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?