The Physical Self
Children, as physical beings, have attitudes about themselves involving their physical body. How that body moves and interacts with objects, how children think they look, the kinds of skills their bodies can do—all influence self-esteem. Self-awareness is thought to originate when infants begin to discover themselves and their environment by flinging their hands about and learning what is part of their bodies and what is not. Sensations of cold, hunger, and warmth all work together to help infants learn about body and self. During the entire sensorimotor period, children use their bodies to learn about themselves and their world.
Recognize the importance of children’s physical selves to the development of self-esteem:
- Take many photos of children for scrapbooks, bulletin boards, or gifts.
- Talk about differences in skin color. The California Tomorrow Project (1999) recommends obtaining paint chips and having children find chips that match their skin color. Children can be taught that they have different skin colors because of different amounts of melanin inside their bodies.
- Provide all kinds of mirrors for children to use—full-length, hand, magnifying—and give children feedback as they look at themselves: “You have dark brown eyes.” “Look at your shoulders.” “Where are your eyebrows?”
- Keep records of children’s height and weight. Cash-register tapes or long strips of paper, exactly the heights of the children, help them see how tall they are. Make certain you are sensitive to children who are taller or smaller than others.
- Measure other parts of the body, such as hands, feet, ears, thumbs, and noses, with arbitrary measures such as hands and feet.
- Make a graph with children’s names on one axis and skin, hair, or eye color on the other. Discuss differences in skin, hair, and eye color.
- Play games that emphasize body parts—Looby Loo or Simon Says.
- Provide large- and small-muscle equipment for children to climb in, through, over, or under and to manipulate with their fingers and hands.
- Make booklets or charts of things children can do. A booklet called I Can Run could begin with the main sentence “I can run,” which then serves as the basis for other pages in the book: “I can run quickly; I can run slowly or angrily or happily,” and so forth. Children can illustrate each page. Similar books could be titled I Can Jump, I Can Bend or Climb or Stretch or Hop and so on.
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