Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Paradise Where You Are

Here we sit in the snow and cold as another winter is upon us. We recently returned for a trip to Hawaii. How glorious it was to experience 'paradise' and get a break from the cold weather (which has been unseasonably cold this year). As the snow was falling today, I found myself wishing I was back sitting on the Waikiki Beach. Then I remembered, as so often before in my life, that paradise is where you are. It is up to us to create our own paradise and be happy with our surroundings. I have always felt sorry for those people who seem to stumble along daily wishing they were at another place in life. One can waste an entire life wishing for different circumstances. As usual, this always brings me back to the classroom where the same thing applies. Are the children sitting there wishing for a different setting, or are they experiencing paradise? It is up to the educator to make sure it is the latter.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Going Bowling

We went bowling with the grandkids the other day and it was great. I had forgotten that they have these nifty metal racks for the children to roll the ball down to hit the pins. I wanted one of those (along with the bumper rails!) for my bowling. I'm not a good bowler, but then I only go about every 10 years. As I was watching the children use the bowling rack I was struck with thoughts about the other 'racks' that we can provide for children. Racks that will help children reach their potential. Reaching that potential is just has hard as a small child trying to maneuver a heavy bowling ball. They are much more successful if given a sturdy structure to begin the journey. I think we should all take a minute and go bowling with a child. It is a humbling experience when they get a higher score than you!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Spring in the Fall

I was struck by an extraordinary thought the other day as I was raking up leaves. We go somewhat overboard with our yard, so every fall we must clean up the falling leaves and dying plants. It's like a right of passage into winter (whether we want winter to come or not). As I was raking, I thought about how much of our yard will 'sleep' for the winter and come alive again in the spring. Each perennial plant will have another chance to grow and flourish, trying to surpass the previous year. I was thinking about how wonderful it would be for children who suffer an emotional or developmental setback to have a spring, where they could have another chance to flourish. Maybe this time, with the right light, water and nourishment, he just might flourish. Then it hit me that every fall when we begin a another school year, a child may have a new 'spring' in learning. If a teacher works hard to provide the right amount of nourishment, the child can flourish, even more than the previous year. Even as I watch the new trees I planted begin to grow and spread, that same anticipation should be occurring each school year as we watch our students grow and spread their wings.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Human Family

I was having a conversation with a coworker recently about supporting children who come from different family configurations. I told him that I really enjoyed using multicultural play sets, or block people, to allow the child the opportunity to build a model of his own family in dramatic play. Even though many of the play people produced commercially come in racial family compositions, I like to get them all and allow the child to mix and match and create her family as close as she can. The make-up of the American family in 2009 has no one model. Families may have a father and mother, bi-racial members, single-parent households, gay parents, grandparents, foster parents, and the list could go on. Our job as early childhood educators is to validate and support every child in our care. Regardless of our own background or value system, we must realize that the child is the most important part of our classroom. Our support and validation is critical to help the child become well-adjusted and resilient.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Building Brain Connections

I was traveling on an airplane this week and I had the privilege of sitting next to a mechanical engineer. He was traveling for work on his latest project, a new medical device for heart patients. I was fascinated by the new procedures he was explaining, but he seemed just as fascinated with my early childhood knowledge. He has two small children and admitted that he and his wife don't always know the best approach for teaching their little ones. Our conversation evolved to a discussion about building capacities in the brain. I told him how critical it was to give young children as many experiences and support as possible so they can build as many brain connections as possible (check out Dr. Jean's information). We know that the connections formed during early childhood will have life long effects. We discussed how his new device might help patients avoid a heart bypass operation, but there was no shortcut to providing young children with positive, supportive experiences during these critical years. Early childhood is the time to build strong brain connections. I continue to admire all of the wonderful people in the world that devote their lives to young children.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I Need to be Twins

I went to my granddaughter's class for grandparents day this past week. We had a great time. I have another little friend in my granddaughter's room. The school is year-round and my granddaugher has changed schedules (tracks) this year. With all of the that, this little friend has been in her class every year since kindergarten (they are in 2nd grade this year). I was immediately drawn to this little guy in kindergarten because he was struggling with all the basic skills. I was a bit concerned when I asked the teacher about him. Her response was that he, "just didn't know anything," as she rolled her eyes. I took offense to how flippantly she dismissed the situation. I went back to my son's home and told my daughter-in-law that I would love to live closer so that I could tutor this struggling boy in reading.

Not much has changed in two years. He was the only child in the class without a grandparent or parent with him last week. Of course, with my granddaughter's permission, he became part of our family for the activity. We played bingo and I was distressed as my granddaughter read every word on the card and he could not decode even the simplest word.

I went home and looked at my schedule to see if I had 3 hours (travel time and tutor time) to devote several times a week to this child. Unfortunately, with supervising student teachers this year, I just can't find that amount of time.

I feel the same distress I felt when one of my grandchildren had a very poor teacher a couple of years ago. It shouldn't be this way. We must support the children while they are in these crucial early childhood years. I think I need a clone...or maybe several.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Open Classroom

I have the opportunity to supervise student teachers this school year. I've always wanted that assignment. I thought I was well-suited for it since I had numerous student teachers when I was a classroom teacher and I have supervised classroom teachers several times. One of my assignments is a school called The Open Classroom. When I visited for the first time last week, I was thrilled. Talk about using early childhood strategies! The entire school is built around hands-on experiences, working together, parent participation and creating a learning environment throughout the school. It was wonderful to walk into a fourth grade classroom and see tables instead of desks!! There were also several parents as well as the teacher and the student teacher. The school was friendly and inviting. Even the children in the hallway greeted me with a smile and a hello. The principal was just returning from outside where they were making the most of the learning environment while out at recess. The principal told me, "Every situation is a learning opportunity. Whether we are outside, in the hallway, or actually in the classroom. Anywhere the student might be is a teaching moment."

I'm so excited to visit this school this year. It reflects my personal philosophy about education and educational settings. This is how I ran my kindergarten and first grade classrooms. What a joy to see these basic child development strategies embedded throughout an elementary school. I have always been convinced that a child will always learn more when he enjoys the environment and is met on his developmental level.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I was asking my 'brand new second grader' granddaughter the other day how things were going in second grade. "Good," was her response. I asked what she had been doing the past week in her new class. "Well, we made visors the first day, with our names on them." I inquired about the rest of the week. She shrugged and said, "I don't know. Stuff." Somehow, there was only one stand-out memory from the week. I began to think about how time seems to pass much quicker for me than it did when I was younger. It becomes a challenge to create memories that stand out while time is whizzing by rapidly.
I also recently had dinner with a former kindergarten student, who is an adult now. I was taken back by what he remembered from my kindergarten class. He recalled our hillbilly band, learning how to read (yeah!) and the one time he got into trouble for talking too much. I don't even remember ever talking to him about behavior. He was a wonderful student. I think I was shocked that one of his first memories was one isolated time he was corrected.
Salvador Dali's "Persistence of Time" picture always makes me feel that we need to be more effective with our time, before it melts away. Particularly, when we work with small children whose brains are building life-long skills and memories. I'm committed to making myself create more positive memories for myself and those around me.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Beauty in Getting Along

I just finished watching my grandchildren for several days while their parents were out of town. I guess I had more energy when I was younger. :-) Caring for young children takes a lot of energy. I remember the comedian, Bill Cosby, once said, "People with only one child aren't real parents. They never had to hear, 'She's looking at me.' or 'He touched me.'" It takes effort to keep the peace when you have small children or are in charge of young children. Several years ago I was involved with a grant that concentrated on using social emotional strategies to avoid negative behaviors in the preschool classroom. It was great to watch teachers set up their classrooms and organize the day in ways that encouraged positive behaviors. I am so lucky that my grandchildren are well-behaved. However, I tried one strategy with them while they were staying at my house. I made a visual schedule for the day. It was funny how that seemed to please the kids and help them understand how the day was going to progress. Hmmm...it even worked at home. As my granddaughter said about the flowers in our yard, "It is beautiful when everything in a plant gets along." It is beautiful when a group of children get along.

Friday, July 31, 2009

It Tastes Ymmy

We have three new little turtles in the pond in our yard. It has taken a month or so for us to train the little ones to come to the surface (not swim away) and eat the food we throw on top of the water. The real trick is to encourage them to eat the TURTLE food, not the fish food we distribute for the school of fish which shares their pond. I suppose they might get nourishment from the fish food, but I know the turtle food is healthier for them in the long run.
It makes me think of beginning a school year with a new group of children. We carefully need to teach them to come to the surface to eat the right food. Of course, the teacher or caregiver must provide the right food. Sometimes that doesn't happen. Just like the little turtles, I suppose children may get some benefit out of inappropriate practices in the classroom. But, when teachers use appropriate teaching strategies, it is much more nourishing and beneficial for the child's entire life. I hope we early childhood educators will do our best to provide turtle food to help growth and development.

Monday, July 20, 2009

There's Always Ice Cream!

We went from a long wet, cool spring (unusual for us) to a blistering hot summer this month! We were trying to enjoy a family birthday barbecue this past Saturday (it was 102!) and one of my grandchildren reminded me that when it is hot outside there is always ice cream (she wishes).
That reminds me of the promises of life. When I graduate from college I can... When I finish this school year, I can rejuvenate... When I train him out of diapers, I can... Lots of expectations when certain journeys seem complete. I think we adults tend to concentrate on the end reward without enjoying the journey. However, it may help us weather the journey. I was complaining about the cold and rain in June, so I should enjoy my 102!
On the flip side of this issue are the children. Not knowing what the end result will be, they are alive in the moment. I was discussing inappropriate classrooms last week with my class. I was struck by how uncomfortable some teachers make classroom settings. Since children don't seem to worry about the end result (I can be free of this mean teacher at the end of the year...) they are stuck in the moment. It makes me very sad for the children in classrooms that are always so negative. I would assume it is a feeling of being trapped in a cage. Their situation is much more uncomfortable than 102.
I wish I could find all those children and give them ice cream.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Good and the Bad

I was reminded recently about how there seems to be opposition in all things. We built a deck last summer underneath a very large and very old apricot tree. As much as I like apricots, I was wishing the blossoms would freeze this spring (which many of them did when it was 29!). The reason for my desire was that there can be so many apricots on that tree and they drop to the ground for several weeks. Our back yard smells like a winery. Also, I didn't want them falling on my new deck. The glorious shade provided by the tree is compromised during July because you might be fielding apricots when you are sitting underneath.
We talked in our Cognition and Creativity class this week about standardized tests. While they are usually inappropriate for early childhood, there is place for them at the table in later years. They do provide a framework and norm for learning the core curriculum. Unfortunately, they can be used as a single indicator of a child's learning. In the early education field we know that multiple measures must be used to monitor a child's progress and development. Just like the tree, the shade and the deck provide a great escape during the summer (basic information provided by standardized assessments), sometimes we get hit with apricots (major decisions made solely on standardized test scores).

Monday, June 29, 2009

I Like the Real Thing

Earlier this month I accompanied my granddaughter's first grade class to a museum of 'natural history.' I'm always disappointed to see a bunch of stuffed animals. There is something quite 'unnatural' about it to me, almost creepy. I guess this is one way we can learn about animals, but....
Last week I went with my six grandkids to the zoo. Now THAT was natural. I don't care how many times I go, the animals fascinate me in some way. I certainly came to the conclusion that for me, there is nothing like the real thing when learning about animals.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Here We Go Again...

I recently heard from a former coworker who taught with me for a number of years. She mentioned that in her new district they are always reinventing the wheel with educational practices. That seems to happen often. Sometimes I chuckle at the 'latest' teaching method or curriculum because often it is an old technique reorganized. I have been working on a workshop highlighting the RTI (Response to Intervention) teaching methods. Although founded in special needs, it is an organized way for the classroom teacher to provide support for all children, particularly those who need extra help. The first tier requires the teacher to have clear-cut goals/guidelines and an organized way of tracking the progress of each child. When we wrote POCET (Preschool Outcomes Checklist and Evaluation Tool) several years ago, that was exactly the philosophy. Give preschool teachers a clear roadmap of skills that is easy to understand, in developmental order, and provide a way to track each child's progress in mastering those skills. So, I'm reinventing my POCET workshop to the first tier of RTI. The good news is that great teachers can adjust to the new label and still perform their good teaching practices. Ya gotta satisfy the boss. :-)

Monday, June 1, 2009

She Can't Talk!

Every spring the turtle in our backyard pond goes wandering. We think it has something to do with trying to lay eggs, but we need to keep one hole underneath the gate blocked so she can't leave the yard. Neighbors have found her in the street, etc. I took this picture of Gertrude trying to escape and sent it to my grandkids in California. When my daughter showed it to her 2 year-old and said, "Papa's turtle just came out to say hello." My granddaughter replied, "She can't talk!" It reminded me of the old story about the answer from a kindergarten boy when listening to a story of the Three Pigs. When the first pig asked the man for straw to build a house, the teacher asked, "What do you think that man said?" The little boy replied, "I'll be damned, a talking pig!"

Children are so literal and yet so imaginative and creative if given a chance. I love big mouth hand puppets because they give the child an opportunity to allow the animals to talk and tell their own stories. Something tells me that my granddaughter wouldn't have any problem allowing a turtle hand puppet to talk! She is coming to visit soon, we'll see what she finds out about the turtle.

Monday, May 18, 2009

But It's Cute!

I am writing this while sitting on my deck eating ice cream (hey...its 90!). I recently remembered a teacher who was very unhappy with me when I asked her to remove a 'cutesy' picture she had created from the wall of the her classroom. She needed the space to display more important items, such as the children's artwork. She was upset because the picture was so 'cute.' Well, sometimes cute stands in the way of functional. We just removed a tree/bush from our backyard (see photo). It was beautiful and added wonderful color, but it blocked the view of our waterfall and pond area from the deck. So we dug it up and put it in the front yard. We initially missed the color splash, but removing that lovely bush has let us enjoy the waterfall and pond area so much more. Not only that, but we have a complete view of the area when grandchildren are here (we still have three that are a worry around the water). It has also let us watch the daily march of the huge flock of quail that come to our yard to feed and bathe (they hatch eggs in the neighbor's unkept yard because they can hide and no one goes in the backyard...but we provide the restaurant and atmosphere). All these things we enjoy more because we moved the beautiful picture...bush. Sometimes adjustments are necessary to see the real beauty around.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Happy Meeting

I just returned from speaking at the New York AEYC Conference in Brooklyn. What delightful people were there at the conference. I had the opportunity to meet Vera B. Williams, one of my favorite authors. We discussed my favorite book that she wrote, "Amber was Brave, Essie was Smart." It is probably one of the least known books my Ms. Williams, but it is my favorite. It is for older children (first grade +) than most of her books. Through prose, it tells the story of two sisters who care for each other while mom works and daddy is 'away.' I always ask my children's literature students to address the multicultural aspects of the book, using the text and the pictures. The book always reminds me of the vulnerability of children and how resilient they can be in difficult circumstances. It was a joy for me to meet Vera Williams, as she has given me many great memories as a teacher and as a grandparent.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Roadmap

I appreciated all the comments from my last entry about teaching children not subjects. I do sympathize with the constant pressure for teachers to follow the standards, as I think they should. Our challenge is to organize learning experiences that meet the needs of the children and support each skill. I am a firm believer in looking at the core curriculum and creating a 'road map of skills' in the order that supports development and learning. It is like having a GPS system for the year. Each week when I did my lesson planning I looked at my road map to see which skills needed support. Then I chose activities that suited the group of children I had at the moment. In the early childhood years, you can adapt almost any activity to provide support for a certain skill. This kind of planning kept me on track with the core curriculum and it also helped me choose developmentally appropriate activities for the children in my class. I also read my class. If the group (or individual children) was restless or bored, I adjusted the activity. The test scores were high because the interest level was kept high. Children do learn more when engaged in the learning experience.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Teaching the Child, Not the Subject

We recently viewed a video by the creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson. (http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/66) In this video he told the story of the choreographer of "Cats" and other Broadway shows. As a child, she could not hold still in class and her parents were told she had a learning problem. Fortunately, her mother and doctor discovered that she did not have a disability, she was a dancer. A dancer who could not sit still all day in a desk. She was sent to a performing arts school and became very successful in her field. My Introduction to Teaching students tell me stories about their visits to classrooms where the teacher is so structured that there is no room for children with diverse learning styles. In these cases, I think the teacher is only concerned with covering the material, not with turning the light switch of learning on for each child. We can use excuses like class size and high-stakes testing all we want. The bottom line is to be a good teacher is to provide support for learning basic skills through the learning style of the child. It is not impossible, it is just not 'assembly-line' work with dittos. Teachers need to work smarter, not harder. We teach children, not standards.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Put the Rosey Glasses Away

I know I am a couple of years behind, but I just read, "The Book Thief" by Marckus Zusak. The perils of Liesel and Max during the Nazi occupation reminded me of the Head Start classroom that I used to supervise at the homeless shelter. I don't work with truly at-risk children on a daily basis any longer. I sometimes forget that we have children living in cars, living in foster care until a parent 'gets on their feet,' going to school or bed without food, etc. My heart always breaks for the children. They have no control over their circumstances and they live not knowing what tomorrow might bring. I worry that the current economy might leave more children in heartbreaking situations. I babysat three grandchildren yesterday. It hurts me that all children don't have the same safety, love and security that they enjoy. I wish I had a magic wand...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Intrinsic Rewards

Since I don't have my own early childhood classroom any longer, I sometimes forget the feeling you get when a child learns something new. I was recently watching my excited grandson show me that he had learned to ride his bike without training wheels. He couldn't get enough riding time. He was always asking one of the adults to go outside with him so he could ride that bike. It is such an intrinsic reward (I am helping mankind!!) to see a child accomplish a skill. That is why many of us have devoted our lives to working with the youngest members of our population.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Money for Early Childhood

I agree with one of the comments from my last entry about the wish that all preschools and daycares can benefit from the stimulus money that has been promised for early childhood. We already know that Head Start and Early Head Start has been promised quite a chunk of the early childhood money. I do hope that there will be grants and child care subsidies that will assist other early childhood programs. At the same time, I hope that there are some checks and balances in place that the money be used to improve the quality of the preschool setting. Research tells us that quality child care and preschools benefit all children attending and it can save the education system around $14 per child. However, we also know from research that poor quality child care can actually be detrimental to young children, especially in social and emotional behavior patterns. So, I do hope that money will be available to good early childhood settings to help them become even better.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Let's Hope...

The economic downturn has everyone worried and many in uncomfortable circumstances. We know that when a family is in peril and stressed, it has adverse effects on young children. Now that the economic stimulus package has been signed, let's hope that (regardless of political leanings) we can get behind it and turn the country around. One of the great parts of the package is the incredible investment in early childhood education. Research proves that quality child care and preschool will actually save money over the long haul. However, the most important part of the equation is that it will help children become life-long learners. So, I am hopeful that this package to jump-start the nation will also enhance early childhood.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sick is Sick...Even in Paradise

We just got back from a semi-wonderful trip to Hawaii. This is such a great time to go as it gives us a nice break from the winter cold. The first few days were truly paradise. Hawaii is one of my favorite places and I ate it up, soaking up the sun and atmosphere. However, after a few days, a health crisis appeared: stomach flu. It hit with a vengeance and I did not completely recover until coming home and collapsing in bed for two more days. Sick is sick, even in paradise. It was hard to really enjoy being there after that. Oh well, at least it was a break from winter. :-)
It also brought to mind some of our poorly-run classrooms. Most children approach school with excitement (at least until a poor teacher kills it) and one of our great challenges is to keep it exciting. But, a terrible atmosphere is a terrible atmosphere...even in school.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Building Those Relationships

I was recently reading and article called, Building Positive Relationships with Young Children by Dr. Gail Joseph and Dr. Phillip Strain. In the article they were talking about how critical it is to build good relationships with children. That is one of the most important ways to avoid negative behaviors in the classroom. I liked their metaphor of a piggy bank. Every time you engage in positive relationship building with a child it is like making a deposit into their piggy bank. However, when we nag or criticize a child, we make a withdrawal. Teachers and caregivers should ask themselves, "Am I making a deposit or a withdrawal in this child's piggy bank." Turning the negative (a withdrawal) into a positive (a deposit) will go a long way to continue to build that solid positive relationship (a full piggy bank).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Circling in Space

I got a new laptop computer for Christmas. It was my attempt to place all of my university media files on a personal computer. I love this new device and just had it all set up the way I wanted it. I was using it for my current courses and was thrilled with its performance. Well, on Tuesday the monitor went out. It's a month old!! My son, the computer expert, checked it out and told me it was history. So I took it back and got a new one. Fortunately, I was able to salvage all my files (I think). Today I went to teach a class using my work laptop (which I have used in the past few years and contains all my university files). My entire file for that course was missing from my documents. Boy, do we rely on technology. Somewhere in cyberspace there is a file for International Childrens Literature floating around. If it should end up on your computer, please let me know. Oh well, next week has to better! :-)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Fridge is Full Again

Three of my grandchildren just had a sleepover at our house this week. I love having them stay! We always have such a great time. My two granddaughters love to draw new pictures to display on the fridge. We have some new Silky Stick crayons that glide on easier than regular crayons. The two were excited about the new materials for drawing and coloring. As teachers, it is always a challenge to find new ways of teaching basic concepts. It is not unlike grandparents thinking of new ways to entertain. Thank goodness my early childhood years have given me a treasure chest to rely upon. Without those resources I may not have a well-decorate refrigerator door!

Monday, January 12, 2009

A New Group

Today was the first day of classes at the university. The one fun thing about teaching on the college level is that you get fresh faces in the middle of the year. When I look out at all the new faces, I wonder what is in store for the semester. I love that feeling and always hope that I can make a difference in their lives. We have such a teacher shortage in our area and we need great teachers for our young children. I'm encouraged that the new administration will make education more attractive to sharp people. Our nation can only be as good as we are educated.