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Posted by on in Early Childhood

In my work, as in the work of many people, I imagine, there are themes that come up again and again. Sometimes I get asked a question and I can point to a blog post I wrote or an article I read months or years earlier that touches on the same subject. Little kids have some very consistent interests; it’s why certain toys remain popular for generations. Building toys are one of those evergreen entertainments; kids can play with Lego or magnet-tiles forever, it seems.

IMG_9343

In general, my attitude towards the “problem” of repetitive play has been to encourage educators to look more closely at children’s play, to observe with a curious eye and to wonder about what they might be missing. In short, my approach has been to push back against our perception that there IS a problem at all. Often, when children return again and again to the same materials, they’re trying to figure something out and it’s our job to value what they’re doing enough to discover and support the intentionality of their play.

However, there are some times when repetitive play really is something to be concerned about and it’s worth spending some time thinking about how we might structure the environment and our interactions with children to support expanding their repertoire of play behaviour.

Recently, I was working with a teacher who was distressed by the repetitive play she was observing in her classroom. A group of boys consistently chose to visit the Lego centre and exclusively created spinning toys that they then “battled” against each other to see which one could withstand colliding with the other spinners. They resisted choosing any other material or building any other type of structure. It had been months of repeating the same play behaviour and they were unfazed. The teacher had tried her best to extend the play towards an investigation into rotation, more broadly, but they were unmoved. The Beyblades continued to duke it out.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

angry teacher2

I taught preschool for thirty years, in a half-time preschool, full-day preschool, and full-time child care. If anyone understands this difficult but rewarding job, I do. Every year there were “good” children—no-stress children who listened, did what they were asked, and had a network of friends—and “bad” children—highly stressed and stressing children who got attention in the worst way. Yelling out of turn, throwing anything at hand, even hitting and kicking were ways a “bad” child got attention. If the teacher ignored them, they would ramp up their efforts, like a pitcher using his “slider” to get a batter OUT! You know this child?

There is much that teachers are still doing that make behavior worse. That much is clear. Do you still say, “Sit there and think about what you have done?” Do you give long-winded explanations to a barely verbal chld about why you are having that child closed from an activity (one source calls these commercials)? Do you complain to parents because you feel that they should be better at their job? Do these strategies work for you? If you feel like every day you are, like Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up the mountain, then stop. There are no “bad” or “good” kids. But when you are at the bottom of the mountain again, you start feeling that it’s true.

How do you cope? Don’t immediately think ADHD. That is where teachers, parents and others seem to land. The mother of a girl in my group asked me, after one conference, if her daughter had ADHD. The mom was surprised to hear me say that ADHD should be the last thing we would look at. A study recently came out explaining that children just about to enter kindergarten are increasingly diagnosed as having ADHD. This diagnosis and its subsequent medication happen 34% more often if they have August birthdays, these in states where the kindergarten cut-off date is September. The authors of the study believe that this is due to developmental issues, not medical ones. How obvious to me, to you. Children a year younger will be less attentive, more wiggly than those a year older. Why should they not be? Diagnosing and medicating them without looking at the bigger picture is medical malpractice.

Resources for you, as an Early Childhood Practitioner, are actually numerous. Social/emotional development (“social skills,” we used to say) are the hot topic even in state learning standards. One resource is the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). There you will find tools for teaching social/emotional skills, and ideas for creating visual prompts that facilitate a child’s understanding of rules and routines.  You can read about the Pyramid Model, which is an educator’s visual for understanding that social/emotional learning is supported by layers of guidance, not by one-size-fits-all rules. You can read through the NAEYC Standards for Professional Preparation, which emphasize understanding child development, and find a training program that helps you to learn about this topic.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Recently I wrote about the uphill battle of advocating for children – especially around the topic of play. But, as you know, our battles these days concern not just play, but also developmentally appropriate practice in general! Sad but true.

This hit home recently, when I was conducting my third professional development training for a Virginia school district. In the middle of one of my (fabulous, I’m certain!) points, one young woman raised her hand and asked, “Why are you here?” As you can imagine, this was not exactly the kind of question I was expecting.

My confusion was obvious, so she expounded. “You come here and share all of these ideas of things we should be doing with the kids,” she said, “but what good is it if the county isn’t going to let us do them?”

Wow.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

As summer draws to a close and back-to-school bells ring, families enjoy the tail end of summer bliss. Popsicle sticks and lemonade stands. Kids everywhere making lemonade, at least I think so. 

 When I think of my childhood summers, such vivid memories of long days playing with neighbor kids, trips to Lake Michigan with my family, going fishing and planting pansies with my Dad. My Mom, Reading. Old movies. Scrabble and Crossword puzzles.

In order to get money for cherry cokes down at the corner and maybe save for new shoe skates, or even go horseback riding, we had a lot of lemonade stands. It was no big deal. It was a rite of passage, a part of summer like eating watermelon, chomping on sweet corn on the cob, picking berries. Long days reading books and going to the library. Taking the bus downtown, by ourselves.

Lemonade stands were most fun of all. We earned our own money and that was a very big deal.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

When my daughter was in second grade, in the ‘80s, the second-grade teachers started the morning with a piano, a teacher who played, and children sitting on the floor around, singing. The interactive song, The Cat Came Back, by Fred Penner, was much requested. Where are the routines that involve singing for the pure joy of it, now?

At the center in which I worked recently, “Singing Circle” was a non-negotiable part in the school routine. It came right before lunch. Children would call out, as lunch was being brought up from the kitchen, “Lunch is here!”, smelling the meatloaf and sweet potatoes. But keeping to the schedule, the teacher leading that day would say, “We have five minutes! Let’s sing another song”. Each teacher was able to plan her/his own ideas for singing circle, but children quickly found out who was leading each day and put in requests, which were usually put in the schedule. Aiken Drum, and Tooty-ta were popular. But so was Laurie Berkner’s The Story of My Feelings (usually sung along to the CD), and Puff the Magic Dragon! Singing sweetly, leaning on teachers, or sitting in laps, the children and teachers partook of one of the oldest traditions of humankind: Singing together as a community.

There are centers that use YouTube videos, and other recorded music, for their programs. "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" is a staple, along with "Going on a Bear Hunt.: But where is the individualized, personal song sharing? Who sings to children so that, eventually, they will learn the song and join in? The more nuanced, slightly more difficult songs get short shrift because teachers fear the children will not “get” them, or that they themselves will look bad. Searching your heart for those songs that move you, or excite you, may be where you will find a gem that children look forward to singing.

The songs you choose needn’t be educational (not that I’m against that). I knew a teacher who asked her threes to lay down while she dimmed the lights and sang Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, right before they went home! These threes learned every word of the lyrics, and sang along. Another teacher sang old American folk songs, finding the lyrics from internet searches, such as Tingalayo (without the cute YouTube video!), Old Susanna, This Land is Your Land, and Bought me a Cat. Often using a drum for attention getting, I did scat with the children, introducing it to them with Scat Like That (are you in for a treat, if you teach them to scat), sang the Abiyoyo song while I recited the story, and loved to do Girl and Boy Scout songs (‘My Mom, she gave me a penny, and Oh, I wish I were a little round orange). A teacher, who happened to be African-American, brought delightful game/songs to our somewhat Lilly-white school, such as Little Johnny Brown. Her instrument? A tambourine!

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