Friday, November 2, 2012

The Safety and Security of Consistency

I was working with one of my student teachers recently and she expressed to me her exasperation with her cooperating site teacher.  They currently have a child who is in foster care in their class.  The little first grader has learned how to manipulate situations and refuses to cooperate with classroom rules.  My student teacher is frustrated because when she follows through on classroom procedures with the girl, and she is required to receive the consequences of her actions, the site teacher pulls the girl aside and gives her candy!  Ugh!
I know that the site teacher thinks she is being supportive and comforting to this little girl.  The student teacher feels like she is forced into the "bad guy" role in the classroom.
I was explaining to both teachers that the most secure and helpful procedure they could follow is being consistent with their expectations for the little girl.  While I understand that she needs extra support because of her unfortunately situation, the best support they can give is to be consistent in their expectations and procedures.  The best security we can provide for at-risk children is to surround them with the safety net of knowing what to expect when they come into the classroom each day.  By having clear rules and guidelines, clear consequences for inappropriate behavior, plus a loving and supporting classroom atmosphere, the small child will be supported in the best possible way.  The worst thing we can do for children in a classroom, especially at-risk kids, is not provide the security of consistency.  It is unfair and scary in a world that has already treated them unfairly.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Helping Children Bloom

We are getting ready to say goodbye to our flowers for the season.  In our area, flowers disappear with the first frost.  Although a little early, we lost a few vines this past week, but we are still enjoying the flowers.  However, I understand that we must enjoy them today because they will be gone tomorrow.
I was looking at my geraniums and thinking how different each plant can be.  Not only are the colors of the flowers different, the leaves and the plant patterns vary from mound to mound.  It is like having different children in our classrooms.  If we are working with 5 year olds, they are all 5 year-olds.  Fortunately, they all have different patterns, different leaves, and variegated colors.  Like all of my geraniums, children need different things to flourish and make the most of their development and accomplishments.  I had a geranium this season that needed constant monitoring with additional plant food and water.  Because I took the time to do this, that plant did well and provided many beautiful blooms during the summer.  Other plants seemed to grow like weeds, without much additional care.  The children in our classrooms are so much like that.  Some need extra care and consideration to make the same progress other children seem to make automatically.  The key is to provide that extra nourishment.  Children who need extra care are sometimes the ones that fight it and seem to rebuff that extra attention.  That means we teachers must make it  a priority to provide the necessary care.  If the child is going to bloom, we must be willing to provide the necessary support. As early childhood community, we need to work to make sure every child blooms.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Literacy in the Sand Table

I had the opportunity to present a workshop at the North Carolina AEYC Conference this past week.    It was a joy to meet with wonderful early childhood teachers in North Carolina. I always love visiting that beautiful state.  No matter where I visit in the United States, there are early childhood teachers who want to provide the best possible experience for their children.  Last week was no exception.  The early childhood community continues to look for innovative and engaging ways to help children learn.  Our group discussed using the sand and sensory tables to promote and support language and literacy development.  I firmly believe that the sensory tables are not used enough in our classrooms.  Some of the language and literacy ideas we discussed include:

  • Forming letters of the alphabet with wet sand or dough
  • Allowing children to create parts of stories using sand and props
  • Having children use a scoop to find sponge letters floating in water
  • Using a magnet wand to find magnetic letters hidden in sand
  • Using dough to create another ending for a story
  • Using sand on a cookie sheet or tray to form alphabet letters with your finger
The list was quite extensive and included many activities for use in the sensory table or center.  These types of workshops serve as a reminder about how critical it is to engage children and keep learning exciting.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

And School Begins...

It is that season again when most school systems begin a new academic year.  We started classes at the university last Monday, but most of the public school districts in our area begin in the next few days.  I took the opportunity last week to visit my student teaching candidates as they were helping their site teachers with classroom setup.  The old "beginning of the year" excitement was very evident in every school I visited.  I remember that excitement well as I enjoyed setting up my classroom every fall for almost 25 years.  Later this week, I will meet with my candidates and begin our semester-long course on classroom management.  To me, effectively managing a classroom is the key to everything for the year.  A teacher cannot teach successfully, or children learn successfully, without an effective classroom routine.  Research tells us that it is the attitude of the teacher that is the key factor in teaching reading, math, and other academic subjects.  My job this semester is to model for my student teachers how human development should be the foundation of that classroom management.  Our educational system is so focused on academic teaching that teachers don't receive a lot of support for meeting the needs of their students using developmental principles. Those principles are the key to understanding how students function. It is not just early childhood children who should reap the benefits of developmentally appropriate practice. Understanding the developmental stage of a 9 year-old will be a tremendous help for the teacher in a fourth grade classroom. My job is to help my group of future teachers understand those principles.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Passing the Torch

Time continues to slip past us at an incredible rate.  As we age, our perception is that time moves even faster.  Before we realize it, we take the place of our parents and soon we will observe our children taking our place.  When my aunt, the last of her generation, passed away last fall, my cousin turned to me and said, "Well, we're it now.  WE are the oldest generation."  When did that happened?  When did I become the 'oldest' guy around?  I watch my three children as parents worrying about their children moving into the teenage years. Wow!  Part of me laments at being older while the other part of me is happy that I don't have to raise teenagers again!
I had the opportunity to take my six grandchildren to my parents' grave recently.  I really wish that my parents could have known my children and grandchildren as they are now.  They are so interesting and individual. But, time marches on and I am happy to have been the bridge between these generations.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

They're Watching...

It always intrigues me to watch a young child with his parent or grandparent.  The child watches everything that the adult is doing.  If at all possible, the child will imitate the adult in an effort to be just like the person that is their protector.  As I watched a group of family members show their children how to safely use sparklers to celebrate the holiday yesterday, it was evident that the children were making efforts to follow the examples of the adults.  However, the older the child, the less the child seemed to follow the adult direction.  Isn't it interesting what children do as they become more independent.  It reminded me again of how fleeting and short these important early childhood years are for those young ones.
The experience also reminded me how vulnerable and delicate our young children are when watching their parent or grandparent.  When adults are good examples and at the same time challenge the child to think and create their own answers, a resilient child is created.  I remember reading some of the research on Multiple Intelligences that was a theory offered by Howard Gardner.  In one of his documents he mentioned how he didn't want his children to redo the same things that he had done.  He wanted them to create new things and new ideas.   Being a great example to children and encouraging them to develop thinking skills will help carry these children into a future we can't predict.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Balancing Act

Being a classroom teacher is often a balancing act. Teachers are often bombarded with the latest curriculum or teaching strategy that will solve all of their problems. In my effort to create a developmentally appropriate (DAP) classroom, I evaluated Creative Curriculum, Reggio Amelia, HighScope, ECRS & ITRS, and RTI to name a few. As I have looked at all of these approaches, it is evident that there are enriching portions in each strategy. It can be confusing for an early childhood teacher to decide which is best. Although I believe the HighScope approach may be the most 'child-friendly', there are still strong facets in the other programs. As a classroom teacher, I always tried to use the best of everything I had available for teaching the children in my care. Research tells us that even the best teaching strategies don't work with every child. Because of this we should look for all of the positive content that we can find and add it to our treasure chest of knowledge. Like a balancing act, the trick is to stay on the beam. Even when our programs choose a set curriculum we should enrich it with materials and good ideas from all credible sources.