Tag Archives: early childhood education

Overcoming the ‘I don’t get it’ blues

Most of us can recall a time in school when we just didn’t “get” something. In the third grade, I witnessed a classmate hiding the fact that he couldn’t tell time. The teacher had expected him to do an errand for her and told him to leave his desk at “exactly 1:45.”  He had to confess that he hadn’t a clue what that meant. And his past November, I attended an open house event for my niece, Lauren.  She stood in the hallway very upset because her construction paper turkey didn’t look at all like her first grade peers or the teacher’s model. I recall her saying, “mine looks like a duck with funny feathers.”

Small matters, right? But not to a child. I am guessing that if I would have asked my third grade classmate how he was feeling when he didn’t know how to tell time or if I would have asked my niece why she was so upset about her turkey the answer would have been the same:  “Less than brilliant” or “I am ashamed.”

Play builds confidence and so much more!

“Not getting it” happens to every child. What we want is for them to bounce back, to not lose confidence in themselves as capable learners. Our faith in them helps, of course. So does having their teacher’s support. But there’s something else that can restore a child’s sense of competence, and this old-fashioned remedy is always effective, even when a child does not let you in on a discouraging experience.

Simply give the children in your care the chance to play every day. It has to be real play, though, where a child decides what to do and how to do it! In play, children set their own challenges and find out they can succeed. Children usually choose tasks that challenge them, but aren’t overwhelming.

When children are playing, they don’t worry about failing. Play, after all, is supposed to be fun. And you don’t get evaluated on fun. What’s more, because play is a no-risk situation, children often find themselves attempting more and more. In play, children try out new skills and discover they can perform at a higher level.

When they’re playing, children can pretend that they’re the ones in charge. Instead of being told when to get on the school bus, a child can be the driver. Instead of having to finish their vegetables at a meal time, a child can become the cook. Instead of taking a test, an older child may play school and be the teacher. Play builds self confidence. In play, children put aside feelings of being powerless and experience being capable.

Give a child in your care the time to play and you will be giving them time to re-charge. A child at play is someone who solves problems, generates new ideas, is curious and creative. A child at play is someone who sets and meets challenges, risks trying out new skills and experiences what it’s like to feel capable and in charge. And sometimes, a child who plays is someone who’s bouncing back from a temporary bout of “not getting it.”

Shouldn’t every month be National Reading Month?

There is so much energy and time invested in promoting reading as the single most important activity one can do (and it is!), and yet so little time is actually spent reading! Many states and organizations promote a single month or day for reading, but these months and days are random and do not correlate to anything specific.

Reading shouldn’t happen in planned out Hallmark-holiday style. Reading is something that happens all day every day. Reading month, like many other randomized celebrations (Black History Month, Valentine’s day, Father’s Day or Movember, for example) is not something that you should be made aware of for just one day or one month. Reading, like heritage and disease, is something that should be done, discussed and acted upon every day of every month!

Shouldn't every month be National Reading Month?

There is a ton of research into how and why. Not only is reading good fun, the language and literacy skills needed to do it well are important skills to acquire for future success in school and life. Reading also helps soothe the mind, takes you to faraway places or back in time to witness great moments, and ordinary ones, too.

I wonder why we think that giving reading such short thrift will provide us with the results we desire. If we want to see a higher percentage of early language comprehension and a higher percentage of reading at level in third grade, we should read every day (these and more outcomes are in the Strive Report Card). Reading also contributes to higher scores on the SAT, ACT and the NAEP, and with children in the United States trailing our global neighbors, it’s never been more important.

With the onslaught of technology and how rapidly our youth have taken to it we might be at a crossroads. But somewhere between winning texting awards and writing fluent essays we must hold on to what we know leads one to a life of success. So read to your children and provide them opportunities to talk about their world.

– Josh

The Most Important Work

Being an early childhood professional has got to be one of the most demanding career choices one can make. I commend all the professionals in this field, regardless of gender, for helping to make our young children the proudest, smartest and most dignified future leaders.

That said, I am a guy (and apparently from Mars, which sometimes I feel like going back to). When I tell people I work in the field of early childhood, sometimes I think they’re wondering, is he lost? Others might say I chose a path of least resistance, an easy job. Yeah, right. One that pays too little and makes me pull what little is left of my hair out!

Early childhood education is anything but easy. In an ever changing world, early childhood education presents itself as one the most dynamic career choices one could make. Did I know this going into it? As my son says, “Probably… just a little,” his voice rising on the supposition and dead flat on the definitive, face scrunched up like he’s really thinking about it. But I really had no idea just how demanding my career choice would be.

For those who don’t think I’m lost or looking for an easy job, I am treading bold waters. But I like to think I am getting back to my roots, in more ways than one.

Men have always been teachers. We’ve come a long way from accepting a chicken as payment for endowing young hearts and minds with knowledge and wisdom (though I will still gladly receive a chicken as payment), and a lot has changed. Few men enter the field of early care and education, undoubtedly because recent history has taught us not to. Our numbers have seized to just a trickle, though in the past few years I have begun to see those numbers rise. And why shouldn’t they? For some years now we have talked about creating a more exacting representation of the world around us in the early childhood classroom. We have talked about diversity and the need to reflect that in our environments. We discuss the importance in the development of a young child’s self-efficacy and self-esteem and the correlating importance of having gender specific role models. So, where are you, men? Don’t you see this is THE important work to do?

Looking for fun? You’ll find it at the library!

Advertisers spend billions of dollars telling children exactly where to find happiness and satisfaction: fast food restaurants, toy stores, amusement parks. But there’s another place in town offering our children happiness, satisfaction and a lot more: your local library! Most libraries can’t afford a splashy ad campaign to entice our children, however, so it’s up to us to get them interested!

Begin by promoting weekly library time for your family in your center or child care home. Schedule the library to come into your center for monthly visits and make this as special as a TV show or holiday.

Educate the parents in your programs about the importance of the library and all the library has to offer. Share with them that the library offers comfortable places for them to sit with their children and enjoy books together. Reading stories to your child can be a time of closeness and sharing.  Be sure to build in time for it at every library visit, and explore the other resources your library has to offer! The children’s section in many libraries includes magazines for the very young, puzzles, tapes to listen to and toys to play with. Libraries are now equipped with computers and computer games, but nothing beats a good old fashioned story time.

Get to know your librarian. You want children to see that librarians are approachable grown-ups who can introduce them to good books. Question the librarian about where to find books that are age-approproate. Ask about special events at the library: movie nights, craft activities, puppet shows, cooking lessons and much more. Librarians know lots of ways to keep children interested in stories and books. Watching one in action is a good way to pick up some tips on reading to your own children.

Try to end each visit by following a predictable routine. You might look at something interesting such as an aquarium or a favorite picture first, then check out books and wave goodbye to the librarian. Doing things the same way each time makes it easier to get your children to leave the library, but if you’re lucky, they won’t want to!

Building a Foundation of Trust

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

– Stephen R. Covey

A friend of mine recently enrolled her two children in child care for the first time. She’s a very private person, but chose to share with the child care provider that she was going through a divorce. What she didn’t choose to share was that her husband and the children’s father is an abusive man. Does it surprise you that she would withhold this information? I wasn’t surprised. My friend needs to learn to trust her child care provider, and that process takes time.

Building a foundation of trust is critical for all families, and for all child care providers who hope to have a positive relationship with the parents of the children in their care. What can we do to lay the foundation? We need to be patient and consistent, and most of all we need to keep a focus on good communication with families.

First we need to be sure to meet with families in a safe and comfortable environment. Give yourself enough time to exchange ideas and information, and listen with an open mind in all your communications with families. Be sure to clarify expectations and share honestly. If parents ask you a question that you don’t know the answer to, be honest. Let the family know you’ll get back to them with the information, and then do it!

It’s so important to respect the parents’ levels of knowledge, understanding or interest. When we make assumptions about a parent, however innocently, we run the risk of destroying our chances to develop a strong relationship with that parent. For example, don’t always assume a busy parent is a disinterested parent. They could be distracted that day by one of life’s many other challenges… I know some days I am!

Remember that parents are their child’s first teachers, and when they feel that we respect and trust them, they are more likely to respect and trust us.

The Art of Leadership

In early June, 4C staff traveled to Indianapolis to attend the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) 21st National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development.  The theme this year was Leadership throughout the Early Childhood Profession, and there were a few concepts that really resonated with me.

In centers where directors displayed warm and flexible leadership, the teachers were observed to be high in encouragement, sensitivity and creativity, and low in restriction. Where director’s leadership was arbitrary and lacking in warmth, teacher’s performance was rated low in encouragement and high in restriction and in lessons on rules for socializing, formal skills and control and restraint. This made me think a great deal about what kind of leader I am. How about you?

Professional standards can be expressed in the way a director values, in word and deed, self, children, parents, staff, community and profession. Ask yourself, do you continue to learn and perform at a higher level? Do you treat and respect children as worthy individuals? Do you respect all staff members as individuals? Do you acknowledge parents as the primary caregivers and final decision makers? Do you value your community partners and advocate for the needs of children?

In a session entitled “Building and Rebuilding Your Credibility,” Roger Neugebauer, author and editor from Exchange Magazine, stressed to participants to familiarize themselves with what teachers expect of their director… and to be clear on what you expect from your staff! Staff expect you to be an expert. Staff expect you to make good decisions. Staff expect you to listen.  Staff expects you to be fair. As for directors, they expect teachers to be committed to the organization, to communicate concerns and to trust them.

So, you can see there are many areas where a director cannot meet expectations, causing a lapse in credibility. You can also see that teachers have responsibility, as well. Remember, being a leader of an early childhood program requires much more than hands, the director must have a head full of information and expertise on a wide variety of topics. Take care of yourself; grow, connect, learn, risk and play. You’re never too old to learn something new!

Competition in the Classroom

One thing my husband and I have anticipated since our son Gavin was born has been watching him participate in sports, and we’ve been delighted to support his love of soccer. Though we have never emphasized winning, I feel that everyone, including children, want to succeed!

A few weeks ago my son was playing a game and as he celebrated scoring a goal he was approached by the opposing team’s coach. His version of celebrating was jumping up and down and pumping his arms twice while exclaiming, “Yes!”  I did not find this overboard, but as I watched the coach kneel down to get on Gavin’s level, I saw his face turn red and he began fidgeting. I try not to be a helicopter mom so standing back while Gavin grew uncomfortable was difficult.

As he took his turn to rest and watch the rest of the team I asked him what the coach had said.  He told me the coach had said that he should only say “Yes” once because twice was bad sportsmanship. He then said, “Mom, I didn’t know there was a rule about how many times I could cheer.” I didn’t either.

As I watched Gavin’s demeanor change during that game I became sad. He no longer had the drive to compete and I couldn’t help but wonder, isn’t life full of competition? As both of my children watch sporting events on television athletes celebrate their victories. With the Olympics approaching, will athletes be restricted to celebrating their medals only once?

As a teacher I have worked with every age group from birth through sixth grade. One thing many children have in common is their drive to succeed and seek accolades from adults.  Even the smallest clap from you when a baby rolls over for the first time or a toddler takes his first steps can mean the world to them. When children see your smiling face, they will often try again. Just as Gavin had no desire to compete the rest of that game, some children in your care may lose their focus to succeed if they don’t feel encouraged.

As you observe the children in your class, try to focus your attention on a job well done and teamwork. There is no need for a sticker or a prize box; a pat on the back or a high five is just as meaningful. While it’s important for children to understand that everyone can’t win all of the time, emphasis should not be placed on winning or losing but the lessons learned in the process.