Friday, January 30, 2015

Valentine Sensory Bin

Our Valentine sensory bin this year was put together by the children. They were given free reign in the art studio and allowed to pull anything pink red or white. I gave them a choice of base material, and they requested "red" rice, which turned out more pink.

To make the rice, I used about a half gallon size container of rice. I mildly heated 1/3 cup of vinegar with a pea sized dollop of Wilton Christmas Red gel food coloring. I mixed it well until the gel had completely dissolved, then combined it with the rice until thoroughly coated. The rice went onto two jelly roll pans and into the oven. I had preheated it to 350 degrees, then turned it off and left the rice in the rest of the day. It probably could have used another pea size of the coloring gel, but I didn't want it to come off on their hands once dry.

The rice is their filling and dumping activity.

To this they added a package of Valentine confetti. The confetti they have sorted out [fine motor] and sorted by color.

They also added pom poms, which they sort by size and color and use in a variety of ways; feathers, which they color and size sort; pipe cleaners, which they color sort and manipulate; and red shiny shred filler. 

The cookie cutters they use as bases to fill with rice and pom poms, and wrap with the pipe cleaners.
Tags: sensory, sensory bin, Valentine's, child care, daycare, preschool, pre-k, homeschool, holiday, Valentine's Day, activity, 

Little Stars Learning

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sorry Doesn't Make It Okay

"Sorry doesn't make it better."

"Sorry," doesn't mend wounds, physical or emotional. It can't heal boo boos or broken hearts.

There are very few reasons a child gets a time out here, and the only automatic time out children get here is for maliciously harming another child. 

Somehow, society has gotten to the point where an apology, sincere or not, is seen as an acceptable response to a willful action. 

It isn't.

Too often we make children apologize, accepting a casual, "Sorry!" tossed out. This from children who are NOT sorry, and the victim's response is usually, "That's okay."

It's NOT.

Neither child learns anything useful from this interaction and it goes nowhere in changing behavior. 

Neither does time out. Or spanking. Or loss of privilege. I use time out to give me a moment to contain the bully while I deal with the victim. It is not intended to change behavior, but to stop motion the child until I can respond appropriately to that child.

Small children are unable to comprehend the potential outcomes of their actions. They lack the experience and knowledge. It's up to adults to show proper interactions.

A bully needs to be held accountable.
A victim needs to stand up and be heard.

Sorry does not make it okay.

You would imagine a child that looks like this would be the bully.

However, it is more often the ones that look like this little angel that snap a short fuse and cause harm.

I believe in making children under three say they are sorry. They don't know if they are sorry or not, usually they are not. However, societal conventions demand an apology and it's a good habit to foster in the early years. However, an apology is not a grudgingly mumbled, "Sorry," from half way across the room.

Having the children look each other in the eye (starting age 2 and good verbal):
"[Laura], I am sorry I hit you and made you cry. That was not nice and I will not do it again." 
"You hurt me. That was mean. Do not do it again." 
Looking the child in the eye,
 "It is my job to keep everyone safe. I will NOT allow you to hurt people or things."

Acknowledgement of action and outcome, holding the bully accountable, giving the victim a voice and position of power, stating my responsibility.

After age 3, I begin to leave the actual apology up to the individual child, depending on where I believe they are in development. When a child can determine if an apology is truth or lie, then I do not wish to place them in a position of lying. An apology is only good if it comes from the heart.

However, even if the child chooses to not apologize, they still must acknowledge their actions.

If someone is needing to apologize, then what they did is NOT OKAY. Drives me nuts to hear a person apologize and the other person say, "That's okay."


The appropriate response to an apology is telling the other person how their actions made you feel, impacted you, and warning them that you will not put up with it in the future.

Saying, "Okay," pretty much lets them off the hook, minimizing what took place. This isn't fair to either party. 

Luckily, this group is pretty tight, smart, and considerate. So, their interactions are more likely to look like this:

But even with good, sweet children, we've had three apologies this morning alone. But no time outs, because there was never any intention to harm.

Pictures in this post were staged. Except the hugs. Those were truly spontaneous.
Tags: parenting, homeschooling, development, preschool, social, emotional, pre-k, daycare, child, care

Monday, January 26, 2015

Is My Preschooler Gifted?

My oldest son is gifted. My youngest is smart. Over the last twelve years, I've taught many preschoolers, with about 1/3 each average, smart and gifted. 

The parents ask me why I think their child might be gifted. There are some good lists out there, but I want to give my own perspective from my personal observations.  

Gifted children are different. They feel more intensely, they think differently. Their abilities arise from a brain that is wired in a much more complex, inter-connected manner. 

It starts early and doesn't let up. My gifted students have all had heads shaking from the time they were early toddlers. 

Gifted is not necessarily a blessing. They feel more intensely, they get analysis paralysis, they can be obsessive, their brains never stop and often their mouths as well, and they can easily be overwhelmed and overwhelming. Their view of our very gray world can be sharply black and white, and reality can be difficult for them to handle. 

Here's just a little of my perception of the differences. 

This is very simplistic and generalized and does not discuss varying abilities within children, outside forces that impact performance, gifted issues, etc. 


Even with infants, I can tell a marked difference in their future abilities by their focus and tracking as early as a few months old; along with how they look for reinforcement and information from an adult. It can be a little uncanny to see intelligence shine from someone so young.

  • The average child pays the minimal attention and must be engaged through movement and fun.
  • The smart child will pay attention in order to "get" it, then be ready to move on.
  • The gifted child will pay close attention, ask questions, mull it over and ask questions throughout the day, and bring it back up for a week, or month, in different contexts until they feel comfortable that they completely UNDERSTAND the concept and all its applications. [One of the reasons I leave new material out and available for at least a week.]

Caught Miss H contemplating the whiteboard rather than playing during free time. Just turned 5.

  • The average child says, "OK," and accepts information as given.
  • The smart child will ask simple questions for clarification purposes or about a specific topic. Once answered to their liking, they move on to the next topic.
  • The gifted child asks big questions about a specific topic. A LOT of them. They will not let it go until they feel thoroughly informed.  "Ok, but what if...", "I know [concept] when [this] happens, but what about when..." "How about...?" 


  • The average child needs a lot of repetition and different contexts to understand and retain information.
  • The smart child needs just a few lessons.
  • The gifted child often only needs a 1-2 sentence INTRODUCTION of a concept to grasp the material, retain it, apply it and extrapolate it. 
Group ages 3,3,4 & 5 working on big numbers.

  • The average child has to work to mentally retrieve relevant data and skills when set to a task.
  • The smart child easily assimilates into tasks that they have encountered before, or can apply known skills towards.
  • The gifted child can not only pull from experience, but can also extrapolate their own and observed experience to new situations to easily perform new tasks and skills and create new understanding.


  • The average child pulls pockets of relevant memory to perform the task at hand.
  • The smart child pulls linear, linked strands of memory to perform the task at hand. Performs most tasks more quickly. They can extrapolate within a limited distance from the current learning.
  • The gifted child can pull un-linked pockets and strands of memory and knowledge and combine them into an entirely new, seamless, whole. Information retrieved can be as seemingly random as an overheard conversation when they were 2, combined with a tower they built when they were 3 that fell in just a certain way, along with a PBS show on physics that was playing in the next room one Friday night, and currently watching another child try to build a bridge. They can take these flashes of information from their memory and almost instantly have a solid insight or understanding of something new. 


  • The average child needs to manipulate the world to understand, as appropriate to their developmental level.
  • The smart child still needs kinesthetic learning, but is able to do much more mental processing.
  • The gifted child spends much of their time in mental processing: daydreaming, mentally running through scenarios, contemplating concepts, imagining, thinking of possibilities, mulling over societal issues, and playing with words and ideas. While initial instruction is still best accomplished through hands-on learning, gifted children easily move forward to worksheets and board work as the level of difficulty increases.

  • The average child is stimulated by new or interesting information and experiences, but can quickly be diverted in other directions.
  • The smart child pays attention long enough to get the gist of something.
  • The gifted child would rather learn and discuss than play. They seem to have an innate need to fill a seemingly bottomless knowledge pit within them. They simply blossom when learning something new or discussing ideas. They play with what they learn. If they learn about bridges, there will be bridges of all kinds all over the place. They naturally experiment and mentally record data for analysis and will want to talk at length and in-depth about their observations. It is not unusual for them to figure out the next level of instruction before it can be presented to them. They will also initiate learning objectives.


  • The average child is generally happy with the status quo. 
  • The smart child will manipulate to gain advantage.
  • The gifted child is emotionally hurt by injustice, perceived cruelty, unfairness, bad sportsmanship, and other societal issues. They have a tendency to worry about such issues and to try to bring peace and fairness about for all. They are more empathetic and willing to negotiate, and do not understand other children who do not have this same awareness.


  • The average child will move on if things don't go their way. They will find another toy or another playmate.
  • The smart child will try to manipulate things to their advantage or view point.
  • The gifted child wants things, "Just so." They have a firm belief in how things should be and when others don't go along with that vision, they can have trouble dealing with it. They can't be happy with the way things are if they are WRONG, and they can't manipulate others, because that just wouldn't be RIGHT, and why can't these other kids not just see how it should be and do what they should? Then the world is too loud, or their clothes are too itchy, or someone took their favorite doll, etc. It can be overwhelming for any child, but for gifted children, it can be exceptionally overwhelming when they know how the world should be and it doesn't conform to their expectations.


  • The average child will usually be able to find something to occupy their time, even if it is twirling a stray piece of string around their finger.
  • The smart child will get bored and complain about it, looking for direction.
  • Many gifted children need constant stimulation of higher level learning to fill that knowledge pit within them to be their happiest. Whether it's doing a new art project, listening to new music, learning a new word, a new science experiment, etc. They are constantly craving new knowledge and experiences and the ability to explore known ones at a new level. When forced to participate in activities lower than their abilities and knowledge, they can grow depressed and anxious. 
These are simply my observations.

I keep hearing lately the comment, 
"Not all gifted children read early, but all children who read early are gifted."
Miss A 4 and Miss H 5. Yes, they can read it all, even with my bad handwriting.

If this is true, then my current three preschoolers are definitely gifted. But then, I pretty much already knew that.
Tags: preschool, child, care, child care, daycare, kindergarten, gifted, preschooler, homeschooling, 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Case AGAINST Standardized Testing

If you follow me at all, then you know that I am a HUGE advocate for child-led learning, self-directed learning, integrated learning, collaborative get the idea. 

I haven't written about my massive beef with the Common Core Standards, or it's tag-along - standardized testing. But with new legislation potentially coming about regarding mandatory testing, and the article below about the need for testing, I'm raising my voice.

Whether you are in the public school system, homeschool, or private school, standardized testing issues effect your children. Many states require all students, including homeschooling students, to take standardized tests and there is a push in other states for this as well. Given that the standardized tests are being revised to be in-line with common core, along with the ACT and SAT, it puts students who have not been taught the common core way at a huge testing disadvantage. 

I do assessments with my students, but the reason I do them, is because of the need for my students to have them for THE SCHOOL SYSTEM. I am currently doing school applications for my pre-k's, and the schools they are applying to, or going to, want their assessments. Since they are all well above grade level, if I did not do assessments to prove their abilities, then they wouldn't receive the proper placements and support services they deserve.

Do I need them as their teacher? Absolutely not. 

However, the reason for these assessments is to show their new teacher their skill set, because otherwise she'd just have to take my word for it, the parent's word, or simply wait long enough to be able to make such a judgement on her own. Testing has its place, and this is one of them, to show relevant information to the child's benefit. Another is to prove mastery for more rapid advanced, especially for gifted and advanced students.  

To give you an idea of the RIGHT direction in education, here is the title of an article that I love, love, LOVE:

Why Are Finland's Schools Successful?
The country's achievements in education have other nations, especially the United States, doing their homework

And one of the best parts of the entire article reads: [emphasis by me]
There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, 
Is the U.S. learning from Finland? Evidently not based upon this new article.
 Paper | 

The Case for Annual Testing

Students are tested as frequently as twice per month and an average of once per month. Our analysis found that students take as many as 20 standardized assessments per year and an average of 10 tests in grades 3-8. The regularity with which testing occurs, especially in these grades, may be causing students, families, and educators to feel burdened by testing.  
  • Many countries only test their top students, or only report their top scores. The U.S. tests and reports all.
  • Many countries lack diversity in their populations, so they do not have the levels of language and cultural barriers to education that the U.S. possesses.
  • Many countries such as Finland, do not test annually, so only those that take the final test and graduate are compared to the U.S. not giving an accurate comparison over the schooling years.
  • Many countries do not include special needs students in testing. The U.S. does.
  • Testing in many countries is not the high-stress, one-size-fits-all testing like we do here. Children who are relaxed and simply asked to do their best, will always score higher.  
  • Many countries are smaller than most of our states. The diversity of our populations, incomes, and economical challenges are vast in comparison. A composite score does not reflect the high educational abilities of a majority of the states.
It's NOT apples-to-apples comparisons. 

There are reasons, very good ones, why we have so many students from other countries in our school systems and universities. There are very good reasons why so many foreign parents want to move here for their child's education. 

Lying Is Not Intentional Until Age 8

Lying occurs in children in every culture of the world. By age 4, 90% of children have the ability to lie.  

At their first tweaking of the truth, usually around the age of 4but as early as 2, we want to brand children as liars. Which is rather ironic, given the prevalence of lying in adults:

Most people lie in everyday conversation when they are trying to appear likable and competent.
The study found that 60 percent of people lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation and told an average of two to three lies.
"People tell a considerable number of lies in everyday conversation. It was a very surprising result. We didn't expect lying to be such a common part of daily life," Feldman said.
However, lying is not cognitively active until the age of 8! This is when a child has entered Piaget's Concrete Operational Stage of cognitive development and has developed inductive reasoning. 

Until the age of 7-8, lying is simply wishful thinking/story telling. The child does not have control over it. They do it because they truly want it to be the way they say, to keep out of trouble, or to make you or another adult happy. They will also alter their thought processes so that they ACTUALLY BELIEVE that is what happened. Once again, you can not punish a child for something they have no control over. 

Lying is NOT LYING until the brain goes through its massive maturation process around age 8. At that point children gain the abilities not only to distinguish between reality and make-believe, but also to control their responses through conscious choice.  

Lying is an important development milestone:
That’s because lying is an integral part of developing what psychologists call a “theory of mind.” Briefly, theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own.
At age 4-6 you can begin to start your child questioning their statements, such as "Is that real or make-believe?" "Is that what really happened, or what you WISH had happened?" 

However, there does need to be an appropriate response to inappropriate behavior. 

  • "There are crayon marks on the wall, so the crayons have to be in time-out for a week." (denied writing on wall) 
  • "Your friend is crying because you were not a nice friend, so you have to go into time-out." (denied pushing/hitting/taking toy, but you know it happened) 
  • Story telling, "I have a pet lion," should simply be encouraged. "Really, what color is he? Does he eat a lot of meat?" 
  • Imaginary friends, etc. should be thoughtfully encouraged as your child explores their emerging imagination and learns the intricacies of using it in all it's many facets 
Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crockett Johnson

Adults view lying in stark black and white; while until age 8, STORYTELLING is very vivid and colorful for your child, with little to no delineation between reality and make-believe. 

A child should not be punished for things they have little to no control over. Even if they KNOW they are telling a fib, they may not be capable of NOT doing so. 

I have observed, many times, adults yelling at a 4 -5 year old, or jerking them around saying, "Don't LIE to me!" when the child is too young to even have a grasp on the concept. 

This is also a common thread on child care provider discussion forums. Parents and caregivers who do not have a good background in child development, having unrealistic expectations of a child's ability and intent regarding lying.

Children are often driven to lie through confrontation. A calm discussion and more open-ended questions can produce better outcomes, along with praise for telling the truth and helping to determine their own discipline. Children are usually harsher on themselves. 

Adults also need to be very aware of the example they are setting for the child, and any tendency they may have to prompt their child to lie. "Don't tell mom that I let you eat that!" "Don't tell grandma that daddy isn't really sick." 

Example is the greatest educator.

This also means that we need to take what a child says with a good dose of skepticism. They can say things that are untrue, not realizing the consequences. For instance, getting a sibling or friend into trouble by placing blame elsewhere. Or, extrapolating something they heard on TV to a real-life situation that could not only cause confusion, but concern.

Does this mean we allow them to be little hellions and get away with it? Of course not. But while we are molding future adults, we can't forget the child that is before us. The CHILD needs gentle guidance and instruction onto the correct path, not forced entry onto the highway. 

This is an area that adults have a tendency to over react and immediately think the child is going to be a degenerate, lying, self-absorbed, manipulative, criminal, amoral adult because they told their first or fifth fib. 

In actuality, it just shows that the kid is smart enough to think up how to get or stay out of trouble, and get or do what they want. Smart and imaginative isn't bad.

Lying is complex and takes advantage of advanced skills

  • Cognitive advancement - to determine that a lie is called for and has a potential for gain of some kind 
  • Cost/benefit analysis - if I get caught; do I really need to do it
  • Inhibitory control - to be able to think up an effective lie on the spot
  • Creativity - to be able to determine if it is believable or appropriate to the situation
  • Working memory - to remember the details of the truth and lie when questioned
  • Social adroitness - understanding people, situations, and how they should or can respondknowledge of rules & consequences

In my previous post regarding assessments, I failed to mention that one of the first indicators to me of a child's level of intelligence, is how early they first lie.
The smarter they are, the earlier they lie. 
The smarter they are, the better they lie. 

It is our responsibility to teach them how to use those qualities for good rather than evil, without squelching that creative and independent spark. 
Tags: lying, lies, liar, preschool, child care, daycare, homeschool, homeschooling, ethics, morality, child development, business, kids, kid, make believe, 

Rotating Infant and Toddler Toy Bins

Since toys must be sanitized daily for children under 18 months in my state, and I often do not have time to do this in the evenings, I took a tip from my brother and incorporated the 5 bin system.

I have 5 STURDY laundry baskets, one for each day of the week. If I don't have time, then I can wait and sanitize all of the toys on the weekend or in one evening. 

Additionally, since this age group mostly wants to throw and dump, it keeps the quantity of items to a manageable level. By rotating daily, they have fresh items to explore on a daily basis, keeping the focus more on the cognitive exploration that can get lost with a non-dynamic environment at this age.

In each of these bins, I include at least one:
  • Baby doll
  • Ball
  • Bead chaser
  • Blanket
  • Blocks
  • Car
  • Container for fill/dump
  • Dress up items
  • Mirror
  • Movement toy
  • Musical instrument/rattle
  • Plastic animals
  • Play dishes/food
  • Play phone
  • Puzzle
  • Sensory item
  • Soft or board book
  • Stacker
  • Stuffed animal
The laundry basket is an additional gross motor play element, so I spent the extra money for heavier ones. They sit on and in it, climb on it, fill and dump, use it as a table, etc. 

Since my infants and young toddlers have their own large sanitized play area, having their own sanitized toys ensures that they are only sharing germs with one another and only on a daily basis.

While I'm not big on over sanitizing for children, it does become super important when the environment has been exposed to an illness through a sick child or parent, or if flu or another contagious illness is rampant in the community. Very young children can die from illnesses that cause older ones to only be sick for a short time. 

Plus, it is required by regulations, so I have to do it.

As they get older, I can manipulate items in the bins to incorporate skill sets. For instance, if we will be working on the color red, I can make certain that there are a number of red items included in the bin. If we will be working on the number 3, I can include 3 of several items. For the letter B, I can have items that represent that letter.

There is another reason besides laziness/time that I like to clean and sanitize a few day's or the week's worth of toys at once. When clean, I take the jumble of items and sort them into the baskets available according to the master list. This ensures that the items, while the same, are grouped into different combinations within the baskets each time. This allows for new explorations of materials with one another.

I do label the bins. I print out the days of the week and laminate them, punch holes, and use zip ties to attach, cutting the zip ties close to the closure with wire cutters. Do these labels stay on forever? Absolutely not! But getting them off is another motor and cognitive activity, and does take an extended period of time if they are laminated. The zip ties, however, will stay on, so they do not have the potential to become a choking hazard, as any other attempt at labeling would become. The holes can be additionally enforced with a second layer of lamination.
Tags: infant, toddler, homeschool, homeschooling, preschool, child care, daycare, child, care, business, organization, health, wellness, sickness, illness, skills, development, cognitive, motor, fine motor, gross motor,