Teacher Stories

Hello, friends! I’ve been away while, but I wanted to pop in and let you all know about a new project I’ve been working on. It’s a podcast where teachers tell stories about their teaching, and I think it’s pretty great. The second episode will be up this weekend, and I hope you take a listen. It’s called “Telling Tales Out of School.” You can find it with a search in the iTunes store, or go to teacherstories.org.



Taking a break…

Hello, dear friends.

The time has come to acknowledge the truth. At the moment, I’m too busy to keep up with this blog. With teaching and assistant directing and preschool and teaching college and trying to have a personal life too… well, I just don’t have the wherewithal to have a regular schedule here at the moment.

So I’m going to take a hiatus this semester. Hopefully come January things will calm down, and I can get back to writing here. If you want to automatically receive an email when I do post, click the “Follow” button in the right-hand column on this page.

I’ll leave you, for the moment, with something that I think is pretty cool. My first print publication is about to come out! The next issue of Teaching Young Children Magazine will feature an article by no other than myself, called “The ‘Make a Plan’ Plan.” It’s about an approach to discipline I’ve used in my teaching, where the teacher and the child essentially write a contract together about how they’re going to solve a problem, and thus end up collaborating on, rather than fighting about, a child’s behavior. I’m proud of both the writing and the ideas in here. And because I think you readers are pretty special, you can read an advance copy before it hits the newsstands.

Thanks, readers, for you attention and support and appreciation. I’ll be back soon.

Suggested Reading for 9/6/13

The classroom is almost prepared, we’ve almost got our plans for documentation, we’ve fully planned our first week of curriculum… All we need now is the kids! Next week I plan to start a “Notes from the Floor” feature on the blog. For now, just a few items you should read.

suggestedreadingEspecially this really, really good one from Teacher Tom, about teaching children to question authority by (in part) saying silly things. And then another post with excellent examples. I tell you, the man’s a genius. On my good days, my classroom is like his.

An anecdote, from NAEYC’s blog for families, about how the start of the school year is a learning time for children and teachers alike.

And a neato little art activity, and new way to use a light table, from Teach Preschool.

Have a good weekend!

Suggested Reading for 8/31/13

suggestedreadingA really marvelous post by Laura Markham on dealing with intra-sibling aggression. But you should read it even if that’s not a challenge you’re having in your house, because it’s really about effective, compassionate discipline, and listening to children, and communicating, and conflict resolution, and an approach that’s positive and powerful for every situation involved in caring for children. Seriously, read this one.

And THANK YOU Amanda Morgan for writing this post about science in preschool. I have plans to write something similar, but I’m not sorry you got there first. Science curriculum for young children is, to my mind, the most fundamentally and tragically misunderstood content area. I look at 90% of so-called science activities in preschools and think to myself, “That’s not science!”

For those starting a year of preschool, here’s a nice little piece about “What Should a 4 Year Old Know?” from A Magical Childhood. It’s good stuff for those thinking about what a preschool should be doing, and what parents should be doing. (And don’t worry: if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably doing all this already 🙂

For those who wonder what the heck a “Reggio school” is, here’s a quick and easy guide to the main points of the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, from An Everday Story.

A provokative little comparison between Magda Gerber and the “Happiest Baby on the Block” Harvey Karp, and their approaches to infants. I think these short clips make Karp come off a little worse than he deserves: his technique is effective in changing babies’ behavior, and that’s important to many many families. However, I think the comparison really makes Gerber’s respect-based approach look philosophically right… [edited 9/1]

Have a great weekend!

The Knock-Down Mat

activities“This is the knock-down mat!” I cry. “Come over here if you want to get knocked down!”

You wouldn’t believe how many kids come running.

This is a good one for the gross-motor rough-housing category. You get the gist already, but I’ll elaborate.

A large-ish gymnastics mat is best, but in a pinch you can use a rug or a blanket, if there’s not concrete or anything underneath. You want it to be plenty big; there are a lot of mats these days that are 4’x6′, and that’s really only big enough for two kids at a time, unless they’re very small or you’re very good at this game.

You sit on the mat, and if a kid comes on the mat, you knock them down. It’s important that kids have an easy, clear exit strategy. If they don’t want to get knocked down, they just get off the mat. Some kids like to stand right at the edge and watch; that’s great! The activity is a learning experience about risk and boundaries; here they get to experience what’s safe and what’s not safe, in a way that the “not safe” option is still actually safe. So make sure the on-off rule is clear to the kids, and don’t break or even bend it.

Okay, so knocking them down. You probably don’t want to just give them a shove, because then you can’t control their fall, and often they’ll take a few steps backwards when shoved, and then they’ll fall off the mat and it’s no longer safe. I have a couple knock-down methods I use, depending on the size of the child and how rough they like their play. For all of these, I’m pretty much on my knees, to match the kids’ height. The roughest method is to put one forearm behind their knees and push their chest, so they fall on their butt right where they’re standing. Only do that one with kids who you’re sure can fall without hurting themselves. A more controlled way is to push their chest with one hand, but your other hand is on their back, so you can lightly hold them as they fall. Alternately, “push” them with both hands at the sides of their ribcage, but hold on as you push, so you can slow their fall. The gentlest way, for kids who want to play but don’t want to get rough, is to sweep one arm behind their knees and the other arm behind their shoulders, lifting their feet off the ground—you end up holding them for a moment almost like you’re rocking a baby. This one’s good, because you can make a big motion (fun drama!) but deposit them gently on the ground (feelings of safety!).

So how do you do this with a group of kids? It’s awesome when you’ve got about four kids at a time, and they keep getting up while the others are falling, so you’re just knocking down one after the other, and everyone’s laughing and in the rhythm. If anyone starts getting too wild, though—rolling around, or trying to knock down me or other kids—you’ve got to slow things down. Some kids need to be told, “That’s not safe; I’m the only one knocking people down.” But most respond naturally if you just lower your voice and knock kids down more slowly. If it starts getting too crowded you can impose a limit to the number of kids at a time, but that’s tough, and in my experience usually unnecessary. I find that most kids want to get knocked down just a few times, and then move on to other things. If you take care of those kids first, then you can focus on the die-hards for longer, and you’ll have more space to do it.

Of course, always make sure you let kids know when the end is coming. “Last knock-down for everyone, and then I’m going to be done.”

Most common injuries in this game are two kids bonking heads, which is preventable by the adult watching to make sure there’s a fall-zone before knocking someone down, and leg getting bent funny when falling, which is preventable by the adult paying attention to legs when you’re knocking someone down. When someone gets hurt, of course stop to comfort them. But usually after a momentary pause I ask, “Do you want to stop, or keep playing,” and usually they say, “Keep playing!”

Suggested Reading for 8/24/13

Right! So, starting work really cuts into my blogging time. Who knew?

But seriously, this was my first few days at Children’s Community School, and I’m super pumped. Kids don’t start for another two weeks, so we’re planning and discussing and learning, and it’s great. My colleagues are kind and thoughtful and experienced and dedicated, and I can’t wait to spend the year working with them. In all likelihood I’ll have a recurring “dispatches from preschool” feature on this blog soon, where I discuss what we’re up to. But we’ll see.

Anyway, I hope to keep up 2 blog posts a week. Can he do it? Stay tuned!

suggestedreadingIn the mean time, while I didn’t have much time for reading this week, here’s a few things I think are worth your while.

First off this hilarious, awesome idea. I’ve never really liked those magnets that come in most preschools these days, with big plastic handles. But this is a genius use for them. Faces! Pipecleaner hair! Hilarious.

Next, from the always-intriguing Brainpickings, some thoughts on how children perceive and understand metaphors. Not especially practical, but will make you go, “Hmmm!”

A great story from Picklebums on building children’s self-help skills by simply being patient and not stepping in to help. If this sounds like you, you’re doing it right.

From Teacher Tom, some thoughts on the transition from play-based preschool to more traditionally structured elementary school. Reason for hope.

Have a great weekend!

Tips for Starting Preschool

foodforthoughtIt’s that time of year: school is starting. And for a certain group of apprehensive families, school is starting for the first time ever. The first transition to preschool is a fraught, scary, weird transition, and though it’ll all be okay in the end, you want to negotiate the process with as little pain as possible—for your child AND for you.

Making the transition easier on your child

By far the best thing you can do for your child is to have clear, consistent routines for drop-off and pick-up. Try to establish a drop-off ritual: for instance, walk around the room together saying hi to people, read one book together, give a hug, and then goodbye. If you say you’re going to leave after one book, you must leave after one book. Your child is scared about this transition already, he will be way more scared if he thinks he can’t trust what you say. If you say, “It’s time to go,” and then you stay ten more minutes, does that mean you might be lying when you say, “I’ll come back for you after lunch”? I know, if your child is crying it’s very hard to leave, but if you said you were going to, you have to—that’s how you build trust, and predictability, and stability.

When you’re leaving, do your best to put on a brave face. What will make the transition easiest for your child is for them to see that you have complete trust in the school. So even if you’re holding back tears yourself (see below), give a smile and a hug and say, “I’ll see you later!” and walk out the door. If you need to pull yourself together, that’s totally okay—just do it out of view of your child. Perhaps in the lobby, where there’ll be half a dozen other parents doing the same thing 😉

If your child is feeling sad or scared, don’t try to talk them out of their feelings: “Don’t be sad, sweetie! Look, Legos!” It just doesn’t work. He’s upset for legitimate reasons, that are worthy of your respect. Better to say, “I know you’re feeling bad about school right now. I hope you feel better soon. Right now it’s time for me to go.” Likewise, trying to distract your child—getting him involved in blocks and then sneaking away—buys you one clean getaway at the price of eroding your child’s trust in you. What he’ll learn is that he shouldn’t turn their back on you even for an instant, because you might disappear—and that’ll make the next goodbye even harder.

It can help for your child to have a tangible reminder of home and family to hang onto at school. A favorite blanky or stuffed animal is good, but equally helpful is a photograph of your family that he can carry around. In particularly hard seperations, it can help to leave a personal item of yours with your child—a bracelet you wear, perhaps, or a piece of your clothing. It reminds your child of you, and can oddly reassure him: it’s as if he’s thinking, “Well, she may not come back for me, but I know she’ll come back for her sweater!”

If it’s not seeming any easier for your child after four or five days, talk to your preschool teacher. Chances are your child cries for five minutes and then is ready to play—but you don’t get to see the good stuff, you just see the tears. (When it’s my classroom and I know the transition’s been tough, I often call a parent’s cell as soon as the child calms down, just to let them know things are okay.) Also, your teacher may be able to recommend some strategies that might help your child. But no matter what, remember: dealing with this is your teacher’s job. It’s not your responsibility to drop off a happy child every morning, and you shouldn’t feel bad about leaving them with a crying child. This is our job, and we’re good at it, and we’re prepared for it, and we’ve done it a thousand times. Don’t drop your child and sprint out the door, but don’t feel bad about going when it’s time to go.

Making the transition easier for you

It’s not uncommon for the start of preschool to be more upsetting for the parent than for the child. Your baby is leaving home—of course you’re upset!

If your child is playing happily at school and you’re the one who isn’t ready to leave, you can ask your teacher if it’s okay to stay and watch from the side for awhile. Alternately, ask if you can come early before pick up time, and either to join the class or just to watch from the window.

It can help both you and your child to spend some extra quality together during the first few weeks of school. Make special opportunities to bond and do fun things together; you’ll both feel good, and it will reinforce your relationship during this stressful time.

Make sure you get some support for yourself, if you’re feeling sad; there’s no reason to go through this normal stress alone. Talk to friends, other parents, relatives—they’ll help you feel better. If all else fails, after you drop your child off, walk straight from the classroom to the preschool director’s office; it’s part of her job to support parents too!

Overall, if you’re feeling upset about the transition, from your side or you child’s, don’t worry—it’s a normal feeling, and you’re not alone. Just remember, your child is taking his emotional cues from you, so do your best to put on a calm face in front of him. But take comfort in knowing that your teacher has been through this transition with literally hundreds of families, and yours is neither the hardest nor the easiest. Whatever you’re going through, it’s a normal part of starting school, and it’s going to be okay.

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Are you going through the transition to preschool? How’s it going? Or if you’ve gone through it in the past, what made it easier? Share your experiences in the comments section.