Tag Archives: developmentally appropriate practice

Four Things That Don’t Help Children Learn

free-play

I recently read a blog titled, 4 Things Worse Than Not Learning to Read in Kindergarten. This blog made a huge impact on me because it is written from a parent’s point of view. I have had to have many crucial conversations through my experience in the early childhood field, around developmentally appropriate goals for children during their early years. This is in spite of how it has been proven that children learn best through play and being allowed to follow their interests. The thing that concerns me the most is that many programs, schools, and families are putting pressure on children who are entering preschool that is not developmentally appropriate.

Using the same four “worse things” that are presented in the blog, I hope to capture the disturbing similarities that are happening to not only preschoolers but infants and toddlers, as well.

Limited time for creative play. There is such a focus on learning the ABCs and 123s that children are losing valuable time just getting to be children. During free play, teachers are often caught up in preparing for teacher directed activities rather than spending time observing, interacting, modeling, and wondering with children while they play. When children are permitted to have choices on where to play, they are many times stopped from taking a toy from one area to another or use materials in a manner for which they may not have been originally intended. Group times are spent going over posters of colors and shapes, calendar, and weather rather than having a “meeting of the minds.” What do children want to learn about? What is new in the room they will get to explore? Are there any changes to the routine or a new activity that can be discussed that could help limit challenges to transitions and set limits or explain expectations? Or perhaps a formal group time isn’t needed at all. Offer several opportunities throughout the day to read books and sing songs just because it is fun and that is what children want to do in that moment.

Limited physical activity. Children need action! Movement helps to build the brain. Children are wired to move. They need to experience the verbs of life not just learn about what they are. They need to have ample opportunity to push, pull, carry, hop, run, chase, crawl and climb. Not only is gross motor and outside time limited, children are expected to wait for long periods of time, to sit a particular way, such as crisscross applesauce or to catch a bubble while walking through the halls. How long can you sit with your legs crossed? When was the last time you walked with your peers and refrained from having a conversation in the hallway? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to teach them how to sit comfortably so that they can listen to the book that is being read? Maybe they need to wiggle or would like to lean against their buddy/friend while they listen. Too many times, I hear adults telling children how to sit or to be quiet that it takes twice as long to read a book and then the children who were interested at the beginning of the book become uninterested.

Teaching that focuses on standards and testing. Yes, standards and assessments have made their way into early childhood settings just as they have in elementary, middle and high school. When used appropriately these standards and assessments can shed light on how to plan, provide a roadmap for consistency and measure learning and development. When used inappropriately, they drive decision making around funding and put unneeded pressure on teachers, which ultimately affects the children. I have often been asked, “How am I going to teach everything that is in the assessment?” The purpose of the assessment it to track learning, not dictate what must be taught.

Frustration and a sense of failure. In my opinion, this is the worst of the “4 worse things.” No child should ever be made to feel less than human for not being able to perform. Especially when it is based on expectations that are practically unattainable such as a stringent focus on academics and lengthy group times. Children should be treated with the same respect that we expect from others. I often try to help teachers see things from a child’s perspective by putting them in a similar scenario such as long lines at the grocery store check out or an unexpected deadline that doesn’t fit in your schedule. Hopefully, adults have learned the skills that are needed to be successful in these situations, yet we know that isn’t always the case. How can we expect children to have those same skills? They need to be supported and guided to learn how to sit for long periods of time, not by sitting for long periods of time but by being able to work at the level they are ready for and work towards new goals. Children should feel safe with their teachers and know that it is okay to make mistakes because making mistakes is how we learn to make changes for the better. If children are shamed and humiliated for the mistakes they make, they will become scared of making mistakes and could ultimately stop trying altogether.

All in all, I encourage readers to read the original blog. It has links to the research behind why there are four worse things than learning to read. Young children learn best through play; they need to practice skills over and over again in order to get them right. This includes social interaction and mastering their sense of self. Children should be allowed to be children for as long as possible—to play and love life so that they foster their own love of learning.

No More Bullies in Your Child Care Program

no-bullying

From a very early age, I can remember the first time in school that someone picked on and excluded me because I was heavier than all the other kids.  It was the first time I realized I was somehow different from the other children and it hurt me a lot. This continued my whole academic career with instances that included profane name calling, public humiliation, and physical harm towards me.

The definition of bullying (from the website www.stopbullying.gov ) is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include an imbalance of power; kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others, and repetition; bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.”

It is our job as early educators to start talking early about kindness and respect to the children in our care. One way I encouraged this in my preschool class was by having a time set aside for us to talk about our feelings each day. We had a group-sharing time where I would pass around our pillow/bear and the child holding it got to tell how they felt (happy, sad, mad, scared, etc.) and why they felt that way.  Children weren’t required to share if they didn’t want to. I always gave them an opportunity after to pull me aside and tell me something privately if they preferred. We would talk about how to help our classmates celebrate a happy feeling, or help them feel better about a sad, mad, or scared feeling. It helped some of the children to talk about their emotions and work through feelings together, not by themselves, creating a community. Sometimes I included stories and finger-play songs to help teach.

If a group time setting isn’t something that will work with your program’s schedule, below are some tips from Stopbullying.gov (with some edits for younger children) to help encourage kindness and empathy in your program throughout your day:

Model positive ways for young children to make friends. For example, practice pleasant ways that children can ask to join others in play and take turns in games. We can coach older children in our program to help reinforce these behaviors as well. Encourage children for appropriate behavior. Help young children understand what behaviors are friendly.

Help young children learn the consequences of certain actions in terms they can understand. Encourage young children to tell an adult if they are treated in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, upset, unhappy, or if they witness other children being harmed. Teach them that it is okay to stand up for others in need if they feel safe to do so.

Set clear rules for behavior and monitor children’s interactions carefully.  Step in quickly to stop aggressive behavior or redirect it before it occurs.

Encourage age-appropriate empathy for aggressive behavior. Young children should be encouraged to apologize in their own way whenever they hurt a peer, even accidentally. Guiding questions from you may include “What can you do/say to help ____ feel better about what happened?” Some younger children are still learning what ‘apology’ and ‘sorry’ mean so be patient and respect their approach to it. Not all apologies and expressions of empathy are the same.

With patience, understanding and a positive approach, we can help children recognize that kindness and empathy can go a long way in the world today.

Parents are a Child’s First Teachers

4C’s Debra Chin knows you want encourage the children in your care to be independent, but if you give them too much freedom, they may get confused, misuse the freedom or make the wrong choices.  On the other hand, if you use the benefit of your experience and make all their choices for them, you could compromise their ability to make their own decisions. Read on for Debra’s experience as a mother and educator! What’s yours? – Karen

Many times, people have told me that I should back off and let my child do everything for himself, that it would help my child to learn about responsibility and become an independent individual. There is no doubt about it, as a parent I want my child to become responsible and independent. Yet, as much as I appreciate parents advocating for children, this advice sometimes makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I question how I define responsibility and independence, how it is defined for my family. I can’t stop wondering if I am a potential obstacle to my child’s learning. For me and my family, true responsibility comes from humbly consulting with the experienced, respectfully taking input from unfamiliar perspectives and supporting each other’s needs as a group or as a family. In the process of coaching my child to become responsible and independent, am I training my child to consider only his opinions, or to learn from others’ perspectives, as well?

Thinking of how I communicate with other parents made me think of how we communicate with families in the early childhood field. I reflected on how I responded to parents when I saw them spoon feeding their child, helping their child get dressed or immediately providing a solution to the problem that their child encountered. Do I confront those parents? Because I am knowledgeable in the early childhood field, does that mean I am right? Do I say “Excuse me, I don’t baby children. I let them feed themselves, dress themselves and do many things by themselves. That’s developmentally appropriate practice!”

If I did say these things, how would those parents feel about the program or about me? Many families may not define independence the same way that I do, and some things may be more important in other families, like mutual helping, interdependence or obedience to elders. In my family, we believe that children won’t be able to develop a true sense of responsibility nor become a truly independent individual until they learn to work through conflicts collaboratively with others, to take care of others’ needs and knows how to serve as a helping and contributing member in a group. But that’s just us, and I need to remember that it’s different for every family, and every child.

Family is our children’s first group experience in their life. Honoring each family’s way of life and valuing each family member in each child’s life is essential to building positive relationships. From there we can begin to meaningfully support a child’s learning and development as a whole! Only through a positive relationship with families, who have built a foundation for the children in our care, can we call what we are doing developmentally appropriate practice.

Again, Again! Young Children Thrive on Repetition

A few weeks ago, I visited the wonderful preschool program where my five-year-old niece, Lauren, is enrolled.  The teacher commented that Lauren loves to color.  She explained that Lauren will color in the morning, color after a nap and color again tomorrow! Young children thrive on such repetition.  Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. To begin with, children are just starting to sort out which aspects of the world are predictable:  What can be counted on to remain the same?  What will change? “Is the school’s copy of A Very Hungry Caterpillar exactly like the one I have at home?  I’d better look at it over and over to be sure.”  Repeating an experience gives children a chance to confirm that what they learned earlier still holds true–and to build on their understanding.

For years teachers and parents have been told to expose their children to as many different experiences as possible in order to broaden their knowledge and stimulate their ability to think.  What is sometimes sacrificed in following this advice, however, is the opportunity for children to repeat valuable activities. Children who are allowed to repeat experiences gain confidence and a strong foundation upon which future learning can be built.  When a situation is familiar, a child is free to apply new knowledge and new skills to experiment and understand, to clear up misconceptions, and to recreate what was previously satisfying.

For this reason, early childhood classrooms stock certain predictable, traditional materials such as playdough, blocks, sand and balls. Simple materials, but ones that can be used in many ways.  From an adult’s viewpoint, it may seem needlessly repetitious to offer these toys throughout an entire year and into the next.  Children don’t necessarily see it that way.  The next time you look at changing the materials in your classroom, keep the children’s interest in mind.

You’ll see that by repeating experiences with familiar toys, their play has grown. It’s become more elaborate. The same predictable materials are slowly being used in more challenging ways.  By the end of this school year, Lauren is not just trying to color in the lines or scribble, she is drawing meaningful pictures, making books and writing words with her markers.  The same child, the same markers, but an entirely different learning experience.

Early childhood programs do, of course, encourage children to broaden their horizons, and try new things, but they also respect their need for repeating (and repeating) the familiar. Why? Because they know that all areas of development and learning are shaped by a child’s experiences—and that includes familiar, predictable experiences as well as new ones.  I loved the way my dress looked in Lauren’s picture.  It had bright colors, buttons and a zipper.  Maybe next year she will add designer shoes!

Don’t be a Tourist! Celebrating Holidays in Preschool

‘Tis the season, or rather, ‘tis the week to celebrate the holidays in preschool classrooms across the state. Which holiday? All of them! Regardless of when they actually occur or relevancy to any of the children in the class, preschool curriculums often incorporate a celebration of as many holidays as possible in an attempt to be multi-cultural.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging any early childhood program that does this. I, too, once thought that I was being inclusive of other cultures and doing the right thing by including a “tour” of the holidays with potato pancakes and dreidels on Monday for Hanukkah, decorating a Christmas tree on Tuesday and even when I didn’t have an African-American child in my class, a celebration of Kwanzaa on Wednesday. When we had four days of school before our winter break I would add Chinese New Year to the week of holidays, though it wouldn’t happen in the calendar year until January or February. What I didn’t know about the holidays that were unfamiliar to me, I looked up on the internet.

I truly believed that I was being multi-cultural. Even as an administrator of a large program, I had the whole staff include these holidays in their lesson plans, whether the children in their classrooms were infants or school-aged children. While I did give them the freedom to come up with their own activities, we all did the same holiday on the same day the week before Christmas. I never stopped to think that the children who might be celebrating Hanukkah at home could have done so as early as November, and the children whose families celebrated Kwanzaa wouldn’t do so until after Christmas! We were being sensitive to the celebrations and traditions of all cultures, weren’t we?  The honest answer is, “NO!”

What messages were our celebrations sending to the children about people who do celebrate these holidays? Do all Jewish people make latkes? And who exactly celebrates Christmas? Do they all decorate a tree or believe in Santa Claus? (Parents over on our sister blog have some ideas about this).  Some people may celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas and celebrate Kwanzaa, just as some may celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. Making a day where we celebrate a generic understanding of a culture communicates to children that all Jewish people must do this, or there’s only one way to celebrate Christmas or Kwanzaa. It’s not accurate, and it’s not developmentally appropriate.

A better way to enrich your program with culture is to find out what holidays the families of the children in your program celebrate. Ask them when they celebrate it, how they celebrate it and if their families have any special traditions that they would like to share. Have families share a special dish or treat with the class along with the recipe, or bring in pictures of their holiday celebration(s) and make an album or a storybook with them. The child can dictate what is happening in the picture and the teacher can write it down, or the child can draw pictures of what their family does for the holidays they celebrate. These can be put in the reading area for all to see and use.

Celebrating holidays isn’t wrong, but how you celebrate them can be so much more meaningful to the children in your class when you find out about their family’s cultures and traditions.  When you make a blanket statement about a particular holiday by something that seems as harmless as having Santa Claus visit your center, you miss out on the uniqueness of each child and family in your program.

Preschoolers are not Pilgrims and Indians!

Teacher: “Who wants to be a pilgrim?”
All 3-year-olds in class: “I do!”
Teacher: “Who wants to be an Indian?”
All 3-year-olds in class: “I do!”
One curious 3-year-old asks, “Teacher, what is a pilgrim?”

Every year as the leaves turn red, yellow and orange, it is tradition that the pictures of pilgrims appear on many child care center walls. I often find myself asking the same question the curious 3-year-old did, ”What’s a pilgrim?” or more importantly, “Why are 3-year-olds learning about pilgrims?”

This year, I decided to ask the teachers. One teacher answered, “So they will be ready for kindergarten.” Another teacher announced, “Learning about pilgrims helps them to understand Thanksgiving.” A third well-intentioned teacher explained, “Three-year-olds need to know their heritage.”

Upon answering the “Why” behind the “What” they are doing, I pushed these teachers to support their reasons with what they know about developmentally appropriate practices. The teachers had to agree that their understanding of how children learn did not support their practice of teaching about pilgrims and Indians, but it was just what they always had done. I then asked them to identify which of Ohio’s Early Learning Content Standards were being addressed and in unison they replied, “The history standard.”

The following are excerpts from Ohio’s Early Learning Content Standards for Early Childhood (located on the Ohio Department of Education’s Web site). I wonder if you are as surprised as these teachers to find out what is expected at the END of preschool?

Early Learning (3 – 5 year old) History
What this means: Understanding of people and events that influenced behavior.

• Begin to use the language of time (e.g., day, night, yesterday, today, and tomorrow).
• Label days by function (e.g., school day, stay home day, swim day, field trip day).
• Begin to use or respond to the language of time such as next, before, soon, after.
• Share episodes of personal history from birth to present.
• Arrange sequences of personal and shared events through pictures, growth charts, or other media.
• Share personal family stories and traditions

The 3-year-old asked the teacher a very valid question, and developmentally speaking, he can only really grasp what happened yesterday, and only cares about what is happening in his own personal family as far as his heritage is concerned. These are the histories we should be exploring in a preschool setting. Children are not expected until second grade to recognize the importance of social and political figures like George Washington, Tecumseh or Harriet Tubman, and not until third grade are children expected to measure time in centuries. If we reflect on the real reason we want to celebrate Thanksgiving with the children in our care, isn’t it more about friendship, family, and sharing a meal together?

Next year, instead of paper bag vests and tricorne hats, consider celebrating a child’s family by having them bring in pictures of important people in their family. Allow your child to choose the picture(s) she wants to share. It will be more meaningful if she could talk about the person in the picture. Talk about the custom of sharing a family meal together at this time of year, discussing that your classroom is like a family that shares and cares for each other. A culminating activity could be a classroom family meal, with age appropriate favorite foods like turkey lunchmeat, dinner rolls and carrot sticks. Consider inviting extended family to this classroom family meal to celebrate the heritage that is personal to all the children. I promise you will be less frustrated with children who have disputes over which costume they want to dress up in – the Indian or the pilgrim. They’ll be too busy being themselves!