Friday, November 2, 2012

The Safety and Security of Consistency

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

Helping Children Bloom

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Literacy in the Sand Table

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

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

And School Begins...

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Passing the Torch

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

Thursday, July 5, 2012

They're Watching...

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Balancing Act

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

Thursday, May 3, 2012

HighScope Visit

I have the privilege this week of attending the HighScope International Conference in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I have wanted to learn more about HighScope and understand their concepts at a deeper level. It is a wonderful experience. Although I have always been a supporter of HighScope, it has been delightful to see it in action and to meet teachers that run programs using the HighScope's child-centered philosophy. I was excited to visit the High Scope Demonstration Preschool yesterday and see HighScope's Key Developmental Indicators in action. What a joy to see a classroom where children are encouraged to explore and develop critical and creative thinking skills. I left the school wishing many more children could have the experience this small group of children was enjoying. They truly were thriving and it was inspirational to watch that experience.

I always come away from classroom visits with lots of ideas. It makes me wish that I still had my own classroom. However, I will use the information to support the classrooms that I visit with my student teachers. There are so many things to learn about teaching and supporting children. I can't get enough!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Early Childhood Writing

I was presenting a workshop on literacy in the sand table at the Utah Early Childhood Conference this past Saturday. I was reminded about how critical it is to help young children feet comfortable with writing. Many early childhood educators mistakenly use handwriting activities as a writing response. Since writing is putting our thoughts down on paper, for young children that means drawing pictures. Handwriting will come as fine motor skills develop and as the child learns about the alphabet and reading. It is critical that we allow children to draw pictures and respond to the environment often, without the requirement of 'writing' letters and words. Although dictation (writing the words on a child's picture) is appropriate at times to model writing, it is also important for a child's project to stand alone. This is one way we can help children feel comfortable with responding to texts and putting their thoughts down on paper. The writing process is an important part of the new Common Core State Standards. I often think of the book, "Bunny Cakes," by Rosemary Wells. In the story, Max wants Red Hot Marshmallow Squirters for his cake. Since he can't write words, his success comes when he draws a picture of what he wants. Let's support the writing process in young children by allowing the drawing of pictures and celebrating those responses.

Friday, March 9, 2012

I had the distinct pleasure of attending a gallery stroll for a 6 year-old boy the other day. We had been invited by his father, who collects art, to see his son's exhibit. They had scheduled a local small gallery in one of our malls and we arrived to see the art that Nathan had created. I guess I went on the assumption that the reason for the stroll was because there was an amazing 6 year-old artist. He ended up being much more than just amazing. His art was the art of a 6 year-old child. However, his thought processes, his explanations, and the creativity he displayed through his art were the most incredible things of all. He was dressed in a suit, his art was arranged in a fabulous array of displays, and there were even refreshments. I was astounded by the planning and preparations that his family had gone through to produce a wonderful evening. Nathan was elated and played the part of an amazing host. As I was watching this scene unfold in the gallery I thought how fortunate he was to have a family who makes such a great effort to support his interests and budding talent. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every 6 year-old child could feel that level of support, encouragement, and love. It did make me start thinking about what else I can do to support my grandchildren....

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Press Here

One of my favorite picture books published last year was, "Press Here," by Herve' Tullet. I was interested in this book because it fits nicely into my International Children's Literature course that I teach. "Press Here" is from France and was originally published the previous year in that country. If you have not had the joy of experiencing this book, please do so. It is an interactive book that encourages the reader to press dots, clap, tilt the book and other physical actions. For years, many early childhood teachers and parents have enjoyed using the book, "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus," by Mo Willems, because it is so interactive for young children. "Press Here" is of the same caliber.
I remember reading a research paper years ago which suggested that children don't always get a concrete learning experiences from books read to them without interaction. The key is to make the story comprehensive by asking questions, discussing pictures or talking about the story characters. This is important to do with children, but I really love books that naturally allow the child to become part of the story. Pick up "Press Here." You will love it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Diversity Begins with Us

In my Introduction to Teaching course, we were talking about diversity. The term 'diversity' has a much fuller and expanded meaning than it did when I started teaching 33 years ago. We thought the diversity in educational settings was the exception in our area of the country. Now we know it is always the rule. It should have been the rule 33 years ago, but it took a while for many people to incorporate it into their thinking. Some are still working at it.
One of the things about diversity in an educational setting is how we look at ourselves. Do our actions show what we think we believe about acceptance? I worked with a teacher once who would bragged about how accepting she was of every child. It was confusing to me to watch her exhibit a very short temper to any non-white student she had in her class. The children of color in her room were the ones always in time-out and being punished in some way. She also had very low expectations for these children. The sad issue is that I think she truly believed she was accepting of diversity and differences. Her actions did not mirror what she thought she believed.
Diversity includes:
* culture
* language
* gender
* ability differences
* exceptionalities
I'm glad we have realized that accepting others includes more than just ethnicity or culture. As educators, we need to continually look within and make sure that our actions reflect the belief that ALL children are welcome at the table and are equally special.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Things Are Not Always as They Appear!

I had the opportunity to spend some of the holiday season in Kaua'i. On that island there is an amazing wonder called Waimea Canyon. It is considered the Grand Canyon of Hawaii. Indeed when we went to see it, I was shocked that this amazing canyon was hiding on an island. That portion of the island was not as it appeared from a distance. A hidden treasure!
I was talking with a group of students today about NAEYC's requirements for 'multiple measures' to be used in tracking children's progress. That information is part of Standard 4 in NAEYC's Accreditation process. It is critical for us to individualize enough so that we can monitor the progress of each child. Sometimes children can fool us with their knowledge when they are in a group setting. Just like Waimea Canyon, things may not be as they appear. Within the classroom we can easily assume a child has mastered a skill that may still be a challenge for her individually. Without individualization and assessment, we would not know about the additional support that she may need. I remember a child I had a number of years ago that I assumed was a solid reader. He seemed to fit into our reading program well. However, when I asked him to read to me one day, he read a paragraph completely different than what was in print. The irony was that when he was finished he had stated the same information that was in the paragraph, just using different words and rewording sentences. Without individualized attention, his lack of skills may have been like the canyon-completely unknown from a distance. Individualized assessment allows us to explore every skill canyon that we are trying to reach. Assessment can keep us from false appearances in the classroom.