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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

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

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

children playing music

Music makes everything better. I recently gave a presentation about this topic to caregivers and teachers in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I emphasized the tremendous importance of music experiences for young children, talked about using music and movement for behavior management, and gave examples. The attendees were enthusiastic. Many have used clean-up songs and hand-washing songs for a while. But they weren’t aware of the power of using music to elevate or calm mood, or the power of movement to smooth transitions, something my friend, Rae Pica, speaks of so eloquently on her new YouTube Channel.

I work in a quality child care center. We sing directions all the time. We make up the tunes, or use old favorite tunes with the appropriate words (to the tune of "If you’re Happy and You Know It": “Put your bottom on the rug, on the rug. Put your bottom on the rug…and give yourself a hug. Put your bottom on the rug, on the rug.” Or anything else you can think of!

I talked about what I call “waiting songs”. What are waiting songs? Why do children have to wait? In a perfect world, they shouldn’t have to, but it happens. My example to them was that sometimes the whole group is outfitted for the cold and someone suddenly has to go to the bathroom. Yes, we had them go ahead of time, but nature calls again, sometimes, and we need to accommodate. One of my waiting songs is a Raffi tune called, “Something in my shoe”. You can look on YouTube for it (but learn to sing it! Do not use a video when a live teacher is available!). At the end, the children mime, with the teacher, going to bed. So the song can be used as an activity that morphs into a settling down song before a story as well.

Wee must never waste children’s time. Having them sit still while someone “goes” is wasting their time. Asking them to join you in a waiting song gives them the opportunity to move and sing. They are practicing math skills (rhythm, rhyme, and language patterns). The steady beat of a song nurtures attention skills. Dare I say it prevents squabbling, also? It does.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

 preschool

"Let's start at the very beginning. It's a very good place to start. When we read we begin with A B C...."

Who knew I'd love teaching littles? Not me, that's for sure. 

Preschool KWLW: Here's my learning update, month seven of my what was I thinking in year forty six? Who else in their right mind would start over, at the very beginning. Like how to hold a pencil, how to handle a book with love and repair ripped pages. I think I'm doing pretty well with the goals of the literacy grant, but I'm not working in sequential order like I usually do. I feel so out of sync, then all of a sudden, voila! the pieces come together.

Show and Tell and Circle Time offer time to structure, hold a class meeting for a couple minutes, sing, stretch and say our affirmations. Growth Mindset oozing from every pore of all of us. I lead Circle two days a week. I set and Close and bring puppets, props, a costume, tell stories, you know where I'm going here. Family learning.

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