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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in young children

Posted by on in What If?

Without a doubt, the photo at the beginning of this post would probably evoke a clenched-teeth, inward sucking of air by many parents. Risky play always does. But, in all fairness, it needs to be discussed, examined, and justified. This is especially important since it can help develop a child’s self-confidence, resilience, executive functioning, and even risk-management skills. And, believe it or not, engaging in risky play can actually reduce the risk of injuries, rather than increase it.

Children need the opportunity to figure things out for themselves- to determine their own comfort levels and what they are capable of doing. This, in turn, allows them to develop risk- management skills. Risky play does not mean the play is unsupervised. It simply means the role of adults involves facilitating and supporting how children want to play without over-guiding. We can provide the environment for play… and then get out of the way.

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Play that does the most good requires both physical and psychological space. It requires wide open physical space and psychologically, the child needs to feel the freedom to try things on his own.

In risky play, children experience doses of fear and then practice adapting their behavior to manage it and overcome it. So, according to the emotional regulation theory, play, among other things, assists children in learning to overcome their fears. Then, when they encounter real-life dangers, they will be less likely to give up, become overly fearful, or question their confidence.

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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 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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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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