Tag Archives: kids

Promoting Social and Emotional Development

I had the opportunity to attend Lumenocity at Washington Park, and the show was absolutely amazing. The music, the lights, the food trucks. It was estimated that there were 15,000 people in attendance, so as you might imagine, we were elbow to elbow. This lead to some tense situations, and I was prompted to wonder about the early experiences of some of the adults in the audience.

Children who are given the opportunity practice crucial life skills like critical thinking and problem solving grow up to be more functional adults.

Right before the show started a fight almost broke out because someone put a chair on another person’s blanket. The person in the chair was refusing to move.  Another person approached and threatened to “help” the person out of the chair.  The situation was resolved by yet another person mediating and finding the person in the chair another space.

I couldn’t help but wonder about everyone involved and their experiences with confrontation and problem-solving. I came to the conclusion that with quality early childhood experiences, this situation may not have happened. Had these adults been given the opportunity as young child to practice critical thinking and problem-solving?  Were they taught as young children how to negotiate with others?  Were they given opportunities to function successfully in a group setting?  Were they taught how to reflect on another person’s perspective?  Were they encouraged to use words instead of bodies to get their needs met?

I think it’s important for teachers of young children to have the adult the child will become in mind.  We can’t control everything, but we can provide opportunities for children to practice life skills. How? Let’s go through some scenarios.

Sophie takes a rattle from Max. The teacher can wait to see if Max is upset about the situation before intervening. If Max wants the rattle he may cry. The teacher can model the words that may be used: “Sophie, Max is using the rattle.  Give the rattle back to Max. Let’s find you a different rattle.” Max and Sophie may be too young to communicate by verbal language, but communication did happen.  So did problem solving. Max was upset and got his needs met by vocalizing his want. Sophie was also communicating by taking the rattle. She wanted to play with that toy, too.

Here’s another example. Children are told to line up at the door to go outside. There’s a mark on the floor showing children where to start the line.  Ingrid stands at that line because she wants to be first. John gets in front of her. Ingrid takes a deep breath then says, “John, we can’t open the door if you are there. I am standing at the line. You have to move.”  The teacher, who is standing nearby, validates Ingrid for using her words and waits for John to move. Conflict averted.

Healthy emotional development is a life long process.  Just like we don’t teach toddlers algebra, we shouldn’t expect them to share consistently. We don’t teach first graders chemistry formulas, and we shouldn’t expect them to not get upset when someone takes their seat. But when we start healthy behaviors at a young age, we are assisting in forming healthy adults.

– Christine

Learning through play… outdoors!

It’s summertime! The weather is warm and the sun is shining from early in the morning to late in the evening. Children in your program are going to be spending a lot of time outdoors. What a great opportunity to enhance their learning!

Extend chldren's learning with outdoor activities... and don't be afraid to take your indoor activities outside!

In the article “Making the Most of Outdoor Time with Preschool Children,” it is stated that “the outdoor space is an extension of the classroom and should be considered another space for learning.” There are tons of activities the children can do outside that promote learning. They can start a garden with flowers, herbs or vegetables. They can identify the different colors they see in plants or animals and the teacher can keep a list of all the things that are each color. They can investigate their shadows: tracing, measuring at different times of the day or playing shadow tag. They can even adopt a tree!

Adopting a tree will be different depending on the age of the children. With infants and toddlers, the teacher can choose a tree to adopt and take the children out to visit it, touch it and talk with the children about the features, such as what the leaves look like, whether the bark is rough or smooth, if there are animals in the tree and if anything changed from the last time it was visited. With preschoolers, the children can choose a tree to adopt and visit it, but may still need guidance to make the experience meaningful. The teacher can ask the children to describe the tree, identify things around the tree, create rubbings of the leaves, experience how the tree changes with the seasons and look through magnifying glasses at bugs on the tree. With school-agers, the children can each choose a tree to adopt, visit it on their own and be given activity ideas to do independently, as well. School-agers can research what type of tree they adopted, draw a map to their tree from the classroom, identify ways they know whether their tree is alive or not, look for evidence of animals (in the past or present) and take photographs of their tree at different times. The teacher can extend the activities by asking open-ended questions about their findings. One activity can span all the various ages!

In addition to doing outdoor activities, you can do indoor activities outdoors, too. Your sand and water table can be moved outside. The children can do art projects, musical experiences and dramatic play outside. Even better, story time can be taken outside, whether it’s reading a book to the children on the grass or allowing them to nestle under a tree with their own book for independent reading!

This is all in conjunction with the physical activities children naturally do outside. It is essential for their healthy growth and development. Why not make that a learning experience, too? Teachers (and children) can time how long it takes the children to run around the play area three times, measure how high they can jump next to the wall and count how many times in a row they hop on one foot, jump rope or hula hoop. It doesn’t have to be a competition between the children, but they can be challenged to beat their own scores.

What kinds of activities do you like doing with the children outdoors? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Random Acts of Experimentation

Recently when we were sitting at the table finishing lunch, my wife and I were relishing an extended conversation while our son, Eli, switched between spreading peanut butter on crackers and licking his fingers.

With lunch I had a glass of water and Eli had an apple juice box. As my wife and I continued talking, I saw something out of the corner of my eye: Eli’s hand reaching for my glass of water. I looked over and he smiled and said, “Can I have this?” “Sure,” I replied. Boy, was he excited. But why? Did he finish his juice box? Was he still thirsty?

Turns out he needed to experiment. He spread out a cloth napkin on the table, dunked his juice box upside down into my half-full glass of water, gave it a squeeze, set the box on the table and squeezed again. Much to his delight, watery apple juice squirted out! Over and over he did this until he was out of water.

Not wanting to miss this awesome moment I said, “Wow! How did you do that?”

He replied, “Like this,” dunking his juice box in the water glass again and squeezing it.

“Oh, you squeeze it and air bubbles come out. Where does the water go?” I asked.

“Yah, it goes here,” he said, giving the box a good squeeze, making the water spray onto the napkin.

“I like how you spread the napkin out. It seems to catch the water,” I said.

“We don’t want too messy. It would be a big mess!” he said. “This is just a little bit.”

Why didn’t my wife and I stop this? Water could go everywhere; he’s playing with a glass and making a mess! But we didn’t stop him. We never stepped in and re-directed him. Why not? What were we thinking?

We were thinking , “Why NOT let him experiment?” He was gaining so much from this harmless activity that to stop him would keep him from learning and making connections with other activities. It only lasted about eight minutes and he was thoroughly satisfied when finished.

Allowing young children the freedom to experiment with materials in their own way encourages them to be scientists, hypothesize about problems and discover for themselves how and why things work. They also are developing fine motor and persistence skills needed to navigate a complex world. When we take this window of opportunity to ask probing questions, add new vocabulary and allow for time to process we turn this impromptu moment into an intentional one.

After Eli had exhausted his supply of water he let out a very satisfying sigh looking at the now empty glass, the juice box and the soaked napkin. Then he looked at us, smiling, and said, “Want to go play trucks? You can have the concrete mixer, daddy, and mommy can use the water.”

Right and Wrong

A recent argument with my 16-year-old son ended with him stomping away and shouting, “You don’t think I do anything right!”

That comment really hurt my feelings, because I know that he does so many things right. He is one of the coolest young men that I know. He’s a responsible student that works hard. He’s a great friend to those around him. He is generous with his time and gives what he can back to the community. He asks really thought provoking questions that make people think. He can participate in very high levels of conversation about topics that are relevant to current events and life in general. I just didn’t understand how he could believe that I think he does everything wrong.

Photo courtesy of AngryJulieMonday.

Photo courtesy of AngryJulieMonday.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t remember the last time I said something positive to him. Even though I share so many amazing things that he does with so many people in my life, it didn’t even occur to me to compliment him on all of the things I noticed him doing well.

Hiam Ginott, a school teacher and child psychologist, once said, “If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.”  Although I am using this quote to help me in parenting my son, I think this very much applies to the work we do in classrooms every single day. It’s important to let the children we work with know how valued they are and how much they are cared for and respected. There are times that adults struggle with positive things to say about the behaviors that happen every day in our classrooms or even in our homes with our own children. However, we don’t want to get into a situation where all the children hear is a report about the negative behaviors that are seen.

If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.

Children are miraculous human beings that are capable of so much good. Let’s tell them about all the good things that they are doing and can do going forward. So, the first thing on my agenda when I get home today will be to let my son Sam know how grateful I am to be his mom and compliment him on something he’s done well today. What nice thing will you share with a child to let them know just how wonderful they can be?

– Angie

Listen With Your Eyes

Everyone knows that listening is a big part of communicating with children. But have you ever thought about listening with your eyes as well as your ears? Observing a child’s non-verbal communication is one way to find out what’s really on their mind.

Even as adults we sometimes have a hard time putting our true feelings into words. Children find it even harder. By reading a child’s expressions and subtle ways of moving you can get a fuller picture. And once you see what’s on your child’s mind, tuning in and responding becomes much easier.

Reading a child's body language is just as important as listening to what they are saying.

Photo courtesy of Lee LeFever.

Listening with your eyes isn’t difficult. In fact, most teachers learn it from the experts: babies. A baby who silently turns down the corners of his mouth has effectively delivered their message.  A baby who turns his head away while playing an exciting game of peek-a-boo may be saying, “Whew, this sure is fun, but I need a minute to calm down.”  In the same way, a wide-eyed look of wonder or a wrinkled brow tells a teacher whether to keep on playing or call a momentary halt. By listening with your eyes, you can figure out when a baby has had enough, when she wants more, what she’s afraid of, and what she’s fascinated by.  All without her saying a word.

It works with older children, too. A child in your class tells you he has had a great day at school, but bites his lip and looks out the window as he says it. His expression makes you decide to sit down and talk for awhile. You notice that one of the girls in your class will raise her eyebrows when you tell her it is time to clean up the dramatic play area. Seeing her expression makes you think that maybe she really was not ready to clean up and you have interrupted her work.  You give her the benefit of the doubt. You witness two children playing a new board game in your classroom. You notice one child lift his hand to their mouth in hesitation when it’s his turn. You help out with a subtle hint instead of telling him that everyone’s waiting on him and we need to move the game along.

Listening with your eyes as well as with your ears can help you figure out and respond to what your children are feeling as well as to what they’re saying.  It may mean glancing away from a clean-up routine, picking up the block area, cleaning out the paint jars, supervising the bathroom line or any one of a thousand things a busy teacher has to get done.  But what you “hear” with that glance may well be worth a thousand words.

“Tune In” to Language Development

When I’m observing teachers in the classroom, sometimes I want to remind them to bathe children in language, not drown them! Children learn so many things from a simple conversation: basic concepts like taking turns, listening when someone else is speaking (and expecting to be listened to when it’s their turn), when it’s appropriate to shout or whisper. We don’t have to over think it, but there are some important things to keep in mind.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Harjadi.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Harjadi.

Building a child’s vocabulary doesn’t happen when you’re quizzing them (with the best of intentions, of course) about items, shapes or colors. Incorporating these concepts into natural conversations is best practice. For example, when talking with children about a block structure, words like structure, taller, architecture and height may be introduced. There are opportunities all throughout your day for conversations like this one. “You made a circle with your paint!” “You threw the yellow ball into the basket.” It’s important to extend children’s language without being overwhelming

It’s also okay to not talk at times. Adults participate in communication all the time without vocalizing. Eye contact, body language and body placement are all forms of communication. The child who gazes at you from across the room may not need to be spoken to, but may want you to sit close to him or just make eye contact.

We need to value the child’s communication while they’re developing language skills. Some words may be hard to understand but we still need to value the attempt the child is making to communicate. Repeating what the child said can assist in clarification if needed. Repeating can also show the child you value what she said and that you are trying to understand.

Remember that children may be communicated with differently at home. When we not only have a relationship with the children in our care but with the families we serve, too, we can learn how families communicate and their expectations for their children.

I’m sure every adult has had the experience of talking to a child who appears to be ignoring you. Before getting upset, we have to look at the environment and think about the child.  Is the child actively engaged in an activity and may not have heard you? Is the music too loud?  Is the television on? What’s the volume like of the other children?  How many children are in the room?  Is the space too small for the amount of children?  Are there a lot of materials that make noise? With so much stimulation, children often can’t figure out what’s important for them to listen to. Adults can “tune out” when we want to, but children are still developing that skill. We need to consider the whole environment before jumping to conclusions.

– Christine

Holidays Can Be Teachable Moments

One thing I love about our society right now is that the typical family unit is anything but! Our family fits nicely into that category. We have four children total; one is his, two are mine and the baby is ours. But my favorite part of our blended family is that I come from a VERY Christian home (my father being a United Methodist Minister may have something to do with that) and my husband is Jewish. This calls for an extremely busy, not to mention expensive, holiday season.

Photo courtesy of techne.

Photo courtesy of techne.

If you were a little mouse peeking into our home during the holidays you would see a Christmas tree and stockings, the nativity and an advent wreath. You would also see a Menorah, about 25 Dreidels and loads of chocolate coins. Things can get complicated. When my middle son was explaining to his class that he is Christian who celebrates Hanukkah, they dubbed him “Hannuikan.” Both of our families had a good laugh over that one and his outstanding teacher took the opportunity for a “teachable moment” and had a lesson over the two holidays. Randy was able to bring in our Menorah and of course we provided Dreidels and chocolate coins for the

class.

I know I never played with a Dreidel until I met my husband. Now I sing the song at the top of my lungs with my children as we spin it and wait to see who is going to have the biggest pile of chocolate coins. I had never experienced Latkes or Sufganiyot and now my life (and my thighs) wouldn’t be the same without them!

My children are truly lucky to not just read about different faiths at school, but experience them. I am partnering now with his teacher so that throughout the year we can share the different Jewish holidays with his class and they can experience the traditions and stories that the Jewish faith has to offer. We have such a responsibility as educators to enlighten our students to the world around them. Bringing the experiences to them and letting them “live it” is what learning is all about.

– Joy