The Sky Isn’t Falling: Being Present for Children

 

img_5404One of my favorite childhood stories was “Chicken Little” and as an early childhood teacher it’s in my top 10 read aloud books. I love this story because of the dramatics, the voices that I can use, and the how a simple misunderstanding puts everyone into a frenzy. Do you remember the story?

“The sky is falling, the sky is falling. I must run for my life.” And the heroine of the story, Chicken Little” is off to let the king know that something horrible has happened when, in fact, it was just an acorn that had hit her on the head.

In this classic tale, Chicken Little didn’t take time to “Stop and Think”.

Chicken Little didn’t think to reach up on top of her head to discover the source the thump. If she had she would have found an acorn and not the whole sky.

I love dissecting this story with children and talking about cause and effect. I want children to realize that sometimes things will happen to them, like a child accidentally bonking them on the head with a ball, and that it is our choice in how we react to the event. It is affirming for them to know yes, you got a bonk on your head, but why did that occur. Is it that your classmate meant to harm you or did their aim go astray when tossing the ball somewhere else? We get to teach children to reflect BEFORE they react, which really is a life lesson that we all could use.

My favorite version of this classic tale is by Rebecca and Ed Emberley because the illustrations are vivid and the dialogue is engaging. In this version ~ “Chicken Little was not the brightest chicken in the coop. He was very excitable and prone to foolishness.” This is a great phrase to explore with children, what does it mean to be “prone to foolishness”? In this version her friends are described “being witless”  and joining in without any further questions and without a plan. Lucky Ducky is described as “not wanting to be left out”, which opens the conversation about actions we take because others are doing something. In the Emberley version there is quite a plot twist at the end that is an age appropriate conversation to have with children about following someone without question.

Reading several versions of Chicken Little helps open up a discussion about how sometimes we think that ‘the sky is falling’ or some other really bad thing is happening. But if we take time to “Stop and think” and to “talk with a grown-up” that our worries might be really simple things to fix.

In most versions of this tale the main characters decide that they need to go on a journey to tell the King that there is an emergency that requires his urgent attention. This group of friends band together based on Chicken Little’s account of the incident. She had “seen it with her own eyes, heard it with her own ears, and felt it hit her head”. The sense of community that all her friends, who happen to have great names, (Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Cocky Locky, Goosey Loosey) help her step before the king and announce that she has discovered that the sky is falling.

After reading a couple of versions the children realize that in fact the world is not in a state of crisis. It is an acorn and not the atmosphere caving in upon itself. I try to drive home the point that if Chicken Little and her friends took the the time to “Stop and Think” they would have likely discovered the acorn themselves. (How empowering!) Or if they were that concerned that they could go to a grown up in their life and they would have helped them realize what was happening without needing to go on such a long journey.

So much valuable teaching from a classic tale!

With my grown-up students that I reach through leading professional development and community college there are also lessons for adults. In modern day, social media driven society, think of the many times that a perceived threat is magnified by a group of well being friends.  The hint of a scandalous story or revelation of a vague post by a friend leaves us wondering.  The quakes of social media with Twitter wars, viral videos, and Facebook feuds that suck us in and we spend way too much time on a screen journey. Isn’t this much like Chicken Little….are we running in a circle trying to help restore social order?

Society is defined as when two or more humans connect and interact. Those interactions are so much more important in real life, and our sense of belonging comes from working together.  As parents and care providers we need to focus on ‘social order’ of our homes or our classrooms which is where we have a meaningful impact. If we are constantly distracted with our screens and technologies are we really able to connect with our children, spouses, coworkers, and friends?

For people who work with children a daily basis it is so important to stay present in the NOW. Listening and interacting with the children in our care. Helping them to develop their own sense of belonging and to find their voice to communicate how they are feeling. Assisting children in expressing their own unique creativity through engaged PLAY. Honoring children’s stories and helping them to discover who they are. Offering learning environments built on mutual respect, safety, and the belief that every child matters. To do this work we must be in the present moment, and NOT on a screen.

As the adults in the learning environment we need to leave our grown up conversations about politics, current events and judgements at home. When doing the important work of caring for children we need to focus on building empathy and creating safe haven. We need to realize that TIME is the most important resource that we have, so we bring our best self into our programs and we focus on the children and families that we serve.

Though someone else might think the “sky is falling” and is alerting the world via social media, we do not need to like, retweet, or comment on it while we are working. Instead, we need to be fully present…exploring the acorns alongside the children!

 

 

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Tech in Early Education?

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When asked about the role of technology in early childhood classrooms I get this little churn in the pit of my stomach. I have not embraced the need for screens for young children, and with the limited hours that my preschoolers are with me I want to offer them the very best that I can. So I have graciously declined having more than one iPad in my classroom and have removed all the desktop computers so the floor space could be used for (dare I say it) a learning center that is more developmentally appropriate. I also think in terms of economics…how many quality learning tools could I purchase with the money it would cost to buy a class set of iPads.

A few weeks ago in the grocery store a local early childhood educator that I know stopped to chat and told me she was working on her Master’s research project. Her topic of focus what technology in early ed and she was in the midst of reading 15 current research articles and soon would decide what her research would focus on.

I literally started to bite my lower lip. Positive self talk began in brain, “Be respectful, don’t jump up on soap box. Let her talk. Maybe you are getting old and grumpy, perhaps her research view might be more up to date.”

As we chatted I politely said that though other ECE providers are excited to learn that they will have 1:1 iPads for all the children in their programs, I have successfully held out. I mentioned wanting to spend more time in nature and to develop the indoor learning environment so it was play-rich, and that I believed there was no role in preschoolers needing to go to kindergarten with iPad skills.

The conversation ended politely but I thought maybe I should have a stronger opinion. Maybe I should voice my concern about the glare, the zoned-out-ed-ness, or the addiction that most all of us face with our smartphones, iPads, and laptops. Maybe I should question how our disconnected society of social media has trickled it’s way down to toddlers. Our passive consumerism now begins before our babies talk. YIKES!

So the next time someone asks my opinion I am going to reverse the question and ask them, “What kind of tasks that the child is engaged with on the screen?” I will listen attentively, and then my follow up question will be, “So is the app sort of like a digital worksheet?” Likely most conversations will end there and we will agree to disagree.

I know in my bones (and valid research supports) the fact that worksheets are NOT best practice for learners of any age, and especially more so for our youngest learners. Most apps are worksheets in disguise with cartoon characters, bright lights, things the move fast, and sounds. So just as we had to stand up and push back against spending our day completing workbooks with 3-5 year olds we need to push back against the invasion of technology.

We know that ample research proves the importance of PLAY in early childhood. We should no longer feel the need to defend our practice of creating uninterrupted blocks of time for children to play. Child-directed play where the learner gets to choose which part of the learning environment to spend their time. We need to be ready to protect play and we need to take an active in our role of explaining the value of play to our stakeholders.

This is where the one lonely iPad comes in handy. Through digital story telling, documentation panels, and/or weekly newsletters with photographs we can use the power of technology to make learning visible. We can show our administration the importance of play and demonstrate to them what the children are learning while engrossed in deep and meaningful play. Many administrators where preschool is located in a PreK-8 school have limited understanding of early childhood and developmentally appropriate practice. As professionals we can take what we know and show them through photos or videos how our children are learning and growing in all domains.

So the next time I am asked about the best use of technology in an early childhood setting I won’t have a queasy feeling in my stomach. I’ve got a boiled down one minute speech, which by the way you are more than welcome to borrow, steal, cut and paste, make into a meme, or sing from the mountaintops.

“The most powerful use of technology in an early childhood classroom is in capturing the action of ‘kids at play’. Through video, photos, or digital storytelling we can illustrate for parents and stakeholders the many ways that children grow through play. We can harness the power of technology to make visible the deep learning and engagement that happens every day in our early childhood programs.” ~April Zajko

 

For my college student friends – further reading from national organizations related to the topic:

NAEYC Position Statement on Technology and Media

American Academy of Pediatrics – The Power of Play 

 

 

 

 

 

Private and Quiet Spaces

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Imagine in your mind a preschool classroom and likely you immediately think of a busy, noisy, and chaotic room filled with little people running to and fro. Then imagine that you are a “quiet child”, what does this busy classroom look like to you?

As an early childhood educator, I want to ensure that my classroom is welcoming and inviting to ALL children. So as I design my classroom and set up my learning centers I want to ensure that there are spaces that are offer privacy and quiet for children to go to seek solitude. This might be the writing center that is sized for just two children at a time or a listening center with only two headsets. This might also be a small table in a corner of a classroom set up with a felt board or puzzles that invites just a couple of children at once.

The expectations of these private and quiet areas are explicitly taught to the children. We work towards learning not to interrupt children who are playing in these areas, that our voices are softer, and that we call all have a turn in the area when space allows.

These quiet and private spaces are not used as a punishment, and staff don’t send children there as time out. Rather these spaces are seen as an oasis that children learn to enjoy to select on their own. I share information with parents about how we use these spaces and encourage them to create a similar area at home.

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In addition to spaces for two children I also like to create an area that is designed for one child. I call this space “Tucker’s House” and introduce it after reading the book “Tucker Turtle Takes Time to Tuck and Think”. Tucker teaches young children in an age appropriate way how to manage his anger when things don’t go well. Including the soft turtle puppets and calm down toys are two other tools that support this area of the classroom. “Tucker Turtle” is a scripted story from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, which can be downloaded for free at this link: http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/strategies.html

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I believe that creating these spaces for privacy and quiet help to empower children to know that when they feel like they need to take time to themselves that they can. Often I find that children retreat to these quieter areas and observe what is happening in other places in the room. It is important that we remember that about one third of the population is ‘introvert’ and that it is not our role to make children more extrovert.

One of the best books that I have read in my career is “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” This book really helped me understand that our ‘quiet children’ do not lack energy and are not missing social skills. Instead we need to honor introverts for who they are and that means that we create space for them to be in the role of observer, time to be reflective, and support in finding quiet amongst a busy classroom environment.

 

 

 

Going Green Practices for Child Care Programs

Adopting environmentally sustainable practices is a wonderful way to model and teach children about being a good steward of the planet. Slowly adopting new principles and making changes to existing practices will likely be more successful than trying to change too many things all at the same time. Involving the children in your program and their families will help them have ownership of the changes, and hopefully inspires them to make similar changes in their homes.

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The “Going Green Checklist” (see below) is not meant to be a judgment about how you conduct your program, but rather as a way to reflect on what you currently do, identify one or two strategies to add, and to think about how you would like your program to be in the future.

Often teachers in larger child care centers or public schools may have little decision making power for large scale changes, but can make powerful small changes in their own classrooms. It is better to think of the grand sum of little changes, than to take on an overwhelmingly large task at first. Build off of the successes, even if it’s just teaching children to take one paper towel instead of five to dry their tiny hands! The slow but steady approach often creates lasting changes in a program because the changes become daily routines.

We can teach our children about caring for the planet through a range of rich opportunities, reading a wide selection of books on the topic throughout the year, and by creating hands on learning experiences about nature and the environment. This is not a one week experience in the month of April when it’s “Earth Day”, but rather a yearlong integrated theme that is woven into the curriculum and daily routines. It is through simple daily practices that we implement in our classroom that we can meaningfully show to both children and families. Through educating our children and modeling green practices, they will grow up knowing how to care for the Earth. It will be their love of the planet that propels them to care for it.

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Going Green Checklist

  • As plastic toys are replaced, substitute natural materials or toys made from recycled materials
  • Books about the environment are in the classroom library
  • Children bring reusable water bottle from home
  • Communicate with families about environmentally sound practices
  • Compost food scraps
  • Conservation activities done within the community
  • Daily outdoor time in nature
  • Discuss current environmental issues with children in an age appropriate way (such as drought, new recycling laws, keeping rivers clean)
  • Eco Art projects are part of the program as a way to talk about reusing and re-purposing unwanted materials
  • Eliminate paper plates and plastic utensils
  • Energy audit is conducted for the program
  • Grow plants indoors year-round as way to clean the air & teach children to care for plants
  • Growing a green wall to create a living garden in minimal space
  • Locally produced materials are used; teach how these materials do not require fuel to be shipped, and supports the local economy
  • Lower consumption of energy (lights off when we leave the room; less lights on when sunshine brightens the room)
  • Lower consumption of water (encourage quicker hand washing; use a rain barrel to water the outdoor garden)
  • Make recycled paper and discuss how paper comes from trees
  • Non-toxic “green” cleaning supplies
  • Non-toxic furnishings, wall paint, and floor coverings
  • One paper towel to dry hands
  • Organic local food served as majority of meals and snacks
  • Participate in Earth Day; or “Green Up Day” if you are lucky enough to be a Vermonter
  • Philosophy of “No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”
  • Purchase reusable plates, bowls, and utensils for meals & snacks
  • Purchases of art supplies in large containers so less waste
  • Read about landfills and find out where our trash goes; contrast that to recycling
  • Recycling program implemented
  • Redemption of bottles is another type of recycling and can be a fundraiser
  • Seek input from families and community about ways they see the program could become ‘greener’
  • Serve milk from gallon container and eliminate lots of small cartons of trash a day
  • Switch to cloth napkins
  • Teach about reduce, reuse, and recycle & model those practices in the program
  • Teach about trees and ways we can save paper by using both sides of a paper.
  • Vegetable garden at school that supplies a portion of the food
  • Walking and riding bikes to school instead of using the car
  • Waste management
  • Worm farm as an indoor composting project

No matter the political climate or negative things happening in the world, helping to connect children to nature will have an immediate impact on them…and will likely help them become better stewards of the Earth in years to come.

*What would you add to the going green checklist? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

 

Holiday Card Making Station Ideas

img_3410A card making station is a great way to inspire open-ended exploration and creativity while encouraging fine motor development, as well as early reading and writing skills. Prior to introducing the children to the station, gather up materials that you have on hand and set it up all in one place that can be left for several days (or weeks). Aim to make the materials all items that the children can use independently, so they can create on their own without much adult help. If you leave the card making station set up over time, occasionally swing by when not in use to tidy up and add one or two new tools or materials to keep the area inviting and sparking new ideas. As you add new supplies, take some of the other items away. Make sure that the area doesn’t become cluttered or children will feel overwhelmed by the choices and may find it harder to create.

 

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General materials to start with:

Pre-folded blank cards (made from card stock or construction paper)

Envelopes that fit the size of cards available

Clear tape on a dispenser

Colored masking tape or painters tape

Hole Punch

Kid scissors

Markers or crayons

Glue stick or white glue

Name cards (on index cards write the names of family and friends for the children to copy)

Word wall (write down holiday words that children might like to copy: Merry Christmas/ To:  From:  / Love)

Materials or tools to add to keep the station interesting:

Colored copy paper or construction paper

Decorative paper punches

Decorative scissors (“Crazy Scissors” is what my students call them)

Do-a-Dot markers (careful since these can stain)

Foam shapes (to glue on)

Gel pens on black paper

Gift tag stickers or Paper gift tags and string

Glitter (if you’re brave)

Glitter glue

Holiday scrap booking paper

Holiday stickers

Photographs

Recycled cards from last year – cut out interesting pictures and collage

Recycled cards with hole punches on the edges & yarn to lace

Ribbon

Rubber stamps and stamp pads

Stamp markers

Tissue paper (pre-cut into squares for younger children)

White crayons on dark blue paper

For older preschoolers:

Stapler

Washable paint

Watercolor paints

Wrapping paper and clear tape

Open-ended craft supplies (transform the card making station into a ornament/gift making)

Beads

Bows

Buttons

Card stock

Cookie cutters (dip into paint and stamp / use to trace onto cards)

Curling ribbon

Gem stickers

Hemp twine

Pipe cleaners

Pom Poms

Popsicle sticks

Ribbon

Sequins

Stickers

Wiggly eyes

Wooden beads

Yarn

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Tapping for Sap~ Pretend Play

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I had this vision of creating a model maple tree that my preschoolers could tap and pretend to collect sap. I wanted the kids to have some first hand experience before we took them to a local sugar shack.

So I found the largest piece of cardboard I had, and got to work crafting a maple tree. Then I recruited my then five year old to help me practice collecting the sap. He was a bit dismayed at how slow the drips were, but once a puddle of ‘sap’ collected in the bowl he became excited about the process. As with many of our projects and experiments, I lost interest long before him. He continued to collect the sap for almost an hour and only stopped because his little sister started dumping the sap bucket!

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How it works:
One child gets to stand in the back of the tree and starts the flow of sap by using a pipette or turkey baster to push water into the tap.
The other kids watch as the sap drips from the tap, runs through the plastic tubing, and finally collects into the bucket.
To keep a group of kids interested in the activity, be sure to have plenty of funnels, cups, spoons, strainers, and tubing for them to explore properties of ‘sap’.

When I led this activity in my preschool classroom the kids were eager to be the one behind the tree and a line formed as they waited their turn. So I put additional pipettes in the collection bucket and they played there until it was their turn to ‘be the tree’.

This activity would be great to try at home. You could use any type of hose and a turkey baster! If you don’t have cardboard to make a tree, you could use a grocery bag with a hole cut or a large oatmeal container.

Check out my Pinterest board for more Maple Sugaring Ideas!