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Costumes–your child does not need costumes.

Notice, I did not say he or she does not need dress-up clothes. I said pass on the costumes.

What’s the difference? Dress-up clothes are multi-purposed and the purpose changes with your child’s imagination. Your child is in charge. The plain cape can make him or her a superhero or a knight or Little Red Riding Hood or Zorro or a bad guy or a good guy or a princess traveling on a mission. A Superman cape with logo is only a Superman cape.

Dress-up play is immensely important.

  • Imaginary play develops a child’s language skills. Think about it: Whether your child does it silently or out loud, he or she can’t become part of a story unless and until they put words to it.
  • Thinking of multiple uses for an object is a trait of creativity.
  • Dress-up and imaginary play puts a child in charge. In a day to day existence where children are told so often what to do and when, imaginary play lets them be the boss.
  • It also helps children develop impulse control.
  • Finally, in imaginary play, children can tackle what’s frightening and overcome it, they can be aggressive and discover their limits, they can be powerful–and on and on. The agenda is theirs.

If you buy a Snow White or Spiderman costume, that’s the end of the story–literally. Save your money and buy oodles more of all purpose dress-up clothes instead (many can be picked up at your local thrift store).

What’s your favorite addition to the dress-up box?

Have fun,

Babette

Leave it to the BBC to post a treasure trove of resources for early learning! Rhymes, audio, video, lyrics & pictures! What more could you ask for! It’s called School Radio, and it’s all free. The website is a little tricky to navigate (I’ll walk you through, though), some items are posted only for a limited time, and of course, some materials might not be as applicable for you depending on cultural differences (like accents).

The good parts, though, are very, very good.  :-) Here’s a brief tour of what I found, liked, and will use myself.

Opening the link, you’ll find a menu list on the left. Clicking on Early Learning, you’ll see five choices.  The best are Nursery Rhymes and Stimulus Sounds. I’ve actually linked you (above) to the Nursery Rhymes page so it’s already open for  you. Rhymes are mid-screen and grouped alphabetically. Click on “Baa, baa black sheep” for starters, and take a listen. Pretty snazzy, huh? (I’ll be using this one at the SLV Fiber Fest in July!). Scroll down and you can click on a link to print out the photo and the lyrics.

If you are in the U.S. like me, some of the rhymes will be unfamiliar–but that can be a nice way to freshen up your storytimes. Most of the songs and rhymes are repeated twice, always a nice feature. I found that the British accents were not overwhelming in the nursery rhymes but were probably too much in the “Listen and Play” and “Playtime” story links for early learners here in the U.S.

Finally, if you select the “Stimulus Sounds” link, you’ll find audio files for sounds that children can listen to and then identify. Hearing individual sounds is absolutely key to being able to read later. It is one of the two skills (the other is vocabulary) that is almost always missing in elementary aged children who are struggling to read. (Want to know more? Click on the “phonological awareness” tag in the left column on my site.) So this is a great resource especially on days when you can’t get outdoors to listen for “real” sounds. And kids think this is really fun! Be patient though. It is a skill that has to be learned and it takes time so give lots of encouragement and keep it fun.

Have fun exploring!

Babette

That seems an oxymoron, putting Mr. Rogers (as in children’s television) and re-mix (as in recombination of music tracks to create something new) together. Mr. Rogers wasn’t a singer, a rapper, or even part of a band. Granted, my kids’ favorite bedtime music was a tape of some of the songs from his show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. He was simply many, many a child’s (and adult’s) favorite television neighbor.

I love re-mixes. I love the creativity that is so stunningly demonstrated when one is well done. And this one by PBS Digital is now way at the top of my list. It’s only 3 minutes long and it will make you smile *all* day long. So take a listen to Gardens of the Mind, the Mr. Rogers Re-Mix, and remember all the good Fred Rogers stood for and all he’s left us to carry on with for the sake of children.

Smile!

Babette

That may sound like an exaggeration. Certainly the intention is to improve education for a generation but when mandates don’t match with reality, the opposite occurs.

As busy as you are, if there are young children in your life, you need to read this summary in the Washington Post of Defending the Early Years’ coalition report.

If you think it’s not this bad, read Dr. David Elkind’s book Miseducation. Written in the late 80’s, it was prescient. It remains one of the best and most accessible explanations of why we cannot go against the biology and psychology of learning and what happens when we do.

And if you think these things don’t happen, I’ll tell you about my personal experience over ten years ago with preschool testing. My youngest, who is now sixteen, was in a “lottery funded” preschool program. Good program, good teachers. Until they started testing. A lot. I asked the teachers to not test my child. They squirmed big time–and eventually “sorta” told me that they couldn’t cause it would get them in trouble.

I spoke with the director who was very understanding–but still wanted him tested. We finally agreed that I would put my request in writing and that they wouldn’t test. I thought that was the end of the story.

Then in the car pick-up line a few weeks later, the teacher very quickly (and surreptitiously) stuck her head in the car window and apologized to me and said she “was sorry but she had to.” “Had to what?” I asked. “Test him today” was her guilty reply.

It was my son’s last day at that preschool, free or not.

If you are involved in early childhood education, please check out the link in the WP article to DEY’s survey and make your voice and experience heard. Speak up to principals, school boards, and others who make education decisions. Insist that their decisions follow what we’ve known for decades about how children learn.

Together we can see that children receive the education that’s best for them,

Babette

I’m back! :-) And over the next few weeks, I’ll fill you in on some of the changes in my life and work. To kick things off, though, I want to share a most memorable story for this Memorial Day–and kick off a new series of articles. Developmental Milestones will share stories and examples from the “real world” of how children grow. It will put some concrete flesh on the theoretical bones of developmentalists like Piaget, Erikson, Elkind, and others.

Let’s start off with a photo. It’s not mine to embed so click here to take a look. Yes, that’s a five year old boy, patting the President of the United States head. Yes, he asked to pat it, to touch the President’s hair. Why? To see if it was like his own.

What’s going on here developmentally? During ages 1-3, children begin to develop a sense of being separate from the people around them. During ages 3-6, they begin to develop an identity. They aren’t just a separate entity, a different “thing” from you or me; they are a separate being with a unique identity. Of course, a 3 year old doesn’t verbalize or even think about this but all the things that make us human are driving him or her to explore identity.

What makes me “me” and not you? (And yes, if this sounds familiar, you are right. This exploration gets re-visited in adolescence; some actually call the teenage years “the second adolescence.” :-)) At this age the exploration is on very basic levels–Am I a boy or a girl? How do I know that? Am I strong, smart, shorter, taller, brown like you or white like her? Can I be a knight, a princess, a fire fighter, a doctor, a chef, a mother, a father?

Do you see where this is leading? Can I be President?

“Who am I?” Jacob is asking. Am I like him? His skin color is like mine; is his hair like mine?  Can I have fuzzy hair and be President? Can I be black with fuzzy hair and be President?

What do children see? Who do we allow them to see?

Don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing didactic here. We don’t have to “teach” or knock them over the head with a two by four about prejudice or gender issues. But we do have to be aware of how much they are learning. It is important that all children see that a black person can be President or that a woman can be a doctor or that a dad can change diapers. It is important that they see their faces in books (including on the covers) and movies and computer games.

No matter what strides we make as a society in overcoming prejudice and racism, we will always have to remember that children ages 3-5 will be exploring identity. We need to give them opportunities to explore all the possibilities.

Questions? Comments? Just click below the headline. Want to read more? Click here for “Obama and the Snowy Day.”

Have fun!

Babette

I was only eight when Mr. Rogers went to Washington and spoke at this Senate hearing concerning children and television.  I was mostly too old to watch him (except when nothing else was on TV) and it wasn’t many years before I joined the ranks of folks who loved to make fun of him. He did have a very distinctive speaking style. :-)

His sincerity, integrity, and authenticity could not be beat though. He was as real in front of the Senate and a grumpy Pastore as he was in front of a Hollywood award crowd, his own show’s TV cameras, or a flesh and blood child. His manner overshadowed everything else that one might initially want to poke fun at–his speech, his slow style, his puppets, his focus on the simple (but ever so important) events of children’s lives.

I was “reintroduced” to Mr. Rogers in grad school and then later when I had children. He informed my attitude about and understanding of children immensely–especially concerning their feelings and lives.

The first video clip of the Senate hearing is a bit long at 6 minutes, but it really is worth a watch. It starts slowly (just like the man speaking) and then the passion begins to come through–and as a bonus, you get to see Pastore melt.

The second one is a couple of the best minutes of true humility you will ever witness.

These clips will renew your faith in what one person can do and inspire you to be your best in your neighborhood. Grab a cuppa and visit for a few minutes with Mr. Rogers.

Take care, Neighbor!

Babette

Now that all the hoopla has died down–and since you asked–here’s my take on the supposed demise of the children’s picture book (read the NYT article that started it all here).

My take? It’s much ado over nothing (except on two points). Here’s why:

  • The article’s point is a business point. Sales have dropped. The most obvious reason should be the economy. Did anyone check the sales on other goods purchased with disposable income? Are the figures on picture book sales really that much different from those of skateboards or barbies?
  • Second, why does it sound like  consumers are such dumb sheep that they will only buy what is on display right under their noses? If you want to buy a picture book, shop for a picture book, no matter what marketing ploys the seller is utilizing.
  • Third, if we buy them, publishers will print them. If we don’t, they won’t.

So why should adults purchase (or check out of their friendly neighborhood library ;-)) picture books for kids?

The two most important reasons are:

First, for most of the time, for most kids ages birth through six-ish to seven-ish, picture books are developmentally the most appropriate reading format.

What does that mean? It means the child will enjoy the reading experience more. They will not feel pushed, rushed, or bored as they will with a chapter book or beginning reader. (When’s the last time you read one? They are good for practicing reading. They are not highly motivating.) Children who enjoy reading read more.

The second reason involves choice. Children who are allowed to choose their own books read more. Choice means they can choose anything, even if a grown-up deems it “too easy.” Reading increases reading. The type of reading “matter” is not what increases reading. The quantity of reading is what increases reading (as long as it is enjoyable). So if your child enjoyed hearing the phone book read aloud, that would make him or her a better reader!

Whoever you want to point the finger at for “pushing” kids into beginning readers and chapter books, the deciding factor is you, the parent. You hold the wallet–not the publishers, book sellers, school district, or teacher. Listen to and watch your kid. What is he or she truly turned on to in books? What does he or she choose? Buy it, check it out of the library, get more of it until he or she is ready to move onto something else. Read aloud even after he or she has learned to read. Make reading enjoyable. For most young children, that enjoyment will be through picture books.

Off my soapbox now,

Babette

from the Richmond Times-Dispatch Preschool is Good Investment: 18% return on investment; that’s better than the stock market!

for fun, the Bookulating Suggest-O-Meter: The Bookulator did not work well for me but the intro is well worth a watch!

from Miller-McCune, Advantages of Home Libraries: Another reason to make sure all kids have access to and own their own books!

from NY Times, Pervasiveness of Choking Hazards: Even if you’re a “good parent” and think you know about little ones and choking, read this.

Be thoughtful!

Babette

For a number of years now, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended zero TV time for children under age 2 and under 2 hours a day for older childern.

A new report now links a variety of troubles children have later in life to how much TV they watched as toddlers (yes, toddlers!). These include the expected ones like obesity, high blood pressure , and problems with language development and attention span–but it also included suprise ones like lower math achievement and higher incidence of being bullied. These effects were found years later when the children were in school.  Click here to read more.  And here.  (And both articles share some amazing statistics.)

What’s a parent to do? Is it really that important? Dr. David Elkind offers help in sorting this out; click here.

How can one activity lead to so many difficulties so many years later? There are two huge factors at work here.

First, if a child is sitting in front of a TV or other screen, that child is not doing the things his or her body and mind was made to be doing developmentally at that time. Simple things like putting things into a box and taking them back out again, rocking a doll, watching the birds outside, playing in the sand or water, or singing, talking, and reading with a living, caring human being–these are all critical to a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual growth.

Second, as intimated above, if a child is spending time with the TV, they are not spending time with an adult. The basis for all future relationships is established in the years between birth and age six-ish. We are socials beings, we are wired to learn about the world and life and ourselves through our relationships, and no machine can come close to fulfilling those roles.

As Elkind puts it, “…infants and young children learn best through direct interaction with caregivers, whether it is reading, talking or playing games like Itty Bitty Spider, Patty Cake and so on. Computer games (my insert: and other screens) for infants put an unnecessary barrier between child and caregiver and dilute the potency of that interaction.”

It is cliched, but they are only little once. Turn off the screens. Find other things for your baby and little one to do and explore; find other things to enjoy doing together. And not sure what to do? Ask your friendly neighborhood children’s librarian for ideas! :-)

Babette

March 20th is “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day. Maybe that’s why the NY Times featured a story about Fred Rogers and his legacy (he died seven years ago in February). There is so much wrapped up in this article about Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood.

First, the bad news: PBS is no longer distributing Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to TV stations. I think this is a terrible loss and goes quite beyond a nostalgic sadness (which I will say more about below).

But the good news is that they’ve made his shows available through the PBS website. And that works find as long as you have internet access. It’s not at all good for those children who don’t, however.

I was a child when Mr. Rogers as well as Sesame Street got their starts on television. But we didn’t watch TV much as children and my first awareness of him was probably in 3rd or 4th grade when it was “the thing” to make fun of the way he talked.

My boys grew up with him, though. Their favorite lullaby tape was a collection of songs from the show. And as young men today, they still remember Mr. Rogers.

Now, I did sometime watch Captain Kangaroo as a child, and I remember him too. But not for the same reasons.  Despite what the article implies, Mr. Rogers falls nowhere in the same league as Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis, or Howdy Doody. They were all find entertainers; they were all pioneers in the field of children’s television.

But Mr. Rogers was a genius. He had a remarkable education including graduate work in child development. He understood children deeply and could put his head and heart inside their world, a world which is so radically different from an adult’s. He had children in mind first and a TV show second.

In today’s world, when children are being rushed and misunderstood as never before, we need Fred Rogers in their worlds.

I encourage you, if you are not familiar with Fred Rogers’ work, to watch his TV shows with or without your children. Read his books; many are written for parents and teachers. Purchase his books for children. My children negotiated potty training, making friends, moving, and family death’s with Mr. Rogers caring help.

And maybe we’ll see each other in Pennsylvania on day at the Fred Roger Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media. I’m awfully glad others are carrying on his work.

See you around, Neighbor!

Babette


We had Toddler Time today and several outstanding moments happened!

First, I had two dads with their little ones join us today. I love it when dads come–and before dads leave, they find out why it’s so wonderful when they can come.

Children need to see men reading and they need to have men read to them. This communicates to children, especially boys, that reading is a “guy thing.” Modeling and especially gender modeling is critical in from age 4ish-6ish.  That’s when boys and girls are trying to sort out what a woman is, what a man is, how do I tell them apart, and how do I look and act like the one I am.

This starts out as not much more than the same process they went through to learn the differences between dogs and cats. They set up in their minds, “Dogs have four legs, are furry, and bark.” Then one day they see a cat, call it a cat, and then hear it meow! Their dog category now has to change; they have to develop a cat category as well.

This is why you’ll hear kids claim that “all women are mommies and all men are daddies” or “all girls wear dresses, tractors can only be driven by men,–and only mommies and teachers read books.”

The solution? Actions speak louder than words. We have to show them. They need to find what works for them at this age for “being a girl” or “being a boy.” For some girls, that means wearing only pink, for some boys only wearing overalls. That’s what they need to be who they are at this age.

But at the same time, they need chances to see the big wide, wonderful world–and all the marvelous ways men and women live in it, quite comfortably. Like daddies playing at Toddler Time. :-)

Second, afterwards I looked up from a desk to see a 20 month old girl, reading! She had climbed up into a big person chair near the front desk, reached to the top of a small display shelf, and taken down a paperback of Sisters Grimm (older juvi novel). There she sat, pacifier in mouth, tiny pigtails on top of her head, turning page after page, quite contentedly.

That girl’s parents ROCK! She knows what books are about!

This stuff works, guys! Read on!

Babette

Big messes are never easy to fix. But they are possible when we have the big picture in mind–and when that picture is accurate. Dr. Susan Engel does a marvelous job of refocusing the big picture in the NY Times today; click here. Take a few minutes to read it; she defines the issues just so, making it well worth the read.

We’ve known for over fifty years, through research and experience, what children need to learn. In many ways most children don’t need much; human beings are designed to learn. It’s like feeding them; basic nutrition is not rocket science or we never would have survived as a species. Learning is the same. Yet slowly and incrementally we have eroded that starting point. We have replaced what truly works with “stuff” that grows out of our attitudes. We, as adults, want to feel good and look good and we’ve used children as our props.

Our educational system is busted. It’s a mess and it needs fixing. Some honesty is needed, though, before any changes will matter. And most of this honesty involves attitudes:

More is not better. A malnourished child and a well nourished child do not need the same things. Neither does a “educationally” nourished child need the same things as the “educationally” malnourished child. Middle and upper class parents need to turn loose of this attitude. It strains resources and it harms children who do not need all that “extra” nourishment.

Earlier is not better. There is no research that supports that the earlier a child does something, the better they are at it later. Is your child better at using the toilet at age ten because he potty-trained 9 months before his cousin? Of course, not, how silly.  The same principle applies to learning to walk, talk, read, or count. Doing it “early,” first off, does not last, and second, does not bear out later in “being better.” And when we push for earlier, we stress children, burn them out, kill the love of learning that’s built into them, and take away time from the learning “stuff” they would be doing–if they weren’t working flashcards, beginning readers, or worksheets. Earlier is better has been the mantra in the schools for over forty years–but in the same space of time, results have fallen and fallen. We need to make the connection. It makes us feel like we are “doing more” for children and that makes us look and feel good, but it is counter-productive.

Giving your child every “educational” advantage does not make you a better parent, give you status, or change how you feel about working full-time–or staying home full-time. We as parents need to separate what we claim we do for our kids “for their good” and what we are really doing because it makes us feel better. This is hard, separating our needs from those of our child, but it is essential to good parenting (and to any good relationship). When these get muddled, we sign up for everything “they” (marketers) tell us is needed and we pressure child cares and schools to “do more.”

I hope more people like Dr. Engel get involved in the conversation as NCLB gets revamped. But parents need to be involved also. Schools and legislators need to hear that this is “all right” with parents, that we will support them as they make these desperately needed changes. If you want further reading on this subject, I highly recommend Dr. David Elkind’s book Miseducation.

Read, think, watch your kids–and be honest! We can do what’s best for kids!

Babette

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