Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Survival in School

In my classroom management course at the university, we learn how children must have their basic needs satisfied prior to establishing an attitude where learning can be nourished and supported. When we think of basic needs, we usually think of food, water, shelter, safety, etc. However, there are basic needs in the classroom, as well. Those basic needs include: security, association, belonging, dignity, hope, power, enjoyment and competence. Teachers need to routinely ask themselves, "Do my students feel safe? Can they associate with others comfortably and do I make them feel like they belong to the group? Do I treat them with respect? When they are here, do they feel hope associated with learning new things? Do they help make decisions so they feel a measure of power in my class? Do they enjoy being in our classroom and do they feel success on a regular basis."
Sometimes we educators are so consumed with teaching the appropriate skills that we forget there needs to be a fertile ground for those new sprouts of knowledge to grow. If the child feels uncomfortable about any part of the school day, he may not be learning at his capacity. In fact, he most assuredly is not. I hope those of us who work with children will take this holiday break to rejuvenate ourselves and be committed to creating the optimal learning environment. One where the children have basic needs met while expanding with new skills and knowledge.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Helping Children Become Thinkers

Several people reading my last post asked me to elaborate on encouraging curiosity in young children. Using my years in the classroom, I would like to suggest the following list of opportunities to help children develop thinking skills:

1. Present open-ended activities. Instead of having the child do a self- portrait by giving her a page with the outline of a body, give her several colors of construction paper, scissors and glue to create a picture of herself. The possibilities are endless.

2. Ask the child for his opinion. When issues occur in the classroom, instead of issuing commands, turn the discussion to the children. "Friends, we are having trouble remembering to clean the art center when we are finished. Do you have any suggestions for what we can do about this problem."

3. Conduct a daily share time activity. When I was teaching, I gave the children an opportunity to verbally share any information item they would like to that day (no show and tell items, just verbal sharing). I did insist that the children listen to the speaker (listening skills practice) and encouraged anyone to share. It was not a requirement, but an opportunity. It only took 3-4 minutes and was a great beginning to the school day.

4. Let the children be the teacher. Children learn many more things from their peers than they do from adults. I found the value of using other children as teachers early on in my teaching career. I routinely partnered my students so that they could share with each other during an activity. The thinking and discussion were so valuable that I looked for other opportunities to allow children to 'teach' each other.

5. Help children understand the 'why.' Discuss with children why they are learning what you are teaching in the classroom. "Girls and boys, why do you think it is important for us to learn the letters of the alphabet?" A routine why discussion will help children develop the thinking skills of reasoning and understanding the foundation of learning.

Helping a child develop thinking skills will open up the world to him, much like opening the shell of a clam.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Our cat, Esme, likes to sit by the glass door and watch what is happening outside. I'm sure she is naturally curious because she spends her life indoors. In some ways, watching the outside is like television for the cat. Esme is very curious about everything that happens indoors and outdoors. Young children are very similar. A child's curiosity about the world is natural as he tries to understand and learn about his surroundings. As I have been watching student teaching candidates this semester, I have been observing how some teachers encourage curiosity and interest, but many others do not encourage or even like that basic instinct in children.

As a classroom teacher I always wanted to turn my students on to learning about the world and what they can do with new information. Unfortunately, most public school settings today are so structured around test scores that the child can only sit and wait for the information to be dumped in his head. Dumping knowledge has little possibility of sticking and making a difference in the child's life.

That brings me back to Esme and her interest in the world around her. I leave the wooden door open (even when it's cold) so that she has the opportunity to look at the world through the glass storm door and satisfy that basic curiosity. Watching safely behind the glass will make sure that curiosity will not kill this cat! Allowing children to be curious and ask questions will not kill the desire to learn, but encourage the interest to grow and continue.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Connecting the Dots

I am attending the annual NAEYC Conference in Anaheim. I always enjoy this conference because it is wonderful to see such a large group of people come together to learn what are the best practices when working with young children. One of my favorite stories is The Dot by Peter Reynolds. Vashti, the young girl in the story, learns how a simple dot can lead you on a creative and exciting journey. I feel the same way when I attend conferences. I have been attending workshops and trainings for over 30 years and you might think that I have heard everything by now. It is just the opposite. I think I am just beginning to really 'get it' about working with young children. I made a goal early on that I would make a strong effort to learn at least one new thing at every conference that would make me a better teacher. That goal has helped me develop better teaching skills as an early childhood educator and now as an adult educator teaching students to work with young children.
One example of this happened to me years ago when my school district sent me to a math workshop at Boise State University. Most of the workshops were labeled K-3 and did not have much content for me as a kindergarten teacher. However, I did learn to make little journal books at that conference. I used those books continually in my teaching from that point on and they became a major tool for teaching children to think and be creative. For me that long 3-day workshops was work every minute and dollar spent. It made me a better teacher by teaching me about a very useful tool. Those of you attending conferences and workshops should make a goal to find something that will profoundly improve your teaching and learning.

Friday, October 22, 2010

7 Connecting Habits of a Lead Teacher

In our classroom management course this week we were talking about setting up classrooms that avoid punishment (punitive discipline). I had the opportunity to review the works of one of my favorite researchers, William Glasser. He was a great educational thinker and often stated that we will not improve schools unless we provide curriculum that is attractive to students, use nonpunitive discipline and emphasize quality in all aspects of teaching and learning. The portions of his research that had the most impact on me over the years are his standards for separating 'boss' teachers from 'lead' teachers.
Boss teachers rely on what Glasser calls the 7 Deadly Habits: criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and rewarding students to control them. I think we are all familiar with teachers that fall into this category.
Rather than falling into the rut of being a 'boss' teacher, Glasser suggests that we become, 'lead' teachers. A lead teacher relies on the 7 Connecting Habits: caring, listening, supporting, contributing, encouraging, trusting, and befriending. The most successful classrooms are the ones led by lead teachers.
I have told my student teachers that if they start using one of the deadly habits, combat the temptation with one of the connecting habits. Our goal is to be lead teachers and provide a nurturing atmosphere for the students.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fall Colors

I'm always jealous of people who live in climates that are more mild during the winter (I don't enjoy cold much any more). However, one of the things I love about our climate is the wonderful colors that we see during the autumn. Since we are surrounded by mountains, it is a lovely site to see. We live at the base of a mountain and it is amazing to watch it change daily. I remember all of the fall activities that I did in the classroom using those leaves.

  • Gluing leaves on pictures to represent the autumn

  • Placing larger leaves under thin paper and doing leaf rubbings with the side of a peeled crayon

  • Having the children replicate the colors of the leaves by color mixing

  • Laminating leaves for use in the science center

  • Looking at the leaves under a magnifying glass or microscope

  • Leaf glitter (finely crumbled leaves glued on projects)

I remember when another teacher told me about leaf glitter. I laughed thinking it was a weak idea. Then I watched what happened when I crumbled leaves and allowed the children to use the crumbs just like they would use glitter. They were thrilled and we had to continually make more! Who knew such a simple idea would be such a hit. The biggest plus was that it was so much easier to clean up than regular glitter.

Those of you who are surrounded by the colors of autumn and work with young children, make the most of this time of year. For those of you who live where leaves don't do much changing, I'm sorry. You can give me a rough time during the winter when you are having a picnic.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Finish Line

I ran my first half-marathon on Saturday. I just have one thing to say, "13 miles is a long way!" I try to avoid driving 13 miles. My daughter-in-law encouraged me to run the race with her and it was fun to have company. At times during the race I felt like I could conquer the world. At other times I felt every year I have passed on the age calendar. As I was running, I thought about how close running a race is to actual life. At times you can run with others who will encourage you along the way. There are other times when you need to go it alone (my daughter-in-law and I parted company after 6 miles). The most important factor, however, is to keep going so that you make it to the finish line.

We early childhood educators are doing just that for young children. We should be helping children become resilient and strong enough to sometimes 'go it alone.' If we teach them well, they will not only succeed during their alone times, but may help others along the way. My daughter-in-law helped me get started on Saturday so that I could stick to the task and make it to the finish line on my own.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Classroom Management

I was instructing my student teachers this week about setting up a classroom to avoid negative behaviors. I often use information learned from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) at Vanderbilt University. I mentioned in earlier posts that I was trained by the center when we were working on social and emotional strategies in Head Start. We saw a marked increase in the ability of teachers to curtail negative behavior in the classroom, when they used the strategies suggested by CSEFEL's research.

This past week we were talking about classroom setup and how important it is to have a well thought-out schedule and a concrete way for children to know what is expected during the day. I love having a schedule in the room (horizontal and visual for PreK-2), but I also mentioned the success I had using a 'Center Board,' similar to the commercial one you see above. Children in classrooms which are set up in centers can identify what centers are open and available for the day. I've seen a form of this used in upper grades, as well, showing the children visually what activities/assignments they need to work on for the day.

I think a center or assignment board, coupled with a solid posted daily schedule helps children feel stable in the setting. Stable children do not exhibit negative behaviors as often as children who don't know what is going to happen next (CSEFEL, 2006).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Ballerina Mouse

My granddaughter wanted to be a ballerina mouse for Halloween last fall. That theme carried over into her summer plans for a wonderful birthday. And why not? Why shouldn't children still have the opportunity to dream and pretend that life is full of wonderful surprises.

I worry sometimes that children are not encouraged to build an imagination and dream about possibilities. I was sharing with students recently how I used to hurry home from school to play in the hills around our small-town home. I remember making mud pies, building a tree house, playing with the dog and many other things. I didn't even consider watching television or going from one planned practice to another. It is wonderful that we have so many opportunities and options for children in 2010. However, I worry that imagination and creativity is in jeopardy. We need to make sure that children still are encouraged to explore and create their own adventures.

So, Audrey wanted to be a ballerina mouse. No one told her that there was no such thing or that she couldn't pull it off. She WAS a ballerina mouse. It was a great birthday. I wonder what she will come up with for Halloween this fall. It is sure to be good.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Developmentally Appropriate Fine Motor Skills

Wouldn't you know that I forgot the most important part of the discussion during my last entry about the triangular crayons. The most important part of that issue is not the crayon staying on the table, it is how the shape of the crayon will help young children develop fine motor skills.

During my 30+ years working in classrooms as a teacher and supervisor, I am continually reminded that we push young children into a corner with many activities that we plan and materials that we use. Early in my years of teaching kindergarten I re-discovered a monumental truth taught to me many years ago. Back in the 'olden days' my first grade teacher had it right. She insisted that we use large 'horse-leg' pencils during that first year of school (we didn't do much during the six-week summer preschool they called kindergarten back in the day). Mrs. Conklin seemed to know that our fine-motor skills were still in development. In keeping with that thinking as a teacher, I began using large-size crayons and pencils for the first half of the kindergarten year. Come January, I would slowly transition the children to standard-size instruments.

All I know is that my children consistently wrote, drew, painted and did everything better by the end of that school year. I felt it was one of my contributions to recognizing there are developmental stages to fine motor skills. Can young children write with regular pencils and crayons? Sure. But, I have observed children having difficulty with fine motor control. A child in that situation is encouraged practice. Perhaps instead of encouraging practice the adult should give the child more appropriate materials to use for her developmental level.

Now, these new triangular crayons and pencils can serve the same purpose. They give a slightly larger surface area and great angles for children to develop those skills.

Mrs. Conklin would be happy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

No More Runaway Crayons!

Once in a while, a product comes along that makes life so much easier. Sometimes it is the simplest of creations, but it changes the way things are done. Think of Post-It notes. A simple thing that changed the world.

My latest thrilling product is triangular-shaped crayons! I know, I know, crayons, markers and pencils that shape have been around for a while, but not very accessible. I'm so excited that Colorations came up with a classroom pack of these beauties. Just think, no more crayons rolling on the floor. These wonders stay where they are placed. I am packaging little bags of the crayons to take with me to restaurants when I take my grandkids. I have already had servers ask me where to get them. They really are the answer for child-friendly food establishments. It will be so nice not to be crawling under the booth to retrieve a crayon which rolled away from your child. That will make the eating experience much more positive.

I also love these for the classroom. I'm sure the number of crayons I picked up from the floor number in the millions. I like the idea of having crayons take up residency on the table and stay there. :-) I guess it doesn't take much to make me happy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To the Left or to the Right?

A couple of years ago I ran into these two signs in Hawaii. One arrow says, "Parking Lot this Way" and the second arrow pointing in the opposite direction says, "One Way." Sometimes life gives us mixed messages so that we are not sure which road to take.

As I have the opportunity to be in many classrooms each year, I often see and hear mixed messages given to the children in our classes. However, I think the mixed message that disturbs me the most is something that I observe on a regular basis. I hear teachers say, "Now, follow my directions and do exactly as I say so that you can get the right answer." Then I hear the same teacher say during a different activity, "Use your imagination, be creative. This is your project." Hmmmm.... It is no surprise to me that we are unable to get children to be creative and to develop thinking skills. The school system is so busy trying to get the children to conform to school requirements that there is little time and effort given to teach independent thinking skills.

To me, this part of education is a conflict and a mixed message. Being creative and developing thinking skills is like following the parking lot sign which is heading in the opposite direction from the world of education which continually says, "one way."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Information, Please!

I recently did an online interview with a representative from bizymoms.com. Of course I took the opportunity to visit their site and see what they have to offer. I found a wonderful wealth of information to assist busy moms (and others) in these days of information overload.

There is such a monumental library at our disposal when we turn on our computer. I remember telling a group of students in my creativity class this spring that there was no excuse for not having documented information included in an assigned paper. When I was in school, the library was and had to be my best friend. Whenever I needed to find out more information about a subject I had two choices: interview someone who knew more about the subject than I did or go to the library and research the topic. Most of the time, I had to choose both options. I know that there are strong negatives that come with using a computer. But, the positives are so wonderful. It is a joy to type in a word and then see where it takes you in the process.

One of our new supposed-to-be-a-hen young chickens started crowing this week. This is not good as we are not allowed to keep roosters in our city boundaries. I went to the computer and learned that you can actually perform a little surgery on the rooster and take out his crowing capacity. Not that I would or could, but it was nice to know it was a possibility. No, I think that Bluebell...I mean Blue, is going to the bird rescue farm for a life in the country. I'm no surgeon, but it was fascinating to find out that there are several blogs and websites about keeping chickens in the city.

Websites on the computer can be marvelous resources. Learn something new today. Check out bizymoms.com.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Welcoming Everyone to the Table

I am currently attending the NAEYC Professional Development Conference being held in Phoenix. I attended a wonderful workshop today about welcoming all children to the table in the classroom.
Sometimes 'null' curriculum (curriculum that we don't intentionally teach, but the children still learn) is reinforced as much as the 'explicit' curriculum (core standards). What do children understand about life in the classroom by the way we respond to daily occurrences?
We watched a video of an interview with an elementary child, Mary. Mary stated that when another child asked the teacher why Mary had two dads instead of a mom, the teacher responded, "We are not going to talk about that in this class." Mary felt unsupported and the result was that some children began to taunt Mary at recess. She began to dislike coming to school because she thought she must be a bad person.

While there are many more issues that can occur in the classroom, this episode is an example of when teachers choose not to address something they personally find uncomfortable. That refusal can speak volumes to the children.
Since our job is to support ALL children, we need to be prepared to address null curriculum issues when they happen during the school day. Much like taking a test, if we are prepared, we can address the issue and support the child. I try to ask my pre-service teachers, "What will you do or say if this happens? Or this?" I believe prior thought and understanding can prepare these future teachers to respond appropriately.
As educators, we need to always remember that a child seldom is in the position to choose his religion, culture, lifestyle or family makeup. Even though our values may be different, it is critical to support that child in his educational journey. Not doing anything or refusing to have the discussion is not an option. If the teacher in the video was uncomfortable addressing the issue, she only needed to say, "That is the makeup of Mary's family. Isn't it wonderful that all of our families are different and we can be happy." I like the part of NAEYC's Code of Ethical Conduct which says, "...do no harm."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Creative Art Rules!

I have continued to get feedback for my blog entry a couple of months ago about disliking coloring books or pre-printed pages. I have been told there is a time and a place, but I'm still not on board with using such creativity-killing materials. I was reminded again this weekend when I was watching my grandchildren paint with tempera paint cakes. I watched the process unfold as I have many times. Creating their own pictures allow children to:
- develop organizational skills
- test experimentation skills
- explore decision-making skills
- be supported in creativity
Children that are immersed in these types of activities jump right into the project when they see what materials are available. Compare these children to those who wait to be encouraged and to see what the adult wants them to do. There is no comparison. Children who can organize, experiment, make decisions and create will always be more successful. They have the ability to think. Thinking is a good thing!
For some great creative activities, check out the following blog:
Art and Creativity.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Beautiful Snake....is that an Oxymoron?

Snake lovers don't be upset, but I hate snakes. I know you can list all of the wonderful aspects of the reptiles, but I just can't make myself like snakes. I get very agitated and uncomfortable if there is a snake in the room. I have nothing against people who love them, just don't make me get close. I was reminded of this again on Sunday when we had Mother's Day dinner at a relative's home. Her daughter just got a pet snake. Everyone was raving about how beautiful the snake is with it's black and red stripes. Ugh! Beautiful and snake do not belong in the same sentence in my vocabulary. They also mentioned that the snake had escaped from his cage last week and they didn't find him until the next day. If that happened at my house, there is only one thing I would say...hotel.
As an early childhood educator, I want my students to discover everything they can about our natural world. I always prefer taking children to the zoo to see live animals as opposed to the natural history museum filled with the stuffed version. But, I always drew the line at snakes. I assigned that to another adult to supervise. Sheesh...they give me the creeps. I will continue to encourage and assist children in finding out about the natural world. But, for snakes, they can go to my relative's house. Their snake is beau.... OK.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Playground on Rock?

We went on a family outing to southern Utah this past weekend. We were able to see Canyonlands and Natural Bridges National Parks. It was a nice adventure and I was very impressed with the Native America Petroglyphs that we were able to see while hiking. Some were off the beaten path away from most tourist spots. Like young children, they were able to tell stories through pictures. A true written dialogue.
In one park we were able to see the ruins of the Anasazi from at least 700 years ago. As we were looking at the homes in the cliffs, I was struck by the thought of how difficult it would have been to allow children to safely play on the sloping rock. We don't even allow slides on school playgrounds anymore and here was an entire village on a cliff. Where was the gate for the top of the stairs? I am happy that we are so conscious of safety in our time, but I wonder if children were more prepared for life when they had to learn how to protect themselves. Perhaps many children in the 1300s lost their lives because of their lack of protection. But, it makes me wonder if sometimes we protect children so much they don't develop life skills. Maybe protect is not the correct word. Maybe it's smother. Just thinking out loud as I wonder how they stayed up there.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Finishing a 5 K

This past weekend I competed in a 5K race to celebrate my birthday. The best part of the entire experience is that this old man finished the race on two legs! I was not quite as fast as I may have been ten years ago, but I was pleased with my time. Isn't it funny that we judge a race by how fast we can get to the finish. The first one over the finish line wins the race. Because I am not an athletic competitor at this age, it is the triumph of working to be able to actually run the race that is important to me. The process that I have gone through during years of running have helped me in other aspects of life.
I often think that for some parents, teaching their child is like a race. They want their child to know everything and get to the finish line first. Perhaps the process of building the skills appropriately would benefit the child more in the long run. I remember working with parents occasionally who were so driven to push their young child that they had very unreal expectations. I also realized that in most cases it was the parents' ego that was the driving force, not having a well-adjusted child with appropriate skills.
Some would call my race last week a failure because I didn't cross the finish line first. However, I was a winner because I finished the race. I learned that I still have what it takes to run the race. Pretty good for an old man.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Felt Like a Blockhead

I have the opportunity to try out products for Discount School Supply on a regular basis. I was trying out some blocks a year ago and I was getting frustrated by my lack of imagination in creating something with the blocks. I gave the blocks to my grandson who was almost 3 at the time. He immediately set to work putting the blocks together. He was enthralled with the blocks for what I consider a very long time for someone who is 3. He loved them. When I was working with the blocks earlier, I was questioning how valuable they would be for preschool children. My grandson taught me a great lesson. Children know what is best for them. If given a choice, children will play all day. That is what they do. It becomes essential for those of us who work with young children to create opportunities for play. Almost every early childhood skill can be reinforced using play. Since children instinctively want to play, that should be our first clue about appropriate approaches to teaching children. It is through open-ended play the children learn to solve problems, explore the world and make decisions.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Catch Him!

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to live in Ireland for a period of time. Having that first-hand knowledge comes in handy at this time of year. When I was a classroom teacher, I always made a big deal about St. Patrick's Day. I used it as an opportunity to introduce the children to the country of Ireland and a little information about the Irish culture. Playing on the spoof of the leprechaun made the activities fun and adventurous. We would go on a Leprechaun Hunt or leave little goodies out for the little guy. In later years, I have seen my grandchildren build leprechaun traps to try to catch the perpetrator who was turning their milk green in the fridge.

I have always looked upon the tall tales of leprechauns as a folktale and true fantasy stemming from the Irish culture. Studies have been done that indicate that children build great foundations from folktales. In fact, folktales and fairytales provide an example of complete fantasy for young children. With virtual reality appearing in games and movies, it is difficult for young children to differentiate between fact and fiction. Folktales provide an opportunity for children to experience something that is complete fantasy. Folktales have no pretence of being real.

So, set up your leprechaun traps and see what happens to the young children around you!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Let's See...Start with the Sun!

I was talking to my favorite 5 year-old last week about the projects she creates. I asked her, "How do you know what to make or draw?" Her answer surprised me very much. She said to me, "First you have to start with the sun." When I asked why she started with the sun, she stated it was because it was going to be a 'happy picture' (duh!) Wow, what a life lesson. Anything can be accomplished if you start with a sun. Sometimes it is a bit depressing at this time of year when we are waiting for the spring sun to start shining. My little Kaylee was telling me that sometimes we have to make our own shiny sky. If you begin with the sun, then everything following can be a happier picture.

I saw an old friend of mine this morning at the gym. He always has a smile on his face and the room just seems a little brighter when he is around. I realized he was my sun this morning and it really was like the sun starting out my day. I thought of Kaylee's advice and realized how much joy we can bring to those around us if we just 'start with the sun.' That is exactly how I felt when I was a kindergarten teacher. I guess the day is REALLY sunny with 24 suns!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Healthy Kids Learn More!

It is a known fact that healthy children are able to be better learners in a classroom setting. Recently, an Ultra Healthy Blog titled, “Top 50 Early Childhood Health Blogs" named the 50 top early childhood health blogs. Although my blog was named as part of the list, there are some great resources for helping to keep young children healthy.
Childhood obesity is certainly an epidemic in our country. I think my biggest frustration with this epidemic are the factors that we can do something about, such as outdoor play at school. Schools that limit or cancel outdoor play with the excuse of needing more learning time are not doing anything to help student learning. I think some schools just don't want to deal with any problems that may occur on the playground. To my way of thinking, they are sacrificing the health of the children in their care. I'm still waiting to see documented research that says cancelling recess increases student learning. I think I will be waiting a long time. All the while, young children are getting more sedentary. I think a better idea is to give teachers resources to help children stay healthy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Being Kids

I sometimes worry that children in this century are not allowed to really be kids. They are constantly surrounded by adult commentary and much of the television programing contains adult humor. We all laugh when a child on TV says something sarcastic or profound. Statements that in the real world usually don't occur. A college student mentioned to me recently how much she enjoyed the movie Kindergarten Cop when she was a child. I remember that movie well as I was a male kindergarten teacher at the time. The movie was funny and entertaining, but I was dismayed by the fact that most of the things the kindergartners said in that movie would not even occur to a five year-old. Again, adult humor masked as child humor.
I was observing a student teacher working in a first grade classroom the other day. She was reading a joke book (the children's choice) for a few minutes prior to leaving for the day. She told the following joke:
"Knock, Knock."
"Who's there?"
"Mississippi Who?"
"She's married to Mr. Sippi!"
The children laughed and laughed at the joke. A simple joke for a child's humor. I love to see children who are able to be children. I wish everyone could have a lengthy and humorous childhood. Maybe adulthood would be a happier experience, as well.
My second grade grandson loves jokes. I think I will go call him and tell him my latest.....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Coloring Books-Not My Idea of a Good Time

Any student who has taken a class from me at the university knows how I feel about coloring books and other pre-drawn images for children. Some adults tell me it is 'relaxing' for children to just color. Coloring books are designed to occupy a child's time. For some adults that is a good thing. If you have ever taken young children on a long car trip or to the doctor with a long wait, coloring books may serve a purpose. If for no other reason than to spread out the time between, "Are we there yet?" questions.
In school, however, color book-type pages are not appropriate, especially for young children. Teachers sometimes use those pages to keep a child busy so they can work with other children. Reading the research of Victor Lowenfeld, we find out that coloring book pages can take almost all creative thinking away from 50-60% of children. The other 40% may be effected as well, but may have been nourished enough to at least maintain some creativity. In fact, if a child continually uses pre-made pages, he may never be satisfied with anything that he draws. He will be upset that his drawings look like a child's drawings, not the adult drawings in coloring books.

There are much better things to give children to occupy their time. Crayons and a blank sheet of paper are much more appropriate. Paints and watercolors are also effective to allow the child to create. One of my favorite activities is to give children construction paper and glue (scissors for 4+ children). I ask them to create a picture of themselves using just tearing/cutting the paper and the glue. This can be done with any theme or activity. Many adults would be shocked at the amazing projects that the children create. So, in my 30+ years working with children, I am even more convinced that coloring books can be the enemy. I want the children I have in my care to be thinkers and creaters, not colorers.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Scratching the Surface

I'm sure that many educators have done scratch art with a group of children. Whether you use commercially prepared scratch paper or create your own, it is a fun activity. The procedure usually involves children scratching the black covering off a piece of prepared paper. Hidden underneath the black are different colors that are revealed when the black is removed. I love to use this analogy with teachers about discovering the colors that lie underneath the surface of a child. Sometimes it takes a bit of work and creativity to discover those colors, but it is always worth the effort. As with scratch art paper, underneath the black there is a rainbow of colors. Those colors allow the artist to create an amazing picture as the colors pop out of the darkness. Many children come to our classrooms with a layer of dark. It is up to the educator to do more than just scratch the surface, but find the hidden colors and beauty beneath.