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Posted by on in What If?

road

When we talk about children’s challenging behavior, there are several conversational roads we take. The first, more old-fashioned and “mindless", instead of "mindful” (Ellen J. Langer) road we take is this: “He’s spoiled. His father does everything for him. They don’t’ discipline him at home.” This is a comment from a very young ECE student about a two-and-a-half year old in her classroom. “We have talked to the parents and they have him in therapy.” Not knowing all the ins and outs of the relationship of the family and center, all I could say was, “He’s two and a half? He hits, and won’t share? Hmmm. Sounds sort of two-ish to me. But has he been screened for vision and hearing? Those issues often make a big difference in behavior."

My response, on the fly, was born of experience. I once had a four who would refuse to look at puzzles and letters. His Dad was frantic that he wouldn’t be ready for kindergarten, and coached the tearful boy at home every night. (Imagine!) I asked about his vision, because his drawing was disconnected, heads and arms floating away from the bodies like helium balloons. The father was military, so they had only visited a military pediatrician. “Let’s wait six months,” they heard, time after time. I consulted with a friend whose daughter had difficulty with her eyes. The mom (who wasn’t, thank God, in the military) took her child to a terrific pediatric ophthalmologist. I recommended that the parents “got out of the service” to get more expert help. They got permission, and the boy was diagnosed with farsightedness! This boy couldn’t see up close, hence no puzzles, no letters. But lots of anxiety due to not being able to perform for his Dad. Did I mention his social skills were poor at school, and he cried in frustration over small things? Do you think his social skills improved after he got glasses? If you think no, you do not yet get the connection between the body and mind in a young child.

Another road that parents and teachers take is to label a child as having a disability without systematic observation by a teacher or other professional. Years after the boy with farsightedness, I had a four-year-old girl in my group with intense behavioral issues (pinching teachers HARD and not letting go, hitting other children). Her mother asked me almost every day, “Do you think she has ADHD?”. That is another quick judgment that parents and teachers make when they face a child who is having trouble fitting in, socially. Noting that I wasn’t qualified to judge, and, indeed, would be practicing medicine without a license to diagnose (which I tell my students, often—don’t diagnose), I suggested we go through the Child Find process to make sure we weren’t missing anything. In this case, the child passed her tests with flying colors, but the Child Find committee wisely recommended parenting classes at a reputable agency run by the school system. No more two hours of television before school. No more self-chosen bedtimes. The girl’s behavior improved.

Every child is an individual. Looking at them as problems isn’t helpful, though, heaven knows, it is terribly easy to do considering the mad pace of the average child care center. Without support from a teaching team with years of experience, a young teacher might flounder in the weeds, or continue to think that a two-year-old who hits is spoiled. End of story.

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Posted by on in What If?

There are conversations in all of our lives that we have repeatedly.

"Did you brush your teeth? Are you sure?"

"Do you have to pee? Please try to go before you put your snow pants on."

"Where is/are your lunch box/agenda/library book/snow pants/mitts?!? The bus is coming!"

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Posted by on in What If?

children transitioning 640x320

If there were a list of things that young children aren’t suited (developmentally ready) to do, at the top of that list would be being still and being quiet. Yet those are the exact two requirements we try to impose on young children during most transitions. We ask them to form an orderly line (something else they’re not adept at), to stand still, and to refrain from talking. We then ask them to move from one place to another in that manner, pretending to hold bubbles in their mouths so they’ll be silent.

I ask you: Does this demonstrate an understanding of child development? Does this show respect for who and what young children are? Or is this simply a desire for control?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a fan of chaos. I absolutely want the children to do as I ask! But if I’m asking them to do that for which they’re not developmentally ready – and for which they have no intrinsic motivation – resistance and chaos will be the results. Young children perceive when we’re disrespecting them and they make us pay for that!

The end result is frustration on the part of both the children and the teachers. And that frustration isn’t pretty. On the teachers’ part, during site visits I’ve witnessed them resorting to yelling at the kids to get them to comply. It’s no wonder, then, that transitions come to be dreaded by everyone involved. And it’s no wonder that many experts refer to transitions as a waste of learning time. How can learning take place in such an environment?

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Posted by on in What If?

girl on monkey bars 500x250

How many times do you imagine a child hears an adult say, “Be careful!”? I suspect it’s a close second to them hearing, “No!” And, if it’s a female child, it may be the number-one phrase coming at them, as studies have shown that girls are cautioned far more often than boys.

This, of course, is a clear and persistent message that one shouldn’t take too many risks. That there are far too many hazards in the world. So, children learn to “stay safe.” They learn to fear.

But outright cautions aren’t the only way in which children are receiving those messages. When a school takes away all traditional playground equipment and replaces it with safe, sanitized (read: boring) plastic, they don’t need to hear the concern spoken aloud to get the message. When a school bans tag or cartwheels, children learn that it’s safer to be sedentary than physically active. When children aren’t allowed to walk – or do much of anything, really – alone, the not-so-subliminal message is that they need to be protected…from everything.

Our society – and its 24-hour news cycles – have generated so much fear that if parents and educators could literally bubble-wrap kids, I believe they would. But, as Lenore Skenazy repeatedly points out, we’re prioritizing fear over facts! She reported just last week that another school has banned cartwheels on the playground – not because there have been any injuries from cartwheels, but because the potential for injuries exists! (Does that mean we should no longer let children ride in cars?)

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Posted by on in What If?

This is the year that everything seems to matter— and yet no one knows if what they do day-to-day matters very much at all. It’s certainly the paradox of our time and especially for teachers. I think it’s important to reflect on our everyday practice and put into question our views about the purpose of education and how we engage young people.

Jacob Needleman writes about an all too typical experience:

“There they were, about fifteen boys and girls, there I was—talking, talking, talking. I couldn’t stop talking. Hands started waving in the air and I finally called on one of the students. But no sooner did she start to bring her question out that I steamrolled over it with an answer that left her absolutely no room for further questioning. I went on talking, amusingly, animatedly bringing in Plato’s cave here, the Upanishads there… Time flew by. The bell rang and suddenly the class was over. That was it, that was all. As the students cheerfully filed past me and I smiled to each of them, exchanging a few informal remarks, I began to realize in my gut what had happened. To be precise: nothing.”

This fiasco, as Needleman called it, propelled him to engage in deep reflection and eventually to take on a high school class in San Francisco after years of teaching at the college level. Later he writes, “My task is to engage that part of them that needs to achieve while calling gently to the part that dreams of Truth.”

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