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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Young children are the mensches of the world. (in Yiddish, a Mensch is a Good Person. Someone who does the honorable thing.) They don't know that their future depends upon teachers who understand child development. but they believe that adults are their guideposts, their role models, their wise ones. If an adult gives them a worksheet to do in the name of learning, they will gamely attempt it, especially if that adult gushes over their “good” result. If they are asked to make a spider from a paper plate and pipe cleaners, one that looks just like their teacher’s, they will, maybe grudgingly, maybe happily, try to do just that. Their teacher may say, “No, the pipe cleaner should be here, not there,” preserving their status as experts on bug-making. You can always depend on children to try to please, even as they secretly internalize the message that they themselves are deficient in some way. They don't know that their arts activities should be for them, not for their teachers.

My college students say that parents are worried about their threes being ready for kindergarten. Threes! The parents want their children to work on letter recognition and phonics. They do not understand child development. This is an agonizing frustration for teachers who understand that a child develops as a whole, in all developmental domains. That they mustn’t be educated as if they are loosely organized piles of parts labeled "Letters," "Numbers," and "Good Handwriting." If those parents decide their children need “academics, ”they might choose to go elsewhere, perhaps to a center that (cynically?) offers excellent preparation for grade school. The mensch/child will go on to please another set of narrowly focused adults.

Parents need to know that learning is best done in the broad context of real life. A program that creates an environment where children can play over reasonably long periods of time, experimenting, building, drawing, and generally feeding their insatiable appetite for novel experience, is a program where children learn what will help them in the future. Doing this under the supervision of expert adults who know how to observe, take note, document, and provide materials is also a necessary component. These adults also must be in love with children, and be willing to mentor to their families. Letters, numbers and handwriting happen, in these excellent programs, because children really do want to learn them in context. They are useful tools in the pursuit of creating, exploring, and then representing what they have accomplished. If their amazing teachers document this learning, demonstrating that learning is, indeed, happening, parents will relax, and, perhaps, be persuaded to be involved in the program rather than fighting it.

Parents, many of us have been where you are now, wanting the best for our precious children. Don’t let programs take advantage of their good will and eagerness to please. Don’t be misled. Educate yourself about what really works in early childhood education, and choose what gives your child the opportunity to create meaningful experiences with their peers. Consult your own child within. Ask that child if a program seems exciting and creative. Then go with that insight. Your little mensch will thank you.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Let’s face it. Parenting is no walk in the park, especially in today’s world, with concerns about things like GMO’s, too much screen time, and pressure to push your child to head of the pack at school and on the sports field. Parents make use of certain strategies in order to cope with and handle these and other concerns. And, in so doing, place themselves into four, fundamental categories. I’m sure you’ve seen all of them and maybe you’re one of them.

Authoritarian parenting

1. Head Honchos

Head Honchos provide lots of rules and structure. They emphasize obedience and set high standards. These parents dole out harsh punishment when their children misbehave, believing this will teach them important life lessons they won’t forget. Unfortunately, children don’t always understand these lessons, because the emphasis has been on obedience, above all else. Instead of being inspired to reach their greatest potential, these children may only follow the rules to stay out of trouble.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

After fourteen years of teaching child care professionals and teachers about preschool learners, one of my college students, with sweet, enthusiastic innocence, told me that her threes understood the word “hypothesis.” That in her center, they teach a “word a week” to the children. And their philosophy? Their motivation? “We have to get them ready for being four.” I suggested that the children are learning to be three. Why push them?

Her program is called an Academy. That says a lot. A Facebook friend, who owns a center, confessed that using the word “Academy” in her school’s title was a marketing decision. She is uncomfortable with it because her program is a process-oriented, creative program where children learn organically—through play experiences, with teachers as guides. But she bit the bullet and chose that word—Academy—to bring parents in.

“Academies” ask two-year-olds to glue noodles to a paper plate, then ask the teacher to glue on the letter “N. They display these almost identical pieces on a bulletin board in the classroom so parents will think their toddlers are learning something (they’re not). They call this academics. Many parents believe that an early academic start (mimicking public school) is good for their children. You can’t blame them. They so want to believe they are giving their children a jump start. All they know is from their own experience, and they don’t remember school any further back than early elementary school. These are the biases they base their choices on. These biases don’t come from developmental theorists, or from the hallowed history of child care and early education. They certainly don’t come from today’s leaders in the educational field. They come from the cultural memory of the industrial age. Ken Robinson calls this a mechanistic approach to education. This approach is outmoded.

We want to prepare young children by allowing them to grow organically, and learn through curiosity, imagination, and creativity. These three qualities are immensely important. They won’t perpetuate the mechanistic, industrial world view of the 19th and 20th century, but will prepare a generation to become the talented, productive, individual human beings that we will need in the future. How can we educate parents to demand the best for their children? By educating them about what the best is.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

boy and girl playing together 800x400

The short answer to the question posed in the title is yes. While it may seem as though the #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements have nothing to do with young children, the experts tell us that sexism does indeed begin in early childhood. In fact, psychology professor and author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue, Christia Spears Brown, told me in a recent interview for Studentcentricity, that sexism begins at birth! And when we consider the pink and blue phenomenon – and how differently girl babies are treated from boy babies, even prenatally – we have to admit that what she says makes sense.

Sexism begins with gender stereotyping, which is all too easy to reinforce. Christia and other experts contend that every time teachers say something like, “Good morning, boys and girls,” attention is given to gender. And the more often statements like these are made (“Boys line up here, girls line up there.” “What a good girl you’re being.”), the more children get the message that gender matters – a lot. And that’s when they start making black-and-white generalizations about the meaning of gender.

Yes, I know; statements like these seem perfectly innocent! But what if they’re not?

According to a Slate article on this topic, “The more ingrained kids’ gender stereotypes become, the more easily they conclude that girls are inferior to boys—that boys have higher status because they biologically deserve it.” Studies have also shown that “the more strongly boys believe these stereotypes, the more likely they are to make sexual comments, to tell sexual jokes in front of girls, and to grab women.”

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

As parents, we are quick to protect our children. When a physical ailment pops up, like a high fever, a strange rash, or broken bone, we take the child to the doctor. These things are easy to see and we immediately react. It can be different when a child begins having random outbursts, trouble at school, becomes noncompliant, or distant. These kinds of things leave parents, as well as teachers, confused and unsure about what to do.

door

It may be that the child seems fine most of the time, but these behaviors pop up on occasion. Despite hearing from colleagues, friends, relatives, or even the family doctor that this is just a “stage,” your gut feeling tells you something just isn’t right.

And, frankly, we can’t afford to let it slide. Statistics from NIMH are staggering.

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