to how she felt at the moment. 

It's unfortunate that we lose that innocence in expressing ourselves.  As we grow up and come to understand the nuances of how we fit in the world we become more fearful of being hurt, judged or criticized.  And unfortunately, most of the time, we are our own worst critics. Many  adults also lose their artistic abilities simply because we no longer employ them.  I make the same stick figures, houses, and trees as I did as a five year old, because that's when I stopped drawing.  Developmentally, my artistic skills are stuck at that level.  I think that applies to lots of people. 

Art is of course one of many forms of self-expression.  Loris Malaguzzi, a founder of the world famous early childhood schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy,  coined the phrase, "the hundred languages of children".  Everyone wants to be heard, to connect, to make a place for our inner selves in the outer world.  And that is best accomplished through the creative arts.  Music, painting, sculpture, drama, photography, dance, poetry, etc., etc., give us the means to express  our thoughts, dreams, understandings, and imaginations.  Literally in a hundred ways.  In my opinion, this universal desire to reach beyond the confines of the material world is proof of the soul within us.  

Treasure the art that your child creates.  If he shows you a painting, talk about the colors, shapes, brush strokes.  Let him see the value in the process of creation, without the need to define a finished product.  Be honest.  Only say it's beautiful if you really think it is.  Instead you might praise the effort; "You must have worked hard on this.  I see you covered all the white on the paper".  If she does make an attempt at representational art, simply ask her to tell you about it.   Introduce your child to famous artists and their works, through books and/or a museum visit.  Encourage him to notice the details of color, shape, theme, thickness of brush strokes, people, expressions. Think and talk about how the artist communicates to the viewer through these details. "Are the colors dark or light?  How do you feel when you look at bright colors?"  Engaging with famous works of art in this way will build observation skills and inspire your child to try new techniques in his own work.  

We can't all be a Picasso or even a Malaguzzi.  But we can give our children time and opportunities to engage in the creative arts, enabling them to find a language for their own inner voice.