Sunday, July 1, 2018

Parental Rights and Decisions

There are moral, ethical, societal and political forces at work in how parents parent. While it would seem to be the most basic tenant of society that parents make the decisions for their child's health, well-being and education, there has been a dramatic shift in this belief over the last few decades. 

I have been a strong and vocal advocate for parental rights, long before the Justina Pelletier or Charlie Gard cases. It is the belief that loving, caring parents will always have the best interests of their child at the forefront of every decision. In the absence of abuse or neglect, parents should be allowed to direct their children's lives. 

This right is eroding. 

Many parents do not know that when a child enters a public school, they become temporary wards of the state and parental rights are, in some instanceswaived. Often, decisions are made by teachers and administrators, such as allowing children to leave school, for a "protest/walk-out," without permission from the parents. While, the same children would be considered truant if the parents kept them out for the same type of event. In many states, parents are not allowed to decide to keep their child home for any reason other than illness or doctor/dentist appointment, and pre-approved educational trips. Parents are not allowed to excuse their children. Heaven forbid grandpa is on his death bed during state testing. If you keep your child out, you will find yourself in court with your child's custody in peril. Your child gets panic attacks when in a testing situation? Too bad. Suck it up buttercup. This is a major reason for the rise in homeschooling.

My cousin called me one day frantic because her medically fragile child had evidently missed too many days of school, while IN THE HOSPITAL. She had provided the school with documentation of every visit and doctor notes. She had just received a court subpeona for truancy. They were threatening to take away her child, declare her an unfit mother. This same mother sat by his bedside for days and weeks on end. The bedside of the child that wasn't supposed to live until 3 and was now in his teens, against all odds. After all they had been through, to have the school step in and bring the court into it, was just too much for her. She believes the school did this because their small town budget was being eaten up providing accommodations for her son. They just didn't want him there anymore.

So, what brought me to thinking about this issue of parental rights this weekend, was that within a 10 minute drive, I, ME of all people, questioned parenting decisions twice. As I thought about it that evening, I felt like such a hypocrite. I wondered why I would have the audacity to question parents, obviously caring and involved parents, about their choices. 

1. The first instance was a dad cleaning up yard debris with his 2 and 4 year old next to a busy street. The children were only a couple of feet away from the curb, and he was putting stuff in a bag while they brought him more. One trip, a push, and I could see a child falling into traffic. 

2. A family was riding bikes on the sidewalk next to a very busy street right before a highway interchange. The sidewalk was right up next to the street, no safety zone. The kids looked to be about 6 and 8. Dad was in front, kids, then mom. All were wearing helmets. There was a large park one block down with massive bike trails they could have been on. They were not heading that direction. There were subdivision on every corner they could have been riding through. The littlest didn't seem that steady and I feared for him. 

Neither of these are parenting decisions I would have made. But, they are spending time with their children, and they are RIGHT THERE. When did it become okay for us to make these judgements? When did we become the kid police, such as the children taken away by the police after the neighbor called on them playing unsupervised in THEIR OWN BACKYARD

I have to trust, that these parents love their children, know their children, and have worked their way up to these activities to the point that the parents are comfortable with these situations. 

It is absolutely NOT MY PLACE to impose my own parenting choice upon others, unless the parents are clearly incompetent.

In talking with my clients at a birthday party yesterday, we debated/discussed this at length. We were reminded that many parents, and even care givers, would probably be appalled at some of the things the boys get up to. I believe in supervised risky play. We work our way up to things. I know these children. I know exactly what each one is capable of performing. I let them.  

It is easy to judge quickly and from a distance. We have to trust our fellow parents that they've got this.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Discipline Through Observations

"Kind of a mess in here, isn't it gentlemen?"

Discipline literally means "to teach." It is not only learning to follow rules, which so many adults focus upon. It is also teaching children to CHOOSE to follow the rules, to choose to work with their community members to better situations, to choose to be responsible for their behavior and their actions, to choose to not follow friends who are making bad choices, and to have the internal motivation to make correct choices even when no one is looking. 

This is another low-key method to use in your discipline strategy, that greatly enhances the above aspects in children's behavior.

It again works best with clear and consistent rules and expectations. If a child knows exactly what is expected, then they also know exactly what is going wrong. 

The key aspect of this method is that it places the responsibility for knowing the rules and expectations, choosing to follow the rules and expectations, and correcting their behavior, ON THE CHILD. It is not a top-down demand for obedience, it is an observation that requires the child to own their behavior and make different/appropriate choices. 

It promotes internal motivation, self-reliance, resiliency, responsibility, autonomy, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, community...Yes, 3-4 year olds. 

Demands simply require compliance. Demands place the problem on your shoulders. Demands tell children to do things they should already be doing.

I use it in a 3-step process:

1. "Do I hear someone running inside? I hope not There is no running inside. Someone could get hurt and I don't like my friends to get hurt."

2. "Did I just hear someone running inside AGAIN? People who run inside will have to go into time out."

3. "[Mr. L] time out for running."


"Did I hear someone spitting? [blowing raspberries] I hope not, there is no spitting. That's how people spread germs and children get sick. No one likes to be sick."

Mr. R: "[Mr. La], don't do that. It's nasty."

"I wish we could go outside, but the floor is all full of toys. We can't even safely get to the door. We have to take care of our responsibilities first. Responsible children don't leave messes on the floor for others to trip over and get hurt."

Mr. L: "[Mr. H] and I'll pick up the block area. You guys pick up the play area so we can go outside."

"We can't have story time until people take care of their responsibilities." [I circle my finger around the table area, where children have abandoned activities]

Mr. H: "I'll put mine away. [Mr. La] you need to put your activity away so we can have stories!
I have no problem rewarding and promoting compliance. I always offer high praise. The person who chooses to pick up will get the choice of story. The person who picks up others' messes will get a few chocolate chips. These random rewards just help to reinforce that good behavior, good choices, have their benefits.

We currently have a "Responsibilities First" agenda going on here and at home, so they hear that word repetitiously, and know what it means.

When you are not telling a specific child to do a specific thing, then the group as a whole has to decide who is responsible, what changes need to be made, and who will perform in what manner. 

There is an underlying request for action, and an underlying reward or threat of discipline for making their next behavior CHOICE. 

It is a choice. If it is not a choice, then I would make a clear demand: "Time to pick up. Let's get to it." "We're going outside. Pick up now." 

Choice of good behavior, teaches SO much more than demand, that I try to use this method as often as possible. It also tells me a lot about each child as to how they respond to these observations. 
Tags: child care, daycare, preschool, parenting, discipline, toddlers, preschoolers

Discipline with Discussions

This is a very calm and methodical method to use in discipline. It works if rules and expectations are clear and consistent, as they should be. Always.

What is a "discussion" and how does it impact discipline?

So just now I had a child complaining about another child taking a toy. Both boys are about to turn 4.

STEP 1 is a warning discussion: 

"[Mr. H], do we need to have a discussion about your behavior?"
Mr. H stands and looks at me, side-eyeing his activity, "No!"
"Do you know how you should be behaving and what you should be doing?"
"Then I want to see that happening."
Goes back to his activity.

Why it works:
When I talk to a child, I look them in they eye. They are expected to stand and look me in the eye, which takes them away, momentarily, from their activity. The rule here is that a child has possession of items as long as they are actively engaged with that item. Once they are not actively engaged with an item, then they lose possession and the item becomes available to others. So with this "discussion" I took him out of active play and made him concerned for his possession. It reminds him of what step 2 entails if he doesn't change his wayward path.

STEP 2 is a full-on discussion about his behavior 

At this point, we discuss what he did inappropriately, what he should have done instead, and how he plans to respond in a similar situation in the future. It ends with a warning of a time-out consequence if the behavior is repeated. This discussion takes place away from the other children and play areas, removing the child from active possession of any items. 

Why it works:

  • It reiterates the rules and expectations in place.
  • It tells the child what TO DO, and creates within them an appropriate plan of behavior.
  • It makes them indirectly lose possession of their activity, just as a time-out would, without segregation and direct discipline.
  • It is a second-step, higher-level consequence to their continued bad choices.
  • It gives them a specific future consequence if the behavior is repeated, placing the choice in the child's realm of responsibility.

These guys spend a lot of time in toy jail. Bad dinos.

What a full-on discussion looks like:

Sometimes, as with Mr. L in the pic above, discussions take place because clarification of rules and expectations is necessary. 

Mr. L is also almost 4. Rule broken: Taking toys from your friends.

Me: "Why can't he play with that toy?"
"I don't want him to."
"Were you still playing with it?"
"So he could play with it?"
"I didn't want him to."
"Then what do you need to do if you want to keep a toy safe?"
"I don't know."
"You need to put them in a safe spot. Where are the safe spots"?"
"On the counter."
"Yes, or in your cubby or you can hand it to me and ask me to put it on the dresser. If you ASK me to put something there, then you can also ASK me to get it down when you are ready to play with it again." [It also acts as toy jail.]
"But I wanted [Mr. H] to have it."
"Then you walk it over to him, ask him if he wants to play with it, and hand it to him. Leaving it lying on the floor makes it okay for ANYONE to play with it, and it is no longer your decision who gets to do so."
"So, since the toy is causing problems, its going up for the rest of the day."
"Now, where are the safe spots to keep toys you want to keep for yourself?"
"Counter, my cubby, or give it to you."
"And if you want to give a toy to a friend, how would you do that?"
"Go give it to him."
"Yes, and if he doesn't want it, then you put it away in the play area."

I will re-visit this discussion later in the day and once again the next day to ensure understanding. If it is something that needs to be reinforced to the entire group, I will do so in a group setting.
Tags: parenting, child care, daycare, preschool, discipline, toddlers, preschoolers, 3 year old, 4 year old, rules, expectations

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Communication in Child Care

Communication between child care providers and parent clients is vitally important, and often lacking. The relationship between parents and providers needs to be a clear PARTNERSHIP. All good relationships are based in good communication.

You can't fix a problem you don't understand.

You can't be fully compassionate or patient when you don't understand the motivation.

I have two sets of clients that came to me complaining that the main reason they were leaving their previous provider was due to lack of communication. Both said that each day all the discussion given was a simple, "had a great day!" Then at home when the child wouldn't eat or sleep like usual, was more fussy or defiant than usual, the parents had no clue what could have caused it.

While parents may not appreciate a detailed listing of all their child's transgressions throughout the day, especially when they just got through with work and are not looking forward to the evening drill, it is important that everyone understands and focuses on the child and his/her well-being.

Open communication needs to be created by the provider. Parents do not want to anger a provider who has their child's well-being in their hands for most of each day. 

Many parents and providers simply do not have a personality that allows them to be communication instigators. But as providers, it is a requirement of our business that we learn and practice good communication skills.

Communication levels and methods need to be not only open, but negotiated. I just had a newborn start and I talked with the parents about what I needed and what the parents needed regarding information and communication. I let them know I could give them as little or as much as they needed to feel comfortably informed. Since they are former clients, and our partnership and trust is well established, they need much less from me than a brand new set of clients probably would need.

They decided to send a text when they feed before coming so I know when he'll need another feeding, and they change the infant before coming here as a given. At the end of the day I give them a quick verbal rundown to let them know if he was fussy any, had any tummy issues, how he slept, how many dirty diapers and if wet was good. 

They preferred a verbal rather than written or texted daily review. Their previous provider texted both of them throughout the day what was going on, and it was bothersome to them at work, but they didn't know how to tell her and didn't feel comfortable doing so.

A friend complained recently to me that her center teacher at pick-up time always said her child had "a great day!" But when talking to her child, it was anything but. After hearing that her child had a great day, and then finding a knot on her child's head due to being pushed, my friend went in to talk to the director. 

The pick-up time teacher was only with the children the last couple of hours, and didn't communicate or relay any information from the lead teacher. My friend never saw the lead teacher at drop-off or pick-up, so had absolutely no idea what was actually going on throughout the day. The director offered no apologies or solutions. My friend was thankful her child was old enough to talk, and was talking to me because she is looking for other care options.

Providers need to relay factual detailed incident information, not a general feeling or overreaching label. It should NEVER label a child, only the behavior. "He was a pretty bad boy today," does not tell a parent much and attacks the child's identity. "He hit a child with a dinosaur when I asked him to put it away before lunch," says what happened and gives an indication of why without making assumptions. 

It leaves open that it could have been retaliatory, he could have been hungry or tired, etc. It still wasn't appropriate behavior, but gives more information which leads to more understanding of the situational aspect of the behavior. It also identifies a short period of inappropriate behavior rather than overreaching to include the whole day.

Providers also need to not take parents' concerns as a personal attack, criticism, or complaint. It is a concern about an issue that needs to be addressed. If a discussion devolves into this type of conversation, then it needs to be re-focused on the issue and solutions, not blame or attack. Someone has to be the bigger person and keep a clear and level head.

It is your business. You can run it as you wish and those parameters need to be clear in your Policies and Procedures and your clients need to be thoroughly briefed on those before even an interview is conducted. Policy and procedure issues should have very little contention if presented properly prior to contract. 

Issues that will arise that need to be addressed should revolve around the child, the school and home environments, home schedule changes, expectations of the child and developmental issues.

Last evening, Monday, I spent over half an hour discussing behavior issues with one of my parents. The child had had a couple of rough days at both school and home and we were trying to determine the source. Behavior in young children always has a source. The first behavior we discussed was his obsessive ownership over specific toys. 

While this child has obsessive tendencies, it was unusual for him to be so invested in ownership and, at 3 1/2, throwing screaming tantrums when any other child came near him or played with the items after he abandoned interest. 

I had been thinking about it and had come to the conclusion it had to be something that happened over the weekend to spark this behavior. Mom had been thinking about it and thought it may have been that they had children over to visit over the weekend. 

As we talked, it came about that we agreed that:
  • The parents had violated the "new Corvette" rule: they had forced him to share a brand new toy that he had worked for and was extremely special to him.
  • The visiting children had been allowed to play in his room, invading his space and making him feel violated.
  • He was forced to share his toys and space without limit or discussion.
We discussed that next time children visited that:
  • Communal toys should be ones he held no possession over, ones kept just for that purpose of playdates and/or ones that he had abandoned and had little interest in or knowledge of owning.
  • Playdates should be in a public area like a living room rather than private like his bedroom. The child can invite the other children into his personal space, but it should be at his invitation with no encouragement or coercion by parents.
  • Discussion should be made about any special toys the child might want to have put away for the visit or ones he would truly like to share.
  • My solution for here at school, was simply to remove the toys he was obsessing about. One of which, was his "new Corvette" dinosaur that he had to now leave at home.
We also discussed that though the parents' personalities were very open and social, that their child's personality was NOT, to their extent, and that they needed to recognize and respect their child's personal limits and boundaries. 

I discuss things like this with parent clients ALL. THE. TIME. Once we each understand the issue, and come up with some workable solution(s), then the child benefits, as well as everyone in the child's community. The consistency in expectations, and the core value of the child's mental and physical health being forefront between provider and parents, makes the child's life much richer and happier.

Another one of the moms, who I don't see regularly, was in for pick-up last week and brought up a couple of concerns about her son. We just stood around bouncing ideas and theories off of one another for about half an hour, and afterward, we felt we had a good understanding of what was going on and what could be done at school and home to make things better.

Issues that I have discussed with parents recently: the possibility of a preschooler having an auditory processing disorder, a toddler not sleeping through the night and night terrors, a baby wetting out even though the diaper size was upped a size, defiant rule breaking at home and school, a child self-identifying as bad when he doesn't get that information from school or home, potty training prep, a child's recent balance issues, consistency between school and home of vocabulary introduction and sign language for the 11-month-old. 

The children are very comfortable with ALL the parents,
and all the parents are comfortable with all the children.
Communication from me comes regularly through emailed newsletters/notifications, texts, Facebook posts, Youtube video posts, blog posts and verbal daily discussions both mornings and evenings. Clients are welcome to hang out here at any time during school hours, but I will put them to work as teacher's helpers. Clients are also welcome to meet with me after hours to discuss skill development and discipline issues more thoroughly with both parents present without the child[ren]. 

In Reggio, we are all about community, and that is between the children, but also between the children and the other families' members, including extended families, and me. I am on Facebook with most of my current and former clients, many of the grandparents, and some of the aunts and uncles. We have regular dinners where everyone can get to know one another, and often the families get together on the weekends for playdates and outings. This sense of community, which is sorely lacking in young children's lives these days, builds a trust and security that helps them be happier children and better citizens. 

It all begins with good communication.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Essential Preschool Math Skills

Even though I have training in curriculum, it still took me awhile to figure out the different types of math concepts that I needed to be integrating into my teaching, how, and when. I hope this will help others who are teaching or homeschooling preschool. 

One of my former students placed in the top 2% internationally in Math Olympiad. This is why...[in addition to her just being exceptionally smart!]

The main math skills I will cover here pertain to numeracy and are:
  • Pattern recognition & sorting/classification
  • Subitizing/quantification
  • One-to-one correspondence counting
  • Rote counting
  • Counting on
  • Grid counting
  • Scatter counting
Note that on this list is NOT learning number names. This goes with my functional learning method. Knowing the name of a number 1 is not functional. It is vocabulary. Knowing the order or quantity for the number 1 allows for functional mathematical ability. The children all learn that a 1 is called a one, but incidentally, not as a focus of teaching.

This post goes to the next level from my Teaching 2's Math post which was a level up from my Learning Math From Birth. You may also want to read my post Early Math is as Important as Early Literacy

Math, especially, needs to be hands-on learning through play and manipulation in the early years. We are currently on our EGG unit, which is math intensive. This allows you to see some ideas on how to integrate the skill learning into a unit or theme.

These children, 2-3 years old, know their basic colors and can count to 10 in order to do the activities.


I put these skills together because they are complimentary skills. They both are observation and interpretation of where things belong. If a child can't sort/classify, then they can't complete a pattern activity, and sorting and classification are patterning activities. 

The ability to recognize patterns is considered the NUMBER ONE key indicator for future math success. I start this in infancy, patting out song rhythms on their back or with their feet to music playing along. It builds that ability to begin linking patterns to their world. I use repetitive patterns, audio, physical or visual, for most of my infant and early toddler learning play, specifically to enhance this ability. 

It works. My preschoolers can sort, categorize, and pattern forward and backward much earlier and better than their peers who have not had this early exposure. 

Activity: The children create their own pattern and then extend it out in either direction until they run out of eggs.

Patterning is not just a preschool skill activity. There are patterns everywhere - in the seasons, in our daily schedule, even our daily routines. It allows children to be able to tell time in a general way even as infants. It leads to understanding quantities of time such as weeks, months, years. It allows them to know that we always wash our hands before eating or brush our teeth before going to bed. Those are patterns. There are patterns in nature, music, and daily life. As they enter the preschool era, we work more hands-on and intentionally with creating and manipulating physical patterns.

Activity: The children gather eggs as fast as they can, then sort their eggs by color. For younger children, I might have colored bowls or color circles to assist. We are working on grid formations, so that is why theirs are sorted like this.

Sorting and categorization are naturally occurring. They know farm animals from zoo animals. Red cars are sorted from yellow cars. Blue blocks are suddenly preferred and everything is made up only of blue blocks. As we advance, opportunities are created for more advanced sorting and categorization on more than one trait. Red/green/purple circles that are also small/medium/large. Then throw in a few blue squares of the sizes and see how they handle that. 


This is the ability to instantly recognize quantities. It starts as soon as you begin asking a child if they want MORE. More/less, big/small and their counterparts are all quantifications that toddlers learn. Around three they are learning to recognize a quantity of at least 1-3 objects as being that amount just by looking at it. This is an important mathematical, observation and spatial skill that is often overlooked. The only way to enhance this skill is to give children a ton of opportunities to practice it in grid formation and scatter groups. "Look, you have 3 blocks lined up!" "I see you have 3 cars in your hands." "Do you want 2 or 3 pieces?" and have the groups of 2 and 3 laid out for them to see.

Activity: Bring me 2 eggs the SAME color. Bring me 2 PAIRS of eggs. 2 eggs + 2 eggs is how many all together? Bring me 3 DIFFERENT color eggs. 

Dice play in later preschool and pre-k really works this skill.

However, quantification BEGINS by getting them comfortable with assessing quantities. This is smaller/larger, more/less, smaller/bigger, shorter/taller.  

It also carries over to categorization/sorting and patterning. Being able to tell a specific quantity, first comes from being able to assess the quantity.


While rote counting to 100 wins the accolades, the whole purpose of math is to count THINGS. Even as infants, I have their little fingers touching bunnies in a book as we count them and everything else we can one-to-one correspond. We count, with fingers touching the items we are counting, multiple times a day from the first day they arrive. It is ingrained.

This ability leads to accurate counting, an ability to practice subitizing/quantification on their own, and an ability to do equations much earlier. 

Activity: Once sorted by color, children count how many of each color they have. Then the eggs are combined and again counted by color for the group. Subitizing is encouraged on individual small quantities. Quantity comparisons of same/equal, more, less, how many more, how many less, etc. can be performed.


Rote counting is the ability to count in numerical order. Seems simple, but it is more difficult and important that children understand that the order has permanence. Numbers occur in order. Always. I have a 2-year-old that just counted to 13. He then skipped up to 15, 16, 17, 19, 20. Still in order, even though he skipped a couple, showing that he has that concept understood. 

We count here multiple times a day, at least once a day to 100. With toddlers, we do 1-2-3 as the focus, and do it multiple times a day until they get it. When they have that down, then I work to 5, then 10, then 11, then 13, then 16, then 20. Then we learn to count by 10's before moving on to counting to 100. Eleven is the hardest because they hear 1-10 SO much from parents and in the shows they watch [AT HOME.] I try not to do that here, which is why we do various counts throughout the day and week.

Rote counting and one-to-one correspondence must be mastered to some degree before other math and science skills can be mastered.

It is so ingrained here, that I just caught this one counting the stripes on his socks as he laid down for nap. It's just what we do. 

Activity: Incubating eggs takes 21 days, exactly the number we are working on for rote counting. 11-19 are the most difficult numbers to master, and this gives us the opportunity to count those on a daily basis for 21 days. We count how many days the chicks need to develop, how many days have passed, and how many day until they hatch. Working rote counting and number recognition. 

This is an example of how number recognition happens without it being a main objective. The objective is counting.


This is the beginning of addition and future understanding of equations. It is an extension of rote counting and one-to-one correspondence. You have 3 items and another two are added, you can continue on from 3 to count 4, 5. This is NOT an easy skill to master. They want to go back and now count the whole group, until it clicks. This takes a lot of exposure and practice, but a child that can subitize/quantify then count on has a higher level of numeracy and mathematical understanding from which to scaffold.

Activity: When doing 10-frame counting, try to get them to begin counting after subitizing a smaller amount. Also when doing fact families of lower numbers. Here we are doing fact families of 5, and I ask them to subitize and count on from the smallest quantity. This requires direct instruction. This is an activity they can do independently, to a quantity they are familiar with manipulating. The older ones will automatically go to 10-frame.


The current math [Common Core circa 2018] is almost entirely based on 10. Ten frames are used exhaustively. So what used to be just an easier way to line up and count items, now becomes a focused effort to get preschoolers to line items into ten frame organization, which is a grid. 

Understanding rows and columns, creating and reading charts, is actually very easy for even young preschoolers to master. I begin by using the actual items and eventually move it to a white board. Once they reach school, the same concept will be used on endless worksheets [sigh.] 

Additionally, if preschoolers get the concept of grid layouts early, multiplication and division makes absolute sense to preschoolers, and often they figure it out on their own. It also helps with the concept of skip counting that they will need to master in elementary school.

Grid counting here begins when I line up items for a toddler or early preschooler to rote count easily using one-to-one correspondence. I do make certain that they count vertically as well as horizontally, such as stacked blocks. These are some former pre-k students doing the same at a higher level. As play. Their ability to read and interpret graphs was amazing.

It also helps with addition and subtraction as I can split objects into linear groups to show fact families and the permanence of the count.


Scatter counting is figuring out a methodology of counting a scattered group of objects. It's pretty difficult. Different children do it differently. Whatever works for them. Left-right, top-bottom, or physically moving items from an uncounted grouping to a counted grouping. I show them all the ways and let them figure out what works best for themselves. This takes a lot of exposure and practice. They begin as toddlers as I hold their fingers and we count flowers in a book, worms on the ground, freckles on a face, etc. 

Since mine learn it in conjunction with rote counting and one-to-one correspondence counting, they pick it up fairly easily. The main issue is getting them to slow down and pay attention enough to be accurate. Even if I just observe them doing it in play on their own, if they do it wrong, I have them do it over again until they get it correct. This is one skill that needs accuracy reinforced.

Activity: Place items in a bowl so that linear or grid formation is not possible then have them count the items. Different colors, especially in easily subitized quantities, is easier than all different colors or all one color. This is an activity they can do independently.

These are the skills that make other skills possible - time, measurement, geometry beyond simple shapes, fractions, etc. 

These are the skills that I want, at minimum, for my preschool graduates to have mastered.

However, start them young and you'll be surprised what they can achieve...

Even at 3.75 years of age, my preschoolers are able to reach beyond these preschool-level skills. We have been spending a lot of focus on measuring recently, which they love. 

For this unit, we started with 3 different sizes of eggs. We discussed how they were the size of a duck, goose and ostrich egg. We discussed how the goose-size blue egg could be small, medium or large depending on which other egg(s) it was compared to in size. We then started to measure. The main objective was to learn about circumference. 

We started with measuring the eggs.

Then ourselves.

Then special visitor sock monkey couldn't be left out.

Then we worked on heights.

Width and diameter.

Once again, measuring was the goal, but number recognition, number order, and quantity comparisons were integrated. 

They were allowed to play and do the activity unsupervised after our introductory session.

You can see the level of engagement and curiosity. Make it fun, and they don't even know how much they are learning.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Classroom Energy Flow

We ECE teachers/providers talk a lot about our school/child care environment, curriculum, discipline, assessments, classroom management, etc. One of THE most important elements in a classroom, that never seems to be talked about, except how to squelch it, is the energy. 

However, the energy within a child or classroom can be directed and manipulated in such a way that it enhances, rather than detracts, from the learning environment and objectives.

I've been talking about this quite a bit in forums and with my clients over the last six months, and I am amazed at just how much effort care givers spend in stopping, repressing, or disciplining children's energy. 


First, we have to acknowledge that each individual child, and ourselves, have a common energy level. It may vacillate due to those around us and the activities at hand, but in general, each person has a fairly set energy level. Some are high energy, naturally, while some are low.

Second, we have to acknowledge that there is a common energy level between certain children, certain groups of children, and naturally occurring in certain activity situations. For example, I have two 3-year-old boys, one of whom is high energy and one is medium energy, but when they get together, the energy sky rockets. They egg one another up the scale until they need to be separated to come down from it.

Third, we have to acknowledge that we are usually most comfortable with others of an energy level similar to our own. While a young man in college may have ample patience and energy to play and corral some high energy children, an older woman with low energy will usually have little patience for rough housing and high energy children. Someone with high energy, may be constantly trying to entice the low energy children to join in more active games and activities, pushing them out of their comfort zone.
I call this the flow of energy. Each person, and the environment and activities, contribute to the flow of energy in a classroom. It is an INNATE PART of each person and what is going on. Yet, we tend to think of it as something easily manipulated and controlled to the level we, as care givers, perceive to be the "appropriate" energy level at the time. 

We see this in many classroom management practices such as the stoplight, where children are no longer allowed to talk once the stoplight for loudness reaches the red zone. So the energy, and decibel level, ramps up and up, then it is supposed to instantly lower to zero. Hmmm. 

Go for a good run and then try to get your heart rate to instantly get back into the normal zone or below it. Doesn't work that well. What if you were in the middle of a run, in your groove, and someone said to stop and sit down and be still. I know I wouldn't be happy. Same for children and their energy. 

I look at the energy of the individual and class as a flowing stream. If you dam it up, the pressure becomes explosive, overflows the restrictions, and you have children misbehaving. If you channel it, you move that energy into appropriate activity until it slows to a controllable level or runs out. 

For example, I observed at a very well-known franchise in their 3-year-old class in the morning. The children were using the large cardboard blocks to build very large towers, which would fall over and the children were laughing uproariously. This was a very high energy group doing a high energy activity. At 8:00 a.m., it was now time to do circle time and all twelve 3-year-olds were told to pick up and sit in a circle, criss-cross-applesauce-spoons-in-the-bowl, still and quiet. 

The teacher began to go slowly around the circle asking each child a question. The other teacher kept correcting children to sit still, sit properly, don't touch your neighbor, etc. The wiggles just kept getting worse, and the teachers' patience started to erode and the corrections became more curt, etc. By the end of 20 minutes, the teachers were angry, the children upset, three were in time-out, and the purpose, and any learning potential, of the activity was forgotten. 

A) A three-year-old's attention span is approximately 5 minutes, so the activity was not developmentally appropriate.

B) There was absolutely no transition of the energy level from very high to the expectation of sitting still, quiet, and being patient. [They are THREE!]

At a smaller, high-end child care, I observed a young 2-year-old class. It was open play when I got there. The children were running, climbing, squealing and having a great time. Again, the teachers decided to do a curriculum activity of rolling a ball. The little ones were sat in a line and a teacher rolled the ball to the first child who picked it up and started playing with it. She kept trying to get the child to roll it back. 

The other teacher was changing a child's diaper, and most of the children quickly wandered off. The second teacher finished and brought the other children back and sat them in line, and kept doing it, bringing to mind the term, "herding cats." The same exact issues of developmentally appropriate activity and expectation, along with the absence of energy transition, were in play, with the same results.

Being Reggio inspired, I naturally look to the children for what we should be doing. They also have the option of participating in activities or not. Some children may be coloring or doing small-world play, while others are jumping, spinning, or doing a high-energy activity. If we are going to be doing something as a group that I would like everyone's participation in, then I will purposefully tire out my high-energy kiddos first, or do the activity in a naturally low-energy time period. 

For instance, these two are obviously interested in stories and at a low energy level. It would make sense to do story time now.

If misbehavior occurs due to high energy, putting a child in time-out, stopping the flow of energy, is just not the right response. I have them jump, crawl, or move that energy until it dissipates and they are in control of it. If they say, "Can I stop now?" Then I know they need just a bit more, a few more seconds, of high energy activity. 

If you tell a child in high energy to move, they won't balk, but gladly do it. It is what they need. Once they are tired out and in control, then they can rejoin. Often, other children will join in the "discipline" because they, too, have energy to release. 

It's become so normal for me to recognize high energy, that I will usually do this as a preventative measure rather than a disciplinary measure now. 

If we do high energy activities at a high enough level to use up all their energy, then I can go straight to a low energy activity such as story time. Usually though, we take it up and down in increments. Being play and movement based, the children here are never expected to just sit still and quiet. After all, they are children. That is nearly impossible and not developmentally appropriate practice until about age 8, if then. 

We will do story time, then maybe table activities which they move from one to another but is mainly fine-motor, then a gross-motor activity, then back to a combination fine and gross-motor activity, then down to a fine-motor activity again. We will transition from a high-energy activity to picking up, which requires a lot of movement but focus and fine-motor as well, then sit down to eat which is a low-energy activity, then straight to nap, which is even lower energy. I try to have the energy flow smoothly in a wave, rather than have any harsh changes asked of them. 

This is NOT a good time for sit work.

I've been asked what to do with high-energy kiddos at home. Trying to force the energy down usually leaves in its wake tantrums, misbehavior, discipline, etc. Parents are now flowing the energy to walks, backyard play time, mini-trampolines, horizontal climbing walls, doorway gyms, jumping/twirling/crawling, dance videos, and yoga videos, rather than expecting the child to simply bring their energy down from high when the high energy is still wound up. 

They say it has made a big difference in their child's attitude, their attitudes, and the family dynamic evenings and weekends. If it happens at a restaurant or such, they are now taking the child outside to jump or run, rather than expecting a 3-year-old to get their energy under control in a public place with nothing much to do.

With it being -20 windchill this week, we are stuck inside. Yesterday we did dance party, Five Little Monkeys about 5 times, Ring Around the Rosie about 15 times, etc. All to get the wiggles out of the high energy kiddos. The low energy kiddos looked on as they sat quietly doing their activities. To each his own.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Functional Learning vs. Rote Teaching

Our education system likes to teach. A lesson + an activity = you should know this and be assessed on it. Learning is not like that. Learning is incremental scaffolding through discovery and processing over time.

There is a huge difference between knowing something and being able to USE information in a continuous learning process. Some information floats around and is picked up as a type of appetizer, nice but not filling and while it serves a purpose, it is not a foundation. Some information is the meat and potatoes that other, important, learning builds upon.

I had a client dad ask a few months ago about his son's ability to identify numbers. "He doesn't seem to know what a 7 looks like." 

I kinda blew him off, saying something about his child not needing to know that and I don't teach it. 

That conversation sat uncomfortably with me for the rest of the evening and night and I got back to him the next morning.

I had a similar conversation with a mother a few weeks ago. They were at Thanksgiving and her sons' cousin, who is a few weeks older, could identify all of his ABC's. "So, how is [my son] doing on his letter recognition?"

Again, I don't teach that.

This time, however, I was prepared with the better explanation I had given the dad the day after I kinda blew him off with a non-answer.

I explained:

Most preschools teach letter identification, and usually only uppercase letters. They also teach number identification to 10 and a set of primary color names. 

Here, I teach functionality. Your child may not be able to identify a 7 as a seven, but he can do one-to-one correspondence counting, even in a scatter group and COUNT to seven. He can COUNT to 20, possibly with some errors, in any manner required. He can simply look at a group of four items and know it is a quantity of four. He can count, with some ability, imperfectly, to 100. At 3 1/2 years old. A person can count without knowing number names. We are working on counting and quantification.

Your child may not be able to label an A as an A, but he can say that both upper AND lowercase Aa's say "ah." Uppercase recognition, when 90% of reading is lowercase letters, has very little functionality. If a person never, ever, learned letter names, they could still learn to read if they knew phonics. I am working on them reading.

Your child, at 3 1/2, can also identify around 12 shapes and colors, and I never stood in front of them and held a lesson and "taught" them anything.

I didn't even get into the fact that these children can pattern [#1 indicator of future math success], sort, graph, etc., which most other preschools are not even attempting to expose their students.

These children have been exposed to, and picked up through environmental, functional, exposure, LIVING experience, these SKILLS. There is no letter of the week, color of the day, flash cards, or expectation of memorization here. 

"Can you hand me that WHITE towel, please?"

"Do you want the BLUE or the PURPLE cup?"

"How many kids are here today?"

"How many cars do you have?"

"We are having eggs for lunch, how do you think we would spell EGGS? Let's sound it out. Eh, yep, gg, yep, ssss. Yeah. In this word, eggs has two g's, so it would be E-G-G-S. Eh, g, s. Eggs."

"Which one is your cubby? How do you know? Yes, it's your color, but it also has your name on it. Let's sound it out."

"We have to put your name on your art so I know who it belongs to. How do we spell your name? Let's sound it out."

They all pick up the letter and number names by kindergarten, but knowing their phonics and counting methods means that they are learning numeracy and literacy far earlier than their traditionally "taught" counterpart preschoolers. 

  • Their learning has meaning. 
  • It has functionality. 
  • It is important to THEM. 
Graduate of mine who placed in the top 2%
They may not be able to do a dog and pony show for the relatives, but they can do important WORK. 

This is why my kiddos historically leave here for kindergarten reading and doing math at a 2nd grade level. 

I think that the ability to read or DO math, is much more important than rote memorization of letter and number names. It's worked so far. Very well.

Knowledge is only powerful if you can USE IT.