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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

Statistics and family studies provide us with some answers to why some dads will never see the inside of their child’s classroom. One in three children don’t have a father present in the home. That’s a little over 24 million and the number is growing.

Some dads, for various reasons, have learned to mistrust schools. They may have had a rough school experience themselves with teacher or administrators who were less than supportive. Other dads could feel wary of stepping into an active dad role due to present or past issues with the law or substance abuse. These dads may even get to a point where their self-esteem bottoms out and they feel they have nothing left to give their children.

If a dad is working all day, he may not have the opportunity to spend time in the classroom. Teachers will see him briefly at the beginning or end of the day, as he drops off or picks up his child. But, if a carpool line is in place, he may only be a face in the car window.

There is also still a stigma attached to dads who are actively involved in their young children’s education, especially for those dads whose own father was not an active participant. I think this is diminishing, but there is still the lingering belief that a mom holds the primary role of involvement in a child’s early education. It is important that we, as teachers, ensure this next generation of children understands that the early childhood environment is for everybody.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

I have been teaching Art, Music and Movement to college students for a while. There are certain concepts we try to get across to practitioners that are important to ECE professionals, and encouraged by our professional organization, NAEYC. One of those concepts is the idea of open-ended activities.

What are open-ended activities?  Do you put out a mass of materials and say, “Go get ‘em”, like one workshop participant opined? If you change materials, are you being too “teacher-ish”?

Well, yes and no…

Because many tend to think, in this post-social media age, that each question has a right and a wrong; that the right is might, and the wrong is way too strong, we have trouble seeing the grey areas. Perhaps I’d rather say the value areas. In art, adding white or black to a color changes its value. When we consider concepts, our values may change a tiny bit or a lot, depending on what is added or subtracted. So, as Diane Kashin has written, there is a continuum between a concept such as “open-ended” and its opposite. Open-ended might mean throw the lot of your materials on a table and see what they do, and closed might mean giving children directions and materials, saying what they must do with them (generally not recommended!). But in between, ah, there is a rainbow of values!

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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 General

 Todd-Whitaker-1.jpg.PNG

 

Ironically if you look up my bad in the dictionary there’s a picture of me waving.

 

Todd Whitaker

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