Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pills to Help in School

On October 9, 2012, The New York Times published an article written by  Alan Schwarz titled Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School.  The article tells us about Dr. Michael Anderson prescribing Adderall for children, not because he has diagnosed them with ADHD but rather because they are performing poorly in schools.

I first heard about this through The Colbert Report.  As usual I laughed through most of Mr. Colbert segment.  What was unusual was that even as I laughed, I felt that this wasn't at all funny. Now I think it's criminal.  Perhaps at first glance, the thought of drugging our children so they can achieve good grades isn't SO bad, at least it's certainly not a criminal offense.  It brings to mind a dear friend who attended high school with me and would regale us with stories about how her mom would give the kids two teaspoons of Benadryl every night so they would sleep soundly without disturbing her.  Even in this week's episode of Modern Family, Jay informs a classroom full of new parents that children aren't that hard to raise.  "You feed them, change them and give them a shot of whiskey when they're teething."  (loosely quoted)  Of course all the young parents in the class are horrified by the overt ignorance that you would give a baby alcohol to soothe teething issues.

Yet, here we are, in this sad place where a medical doctor feels he has little choice but to medicate a child for a condition he does not have (in fact, the doctor does not even believe that ADHD is a real condition) simply because the child is doing poorly in school.  Reality is a lot like our comedy shows, only very sad.

The world gasps and sits on the edge of it's seat when we find out that a baseball player, a cyclist, a swimmer or a sprinter is taking steroids.  We call then cheaters and even have congressional investigations into the alleged use of performing enhancing drugs.  Across the globe, doctors are tried and convicted of prescribing drugs to their adult patients.  Yet, when a medical doctor prescribes a combination of amphetamines to a child that clearly has no medical condition that warrants taking the drug, we hardly bat an eyelash.  Where is the outrage?  When are the congressional hearings?

Dr. Anderson believes he is a "social justice thinker."  I believe that Dr. Anderson is a criminal.  "Above all, I must not play God."  Ignoring many facets of the Hippocratic Oath, Dr. Anderson is guilty of playing God.  He is delving into a field that is not medical and making an ill fated diagnoses of a condition he admits does not exist.  He states, "I don't have a whole lot of choice."  Let me point out that he actually does have some choices.  He could mentor youths at risk through a Big Brother program, he could prescribe more time in nature for the child, he could prescribe a healthy, balanced diet.  He could make sure his patient is getting enough sleep.  He could financially sponsor a tutor for a child falling behind.  He could spend some time in schools inspiring future generations to a greater cause than just acing the test.  He could petition his representatives in congress about the dire needs of schools.  He could lead a cause. Perhaps Dr. Anderson does these things already, perhaps he does not.  To say however that he does not have a lot of choice is irresponsible at best, criminal it's worst.

"I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure." Here again the doctor fails to live up to his oath.  He clearly states that there is no disease, no condition, yet he proclaims a treatment to soothe his social conscienceSo instead of preventing he is exposing a child to horrific possible side effects, the exact opposite of prevention.

I cannot tell you how many parents come to me and tell me their children are "hyper" or are ADHD.  I am not a medical doctor, so I never second guess a medical diagnosis.  I do however always consult with parents over their child's behaviour.  A ten year old that is wanting to jump, run and climb trees?  Completely normal.  A three year old that can't sit still during an hour of circle time?  Completely normal.  A child that gets bad grades at school because he complains of boredom?  Completely normal.  The trick (actually not a trick, just a sane response.) is to engage children in ways that ignites their curiosity and creativity.  Let the ten year old climb trees.  Give him access to the outdoors, fresh air and physical challenges.  Give the three year old "wiggle time" every 15 minutes throughout the day.  Go to your local library and find books that will engage your child.  Look online for new ways to teach the same old boring stuff.  Be honest with yourself, you found lots of subjects in school boring too!  Engage, Engage, Engage!  It's a much better solution than Prescribe, Prescribe, Prescribe!


In part 2 of this series I will address the issues of working parents, single working parents and poverty in regards to medicating for non existent condition.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Back to School

I always feel like I must add a disclaimer before I write this type of post.  I LOVE teachers!  I feel they are underpaid, overworked, disrespected by our government.  They are expected to teach, fill in gaps, be counselors, miracle workers and do it tirelessly while expecting little in return.  I LOVE learning.  I think learning is the backbone of our society, our economy, our relationships, our future.  That being said, I really don't like back to school season.  It's the time of year when all kinds of nonsense gets passed around and most of us just accept it as fact, when actually nothing could be further from the truth.  Take for instance, a ridiculous article on Kindergarten readiness published in our local newspaper.  The article states,

"Research shows that a high-quality preschool can help students make large gains in school readiness."

What research shows this, they do not state or mention. This is followed by:

'“If they go to preschool, data shows they’ll be successful,” said Meera Kreitzer, Salem-Keizer’s elementary education director.'

From reading the article I know that Ms. Meera Kreitzer is referring to success in elementary school.  The data she is referencing is not noted or listed anywhere in the article.  I for one would love to read THAT data!

I have some data that I will share with you and I'll even give you the links, so that you don't have to take my word for it.  In an abstract published in 2002 in the Early Childhood Research and Practice Journal, Rebecca A. Marcon of the University of North Florida states the following:

"By the end of their sixth year in school, children whose preschool experiences had been academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children's later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences. Their progress may have been slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduced formalized learning experiences too early for most children's developmental status"

Then there is this article by Christopher Clouder in which he states:

“If you start formal learning early on, you can actually
damage formal learning later on.” He went on, “Some people believe that the earlier you
start children reading and writing and doing formal instruction the better. All the evidence
we took, from every side, goes against that argument.” Tricia David of the Professional
Association of Nursery Nurses commented, “Over-emphasis on formal education and
abstract concepts of literacy and numeracy before the age of five can result in a sense of
failure. Early failure can lead to long-term underachievement, disaffection and even truancy...

In this article, it does suggest that preschool is important if it "focuses on social and physical development."

What leads me to believe that the preschool program that Salem/Kiezer is offering is inappropriate and not focused on the development of social and physical skills?  This quote:

"Whetzel also sees concerning trends at the preschool level. More and more students have a difficult time sitting and paying attention, getting along with other students and following directions."

It's not concerning if it's at a preschool level!!!  It's completely appropriate!  I'll even go out on a proverbial limb here and say it's appropriate for most children to have a difficult time sitting and paying attention until age 7 or 8!

And then of course there is this quote by Ralph Wisner, principal at Grant elementary school:

"Wisner hopes to create a seamless connection from preschool to kindergarten that will eliminate the achievement gap.  'What if that gap never happened,” he said. “What if they were prepared when they walked in the door?' The seamless transition from preschool to kindergarten is the type of outcome the Early Learning Council hopes its preschool to 20 plan will create in the future."

 On the surface there seems to be nothing wrong with this statement.  Who wouldn't want ALL the children ready for kindergarten on the first day of school?  This is where we, as parents, as educators, need to stop and really think about that statement.  Why does the state of Oregon feel it has the authority or even the knowledge to declare what is developmentally appropriate for my child, let alone for EVERY SINGLE child in the state?  Who does that?  We do not develop in petri dishes.  Every aspect of our development cannot be rated, qualified, quantified and deemed acceptable or discarded for "lack of readiness."

Every child, indeed every person (because a child is no less a person than you or I) develops at their own pace, even when there is parental involvement, even when they live in an enriching environment, even when they come from upper levels of the socio-economic spectrum, even when both parents live at home in a loving nurturing relationship.

Just because a child cannot sit still does not mean he is not ready to learn.  Just because a child cries and clings when his mother gets ready to leave does not mean he is not ready to learn.  Just because a child cannot tie his shoes or zip up his jacket, does not mean he is not ready to learn...although I know teachers love it when they can do this.  Just because a child of five cannot read or count or write his name does not mean he is not ready to learn.  I have news for the Salem/Keizer school district, children are born learning.  We do such a disservice to our children, parents and our communities when we promote early learning programs as if they are the cure to all of societies ills.

Early learning programs are just that; programs.  I find no fault in exposing children to something new, something different, but not with the expectation that they will perform well on an assessment.  A good, quality program will be based on the knowledge that children learn and we should not impede their learning.  It really is that simple.  Is your child ready for kindergarten?  That's a silly question.  The question should be, what experiences will my child have in school that will encourage his already curiously enthusiastic love of learning?

Monday, June 4, 2012


We talk about relationships and socialization all the time.  Usually we are talking about relationships between people, socializing within a peer group etc.  However for children it's important to establish a relationship with nature too.  Planting a garden, caring for a pet.  Becoming aware of your surroundings is one of the first steps a child takes as he matures becoming (hopefully) a bit less egocentric.  Recently I wrote about the long time the kids took observing a blue bird's nest.

To be honest, I had to fight my instinct to tell the children to come back to our activity.  I had to keep reminding myself that relationships cannot be rushed.  I love the way children can arrive at the park and "make friends" immediately, but these relationships are circumstantial and fleeting.  As an adult we interact constantly with others but these are not the relationships that hold our hearts.

As with people relationships, a relationship to nature takes time.  We have to spend time together.  We have to join in a give and take conversation.  We plant and nature responds by bearing fruit for us.  The bird sings and we respond with a smile or a song of our own. 

After spending the day observing the nest, we found this:

This little guy had flown out of the nest and hid among the ivy.  He couldn't fly high enough to make it over the bamboo fence.  Because the kids had spent so much time viewing the nest, they felt responsible for this little guys well being.  They discussed what would be best.  They couldn't put him back in the nest because the nest was too high.  They considered the neighborhood cat.  The considered that he needed to use his wings so they would grow strong.  In the end, they carefully lifted him out of the ivy and placed him in a nearby branch.  They then kept an eye out for him through most of the day.  They happily reported seeing him fly around the many trees in the yard and although he struggled for a little bit he soon found his "wings" and flew off.

I was so happy that I fought my instinct to guide the kids back to our activity.  Had they found this little guy in the yard without having established a relationship with him through observation, I have no doubt they would have been just as kind to him.  Having established a relationship however, made their kind act all the more rewarding.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Time, Time, Time

A blue jay built a nest in a Camilla tree outside our class window.  Recently we heard the chirping of small birds.  We've been keeping our eyes and ears open for any new activity.  Today we were rewarded with a view of beautiful baby birds that are fatter and almost as big as the momma jay.  They are grey and still have some down, but mostly feathers.  They ventured out of their nest and hopped from branch to branch.  The momma jay made several trips with a beak filled with wiggly worms and centipedes for her three babies.  We watched the spectacle for almost an hour.  Then the rain came pouring down, all the babies scurried back into the nest and the momma jay hurried home to keep her babies safe and warm.

We watched for almost an hour.  I wondered how many children get an uninterrupted hour to observe something other than a t.v. show.  I wondered if the children at Ivy League-West would remember this day for years to come.  I wondered what they learned. 

This I know: 

They were enthralled and excited.  They held their breaths as the babies hopped from branch to branch.  They made predictions as to when the babies would venture a flight.  The guessed how many trips the momma would make to fed her young.  They were quiet and talkative.  They never once took their eyes off the nest.  They were not interrupted by ringing bells.  They were not asked to write or report.  In fact they were not even asked to observe.  All they did or did not do was through their own initiative and interest.  As they left for the day, each and every one stopped by the window and said goodbye to the baby birds.  Each one talked about tomorrow.  "Maybe tomorrow they'll fly."

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Where Are You?

"Time is of the Essence." This is a legal term that states if whatever needs to be done is not done within a specified time the contract will be breached. Lately, in the education realm this has begun to mean that a child who does not grasp something cognitively by a certain age will be behind his peers (and the less often stated consequence; he will NEVER catch up). I'm all for having children exposed to things and all for early learning but I don't buy into this whole time is of the essence scenario when it comes to learning.

I don't care where the child is cognitively when he comes into our program. I meet that child where ever he is and we go from there. It's that simple. I know there have been studies done where children who have been isolated for many years never learn language, but let's be realistic. Those cases are rare and it's not something I deal with and I'll venture to say that most people in education don't deal with this type of scenario. We deal with more run of the mill scenarios. Kindergarten kids who don't recognize the letters, who have no concept of counting, who can't write their name, who haven't cracked the reading code.

In my profession when a child like this comes into a program what I usually hear are very negative comments. "Their parents never read to them." "They (the parents) haven't taught them anything." "He just does not get it." Sometimes it goes on and on...blame, blame, blame. I see this scenario all to often and at times I've been guilty of this type of blaming myself. The more I learn about child development, the less I engage in this type of thinking.

I believe learning is done more easily in a supportive environment, however a supportive environment is not necessary for learning. As long as there is nothing purposely impeding or jeopardizing the process, children are learning all the time.

My goal is to provide an environment where learning is expected and encouraged, regardless of where the children are or where they come from. If a child come to me at age 6 and cannot write, it does not mean he has failed to learn. This child may well have learned a great many things and he may well be poised to learn to write. If a child is struggling with reading it does not necessarily mean their parents don't read to them (I read to mine ALL the time and she struggled to take that first reading step), it may mean that they have been preparing this whole time and will soon begin reading.

When children are learning to walk they embark on a process that takes time. They stand and fall. They take a step and fall. They take two steps and fall. We don't write them off. We don't say, "Oh no, he is 14 months, at this rate he'll never learn to walk!" We don't see a child struggling to walk and pass judgement on the parents. We don't automatically assume the parent is too busy or too lazy to teach the child. We have faith, that the child will learn to walk.

In Raising Lifelong Learners, Lucy Calkins writes:

"We expect babies to join in by approximating conversation. When babies talk, we respond as if whatever they say makes sense. "Baa Baa," our child says, reaching with outstretched arms toward the banana on top of the refrigerator. We don't worry that the child will fixate on bad habits, that she'll say "baa baa" instead of banana for the rest of her life. We don't say, "Shh, Don't talk until you know the right word."...Instead we see what she is trying to say, and we produce the fruit for her. "Banana? You want the banana?" we say cheerfully. "Here you go" And so our children learn to talk. They learn to talk without workbooks, homework lessons, curriculum guides, tests or assignments."

If we watch a child when he is learning to walk we realize what is necessary for learning. First, look at the environment. A child who is learning to walk needs room. Ideally he has things he can hold on to. An adults hand or a coffee table, something to pull himself up on. He needs time to practice. Get up, fall down. Up, down. It's awesome if he has some encouragement. "Come to mama. You can do it."

So too with reading. Are books available? Is the child given time to practice (allowed to peruse books at his leisure)? He is being encouraged? When the child reads to you by telling you what is happening in the pictures, do you say, "What a great story." or do you say, "You're not really reading you're just looking at the pictures." The first comment is encouraging, the second is deflating. When teaching a child to write, Lucy Calkins has this to say:

"How can we teach our children to write? This is a question not only about writing but also about teaching. Teaching is always a mystery. It is never exactly clear how one person can teach another. Randy Bromer, my colleague at Teachers College, points out that this is especially true if we are teaching someone to do something. We cannot really "give' a child the ability to talk, swim, sing or to write because ultimately it is the other person (in this instance, the child) who must do the talking, swimming, singing or writing. In the end, our influence will inevitably be indirect. So it is with writing; all we can do is to create the conditions in which children can learn to write."

In our program it is more important for me to know where the child is and to provide an environment that is conducive to support learning than it is to place blame. I work with the parents to encourage them to provide an ideal environment for their children that nurtures learning. I encourage parents to have faith that even if their children are not on par with their peers at the moment, that all hope is not lost. Learning is a lifelong endeavor. I remind them that Helen Keller had been written off by many, except by Anne Sullivan.

There is much we can do to help our children not only learn but to become passionate lifelong learners. Meeting them where they are is simply the first step.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Coffee Gangster and A Child Change My World

I remember the day clearly. My son was 18 months old and picking through the toys in the toy box we kept in the living room. My daughter was just a few weeks old and I sat on the couch nursing her. I was watching General Hospital because I was bored. The boredom that a stay-at-home mother feels on occasion should not be underestimated. I loved my kids more than I can possibly explain, but day after day of rhymes, fingerplays and working on easy puzzles can grow old quick! Even though General Hospital wasn't really taking away the boredom, at least the adults on the screen were speaking in full sentence and that was definitely something!

The scene was with Sonny Corinthos and he, being the coffee gangster that he was, was holding a gun to someone's head. Truly cheesier scripts have never been written and I was actually smiling at the absurdity of the whole premise. Then I glanced over at my boy. He was holding a toy, but his attention was on the screen. He was engrossed. I was amused. Then I looked at the screen and I did something I started doing simply to stave off the boredom, I tried to view things from his perspective, using the little knowledge I assumed he had. It struck me like a lightening bolt!

Here is this little guy, not yet two. He's learned so much but still had so much to learn. He could not yet know what was real and what was make believe. He did not yet understand the nuances of our language. This child (as are all children) was literal. What he was watching was a very unpleasant scene where a man was threatening someone with a gun and he was soaking it all up like a sponge. Is this one of the first scenes I wanted my child to witness? If it was real would I try to shield it from him? The answers came flooding in. If this was really happening I would be horrified that my son was a witness to it, yet to him IT WAS really happening and HE WAS witnessing it!

Needless to say that was the end of my General Hospital viewing. I developed a distaste for it so great that to this day I can't watch it. That wasn't the only thing that changed that day. Viewing the world the way my kids see it has been fascinating. It's been a blessing and sometimes a curse. I see wonder and beauty and sometimes I see hatred and sadness. I see potential in the simplest things and I see horror in the actions of men. To say that my children have opened my eyes is an understatement.

So I challenge you to take a moment, this moment to look at your child and try to see the world from their perspective, their view with their experience. What do you see? Do you see the gum stuck to the underside of a park bench? Do you see how high the top of that slide is? Do you see the concern in their frown when they watch yet another murder on T.V.? Do you see the wonder when they find a mushroom and learn it's name?

Will viewing the world through your child's eyes change the way you see things? Will it change the things you do or say? Can you put yourself in that place? I want to hear from you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I'm a Sponge

Hey, psst, I'm talking to you. Did you know that your child is listening, that your child is watching and what's even worse they are soaking up everything around them. You may think that your children are too young to understand what's on the t.v. screen. You may think that because they can't speak they can't understand profanity. I've got to tell you that you are mistaken. Children are like sponges. What's more they have not yet developed any filters, so they can't get rid of the bad stuff they've been exposed to. Think about that for a few days. Let it really sink in.

Everything you expose your child to, he will absorb like a sponge and it will become a part of him.

This is not a new concept. Back in the 1800's, Walt Whitman wrote a beautiful poem:

THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

He goes on to speak about lilacs, morning glories and young lambs, but he also speaks of the town drunkard and the parents and the teacher. Everything the child sees becomes a part of him. Let's assume for a minute that this is true, which I wholeheartedly believe it is, would that change how you do things or the things you do with your child?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Glory of Play

Often I've said that boredom is a precursor to creativity. I truly believe this to be be true. I'm not one to offer suggestions to my own children on how they should entertain themselves. Usually I simply say things like "only boring people get bored" or "if you can't possibly think of anything to do, I'll be happy to give you something." That last suggestion has never been taken up by any of my children. They fear that it means chores. Yesterday I was listening to a show on NPR and the guy was talking about another precursor to creativity. Can you guess what it was? Play! Well he didn't mention play exactly...but I'm going to take some creative liberty here and say that play is also a precursor to creativity. What he said was that when you hit a wall in your creative endeavors you should step away from it, not think about it, let the answer just come to you without seeking it.

What better way to do this than through play? Often parents will ask me what I offer for our after school program. I understand that when paying for a service you want to get something in return, so I rarely pipe up and say, "Oh, I let them play!" Seriously? Why would you pay to just have your child play? They could do that at home for free! So for the sake of everyone involved I say we have all types of educational activities offered in our after school program. We offer science and art, language and math activities. We offer music and dance and lots of drama. I do offer all these things. For the parents it's a planned activity, for the kids, it's play in it's most natural form.

Especially in the after school program, play is a great way for kids to decompress. It's a great way for them to be themselves, to pursue their interests, to work at their own pace, to solve their own problems, to disappear into a favorite book, to work out their frustrations, to learn about group dynamics. Play offers children who have limited time for recess during school to move and jump and run.

All these things are important not just their physical well being but for their mental well being. How refreshed a child will feel approaching math now that he's jumped around and has his blood pumping. How much easier it will be to concentrate now that they've worked out some of their frustration with a hammer building a bird house. How much more creative they will be after sewing props for an upcoming play.

Play should never be an after thought at home and especially in school. Play should always be at the forefront of our plans for children and for ourselves. How drab would our world be without new ideas, new creations, new innovations. These are only possible when hard word is infused with good bouts of play. For the sake of the future, let the children play.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What a Phony!

Have you ever felt like a phony, a fake, a fraud? It's as if you are at work and then suddenly someone will walk in and point to you and say, "What's she doing here? She's not qualified, capable, educated!" This is especially true if you starting a new endeavor. Do you think any of the Presidents ever felt that way? I bet at least some of them have. I once saw an interview with Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore and all three of them admitted that every time they take on a new project, they feel completely incompetent and the fear that they will be called out as frauds. WOW!

If we persist however, slowly we grow into our new roles. Whether we are new parents concerned that we are in over our heads, (I remember when my son was just two weeks old, I broke down and in between tears and sobs, I confessed to my husband that I didn't think I was capable of raising a child for 18 years!) or we have a new position at work or we are working our way through a new creative endeavor, slowly we find our rhythm and start to feel a new level of confidence and competence.

So it goes with children and learning. Can you image a director telling Ms. Streep that she's not really acting? Or someone telling Bill Gates, that without a college degree he can't possibly be a billionaire? So let's never tell a child who brings us their scribbles that they can't write. Or tell a child that the story they are telling us is not what is written on the page. Kids need to grow into their roles as readers and writers. If we support them through the process, like a great director, soon they will blossom into their roles.

"I see education as creating in our classrooms the kind of world we believe in, and then inviting children to role-play their way into being the learners we want them to be."~Jerry Harste~

Friday, March 2, 2012

You're Doing Fine

Parenting is not a job for wimps. Before I had children, I was a strong confident woman that could answer any question. In fact, shortly after my husband and I met, we spent one of our dates sitting around his kitchen table asking each other questions out of The Little Book Of Questions. I answered every question without hesitation. He took more time and sometimes said he just didn't know what he'd do...he was already a father. Things that seem simple and black and white take on new gravity when you become a parent. Add to it, all the advice of experts and you really start to second guess yourself. You may mention that you co-sleep to a dear friend and she'll warn you about the danger of smothering your child. You may say you rather sleep in your own bed and you'll be lectured on the benefits of attachment parenting.

The truth of the matter is that you a doing fine. In fact, the more simply you live your life, the better you are probably doing. Do you let your kids have plenty of opportunities for unstructured play? Great! Do you balance it out with maybe one extra-curricular activity (if they are six or older) during the week? Great! Do you enjoy your kids and feel relaxed when you are around them? Great! Do you read to them...even if they are school-aged? Awesome!
You are doing great!

What if you feel you are not doing great? You may feel that you are not doing enough. The problems begin when you start to worry. Does you infant seem distracted when you put flashcards in front of him? Put the flashcards away and engage him in a game of peek-a-boo. Is your child so over scheduled that he often sleeps in the car or bus while traveling to an activity? Stop the activity. Is your child obsessed with video games? Get rid of them! If you are worried about how your child is measuring up, stop, take a deep breath and read on...

I'm talking here about worry in general. There is a difference between that and a genuine concern in particular. If you have a genuine concern, seek out professional help and educate yourself as fully as possible with whatever it is that concerns you. If you have a general worry that your child "doesn't have an edge," or "he's not on par with his peers," or "he's never going to succeed at this rate," then the problem doesn't lie with your child, it lies with you. If you are cranky and running yourself ragged so your 4 year old can take music and karate, in addition to preschool. Stop!

I'm about to make a radical suggestion. If the above sounds like you, take a one month break! For the period of one month cease all or as many activities as you can. If you are working and your child must go to daycare, then just do that for one month. I'm talking about no t.v., no video games, no extra-curricular activities. Nothing but time with your child. For the first week, you are both going to be a little stir crazy. Your child will want to be entertained. You will feel that this is more difficult than running around. This is the time to establish a rhythm, if you haven't already done so. Be strict about your child's bedtime routine.

Now at the end of the month you may notice some changes in both you and your child. Your child's creativity will flourish. His ability to entertain himself will have increased. You will realize that play dough is not as messy as you imagined. You will learn that cleaning up watercolor spills are easier than running all over town with a tired child in tow. You will both be more relaxed and there will be more laughter and fun in your home. In raising your children always keep in mind this quote from Henry David Thoreau:

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”



Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Feel The Love

Happy Valentine's Day! We are all a buzz here because after Christmas, Valentine's Day is the kids absolute favorite day of the year. Kids have such an innate sense of love. I'm blessed that I get to work with kids and see it all the time. Kids love, love, love to help. They love to feel useful. They are very often kind and sympathetic. Last week I decided to jot down what the kids said whenever I witnessed an act of love or kindness. Here is only part of the list:

  1. "Let me help you turn on the water, the faucet sticks."
  2. "Oh my gosh, you are doing so well on that puzzle!"
  3. "Oh no, are you okay?"
  4. "I'm so sorry! I was running so fast I couldn't stop."
  5. "Let me help you carry that basket of blocks, it's really heavy?"
  6. "Thanks Mrs. Alida, you're the best!"
  7. "Surprise! The table is all set for lunch!"
  8. "I'm making a card for my brother, because he's been sick."
  9. "Maybe we could all put our money together and then buy a toy we can all share."
  10. "Hurry let all clean up so we can play outside."
  11. "Oh thank you for the extra napkin."
  12. "Mrs. Alida, did you see how well "D" is writing his letter L?"
  13. "Good job!"
  14. "Yay, we did a great job on these muffins!"
This is a snippet of the conversations the kids had. Yes, there were moments of frustration and even anger, but for the most part, the kids rally behind each other, encourage each other, root for each other. The anger and frustration doesn't last long and in most cases they work it out without very much intervention from me.

While I do believe that kids tend to be loving and thoughtful, I also purposefully create an atmosphere where love is at the center of most things we do. In the morning there is always classical music playing when the children arrive. In fact, throughout a good potion of the day, music is playing. At lunch we always say a prayer, eat family style and quite often we eat by candlelight. All this sets the tone for reverence and appreciation of the many blessing we enjoy. Where there is true appreciation, love abounds.

I think I may make a habit of jotting down all the wonderful things that are said throughout the day. It really keeps me aware of how wonderful children are and how grateful I am to share my day with them.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Lies They Tell #1

You are going to hear all kinds of lies throughout your parenting journey. The people telling you these lies are not liars per se. They are usually well intentioned human beings who genuinely have the best interest of your child in mind, but they lie just the same. They sometimes don't even realize they are lying. They are simply passing along lies that they were told or heard at a conference or in-service. Among the most blatant and common lie is:

"If your child has not mastered reading by the time he is (insert random age here) he will be behind his peers and will probably never catch up!"

Don't you believe this for one minute! You are a good parent and deep down in your heart you know better. You know that children develop at different rates. That they have different interests and different skills at any age. If you child is not reading by age 5, 6 or 9, but you are reading to them, exposing them to books, exposing them to language, your child will read at some point barring any severe retardation and even then I would be hesitant to say that the child will never read. Blind children, deaf children, children with down syndrome learn to read, why wouldn't your child? Helen Keller learn to read. Frederick Douglass was born a slave and he, like many slaves, learned to read. My father's cousin was illiterate until the age of 10, he went on to become one of the top orthopedic surgeons in his country. My own father arrived in the United States at the age of 39, with a sixth grade education. He learned to read, write and speak English. These are just a few examples, but history is rife with many more. So if your child can't read at six, don't fret and don't, not for one minute, believe that your child will never catch up, of course he will.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Quality vs Quantity

What exactly is quality time? Twenty years ago when I started out in child care "quality time" were the buzz words in the industry. We told parents that as long as they spent "quality time" with their kids, everything would be okay. Better to spend a half hour completely focused then all day taking care of other things while your child tagged along virtually ignored. I bought it! I actually believed it was true. I don't believe it anymore. Let me explain.

Quality time is certainly very important especially if you are a working parent. This much is true. However quantity is also very important. Even when we are not completely focused on our children, they are learning from us and this can be a very good thing. Parents understand the importance of getting things like the dishes or laundry done and let's be honest, sitting for hours on the floor with your toddler can get very boring. No need to feel guilty if you are not entirely engaged 100% of the time. As we go about our day, our children are learning and emulating us. If you are doing dishes, give your little ones the Tupperware in a bin and let them wipe them down. Water is completely optional. If you are baking, give you child a small piece of dough and let them knead along with you. You need not be "engaged," you don't even need to talk, just being together teaches your child about life. He learns to entertain himself, he learns what it takes to run a home. He learns that mom or dad have responsibilities beyond them. (although, honestly that last one doesn't really kick in until he is way, way older.)

Yes, you should spend time focused on your child, give them your attention, your smiles, hugs and kisses. You should sit with them at meal times and teach them that there is reverence in nourishment. These things are all important. Quantity of time is important for your child to learn what his family values. He will learn what is important, what needs to get done. Years ago my then 5 year old followed me into the bathroom and as I got down on my knees to scrub the tub he said, "You actually have to clean the bath tub?" It made me laugh, but that is how they learn, but watching us and modeling what we do. So today when people tell me that they spend a lot of "quality" time with their kids, I congratulate them. I remind however that quantity is also important.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Teaching Math

If I had a nickel for every time I said, "I hate math!" I'd be a very rich woman indeed. In fact I finally, FINALLY got over my fear of math when I was shopping with my husband and we came across a %off sign. Something we wanted to buy was $69.99 and it was 25% off that price. My husband said, "So it's...(and he paused to figure it out)" I said it's about $53.00. He looked rather surprised and asked how I had figured it out so fast. So a said, "I rounded up to 70 and then did half, which is 35 and then half again which is 17, 70 minus 17 is 53." He laughed, "No, I know how, but how did you do it so fast?" I shrugged, because honestly I didn't know. I was struck because I always thought I was awful at math and percentages is math and I just realized that I was good at percentages! Slowly I started to realized that I was good at math and that in fact I didn't hate it. Math was rather fun.

When I started teaching my own kids, I never allowed them to say that they hated math or the math was hard. When ever they expressed frustration with math, I would tell them that they just needed to be more familiar with whatever it was that we were working on. Now when they come to something challenging they actually dive in and try to see it in as many different ways as they can until they feel comfortable.

So how do we teach very young kids math? I don't think we should, at least not in a traditional work sheet type of way. For young kids I love rocks. You can get a nice bag of big rocks at Dollar Tree. They love sorting the rocks. I let them become familiar with whatever manipulative (parents and teachers love that word...hehe) we are working with. So I'll set out the rocks and let them touch them, stack them, count them, play with them in anyway they choose for at least two days. Then I bring out the egg carton. Each space labeled with numbers 1 through 12. I ask them to filled each space with the "amount" of rocks that the number indicates. Language in math is important. I use the word "amount" not the word "number." A number is after all abstract. Amount is tangible. Much laughing ensues after about filling the fifth slot. "The rocks are too big!" "They don't fit." I love this next step where the kids problem solve. Very few have no concept of what to do. (It usually comes after a while or with a little prodding) Most kids will say they need smaller rocks or a bigger container.

The best way to teach math is to let children count, add, subtract, divide and multiply with their hands, through touching, sorting, filling, cutting, emptying and grouping. This makes math very real. As they get older they won't be intimidated by long division because they been doing just that!

I prefer to let children do all of the above with rocks, twigs, dolls, dishes, hot wheels etc. The more they are allowed to relate math to their surroundings the easier it will be for them to identify how math is used everyday. Baking and cooking are also excellent tools to teach math, as are knitting or crocheting. Keep it simple, keep it real.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Are You Ready?

Tell me your story. How did you become a parent? Did things go as planned? Are you comfortable in your role as a parent? Are you overwhelmed? Do you think you could feel better, have more fun, enjoy your children and your life, but don't quite know where to start?

Are you ready? Are you ready to make 2012 the year where you start living your life with purpose and joy? Are you ready to be the parent you know you can be? Are you ready to face the challenges with vigor and anticipation?

I'm offering five (5) one on one coaching sessions at no cost to the first five (5) parents who contact me. The coaching will take place the month of February with one session a week. Each session will be catered to the individual family situation. Each week will focus on a specific topic. By the end of the five sessions you will be able to notice a wonderful difference in the atmosphere in your home, in your attitude towards your children, and you will notice a difference in your children's attitudes.

Week 1 -- Identify the parent you want to be.

  • Work to set manageable goals for you, your home and your children.

Week 2 -- Declutter your environment.

  • We will work to declutter your physical environment and your also to declutter your mind of ideas or goals that are no longer working for you.

Week 3 -- Start your Action Plan

  • Implement the goals and expectations from you first week. Learn how to bring your kids on board without a struggle.

Week 4 -- Review, Adjust and Thrive

  • Look at what's working, what needs to be changed or challenged. Continue to grow into your role as a parent.

Week 5 -- Plan for Change

  • Your child will not be a toddler or adolescent forever. Plan and guide yourself into the adult relationship you'll have with your child someday. (This is my favorite and most exciting class)

The coaching will be one on one. NO ONE else will be listening in on our conversation so it's completely confidential. It can take place in person, if you are local or via a teleconference if you are from out of town. These sessions are limited to only five parents so don't delay in scheduling yours today. Go to the Contact Me page on this blog to get started. I'm so excited! I hope your ready!

Sunday, January 1, 2012


The New Year has begun to slowly unfold before us. We are thrilled to be providing children a place to learn, to explore and to enjoy their many varied talents. As we plan for 2012, we want to include parents into the mix. We never stop learning, exploring or enjoying. It's not child's play, it's life. This year we will be launching classes for adults. You'll be learning to be a role model (or perhaps recognizing that you already are), you'll be learning to parent and/or mentor consciously and with purpose.

Stay tuned for more information soon. In the meantime, we wish you much love and prosperity in 2012.