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Posted by on in Early Childhood

school line 1

It’s funny, the things we assume. It seems that there are certain understandings/beliefs we possess that we imagine everyone else possesses as well. But of course that’s an unrealistic expectation.

This was brought to light for me recently when I held a conversation with early childhood expert and preschool director Deborah Stewart. We were talking about transitions in early childhood settings – those many periods during the day when the children are moving from one subject, or one place, to another. Experts have contended that transitions can be an accumulation of wasted time. And anyone who works with groups of young children knows how chaotic they can become.

To address both of those issues, I’ve always believed that transitions should be planned, just as other parts of the day are planned – that, with just a little imagination, transitions could be both manageable and meaningful.

Those beliefs seem reasonable to me, but Deborah made a couple of observations during our discussion that took me by surprise.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

alg classroom kids

The list of consequences for kids forced to sit too long is a lengthy one. Among other things, sitting is now considered as detrimental to health as is smoking (the human body was built to move!). Research also has shown us that sitting increases fatigue and reduces concentration, neither of which is an optimal condition for learning. And we all know that young children need to physically experience concepts to best understand them. So, when I tell you that too much sitting in classrooms also leads to an inability to master body and spatial awareness, you might think that it’s no big deal, considering the other consequences.

But let’s ponder it. As adults we use our body and spatial awareness to navigate through the world. We can (usually) walk down a crowded sidewalk without bumping into a lamppost, or maneuver our way around trees on a crowded ski slope. We find our way to work and through large shopping malls. We fit our cars into narrow parking spaces or garages and, more importantly, keep our cars from coming into contact with other cars, people, or objects. We understand the social customs that dictate we not be like the “close talker” depicted on an episode of Seinfeld. We understand that some people do not want to be touched. And when a hug or a handshake is appropriate, we’ve learned how strong and how long it should be.

These are lessons that cannot be learned by sitting at a desk. Like so much else in early childhood, body and spatial awareness must be experienced and practiced if they’re to develop fully. When a baby is born, we realize she doesn’t come equipped with a perfectly functioning proprioceptive sense (awareness of her body in space). That’s why we play “I’ve got your nose,” “This Little Piggy,” and knee-bouncing, lifting, and spinning games with her. But when she starts navigating her way through the world via crawling and walking, the only consideration we give to her spatial sense is whether or not she’s going to bang into the coffee table. And if she doesn’t – or doesn’t continually – we take for granted that she’ll be able to successfully navigate her way through the world.

And maybe she will. But we’ve all had children in our classes who line up too closely to one another, and who bump into everyone and everything. We’ve all had children whose desire to “crash and go boom” overrides any respect for personal space. Who hug or tag or poke too hard. Who view themselves as clumsy or uncoordinated and therefore lack confidence in their physical abilities. And many a child has shown up in second or third grade not knowing his elbow from his shoulder, or unable to distinguish the difference between a lowercase “b” and a lowercase “d.”

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

young boy writing with pencil

I once had a reading specialist tell me that the only way for children to learn to read is for them to read. I never have figured out how one learns to do something she can’t yet do by doing it! But I sometimes feel as though I’m in the minority here, as this attitude seems to be a fairly prevalent one – and not just in the area of reading.

recently I had the opportunity to talk with pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom and early childhood specialist Amanda Morgan on my radio show, Studentcentricity. As I told these two dedicated professionals at the beginning of the discussion, while doing some instructional coaching last fall, I watched as a kindergarten teacher handed out pencils to the children, along with some lined paper, and instructed them to practice their writing. And what I witnessed made me sad. Not only were these children not prepared to write; also, their little hands were having a terrible time controlling those long, skinny, yellow things. But despite those two overwhelmingly obvious facts, it was clear that the teacher believed that the only way these students could learn to write was by writing.

For those who understand child development, however, it’s clear that this is a serious misconception. All forms of development, including the fine motor development required to manipulate a pencil, involve a process. And unless a child has progressed through the stages necessary to ensure the appropriate hand strength and fine motor control, trying to write is an exercise in futility and frustration.

Motor skills develop from the inside to the outside of the body, and from the large to the small muscles. That means that until a child has control over such body parts as the trunk and arms, control of the hands and fingers just ain’t happening. And it is due to this progression, put in place by none other than Mother Nature, that it’s been said – believe it or not -- that the best way to prepare children to write is to let them swing on monkey bars. Or, as Angela recommended during our conversation, to let them hang from tree limbs, because the limbs stimulate more parts of the hands than do the monkey bars. She also recommended crawling, particularly in the outdoors, where the arches of the hands will contact far different surfaces than they would indoors. And, of course, hanging from tree limbs and crawling have the added benefit of strengthening the body’s large muscles, which must take place before the hands and fingers are ready to write!

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

stop bullying

I don’t know about you, but when I think about bullying in school, I tend to think about older kids. You know, middle school tough guys and mean girls. But I recently had the privilege and the pleasure of interviewing Blythe Hinitz, co-author of The Anti-Bullying and Teasing Book, and Jill Berkowicz, whose thoughtfulness and wisdom has made her a frequent contributor to Studentcentricity, and the topic was the prevention of bullying, beginning in preschool. When I asked Blythe why we had to address a subject like bullying at the preschool level, her answer was simple: because then we wouldn’t have bullying at later grade levels.

Following the interview, Blythe sent more thoughts, along with some valuable resources for teachers.

Takeaways

Adults in the home and group setting set the tone of the environment and protect its safety.

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Posted by on in What If?

The Thinker

On more than one occasion I’ve been heard muttering that we have far too few critical thinkers in this world – that too many people simply behave like sheep. Some of us studied critical thinking in college – but most of us wouldn’t associate it with early childhood. Yet that’s exactly when Roberta Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, and Jill Berkowicz – recent guests on Studentcentricity – believe we should begin fostering it. They also contend that it’s really quite easy – because the little ones are already critical thinkers and teachers just need to “give the work to the children.”

I absolutely loved the conversation with these three brilliant, passionate, critical thinkers. They give me hope in an education climate that’s obsessed with kids having “one right answer” – and a world in which there are people who seem to be engaging in no thinking at all.

In answer to the question, why is critical thinking important, Kathy replied:

I think we want people to think differently about what counts as success.  In a Google world you can look up facts in just seconds. What is key is what you do with those facts.

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