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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 General

mama bear

It was the end of a long day of school...or so I thought. Already 4:45, and everyone had left for home except for me and Valerie, our school secretary. I was putting the finishing touches on the slew of reports scattered about my desk. Valerie worked on her own projects behind the counter, right outside of my office. I had just called my wife to let her know that I was planning on leaving by five.

The front door swung open, and a thirty-something woman began bellowing at the top of her lungs, "What is wrong with this school? I want to see the principal!"

Valerie, ever so calm and professional, ignored the angry outburst and quietly asked, "May I help you?"

"You the principal?" hollered the woman as her husband and two boys stood timidly behind her.

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Posted by on in Education Resources

Why bother teaching penmanship when you have all the pressures of that alien organization, CC, hovering over your head? Teachers and parents alike shouldn't turn away from this skill. Why? Cursive writing is not just about learning how to write "the letters," in fact, it's a lot more.

In NYC public schools penmanship became a forgotten art when newspapers began publishing reading test scores according to districts and principals felt pressured to "scoring high," and that stress, of course, fell on teachers and students. Then you had NCLB and CC: bye, bye penmanship...

Before education changed, I began each day with a brief 20-minute lesson: from Monday to Thursday I taught smalls and caps, one new letter daily, and on Fridays I had, believe it or not, a penmanship "test." And kids loved it because it gave them a chance to see if they improved and mastered their handwriting by week's end. Children crafted letters during the week and took pride in the results staring at them. The "test" was more of a fun exam compared to standardized tests.

Cursive writing is a self-motivating  activity similar to sports learning where students can "see" improvement. If the handwriting doesn't look "good," they are intrinsically motivated to "correct" or "perfect" it. To further inspire my classes, I would say, "Penmanship is art." But they didn't look at it this way, it was more like drill work to keep them busy, so this creative idea presented a new perspective to cursive writing.

In a typical lesson, I modeled the "letter of the day," e.g., the small/big "a" on the board, and asked kids to come up and do the same for their classmates. This was enjoyable and appealing as others watched their friends drawing the letters. Collaboratively, we critiqued the drawings in a light-hearted way. When the demo ended students routinely practiced writing the letters of the day followed by words and sentences with the same letters in them.

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

Dear Annie, I just got a call from my son's math teacher. She says he's consistently goofing off in class and distracting other students. I've gotten similar calls from other teachers. How can I impress upon him that this isn't OK? – Embarrassed Mom

When it comes to teaching kids to be good people (our #1 parenting job), we repeat ourselves... a lot. That's due, in part, to the fact that young skulls are thick and young minds are often distracted. We continue harping on the rules because we want our kids to act responsibly, even when we're not around. That's why we're thrilled to hear a good report from our kids' teachers. At those times, all a proud mom or dad needs to do is smile graciously and reply, "That's so nice to hear." But what about the not-so-great reports? How do you talk to your child about those?

6 Tips for discussing out-of-line behavior so your child gets a clear message yet still feels loved and supported:

1. Get the facts. Before talking with your child, talk with the teacher, calmly and respectfully. Find out exactly what’s going on and how it has been handled so far. Find out if other students are involved. The more information you have for your upcoming discussion with your child, the better.

2. Talk with your co-parent. If there are two parents in your child’s life, teaching him or her to do the right thing should involve both of them. Getting both parents on the same page adds twice the reinforcement for the course correction your child needs. Being on different pages (or in different books!) sends mixed messages. Suppose one parent says, “Emma, when you’re in class your job is to be the good student I know you can be. That means showing your teacher and your classmates respect by paying attention.” And the other parent chuckles and says, “Fooling around in class? That’s my girl! I gave my teachers a hard time, too.” Obviously, no responsible parent would say that in front of a kid, but you get the idea why staying on message matters.

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