Category Archives: School Age

Moving On

tough-transition

“A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.” —Chinese Proverb

In a little less than two weeks, my son will enter fifth grade, and my daughter will enter kindergarten. My son, who just recently turned 10, has gone to the same early childhood program since he was 6-weeks-old. This is the same program my daughter currently attends, and she’s been there since her first few months of life, as well. Both of my children have been there full time since infancy. When he began first grade, my son continued to attend this program for before- and after-care during the school year, and then summer camp when school was out every year since.

A couple of weeks ago, we dropped the bomb on him that this would be his last summer there— his time there was coming to an end because he was simply too old to attend anymore. Next summer it would be time to move on to somewhere that was more age-appropriate for him.

From under the brim of his baseball cap, I could see tears welling up in his big, blue eyes. “But, mom, I’ve GROWN UP there! I LOVE that place! I don’t want to leave.” I understood him completely. To be honest, I didn’t want him to go, either. The people that work at that program literally helped my husband and I raise our children— they were our village. He was safe there, he was loved.

Many of you reading this have children in your programs that are going through similar transitions this time of year. Whether you’re saying goodbye to your school-agers, sending your preschoolers off to kindergarten, or transitioning your infants up to the toddler room, there are many things that you, as an early childhood educator, can do to help ease the uncertainty of this process.

  • Develop a transition plan. The first thing to keep in mind, when helping a child transition to a new classroom or setting, is that this will be a transition for not just the child, but for their family, as well. Meeting with family members to develop a transition plan before the actual transition takes place is a helpful tool to get everyone on the same page about how and when everything will occur. Get input about what the child might need to make the transition a successful one, and find out what questions or concerns the family may have about the process. . If possible, have both the child’s “current ” and “new” teachers be part of developing this plan. The “current ” teacher often has knowledge of how the child functions in a school setting that would be helpful for the “new” teacher to know.
  • Provide age-appropriate activities in the classroom in preparation for the transition. When children are preparing to move to a new classroom or educational setting, classroom teachers can provide a multitude of activities to help ready children for their move. Keep in mind what skills or knowledge would be helpful for the child to have in their new setting, and start working on those things while they’re still in your room. For example, a toddler who’s moving to a preschool room might benefit from working on self-help skills such as throwing their own items away after lunch or snack, or pulling their own pants up and down when beginning to use the potty. A school-age teacher might role play with his/her class how to shake hands, look someone in the eye, and introduce themselves.
  • Involve the children in conversations regarding their upcoming move. Having positive conversations with the children in your care about their new classroom or school can also be helpful. Use their new teacher’s name (if you know it), show them photos of their new environment, or even take a walk or a field trip there.

Ironically, as much as we care for the children in our programs, as early childhood educators it is ultimately our goal to help children reach a place where they no longer need us. Growing up and moving on are good things—they are natural parts of life that can be exciting and wonderful!

School Is Out…What Do We Do Now?

summerplaySummer is here and if you are like me, a routine master, you are in a panic. School is over and children are shouting, “I am BORED!” You realize that the time you had celebrating the end of a successful school year must come to an end as you begin planning a summer program. Unfortunately, that time has slipped away and you are scrambling to find ideas, theme/unit items, guest speakers and field trip forms. PAUSE. Teacher life does not have to be chaotic and always busy with grandiose activities. Plan activities that you would like to enjoy with your children and SLOW DOWN.

On our first day of the summer program when I was still teaching, I gathered my class of preschoolers on our group time rug. We sat and talked about what they wanted to do to have fun in our summer before they started ‘big kid school’ in the fall. It may not seem like a big thing to do, however, making it a priority to sit down and include children in the planning is the best thing you can do to make your summer awesome! Here are three simple tips to help you and your planners come up with safe, age-appropriate ideas.

  1. Give real expectations and choices. Kids might come up with about 9,000 ways to blow your supply budget and your stress limit. Setting limits and goals are okay, talk it out! Help children to work through the critical thinking and reasoning process.
  2. Make a map. Sometimes the best plans for your students can be better examined with charting! Written lists can also help them express their opinions and interests in a concrete way. You can make one list of plans the staff members want to do, one list of things children want to do, and compare the lists that both the staff and the children can do together.
  3. Research and choose. Pinterest makes visual organization a breeze. Also, going to the library to look at books together to get ideas is wonderful. You can take the more hands-on approach and make a collage of activities on poster paper using magazines and other paper material. Let your children help you look for ideas on the list. Whatever the activity— creating art, outdoor activity, cooking lesson—it is right there for our children who are still learning. It gives them a chance to make connections.

After all of your hard work with your ‘assistants,’ your summer will be something that you and your children have always wanted. No stress involved (or very little). If I have learned anything from teaching, this one thing is true: the fun plans you have intended for the children to do are not always as good as the children’s ideas of fun. Let them take the lead—within reason. Find out what makes things fun for your children and watch the laughter, smiles and precious moments appear. Collect those teachable moments, not the material things, and everyone will have a very happy summer.

How can we encourage children to be kind?

I recently spent two-and-a-half days at camp with my daughter’s sixth grade class. The experience was enjoyable and definitely schooled me on elementary age children. A comment another parent made has resonated with me and I am still ruminating over it. She stated, “One parenting component I think our society is missing is teaching children how to be kind. Some of the children just aren’t kind to each other, to the camp counselors, and to adults who are chaperones. Even if you don’t like a person, it’s essential to be kind to that person.”

In order to teach kindness to children, you need to model kindness

As I think about that, I can agree with it. I came in contact with children who ignored directions. Children who talked while the adult was talking. Children who watched someone drop a pencil and just walked on by without picking it up. Children who watched another child fall down without doing anything to help. In my brain I get respect and kindness intertwined. Although I think there are similarities, I also think they are different. We do kind acts with respect.

How can we encourage children to be kind? As adults, there are many things we can do in our personal and professional lives. While driving we can not scream at other vehicles. While in the grocery store we can push the cart on one side of the aisle instead of taking up the whole aisle. In school we can talk to children in a kind tone of voice. We can give children acceptable choices. While walking to the school bus with the children we can assist the child who needs a shoe tied. Are these things respectful? I believe so. I believe they are kind acts done in a respectful way.

We can point out the actions children are exhibiting that are kind. When we see Johnny give Elizabeth a tissue because she has a runny nose, we can say, “Johnny, I saw you gave Elizabeth a tissue. That was very kind.” When we see Sylvia walk around Monica’s block structure instead of walking through it, we can say, “Sylvia, you walked around the block area. I know Monica appreciated that!” When Bobby is struggling with his math homework and we see Elijah helping, we need to make sure we make a comment telling Elijah we noticed and how kind he was being.

During our camping trip, I was challenged significantly when children did not listen to my words. I was challenged when children talked while I was talking. I was challenged when after three miles of rafting; the children were still hitting oars while paddling. There were times when I was not kind. There were times when I blurted out, “Just listen!!!” When I calmed down, I had to remind myself that I needed to be kind. I needed to model kindness to the children. That’s not always easy to remember. For me, there are times I need to talk to children and either apologize for my words or to speak to them clearly about my expectations. I think it’s important for adults to acknowledge when they are wrong. There was one incident at camp when I was rude to a girl and needed to follow up with her regarding our interaction. It was so easy to spout the rudeness she was giving me right back at her. It was a little harder to apologize to her and say I was wrong about being rude and that I needed to be kind. It was even harder to be kind when her behavior did not change. Even though that behavior did not change, I still tried hard to be kind. No one deserves to be treated unkindly. How are you showing kindness to those you interact with?

How to help children figure out what their interests are

I recently visited the Butterfly Show at the Krohn Conservatory. I entered the butterfly room and my eyes were greeted with splashes of winged color. My ears were met with the laughter of young children. My nose took in the smell of nectar-filled flowers. I enjoyed watching the butterflies as they would bask in the sun, fly from flower to flower, and roost under the leaves of trees. After walking around the area for a while I sat to rest and watch everything around me.

Children need help figuring out what they're interests are!

Later, I contemplated the events of the day and my mind wandered to my observations at the Conservatory. I reflected upon the beautiful, flying creatures and saw them as unique and beautiful individuals. I also reflected upon the children I saw. Each child there was also a unique individual with individual needs, likes, dislikes, and gifts. Just as each butterfly takes a different path to get to the flowers so does each child take a different path to what he needs and wants.

I thought about our responsibilities as child care providers in helping each child find her own path in life and I decided there are so many things we can do to assist children in developing their gifts. Below are some tips in helping our children become the best person they can be and grow into and embrace their individuality and the path they choose.

Child care providers need to offer a variety of materials for children to learn and explore their interests. Having materials available allows children to discover, experiment, and manipulate the world around them. Classroom materials not only need to support a range of interests but also a range of developmental levels. Children have different interests and develop at different rates. Children will also want to use the materials in ways that are different than expected. For instance, Playdoh may become food for the dramatic play area and unifix cubes may become a rocket to fly in space. This is a wonderful way for children to use their imagination and creative skills.

We also need to simply talk with children and allow them the opportunity to share, speak, and converse with us. So many times we talk “at” children but do not allow them to offer their ideas, thoughts and opinions. It is amazing what we can learn from children when let them speak and we actually listen.

Reading with children and sharing stories about a variety of topics will help children expand their interests and knowledge on certain topics. Exposing the children to the many interesting things about our world will expand their vocabulary and show them how big and small our world can be at the same time.

Butterflies instinctively know the path they need. But as teachers, it is our responsibility to show children the many paths from which they have to choose. Being a child is an exciting time for discovery. It’s a time to know they can be and become whomever they choose.

Encourage exploration of books!

My husband and I, after many failed attempts at a compromise for the theme of our nursery, settled on a general “books” theme. That way, he gets to incorporate elements of The Hobbit and I get to pay homage to Goodnight Moon and everyone’s happy. Imagine my dismay when I happened across an article from 2010 called Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children. It was disheartening, to say the least, thinking that my son will have fewer picture books to help cultivate a lifetime of reading.

Encourage book exploration, have lots of options available in your ECE program

In the article, it discusses how picture books just aren’t selling well, and publishers don’t put out nearly as many as in the past. One of the reasons that they explain is an expectation for kindergarteners and first graders to be reading chapter books—a time when they’re just developing their independent reading skills! Beyond that, picture books develop a different set of skills than books filled with text do, and those skills are very important for reading.

Books with lots of images not only help support the story when a child needs context in reading the text, but the illustrations also allow children to participate in the story through “reading” the pictures. It’s okay if the story they create from the pictures doesn’t match up to what the author penned. It’s helping build children’s creativity, analytical thinking and ability to fill in the gaps from what is shown in the picture (dialogue, plot, character motivation, etc). These are skills that are critical when they transition to books without pictures.

That’s where we come in as educators. Let children explore the books that draw their attention. If that’s a chapter book, great! You can support them by describing how the pages feel to an infant or toddler (let them describe it, too, if they can), showing a preschooler how the words are written left-to-right/top-to-bottom or fostering a school-ager’s reading comprehension skills through open-ended questions. If it’s a picture book, that’s great, too! You can support them in many of the same ways: describe the pages and pictures with the infant and toddler, ask open-ended questions to the preschooler about what they think is going on in the story from pictures and extend the experience for the school-ager with opportunities to form opinions and inferences from the pictures.

All types of books, whether that’s picture books or chapter books or the dictionary, stimulate reading skills in children. It’s important not to set aside entire genres simply because a child had reached a chronological age. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for picture books to add to the nursery’s bookshelves and my son and I will get to listen to my husband’s baritone voice recounting the tales of Bilbo Baggins. As long as we can accept some drool, teeth marks and taped-together pages through the process, I think we’ll all be just fine. What are your thoughts about picture books for children of all ages? Please share them in the comments!

“It’s story time!”

Recently our staff gathered together to celebrate the upcoming arrival of a little bundle of joy and the baby shower games really got our staff’s competitive juices flowing. It was fun to watch those who shouted out the answers to the names of the celebrity baby photos and equally as interesting to realize you are completely out of touch with the celebrity world. But when the next game announced was to recognize the story quote from children’s books, it was on like Donkey Kong. I had this.

It just doesn’t get any better than story time.

Story time in my classroom was the highlight of my day and my collection was deep and wide. My considerable personal collection contained the classics such as “Goodnight Moon” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and new additions such as “Llama Llama Red Pajama” and the “Fancy Nancy” collection. I took every opportunity to incorporate reading into many activities throughout the day and had a blast making it come to life for my preschoolers. Books on CD, character puppet making and theatrical performances were just some of the regular occurrences in our room.

Trips to the library were exciting escapades of what new books I would find and bring back for the week! The children knew every Monday meant new books to read and rushed to the carpet with anticipation. I was excited too! They were wide eyed during “Where the Wild Things Are,” and it was amazing to hear the way they said the words along with me during “Chicken Little” and “The Mitten.” We laughed heartily as we encouraged the very curious pigeon to NOT drive the bus or to share his beloved hotdog and bellowed “NO!!” as David chewed with his mouth open or ran to the bus in his underwear.

I used every opportunity to teach them new words and encouraged them to use the new words in sentences throughout the day. Their vocabulary exploded and I had a blast observing it. Hearing them use the word “fantastic” to describe their chicken nuggets and their friend’s artwork warmed my heart. It just doesn’t get any better than story time.

As I numbered my paper with great anticipation at the start of the game that day what didn’t occur to me was that I was surrounded by early childhood experts and we all were equally aware of the great importance of reading to young children. They too had many they knew and favored and had as vast wealth of children’s literature knowledge as I did. While I did fend well, proudly the only one who knew of the great “Skippyjon Jones,” I did not win the game. I did learn of several new books to add to my cherished collection and realized while we all know and value the importance of reading to young children, it also impacted us personally as well.

By the end of the shower we all were discussing our own personal favorites as children, as parents and as educators and I walked away with new titles to seek out and explore, even with my older children. Remember that developing the love of reading starts at a young age but can be continued throughout life as they grow and develop into elementary students, adolescents and adults.

What are some of your favorite stories to share with your children and students? What ones have you seen really impact them as well as challenge them to think and reflect? What ones really just made you all laugh, funny but all the while teaching them (and you!) to find humor and comedy in life and sometimes in yourselves?

Perhaps at your next staff meeting you could initiate a fun quiz for your staff about their story book knowledge. You may find out a lot more about children’s literature, your fellow coworkers and yourself. I mean, “Holy frijoles!” when it comes to reading, what have you got to lose?

Are the kids in your care ready for kindergarten?

As of April 1, 2014, my children had 43 days left of this school year. And my Sam who is wrapping up his junior year has 218 school days left to complete high school. I’m not completely sure where the time has gone. It seems as if just yesterday I was putting him on the bus to the first day of kindergarten and next September I will watch him drive away to the first day of his senior year. College seems so overwhelming. If memory serves, kindergarten seemed overwhelming too.

Help the children in your care prepare for kindergarten!

The funny thing is, some of the things that I remember helping Sam think about as we were gearing up for the first day of kindergarten seem to be the same things we are thinking forward to with college.

Everywhere I turn I see ads for kindergarten registration for next school year. As classroom teachers I think it’s important for us to remember that not all families have a comfort level with what getting their child ready for school means. As professionals in the field, we can support our families by sharing some of what we know.

  1. Inform: As you hear your families talk about kindergarten registration, and even if you don’t, share information about events that are happening within the community.
  2. Encourage:  Tell families how important visiting their child’s potential school can be. Help them think through questions they may ask and some of the differences that they may see.
  3. Investigate: Ask families where they plan to send their child to kindergarten. Talk about kindergarten in your classroom to help children feel excited about the changes that are coming.
  4. Connect: Sometimes it helps to have a partner along the way. If families are open to sharing information with one another, introduce them to each other so that they can bounce ideas off of one another about things related to kindergarten.
  5. Be positive: Transitions, especially big ones, for both adults and children can feel scary. Help both families and children see the fun possibilities that lie ahead.
  6. Communicate: Talk with other professionals about the skills necessary to help children be and feel successful as they move from preschool to kindergarten. Share those skills with families so they can reinforce them at home.

As I look at the next 251 school days until my Sam transitions to college, I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. It’s really not much different than the work of families preparing children for kindergarten. I need to make sure that Sam and I have the necessary information to choose a good college, just like parents need to choose a good kindergarten. I need to connect with other families who have children at the colleges he is interested in so we can get the scoop on deadlines and fun activities, just like parents who are getting ready to send their children to kindergarten. And most importantly, I need to connect with Sam and his teachers so that I can learn about anything extra I can do at home to support him as he transitions from high school to college.

As early childhood educators, I hope you’ll take time to share with your families and children the things they can do at home to prepare themselves and their children for what’s next. So twelve years later as they start the preparation for college, they can remember the work you did with them to prepare for kindergarten and not feel so overwhelmed.