Everyday Things in New Ways

Imagine if you were a scientist and got to have breakfast with Galileo. That’s what I felt like this morning when my day started with breakfast with Ellen Galinsky in a discussion about how children learn. Well, I should tell you that Ellen is not sitting at my breakfast table at home, but is the keynote speaker at a national conference. Brrrrr, it’s cold in Minneapolis!

Ellen’s work, Mind in The Making, shares seven essential life skills for children. Her talk this morning was motivating and illustrated to the group that all adults play a key role in helping children pick up seven critical life skills. It got me thinking about school readiness, a conversation that gets a lot of airtime in early childhood circles. Aren’t skills for school really one and the same as skills for life?

Let’s try to break down this school readiness thing, and instead of being intimidated by testing, assessment, and standards, let’s focus on what matters- the children. In my estimation, we teachers must do the best that we possibly can to provide children with real experiences that are linked to the skills they will need in kindergarten and beyond. Kindergarten readiness skills are the same skills that will help children succeed all throughout their lives.

So, where should we start? How can you find out what children need to know and be able to do to have success in school AND life?

1. Talk to kindergarten teachers or elementary school principals near your program. This will get you what you are looking for, and is a great way to develop a relationship.

2. Watch the children. Watch each child for a long time. Knowing what children are able to accomplish with and without help will guide you to planning activities for them. Can Louis sort red teddy bears into a pile and green teddy bears into another pile? Can Jasmine hold a book upright, turn the pages individually, and imitate the telling of a story using the book?

3. Love and care for each child while they are trying new things. Ask questions to the child. “What will happen if you add one more block to your tower?”

4. Use tools like your state’s early childhood standards and research-based curriculum to break down the knowledge and skills into smaller “chunks.” Look for sections that correlate to some of the skills you have observed in your children. This will get you started with a lesson plan that meets the developmental level of all children.

5. Watch the children again. Make notes on index cards (easy to carry in your pocket) for every child. Refer to these when you make your next plan. The process of observing, making a decision about what each child needs to work on, and preparing the plan is a cycle.

6. Repeat. Repeat again.

Now that my breakfast with Ellen is over, I look to her for a pearl of wisdom in closing: “These essential skills don’t call for expensive programs, fancy materials, or elaborate equipment. They simply call for doing the everyday things you do with children in new ways.”