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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 What If?

road

When we talk about children’s challenging behavior, there are several conversational roads we take. The first, more old-fashioned and “mindless", instead of "mindful” (Ellen J. Langer) road we take is this: “He’s spoiled. His father does everything for him. They don’t’ discipline him at home.” This is a comment from a very young ECE student about a two-and-a-half year old in her classroom. “We have talked to the parents and they have him in therapy.” Not knowing all the ins and outs of the relationship of the family and center, all I could say was, “He’s two and a half? He hits, and won’t share? Hmmm. Sounds sort of two-ish to me. But has he been screened for vision and hearing? Those issues often make a big difference in behavior."

My response, on the fly, was born of experience. I once had a four who would refuse to look at puzzles and letters. His Dad was frantic that he wouldn’t be ready for kindergarten, and coached the tearful boy at home every night. (Imagine!) I asked about his vision, because his drawing was disconnected, heads and arms floating away from the bodies like helium balloons. The father was military, so they had only visited a military pediatrician. “Let’s wait six months,” they heard, time after time. I consulted with a friend whose daughter had difficulty with her eyes. The mom (who wasn’t, thank God, in the military) took her child to a terrific pediatric ophthalmologist. I recommended that the parents “got out of the service” to get more expert help. They got permission, and the boy was diagnosed with farsightedness! This boy couldn’t see up close, hence no puzzles, no letters. But lots of anxiety due to not being able to perform for his Dad. Did I mention his social skills were poor at school, and he cried in frustration over small things? Do you think his social skills improved after he got glasses? If you think no, you do not yet get the connection between the body and mind in a young child.

Another road that parents and teachers take is to label a child as having a disability without systematic observation by a teacher or other professional. Years after the boy with farsightedness, I had a four-year-old girl in my group with intense behavioral issues (pinching teachers HARD and not letting go, hitting other children). Her mother asked me almost every day, “Do you think she has ADHD?”. That is another quick judgment that parents and teachers make when they face a child who is having trouble fitting in, socially. Noting that I wasn’t qualified to judge, and, indeed, would be practicing medicine without a license to diagnose (which I tell my students, often—don’t diagnose), I suggested we go through the Child Find process to make sure we weren’t missing anything. In this case, the child passed her tests with flying colors, but the Child Find committee wisely recommended parenting classes at a reputable agency run by the school system. No more two hours of television before school. No more self-chosen bedtimes. The girl’s behavior improved.

Every child is an individual. Looking at them as problems isn’t helpful, though, heaven knows, it is terribly easy to do considering the mad pace of the average child care center. Without support from a teaching team with years of experience, a young teacher might flounder in the weeds, or continue to think that a two-year-old who hits is spoiled. End of story.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

myths

In 2005, Dr. Walter Gilliam, a researcher from Yale University, released a study examining the expulsion rates of preschoolers.  That's right -- expulsion.  As in kicked out.  Dr. Gilliam found that in his large, nationally representative sample of prekindergarten programs, preschoolers were being expelled at THREE TIMES the rate of students in grades K-12.

Are preschoolers really three times as difficult as their older counterparts?

I don't think so.

There are many factors that contribute to this elevated rate of expulsions.  Gilliam outlined several in a presentation he made at an NAEYC conference in 2009.  All deserve our consideration as we create quality early childhood programs, but two in particular catch my attention.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

shareasimage 11

 This is an A plus read for everybody wanting to make sense of early childhood education!

Simply said, Rae Pica walks the talk with plain language about what kiddos really need to survive and thrive in today's challenging STEM world. It's up to us to protect our littles and ensure each child is treated as a genius waiting to explore inner greatness.

whatifBookRae Pica promises straight talk about bettering children's education and lives, and she delivers! Every chapter is a single essay about the things that matter most to us. Twenty-nine outstanding topics tackle hot button issues of critical importance, such as recess, handwriting, homework, testing, etc. How timely!

We know that children learn best in developmentally appropriate ways. The demise of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) was long overdue. However, wagging tongues and pointing fingers do not fix things. We have tremendous opportunity right now to raise our voices about what kids are really like and how to best reach and teach them.

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