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Posted by on in Early Childhood

I remember listening to my mother or one of my aunts talk about things I did when I was little. But, for the most part, I could never remember doing any of those things. However, there were certain other things I can distinctly remember in great detail about my childhood… like my dad and me dancing together every night to an old McGuire Sisters record, how my mom would always have a hug and a bowl of chicken noodle soup waiting when I walked home for lunch from elementary school, and how caring and thoughtful my dad was towards my mom.

There is definitely certain stuff kids hold on to as they grow up. Parents and teachers would be wise to keep a few things in mind during the day-to-day with their littles…

The positive words you say to them. Try to watch how many negative or critical comments you toss their way. Balance it out with plenty of encouraging phrases like, “You really did your best on that,” or, “I am so proud of you.” Hearing these things will bolster their self-esteem and identity.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

I am half way through Erika Christakis’ book, The Importance of Being Little. It is nice to read something written by someone who a) Understands early childhood, and b) isn’t overly academic, and c) isn't too gentle with the idiocies of the corporate early education model. My friend, Rae Pica, also writes with the courage of her convictions. I try to emulate these women.

The point I am at in my reading is the chapter she aptly names, “The Search for Intelligent Life.” She writes that the standards movement, which I do not condemn, by the way, has birthed a marketing volcanic eruption of pre-packaged materials for teaching to standards, everything from plastic leaves to fake logs. Fake food is rampant in preschools. In my preschool career, thank goodness, our policy was that if children wanted to play with fake food, they could engineer and create it themselves. For thinking about food, looking at foods, and deciding what characteristics are the most important to each individual child is certainly more thought provoking (problem solving; creativity, anyone?) than using the plastic foods created by the masterminds of Chinese manufacturing. Children play with their own “foods” with the same intensity. Within the “standards units” marketed by Lakeshore Learning, there are whole kits to teach math to kindergarteners. Adorable plastic cards give your average five year old a chance to “solve problems” written by the company that makes them. But as I have written before, spoon feeding artificial problems to children is antithetical to mentoring their natural inclination to question, and to actively explore solutions.

So, what is a teacher, underpaid and overworked, to do?

For math, throw out the  work sheets and plastic fakery. They are not “academic.” If a child needs or wants a worksheet to solve a problem, you can mentor them by asking what, exactly, they want to know? Do they want to count the birds on the playground? This is statistics and a math activity of their choosing. Ask them to draw a grid (you, know, lines that are parallel, going horizontally and vertically. Ask them which birds they want to count, and then ask them to draw birds going down, and numbers going across. If they ask for help, only give as much as they need (scaffolding). Then hand them clipboards and pencils, shooing them outdoors. We aren’t looking for accuracy. We are looking for a learning process. As Dr. Christakis writes, “The ingredients of good teaching and coaching are learning processes, not facts”.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Yes, I know what childhood should  be… a carefree, joyful time of no worries and playful days. For the most part, that was my childhood and may have been for many of you, as well. So, it may be hard to consider the reality of a young child experiencing anxiety.

For sure, there have always been children living at risk, in marginal environments, or with domestic conflict or violence, or dealing with the repercussions of poverty. In the past, however, the stress or anxiety children suffered was the result of living and breathing it. Today, children who may have little actual risk in their family situation are getting it secondhand from the media and adult reaction to it.

Some children are more prone to anxiety than others. This happens for two reasons. First, due to genetics, they may react more strongly to stressful information or situations. And secondly, being young children, they don’t yet have the coping skills they need to roll back their strong feelings.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

The topic for my last Art, Music and Movement for Young Children class was Emergent Curriculum. I showed a video from Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education showcasing a project on balls. You can watch it here. Emergent Curriculum is a way of teaching through student interests. Suppose a group of toddlers becomes enthralled with the worms on the playground. Teachers will observe the children, take notes, and document which child is especially interested in which aspect of the topic. Pulling books from their library about worms, giving the children magnifiers to spread out and invade the privacy of the playground worms, teachers provide materials and experiences that enable a deep study that accommodates individual learners. In the video’s ball project, the children dissected, compared, and created art with balls. Destroying and creating balls, they learned about physical and dynamic properties of their favorite toy. This project was emergent, because it emerged from a genuine interest from the children.

We also discussed thematic units. These are based on broad subjects, usually about traditional preschool themes such as seasons, community helpers, space, and the ocean. Very young children are often interested in these topics, but with a lock-step approach, teachers pay less attention to individuals who might not be as enamored. When I do a professional development presentation on engaging curriculum, I tell teachers that behavior is better when everyone is engaged. With thematic units, some children are engaged and others aren’t. (Perhaps that is why behavior guidance is such a popular topic on the professional development circuit!) Suppose the theme is farms. Teachers might read about farm animals to the whole group (with the anti-farm contingent touching their neighbors and looking out the window—“behavior problems”). They sing Old MacDonald, color pictures of the traditional 19th and early 20th century farms, and, if they’re lucky, take a field trip to an authentic farm dedicated to school field trips.

What provoked this newest screed of mine is an anecdote from one of my students. She said that her thematic unit is the earth, and that they have to teach the names of the continents. Can you imagine a two and a half year old child who has no abstract thinking, being taught about continents? My class of savvy students turned to ask this young woman: “How do you assess these children? Do they ‘get’ it?” “No, she answered, “but we take a picture of each child pointing to a globe, and send the picture to parents to show that they are learning about continents.” There was a collective groan from the class.

All of this trickery (“Can you say Asia?”) convinces parents that their children are on a fast track to Harvard. Child care has evolved into “school”, as in “What did you do in school today?” Calling child care school is part of the scam. Play, and emergent learning, in these programs, are secondary to elementary school style teaching and learning. As I’ve written before, children play with materials as well as ideas. Play is creative and a part of a child’s authentic learning and thinking. It blows my mind that, against all known best practice, a center is quizzing twos on geography.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

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The phrase, “Can I Have a Happy Thought Please?” is an easy and effective way for children to stop a bully.  It is tried and true!  I have been teaching children to do this for years.  The positive thought and energy stops the negative energy and there are many ways for a bully to act or reply.  He/She can say they are sorry.  They can try again and get the same response, “Can I have a happy thought, please”, and then turn away.  They can turn away the first time.  Eventually, they don’t bother you at all.  Why is this so?

Energy is an interesting phenomenon.  Positive energy is very powerful and this phrase is a positive response to a negative action.  The response is unexpected and literally stops a bully in his tracks.  The bully is not being attacked.  The person saying this is no longer a victim and it is empowering for a child or anyone to have a way to counter a negative action towards that for the most part does not insight more bullying behavior.

So how do you know this works?  Try it and see what happens when someone says a negative thing to you.  See what the response is.  Children love this and if they learn this at an early age…WOW!!!  This certainly helps to reduce bullying and to re-frame it in a positive action.

Being bullied is devastating and we have way too much it today.  It is worse than it used to be.  Having been bullied for many years, I wish I had had this response in my repertoire.  I just took it, swallowed it and experienced the unconscious negative outcome later in life.

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