5 FUN Back-to-School Picture Books that Ease Anxiety and Foster Positive Feelings

There is no way around it- whether you have a little one starting school for the first time, or a child heading back to those first few grades, starting school is an anxiety inducer. But your positive attitude towards the situation (and some great picture books) can alleviate the stress and help pump up your child’s confidence and optimism about school.

 

  1. 618RPzbO2WL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Pete the Cat, Rocking in my School Shoes, by Eric Litwin and James Dean https://www.amazon.ca/Pete-Cat-Rocking-School-Shoes/dp/0061910244

This is a fun easy read that shows children there are lots of great spots in school, and it’s ‘all good’!

 

  1.  51q9Smmke-L._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes https://www.amazon.ca/Wemberly-Worried-Kevin Henkes/dp/0061857769/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472559642&sr=1-1&keywords=Wemberly+Worried

You think you’re worried about school- well Wemberly worries about everything! How will she handle her first day? This is one of my absolute favorites! It provides support, understanding, encouragement and inspiration.

 

  1. willow_s_whispers.jpg Willow’s Whispers, by Lana Button and Tania Howells https://www.amazon.ca/Willows-Whispers-Lana-Button/dp/1554537444/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560178&sr=1-1&keywords=Willow%27s+Whispers

When Willow is at school her words come out as soft and shy as a secret. But not for long! Willow will inspire young ones to use their own big strong voice in school. This story also builds inclusiveness and empathy for every voice in the class.

 

4. My Picture Books My Teacher’s Not Here! by Lana Button and Christine Battuz https://www.amazon.com/Teachers-Not-Here-Lana-Button/dp/1771383569

Kitty proves to herself that she can not only get through an unexpected day at school, she can even have fun!!

 

  1. 51n2oEIWNQL._SX495_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers https://www.amazon.ca/Day-Crayons-Quit-Drew-Daywalt/dp/0399255370/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560981&sr=1-1&keywords=the+day+the+crayons+quit

…because, hey, when you’re anxious, you need a good laugh! And I love the message that we have the freedom to think outside the box and create new and exciting things— that’s the fresh start opportunity waiting for your child at school— like a brand new box of crayons!

 

Lend an understanding ear to your child when they tell you about their back-to-school anxieties. Let them know that these are common, understandable emotions that will go away in time. And fess up to your child that many of us are feeling the same way during this annual stress-filled transition. But while you remain supportive, concentrate your words, your body language and your attitude on the positive exciting aspects and opportunities of school. Hang on! In a few weeks, we will all be in the swing of things!

Surviving Surprisingly Messy Milestones

Your kid’s teeth track your parenting journey.  Dental milestones mark your child’s growth and life experiences, from infancy to adulthood. As a parent we get to feel the gamut of emotions while experiencing childhood once again, from the passenger seat. Some milestone markers feel pretty awesome. Nothing’s better than sharing our child’s  excitement and delight when they proudly reach a milestone. But some are painful. And when your kid hurts, you hurt.

So I’m doing a little internal mom dance because—I’ve ticked off my final tooth milestone as a parent! Not that I’m keeping score; but I’ve gone three times round the cutting teeth track, three trips down the loose tooth-lost tooth- tooth fairy trail, 3 bouts of braces, and now my third and final time nursing a teetering-on-adult child through wisdom teeth removal.

 

It’s been a journey- times three. So many awesome moments! The thrill of seeing those first teeth poke through! The anticipation of having those same teeth fall out, or having those braces finally off. (And, let’s be honest, that final ortho payment!!)

A NEW TRIP EVERY TIME But as a mom of three I experienced, over and over again, that just because I’d been through a milestone with one child, didn’t mean I was any more prepared to do it again next time around. Our kids are very different, so each of my daughters’ teeth experiences were unique. Where one breezed through cutting molars, another spiked crazy fevers and developed a rash. One child attacked any baby tooth that threatened to be wiggly with obsessive intention. While another one battled tooth-losing anxiety; leaving teeth dangling from her gums like Chiclets.

SURVIVING THE MESSY ONES But milestones should be celebrated… right? Let’s be honest, some are surprisingly messy. Uncomfortable. Painful. As an Early Childhood Educator I came into parenting armed with a list of how-to’s for successfully steering a child through growth and development. As a mother, I experienced, over and over again, that my daughters obviously were not consulted with this list. I had to accept that, sometimes, in order to make it to the other side, you have to think on your feet, throw away that list, and even break a few of your Well, I would never do that rules. Because when you and your child are stuck in the middle of a messy milestone, just like in THE BEAR HUNT, you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it- you gotta go through it! And the right way to survive a messy milestone- is whatever way you can!

So what do you do, when a milestone isn’t going according to plan?

ACCEPT SUPPORT I mean real, non-judgy support, from friends or family who might not have the answers but do have some time to listen and maybe even an extra hand to help you out. Let your friend come by to give you a hand. Take your mother-in-law up on the offer to help. You need to be at your best when going through a difficult milestone. Because, just like in an emergency flight, you have to put the oxygen on yourself first, before you help someone else. And when things calm down (and they will!) it can be your turn to help your friend pick up the pieces.

FIND ADVICE THAT WORKS FOR YOU Look for advice, from books, from parenting sites, from friends. But you have to sift through this advice to find the tips that work for you. You already know how sleeping through the night or toileting is supposed to go. You need help getting through your child’s unique experience. And although no one has been through the exact thing, a tip here or there that you can tweak a bit can be the perfect fit for you.

My Top Tooth Tips that I found most helpful are:

TEETHINGIMG-2796(2) Wet a baby facecloth and stick it in the freezer. It’s a great teether!

 

 

 

 

IMG-2797 WIGGLY TEETH– For those wanting relief or a little help getting that tooth out, fold a piece of paper towel and wet it. Biting on this is soothing for those who hate that ‘wiggling feeling’, and it can be just the trick to having that tooth finally let go.

 

 

braces colourful equipment healthcare

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

BRACES: Have their favorite soft foods ready, for up to three days after each tightening. And when they first go on, be prepared for some insecurity. It’s a tough age, and adding braces can make your pre-teen/teen even more self-conscious. (I always found that a little retail therapy was much appreciated at this stage!)

 

 

 

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WISDOM TEETH: Plan it well! They are going to need 2 weeks before they recover. This can be challenging when dealing with graduations, summer jobs or starting school. I made the huge mistake of not planning enough time for healing and sent my daughter off to collage with an ice pack and pain medication.

 

 

 

DANCE IN THE RAIN Vivian Green said, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Parenting is a journey of maneuvering our children from one milestone to another. We have to steal some joy in the bad times, along with enjoying the good times. I’ve endured some pretty scary nights, with a child who is sick and suffering. Yes, I am upset that my daughter feels so sick, but in this moment I am so grateful she is snuggling into me. I’ve been surprised at myself, even felt guilty at times, that during a crisis I’ve laughed- at the most absurd thing. Give yourself permission to find a moment of joy in a bad situation. It can honestly clear the air, ease the tension, and give you the extra breath you need to keep going.

And while I’m at it, eat, and sleep. Don’t be a parenting martyr and ignore self-care because you are temporarily stuck in a tough milestone with your child. Taking time for self-care not only gives you the strength you need to parent during trying times, it also models for your child that self care is an imperative part of maintaining strong mental and physical health.

FIND SUPPORT IN LITERACY for you and your child. Nothing relieves a mind more than hearing that other people have survived a similar situation (or one much worse). You not only gain advice from literary support, you also feel the reassurance that you are not alone in your struggle.

Pick your milestone and you will find books to help you and your child.

My new favorite book on the losing-teeth topic is:

1771386150 WADE’S WIGGLY ANTLERS written by Louise Bradford and awesomely illustrated by MY TEACHER’S NOT HERE!’s Christine Battuz (Kids Can Press) https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=Wade%27s%20Wiggly%20Antlers#internal=1

It’s about a young moose named Wade who notices that his antlers are loose!

 

readlearnrepeat.blog recently listed some great books “All About Teeth” I really like the non fiction:

0823422062 THE TOOTH BOOK: A GUIDE TO HEALTHY TEETH AND GUMS by Edward Miller (Holiday House)  https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-tooth-book-a-guide/9780823422067-item.html?ikwid=the+tooth+book&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=4

 

Un-Planning Perfect Summer Memories for Your Kids

So it’s the second week of summer and you might be feeling summer planning stress. As much as I tried to enjoy schedule free days when my three girls were young, in summer I often turned me into my own version of cruise director Julie from The Love Boat. For the under 40 crowd, Julie carried around a clip board in this 70’s TV show, with an endless list of perfect vacation activities. I tackled many summer days stressed to make this the best summer for my kids, and piled up the mom guilt if there wasn’t a fun activity, an organized day trip, or a magazine worthy summer snack (because hello, this was pre-Pinterest days- thank God!)  As a seasoned early childhood educator and Mom of three girls who all survived summer breaks through post secondary education, I’m here to tell you to enjoy your young child’s school free days— Because the secret to perfecting super summer memories is all in the un-planning.

Looking back, my girls say that some of their favorite summer memories involved a handful of water balloons that turned into days of entertainment. (I’m not joking- days! They wouldn’t throw them- they kept them, named them, created little water balloon habitats for them out of tissues and shoe boxes, and wept for them when they broke.) My girls spent hours playing store, or performing in home made shows. Some of their best summer experiences were those unplanned afternoons where adventure was created with the spark of their own imaginations. So here are 3 easy steps for un-planning perfect summer memories for your kids:

Time! Your kids need time. I’m talking unstructured, unplanned, uninterrupted time- with no screens within scrolling distance. Not every day. And I’m certainly not telling you to cancel your vacation. But now and then, strike a few things off that list of awesome summer activities and let your kids figure out what their day looks like. If your kid’s typical summer day is buckling in and out of car seats to get from swim dates to bowling to junior tai chi in the park then they won’t get the chance to stretch their imaginations and find out what adventure lies just past, “I’m bored.”

You’ve got to steel yourself. It’s kind of like those parents who sleep train. You know the beginning will be tough, but it will be worth it in the end. And, just like sleep training, you’ve got to trust the process. When the whining and lamenting starts about how very awful this incredibly boring day is, just shoo them back to wherever they came from- the backyard, the playroom, or wherever they are congregating -and tell them to ‘go play’. It’s common, during this transitional phase, to hear lots of groaning and moaning, but trust me! The magic starts right after the last, “There’s nothing to do!”

Warning: If kids aren’t used to stretching their imaginations, it might take a while. But every child has a magic sense of play inside them, and when you give a child time and space, they will find a spark. Not only that, but creativity and imagination, like many things, grow when you feed it. The more practice your kids get at using their imaginations and coming up with their own fun, the better and faster they will get at it. At some point the whining will stop and there will be an eery quiet…Your parent instinct kicks in… ‘What are they doing??’ You’ll head into the room to see spaces being created, characters divvied out, props being gathered. It might look strange at first. What exactly are they doing? You see the spark of imagination ignited in their eyes. That, mom and dad, is playing.

Support the Spark. Nothing supports a spark more than adding a few simple props. If the game involves a store, hand them a few pens. If they are creating a circus, give them an empty box or two. Clothespins, bed sheets, a deck of cards- simple props added to a spark of imagination are like dry kindling to a campfire.

Warning: Don’t butt in! Nothing squashes a spark faster than a well-intentioned adult who takes over the game. “You should add the clips here so the tent is more stable,” will have your kids abandoning the game and reaching for their iPads faster than you can say Fortnite. As a seasoned ECE who’s stepped in too far and squashed a spark on more than one occasion, I’m here to tell you that there’s an art to this. Position a few enticing props in their range, (like placing food within reach of an un-trusting stray) make a broad statement like, “Hey, maybe you’d like to use these,” then leave them bee. You can spy on them from the next room. Believe me, you’re gonna feel your kid’s excitement when you hear them exclaim, “Hey cool! Let’s use these for….” And they are off!

Ignore the Mess. The good part, when my kids played store, was that they created an intricate dramatic play game playing with each other for hours. And I am here to tell you, as I place my Early Childhood Educator cap on, that this type of play is essential for your child’s growth and development, and will make them a better student come September. Children develop problem-solving skills, increase their communication skills, learn to appreciate and deal with multiple perspectives, all while building their confidence as an innovator, and increasing their imagination and creativity. Tell me those things won’t come in handy when put in groups at school, told to work together, come up with an innovative idea for their project…etc.

Okay, so the bad news about this type of high-level dramatic play is that it can trash at least one of the rooms in your house. Not permanently! Just in the- ‘this room looks like it sneezed’ kind of trashed. Teeny tiny ‘price tag’ paper would be everywhere. Every toy and stuffed animal was out of it’s ‘tidied up’ spot and displayed. The mess would make me crazy! But those hours of play were worth it. And honestly, my girls are 19, 21 and 24 years old. There is no better feeling as a mom who no longer tidies up toys, than listening her girls reminisce, “Hey, remember when we played store! That was the best!”

So un-plan a few days, and let your kids create some great summer memories.

Some of my favorite stories about that magical sense of play are:

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The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gillman

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=The%20Wonderful%20Pigs%20of%20Jillian%20Jiggs#internal=1

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My Think-a-Ma-Jink by Dave Whammond

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=My%20Think-aMa-Jink#internal=1

 

0340988193 Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/stanleys-stick/9780340988190-item.html

 

 

Parent Prep- Are YOU Ready for Preschool?

You survived a nine-month pregnancy, 20 hours of labour, years on no sleep and toddler tantrums. So…the start of preschool? You can handle it.
You’ve prepared your child by talking up all the excitement waiting for him; his new dinosaur knapsack is packed. But what about you? How will you feel when your job, as a parent is to walk away for the first time?
As a preschool teacher, I’ve witnessed more than 18 years of dramatic farewell scenes: shell-shocked parents unable to give their upset preschooler a confident send-off because they are suddenly emotional themselves. Letting go is a powerful thing. So prepare yourself.
Beware little ears. Don’t confess your preschool jitters to your friend if Jimmy is beside you watching Dora. Keep preschool discussions with your child-and around him- positive, light and simple.

Have a Plan. And let him in on it. “Mommy’s taking you to school. You’ll have lots of fun. I’ll be back when school is over.”

Know the rules. You probably received a policy manual at registration. Read it. It outlines the program, routine and policies. You’ll know if she needs indoor shoes, or a labeled cup for snack. Don’t promise she can carry Mr. Blanky around, and then find out it’s against the rules.

Prepare for the Kiss-and Fly. The big day! You both march confidently into school. The teacher greets you at the door. Then it hits you like a bag of hammers: “This is my baby’s classroom. And I’m not invited.” It’s like arriving too soon at the departure gate with security telling you to move it. You consider hanging around for a minute. Don’t! Your job is to send the message to your child that school is a safe, fun place. By standing there looking doubtful, you set his radar off: “There’s something to be scared of.”

And the Oscar goes to… Here’s where your high school acting career comes in handy. Breathe. Smile. And say in a calm, confident tone, “Have lots of fun. I love you. I’ll be back when school is over.”

Beware the Velcro trap. One kiss. One hug. Then walk. Do not get snagged in a Velcro grip as your daughter decides she’d rather go home and watch The Wiggles. Stay calm. Her teacher will take her (not unlike removing a kitten from a wooly sweater) and comfort her. Keep walking. I mean it. Mentally block out the crying with a well-practiced mantra such as, “She’s in a safe place.”

Do not play Let’s Make a Deal. This is no time to bargain, so don’t promise a Strawberry Shortcake doll if she stops crying, and don’t cancel Christmas if she doesn’t. And remember, by lingering you make it worse, sending the message: “I cry, Mommy stays; I cry harder, Mommy stays longer.”

Watch those claws. They expect you to leave your hysterical baby while some other adult comforts her? Back off Mama Bear, and trust the teacher. Believe me; we are very good at hugging, reassuring and distracting. The faster your child realizes her teacher is caring and trustworthy the faster she’ll adjust to her new preschool. I promise she will always love you best.

Hold the waterworks. Unless you bring your own mom, no one’s comforting you. Sorry. You can drop the tough act in the parking lot; there’ll probably be a whole group of you. Go have coffee and pass the tissues. Chances are that before the foam cools on your latte; your son will have stopped crying and started tackling his first puzzle.

Don’t count on clinginess. Your daughter might be one of those kids who bounds into school without a backwards glance, let alone a kiss goodbye. Guess what? This may break you heart. Remind yourself that an easy transition is a blessing.

Keep your end of the bargain. When school is dismissed, be there to greet your little scholar, not stuck in a Starbucks’ line up. It’s crucial. Minutes can feel like an eternity to an anxious child-especially when he sees all the other mommies and daddies collecting their charges.

Give it time. Your child may reenact the dramatic farewell scene for a while; three to five weeks of regular attendance is a typical adjustment period.

Your rookie preschooler is entering a new stage of development. And like most stages, it often starts out rocky. Need a reminder? Just reconnect with a new parent with that, “I’m so tired I’m throw-up sick’ look, or one who’s desperate for a toddler to give up the bottle. Trust me, in a few weeks your child’s preschool class will be a room full of happy adjusted children. And your child will be one of them.

These tried and true tips were originally published in an article I wrote in Today’s Parent Magazine, Sept. 06

THIS is How You STOP Bullying!

STOP Bullying?

Willow Finds a Way

Stop bullying. Stamp out bullying. Stand up to bullying. We all want it. The Ontario Ministry of Education declares the week of  Nov. 15-21st to be Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week. https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/safeschools/prevention.html During this time we are sure to see lots of slogans and calls to action to ‘stand up to the bully’. But if we really want to stop bullying, here’s where we start-

Stop Labeling Children-We need to ban the bully label in our schools! A child will become the label you give them. When examining an inappropriate social situation, we need to look at what has happened and who is involved. But when we label a child, “You are a bully,” that child can take on this character, and live up to that expectation.

Yes- we need to stop hurtful behaviour. Yes- anyone who is victimized absolutely needs to be heard, understood, and protected against further abuse. But in order to stop conflict from re-occurring we must recognize that each child in the scenario is an individual who is struggling.

I’d like to point out that my picture book; Willow Finds a Way (Kids Can Press, 2013) is often described as an anti-bullying book. It is on Publisher’s Weekly’s List of Anti-Bullying Books and is on the Canadian Children Book Centre’s List of Books for Pink Shirt Day. But the word ‘bully’ is never used in the story. You can acknowledge inappropriate actions without placing labels on a child.

That kid you are calling ‘a bully’ needs help-If we want to stop bullying we need to acknowledge that the child acting aggressively or in a hurtful manner to others is an individual who needs and deserves help in recognizing their behaviour as hurtful and then given tools to help change that behavior. If we label a child as a ‘bully’ and teach everyone else how to stand up to that child and stay away from that child, we are giving up on that child. The bullying will only continue because that is what that child knows. This is not only hurtful to that child’s peers but is also hurtful to the child who needs and deserves guidance in acting appropriately. We are constantly preaching to children how to put out the fire of bullying, without trying to figure out where the fire is coming from.

If we are successful in helping a child understand that in a particular situation, they acted inappropriately, and we then give that child tools to change that behavior, strategies to try, different words to use, then we stop bullying.

In “Willow Finds a Way”, Kristabelle creates a list of all the children who can come to her birthday party. Everyone is invited. But then Kristabelle begins ruling the class, crossing names off her list if anyone crosses her.

Why? Kristabelle is a child desperate for friends. But she’s going about it the wrong way. She needs help. Whenever possible, we need to find out why a child acts out in a hurtful way to others. Is it because they lack impulse control? Does it stem from anxiety? Or is this child’s ability to perceive how others are feeling (empathy) not as developed as it should be? These are not easy fixes. They require dedication, commitment, understanding and consistency on the part of adults working with young children. But if you can help a child act in a more socially acceptable manner you not only stop the bullying, you also help that child lead a more successful social life.

Find the Root Cause According to Robin Rettman, Director of Research and Communications for CPI, an international training organization committed to best practices and safe behavior management methods that focus on prevention, and the editor of the Journal of Safe Management of Disruptive and Assaultive Behavior and the Supportive Stance, bullying is a learned behavior. In his article, “What to Say to Stop Someone From Bullying” http://www.crisisprevention.com/Blog/October-2015/Stop-Bullying Rettman states that, in every situation there is a root cause for inappropriate behavior. It’s our job, as educators, to figure out what that is. In Willow Finds a Way, Kristabelle wants friends.

What is the Child Gaining from This Behaviour? There is a function that this behaviour is serving for the child, according to Rettman. They are getting something out of it. Is it a feeling of control when they often feel out of control? Whatever it is, we need to find out. In Willow Finds a Way, everyone is doing exactly what Kristabelle tells them to do when she threatens them. She perceives this as having friends.

Develop Replacement Behaviors– Children are developing social skills as they mature. It is common for children to have an immature perception of what they need. Sometimes they learn inappropriate behaviours that appear to be helping them succeed at reaching their perceived need- their goal. If a child has learned an inappropriate way to get what they want, and doesn’t or can’t acknowledge that it is wrong, that these behaviors are harming others, then we need to step in and help them establish different behaviours. Rettman refers to these as replacement behaviors. In Willow Finds a Way, Willow gets the message across to Kristabelle that when she acts in a mean, threatening, demanding way she won’t have friends. But when given the chance, Kristabelle learns new behaviors that include genuine apologizing and inclusion, that allow her to experience the rewards of true friendships. As educators we need to allow children to move past their inappropriate behavior and help them develop new words, new actions and new behaviors that help them achieve healthy social goals.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could solve every problem within the pages of a picture book. This is not easy work. In my more than 25 years as an educator I find teaching empathy to a child who does not naturally obtain it to be one of the biggest challenges- but one of the most important! Picture books, like Willow Finds a Way, can help in this effort, as they speak to the child in a scenario they relate to. They can spark conversation, can be the springboard for setting new goals, and can inspire a feeling of hope and a desire for change. Every child is worth the effort.

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https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/willow-finds-a-way/9781554538423-item.html

What’s in Your Lunch?

What’s in YOUR Lunch?

We’ve had two exciting inquiries pop up this week, both relating to what the children are eating. A child, who was enjoying snack with a group of children, brought to our attention that there was a seed in his orange. “That’s very interesting! Does anyone else have a seed in their food?” That’s all it took! A book was soon being constructed, and the children were eager to add a page to “I Have Seeds in my Lunch”. Our Health and Nutrition strand definitely came into play as it was determined that any food that contained seeds was a healthy choice.

After a quick trip to our library, we soon had lots of reference materials regarding fruit and seeds and our science table was transformed with donations of seeds found and labeled.

And things really got interesting when it was discovered that some seeds were on the inside of the fruit, while others were on the outside! Extracting those strawberry seeds took a great amount of patience and concentration! (pic)Image

Our light table made a perfect spot for displaying baggies of seeds. The children organized the seeds from biggest to smallest. We will soon discover what happens when those seeds are planted in soil! I can’t wait to share with them the beautiful picture book If You Hold a Seed by Elly MacKay Image

I also shared Karma Wilson’s beautiful Mortimer’s First Garden with the children, and we discussed the miracle of growth from one little seed.Image

And it just so happens that another child brought in chopsticks to eat his sushi. The children were amazed by this utensil, which got us talking about how we eat our food. The story, Maggie’s Chopsticks by Alan Woo came to mind, Image

so I quickly ran back to our library. It wasn’t available (heading to the public library this week!) so I was introduced to a new story, Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal Image

We began charting information about whether we prefer to use a fork, a spoon, or chopsticks with different types of foods. 

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The next day, upon further reflection, the children realized that there were lots of foods they ate using just their hands, so we added a column to our chart. Image

During lunch, the conversation was extended as we observed how our friends were eating. We decided to take a survey,

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And it was determined that most of the children ate their lunch with their hands. This brought on the conversation about the importance of washing our hands before lunch!

All this talk about food inspired a change in our dramatic center. There’s now a bustling restaurant set up, complete with signs and a menu. The cash register is being put to great use and the children are doing a terrific job regulating who prepares the food, who delivers the food and who will be the customers.

Through a lot of exciting exploration we covered every strand of learning with these two inquiries. As Elly MacKay so beautifully illustrates, “It truly is magical what can come from one little seed!”

“To Elf or Not to Elf??” that is the Question!!

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My girls are teenagers so I missed the “Elf on the Shelf” craze, created by Carol Aebersold and Shanda Bell http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/elf-on-the-shelf/9780976990703-item.html

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So when this year’s creative elf photos once again began appearing on Facebook, I was thinking, “I would have totally been into that when my girls were young!” So a Facebook status from a great friend (who just happens to be an amazing grade one teacher) sparked my plan to have an elf on the shelf appear in my kindergarten classroom. I put my own status on Facebook…and that’s when the controversy began!

It seems that people feel very strongly about this little elf- on both sides of the shelf. Teachers and early childhood educators who I highly respect posted what a terrific experience it is for the children, how much joy and excitement it’s added to their class. Other teachers and early childhood educators who I highly respect stated that the elf reminds them of the boogy man, and that those eyes watching your every move gives them the creeps. Even my daughter in second year psychology sent me a private message, “Mom we read a study in child psychology that the elf on the shelf can be damaging to children.” Yikes!

I did some poking around and found that experts have chimed in on both sides of this elf craze. David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D wrote in Psychology Today that the “Elf on the Shelf should be Benched”. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/plato-pop/201212/let-s-bench-the-elf-the-shelf He states that the elf on the shelf is a ‘steroid shot for the Santa lie.” He says our children will mistrust us if we ‘lie’ to them about Santa. He also states that promoting this belief promotes credulity in children, which is a gullibility and propensity to believe things that are false.

“But where does imagination and creativity fit in there?” I have to wonder.  I have visions of Dr. Johnson walking through my dramatic center saying, “No you aren’t the mom. And he can’t possibly be the dog- he’s a boy.” How many stories do we read to children that ‘suspend reality’.  We’d have to throw out everything from Franklin to Calvin and Hobbs to Harry Potter.

Melinda Wenner Moyer for Slate Magazine says that believing in Santa helps children develop everything from cognitive development to ‘theory of mind’ (helping children predict and understand other people’s behavior).  She points to studies that show that fantasy play bolsters children’s reasoning skills and is therapeutic for children going through a difficult time. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/the_kids/2012/12/the_santa_lie_is_the_big_christmas_con_hurting_our_kids.html

So I am once again very thankful that my teaching partner is so open to my ideas- I got my elf! The storybook was wrapped up when the children arrived in class. We read the story. And a survey was quickly constructed over what to call our elf. Votes were tallied and his name is Zoomy Caloomy. Our one rule (as stated in the book) is that you don’t touch him. This has proven to be a great exercise in social development, as the children understand that Zoomy is our classroom elf and that, as tempting as it is sometimes, they have a responsibility to their peers to keep this rule.

But they do know that they can talk to him. Nothing is more precious than seeing a four-year-old boy with his elbows propped up on a shelf having a heart to heart talk with his elf!

And they know that they can write letters and draw pictures for him. The literacy center has been packed with children sending notes to Zoomy.

Our day begins with joy, magic and excitement as the children search for Zoomy’s new spot.

I don’t go on the website, or watch any tv shows. I don’t focus on him watching their every move. I don’t discuss the implications of being ‘caught’ being ‘bad’. (ever). In our classroom we know that in kindergarten we learn- about numbers and letters…and about being kind to each other and being responsible for ourselves. And when we learn we make mistakes. When we’ve made mistakes we try again next time. And Santa will still come.

I don’t see it, as Dr. Johnson described as “the fun you have tricking your children into believing something false”, but I see Santa and his little helper elf as a way of encouraging creativity, and imagination. And in terms of Christmas, it’s a hands-on concrete way for very young children to grasp the abstract understanding of that incredible gift that was given to us on that day. I’m keeping the elf, and focusing on the magic, the joy and the love that Christmas brings.