HELPING CHILDREN BE THE BEST VERSION OF THEMSELVES

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It’s that time of year ….Parent/Teacher Conferences!  As a teacher, I valued the time spent with caregivers to share information about their learner,  while gaining insight into my young student’s life at home.

Some parents were visibly anxious during these meetings, and no matter how carefully I chose my words, there were tears.  I always had a box of tissues handy.   For some, this was the first time learning that their precious 6 or 7-year-old was having  difficulty in the world of  “school”.

It was my job to help a caregiver get past the pain of struggle, and look forward with support and a plan to get their child where they needed to go – and to avoid comparing their child to others.   No matter where they “ranked” in the classroom,  I wanted my students to be proud of their hard work and effort that would bring them continued gains.  It was my job to help the caregiver see the unique gifts their child offered even in the midst of  struggles.  For children who struggle,  comparing themselves to  others can be  a recipe for disaster.  These are the children who will shut-down,  become class clowns, and begin avoiding the hard work that makes them feel defeated.  IT was my job to make sure these children were challenged enough to make important gains, while not overwhelming them to the point of defeat.  I needed their  caregivers to be on our side, to be cheerleaders in this game of school – where so many children’s gifts get lost as they try to be like someone else – to please their parents, or teachers.

One of the saddest parent/teacher conferences I had, was when I was teaching Kindergarten.  I had a child who  was lagging behind their peers in many ways, yet expressing themself through Art was a strength.  They  loved creating. In discussing this with the parent, I was dumbfounded when they told me that the pictures the child were bringing home were terrible, and they ripped them up and put them in the trash.  They were not worthy of being hung on the refrigerator.  My heart broke for this child, yet  knowing this made me work harder to help this young child find their bright light.

All children will shine if we let them do it in their way, in their time – with support and guidance from those who love them best.   Don’t waste time and energy worrying about how your child compares to anyone else  – don’t give your child the message that they should be like someone else – love them as they are.  For in that love your child will become the best version of themself.

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Simple Gifts

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I spent some time with my daughter and her family today.  When I first arrived at their home,  my five-year old Granddaughter gave me a quick hello and then disappeared into another room.  A few minutes later, she reappeared and handed me a paper folded in half.   It was a picture of the two of us – out for a walk.  She explained that I had my purple sweater wrapped around my waist.  We are both smiling – there is green grass and blue sky.   I thanked her and placed it in my purse so I wouldn’t forget it.  She was pleased.  It is now on my refrigerator;  a place of honor for what it represents.   It reminds me of the simple pleasures.     It reminds me of an innocence that gives freely and quietly.   No strings attached.  Simple, quiet, easy – yet in my mind – it speaks volumes.  Thank you Z.  I love you.

Spend some time with a kid if you can.  If you listen and pay attention they will always remind you of the important things in life.

SUMMER REGRESSION!

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School’s out, but don’t let the long break from school derail all the academic gains your child made this year!   Kids do regress if they don’t do any reading or writing activities during the long summer break, so to help prevent that, here are some ideas:

  1.  READ and READ some more.  Take your child to the library, and find books that they can read so they can continue to practice.  The children’s librarian can be a great help.
  2. If they are beginning readers, and are hesitant, keep it simple.  Echo reading is a great way to get them engaged without frustrating them, and helps them with fluency.
  3. I read, you read – take turns.  As you model, this helps with fluency and expression.
  4. If your child comes across words they don’t know ask them what strategies they know to figure out unknown words.  They should use picture clues, (yes …this is not cheating!), skip the word and read to the end of the sentence and then reread the sentence having their mouth ready to say the first sound in the word.  Often using the context will help them figure out the word.  This also teaches them that it’s ok to skip words and reread, and to always be thinking about what would make sense. Look for little words in big words.
  5. Go to the library each week for new books, and introduce them to fun series.  Your librarian can help if you don’t know what is available for kids your child’s age.  Also, check to see if your library has a summer reading program.  These can be motivating  to keep kids reading.
  6. Don’t forget to write.  Have your child keep a summer diary.  Writing helps with reading skills, and vice-versa.   Consider having a bedtime diary.  Your child writes you a note just before bed and puts it on your pillow.  You answer it so when they wake up in the morning, they can read it.  This is fun if done in a journal format so it builds.
  7. Consider writing letters or cards and mailing them to a friend or relative.  Relatives that you know will write back are the best!
  8. Have your child create lists if you are going shopping and when in the store, have them read around the store.
  9. Be sure to let them see you reading and writing and don’t forget to read to them!  Even older kids like being read to, and you can read them books that may be too hard for them, that teaches them science, social studies or math concepts.  This also helps with vocabulary development.
  10. Create a fun place in their room where they can keep books, paper, pens, crayons, etc.   Great for a rainy day!
  11. Most importantly, have fun with reading and writing.  Don’t worry about what level your child is and if you see them getting frustrated back off and follow their lead.    Love them as you enjoy some great summertime reading together!  Marvel if they are beginning to communicate through writing.  Correction is not the focus – but the message is!  If kids feel criticized and corrected as they are learning new things, they may shut down, and shut you out.  Follow their lead and delight in their unique abilities!
  12. If your child is reluctant, or simply doesn’t want to do any reading/writing – you may try making it part of a routine that comes before some things that you know they love.  My Grandkids are on summer break, and before we swim, we do some reading.  I think I love it just as much as they do!  It’s exciting for me to have my six-year-old Grandson reading to me!  I know the practice will help him as he begins first-grade in the Fall.
  13. Don’t ever compare your child to others – marvel in what it is that they can do and pay attention.  What may seem like nothing to you is a GREAT BIG DEAL to a young child who is just beginning to unravel the marvelous world of reading and writing.  What a gift you can give them by being with them on this journey!

Happy summer and happy reading and writing!

Reading Rockets is a great source for book ideas!

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A Birthday Party for Oofie and Rufus Silas – THE ART OF PLAY

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The movement for testing has led to pushing academics onto younger and younger children at the expense of creativity and play. This is ironic, as young children learn best through play.

In the school where I taught, I was proud to be part of a team that was cutting edge in the area of authentic assessments.  WE always knew exactly what our young children needed to move them to the next level, based on documentation of real reading and writing activities they engaged in on a daily basis.  WE knew so much more than standardized tests could ever tell us about  our young students.  WE had formal reading assessments that were done periodically one-one, as well as daily assessments that were done as we taught our small groups.  WE also learned a lot from looking at their writing development as well as how they engaged in play.  WE had pages of notes on each child that informed our instruction….for THAT child.

When I taught we still had a half day Kindergarten program.  At the beginning of the school year, many of my students needed a good month to adapt to being in school full day.  WE spent time in the afternoon doing less intense activities that involved hands on play, snack and  free time.  AS the children adjusted, so did the length of time they were able to engage in more intense academics.  BUT we were always sensitive to their needs as developing young children, with the need for play still being important.

I was always amazed at the thinking of my students and the divergent ways they had of doing things.  Whenever I didn’t understand what they were doing, if I took the time to ask and listen, they could explain their thought process and it always made sense.   IF you dig a bit you will see the genius of their young brains!

Don’t ever underestimate your child’s need for free play and  all the learning that is inherent in that pursuit.  BY free play, I do not mean a free for all while children run crazy with no parameters,  but a time where children are given the opportunity to explore in a safe place with adults nearby to assist and support as needed.

Sit back and watch young children as they engage in free play.  Their creativity knows no bounds.  The beauty is that their brains are open and free of clutter.  Young children have  not been “institutionalized” and made to follow the lock-step methods of learning; the ‘one-size fits all’ mentality that kills creativity.

I love watching children play!  My Grandkids (ages 3 and 4)  spent over an hour creating a birthday party for their stuffed animals.  I supported by supplying some materials, such as old party bags, wrapping paper and party supplies that they knew I had around the house.  The creativity and stamina in creating the party scene was wonderful to see.  The language as they talked and shared ideas, the fine motor skills as they tied,  cut, taped , wrapped; the cooperation and  executive thinking skills involved,  the writing as they created cards – so much learning in their play.  I wonder how long their party making would have lasted had I jumped in to tell them what to do and how to do it.  Probably not very long – and look at all the learning that would have been lost!

SO don’t forget the importance of play.  Join a group of kids and step into their world of play.    WE are never too old,  and we just might be reminded of some of our own creativity that may have been lost along the way.  Getting lost in play with a child is a gift that illuminates the beauty and creativity of unspoiled  innocence.  It helps to remind us about what is important.   Children can do that for us if we let them.IMG_5737

 

 

 

Growing Resilient Children

 

tantrum-clipart-oracle-salesforce-tantrumAS a teacher of first-grade students, my job was to teach reading, writing, math, and concepts related to science and social studies, and also to help children with their resilience regarding their place in our classroom community.   Primary caregivers are critical in helping children develop resiliency and become confident positive engaged member in different environments.  Here are some tips to help  little ones develop resiliency and cooperation:

Young toddlers learn through play – both when they are playing by themselves, and as they play with their peers.    Free play is great, but be nearby to keep an eye on how your child interacts with others.  It’s normal for toddlers to feel everything is theirs, and to have difficulty sharing.  A caregiver can intervene when needed to gently guide and teach what sharing and cooperation looks like.  Shaping a child’s behavior is ongoing and evolves over time.  Through many positive supportive interactions with  caregivers, a child learns appropriate behavior that carries over to different settings.

Avoid the urge to “fix” all your child’s problems.  Instead, be there to support, listen and encourage your child to examine ways they may be able to solve their problems.   Often, in the process of active listening, your child may be able to come up with some great ways to solve problems.  Not only will this process help your child come up with a solution that is right for them, but it will empower your child, and help them develop a “toolbox” of problem solving skills that will grow and develop with them when you’re not around.

Don’t be afraid to discipline.  Discipline done well is firm, yet positive and consistent. AT times it can be exhausting but will pay off with huge rewards for your child as their world gets larger and larger.  THE best discipline as far as I am concerned is logical consequences as there is no shame, or negative judgement involved.    AND pick your battles carefully – examine what is critical for you as a caregiver.  If EVERYTHING is most important , both you and your child will always be butting heads, and you will be EXHAUSTED!!!!  Think about what will be expected of your child as they leave the nest, and enter other settings – and cooperation and getting along with others is pretty important!

BE a model of cooperation and positivity for your child.  Children learn what they live. AND little ones notice EVERYTHING!

THINK back and try to remember how you felt as a child.  Parents, caregivers and teachers can be pretty overpowering and it doesn’t take much for some children to be overwhelmed with demands of caregivers.  Know your child, and respect their sensitivity levels.  AGAIN – this doesn’t mean no discipline.  Children feel safer when they know a caregiver, parent is in charge.  Structure and loving discipline is appreciated and needed  – especially when a child feels out of control!

When your child has a meltdown – this is because they need to vent and are feeling out of control but they aren’t mature enough or don’t have the skill to cope with their  frustrations.  Provide a safe space to meltdown and be nearby to reassure your child that they are loved and even though they may be out of control – you are not and you are there to help them feel safe. And then work on helping them develop skill to deal with frustration.  IF your simply give your child what they want when they have a tantrum or meltdown, you are reinforcing this behavior and it will keep happening.

Parenting can be exhausting at times and there are many days when it feels easier to just give in to a demanding toddler.  Short term – that’s true – but long term you will only make thing more difficult for you and your child.  Pick your battles wisely!

 

GIVING CHILDREN A VOICE

 

 

Daily writing in first-grade was a time when I was allowed into the lives of my young students.  AS I conferenced with them one-one, I heard about everything from birthday celebrations to sibling death.  This sacred time helped them find a writing voice, allowed me to get to know them, while also working on skills needed to develop as a reader and writer.

It’s  never too early to help your child find their voice as an author.   It begins from infancy with language, language, and more language as you read to them and talk with them.

AS soon as your child is old enough, provide markers, chalk, pens, pencils, crayons,  paper, white boards  ….and let them experiment with drawing and writing.

HELPING YOUR CHILD WRITE THEIR STORY:

ASK your child to tell you a story about an experience.  Try and get them to focus on something real that happened to them, as this is much easier than make believe. This works best right after you and your child have experienced something together so you can say, “That was so much fun.  I don’t EVER want to forget that….why don’t we write a story about it!!”  (BE EXCITED!!!)  IMG_3336

For young preschoolers,  write  the words for them, and have them  illustrate each page.  Show respect by staying out of their creation once they are drawing, and make sure you ask them where they would like the words on the page.  When you write you are modeling left-right and top to bottom progression, and concept of “word” as you point to each word and read back what is written.   AND If your child is ready and willing, you can also work on letter/sound correspondence.  Once their book is done, put it in their library, and don’t forget to remind them that they are an author and illustrator. HOW EXCITING!!

AS always, follow your child’s lead, have fun and help them to love finding their voice as a writer.

Here is a great article about children’s writing development.

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GROWING READERS -THE POWER OF ABC… “H..I..J..K..lemino”

Learning letters necessary?  Yes…. boring…NO!  These 26 symbols of our English language, when put together in the right order, are pretty powerful players.   Put together in the wrong order or leaving one behind and something that is very pretty can become petty.  A tart can become gassy and your dog may end up as a place for lots of dead plant material.

For toddlers and preschoolers who are beyond the stage of experiencing the world with their mouth, magnetic letters are a great tool for learning.   They can be front and center on your frig or used in a child’s lap with a cookie sheet, or on a desk with a small magnetic easel.

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When you introduce your child to a new learning tool, such as magnetic letters, let them experience them in their own way for a period of time. You will learn valuable information about what they already know as you watch how they interact with the materials.   Children are very curious by nature and giving them time to explore on their own will make them more agreeable when you direct the play.

Magnetic letters provide opportunity for much more than just learning letter name/sounds.  They are great for visual, auditory and tactile skills.     Help your child with visual discrimination by having them find letters that look the same.   As your child manipulates the letters, they are working on fine motor and tactile skills and as they hear the letter names and sound the letter makes, they are working on auditory skills. Math skills can also come into play as your child sorts letters according to color, shape and size and counts them.

Don’t forget to follow your child’s lead.  Learning letters should be fun for little ones and is a process that involves exposure in many different ways in many different settings.

All this ABC talk reminds me of a funny story.  At the beginning of the school year, we screen children to see how many letters/sounds they know (first grade).  One year I was working with a wonderfully peppy outgoing little girl, and as I pointed to the letter “L” she replied “lemino”.   L,M,N,and O all blended into one beautiful letter in her world of ABC.   Aren’t kids great?  Enjoy!

Helping Grow A Reader

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One of my greatest joys in teaching first grade was teaching children how to read. There are many things you can do to help your child become a great reader before they begin a formal reading program.

  1.  Tell your child they are a “reader”, even if they aren’t able to read words yet.  Seeing themselves as a “reader” will help them have confidence and patience as they are on their journey to becoming an independent reader.
  2. They are a “reader” because they can “read” the pictures to tell the story.   Reading the pictures is an early reading skill.  It will help your child notice details on the page, and strengthen vocabulary and comprehension skills . So look for books with great pictures that tell the story!
  3. As you read a story, have your child predict what will happen next.  This is an important skill in developing good comprehension.  They are using prior knowledge and critical thinking skills as they predict.
  4. Help your child to make connections between what they are reading and their own world.  This skill also strengthens comprehension and makes reading personal and relevant.

As always, have fun when reading with your child.

Next:  FUN with ABC

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR CHILDS TEACHER WHEN YOU ARE SEEING RED!!

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OK – so let’s be real….sometimes your child’s teacher does something that really makes your blood boil.  For example, one day I came home from a long day at school to find my third grader locked in the bathroom.  She couldn’t talk to me as she was sobbing so hard that it was hard to catch her breath.

“She did really bad on a math test and she’s afraid you’ll be mad,”  her older sis said as she was casually watching tv.

My heart broke a little bit as I didn’t think I was that kind of parent.  I took a very soft supportive tone as I asked her to come out to talk.

She opened the bathroom door and  handed me a math test and all I noticed was a GIANT

F ‘

I assured her that she wasn’t in trouble but asked her if her teacher had given her feedback so she could correct her errors and learn from her mistake.

“No.  She just gave me my test back,” she sobbed.

That was it.  I saw RED and guess what???  We lived across the street from the school and it was still early enough that her teacher might be there…so I hopped on my broomstick and off I went…..test in hand.  

You might say that what I had to say to her teacher was not very calm….but done with great respect mind you – after all I was a fellow teacher.  BUT as a fellow teacher my question for her was:  “How could you simply hand her a test with a big fat with no concern at all to find out what her thought process was as she completed these problems – and no help to teach her the correct way so she would understand this process??? NO feedback??? NO remediation??? Just a big fat F???”  She understood my point and so did her two colleagues whose classrooms were connected by a few floating walls.

Should I have waited to speak to her until I had calmed myself?   Yes I think so.  Should I have brought this up to her at all?  Absolutely.  

Doctors have an oath,  “first do no harm”  and I believe educators should follow this same oath.   A teacher’s job is to teach, evaluate progress, and remediate or reteach as needed while always keeping the child’s esteem intact.   I don’t feel there is EVER an instance where a child should get a paper with a BIG FAT “F”. EVER! Do children fail?? Well – not if we are teaching them well and teaching them at their zone of proximal development.   Are all children learning at the same level and rate?  No. This is a simple fact.  Each child has different strengths and weaknesses and should be taught accordingly.  School should never be a place where children feel like they fail.

So – when you start to see RED, take a deep breath, do some thoughtful reflection on what it is that is making you angry and take some time to figure out the best way to approach the situation.   But don’t ever be afraid to advocate on behalf of your child.  That is your job.  Just try to do it without flying in on your broomstick.   You’d think as a teacher I would have known better….but when it comes to our children….well….sometimes we don’t think straight.

ENSURING SCHOOL SUCCESS-WHAT CAREGIVERS CAN DO

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It’s the beginning of a new school year.  There are many things that you can do to make sure your child has a great year.

  1. Have time, space and materials set aside so your child can complete  school work each day.
  2. Have space for your child to unpack and put school items. Make this a daily routine and make it your child’s responsibility.   Check to see if there are forms, notes etc that need your attention.
  3. Keep homework time age appropriate.   (See Article re homework)
  4. CONSISTENT early bedtime routine. 
  5. Healthy breakfast – or take advantage of school breakfast program.
  6. Daily reading to/with your child.
  7. Be available to discuss any issues your child has with school.
  8. Listen and reassure your child regarding any fears/concerns.
  9. Set up your child for success by teaching them skills to be independent. Have age appropriate expectations such as packing their own backpack as soon as school work is complete. They will be expected to unpack and pack their backpack on their own in the classroom.
  10. Don’t be surprised if they don’t come home full of stories to share about their day.  Instead of asking them “how was your day?”  ask them specific questions.  This may stimulate some conversation.

A positive attitude on your part regarding your child’s school  will go a long way in how they feel about school.  Happy learning!

Carol

Next:  HELP!  When to call your child’s teacher