Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A New Year

Here we are poised to begin another new year. There is always much talk about resolutions and what we want to change about ourselves for the coming year. I have tried to make at least one resolution each year. That resolution is to contribute one important thing to the early childhood community. I hope to publish something in 2009 and hope that it will be helpful to teachers and caregivers. Here's to 2009 and everything we an accomplish between now and 2010. Good Luck.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I was out breaking the ice on our pond (winter has arrived!) so that the turtles hibernating in the bottom will have oxygen. While breaking the ice I was thinking about the discussion that happens every year at this time about saying "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." It all boils down to validation. Human beings want to validated in their beliefs and cultural surroundings. I sometimes think that I should just say, "Merry Everybody and Everything." Actually, I think that is a good idea. As teachers we accept (or should accept) any child that crosses the threshold into our classroom. However, sometimes we adults forget to do that to each other. We are so busy trying to prove we are right, we think the only way to do so is to prove everyone else is wrong. I often think of Dr. Seuss's book, "The Sneetches," when it says..."that day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches and no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches." Validation is the oxygen we need and I want to spend my time breaking the ice.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I am in the middle of interviewing students from my Introduction to Teaching courses at the university. I am so excited about the number of students who are forging ahead with the teaching programs. We know all of the negatives about teaching, such as lower salaries, behavior problems with students and lack of support from home. However, I think the biggest negative of all is poor teaching, whether it is the cynical-nothing works teacher or the instructor who lacks teaching skills. Both of those groups give all teachers and education a bad name. I have tried to relay to my students that it does not have to be that way. You can be a successful, organized and efficient teacher without being mean or constantly in survival mode. I believe it takes just as much effort to be a lousy teacher as it does to be a good teacher. I'm hoping this new crop of teachers will be the latter. We so desperately need more GOOD teachers. It makes me want to go back and teach kindergarten again...which I will do at least one more time before I die...at least I hope. :-)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Yaa..Well...There's Always Mashed Potatoes.

I was excited to help in my granddaughter's first grade class recently. She has a great teacher, but I still thought about telling her to go home and let me take over. I do miss the daily interaction with young children. I really wished I lived closer because one particular boy instantly bonded to me. When I found out he was a struggling reader, I really wanted to be there every day to help.
My granddaughter, along with her sister and brother came to stay for the weekend. I was cooking an early Thanksgiving for my family and the kids stayed at my house to 'help.' After two days of cooking we sat down last Sunday to the feast. My granddaughter wasn't impressed by all the fancy dishes, but she was happy because at least, there were mashed potatoes. Like playing with the gift box at Christmas, sometimes the simpler things are better.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Working Together

Based on recent comments, know that nothing brings out the passion in people like politics (and religion). It would be nice if everyone would take all of their passion for such topics and aim it toward improving things that will really improve the life of citizens. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I am hopeful that the new administration will hold to their commitment to early childhood. I worry because there are some serious situations right now, like the economic situation and the war in Iraq, that will take a lot of time. My hope, however, as I stated last time, is that our local governing bodies can work together to make sure our children are taken care of and nourished. Research says that $1 spent on quality early childhood programs would eventually save the taxpayers $14. We just must make the initial investment.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

School and Money

We are in such a shaky economic time right now that I worry about the effects it will have on educational funding. Almost 50% of funding for education comes from state money (the rest comes from local taxes and a small amount from the federal government). I knew funding was always a critical issue when our state legislature meets each year, but I didn't realize how much of the pie they must provide. With our current financial crisis I worry what will happen during this year's legislative sessions. Unfortunately, in years past, some of our lawmakers have spent an incredible amount of time debating moral message laws or other non-essential topics (example: Should we really have seat belt laws? What if we have too many children to fit in a car? etc.). Meanwhile, we have children without health care, single mothers without child care assistance and the lowest per-pupil expenditure in the nation. It is my hope in this coming financially-tight year, our lawmakers can concentrate on the humane and important issues. I'm worried because recently a lawmaker expressed concern that we are adding a new area code to Utah. Everyone will now need to dial all 10 digits of make a call. He wants to introduce a bill so that people won't be inconvenienced by needing to dial 10 digits. Please...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It Is History!

Like many Americans, I had a hard time sleeping last night after hearing President-elect Obama's acceptance speech. His speech was filled with a challenge for future healing and a hope that America can get back on track as a land of promise. I felt the promise that we can make our country an even better place for our future generations. It is my hope that we can stop bickering about who can or cannot have basic civil rights. Instead, I think we should concentrate our efforts on making sure our children are fed, clothed, have basic health care and a quality educational system that provides the nourishment for being responsible and productive citizens. I'm encouraged that in many speeches Mr. Obama frequently stated that it is critical to have quality early childhood programs. I am currently in Dallas at the NAEYC National Conference. Thousands of early childhood educators are here for that very reason: to provide quality early childhood progams for children.
Yes, I didn't sleep much after that speech. It was historical in many ways and one that I hope will help the country rise to the occasion. We certainly need to do so for our children and grandchildren. I want the world to be an even better place for the generations of the future.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hot and Cold

This past week, I had the opportunity of doing workshops in Los Angeles and Anaheim, California as well as Atlantic City, New Jersey. When I boarded the plane in Anaheim, it was 92 degrees. When I deplaned in Philadelphia, it was in the 40's. Burrrrr...what a difference. Going from hot to cold made me think of all the visits I make to early childhood classrooms. The warmth and safety I feel when I visit a well-run appropriate classroom is exhilarating. The fear and anxiety I feel when I visit a classroom that is struggling leaves me with a cold, uncomfortable feeling. I am assuming that children feel the same way. We all know children who do not want to go to school. My fear is that they feel that same cold, uncomfortable feeling when entering the classroom. I would love to see all young children running to school because their classroom exhibited the warmth and safety that each child should feel.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Quality Child Care

In the last weeks we have been talking about quality child care in my Introduction to Teaching course. Research tells us that quality child care contributes to the cognitive and emotional development of children. This results in lower levels of delinquency, teenage pregnancy, drug use, and dropout rates resulting in high earnings later in life and greater marital stability. Whew! Why isn't everyone on the bandwagon for quality child care? I guess the answer is money...but not the only answer. Many critics emphasize that children are better off with mom (or dad) staying home rather than looking for quality care. Unfortunately, that ideal is unrealistic for many families. Single parent households do not have the luxury of choice in the matter. Quality child care is an issue for most single parent households and at-risk families. Many state governments (including my own state) have failed to adequately fund child care for families in need. A study published in Education Week in 2004 found that every dollar invested in quality child care would prove an economic return of 13 dollars in the child's future education. I think it is worth the initial investment.

Friday, October 3, 2008

We're in this Together!

I did a math workshop in Nashville this week and it was wonderful. What a great group of teachers and caregivers! It is always such a treat to go around the country and meet other early childhood professionals. The commonality is that we all want what is best for young children and strive to be appropriate in our approach. Young children constantly need advocates since they cannot lobby for themselves. We are a great group in the early childhood field and it feels good to make those connections wherever people are working with young children.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Step by Step

I had an engaging conversation last evening with past early childhood friends about developmental stages in learning. I was in Orlando to talk about developmental math sequences. We expressed our frustration about how many core standards are not listed in developmental order. It is left up to the teacher to make sure they are introduced in a sequence that will provide a foundation for learning. This is initially why I began to create the POCET tracking system for preschool.
Math is a great example. It is critical that a child can classify and sort by attributes prior to being asked to be aware of repeating patterns. Literacy experts have also concluded that phonemic awareness, letter recognition and print awareness are predictors of reading success in first grade. It is imperative that we help early childhood teachers understand the developmental order of skills so that empty, unsupported activities aren't the norm. We must build that solid foundation of learning.

Monday, September 15, 2008

One-Day Bloom

We have a hardy Hibiscus in our yard which bloomed for this first time this fall. It is amazingly beautiful with a dark red bloom that measures approximately 8" across. The sad part is that the blooms only last 1-2 days. As there are many blooms on our plant, we have been enjoying them for a couple of weeks. These flowers have been reminding me about just how precious time is when we are looking at our children. Because of developmental windows, we don't have the luxury of hit-and-miss support for foundational learning. We need to make the most of each minute that these little ones are soaking up knowledge. Their brains are busy building connections that will affect the rest of their lives. The anticipation in children is just as breathtaking as my beautiful Hibiscus. The difference is that when we cultivate and enrich a child's joy of learning, it will most definitely last more than 1-2 days. Imagine blooming an entire lifetime!

Monday, September 8, 2008

No, Not Yet!

We just recently completed a deck that has been in the planning for several years. As I sit out under the tree that grows from the middle, I am not happy that fall is on the way. The temperatures are cooling and darkness is coming earlier all of the time. But, I have my deck and I want fall to stop coming for a while. I want to enjoy the lovely summer evenings outside. But, time will keep marching on. I had the same feelings about stopping time as my children continued to grow older. Now I feel it occasionally with my grandchildren. Can't she stay two for just a little longer? It is the nature of things to watch time pass. I guess our challenge to make sure each day is better than the last one.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Something Should Be Done!

I was standing in line for the self-checkout at the grocery store today. Two young men in their 20s were in front of me in line dressed like they just came from the gym. A woman at one of the check-out machines was trying to control a two year-old (from the child's appearance) who was having a tantrum. The two young men were commenting that "something should be done with that kid." He was out of hand and slowing the line down. One of the young men told me he grew up in a large family in Atlanta and being the oldest he had to learn to take care of the other children. He said that the child needed some choices right now so that his energies could be directed to something useful. I was shocked at the young man's insight! I learned that same information at a brain research conference. I agreed with them that something should be done. All young people, prior to having children, should have some training and background information. That is what should be done.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Intro to Teaching

I have been asked to begin teaching an Introduction to Teaching course at the university. Like many other states, we are in desperate need of teachers. There is already a shortage and from all predictions it is set to become larger over the next few years. I've been given the challenge of finding and encouraging students to become teachers. A tall order since the pay is low and behavior problems seem to be on the increase. However, teaching can be rewarding for those who are truly committed. I can't imagine my life without the wonderful experiences I have had as a teacher. I have loved all ages, but my favorite will always be kindergarten. I want to teach kindergarten one more time before I die.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taking Risks

I recently heard a recorded speech by Sir Ken Robinson about creativity. He told a story of a teacher who was asking one of her students what she was drawing. The student replied, "I'm drawing God." The teacher responded, "Well, no one really knows what God looks like." To which the girl said, "They will in a minute." In the creativity course I teach, we learn that true creativiy comes when a person is willing to take risks. In other words, they need to be in a non-threathening enviornment that allows mistakes. Sir Robinson believes schools teach kids OUT of creativity. I agree. Unless we can allow children to make mistakes and take risks, there is no increase in thinking, development of talents, or evidence of creativity.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Look at the Princess!

We just finished tending three of my grandchildren for a week at their home in California. We had a blast. Except for one case of strep throat, it was a delightful week and I look forward to doing it again soon. One of the highlights of the trip was my two-year old granddaughter's entrance down their living room staircase. She would go up to her bedroom and dress in one of their princess dresses, then call to us from the top of the stairs so we could watch her descend as a princess. Whenever I would say, "Look at the Princess," she would exclaim, "No. It's Audrey!" It reminded me of how honest and straight-forward young children are in daily life. It is this honesty we need to use to explain the world around them. This is important for early childhood educators to remember. We should be teaching young children using real-life, tangible materials, not abstract paper and pencil tasks. There is no comparison between counting real items, such as blocks, and counting items on a paper. It is the difference between real-life and pretend.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

How Many Ways...

I was recently at the headquarters of Discount School Supply and was able to see many new products that are coming out this year in their catalog. This meeting is always a treat and I get excited to see new ways of doing things. We do know what early childhood children need to support their growth, but it is always a challenge to come up with new ways to introduce and support it. I have heard people scoff at new products saying that it is just a new way to do the same old thing. YES! Since we have many children to support, we need many approaches to that support. It is just as critical to use different teaching strategies that meet a child's learning style as it is to choose the appropriate skills to introduce. In fact, new products sometimes get teachers and caregivers out of the rut of using the 'same old thing' time and time again. In fact, I just had a blast with two of my grandchildren using scratch art to develop fine motor skills.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The End is the Beginning..

I recently had the son of a friend graduate from high school as the valdicorian

The End is the Beginning..

I recently had a friend graduate from high school as the valedictorian. We always knew he was very intelligent and would do well. I would take Tom to the library when he was young and he would check out 20-25 books. This made me a bit nervous until his dad assured me that he would get through them all during the three-week checkout time. I remember watching a program with him on the History Channel about how thimbles were made. That is the last thing I wanted to know, but I watched it with him as he was so engrossed in the program. I also remember a discussion with him about nuclear fusion and what it will eventually be able to do (something I still don't understand!). Tom was intelligent beyond my abilities years ago. It didn't surprise me that he was first in his class. What I relish is the fact that everyone around him encouraged and allowed him intellectual freedom. He now starts on a new beginning with the help of a full scholarship to a great university. I wish all children had this great support for development.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New Crop

I was excited to run into some of my former students this past month. Most of them were graduating in early childhood and interviewing for teaching jobs. I was excited because last fall I worked with this wonderful group of early childhood teachers. I am encouraged because they know how to be developmentally appropriate in early childhood settings. My hope is that in their new classrooms they can hold onto those important objectives and not buckle under to peer pressure to become ditto factories and assembly lines. It can sometimes be a balancing act, but well worth it if you persevere. Children always learn more in appropriate settings. Research tells us the number one factor for a child learning to read is the attitude of the teacher. I think it works on more than just reading...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Avoiding Negative Behaviors

I was speaking to a group in Kingsville, TX, this weekend and I was again reminded about how important it is for early childhood teachers to set up engaging and effective classrooms. Research by the Center of Social and Emotional Foundations in Early Learning (CSEFEL-see website below) indicates that the organization and setup of a classroom is key to preventing negative behaviors. Adults tend to blame children for negative behavior when the real culprit is the environment in which the child is forced to function. CSEFEL has developed a pyramid for the classroom teacher to follow in setting up a class setting to avoid those negative episodes. There are many additional resources available on their website: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/csefel/

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

DAP Mathematics Skills

I was recently talking to a group about developmentally appropriate math skills for early childhood children (see 'Conference Handouts' below right). I remember discovering the developmental order of math skills a number of years ago when I was teaching kindergarten. When I patiently worked through the developmental order (and didn't rush to talk about numbers, shapes, etc.), the most amazing thing happened. ALL of the children in my class acquired all the skills when they were introduced. I no longer was playing the 'catch-up' game with children that didn't seem to wrap their minds around the skill. It gave me the understanding of how important it is to built the foundation for every skill that is taught. Children that don't seem to understand a concept usually do not have the background knowledge to support that skill. For other developmental lists, check out: http://www.teacherquicksource.com/

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Multiple Uses

In most areas, the educational dollar is not as plentiful as it should be. As a teacher, I always looked for products or additions to my classroom that I could use for multiple teaching experiences. I have been doing a series of math workshops this year and explain to teachers how easy it is to use items for teaching numerous different skills. I also have been working on ways to keep children active and energized. One item that caught my attention was a circus tent for active play that could also double as a reading center or any other type of center. I am very much in favor of products and activities that can be used for various teaching strategies. That way, the teacher can stretch that scarce dollar a bit further. It will also help children think of creative uses for toys and games.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Building Blocks

I was researching some information about using blocks with children. I am always impressed by how many skills are reinforced through the use of blocks. Spatial sense, classification, patterning, shapes, cooperation, and planning are just a few of the experiences that children can have with blocks. I am also impressed by how important it is to leave block activities somewhat open-ended. Open creative thinking allows blocks to be a useful tool even an children get older. The kindergarten child creates different things with the same blocks he used as a toddler. It is important to have a variety of blocks available for children. They are also one of the most cost-effective tools and toys a parent or teacher can purchase.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Snow, Snow, and more Snow...

We have had an abundance of snow and cold this winter. I think I am over it. I saw some young children making a snowman this morning and I remembered how I used to look forward to snow as a child. When our small town received lots of snow, we were blanketed for a while. I don't remember any snowplows, etc., so people used to try to clear their own path. I remember being pulled behind my dad's truck on an old car hood taboggan. A very dangerous thing to do (now that I reflect back), but it was a lot of fun. I guess I need to remember my child-like qualities and enjoy the snow while it is here. Hmmmm....I still think I am ready for spring.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Authentic Assessments-Revisited

There was a question comment on my entry of January 3rd about where to find authentic assessments. In my experience, it is critical for the teacher or caregiver to have a roadmap of skills that are appropriate for the age of children she is working with at the time. That is why I wrote the "POCET" program for Discount School Supply. As part of NAEYC's accreditation standards, Standard 4 – Assessment of Child Progress: The program is informed by ongoing systematic, formal, and informal assessment approaches to provide information on children’s learning and development. These assessments occur within the context of reciprocal communications with families and with sensitivity to cultural contexts in which children develop. Assessment results are used to benefit children by informing sound decisions about children, teaching, and program improvement*." It is important to remember that making assessments authentic is the APPROACH we take with the child. When we have a roadmap of appropriate skills and we administer each assessment in a developmentally appropriate way, it is an authentic assessment. As mentioned above, authentic assessment means multiple measures, not just one tool.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Outside the Box

A popular term in business nowadays is "thinking outside the box." I always thought that was the definition of creativity and imagination. I just finished reading the new Caldecott Medal winner, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick. What a great example of thinking outside the box. This is a huge volume of 534 pages! It is very unusual for a book that looks like a novel to win the prestigious award for picture books. That is because there are 284 illustrations in this book! Like a picture book, the illustrations tell a great deal of the story. I applaud the Caldecott committee for thinking outside the box and giving this wonderful volume an award. Take a look at this book and enjoy the journey of being in France during the 1930s.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Authentic Assessments

I have had the task of looking through current assessment procedures and requirements lately and I am struck again by the critical need to authentically assess a child. It is so important not to use only one way to evaluate the progress a child is making. The teacher must view progress from every angle of the child's life. That is one thing that standardized tests cannot do. Although formal tests might serve a purpose, they are very inadequate for identifying what a child has learned. It is too bad when officials look at those types of scores to assess learning. They represent only a small piece of the pie.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A New Year!

The beginning of a new year provides an opportunity for all of us to make a new start on improvements that we would like to make. My 17 month-old granddaughter has been staying at my house for a couple of days. Watching her explore new things and make new connections has reminded me how nice it is to have a fresh start to parts of our life. Of course I have some of the basic resolutions, such as eating healthier and losing a couple of pounds, but my goal this year is a little more dramatic. I would like to help even more teachers this year become appropriate in their approach to young children. I watch my granddaughter become excited and scream, "Keee," when she sees the kitty. I want to watch teachers and caregivers with that type of excitement when they discover appropriate approaches for children.