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

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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.

Don’t Throw the “Bully” out with the Bathwater

It was anti-bullying week. We read ONE by Kathryn Otoshi,

http://www.amazon.ca/One-Kathryn-Otoshi/dp/0972394648

about a group of colours who stand against a ‘hot head.’Image

The Five Finger Retell approach is an excellent way to engage children in discussion. We use it a lot. And so I asked:

  1. Who was in the story?
  2. Where did the story take place?
  3. What was the problem?
  4. How was the problem solved?
  5. This story reminds me of…..

The children accepted readily that the colours were the characters, and that it took place ‘just in a space.’ We talked about the problem of Red treating Blue meanly, and how 1 helped him out.

The next day we read the story again. My question to the children was, “Is Red a bully?” and “Was Red a bully in the end.”

I love this book because we aren’t casting Red as the eternal evil villain never to be trusted, but as someone who has made a mistake, and who is given the tools to try again.

And so the next day I read my book WILLOW FINDS A WAY.Image

http://www.amazon.ca/Willow-Finds-Way-Lana-Button/dp/1554538424

 

The children are familiar with the story and so I asked them to compare the story ONE with WILLOW FINDS A WAY.  The children made the connection that Kristabelle is like Red, because they both act in a mean way. They made the connection that Willow is like 1 because both characters found a way to stick up for their friends and say, “no” to the mean behavior.

And in both stories, the ‘mean character’ is given a chance to redeem themselves.

We do need to stand up to bullying. But there needs to be education and empathy for all children. (Especially in early childhood!!)As much energy needs to go into coaching a child to act with kindness, to help them find the right words, to redirect anger and disappointment in an appropriate way, and consider how their actions affect others, as we put into teaching children to stand up to bullying.

I say to my class all the time, “In kindergarten we learn. We learn about letters. We learn about numbers. And we learn to be kind to each other. And while we learn, we make mistakes.”

Children are terrified to be labeled the bully. They are often as devastated by their mean behavior as the child they’ve been inappropriate with. Often I’m consoling both the ‘victim’ and the ‘villain’ at the same time. If our conversations go beyond, “Say you’re sorry” to finding out why there was upset feelings, what are some words we can say to express that, what can we do next time… then the child who was ‘hurt’ often feels like they’ve been heard in a more valid way. And we’ve given the ‘villain’ an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and some tools for trying again next time.

It’s my hope that conversation around how we treat each other continues well after this week! It will, in my class. And I’ll be using picture books to help me along the way.

Age appropriate Remembrance Day activities for young children

 

Remembrance Day is a tricky topic that can be difficult to broach with young children.  Throughout my 20 years working in early childhood education, I’ve been in centers where worksheet poppies were completed by children, but conversation about what and why never took place, because ‘They won’t understand.” And at other times I’ve seen children scared and brought to tears with way too many details. How do you help children develop an understanding of this very important day, in a way that’s developmentally appropriate and within their realm of proximity?

I rely heavily on picture books (what a shocker!) to guide us through.

 

This year the conversation of Remembrance Day came up in my full day kindergarten class when a 4 year-old girl said, “Why do you have a red flower on your coat? My mommy has one too.”

 

We opened the conversation up to the class and the children offered up information they knew.  “It’s because people fought in a war.”

 

I introduced the cover of A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson, illustrated by Ron Lightburn.

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http://www.amazon.ca/A-Poppy-Remember-Heather-Patterson/dp/0545999812

We compared the poppy on my jacket to the real poppies that grew in the field where soldiers fought a long time ago. And we talked about how poppies help us remember how brave those soldiers were, and how thankful we are that they protected us.

 

Red and black paint, a few poppies, and the cover of this book and Linda Granfield’s Where Poppies Grow, are added to the creative table.

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http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/where-poppies-grow-a-world/9781550051469-item.html

 And children began painting their own poppies.

 We added the words poppy, poppies, remember and Remembrance Day to our word wall bank, and children began writing about the poppies.

The books are available to the children to look through, but I don’t read all the details to the whole group. I know the books well, so there are no ‘surprise pictures’ of inappropriate photos or details.

A few boys were very interested in the pictures, so they spent a great deal of time looking through the book, asking questions about some of the topics, and making their own book, (which they later shared with the class) while other children were comfortable with the idea of painting a poppy to help them remember the bravery.

I did manage to redirect a couple of very active 5 year-old boys (who are ‘in to’ super hero play) by pointing out that the soldiers on the cover of Where Poppies Grow were real live super heroes. That peaked their interest and they abandoned their rough-house play to spend some time at the creative table. (For a few minutes anyway 🙂 )

 Later that day I introduced this poem to the class, sung to the tune of Bingo

 There is a flower red and black that helps me to remember

P-O-P-P-Y,      P-O-P-P-Y,      P-O-P-P-Y

It helps me to remember

The poem was written out on ledger paper, and by the end of the day some of the girls were printing their own copies of the poem.

 

I use these great books as a reference and a point of discussion for the children, but I use my hands-down favorite Remembrance Day picture book Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion, by Jane Barcley, illustrated by Renne Benoit as a way to help the children make a safe but emotional connection to Remembrance Day.

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 http://www.amazon.ca/Proud-Peacock-Brave-Lion-Barclay/dp/0887769519

 A young child asks his grandpa questions about his experiences in the war. Grandpa explains that when he first wore a uniform he was ‘as proud as a peacock.’ He spent most of his days on the ship ‘as busy as a beaver’ and when he was in a dangerous situation he pretended to be ‘as brave as a lion.’ The illustrations are a perfect match to the story.

The very scary and very sad aspects of war are touched upon in this beautiful story, in a safe manner that young children can absorb.

As the young child watches his grandpa lay down a wreath in memory of his wartime friend, the child suggests that he and his grandpa be elephants, ‘because elephants never forget’.