In case you haven’t noticed from the stores decking their halls since October, the holiday season is upon us. Whether that means Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Three Kings Day, St. Nicholas Day, New Years, or more, I am sure I am not versed in; it is the time of year people give gifts.
I do a lot of reading and writing for my job, and this time of year, I repeatedly see titles or requests for expert opinion on the “Best Gifts for Girls” or “Top Boy Gifts in 2020”.
It makes me cringe. Here’s Why.
I thought we were moving past all this “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”? If you don’t know my full background with gender theory, I invite you to go back and read my post, “Boys Can Like Pink Too!”
Long story short, I studied and wrote my master thesis on the topic. Erasing gender stereotypes has been a quest for my early childhood career.
Just to clarify, I am not saying give your son a barbie doll if he doesn’t want one or your daughter a toolset if she has no interest. But, I AM saying don’t judge a gift by the gender of the child receiving it and don’t make assumptions a child will like a gift based on their gender.
Children today are much more likely to play with something previously deemed gender-specific for the opposite sex.
My oldest son loves all things reptile and Batman, and he makes bracelets out of those tiny (annoying) rubber bands. My youngest is an engineer at heart, loves science kits, and he owns a sparkly pink jacket because he loves to dance and thinks it makes him look like Michael Jackson.
Kids don’t fit into a one size fits all gift guide.
One of the best ways to gauge what a child likes is to ask them. I am also a big fan of the old school method of providing them with a catalog and having them put their initials next to items they wanted.
I was surprised this year by my six-year-old picking out a set of pajamas!
If you ask their input, there is no guessing. To help your relatives out (especially grandmas and such), create an online wishlist that you can pass out. Or send out a generic theme such as Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, Legos, or American Girl Dolls.
When you give a child gifts, include the gift receipt and make sure the parents know where to find it; if it ends up being a duplicate gift, no foul, they can just exchange it for something else.
Want something even better than a gift? Gift a child an experience or membership. Over the years, my children’s grandparents have purchased them memberships to museums, the zoo, put money towards summer camps, and paid for our Disney+ annual subscription.
You can give them a coupon for a weekend at your home and visiting a favorite place of their choosing. You can put money towards programs they want to participate in, like coding classes, magic school, or musical instrument lessons.
Gifts don’t have to be things; they can be experiences.
The long and short is, buy gifts based on who the child is and not what gender-specific marketed toy companies make you believe is appropriate.
If you are genuinely at a loss, buy a gift card to a popular store or site. I understand that some people find that to be impersonal, but I can tell you as the mother of two children under 10 – They LOVE it!
A gift card gives them the power to make their own decisions, which is an important skill when it comes to learning how to manage money.
Most importantly, though, a gift that comes from the heart will never be wrong. If you are taking time to choose the perfect gift for someone young or old, when your heart is in it, that is truly all that matters.
Music is a powerful tool. It evokes emotions, memories, cheers us up, provides energy, or allows us to wallow if that is our mood.
Music has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My parents played instruments growing up, my sisters and I played instruments and studied music, and I studied music as an undergrad.
Music surrounds us even when we don’t realize it. The birds singing in the trees is music. The hum and rhythm of the fish tank or dishwasher or the absent-minded whistling and humming we may do when working and thinking are music.
I am a huge supporter of arts and art education, and every year that I taught PreK, in addition to daily music and activities, I included a unit focused on music. Music is an incredible teaching tool, particularly when it comes to teaching our children about diversity and multiculturalism.
If you asked me to name my favorite musicians or composers, my immediate response would be Bon Jovi, Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald, Queen, Idina Menzel, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. That is a somewhat varied list, but those are just my TOP musicians.
Suppose you asked me to name music I enjoy and listen to regularly. In that case, I’d say classical, mostly piano and cello music, Broadway show tunes, country music, jazz standards, classic rock, 90’s rock, Edith Piaf, and choral music (particularly Rachmaninoff).
Then, I listen to other music types at various times just because I feel that vibe or want to hear something outside the box for me.
The point is music is hugely varied and can take us to many places and encourage us to learn more about the artist, the period, and the culture.
Music can be a window into other cultures for children and we should encourage them to learn more about those cultures.
Some music you can introduce to your class or children at home includes the following dance types:
Country Line Dancing
Play some videos and using a YouTube, or watch a tutorial to learn the basic steps with your child, and dance along! Children LOVE to dance, so play anything with a good beat, and they are sure to bop along!
My 6 year old has learned almost all of Michael Jackson’s live Billie Jean performance from simply watching and attempting to learn the steps!
Disney 2018 – Pro Latin
Next, tie that music in with books related to the culture and music they stem from. As you read through the books, you can branch-off based on your child’s questions or topics while reading.
As a final tie in, introduce your child to various instruments from different cultures. This can be through visual aids such as computers or books, or if you can get your hands on some instruments or see a live performance or demonstration even better!
The more you expose your child to different types of music, the more you expose them to different cultures. It provides windows of opportunity to learn and experience, and it begins to create an understanding that all cultures have something unique to add to the human collective.
Teachers have been a topic of interest of late. Many are preparing their classrooms both virtual and face-to-face and some have already begun teaching for the year. I spent 14 years teaching and I remember the joys, frustrations and excitement of preparing a classroom for a new group of learners. All teachers are facing a new set of rules this year as they embark on the 20/21 school year and first and foremost, I want to applaud them and thank them for all that they do each and every day for our children.
Second, I want to say, I know the struggle of keeping the fire alive day after day when faced with a difficult student, a challenging set of parents, a lack of funding for curriculum, lack of support from administration. Sometimes the, “Why do I do this?”, creeps in. This school year I know many teachers are facing a new set of worries, frustrations, complications and fears; yet they return because they love the children and they love to teach.
I decided to share some books that have inspired me most or helped me most as a teacher. Some are fiction, some are “How To” and some are reflections on education and society. Each one has helped me or motivated me in one way or another as a teacher and if you are an educator reading this I hope they can do the same for you!
The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers can Learn from Each Other
I believe this book should be required reading for ALL educators, and it wouldn’t hurt parents to read it either. The title subtitle says it all, what parents and teachers can learn from each other, because it should be a collaboration. We have become increasingly parent against teacher in this nation instead of working together to provide the framework our children need to succeed. I see the degeneration of the parent-teacher relationship now more than ever as countless people sit behind their computers and complain that teachers “need to get back into classrooms and work.” The community has lost connection with teachers, what they do, the hours “off the clock” they are still working and and instead respect for teachers has been replaced with contempt by many.
Teachers have somehow become the be all end all solution to every problem, every child has. I have had many fortunate collaborations with parents in my career that resulted in positive and on going relationships. I also had those who wanted to blame me for every problem their child was having, you can’t win them all. But if we worked together, kept the lines of communication open and on both sides worked towards what is best for the child, I bet we’d see amazing results!
Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
First I love A. J. Jacob’s writing, it is real, funny sarcastic and you actually learn something to boot! If you haven’t read one of this books, please do, they’re wonderful What I love about this book is that I WAS the kid who’s parents’ owned the complete encyclopedia set and I did sit and read it. I have loved learning and reading as long as I can remember and I haven’t stopped yet! This book is a funny reminder that we simply can’t know it all even when kids think we do.
It is important to be honest with children if you don’t know the answer to something and then take the opportunity to discover the answer together! I have often, both as a teacher and a parent, stopped what I was doing to look something up on the internet, or grab a book off the shelf so that a question could be answered. By admitting we don’t know everything, we show kids that it is OK not to have all the answers but that there are always ways of finding them!
We Need to Talk About Kevin
This book is one of the most powerful fiction books I have ever read. I have rad it twice so far and will probably read it again. I recommend this book to ALL teachers and parents, especially parents of boys. I will not delve too much into the plot, but I will say this piece was an eye opener on mental health in children. The first time I read it was before I had children and in today’s day and age I think this book is even more releavnt.
It is also an important reminder that as an outsider to everyone’s life but your own, you have no idea what another parent or family is facing or dealing with. Judgement hurts us all, it creates barriers, us vs. them. Unless you are living the life, you have no place to make assumptions on why a child behaved a certain why, or what a parent is facing personally. Thorough my experience as a teacher and my education I have been privy to things in children’s homes no one would ever guess. While none of us are perfect, mistakes are made, bad decisions chosen, do your best to reserve judgement on a child or family that doesn’t seem to make sense to you and instead find out in what ways you can help.
If you are a teacher and you haven’t read this book yet, you should. Frank McCourt, was that teacher, the Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society teacher, the one that got his students. This book is powerful and shows just how much a teacher can give of themselves to their career and to their students. It is also an insider look into the fact that teachers, believe it or not, are humans like everyone else out there. That teachers have their ups and downs, professional disappointments, vices and personal problems.
You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party
This has been the single most transformative book to my career as a teacher. I read this and spent half a semester of grad school implementing this in the Pre-K room I was assistant teaching in at the time. I read this, and a light bulb went on.
We have all heard little kids say these things:
You can’t come to my birthday party!
You can’t come to my house!
You can’t play with my anymore!
It’s how children try to handle conflict and disagreements, by attempting to wield the little power they have or think they have. This book centers on helping children solve conflicts appropriately by giving them the tools to do so. It places the teacher in the role of mentor not judge or decision maker, but instead empowers children to make decisions regarding disputes together and in their own words. Since I first read this I have employed it every classroom I have worked in and have trained other educators on the principles and methodology as well.
A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, Power
A Call to Action is a reminder that there are many out there without the same access to education as those of us in more affluent countries and communities. It is a reminder than in many parts of the world and within many religions it is considered taboo to educate women and girls. This book was a reminder to me that we need to continue to encourage our girls to break the barriers of male dominated careers and help them know that they have the same rights to be an astronaut, doctor, member of the military, engineer, professional sports player and whatever else their heart might desire.
I temper this by saying, our young boys need to support to, just often in a different arena. We have to stop telling our boys they need to be “tough”, that they “can’t cry” and we have to allow our children both boys and girls, the opportunity to express themselves, follow their interests and be whoever it is they want to be. Cue the next book….
This is how it Always is
This book gave me goosebumps up and down. Not just because as a parent, it is hard to imagine what it would be like if my child were transgender, I know I would love either one of mine just the same, but what internal struggles would I have? It also affected me because of the way the education system failed this child by just not understanding and making their life so much harder.
This is a fictional story, but LGBT children and their families have been facing these struggles for a long time. These children don’t know where they belong, they often feel forced to hide part or all of who they are, and LGBT teens are one of the largest groups of individuals who commit suicide. This book is a reminder that while we can’t always understand what a child is going through, or know how to help, and it may even make us feel uncomfortable, but as the caring adults in their lives we need to find ways to let them know that we are indeed there for them and that we love them and that we wil be there to help them figure it out as best we can
The End of Education
This book is an insightful and critical look at how education has changed over the decades. While published 25 years ago in 1995, it still offers relevant insights into the modern education system, the changes made for the worse for both children and educators and insight into why and how we need to fix and rectify the American education system.
There have, of course, been many other books throughout the years that have impacted me one way or the other, but these are the ones that have been the most influential. Being a teacher is a hard job, being a parent is a hard job, let’s all remember to treat each other with respect. While we may hold different opinions on the current schooling situation we can still maintain that mutual respect needed to do what is best for our children. Stay Well!
The countdown to back to school has started, in some states, children have already returned. Regardless of whether your child is attending in person or virtually, things look a little different this year, but there is no reason it cannot be a fun and exciting event! In typical years, many children have anxiety and frustrations about the returning school year: no one wants to let go of the summer fun! This year both you and your child may be facing some extra emotions and obstacles, but that does not mean the new school year should be dreaded. Here are my top tips on how to make the start of the 20/21 school-year a positive one!
Back to School Shopping!
Every child loves back to school shopping: new clothes, new materials, new backpack. Even if your child will be attending school virtually this fall, there is no reason they can’t have a snazzy new outfit for the first day! They will be connecting with their friends again, meeting their teacher for the first time, and just like adults who work from home, getting dressed makes you feel better about yourself and makes you more productive! Giving your child the chance to pick out a new outfit and dress up is a guaranteed way to make them excited about school.
Talk to Them
Children have worries and fears just like we do, and even if your child seems completely relaxed and ready to go back, they most likely have a concern about something. It could be having to wear a mask all day, or their sport season being postponed, or how are they going to talk to their friends if they have to stay 6 feet apart? If your child is attending virtually, maybe they are concerned because their computer skills are lacking or they had a hard time reading the content in the spring, or perhaps they’re sad they still won’t see their friends face to face.
You can’t force a child to talk to you, but you can let them know the doors of communication are open. Asking a simple question like, “Hey, do you have any concerns about school you want to talk about?” lets your child know you are there to listen. Validate that it is ok to feel nervous or anxious or mad and that you are willing to listen if they decide they want to talk about ANYTHING.
This year will present a new list of challenges, so send them into battle prepared for success. Teach them how to wash their hands adequately and express the importance of it. This is important for little ones as well as teens who might brush it off. As the mother of two boys, my favorite response to asking them to wash their hands post-bathroom is, “But I didn’t touch anything.” For little kids, have them sing the ABC’s or Happy Birthday Twice through. Post reminders in the bathroom with pictures or invest in a timer or a flashing light to make it fun.
Go over mask-wearing, the proper way to wear it, and why we wear it. Treat it like any other article of clothing that is required for school like shoes or a shirt. Buy them masks that they want to wear! This can be an opportunity to let them express their personality. Assure them that all the other children will be wearing one too, so while it may seem odd at first, it will eventually just be another part of getting ready for school.
Get them outside and playing! Regardless if your child is attending face to face classes or virtual classes it is A LOT of sitting. Children in elementary school need AT LEAST 1 hour of active play every day. If they haven’t had the opportunity to run around and burn off some energy in an after care program or with a sitter, let them play when you pick them up. In fact, make it a rule that they play! Homework can wait, their brains need a break and their bodies need exercise.
Fun and Simple Outdoor Play Options
Baby Pool or Sensory tub filled with water, plastic measuring cups, large eye droppers, rubber ducks (or other floating animal) and small plastic watering can
Backyard scavenger hunt: provide them with a list of things to check off or find
Bikes, Trikes and Skateboards – if you have a safe area for them to ride and play then use it!
Sprinklers – While it’s warm enough hook up a sprinkler to the hose and let them run free
Hopscotch, Jump ropes, Bean Bag Toss, Ladder Golf, Soccer Ball (speaks for itself)
Create an obstacle course using ropes, stepping stones, a balance beam, log or 2 x 4
Beach Ball Challenge, how long can they keep it in the air!
Give Them Space
Give your child a dedicated area to work, especially if they will be doing virtual schooling. Consistency is key, so create a space for them to work and make it theirs (at least while they’re working). Make it comfortable and quiet, and add little touches that make it more personal such as a picture of their grandma, some figurines of their favorite toys, or a poster of their favorite movie. If you have the room to create an area in their bedroom, I highly suggest it, just make sure what’s in their room won’t be a distraction from their work! The idea is to provide a safe and consistent space where your child can get their work done with little to no interruptions.
If, like many parents, you will be working from home with your kids also home, set office hours. This can work with children ages 5 and up, but it will take some practice and consistency. Set your office hours for 2-3 in the morning and 2-3 in the afternoon and explain to your children that you are working. This is an interruption-free time, emergencies excluded (their brother taking their nerf gun is not an emergency). Create an office hours sign that you can hang near your workspace to let your children know you are not to be disturbed. Keep in mind, that this doesn’t mean the house will be silent. Instead teach your children how to use a respectable volume in their voice while playing. They are going to need reminders at first, probably for a week or two. Remain firm, consistent but not harsh. If you are going to be on a call or Zoom chat, give your children a heads up that you will be doing so, so there are no unexpected surprises. In-between your office hours lavish your kids with the attention they need and want. Play a game, go for a walk, or make and eat lunch together. You need to take a break just as much as they need some mom or dad time!
Expect the Unexpected
None expects the Spanish Inquisition, and no one expected COVID or for it to last this long. Be ready and willing to remain flexible. If your son is having a really rough day and could use some extra snuggles, cut your office hours short that afternoon. When your daughter has come home on the 5th day of school and lost her 3rd mask, don’t yell and berate, this is new for her too. If your kids consistently say they’re bored after school, look at what toys they no longer play with an consider investing in some new outdoor gear. As families, we have already spent the last six months adapting the way we do things, how we function as a family and how we are navigating this thing called life, and we will continue to adapt. You’ve Got This! You Are an Amazing Parent.
The 2020 United States Presidential election is looming a mere three months away. And when I say looming, this is probably one of the most controversial and historical elections in U.S. history. As the 2016 election taught us, surprises can happen, and polls can’t always be believed. Regardless if you vote red or blue, teaching children the importance of elections and how the government works is key to creating generations of future voters. In all the years I taught preschool and pre-kindergarten, if there was a major election, I held a class election.
Now before you gasp and wonder, did she really polarize the children into two political camps? Yes, I did, sorta, but they weren’t democrat vs. republican; they were Goldfish vs. Animal Cracker. The only way for children to understand something is for it to be relevant to them. While I encourage reading children books about presidential and governmental figures, elections, and who can forget School House Rock videos, most of it will go over their heads, especially in preschool. Planning, implementing and carrying through on a classroom election, or if you are a parent reading this, a home election is a guaranteed way to educate children on politics without getting into the controversial nitty-gritty.
The concept of an election is actually quite simple to teach to children. You let them know there are two choices and each person gets to vote for one of those choices. The one with the most votes wins. Of course, as adults we know it is much more complex than that, but this is how you start. Teaching about elections not only gives young children a chance to learn about something some adults might consider beyond their scope, but it incorporates math, logic, and social emotional development. How does it feel if your choice won vs. if your choice lost? It teaches children we can hold different opinions but still remain friends and work together.
Each time I taught this unit I divided the class in half. One half was team Goldfish and the other was team Animal Cracker. The children had campaign meetings, created posters for their candidate, designed the election box and the ballot. Then, the children would “campaign” by visiting other classes and asking them to come and vote on election day. You can scale this activity down within your household and invite your relatives or close friends to vote via email.
Providing children with the opportunity to have a choice empowers them. And while the selection of snack may seem minor to you, it can be major to a preschooler! You can also extend this concept into voting about what toys to put out in a center, voting on the theme for a class party or voting about what book to read. For parents, you can host family votes on what movie to watch, what to order for take-out night and what board game to play! Once the concept of voting is introduced it can be used over and over again. Children will also learn about disappointment because no matter how much you want it, your choice will not always be the winner.
Engaging children in heavy political discussions and discourse is useless and not developmentally appropriate, although if you discuss politics at home, they are sure to overhear some of your opinions. This is not the time to preach and convert them, but you can use it as a way to say, “Mommy and Daddy don’t like “X” because of “ABC” or vice versus, “I like “Y” because she believes in “ABC” and so do I. It is important to explain to children why you feel a certain way, this will help build their cognitive development as well as a social and moral understanding of what it is important to you and your family.
No matter what happens in the November election and how uncomfortable your Thanksgiving dinner, virtual or otherwise may be, there is nothing wrong with teaching young children the importance of voting and how the political system works. Remember, one day soon they will have a voice and they will be making the decisions so why not start the preparations now?
Choices. It’s an oft heard word in the realm of child hood development. Give you child choices. And it’s true, you should. You child has so little control or power over anything that happens in their lives that allowing them to have or make choices from time to time can be a powerful boost to their self-esteem and sense of worth. They are told when to play, when to stop playing, when to bathe, when to eat, when to go to bed, when it’s time run an errand, when it’s time to go to school when it’s time to leave school and the list goes on and on and on and on. In most scenarios, they need to be told what, how and when to do something because you are the grown up and they have no self regulation. So much pressure to constantly do what other, larger people tell them to do can create a volatile situation in their emotional system. But what if you could take some of that vim and vinegar out of their system by simply allowing them choices each day?
You’re Doing it Wrong
I can hear many of you now, “But I give them choices and they never decided and it always backfires…” Guess what? You’re doing choices wrong. I used to do it wrong too. When I first started working with children I didn’t understand the power of choice and I made mistakes, a lot of them. Now I have the wisdom of a lot of years in the classroom, a lot of books read, a lot of continuing education courses take and a lot of experience with small children. You may be thinking, “There’s a right and wrong way to give choices?” Yup. There is. If you have read this far and are thinking, “Children should do what they’re told because I am the grown up. End of Story.” then this post is may not be for you, although I encourage you to read it anyway.
The number one thing you need to know about giving a child a choice is that it needs to be realistic. Sounds simple, no? Yet giving children unrealistic choices is one of the biggest parenting faux pas done daily. If you tell your child to put their coat on or they are not going to school today then you have just screwed yourself. Are you truly willing to keep them home for the day because they refused to put a coat on? My absolute favorite is when parents threaten that Santa wont come if their child doesn’t listen. Really? Are you really going to follow through with no presents on Christmas morning? I consider myself a tough cookie mom and even I won’t go that far. Parents, you cannot present an option to your child that you are not 100% willing to follow through on because the second you don’t follow through, they have your number. If you threaten to turn the car around if they continue bickering in the back seat then you better turn that car around should another argument begin. If you say you are leaving the store is they keep whining about the cookies you won’t by, then you better be prepared to leave a cart full of groceries and walk out. Each time you don’t follow through with a “threat” your child logs that in their brain. If you repeatedly do it, they know you are full of bluff and have no reason to believe you, which does nothing but spell trouble for you.
Providing a child with too many choices is overwhelming. As much as possible limit their options to two and no more than three choices. Asking a 4 year old what they want for snack is akin to opening Pandora’s box. Instead say, for snack today you can have a yogurt with fruit, or crackers and cheese which would you like? Once the choices have been given that’s it, no negotiating. If they whine and plead and throw a tantrum, let them, Once again if you give in they will smell blood and know they can pull that same trick over and over and over. A a few tantrums in the beginning is much better than a life time of stress because you taught your child they can walk all over you.
Just to clarify, this is not the same as using food for reward/punishments’ which should NEVER be done, this is saying these are your options, if you are hungry and want a snack then you will choose one. Same goes for choosing anything else, clothing, toy to take to grandmas, or a book to read at bedtime. If a matter is time conscious, such as getting dressed in the morning then set a timer and let your child know that they have until the timer goes off to make their decision, otherwise you will be the one choosing.
Pick Your Battles
Simple advice but true. Not everything needs to be done an exact way. Let go of some of your need for control. If he wants to wear red plaid shorts and a lime green shirt to school, let him. Who really cares? Plus you are giving your child the opportunity to express himself creatively. If she wants to play the trumpet instead of the flute then support her and buy yourself some earplugs for the first year or two! Some nights let them pick their own dinner, some days let them watch the extra TV show. By allowing them these small bits of choice and power their need to exert full control will relax. A child’s reaction to feeling no control is a tantrum. Think about how you feel when your boss dumps task after task on your plate with little to no input from you… it feels pretty lousy doesn’t it?
By no means should tantrums be accepted as OK behavior, but they ARE normal. Do not get mad at them for having one. Stay as calm as possible and ignore them. It will stop. I promise. Through a tantrum a child is trying to gain your attention. At this point they don’t care if it is negative or positive. DO NOT FEED THE ATTENTION MONSTER. When it is over you can talk to them about their strong emotions and brainstorm together better ways to handle it. If they are being destructive or harmful then say in a firm tone that even though they are mad “hitting, throwing, kicking etc.” is not acceptable.
To sum it all up, this is what parents need to remeber:
Moms and Dads, I need your help. Please, PLEASE, stop acting like your child just won the World Series while they stood in the left-field picking their nose as their team lost the game. On the same note, don’t tell them they should get a prize for trying. All this bombastic praise is raising a generation (or two or three) of entitled, impatient, aren’t I the most fabulous children that don’t know the first thing about surviving in the real world. Now before you stop reading, thinking I am the meanest mom in the world, allow me to say this. I love praising my children when it is merited. They do not get a parade for picking their shoes off the floor, they do not get a plaque to hang on the wall for completing their homework, and they do not deserve a trophy for losing. They don’t.
How can our children learn to process disappointment, anger, sadness, and all those scary and ugly feelings if we don’t let them? It sucks, I know, I have watched my son cry because the camp he was looking forward to all summer was canceled. I have seen him stomp his feet in anger and frustration because he couldn’t quite get the new skateboarding trick. I had to explain to him that he wasn’t cast in the first play he auditioned for and really wanted to do. Instead of blaming someone or something else, telling him he was the greatest skateboarder ever or really deserved the part in the play over the other boy, I told him the truth. Crazy right?
I explained camp was canceled due to coronavirus that it was out of our control, and it is really disappointing, but some things we can’t change. I acknowledged his frustration with the skateboard and told him that the only way to get better was to practice and keep working hard, and I also acknowledged his effort. That’s different than blind, blanketed praise. I didn’t tell him he deserved something or was owed something, I said to him that I could see how hard he was trying and if he kept at it; eventually, he would get there. And when it came to the rejection from the play, as a performer, I had been there more times than anyone can count, and I said it sucks, it hurts, but it’s the way it goes. You wait for the next opportunity, and you try, and you try, and you try. As the saying goes, you fail 100% of the time you don’t try.
What you DO want to praise and encourage is their effort, hard work, determination, and insight. The key is to be specific. Tell them WHAT they did that caught your attention. Then, help them problem-solve to get to the next step. “You did a lot of research on your planet project, I saw you reading all those books from the library. Since you didn’t get the grade you were expecting, what do you think you could have done differently?” In one fell swoop, you validated their effort and work and opened the door to help them do better next time.
As parents, we want our children to have the sun the moon, and yes, throw the stars in too. We don’t want them to feel disappointment or shame or anger; how else will they learn? If we take every upset away and make them think they should always win despite lack of effort, natural talent, or unforeseen circumstances, how will they grow? If we hand them everything instead of teaching them the value of hard work, how will that benefit them? The best thing we can do as parents is to embrace the difficult times that come their way and use them as teachable moments. I know it’s not easy, but they will thank you later.
My youngest son is the equivalent to the Tasmanian Devil at times, and I don’t mean the actual animal that lives in the bush, I mean that little cartoon guy that just spun everywhere and caused destruction in his path. It has been a challenge dealing with his lack of control at times, but there is only so much control he has. At the age of 5 he was diagnosed with ADHD, and it’s severe. As an early childhood educator I knew something was off developmentally a few years earlier but ADHD and ADD are not typically diagnosed until school age. All we knew was that he was struggling, a lot, in preschool due to his inability to keep his hands to himself, his lack of self control, outbursts both positive and negative, and the Tasmanian devil that seems to have inhabited his body.
After conducting research on my end, talking to his teacher and other professionals in the field, we came to the conclusion that he should be evaluated for ADHD. Luckily for us, his pediatrician also turned out to be the leading expert on ADHD in the area. That gave us extra peace of mind as we went through this process. After meeting with the doctor privately and conducting evaluations with our son we decided we would try medication. Deciding to use medication was not a snap decision. We had heard horror stories about children turned into zombies and the last thing we wanted was for him to lose was his spark. When he is not in tailspin mode destroying all in site he is an intelligent, funny and entertaining kid.
My son loves Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi. He was so obsessed with the Broadway Musical Newsies that the age of 3 he was the main character, Jack Kelly for Halloween. He’s creative and silly but he also has no impulse control, yells his favorite phrase “Booty-Butt” without warning at the top of his lungs, and used to greet people by hitting them in the crotch. Not forcefully, but enough to hurt, particularly if you were a man. We knew he couldn’t continue on this path and be successful. This wasn’t just your typical case of a child gone wild. I am a career expert in Early Childhood, his father has an undergraduate degree in Psychology. We knew what we should be doing to help him and nothing seemed to work.
The first medication we tried him on cost a whopping $60 a month after insurance. $60 a month for something my child needed to function. We saw results but he was still struggling. Especially as the evening wore on and the medication wore off. He became next to impossible to corral into anything productive. He started therapy with a psychologist and we were hoping to see major results. Unfortunately they seemed slow to come. On the upside he was getting much better reports from school and I was more confident about him starting kindergarten in the fall. At home he still wreaked havoc, knocked things over, ran around and caused general frustration for everyone.
Yes we tried discipline, time outs, meaningful chats, loss of privileges, positive re-direction. If it was in an expert handbook, we tried it. Nothing seemed to work for him. The only plan that has seemed to work is ignoring the negative behavior and over the top praise the positive choices. I have been reading the book Transforming the Difficult Child by Howard Glasser and his advice seems to be the first and only thing outside of medication that has had a positive effect on my son. And I love that feels built up by praise. I want to cheer him on and praise him and give him confidence, but there are only so many times I can hear “Booty-Butt” screamed at the top of his lungs while he claps his hands loudly. These aren’t discipline issue, these are impulse control issues. His brain is simply wired differently.
Amidst Cornoavirus shut-downs, he turned 6. We went in for his physical and I asked if there was something new we could try. After talking to me and performing the evaluation the doctor offered a new option. He said it was taken twice a day, was more potent and should have a more lasting effect. I was ecstatic. I went to get the prescription filled and they wanted $365. I’m sorry, for one month? On insurance?! That was simply not sustainable but my child potentially needed this to thrive. After frantic searching I found a manufacturer’s coupon that cut it down to $185 a month. The upside, it seems to be working wonders for him. I am seeing a more calm and engaged child. I am better able to hold conversations with him, and I see him able to focus for longer periods. In addition, it is not suppressing his appetite the way the first one was. These are all wins. The downside is I have to pay almost $200 a month for a medication, for a mainstream mental health disorder in order to help my child succeed and function they way a typical 6 year old should.
What does this say to you about America’s health care policies? Put simply, they are garbage. My son’s father is a doctor, he works for a major corporation, he should have top notch insurance, yet this is what he is offered. A plan that doesn’t even cover medications aimed at treating a common mental health disorder. It angers me and disgusts me. We are fortunate that while it’s not easy, we can afford to pay this amount each month to help our child, but what about all the people who can’t? Without insurance this same medication was over $600! As a mom and an educator I am calling out the U.S. Healthcare system and pharmaceutical companies. How dare you make billions each year and rake us over the coals for our basic needs. How do you expect America’s children to thrive and meet their potential when many don’t have access to their medication needs? It is an absolute travesty that in what is supposed to be the country of Freedom and Liberty the average American child does not have access nor can afford basic health care costs.
Arts and Crafts. That phrase probably revives memories of elementary school classrooms or summer camp. Being asked to wind yarn around Popsicle sticks glued together, or to paint a picture of the outdoors. More often than not cookie-cutter crafts and art projects would be produced, taken home to smiles from mom and dad and then eventually thrown away. Unless you are my mom, who apparently has boxes full of old items ready to be gifted back to my hands and out of her house. Why did we and do we continue to engage children in arts and crafts? The purpose surely cannot be so that can mass produce animal masks and dream catchers.
Early in my career as an educator I began thorough research into this topic and came across the phrase, “Process, not Product.” Put simply, this means your child’s process of creating the piece of art, or the craft is more meaningful and educational than the finished product. Isn’t that interesting? I thought it was. As a trained actor and musician the purpose of the finished product was to create something recognizable and enjoyable for the audience. What would “42nd Street” be without flashy costumes and tap shoes? Or what about a Mozart symphony where all the violins were flat. But then I thought about this further. Each performance of a piece, even with the same group of performers is never exactly the same. When a theatrical production is done by different directors, actors and producers it becomes it’s own entity, different from all that came before and will come after.
Then it made sense. As an actor learning my lines or my notes were only a part of the piece. Each show I have been in has taught me new words to add to my lexicon, a new technique or behinds the scene trick. With each show, I have learned something new through the process of creating the production.
So What’s the Process?
Open-ended art is a process of creating which allows free-range while creating. You create with what is available to you and possibly with no clear destination in mind. Open-ended art supplies are now common in a preschool or kindergarten classroom, including paper, markers, crayons, scissors, glue, stickers, stamps, paint, sequins etc. Children are free to create throughout the day. This type of art center can be easily made at home. Open-ended art allows children to use their imagination to explore and create without it having to be something. Young children who engage in art often don’t know what they are creating and will usually not decide if ever until they are completed.
What Are They Learning?
Mathematical and Spatial Reasoning
Our house is a well-spring of supplies and yours is too! Recyclables are some of the best items you can use and kids adore them! All of those empty cereal and snack boxes, catalogs you toss away, junk mail all can be used in open-ended art. If you are like me and believe an Amazon Delivery Away Keeps the Urge to Raid Target Away, save the boxes and let them use those! My youngest son has created rather elaborate forts of late out of boxes with just scissors and markers and my older son created airplanes and boats with empty 2-liter bottles, egg cartons, and cardboard. Consider collecting buttons, fabric scraps, string, twine, Popsicle sticks. If you can save it, they will use it.
At times our child’s art leaves us thinking… what is that?! Instead of asking your child, “What is that?” replace it with, “Can you tell me about what you made?” When we ask a child what their art is we immediately imply we can’t recognize it, aka, it’s not good. When you ask them about it you provide the opportunity for an open ended answer. Often when young children are engaged in art they don’t even know what they are making, so asking them what it is puts them on the spot, which is an uncomfortable position for children and adults alike! Follow up with further open-ended questions which will promote language skills and critical thinking. Some suggestions are
Can you tell me more about this blue line you drew?
I see you drew triangles, can you count them?
Why did you choose to use red and purple?
How does your drawing make you feel?
Accept the Mess
This can be the hardest part, but it should become our mantra to ensure our kids feel the freedom to create. This doesn’t mean we allow them to trash the kitchen with paint and glitter, but messes that occur as part of the natural process when making art are OK. Help your child build a sense of independence and responsibility by teaching them in clean up process. Breathe easy, go mediate in the next room is mess bothers you and allow the mess to happen, but make sure clean up is a group effort!
So grab the glue sticks and glitter because it’s time to get messy!
I spent fourteen years as a classroom educator before recently switching to writing full time. I was very green when I began in this field, and I had never intended to become an educator. Instead, I had studied Music and Theater and dreamt of being on Broadway. Yet there I was at the age of 26, embarking on a new career in which I only had passive, marginal, and informal training and experience.
Since I spent 14 years teaching, I will share 14 lessons I learned during my time “behind the desk.”
You are going to make mistakes, lots of them.
It’s OK. It’s part of the human experience is messing up. We all do it. Whether we forget a friend’s birthday, sent the email to the wrong person, or become distracted and cause a fender bender. Mistakes come in all sizes and shapes, and you are 100% going to make them as a teacher. Probably daily. Probably several times a day. There are so many times when I forgot the book I needed for a lesson, assumed I had the supplies I needed for a project in my closet, or said something more harshly than I should have. When working as an educator and with young children, we need to set the example and own our mistakes so they can learn that it happens and it is entirely OK.
You Can’t Win Them All
You will create some of the most fantastic lesson plans and activities that this earth has ever been graced with. You are also going to have ideas that flop so severely they should be featured on Rotten Tomatoes. These failed activities will leave you standing in a haze of confusion and smoke as you try to figure out how this fantastic idea fell short. Use this as a time for reflection. Once the dust settles, take your time to go through why it failed methodically. Was it beyond your student’s abilities? Did it not hold their interest? Did you purchase the wrong ingredients or supplies? Did you lack in your presentation? Self-reflection is a powerful tool when teaching.
There Will be Children You Can’t Reach
As much as you will want to help every child that passes through your classroom, there will be some you won’t be able to help. The obstacle may be your lack of knowledge in a particular area. The parents don’t want to see the issue you may be seeing, or the child may have personal or developmental problems beyond your professional scope. Again, I recommend this as a time to self reflect. Then, go out and learn more. Take a continuing education class, attend a webinar, or read up on related situations. Maybe next time a similar child passes your way, you will be more equipped. You still may not be able to help them, but there is truth in the saying Knowledge is Power.
Never Stop Learning
This tip goes along with what I mentioned above. Take continuing ed classes (beyond what is required), read articles, subscribe to educational newsletters or journals. When you encounter a situation, child, or topic you aren’t familiar with, take it upon yourself to learn more. Learn from those more experienced than you and from those who come from a different walk of life. Talk to those who have been through similar situations before. Fellow teachers can be one of your best resources. The more you can learn, the better teacher you will be.
Don’t Pigeon Hole Yourself
Just because you went to school and studied Elementary Education, or American Literature, or Earth and Space Science, it doesn’t mean those are the only things you can teach. I earned two degrees, one in English/Theater and one in Music. I wound up with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and a TEFL certification. I was able to use the skills I learned as an actor and musician and translate them to teaching. You may have a degree in science but have spent years writing books and literature reviews as a hobby. Use what you have. There are certifications galore out there that can boost your resume without costing a ton of money.
You Will Not be Liked by Everyone
It’s ugly, but it’s true. You will have co-workers that, despite your best intentions, find you annoying, or eccentric, or boring, or too loud, or strange, etc. It’s just the way life is. You will also have parents that don’t like you, They will think you’re not doing enough for their child, or they won’t care for your personality, or they may not enjoy hearing that their child is struggling in your class because of course their child is perfect.. Develop a thick skin, read up on how to deal with conflict and challenging personalities, and buckle down. And again, I say, self-reflect. There will be reason beyond you that people don’t like you, you cannot change that, but you change change how you deal with that.
Some Parents Will Love You!
To some parents, you will be the greatest thing that has ever happened to their child, and this time, believe it because it’s true. You will find the most amazing connections with some of the families that pass through your walls. Embrace those, enjoy the love and respect that comes with that relationship. Those are the experiences you will draw on when things are rough when you feel challenged, and when you think you don’t want to do this anymore.
You Will Not Like Every Child
You just won’t. Children are people, and never has there been a person who has liked everyone they’ve met. It’s OK. I struggled with this at first. I thought, how can I not like a little kid? The answer was because they were annoying to me. Again I say, it’s OK. You are not required to like every child who walks into your classroom, you ARE required to treat them all with the same level of respect and care.
You Will Never Feel So Loved
Young children have a never-ending supply of love, and they are happy to bestow that love heavily on those who care for them. Hugs from kids can be one of the highest parts of the day, especially when you are feeling off. They will make you all kinds of gifts and cards that are guaranteed to make you smile!
Engage in Self Care
Do not deprive yourself. Teaching can be a demanding job, so do not allow it to take over your life. Engage in whatever forms of self-care are most meaningful to you. I always enjoyed walks with music on my breaks, power naps, and on really rough days an extra caramel drizzle caramel Frappucino from Starbucks. Carve out time for yourself every day to unwind and do something you find relaxing.
Maintain A Sense of Humor
I have had children throw up on me, pee on me, and bite me. I have cleaned up poop of the floor and poop off of children. I have stood by while children have thrown epic tantrums smiling at as parents dropped off their children, quoting Olaf, “This is fine.” Children will say the most astounding things, and you will have to keep a straight face because they are deadly serious. They will say funny things that will have you laughing until tears are coming out of your eyes. The good, the bad, and the ugly come with teaching young children. The ability to laugh at yourself and the situations you find yourself will come in handy.
You, Will Be Underpaid, Over-stressed and ALWAYS have to Pee
You will never make enough money teaching Early Childhood. It is a sad truth that needs systematic changes in this country, but this is not a job you do for the money. If you are lucky enough to work this job and not have to work a second or third job, consider yourself lucky. The more educated you are, the more you will make, but the difference is marginal. There is little to no room for career advancement in this field. It is a high-stress job and, as a result, has a lot of turnover. People do not appreciate early childhood educators in this country. You will often be referred to as “daycare’ or “baby sitter.”
You Will be Mary Poppins, The Punisher, Mom, Physician, Psychiatrist, and Best Friend
You will play every role in your students’ lives, usually all in one day. That rash that popped up? You will have to determine if it might be an allergic reaction or possibly viral or just a skin irritation. You will have to dish out consequences and pull magical tea sets out of your bag. You will sit and listen to their disagreements and problems and dispense out wisdom help. You will be their confidant and the one they run to when they need a hug or have something exciting to share.
You Can and You Will
Even on the days, you think to yourself, I cannot listen to that child scream all day again. I cannot spend another day in the cycle of potty-training and diapering. I cannot have so-and-so’s parents complain again about something they don’t like. I cannot struggle through circle time with this group that doesn’t seem interested, no matter what. I cannot, I cannot, I cannot…. you will. And when and if the time comes, as it did for me, you have to make the bittersweet decision to move in another direction with your career. You will look back on your time as an educator and be grateful for all that you learned.