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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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Posted by on in What If?

Jumping in leaves

Last year I was doing site visits, having been hired to observe PreK to second-grade classrooms and offer suggestions for more active learning. On two different occasions I walked into a room just as the class was scheduled to go outside to recess. But the teachers didn’t feel like going outside – so the kids wandered aimlessly about the classroom throughout the 20-minute period allotted to recess.

The teachers apparently considered this “indoor recess” acceptable, but I did not – for many, many reasons.

From a physical perspective, the outdoors is the very best place for children to practice and master emerging motor skills. It is in the outdoors that children can fully and freely experience such skills as running, leaping, and jumping. It is also the most appropriate area for the practice of ball-handling skills, like throwing, catching, and striking. And children can perform other such manipulative skills as pushing a swing, pulling a wagon, and lifting and carrying movable objects. Heaven knows they have too few opportunities for exercising the upper torso these days! And because development occurs from large to small body parts, children who’ve had such experiences are much better prepared for such fine-motor skills as handwriting.

Additionally, it is in the outdoors that children are likely to burn the most calories, which helps fight obesity, a heart disease risk factor that is plaguing children. With studies showing that as many as half of American children are not getting enough exercise -- and that risk factors like hypertension and arteriosclerosis are showing up at age 5! -- parents and teachers need to give serious consideration to ways in which to prevent such health problems.

Cognitive and social/emotional development are also impacted by time spent outdoors. Outside, children are more likely to invent games. As they do, they're able to express themselves and learn about the world in their own way. They feel safe and in control, which promotes autonomy, decision-making, and organizational skills. Inventing rules for games (as kids like to do) promotes an understanding of why rules are necessary. Although the children are only playing to have fun, they're learning

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Posted by on in What If?

autism awareness

A new government survey suggests that one in 45 children, ages 3 to 17, has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. It’s quite likely, then, that you will have one or more of these children in your classroom at some point. But very few of us know a lot about the disorder -- how to recognize the signs, or what accommodations to make for these students. So I invited Tricia Shelton, an expert in ASD, to join me on Studentcentricity, along with teacher Melanie Link Taylor.

Following our conversation, Tricia contributed this takeaway:

Teaching students with ASD can be challenging because the disorder is highly complex and can manifest differently in each student. Like their typically-developing counterparts, students with ASD have differing needs, strengths, and interests. Educators must take the time to get to know their students with ASD and to find strategies that work well for individual children. Be mindful that the first attempt at implementing a strategy may not be successful. Further, a strategy that is effective for one student with ASD may not be particularly helpful for another child. Teachers must be resilient in their efforts to support students with ASD.  However, no educator should feel alone in his/her practice; teachers should work with others both within and beyond the school community to help learners with ASD be successful.  Through this type of collaboration as well as on-going professional development, educators can offer students with ASD daily opportunities to reach their potential.

Melanie added:

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Tagged in: Autism