While my grandson was visiting me this past summer, he had the opportunity to have cooking lessons at a local café. One item on the café’s menu is a meal called the “Pancake Challenge.” This meal involves challenging the diner to eat three plate-size pancakes in 30 minutes. If they complete the challenge, their meal is free. As you can imagine, only a very select few are able to eat that much pancake in that amount of time. My grandson learned how to make the pancakes, flipping them with a pizza spatula. The amount of food is almost obscene, much more than I could ever eat in several meals. One of my interns this year saw this picture of my grandson and commented, “That plate looks like all of the things that I had on my plate at the beginning of the school year!”
Supervising interns (first year teachers) this year has been a reminder to me about all of the ‘stuff’ that you have to do to be a teacher. I am in classrooms each week, but helping set up classrooms has refocused my attention on how much we are really expected to do as teachers. Besides managing a classroom and absorbing the content of the curriculum, there are helper boards, calendars, visual aids, nametags, and other responsibilities too numerous to mention. But, I thought of the pancake analogy when dealing with curriculum and standards that are part of every classroom setting. Even Early Head Start has standards now. Looking over everything that needs to be covered and mastered during a school year, it is much like three plate-size pancakes that you need to eat in 30 minutes. There is almost too much to consume and digest. It takes a lot of effort and skill to effectively and developmentally teach every guideline and help each child understand how it might fit into her individual life. It can be done, but it is a daunting task.
My advice to all of us seasoned (educational code for ‘old’) educational veterans is to do all we can to help the newer teachers gain the skills they need to be successful. We desperately need teachers right now, at least in my area. We need them to be good so the children benefit and so the goods ones stay in our profession. So help out the newbies and provide them with plenty of syrup. That stack of pancakes is huge.
I have been taking watercolor classes to try to expand my hobbies beyond the limited experiences I have had in the past. We were recently painting animals and I did a picture of a blue horse. Actually, a black horse that shadows and light create the illusion of being blue. One of my fellow students painted the same horse. When she sent a picture of it to her parents in China, her father said, “Why is the horse blue? Horses aren’t blue!” Even for this adult, the criticism was hurtful and unnecessary.
This experience reminded me of the many times I had parent question a project their child had completed. We often curtail or limit a child’s creativity by expecting everything to be real-life or understandable. I vividly remember having a discussion with a parent about her kindergarten child’s project. Carl had drawn a wonderful picture of the park and had made an attempt to write a couple of words underneath the picture. Of course the words were not spelled correctly and actually needed a bit of translation by Carl to understand. His mother was stressed about the fact the words were not spelled correctly. I tried to remind her that Carl was in kindergarten and the words he was attempting were not words that a kindergartner could spell. I emphasized the fact that the very idea that he had made an attempt at words (“I can write down my words!”) was outstanding and he was to be commended. She didn’t agree that he should be commended when it was incorrect. The whole purpose of the activity was to get Carl to explore, not to get him to write advanced words correctly.
Somehow, we adults need to look past correctness and applaud the creativity and thinking experiments of the children around us. There will be time for correctness during academic instruction, but when a child is exploring we must do everything in our power to encourage that exploration. The whole business model right now is about “thinking outside the box.” No one has ever been able to think outside the box unless they were encouraged to explore and develop their own thinking skills.
We don’t know what the world will be like, exactly, when our young children are adults and going into the workforce, yet we are supposed to be educating them to be prepared. One thing that is certain is that the future generation will need to think. The world is already rewarding people who can think and create, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. I hope each one of us can celebrate the blue horses that are produced by children and celebrate their creative accomplishments.
I am elated to announce that I have been nominated in the Educator’s Voice Award category for the 2nd Annual Bammy Awards. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Bammy Awards, which are presented by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences International, it is a cross-discipline honor recognizing educators throughout the education field. The Educator’s Voice Award honorees are selected by popular online vote and will be announced online in June and again at the Bammy Awards red carpet event on September 21st in Washington, D.C. If you would like to vote, please follow the link provided. Thank you for your support and compliments to all the other hard-working and deserving honorees. I am flattered to even have been nominated, which is recognition in and of itself, for doing what I love.
Click here to vote! Voting ends May 15th!
Here we are racing to the end of another calendar year. The miles just keep speeding past as we navigate the race of life. I wonder how many runners have come to mile 12 in a half-marathon and wished he had prepared better? That was certainly my feeling the first half-marathon I ran a couple of years ago. I’m not sure what I would have done more to prepare, but surely there was something I missed. That last mile seemed endless and my knees and hips felt like they were becoming disembodied.
Most of us who are approaching the ‘later years,’ probably have a few thoughts about what we wished we would have done to prepare. For example, I sometimes wished I had continued on to medical school and become a doctor. Maybe I would have been able to save more money for retirement!
Early childhood educators have the opportunity to help prepare children for a future that we can just imagine at this point. We can arm them with thinking skills that will help them in a world that will include many things that have not even been invented yet. Building the brain connections in young people should be a top priority because it will increase their capacity for the future. I recently told some students that I wished my early childhood teachers would have stretched my thinking capacity more so that I could understand statistics a bit better. I said it as a joke, but I certainly hope to never hear that ‘joke’ from one of my former students. It surely contains more truth than humor.
I was working with one of my student teachers recently and she expressed to me her exasperation with her cooperating site teacher. They currently have a child who is in foster care in their class. The little first grader has learned how to manipulate situations and refuses to cooperate with classroom rules. My student teacher is frustrated because when she follows through on classroom procedures with the girl, and she is required to receive the consequences of her actions, the site teacher pulls the girl aside and gives her candy! Ugh!
I know that the site teacher thinks she is being supportive and comforting to this little girl. The student teacher feels like she is forced into the “bad guy” role in the classroom.
I was explaining to both teachers that the most secure and helpful procedure they could follow is being consistent with their expectations for the little girl. While I understand that she needs extra support because of her unfortunately situation, the best support they can give is to be consistent in their expectations and procedures. The best security we can provide for at-risk children is to surround them with the safety net of knowing what to expect when they come into the classroom each day. By having clear rules and guidelines, clear consequences for inappropriate behavior, plus a loving and supporting classroom atmosphere, the small child will be supported in the best possible way. The worst thing we can do for children in a classroom, especially at-risk kids, is not provide the security of consistency. It is unfair and scary in a world that has already treated them unfairly.
We are getting ready to say goodbye to our flowers for the season. In our area, flowers disappear with the first frost. Although a little early, we lost a few vines this past week, but we are still enjoying the flowers. However, I understand that we must enjoy them today because they will be gone tomorrow.
I was looking at my geraniums and thinking how different each plant can be. Not only are the colors of the flowers different, the leaves and the plant patterns vary from mound to mound. It is like having different children in our classrooms. If we are working with 5 year olds, they are all 5 year-olds. Fortunately, they all have different patterns, different leaves, and variegated colors. Like all of my geraniums, children need different things to flourish and make the most of their development and accomplishments. I had a geranium this season that needed constant monitoring with additional plant food and water. Because I took the time to do this, that plant did well and provided many beautiful blooms during the summer. Other plants seemed to grow like weeds, without much additional care. The children in our classrooms are so much like that. Some need extra care and consideration to make the same progress other children seem to make automatically. The key is to provide that extra nourishment. Children who need extra care are sometimes the ones that fight it and seem to rebuff that extra attention. That means we teachers must make it a priority to provide the necessary care. If the child is going to bloom, we must be willing to provide the necessary support. As early childhood community, we need to work to make sure every child blooms.
I had the opportunity to present a workshop at the North Carolina AEYC Conference this past week. It was a joy to meet with wonderful early childhood teachers in North Carolina. I always love visiting that beautiful state. No matter where I visit in the United States, there are early childhood teachers who want to provide the best possible experience for their children. Last week was no exception. The early childhood community continues to look for innovative and engaging ways to help children learn. Our group discussed using the sand and sensory tables to promote and support language and literacy development. I firmly believe that the sensory tables are not used enough in our classrooms. Some of the language and literacy ideas we discussed include:
- Forming letters of the alphabet with wet sand or dough
- Allowing children to create parts of stories using sand and props
- Having children use a scoop to find sponge letters floating in water
- Using a magnet wand to find magnetic letters hidden in sand
- Using dough to create another ending for a story
- Using sand on a cookie sheet or tray to form alphabet letters with your finger
It is that season again when most school systems begin a new academic year. We started classes at the university last Monday, but most of the public school districts in our area begin in the next few days. I took the opportunity last week to visit my student teaching candidates as they were helping their site teachers with classroom setup. The old “beginning of the year” excitement was very evident in every school I visited. I remember that excitement well as I enjoyed setting up my classroom every fall for almost 25 years. Later this week, I will meet with my candidates and begin our semester-long course on classroom management. To me, effectively managing a classroom is the key to everything for the year. A teacher cannot teach successfully, or children learn successfully, without an effective classroom routine. Research tells us that it is the attitude of the teacher that is the key factor in teaching reading, math, and other academic subjects. My job this semester is to model for my student teachers how human development should be the foundation of that classroom management. Our educational system is so focused on academic teaching that teachers don’t receive a lot of support for meeting the needs of their students using developmental principles. Those principles are the key to understanding how students function. It is not just early childhood children who should reap the benefits of developmentally appropriate practice. Understanding the developmental stage of a 9 year-old will be a tremendous help for the teacher in a fourth grade classroom. My job is to help my group of future teachers understand those principles.
Time continues to slip past us at an incredible rate. As we age, our perception is that time moves even faster. Before we realize it, we take the place of our parents and soon we will observe our children taking our place. When my aunt, the last of her generation, passed away last fall, my cousin turned to me and said, “Well, we’re it now. WE are the oldest generation.” When did that happened? When did I become the ‘oldest’ guy around? I watch my three children as parents worrying about their children moving into the teenage years. Wow! Part of me laments at being older while the other part of me is happy that I don’t have to raise teenagers again!
I had the opportunity to take my six grandchildren to my parents’ grave recently. I really wish that my parents could have known my children and grandchildren as they are now. They are so interesting and individual. But, time marches on and I am happy to have been the bridge between these generations.
It always intrigues me to watch a young child with his parent or grandparent. The child watches everything that the adult is doing. If at all possible, the child will imitate the adult in an effort to be just like the person that is their protector. As I watched a group of family members show their children how to safely use sparklers to celebrate the holiday yesterday, it was evident that the children were making efforts to follow the examples of the adults. However, the older the child, the less the child seemed to follow the adult direction. Isn’t it interesting what children do as they become more independent. It reminded me again of how fleeting and short these important early childhood years are for those young ones.
The experience also reminded me how vulnerable and delicate our young children are when watching their parent or grandparent. When adults are good examples and at the same time challenge the child to think and create their own answers, a resilient child is created. I remember reading some of the research on Multiple Intelligences that was a theory offered by Howard Gardner. In one of his documents he mentioned how he didn’t want his children to redo the same things that he had done. He wanted them to create new things and new ideas. Being a great example to children and encouraging them to develop thinking skills will help carry these children into a future we can’t predict.