Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"How can I help you be successful today?"

Book Study Week 14: Chapters 27 & 28
Commentary by Deborah Hirschland

This question "How can I help you be successful today?" Is one I ask my toddlers often.  I see behaviors that are disruptive, out of control, outwardly physical, inwardly reflective, shy and concerned, fearful or just cautious.  Toddler behaviors run the gamut.  We also don't always know the reason for them.  I tell parents that toddler brains are constantly learning and growing.  Even during sleep and rest.  Until we see a new skill, new language, new teeth, etc, we don't know what their bodies and brains have been working on....maybe for weeks.  So, for ~today~ what do you need from me to be successful?  I know they can't always answer with words, but their actions speak volumes.  

I find myself getting into toddler negotiations all day long.  Maybe I should, have been a diplomat.  I always offer choices.  Choices that result in the desired outcome, but choices that give a toddler some illusion of control.  (I firmly believe toddlers only truly control two things.  What goes in and what comes out of their bodies.   If we get into a power struggle with either of them, we lose.) 

My classroom dialogues usually sound something like this.  "Are you going to walk to the door or march to the door.",  either way, we are getting to the door!  "Can you give that toy back to your friend or do you need my help to give it back?"  Again, either way, the toy is going back.  My husband has been been trained with this language..."are you going to load the dishwasher or hand wash those plates?"  

I don't use time outs, since I think requiring a toddler to sit and think about what they did is unreasonable.  Once it's done, it's done for a toddler brain.  I do have a rule, "if we hit, we sit".  They are not removed, it happens tight there, on the spot and for a few seconds.  They sit and their body is actively engaged doing something else, and then I tell them to stand up and try again.  "Can you show a gentle touch or a hug? Hits hurt". Then we move on.  

I do find myself telling my older toddlers "if/then" scenarios often and maybe I need to listen to myself and how often and when I use it.  It is typically for children I have running around the classroom as we try to get ready to head outside.  I know they need to expend physical energy, but it is not appropriate or safe to do so in the classroom.  I will say "I need your walking feet and listening ears now, so we can run outside.  If you run inside when we get outside you will be running and won't get to play with the trucks". I understand that they need to run and move, but I don't think they are too young to understand the consequences for their choices.  I do understand that telling a toddler to sit is not DAP and virtually impossible. There are times however when I do need them to sit, for their safety or the safety of others. I will have them sit by me, with me and engaged with a toy or a book, but in a classroom of fourteen....there are days.

I like the commentary and that we just need to remember that there are no hard and fast rules.  Every child is different and comes from different circumstances and we need to be able to adapt and change the plan to help every child be successful every day! 

Art is science...and math and physical education and history and language.....

Book Study Week 13: Chapter 25
Commentary by Laurie Greeninger

This chapter and the following commentary bring to mind two stories.  One was an art teacher I had telling me that I was unskilled as an artist and should give up trying, and one of my dads cousin who was struggling in math until she put her math book on the piano and discovered that trigonometry was all music.  

My artistic abilities were questioned to the point where I did not pursue a career in the arts as I felt I was not capable.  I now have learned that I am a skilled artist, and I use my skills creating for and with my young charges.  Better late than never.  I guess I was lucky that I did in fact have an art class in school.  I sent my daughter to an art & music magnet school.  She did not read until the third grade, but she could paint, cut and sculpt at age three.  I think that school was the key to her current educational success.  She had access to music, fine art,  dance and drama every day.  Her fourth grade class worked with the Minnesota Opera Guild to write, compose, design, and perform an opera.  The school does it every year.  What a gift.  It is sad to think these things are underfunded and not accessible to all kids.

The other story was from a very long time ago (more than 50 years).  It was the piano music she loved and played which helped her to understand math skills.  Anyone who feels like they are not connected is fooling themselves.  Just like in the chapters that discussed gross motor, physical skills being required before fine motor refinement can occur.  It's all connected. We have one brain.  

Like the commentary by "Mike" when his daughter said art and science are the same thing, she's so right!  

I am hopeful with quality teachers, educators and administrators who read books like this and understand the need for arts, and physical education, there will be a shift back to basics of play and creativity as a basis for learning, instead of rote learning, computers and sitting still taking tests.  

Plugged in and checked out.

Book Study Week 12: Chapters 21, 22 & 23
Commentary by Tamara Kaldor and Blakely Bundy

These chapters makes me feel like I am a dinosaur as Rae Pica describes herself. They also me sad, angry and scared.  I think that technology in the classrooms, keyboarding for kindergarten and not teaching handwriting are ludicrous.  

Handwriting is muscle, brain, had eye coordination and literacy building.  iPads, screens, phones, etc are one dimensional and not "interactive" as they purport to be. Keyboarding before full carpal development is complete says that we are sitting kids up for repetive stress injuries at age five??

An interesting and scary thing my eye doctor shared with me recently is the concern for increasing macular degeneration cases.  I may have some facts incorrect, but the general idea is that the light waves from the sun that are believed to have caused macular degeneration in farmers (prior to using cabs on tractors and sunglasses with uv protection) is the same frequency of light that is emitting from LED light on our screens.  My opthanolgist told me he is worried about a coming generation of forty year olds with macular degeneration.  This should scare any parent out of screen use for kids.  

I get sad when parents pick up their children at the end of the day with an ear bud in place, continuing a call while they gather up their child and belongings and walk out the door.  When does the call end? 
In the dark of winter, I see kids fastened into car seats and the instant the car starts up, the movie is playing on the drop down screen.  I know many of my toddlers don't have the conversational skills to talk about thier day, but it breaks my heart to see no verbal engagement between parent & child at the end of a long day apart.  

Talk to your kids, read to your kids, write and draw with your kids, take your kids outside...don't plug them in.   

Friday, June 24, 2016

Make New Mistakes

Book Study Week 11: Chapters 20 & 26
Commentary by Kelly Pfeiffer

These chapters remind me of earlier readings and the words my father always told me.  "Make new mistakes". 

Permission to fail is hard for parents give.  This world is a competitive place.  Be first, be better, be perfect.  While I was given permission to screw up and forgiveness when I did it.  I often wonder if I was the same with my daughter.   She was fearless and has become fearful, as the people in her world have assaulted her, teachers made her feel "less than" when she wasn't reading by third grade.  Did I contribute to her caution in approaching new things which high expectations and a fear of her failure?  

This is not a "new" issue, but maybe has become more prevalent, as the book talks about, with the empty gratification issues around the "self~esteem" movement.  When I was in high school, 35 years ago, a group of my friends had a motto "Second is as good as last". I have ~never~ forgotten it.  I was thirteenth in my class with twelve Merit Scholars.  Did I fail???  I was ~thirteenth~ in a class of 400.  

The book talks about getting a blue ribbon for just showing up.  Participation ribbons instead of prizes for winning.  If we don't have first, second and third, how do we teach kids how to lose?  How do we teach them to win gracefully.  There must be a balance here.  Competition is good, but understanding that failing at a "thing" is not failing as a person.  I love Kelly Pfeiffers words "mistakes are a wonderful opportunity to learn". 

The messages recieved are stamped forever.  I remember a talk show host discussing the effects of telling a child they were "bad". He said it takes a hundred "atta boy's" to make up for up for one "bad boy".  Do these messages prompt us to use the words "Good Job!" for fear of squashing self esteem?  

In all the quality continuing education I have participated in over the years, the good news is the resounding message has been, specific positive encouragement is the best way to foster growth and self esteem.  

I am reminded again today, to use real, thoughtful, specific praise and encouragement and give my little charges permission to make mistakes.  I will keep asking them "what did you learn from that?" 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Go Outside and Learn!

Book Study Week 10: Chapters 19 & 24
Commentary by Scott Wiley

Homework, and testing are two things I have struggled with as a parent more than a teacher. I don't give toddlers homework ~or~ tests.  Our preschool Kindergarten readiness program does under the intent that they need to understand how home work works to be successful in kindergarten.   So when do we draw the line.  Shouldn't kindergarten be a time for naps, playgrounds, coloring outside the lines and story time? 

My daughter was an auditory processor, she needed to be able to read aloud for better understanding.  We didn't figure it out until it was too late to really help her, she just spent the majority of her grade school and junior high school years as an "under-performer"    Homework made us cry every night, instead of being outside playing.  By high school, with her reading struggles,  home work took 4-6 hours.  There was no time for a job, or many extra curricular activities.  She managed to get good grades, and into a wonderful college, but it was a struggle for 12 years. 

"Once a persons childhood is gone, it's gone"  Heartbreaking words, but true.  My husband is a Park & Recreation Director for a major metropolitan area and he gave me the book "Last Child in the Woods" when it was first published, as it was required reading for his staff.   We found the truth of the book to be sad, but reality.  I get my charges outside every day, twice a day when I can, and we have a new playground where there is actually some "nature" to observe and interact with.  Our former playground was a sport court surface in a parking lot. 

I wish I had been a better advocate for my daughter and just said "no" to the homework and taken her to a park instead.  With all I have learned from this book and the commentaries...she would have learned more kicking a ball and doing cartwheels. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Child Led Learning

Book Study Week 9: Chapters 17 & 18
Commentary by Michael Gramling

As my coworker and  I sat on the floor engaging with playing toddlers today.  I remarked, "this is where the learning happens..."  She agreed and the playtime went on.

I design my curriculum and plan activities around the kids I am teaching right now.  Meet the kids where they are and then learning can grow from there.  Not rote learning, but by letting the children engage and asking questions and adding interest objects and ideas to let learning just happen.  I love watching little light bulbs turn on! 

These chapters reiterate the ideas that play is learning and learning should be play.  We need to observe our charges at play and ask questions and motivate more learning at that moment, with whatever they are engaged in at that time.  

You (people reading this blog) would probably not be surprised how many ~toddler~ parents ask, at conference time, "how many colors do they know?" " I am concerned because my child dies not count to twenty in a row...he always skips seventeen". Really.  I heard that one. My response; "he's learning number concepts, he'll get them all in order eventually". 

In my fifteen year career teaching toddlers, I have never sat down and actively tried to teach colors, numbers or letters.  When it comes to colors, we sing the rainbow song, I ask  "what color is that school bus?" and we play "red light green light".  Authentic learning happens when teachers meet the children ~where they are~.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Toddlers are not for sitting.

Book Study Week 8: Chapters 11 & 12
Commentary by Deborah Stewart

My toddlers are active learners all day.  There are, however, two times of day that I teach them to sit.  Group time and meal time.  Meal time is more about safety and actually getting nutrients, but it also a time to teach manners and patience.  Group Time, I struggle with.  I pride myself that I have a bunch of toddlers who will sit and listen to stories for almost a half an hour.  Now I ask myself, is this a good or bad thing?  I feel pressure from older classrooms to teach kids how to sit still, but I also know I have some kids who just can't do it.  I am a very animated story teller, we sing songs, have actions and I encourage the children to use story props to get up and move and help me tell the stories most days. In general, however, they sit....and listen.    My toddlers are active ALL day, except for this small part.

If you ask my toddlers if they are ready to get up and play or if they want more stories, more stories wins every time.  

These chapters helped me remember though that there are some kids who are just not able to sit and listen, and those kids I need to be sure to offer alternative options for engaging in group time.  Making them helpers, actors or engaging them in different ways.  

I pride myself on knowing my children very well and when their behavior tells me that story time is done.  I respect that, and we move on to dancing, playing or free play time.  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"Walking feet!"

Book Study Week 7: Chapters 10, 14, 15 and 16
Commentary by Richard Rairigh and Lorie Barnes

I completely agree with everything Rae Pica has to tell us about being advocates and champions for physical education, but ensuring that it is DAP, and making sure that it is not used as a bargaining chip. My daughter encountered this in elementary school.  Too many days I heard tales of disruptive kids, losing recess time for all kids, or as punishment for late homework.  It didn't take me long to figure out how my daughter learned to gobble down dinner in less than  five minutes....because that's what happens at lunch time in school, so they could have more recess time. 

It took a group of angry parents and three sit down meetings with teachers and administrators to make some changes.  I'm not sure if the policies we demanded back in 2001 are still working.

The comments by Lorie Barnes, regarding the brains ability to translate large motor skills, like twirling, personal space and intersecting lines, into literacy skills fascinated me.   I wish I had known some of this back then.  

As a teacher, I see the importance of providing unstructured as well as some teacher led large motor activities to help learn some of the skills that Lorie discusses, but I struggle with very limited time for outside play to make that a reality!  I will however make an effort to be more intentional with these large motor skills.  I find myself, due to lack of space and safety issues, saying "Walking Feet!", all day in my classroom. 

Richard Rairigh's thoughtful questions regarding "The Body Matters" chapter, remind me to make sure I am offering lots of movement opportunities, with a positive attitude and encouraging words.  I am not the most physically active person, but as a teacher, I am up and down and on the floor engaging with my charges, running and playing with them on the playground and sing and dance along with them.  

His question as to how I engage my kinesthetic learners, has me asking, aren't all toddlers kinesthetic learners?  They explore by eating, throwing, feeling, squishing, pulling, pushing and ~moving~!   

All my children need movement, but I have a few children that need lots of extra large motor activities, like running trucks, climbing on the climber, and dancing, to then be able to sit and engage in group time.  Those are the ones who may be categorized as kinesthetic learners as they move into preschool and elementary school. 

He later asks the question, "Do you have negative memories about your physical education experiences as a child...?"  Yes.  I disliked GYM class.  We were always lined up, waiting our turn to do something in a smelly gym. I liked it when we could go swimming, but not much else.  

My parents on the other hand always had us biking, camping, hiking, engaged in scouting and other activities that brought us into nature and required ~moving!  Thankfully I had those patents that understood the importance of that, and I have tried to engage my daughter the same way.  

The obesity/exercise issue has me worried for our future kids.  We live in a society where good, fresh, healthy food is expensive and kids are rushed from one thing to the next with no time to eat a meal other than in a car, or the other option, without parents at home and fending for themselves and eating, alone, in front of a T.V.   Eating junk, fast food and too much soda.  Compound that with no movement in an eight hour school day, and tired parents at home each night.  Is it any wonder? 

Friday, May 27, 2016

"Bang! Bang!"

Book Study Week 6: Chapter 8, 9 & 29
Commentary by Teacher Tom

I grew up trying to keep Barbie safe from my brothers G. I. Joe toys. They would kidnap her, cut her hair and give her tattoos. Neither of my brothers grew up to victimize women or become hair stylists or tattoo artists.  It was imaginary play.  We didn't watch tv, but we read lots of books and some of those stories were violent and scary.   Our brains figured out what was imaginary and what was real.  Why is today different?

Is it the reality and violence that is constantly on tv and radios without context or explanation?  Is it the zero tolerance policies, not allowing for this kind of play, in environments where learning and teaching appropriate vs inappropriate play can actually happen?

The comments about adult anxieties being foisted upon our children was really interesting to me.  

I am not sure if I think there is a no gun play policy in our learning environments, or do I just think there is because of my own fears and views?  I will do some research and ask questions.  

I was shopping for spring toys for my classroom and I though bubble guns would be so much fun, but I opted for wands.  I also decided against buying squirt guns and opted for spray bottles.  

I am a toddler teacher so I am unsure of the level of gun play that is appropriate for this age group, as it has never really been perceived as ~allowed~ where I have worked for fifteen years.  

I have noticed that we can remove the blocks shaped like guns, we can remove Legos built like guns no we can remove actual gun toys, but children as young as two, still find a way to engage in imaginary gun play, using tubes, dishes, books, etc.   

These chapters have conjured more questions than answers for me.  

I think in the future, I will allow the gun play, with the toys remaining available to them, and watch and offer comments and really use it as a teachable moment.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

All Work and No Play

Book Study Week 5: Chapter 13
Commentary by Walter F. Drew

Free play is critical to learning.  Kids who are told what to do, when to do it and how, never learn to problem solve or think for themselves. One thing you'll hear me say all the time in my toddler classroom is, "Please try and solve your problem, but let me know if you need my help". I have introverts and extroverts that are learning to play in the same space and I help by removing "hazards" and every month I create new toys and experiences that fit my theme. We have a daily schedule, because toddlers need to know what comes next with some predictability, to be secure enough to play. By my favorite mornings are those spent with individual and small groups of toddlers ~playing~.  I let the play go on as long as possible. Usually until my most active children get wound up and need to switch gears.

When I communicate with parents, I let them know the value of the play we engaged in that day.  Informing them that toddlers playing, whether cooperatively, solitary or engaged in parallel play,  are learning valuable skills.  Self regulation, sharing, language, social integration, problem solving...just to name a few.

The comment, made by Rachel on Dawn's blog,  when she hears people comment on her vocation" I wish I could just play with kids all day" made me think about the comments I get about babysitting or doing daycare I sometimes hear when I say I am "toddler teacher" . 

In this fast paced, academic achievement-valued early childhood field, it turns out we need to teach parents the value of play...and make sure the children have time to do it.   

Saturday, May 14, 2016

It's about who I am, not how I look!

Book Study Week 4: Chapter 6
Commentary by Diane Levin

Have you seen behavior like what Rae and I describe? 
  • Please describe some of the more dramatic examples.
  • Do you have concerns about this behavior? If so, what worries you the most?
In reading this chapter, my thoughts go immediately to a child in my care. She is a strikingly beautiful child and her appearance is commented on by other parents every day.  I will tend to agree and then change the subject, but, after this lesson, it seems I need to do more,  as a teacher and advocate for all children,

Toddlers hear ~everything~ and I think many times adults forget that.  Parents and sometimes other caregivers talk ~about~ children, in front of them. I try to turn the conversation to include the child, assuming they are contributing to the conversation, simply by their presence.

Although this chapter focuses on girls and appearance, Diane Levin comments on the use of gender biased language for boys too.  In my experience, dads often have more gender biased play comments regarding their boys than mothers do. Many times, at drop off & pick up times, I hear some fathers say "That's my boy" as he is wrestling or engaged in rough play. Or worse, "that's girl stuff" as they are pushing a baby in a stroller, or in dress up clothes.  Sometimes its difficult to find the right words in that moment to help the child feel better without contradicting the parent.

All of my toddlers are beautiful children.  If comments are being made about one child "Amy's" appearance, and I am unable to steer the conversation away, I just start commenting on Billy's "beautiful eyelashes", and Carl's "big brown eyes".  Sometimes parents look at me funny and the comments stop, or they simply agree with me and we move on.  Keeping in mind that Billy and Carl and Amy were all complemented!

Educating parents is more important than some early childhood educators understand.  We have opportunities to give parents the language to use with and around their kids, to encourage all kids and to teach them who they are is more important than how they look, or how they play.

  • What aspects of popular culture [TV shows, movies, video games, toys] seem to enter most into the gender specific play and behavior you see?
The children's television show, Princess Sofia, is all purple, pink and sparkly.  I see some shows ~trying~ to even the playing field. I asked a parent about this new Paw Patrol show, and a mother of two boys gushed over how wonderful it is, with no violence, and equally appealing to girls and boys.  I watched the show, and have seen some books, but it appears, the main "human" character is a boy (with some girl sidekicks) and there is only one (out of six) female Paw Patrol member.

Check out the birthday party aisles in your local party supply store.  There is no question about the separation of girls and boys by color, activities and toys & games, all in one convenient location.

  • Have you tried any of the strategies recommended by Rae Pica or me for dealing with the gender divisions among girls and boys and particular stereotyped behavior of the girls or boys?
We have had parents come and talk with the kids and share careers. We had moms who are doctor, dentist and national guard member and a dad who is a nurse and both moms & dads who are engineers.  All parents were welcomed and engaged with all the children.

I try to steer conversations away from how kids look, and if I make appearance comments, I try to keep it to the shirts they are wearing and discuss colors, shapes, and patterns in general terms.  I will be more aware of what I say, and ask my co-teachers to work as a team and really listen to each other and help curb gender biased appearance/behavior talk for both boys and girls.

I would like adults to remember that kids are listening and always watching. What we ~do~ can tell them as much, if not more, than what we say.  Have conversations "about" them out of earshot, if they are needed.

Encourage all kinds of play for all kinds of kids. In my experience boys and girls tend to play differently.  They have distinct play styles and preferred toys.  I try to create classrooms that are very neutral, and encourage all kids to play with everything.  When boys are being gentle with baby dolls, or girls are running trucks around the room, I comment, ask and expand learning without gender bias.

  • Do you have other strategies to suggest to readers?
We have an online "Daily Connect" tool for parents, and we upload pictures daily.  When captioning non traditional gender activity photos, I am always careful to use words like "Susie is a skilled engineer! as she is constructing big Lego structures" or "Tommy is making a meal for all the kids" as he's in the kitchen playing wearing an apron, in an effort to make sure the parents are reassured that their child is engaging in absolutely appropriate play.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bubble Wrap!

Book Study Week 3: Chapter 4
Commentary by Mike Huber 

The first thing that comes to mind is the "Bubble Wrap" song, by Kit & Kaboodle, my daughters favorite band back in the early 2000's.  It's all about the fun in popping! 

When I read the chapter, I could not help but think about what my daughter experienced as she was growing up.  She never ventured too far from home, and I wonder if it was because I didn't let her, or she didn't want to.  Maybe a combination.  She is nineteen and is a fully functioning independent college student who takes risks and has adventures, I must have done something right.  My advice has always been " Be smart, and if you can't be smart, be safe."  

Chapter four of the book comments on the college students who are unable to function on their own.  My daughter told me she has taught about ten kids in her dorm how to do laundry.  (She has been doing her own laundry since she was eight).  She also teaches cooking and baking lessons in the dorm kitchenette.  Many of them have never been "allowed" to use the oven at home.  

Thinking about the questions posed by Mike Huber, I have to go back many. many years.  

  • What are the most joyful moments of your childhood?  Playing in the giant lilac bushes that lined our house with my brothers creating roads with our Tonka trucks and making mud pies with my kitchen dishes. 
  • Was there risk involved?  We ate berries that we picked off trees, make soup out of dandelions and got sick to our stomachs more times than I can remember.  We got cuts and bruises, and we had to ask our mom (who was a nurse) if we had an abrasion or a contusion.  Contusions did not warrant a bandaid. 
  • Can you remember taking a risk that didn’t work out for you?  I was a dawdler and usually made it to school on time, but one day I was sliding up and down my friends stair railing on the way to school and I abraded a hole in my pants.  I was super late for school and remember getting in trouble and I couldn't drive the mail truck that day. (In kindergarden)
  • Do you think you benefited from this failure in the long run? Most likely it taught me to there were consequences for being late to school. But I'm not sure how many more times being late it took to sink in.  
  • Has a child ever surprised you with their abilities?  All the time.  I try to encourage my charges to "solve your problem" and "keep trying".  I have taught hundreds of children, some amaze me with coordination, some with language and others with the ability to show empathy. 
  • Was your first impulse to stop them from trying?  No, I don't think so.
  • Think of a time you watched a child take a risk. Yesterday, a small toddler went down the big slide, she leaned forward and planted her feet, and tumbled head over heals down the rest of the way.  What was your first impulse? To try and catch her. What did they gain from the experience?  She gained a healthy fear of the slide and did not try again that day. What did you gain?  The knowledge that I need to help her try again to the next day she is back in school. 
The distinction that Mike Huber makes about removing "hazard" but not "risk", is an important one. I remove hazards all day for my toddlers as I pick up toys in their wake, to make a smoother path for push toys and dancing, wipe up water and paint spills so they can move safely throughout the classroom, and employ "walking feet" rules in the classroom.  They are developing large muscle control and I encourage trying new things in new ways, but I also keep safety in mind all day.  

As the toddlers explore outside on our playground, I am ever present to assist in learning new skills.  I also allow kids to learn from how ~not~ to do it.  I tell new teachers that a toddler has to master the ability to climb to the top of the slide, before they can slide down.  That's the reward!   I feel that placing them on the top of the slide, without learning the skills to get there will make sliding a "hazard" and not just taking a risk. 

Growing up, my wise dad always said "make new mistakes". This gave us permission to screw up.  Try something, fail, try again in a different way (hopefully) and learn something.  He also told us there is no such thing as vicarious learning.  It never failed, one of kids would make a big mistake, and we'd sit the other siblings down and lecture them about how not to do what we did.  But invariably, the other siblings would make the same mistake and ~only then~ did they learn.  By actually trying it themselves.  My dad always hoped we'd learn through failing, but without life altering consequences, but gave us the freedom and space to figure it out. That's life and learning.    

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Joy & Hugs

Book Study Week 2: Chapters 3 & 5
Commentary by Gwen Simmons

I am lucky, I teach two year olds.

Two year olds are joyful most of the time!  Unless they are tired or hungry, two year olds are constantly learning new things and so excited about it!  They are also thrilled by the silliest things. Stories, songs and games like Peekaboo just getter better and funnier as they are repeated over and over again.

I am lucky, I laugh all day! As my charges learn to communicate, they say and sign the funniest things.  They dance, wiggle, make messes and find joy in it all.  They engage me in play and keep me joy filled.

There are definitely days and children more challenging than others, but in my 15 years teaching toddlers, I am lucky, they bring me joy!

I hug toddlers all day.  I have never stopped myself from hugging a child thinking it might be inappropriate in any way.  But the reading made me think about older children and what kind of affection some of them might be lacking and it breaks my heart to think that teachers (who do it because they love children) need to be cautious. Boundaries are good and needed, but let's not legislate hugs out of our schools.

The comments about containerized children really rang true with me.  I see parents with infants, carrying their children into our center in their "car seat environment".  My first thought is that the car seat weighs more than than the baby, and isn't that heavy?  When did people stop carrying babies?  You are leaving your baby with us for the next 8-10 hours...wouldn't you rather be holding them close?  It saddens me.  I know the infant teachers in our center do an amazing job giving those babies love and attention, but from the description of "twelve hugs a day" to grow, I worry about the closeness they are missing at the start and end of their days.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Learning Through Play

Book Study Week 1: Chapters 1,2,7
Commentary by Angele Sancho Passé and video.

The video talks about the transition in cognitive functioning with longer attention spans occurs between 5-7 and executive function skills are critical to being successful during the early school years. Unless the framework for learning and executive skills are working, no amount of teaching will result in success.

As a toddler teacher, I can help children be successful when they get to preschool by helping them develop the ~basic~ physical, social, emotional, literacy and self help skills needed to build on (the bottom of that scaffold) for that later success.

In the video, one educator talks about the social emotional component as the "hidden curriculum".  Maybe it shouldn't be "hidden". Parents and administrators that set the goals for early childhood need to know that unless all kids are taught social-emotional skills, it is hard to learn any academic skills.  Kids who are under stress due to food insecurity, unstable homes, not enough sleep do not feel safe and cannot use executive function skills.  I have jokingly said, as I watch my charges sleeping, that "naps are wasted on children".  I know that sleep is critical to development and learning at all ages and this book empowers us to educate other adults that sleep is not baby stuff.

Angele Sancho Passé discusses the importance of play as learning.  Play is critical.  Playing with other children requires the abilities to communicate, compromise, wait, share, help, physically move using large and small motor skills.  In my experience, play, while critical, needs to be structured by teachers to keep it from being a free for all.

In my toddler classroom I change the theme monthly, create games and dramatic play opportunities that enhance the theme.  When my classroom is running smoothly, there is a balance of free play, creative time, "group time" which consists of stories, active songs and interactive weather games, and movement. We follow a daily schedule so the kids know what comes next, but with flexibility.  There are days when the kids are all just "playing" really well, whether parallel or cooperatively, that I suspend the next activity until the good play stops. I ask questions, offer suggestions, add elements to the play.   I try not to let play devolve into craziness, so I find myself only engaged in behavior management. I know when to switch gears and move into another activity.

In Chapter 2: "The Earlier the Better?" I was reassured in our role in educating parents.  Again, until kids have the physical and cognitive abilities to learn certain things, no amount of teaching will produce a result.  Even at a toddler level.  I have some parents expecting a "product".  What did my child ~DO~ today."   It is important to share with parents our thoughts behind activities and curriculum.  We are learning "gentle touch" by reading a "fuzzy" book, and have toy pets to practice petting.  There is no product here.  This is just the start of teaching empathy, caring and being gentle.  Sometimes this activity can take much of our morning, without much to show for it.  The evidence could show up later in the child's behavior towards a pet at home or sibling, but not until the child is physically and cognitively able.