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Posted by on in UNward!

MLKEND2

 

2019 UPDATE:  It's stunning to see how much has changed in just two years. But reading the thoughts below from 2016 reveal a stark new reality about "the state of the dream" in 2019 America:

 

                          “Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”    Amy Fast  @fastcranny 

As I heard that Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States, I sat quietly with my wife and daughter and savored the meaning of the moment. 

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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?

shhh

If you are ever going to have classes that are too noisy, you can bet that the time for this particular teacher nightmare is right now near end of the school term. Even those timid students who were too shy to speak above a whisper at the start of the year now appear to be completely comfortable shouting across the room. The classroom noise level this time of year isn't just stressful; it's a sure indicator of unproductive behavior.   

Although could be dozens of approaches to consider when your students talk excessively and loudly, using just a few effective strategies may help you begin to solve this problem for yourself and for your students. Examine the following approaches in view of your own experience and adapt the ones you find useful to make the remaining time you have with your students productive, peaceful, and quiet.

Be emphatic and explicit when you speak with your students about this problem. You should make it very clear when it is okay for them to talk and when you want them to work silently. If you are clear in communicating your expectations to your students, they will be less likely to repeatedly test your tolerance for noise.

Avoid the sound-wave effect of a loud class time followed by a quiet one followed by a loud one again. Be consistent in the way you enforce the rules in your class about excessive talking. Teachers who aren’t consistent spend their time getting a class quiet, allowing the noise level to build to an intolerable level, and then getting the class quiet again in an endless and ineffective cycle.

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Posted by on in What If?

depression in kids 800x400

This isn’t the kind of thing I typically write about – and it would certainly seem to have nothing to do with early childhood – but, like most of us, I’ve been thinking a lot about school shootings. I’ve found myself asking: What is it that incites such rage in these young people that they see killing as the only resort?

Immediately following all of these incidents, everybody talks about the need for better attention to mental health, in addition to gun control. I couldn’t agree more that that’s essential. But if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking about mental health as it relates to people old enough to purchase or acquire guns. People who have been bullied or ignored for so long that something finally snaps in them.

Upon reflection, however, I’ve realized we can probably assume that the kind of anger, frustration, and helplessness – the mental health issues – evident in school shooters doesn’t just suddenly crop up. It builds! And based on what I know to be happening in the education and lives of today’s young children, I’m firmly convinced that it often begins in early childhood.

Let’s think about it. According to a 2013 report, depression affects approximately 4% of preschoolers in the United States today, with the number diagnosed increasing by 23% every year. And here’s a depressing graphic from 2013:

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

You know, it’s really hard nowadays for a child to simply be a child. There’s so much pressure to perform academically, that Kindergarten has become the new first grade and preschool has become the new Kindergarten.

Parents get caught up in the frenzy, worried that their children will be “behind” by the time they get to Kindergarten. They don’t realize there is a simple solution to it all… PLAY.

To those of us who are early childhood educators, this is no surprise. But for others, and even some well-intentioned teachers, there is a flawed mindset that play and academics are unrelated and that one must take a backseat to the other.

It is this kind of thinking that is not only taking the fun out of childhood, but also interfering with learning.

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