Tag Archives: parents

A Crucial Conversation

conversation

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

Kenny was a quiet, happy two-and-a-half-year-old-boy who loved music, and liked to spend most of his time playing on the floor. He could often be found driving cars on the carpet, or lying on a pillow, gazing up at his classmates’ creations that hung from the ceiling. His classmates would play near him throughout the day, and would occasionally try to include him in their play, but Kenny never met their gaze and would always keep to himself.

As months passed, and Kenny celebrated his third birthday with no change in his demeanor, my co-teachers and I began to have conversations about his social/emotional development. We weren’t doctors and were in no way qualified to make a diagnosis, but according to our knowledge of child development, Kenny was exhibiting behaviors that led us to believe he may have been experiencing some developmental delays.

We came to the conclusion that we should have a discussion with his parents about what we were observing in the classroom. Parent/teacher conferences were coming up in a few weeks, but we didn’t want to wait that long. Besides, we knew the conversation we were going to have would be a sensitive one, and we wanted to take the time necessary to adequately address everyone’s questions (instead of the 20 minutes we were alotted at a typical conference).

I called Kenny’s mom at naptime and scheduled a meeting with her for the next day. It was her suggestion that we meet so soon. I could hear the anxiety in her voice over the phone.

Prior to our meeting, my co-teachers and I pulled out Kenny’s portfolio and reviewed all of the observations we had been making on him over the course of the year. We were nervous about how to have this conversation with Kenny’s mom, so we practiced what we wanted to say. In all honesty, as young teachers in the first few years of our careers, we were all secretly hoping that the anecdotal notes, photos and work samples we had collected would lead Kenny’s mom down a path of realization on her own, without us having to find the right words.

The next day, when Kenny’s mom arrived in the classroom, she was on the verge of tears. It was obvious to all of us that she was dreading this meeting. My two co-teachers, Kenny’s mom, and I sat down to talk in a private room. We began by talking about the things Kenny loved to do at school, how much he loved listening to us sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” We talked about all the pieces of documentation we had collected as Kenny’s mom sat and quietly listened.

“What does all this mean? What are you trying to tell me?” she hesitantly asked, as we came to the last item in Kenny’s portfolio. “Well,” I said, “the social skills a three-year-old usually displays are listed here” (at which point I showed her our school’s child assessment tool). Before I had the chance to even finish my thought, Kenny’s mom blurted out “And Kenny isn’t doing those things, is he?!” Her face turned beet red and she began to cry.

We tried to comfort her as best we could, and then we all took a little break – a few minutes to process what was going on. When we sat back down, Kenny’s mom was silent. “Okay,” I said, “now that we’ve laid all of this out on the table, would you like to talk about what we can do to support Kenny?” The look on her face told me that this was not what she was expecting me to say. “You mean he can still stay in his classroom?” she asked in surprise. “Yes, he can,” I replied. “Now let’s talk about how to help Kenny get what he needs.” Together, Kenny’s mom, my co-teachers and I came up with the first step of our plan – for Kenny’s mom to take Kenny, and the information we had discussed, to the pediatrician.

We all wanted Kenny to be successful in our classroom, and for the remainder of his time in our care, we worked together to do just that. Kenny’s mom kept us apprised of what was happening with him outside of the classroom, and brought us information from the medical professionals she was in contact with. We kept her informed of how things were progressing for Kenny at school. At the end of the school year, she gave my co-teachers and I each a warm hug – “Thank you for helping me help my son,” she said.

Let the children BE

I’ve decided I want to get the word “Be” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder. For me, it would be a reminder of a lot of different things. Relax. Be in the moment. Let the children be. Let the activity be. Watch. Observe.

It’s becoming increasingly stressful to be an early childhood educator. The demand to get children ready for school is an ever-present thought in every educator’s brain. My reaction to these demands is to BE. Be with the children. Grasp those teachable moments. Be in the process.  Give children finger paint and let them explore. Be outside. Participate in the wonder of nature. Be amazed at the children’s curiosity. Read books. Be in the story. Be quiet. Listen to the environment. Listen to the children. You may be surprised at how much children learn during these moments. You may also be surprised at how much YOU learn, as well.

Children learn best when we can relax and remain present in the moment. But what's the best way to do that?

As we are being, we are teaching and children are learning. Children are learning the scientific process while interacting with paint. They are learning about textures while exploring nature. Children are learning writing skills while using crayons and markers. They are learning math skills while working with blocks. Children are learning self-regulation while engaged in dramatic play.

Most of all, children are learning to BE. They are learning to be competent learners. They are learning that school is fun. They are developing a passion for learning. Children are learning to trust their adults. They are learning to trust themselves.

My advice to early childhood educators? Bask in the attention that’s currently being paid to our field. Showcase your talents. Advocate for your children. Educate society on what the children are learning because you are BEING with them. Have an understanding in theory and developmentally appropriate practice so that your BEING is rooted in a firm foundation. Know why you are doing what you are doing. Soon enough everyone else will realize the value of being, too.

– Christine

The Culture of Child Care

I had the opportunity to live in Seoul, South Korea for about a year. I was able to experience all different kinds of people and food. I had the opportunity to live in a busy, urban area and only use public transportation. Grocery stores were different. Everything I experienced while I was there was different.

But I hope you noticed that the word I used to describe my experiences was ‘different,’ not ‘bad.’ Sometimes, things that are different make us feel uncomfortable. Because we are uncomfortable and experiencing something that varies from our version of normal, we place judgment on those differences and label them as bad or wrong. Things that are different aren’t bad or wrong, they’re new. They provide us an opportunity to see things from a new perspective.

How can you make families feel at home in your program?

Each and every day new families enter our child care facilities and see things that are very different from what they have at home. These families are experiencing a new culture: the culture of child care. One that is naturally very different from their home environments. And it’s good that it’s different! For some children and families, the culture of child care can feel very overwhelming. There are so many people. The food might be different. The place they sleep probably feels different. The way people communicate might feel different. It might even smell different.

Knowing that child care has a culture all of its own, how do we make families feel welcome? Do you shuffle kids and families through your doors, expecting them to know just what to do? Or do you take time out to say hello and be available to chat with them about some of the new things they are experiencing?

When I arrived in South Korea with 2 young children and way too much luggage, I was greeted by a very large gentleman who spoke no English. I’ll be honest.  I was scared until he smiled at me, tapped my hand and pointed me in the right direction. His smile showed me that even though I couldn’t communicate with him verbally, that it was going to be okay. It showed me that all these very different things would likely be fun because I was surrounded by people who were friendly and willing to point me in the right direction.

I sure hope that you will take time to smile and point a new family in the right direction.

– Angie

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