SANTA… ARE YOU THERE??

IF ever there was a time to delight in some childhood wonder…..it’s now.

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One year when I was teaching first-grade, we were enjoying some great holiday books featuring Santa and the kids were all aglow with discussions of Santa.  One little girl yelled out, “There’s no such thing as Santa. My parents told me.”

ALL the chatter stopped and every six-year-old head turned my way with looks of horror.

“Is that true Mrs. Marsella? ”  They stared, they waited.  My brain spun very quickly looking for a way through this loaded question. They stared, they waited…you could have heard a pin drop.

“Well, everyone is different, some may not believe, but I believe that Santa is in all of us when we are kind and giving and generous. I love to believe in Santa!”

There was an audible happy sigh throughout the classroom. They heard what they wanted…. Santa is real.  And they immediately returned to their happy Santa chatter.

AS for the little one who let the cat out of the bag – I pulled her aside and told her that it was nice to let kids believe if their parents hadn’t told them yet – and she was a kind and precocious first grader who understood and was happy to comply.

AND in many ways I really do believe in Santa, and always will.  It’s the hope, generosity and love of others that live in all of us.

Peace and love to you and yours during this holiday season.

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HOMEWORK FOR THREES AND FOURS?

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MY three and four-year old Grandkids are in preschool, and have started bringing home worksheets for homework.  Letter tracing and recognition, cutting and pasting seem to be the norm so far. IS this to prepare them for the rigors of KINDERGARTEN? Just to be clear – I’m not bashing their preschool – they seem to love it BUT I am speaking out to inform adults  and support children who just need to be allowed to be children. THEY LEARN BY HAVING PLENTY OF TIME to do learning THEIR way-FOR EVEN As you think they are just “playing around” …there is a LOT of learning going on in those amazing brains! AND KIDS NEED TO MOVE AND TALK AND LAUGH AND MOVE AND TOUCH AND MOVE AND SHOUT AND TALK AND RUN AND JUMP AND SPIN…..sitting passively would not be their first choice of engaging with the world…for most.

AS a retired first-grade teacher with a MS in Reading Education, some of the issues I have with preschool homework are:

  • THERE is no research suggesting that this type of “homework” does anything to help children succeed in school and often frustrates kids who should be moving around and experiencing the real world; and parents who may not understand how children learn best.
  • Research shows that preschoolers learn best through hands-on play.
  •  If parents don’t understand childhood development, they may get VERY VERY frustrated if their little one can’t do what is being asked, and believe there is something wrong with their child-  NEVER EVER EVER a good way to start your child’s formal educational experiences…..
  • SO you may be setting the stage for a child feeling like a failure when they are simply not developmentally ready to do what is being asked-  AGAIN…NEVER EVER a good way to help your child LOVE learning!

SO….if preschools feel they MUST give homework to a three and four-year old, I have some suggestions:

PARENTS:

  •  Ask why?? OR just don’t do it.  YES – boycott but NEVER let your child know you don’t support their school or teacher.  THIS is a recipe for letting your child manipulate you later on when things don’t go their way.
  •  If you want to do it with your child, fine – but make it a FUN experience and follow your child’s lead

SOME GREAT SUGGESTIONS FOR PRESCHOOL “HOMEWORK” for PRESCHOOL TEACHERS WHO FEEL THE NEED:

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  • Read a book to your child every day
  • Take your child to a local library and let them pick books that you read to them on a daily basis and get them a library card
  • Take a walk outside in the fresh air and talk about all you see along the way
  • LET your child cook with you
  • Plant a garden with your child
  • PLAY outside, run, swing, ride bikes, jump rope

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  • Set up a desk for your little one with pens, crayons, markers and plenty of paper and let them create whatever they like
  • Have child friendly scissors available and let them practice cutting
  • Have  glue handy to use when they cut out paper so they can create
  • Have  chalk and chalkboard handy – or whiteboard and dry erase markers so they can doodle to their heart’s content
  • AS you read,  ask them to predict what they think will happen next
  • BEFORE you read a book, do a “picture walk” and ask your child to tell you what’s happening based on the pictures – this encourages a LOT of great language and helps with comprehension
  • Talk about what happens first, next and last in a story.
  • AS you read, help your child relate the book to their world “YOU have a red bike just like Johnny!” Helping your child make real world connections as they read creates a great habit that fosters comprehension.
  • When they show interest, have them point out letters they know on a page, count the words, find small words they know, find words that look the same ,  count the letters in a word, make it fun and like a BIG game!
  • Rhyme rhyme and rhyme some more – play with language
  • Have GREAT conversations where you listen and respond to the 1,000,0000,00000 questions preschoolers have
  • DO puzzles
  • Read to them daily
  • Let them see you reading, and writing
  • ASK them to tell you a story and write their words for them – have them illustrate
  • WHEN they are ready – have them notice words and letters all around them – as you walk through malls, take drives, etc
  • READ TO THEM DAILY (YES I’M YELLING ABOUT THIS)!
  • Take them to the grocery store, museums, restaurants, libraries, nature centers, zoos, etc – and talk about all the things they notice

SO PLEASE parents….if your three and four-year old is bringing home worksheets, don’t sweat it – if it’s fun for you and your child – great but  PLEASE don’t let it take the place of real reading, writing, experiences, play and conversation – THESE are the things that support early childhood literacy and learning.

PLEASE be respectful of your toddler’s teachers.  Speak your mind, but do so with the idea that you both want what is best for your child.  YOU are a team.

HAVE FUN with your preschooler. YOU are setting the stage for life-long learning and want it to be a wondrous joyous journey for both you and your child.

ENJOY!

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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!

 

ELECTIONS 2016-Some advice from six year olds

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OH my!  My head is spinning from too many debates, too much coverage of politics in the media -it’s so ugly –  yet I can’t seem to look away.  Probably because I keep thinking some of it is just a joke – bad reality TV.  I keep thinking one of the candidates will call a press conference and say:

“I’m not running for POTUS for real folks!  It’s all in fun. So look….some of you have been great – some not so much – but that’s OK .  I’ve shown you how much everyone loves me – and many many many do…millions and millions – so many in fact that I know I would make it if I went all the way -OK?  But now that you know the truth – how great I am – how great my companies  are – the steaks, the magazine, the water, the wine – well you all know –   I can go on with my real life and leave the rest to Little Marco and Lyin Ted.”

But in the meantime, since some of the candidates seem to struggle with getting along with others, I will share the rules that first-grade students crafted.  They were great at understanding what they needed to be successful in their classroom environment and were always so willing to help others learn how to get along and be a friend.

SOME ADVICE FROM SIX YEAR OLDS to SUPPORT THOSE RUNNING FOR POTUS:

  1. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
  2. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
  3. BE a good listener.
  4. Share
  5. Take turns

 

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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Teaching Resilience

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I sent my children an email last week expressing my sorrow related to the Paris terrorist attacks.  AS a parent I felt a need to reach out to them -even though they are grown, married with children of their own – Once a mother always a mother.

I reminded them to take time to process, grieve, bow their head and pray if that brings them peace.  I asked them to keep their eyes and hearts open for all the beauty that still exists in the world – to watch for all the love that is present – for that is what will beat terror.  Love.  Bonding.  Caring for one another.

As parents of young children, I asked them to shield their little ones from the news of terror.  They are only 4 and 2 years old.  They live carefree lives full of love and and the innocence that childhood should be- protected by those who love them.  No child should be subjected to the terror we have witnessed lately – and for those who have no choice – I pray they are surrounded by adults who will help them process their emotions.

Older children who are exposed via TV and Internet need an adult to reassure them and help them process the events.  Follow the child’s lead in how much they wish to discuss and answer honestly. It’s best that they get the information from a parent or valued caregiver as opposed to another child.  Be there for them but don’t be surprised if they don’t want to have a sit down discussion.  Many children express their needs best in the context of everyday activities – in small subtle ways.  Be on the lookout and take time needed.

This is a reminder to take time to share all the beauty and love in the world and to teach children  resilience.  Teach them to empower themselves with acts of kindness.  Teach them how they can make a positive influence in the world each and every day in a million little ways.     Children are resilient.  Be there to help them learn just how resilient they are,  and in that process,  we may learn something  about ourselves.

 

BEING THERE

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My Mother was a teacher and  an inspiring mentor to me as I followed in her footsteps.  She taught me many valuable lessons which I still use.  She passed recently after struggling for years with Alzheimer’s, and I miss all of her – healthy Mom and Alzheimer Mom. No matter what was going on in her life, I learned  as I watched her navigate life.

I find myself thinking about what it must have been like for her with 14 Grandchildren.  I have four now.  Three girls and the eldest is a boy.  They are delightful and I could sit and watch them play for hours.  I love their childhood innocence and delight in the world.    I NEVER though I would be an intrusive bossy Grandparent – yet at times I have found myself just that.  AND then I have to sit back and realize that parenting styles are unique – children are unique – and the interactions we have as humans are complicated and layered.  I am a product of the billions of interaction with all others with my parental interactions being the most impactful.  AS I age, I understand more and more how much we are all a product of our upbringing and in some ways I feel like I have never grown up. I still look for the soft look that only a parent can give – that place of unconditional love that only a parent can understand and impart.

One of the most important lessons I have learned is the importance of being there.  Being present.  It’s not so much about what I do when I am with my Grandchildren – although we like to have fun baking, singing, dancing, and going places – but it’s about the quality of the interaction each time I am with them.  I have a chance to impart something magical and loving each time we gather together.   What a gift that is.  As a parent it can be difficult to understand the magnitude of your influence upon your children – yet there it is – inherent in your connection and never gone – I still feel that strong influence of my Mother -now in my new role as a Grandmother. I know that my Mother will be with me until the day I die.

I believe that Parenting done well  is the most difficult job on Earth.  But the good news is as long as you and your child are alive, each day is a new day to try and get it right.  And once you are dead, your child will carry you with them, so be in it well  and be in it for the long haul.  Because like it or not….it’s forever.

WHAT WILL YOU TEACH THEM TODAY?

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Parents –  Hug your child today.  Look for moments to give them some quality, authentic compliments (nothing phony or fluffy here).  Set aside time to give them your undivided attention.  Read them a book, listen to music and dance, bake a yummy Fall treat.  You are your child’s first and most important teacher.  What did you teach them today?
NEED SOME PARENTING ADVICE?  THERE ARE PLENTY OF GREAT BOOKS AND HERE IS ONE I LOVE!

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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!