Tag Archives: learning

From Chaos to Calm

Playing with the children in your care is very important!In my years in the field, I have been in calm and relaxing classrooms where the noise level was just right and the children and child care providers seemed happy. I have also been in classrooms where it was very loud and the children were very active, and neither the child nor the provider seemed content. In most situations, it wasn’t the children causing the chaos, but the environment.

To have a peaceful classroom, there must be structure and predictability. Children will do better and be more successful in the classroom if they know what will happen. Keep in mind that some disruptions from the daily schedule are appropriate when they are lead by children’s interests, like going outside after the first snow fall of winter or listening to a parent visitor who has come to sing songs.

Try to keep a balance of “active” activities and “non-active” activities when you’re planning your day. If you take the children outside to play and then bring them in and expect that they’ll be ready for a nap, they will have a hard time calming their bodies. In this situation, you should have a “cool-down” activity such as reading books or doing yoga. Transitions can also be a time where children become restless so plan for those times, too. Talk or sing with children and limit the “waiting time” as much as possible.

Never underestimate the importance of free-choice! Children love to explore at their own pace and decide what to do next. Some programs I’ve visited implement a “center management” system that helps children remember how many children are allowed at each center at a time, which also reduces volume level and stress! Put up signs that indicate the amount of children allowed in each center with large polka dots. It will be easier for you, and for them, to keep track.

Keep your voice and body low when speaking with children. This not only helps to keep the room calm, but also helps to keep your conversations with the children private, especially when they need a little redirection. Remember also that too many displays on the walls can cause over-stimulation, especially for those with sensory issues. Even the color of the walls can affect a child’s stress level!

Sometimes life happens and we don’t have as much control as we’d like in our classrooms. However, these guidelines will set you up for success and a better chance of having a calm classroom where children are best able to learn.

Remembering Mrs. Bean

The other day I was in an early childhood classroom. Not unusual, it’s a place where I have been frequently, in one role or another, for over 40 years – as a student, volunteer, teacher, director, coach, assessor, parent and grandparent.

My first-ever early childhood classroom experience was Mrs. Bean’s Nursery School and Kindergarten. I was almost four. From time to time I’ll think back to that first experience (what I can remember of it) comparing/contrasting the “now” and “then.” And the “now” is ever-changing as time marches on–for the most part.

For example, I don’t remember dittos and worksheets. I’m not saying specifically we didn’t have them, but I certainly don’t remember them. What do I still remember? For one thing, I remember that cotton comes from a plant, wool comes from a sheep and–this was the real mind-blower–silk comes from a worm! Wow! (I’ll also admit these were simpler times before synthetic fibers.) What made it so memorable? We could see, touch and feel! Well, there were only photos of the animals, but we saw them, and could handle the cotton boll and the plant, the “just shorn” wool, and the silk thread and fabric. We could put our hands on them. We could share them and talk about them. We could relate it to our own experience. (Sewing was big in our household.)

Since best practices in early childhood education were first collectively addressed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in their Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) adopted in 1986, the landscape of the field has changed significantly. What we used to believe was good practice was based mainly on tradition and instinct. With the help of science and long-range studies we now have data on which to base our practice. To adapt to and accommodate these changes DAP has been revised three times, most recently in 2009, though the principles of child-centered learning have remained at the heart of DAP. Mrs. Bean had the right idea all along!

Today it’s wonderful to see early childhood on the radar of funders and legislators, but with that come standards of performance and accountability for all of us–children, teachers, parents and the funders and legislators. As we strive to meet standards and be accountable, it is essential to base our decisions and practices on what that science and research tells us. Children learn best in child-centered environments with individually- and age-appropriate, meaningful, hands-on learning.

Not every activity and experience we provide in our classrooms will pass the “Mrs. Bean test,” but I hope some of mine have. And, it’s a vital thought to have in our minds as we plan our curriculum. What’s really going to be significant and make an impact?

Oh, and thank you, Mrs. Bean. You had good instincts.

Get in There and Play!

I just had the pleasure of spending some time at the beach with my kids. I truly enjoyed watching them run in and out of the waves, jump into the swimming pool and play games that needed nothing electronic! For the first day or two, I sat idly by watching their fun and listening to them giggle endlessly. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I shouldn’t sit by and just watch their fun, I needed to participate in it with them from beginning to end. And so I did. I enjoyed being knocked around in the waves with them, playing water tag with them and holding hands as we strolled leisurely down the beach searching for the best seashells we could find.

Like parenting, teaching is something that we need to do with the children we encounter each and every day. We must engage and interact with the children through all of the experiences that we offer to them, be it outside time or group time. On occasion, I have seen teachers hide in the corner of the playground or stand quietly by as the children ride bikes and kick balls and create their own experiences. I often wonder, what’s missing from that experience not only for the child but also for the teacher? On the playground, children have the opportunity to use their imaginations and create games with rules all of their own making. They have the opportunity to be leaders and explorers. Teachers have the opportunity to observe the children as they lead and explore and create these games with rules all their own. They also have the chance to observe large muscle activities and have conversations with children about curious new subjects like dirt, or maybe a sound they’ve never heard before.

So, the next time you visit the playground or take a walk around the neighborhood, ask yourself, how can I enhance this experience for children? Participate, enjoy and capitalize on all opportunities that are presented to you, even if that means you get a little dirty. I promise, the memories you will create with children will be that much more meaningful because you were there right along with them, not watching from the side lines.

Teenagers Through the Twilight Years: Still Connecting the Dots

You thought I was done talking about music, didn’t you? There’s still more to say! Like I said in my previous blog, music is a life-long pastime. The benefits don’t end when a child enters school, and it’s important to acknowledge that. The benefits of music last through our twilight years!

If you have ever been in contact with teenagers, you know how important music is to them. Think back to your own teenage years: how many hours did you spend in your room singing into your hairbrush? The article “Music for Babies-Music for Teenagers” references a 1989 report from The Journal of the American Medical Association in which Dr. Elizabeth Brown asserts that “between the seventh and twelfth grades, the average teenager listens to 10,500 hours of rock music, just slightly less than the entire number of hours spent in the classroom from kindergarten through high school.” If that was the case in 1989, consider what it is now with music on the internet, mp3 players that can hold thousands of songs and all of the music-based TV shows on air. If that calculation doesn’t attest to the importance of music to teenagers, I don’t know what does. It’s continuing to connect the dots, even if the teenagers are completely oblivious that it’s happening.

I’ll pose the same reflection as I did for early education songs. Think about songs teenagers are listening to now, like Shinedown’s “Second Chance.” You’ve probably heard it. Some of the lyrics include: I just saw Halley’s Comet, she waved/Said why you always running in place?/Even the man in the moon disappeared/Somewhere in the stratosphere. So, how does this song connect dots? First, it reinforces the concept of half-rhymes, where words don’t rhyme exactly, which is used frequently in the poetry of renowned authors like W. B. Yeats and Emily Dickinson. Second, it mentions meteorological terms such as Halley’s Comet and the stratosphere. That’s beyond the melody, rhythm, knowledge of verses and choruses which are emphasized through music.

For those of you who want to see results, I refer you to the published average SAT scores of Texas students who participate in music programs across the last ten years. Those students participating in music programs continually score a minimum of 100 points higher than the national average, up to more than 500 points higher. Does this mean they are smarter? No. There is no evidence indicating that standardized tests measure intelligence. But, those dots are connected, strengthened and their significance is evident.

Jenni Jacobs made an excellent comment on my last blog. She said, “…We can turn on the radio, hear a song from 20 years ago and still remember every lyric… because music has engaged our emotions, our memory, our language centers, the sensory centers… and every other part!” There are songs that make me sad, make me happy, make me calm, make me excited. There are also songs that when I hear them, I am immediately reminded of an event, relationship or specific year of my life. They are forever linked.

I leave you with a study from Boston University which used music with memory tests in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The study showed that patients with Alzheimer’s, when given a series of memory tests involving lyrics to recently-written children’s songs, learned more lyrics when the words were set to music rather than simply spoken. While these are preliminary results, released only six months ago, the potential is amazing. The dots may still be connected, even in the face of illness. As we move through our lives, it is undeniable that taking time to incorporate music has a wealth of benefits, and I hope you have come away from these blogs with more knowledge of these benefits than you had before. I know I did.

Where Do Words Come From?

Learning is a mysterious thing. How did you come to know that when you look up it is the sky that you see? Or that filling a cup too full of liquid will cause it to overflow? When children learn language, it works the same way.

I found an article in the New York Times about children’s language development recently, and it made me wonder. I asked our infant and toddler specialist about how children develop language, and she said “bathe the children in language, don’t drown them.” I like that. I immediately pictured an adult talking with a child rather than telling the child what to do. She told me about a study that compared the development of children whose parents only talked directly to them (“put your shoes away”, “eat supper”, “sit down”) to those who had conversations with them.  The children who had conversations were significantly more developed in language and communication than the children who were given directives only. 

The article supports what Christine said and the author gives simple advice to parents and caregivers to help boost children’s language development:  “Talk to your child about what they’re focused on. Read to your child often. If they’re in a bilingual home, speak to the child and read to the child in the language that you’re most comfortable with. Speak clearly and naturally and use real words. Show excitement when the child speaks.”

Hmmmmm, I think we can do that.