The Power and Genius of Books

While at The Genius of the Book Exhibit in DC https://www.folger.edu/exhibitions/form-function-genius-of-the-book something came full circle for me. The exhibition also affirmed why I love and recognize the power of books. Historically, there was and still is a reason why people in power choose to burn books that challenge thinking, status quo and create different and opposing ways of being. Books are powerful.

When selecting books what questions and thoughts materialize in your brain? Many come to my mind each and every time I’m picking out a new book or picking up an old one to read again, especially when choosing literature for children, families and myself. I ask myself what do the illustrations and writing portray? What images are painted in µy mind

For example, look for illustrations of culture, ability and disability, race, gender, identity, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and many more. Are we being portrayed non-stereotypically and in powerful roles?

As noted by an NAEYC article, a list of common and undermining set of stereotypes are when people are portrayed as:

  • Strong, independent girls and women are “manlike”
  • Book-loving or nonathletic boys and men are “effeminate”
  • Latino men talk funny, are lazy, gang members, or wear oversize sombreros
  • Latina women are earth mothers or subservient
  • African American men are gang members, oversexed, or underemployed
  • African American women are too independent, oversexed, or “welfare moms”
  • LGBTQ people are invisible or sexual predators
  • Poor people are invisible or depicted as passively needing help from others
  • American Indians live in teepees, carry bows and arrows, or are half-naked in winter
  • People with disabilities are not independent or are to be pitied
  • Arab and/or Muslim men are terrorists
  • Arab and/or Muslim women are voiceless and passive
  • All Muslims are Arab

Some of mine I look for:

  • People are invisible or in a side role not empowering ones
  • Characters matter: who is the hero?
  • The storyline and perspectives in it
  • Gender and are women and men portrayed accurately?
  • Race, culture, ethnicity: is it an authentic and accurate portrayal?

When I see stereotypes in the drawings/illustrations or writing in books, I put it down and move on to another such as suggested: http://www.teachingforchange.org/selecting-anti-bias-books

I am also starting to write letters to publishers.

Another tip: look at the dates and authors. Dates and writers matter.  Research and support people in comparing and contrasting. Also ask why is a book written?   Books are like people, they serve a purpose. For example, If you got a book entitled: Firemen Fight Fires, time to move on because the term Firefighters include everyone and they do more than ride in firetrucks fighting fires anyway. Just saying.

Books and children’s books continue to be an invaluable transmitter of messages we absorb influencing who we are and how we see each another.  Media and books are transmitters of cultures, perspectives and values.  Books reflect our personal identities, diversity and varying relationships among different groups of people.  Books and media (AND ADVERTISEMENTS) portray who matters and creates a positive or negative self-image and concept.  Look at who is advertised/displayed on your outside arena where people perform or play sports. Who is displayed? Are women?

Looking at the Verizon Center, our students did not see women and said, “See, it’s true, we were right, women don’t play basketball.” We walked inside to see the Mystics playing. Talk about a transformative experience.

It is crucial to show and share an eclectic set of books about people like us and different from us (TO CELEBRATE OUR AWESOME DIFFERENCES) and our families. ALL of the books should be non-stereotypical and authentic. *Reminder items to look for: look for dates, portrayal of lifestyles, cultures, social identities, relationships, social change and justice, invisibility and tokenism.*

When discovering new books or reading classic books what questions materialize in your mind?

And speaking of choosing and reading awesome books by amazing authors go to: https://www.loc.gov/bookfest/ to check out when the National Book Festival is to meet your favorite and your children’s favorite authors!

Written with love. Lots of it!

Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Forget About It: Testing and Data Expires and Eventually We Do Too. Encourage Children to Be Caring Citizens

While sharing who we were during a writing class I teach during the evening, one of my grown up students who is a Dad mentioned his three year old daughter Shelly, who is having a not so good time in school. He said, “In fact, I am having a better time than Shelly and recognize the importance of hands on [non-sedentary] learning even as an adult.” Shelly’s teachers keep pushing her to write her name and to read. Shelly does not want to go to “school”. My student said he doesn’t care if she can spell her name or not. However, a lot of the families in the school’s culture have unrealistic expectations of their children and want them to spell and read by the magic number of 5. Where does this number come from?

Where do we get our ideas from? Why are we pushing our thoughts and our desires of what children should be able to do? We keep pushing for “readiness”. We keep comparing and contrasting children. We even compare and contrast ourselves. Mediocrity. Ludicrous.

Why? I hear it and listen to the uncertainty as a families voice and tone will tremble as they ask: “Should I be worried that my child is not drawing and writing like the kid who is?”

No, we have nothing to worry about. Play the song Don’t Worry About a Thing and channel Bob Marley folks. Each and every child (and you know this especially if you have siblings!) learn and progress at different stages during a lifespan. We need to let that happen and not force or push children when the interest may not be there. We only project our fears onto them. I model my evening class after our preschool class pushing the model of a Reggio and creative inspired way of learning and being for my grown up students too. They love it. People love to think. People love creativity and challenges NOT busy work. I’m not on this Earth to waste anyone’s time including my own. Even when people don’t think they like thinking: they do. We ask questions, work together, draw, make mistakes, go into the community and most of all think creatively. The box doesn’t even exist in our classroom. From preschool through death as educators, families, communities we need to destroy the box and rebuild something better together. One major take away from this blog is destroy the box.

More than ever before we are driven by data. Data kept in boxes. Unfortunately, it gives a fragmented and skewed view of our children’s abilities but is tied to…funding. Children who do not have a voice are left behind and so are amazing educators, families and communities. We are all connected. What happens in a classroom, community and family is immeasurable. Intuitively, we want what is best. Somehow we got lost in the sauce wanting our child to be the best as opposed to doing their best. This is not the purpose of life long learning. Making mistakes is what makes us. Failure and learning from it. Accidents happen. This is our purpose, truly. Why are we pushing children to read by the age of five when we know these skills take time from birth through third grade to develop? Anybody out there listening please this is an SOS! Help our children, families, educators and communities get this. Why are our politicians pushing jargon and buzz words without reading it for themselves?

Don’t knock at my door and ask for my vote and say, “I want every child to read by the age of five because I did”. This is ludicrous. Why are we saying how math and reading are so important but we are not reading about reading and math and HOW TO MAKE IT DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE for children. Here’s a buzz word that is misunderstood so read about it. It’s called PLAY. Playing to learn. We need to learn to play again grown ups. Check out www.naeyc.org. For Pete’s sake, just google the word play. I don’t want our children to read to read, I want them to read to understand. I want them to love and care about writing, drawing and reading and then the rest will handle itself.

Speaking of play don’t forget the 10th Annual Play Day: http://letsplayamerica.org/upcoming-events/

And speaking of reading awesome books by amazing authors go to: https://www.loc.gov/bookfest/ to check out when the National Book Festival is to meet your favorite and your children’s favorite authors!

Written with love. Lots of it!

Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford

Treating Prisoners & Children the Same Way: With No Rights or Understanding.

 

F24F90DD-43CA-44D3-AD21-837DDA0E2057While they say you can tell a lot about a country by how it treats it’s prisoners. I believe the same can be said for how it treats it’s children. How are our children learning? What is our investment in education? Where is the money going? What is our ROI on our current rate of investment? Students often hear: “Stand single file. Be quiet. Shh. Criss Cross Applesauce. Don’t talk. Listen and Speak. Look at me when I talk to you. You are detained in detention, suspended or expelled for not being in uniform or for saying the word fuck.” (Meanwhile, they heard it from somewhere and you know just how language incites us!)

Twenty five to life. Counting up the years it takes to complete both school or jail just as business people are counting up the seats of illiterate students in a third grade classroom to determine whether or not to put up another jail in the community. Thats right some use illiteracy rates to build and justify a jail.  Jail versus school? Can you tell the difference between the two? We need to end the school to prison pipeline once and for all. I can throw statistic after statistic. I can get the latest data. I can show you the books. I can show you that expulsion and suspension DOES NOT WORK. Removing a student does not fix a problem a student made. Suspension and expulsion also does not give students a way to fix or redeem themselves. Moreover, why are we expelling and suspending anyway? What are the reasons? Rules or power struggles? What really works is mutual understanding or working to understand. It’s time to stop researching our children. It’s time to put action where our words are. It’s time to use gifts God gave us to work with our children not against them.

Intuitively, socially and emotionally we are letting our youth down. The Animal School Fable shows the unrealistic expectations we place on our students. And what can actually occur when we focus on our strengths. Curious about some of the lessons from the fable?  http://www.leadgrowdevelop.com/lessons-learned-animal-school-fable-strengths-weaknesses-5minmotivation/

I was also reading a classic entitled The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and there is a part that got me deeply thinking about our approach and how children learn and respond to us.

Here are some tips to be your child’s champion #ECEwins and advocate for their learning style:

  • Write a letter to your child’s new teacher/school describing who your child is and how they learn. Email or comment below for a sample letter.
  • Show up and observe in the classroom
  • Tour the schools and take your child with you
  • Partner and work together
  • If you don’t get into the place of choice then advocate for ideas not solely based on how you were raised or what “worked” for you but based on DAP (acronym for Developmentally Appropriate Practice) and research of what works for children
  • Remember and repeat you were once a child too
  • Children show us what they need so, let’s listen and respond accordingly
  • Wake up and treat others how you want to be treated: be a role model

Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford

 

 

Regulating the Fun Out of Learning through Play

Unlike Warren G and Nate Dog, it is time to stop regulating. Especially in early education and K-12. Regulate literally means to control or supervise (something, especially a company or business activity) by means of rules and regulations.  Licensing Micro managers are running around out of touch and out of sync with the classrooms around the country. As a result, we are all running around like protective services protecting children to the point where boo boos do not happen.

From rubberized playgrounds to no longer allowing cups in the sensory water tables, it is ludicrous. Meanwhile, we want children to be adventurous, curious and creative but we MUST make sure their cots are 3 feet apart. Directors, assistant directors, educators and families are not here to helicopter children. That goes against best practice. We and children cannot be summed up in checklists and procedures. Children, educators and families are living breathing beings.

To access these regulations click here:

https://osse.dc.gov/publication/child-care-licensing-regulations

So where does that leave us? I advocate for high quality and DAP learning for all children. Often I wonder: How do children learn? Each and every child is different. I want my students to leave with 1. an understanding and pride in self as well as 2. their families to understand how their child learns so they can best advocate for their child when they go to Kindergarten and beyond. There are many types of learners. Advocating their learning style from auditory, kinesthetic, visual to so much more better makes teachers and the new school prepared for your children not the other way around. As an educator and advocate, I want to be a part of encouraging and supporting movers and shakers of our world. I do not want to be a part of suppressing them.

We need to re-frame our way of thinking. We shouldn’t be thinking will Johnny be ready for Kindergarten. Instead we should be asking will his new school be ready for him? The best way is through building relationships with his soon to be new teacher and advocating for Johnny’s learning style and fighting for teachers that best suit Johnny’s needs.

When I traveled to New Zealand and I observed their classrooms I was amazed. Freedom. Children were able to be children without fear of top down policies and regulations affecting and influencing administrators, teachers and families of how we work with our children.

As adults we forget just how small we used to be.  As a result, we forget just how small and curious our children are.

Jill Telford is an American artist, author, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found:

http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford

If They Hit You Then…Hit Them Back?

You hear this on the playground by a child. “My mom told me if they hit me I could hit them back!” When our children and youth are told this kind of advice: “If they hit you then hit them back” they are learning an eye for an eye. In the late great Rita Pierson’s voice: Can we hit someone back at work?  If we hit someone at our job we will expect repercussions leading to termination.  The advice children are given is confusing.

Children are in a process of becoming. Children are learning.  Their brains are still growing and often they use the lower part of it. As adults we at times have a difficult time controlling our emotions in our brain. So, imagine this piece of advice in the hands of a 3 or 4 year old. Imagine it in the hands of an 8 or 9 year old. Imagine it in the hands of a 13-14 and so on year old.  If we don’t use this advice then why are we teaching it to our children?

When we give this kind of advice then we are teaching children not to solve problems and work it out with one another. We are doing the extreme opposite and teaching them to solve problems with violence. Meet violence with more violence. This is the bottom layer of this piece of advice as you scratch away the multiple layers of it.

The best advice is to not hit someone back but to use phrases such as “Stop!” as a child raises one hand up. Modeling a non violent reaction is vital so that a child will not become a victim (or abuser) and empowered to stand up for their rights. Our voices are powerful. Words are powerful.

Educators, families and communities have the power to empower the voices of children so they stand up for their rights and wellbeing. Ultimately, this teaches children to advocate for themselves in non-violent ways in order to get their points across.

Who Are You? Gender Roles and Identity in and Outside of the Classroom

When you were born what did you wear? Even before you were born what kinds of colors do you think were chosen for you? What did you play with? How did you play? Where did you play? Who did you play with? When did it change or not? Why? I looked at pictures when I was born. My very first photograph I was screaming in it inside of a pretty pink dress. Our gender and identity are chosen before we are even conceptualized.

I was inspired over a YouTube video I watched of a little girl who basically stood in a karate outfit before the camera in a clothing store as she started pointing out the differences between boy and girl clothing. She stated and showed the unfairness of gender bias and identity through clothes. She said, “Look at that on boy’s clothes it says think outside of the box, an adventure awaits and hero and now look at girl’s clothing it says Hey!, I’m fabulous and beautiful. She said boys are encouraged to go on adventures and think outside the box while girls are just meant to be pretty.

The little girl had a big idea, which got me thinking. She went on to move the boy clothes to the girl side. From birth to death our gender roles and identity exist.

Thinking about that picture and as I turned the pages of photo albums I watched as I grew into jeans and sweatshirts. I also saw how I wore prom dresses and heels I would not say pressured to but expected to wear at proms. However, I was comfortable in jeans and sneakers. I never liked playing with dolls or Barbies. I liked taking things apart and going on adventures. I also really liked the ninja turtles. Even what I chose to be for Halloween was not your average princess and fairy. I was a power ranger and I even went as death. Death and dead things fascinated me.

Both genders should be expected to be themselves. Their best selves.

When you see boys playing and caring for baby dolls don’t call him a girl or ask, “Why are you acting like a girl?” The little boy will grow into a father, uncle…a man who needs to know how to treat and care for babies. If a little boy cries do not tell him he is acting like a girl or a crybaby. Boys and girls are human beings with…feelings. Most importantly do not work to “toughen” a boy up. What does this even mean? Toughen him up for what? Unless he is going to be a fighter or boxer what does he have to be so tough about?

For boys and girls teach them that it is ok to be them selves. It is ok to cry. It is ok to have interests that may not be inside the box. It is ok to think and feel differently. It is ok to play with both genders. It is ok to wear any color you want. In fact wear your favorites.

By doing this you are teaching that it is ok to be different and that it is ok to be yourself. Here’s to being our best selves.

Easier Said Than Done

While talking with a good friend of mine she mentioned how a lot of the advice on our blog is “Easier said than done”. It couldn’t be truer. She said that most often she is yelling and losing her mind with her children. Children have so much energy and they test limits often.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a mom, work and keep your sanity. This saying got me thinking even more deeply. A lot of issues and solutions to problems centering around children, families and education are easier said than done. For instance, the mere idea of childhood readiness.

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1989. I watched a Task force on Childhood Readiness. When some of us were 3 and 4 years old, others were fighting for our education. A Real Education. Leaders from the ECE field agreed that the need to articulate goals would lead to a trap of focusing in on testing…leading to putting more academics and pressure on children which is the wrong way to go. We know this is the wrong way to go. The focus does not need to be on school readiness or bureaucracy needs but needs of children and families. The point is to improve children’s success in school NOT SCHOOL READINESS. This idea to be ready is counterproductive. Schools should be ready for children not the other way around. We are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking “Are children ready?” We need to be asking, “Are we ready for them?” Empower families to ask their children’s new teachers’ their approach and encourage families to write letters to their new teachers about who and how their child(ren) learn.

Please watch the task force from 1989 here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?10241-1%2Fchildhood-readiness

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But it is easier said than done. We are now in the year 2016. We are still talking about school readiness. The term makes me uncomfortable especially after studying Early Ed  more closely. Most importantly, after seeing how play, hands on learning and using developmentally appropriate practice work and help children learn. Making learning meaningful coupled by connecting it to children’s real lives is what Early Ed is about.

I would love to see real early education be a model for all learning. Differentiation, lifelong learning, play, joy for learning, reading favorite books, based on interests, connecting with families, community and individualized learning is key. Focusing only on academics is selling our children, families and ourselves short. We know better. There is so much experience coupled with research.

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Tripled by all of the ECE leaders who came before us leading and paving the way of what a real education looks, sounds and feels like. It includes a focus and light on the whole child and family, learning through play, going outside, connecting with families and community, reading and re-reading books, making up stories, invented spelling, drawing, painting, sculpting and molding, creative arts, building, music, singing, sensory experiences, toys and games (invented ones too not only store bought), collections, being in the moment, cooking, science and discovery, dramatic play (acting, taking on roles) and so much more.   It’s keeping the lights on and magic of curiosity and learning alive for children.

We learn how to treat each other and we make promises of being safe, being kind, taking care of each other, our environment and having fun! We talk about our feelings and how to express them.

When families ask, “Why isn’t Jenny spelling her name?” We reassure them that children grow in various ways and give a gentle reminder to not compare Jenny to her friends. Jenny can plan and build three-dimensional buildings and draws her plan out. She also solves problems and helps others. She is kind and caring. She draws a lot. She asks us to write her name for her. Before you know it she will want to write her name all on her own. Right now she is processing, building and molding it all.  This is the foundation.

The positive outcomes of partnering and collaborating are endless. Through collaboration, strong relationships and engagement with families and children, we learn, grow, connect and empower one another by being a part of something much, much bigger than ourselves.

There were many before us and we owe it to them to keep on fighting the fight and being voices for children and families. For ourselves! We can’t give in or give up. We are here to serve as a reminder. When people ask what is happening, we need to help wake them up, inform and empower them and enable them to think and fight for their children.

Be the kind of a grown up you needed by your side as a child.

Where Have We Went Wrong? Or Have We?

Turn on the news. Bomb. Turn the channel. A shot fired into someone else. Lives taken. Flick to another. Injustice. Time to turn the TV off and solve this.

There are way too many bad things happening around us. It is across the ocean, opposite side of the world and right here in our own backyard, front yards, alleyways and cities. We see and hear the news of hurt and killings on the front page of the newspaper, in social media and on each and every news channel. Sad, depressing and terrifying events. We even hear from those directly affected in unsafe neighborhoods.

We cannot ignore what is happening but we cannot keep hearing this disturbing news without doing something about it. Where have we gone wrong? I cannot help myself and ask “was this person loved? Cared for? What type of childhood did he or she have? How did the family miss the signs of violence? Mental illness? Did he or she grow up in violence? Ignorance? Maybe … maybe not.

Recently, I read a story about a four-year-old little girl who was abused and neglected. When the police asked her her name she responded with “Idiot”. How did this happen? When the neighbor was asked about her child playing there she said that her child stopped playing there after a while but never said why. She said families in their neighborhood stay to themselves and stay out of each other’s business.

Child abuse and neglect is everyone’s business. How we treat children is everyone’s business. They say you can tell a lot by how a country treats it’s prisoners…well I believe the same can be said for how we treat our children.

As families, teachers, country leaders, and citizens… we have a tremendous amount of responsibility for our youth, our future generation. This world belongs to all of us, all of them. We talk about conflict resolution, social interactions, healthy relationships, social roles and responsibilities. We talk about then a lot. Do we do enough to ensure our younger generations and people in general are learning, comprehending and being diligent? There are several things we must do over and over again. Tirelessly, relentlessly and repeatedly… Our children should know a few powerful unwritten rules

  • Violence is not the answer nor is it the solution to injustice.
  • Be proactive, observe and communicate.
  • Take direction, follow direction and do your part.
  • Be positive, stay positive even during injustice. Using words is more powerful than using fists and sarcasm.
  • Stand up for yourself and avoid confrontation as much as possible. If you have the need to defend yourself, do it within the frame of legality.
  •  Remove yourself from dangerous situations and surround yourself with positive, productive people.
  • Guide and help a friend in need. If you do not know how to help, ask someone. A teacher, a doctor, someone you can trust.
  • Do not give in when you come across adversity. Stand by what you believe in and respect others’ beliefs.
  • The most important thing is to stay alive. Cherish your life and protect it. Remember, self-expression and freedom are not an excuse to invade someone else’s space, disrespect others’ rights and roles.
  • Drop the “I don’t care, what is in it for me? Me for me” attitude. Become a community, be part of a community.
  • Do all of this regardless of religion, race, heritage. Unite for the common good. After all, we are all connected, we all need one another and we are all created as humans.

In all of this madness Fred Roger’s reminds us to “Look for the helpers…[there is good in this world]”. If you don’t see any in your neighborhood, become one.

Truth or Dare? Choosing Both to Defend Early Childhood and Beyond the Early Years

Education is said to be the great equalizer of all time but I’m not looking for it to make experiences equal. I am looking for it to make them fair.  Everyone has different experiences. If you give two people the same size box to stand on to look out of a window or to reach for an object up high it will not work for one of them.

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Children and families need fairness, high quality and authentic exposure to the world in which they are a part of.  Being more connected than ever before makes it is easier to see what it is like on the other side of the world and right here in your own city.  Connecting with people is important, not watching stereotypes or feeding into them.  There are many kinds of people. People want to survive and make the best with what they have and know.  People grow and change. They fall and get back up. Some need help getting back up while others brush their shoulders and carry on growing stronger.

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I grew up never knowing we struggled.  Childhood was magical for me. I played in the mud, made a lot of choices, fell down and got hurt, came in before it got dark and did I mention I played a lot? Every child deserves a magical and joyful childhood. They deserve to believe they are somebody, are special and have the potential to be who ever they dare to be.  I dare someone reading this article to not just go to a park but make some mud outside. Combine it with a  great book called The Mud Puddle by Robert Munsch.  Maybe make up your own story along the way.

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Some think No Child Left Behind means ensuring children are prepared academically and assessing children whether they are or are not is heavily emphasized through testing in math, reading and writing.  These skills are important but the way we assess them is so far from the reality. Relying upon a standardized test and not considering the student’s persona and capacity for test taking is a way to set them up for failure, furthermore a way to discourage them to try harder.   There needs to be a balance between standardized tests and authentic assessment including observations, dialogue and self-expression with a given project or an assignment. Children should also be assessed in their environment through journaling, evaluating their work over time and understanding who they are as a person and how they learn.  This is what fair assessment looks like. Standardized test scores determine funding? Well, we shouldn’t allow that.  I believe high quality early childhood educators have a lot to show and share with our K through 12 programs and the same vice versa.  Please understand early childhood is not just taking care of cute little people , as once I was told, it is not changing diapers, feeding babies and rocking them to sleep. There is no need to say “I don’t know how you do it but we thank you” from higher-level teachers. We need you to provide continuity so that there is a solid bridge between early years and formal school years. How can you do that?

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By partnering with families, listening to their needs and expectations, sometimes even their hurldles. By building strong relationships, ensuring the classroom feels like a home away from home and every child has a place and feels included. Allowing children the freedom to express themselves and providing guidance and engaging them in the lesson in a way that they do not even realize they are learning. Making play a learning tool and knowing how children learn best, articulating why it is ok if a child is not reading but is on the way to and how to positively make him or her love and enjoy reading. It’s not just about the abc’s. Advocating for children and families and empowering each other.   This does not have to happen all at once but in steps…one at a time… walking feet…

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Here are lessons learned:

Preschool’s top six rules:

  • Be kind and when someone’s not: speak up
  • Take care of each other and the classroom
  • Be safe
  • If you fall…get back up (if you fail, try again)
  • Work hard, work smart and work together
  • Have fun

Remember that life long learning is a process rather than a product.  Each of us is in a process of becoming. It is not only what we know but who we are.

When we solely focus on academics and testing then childrens’ potential, character, critical thinking, problem-solving and symbolic thinking is left behind in the process. While in New Mexico, I witnessed children having shorter recess time with teachers standing around arms crossed watching and monitoring equaling no engagement.  No leading play efforts.  If it got rough they were not allowed to play certain games such as football.  How do you interact? How are you forming spatial awareness and sensory functions? Humans need contact. Children lined up single file for lunch, sat in chairs all day and had limited play and interaction.  There was a power struggle present and children were seen not heard. Children were required to listen not be listened to. This is not positive and it does not help building strong relationships. This way of thinking is not making our children grow into better adults than we are.  The purpose of education is to ensure the next generations are better than the previous ones.

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How and why did we get here as a society?  We want to keep our children safe and we want the best for them but is this the way? Children and families are lost in the process where it feels like a systematic institution as opposed to a nurturing community.  As an example, a few years back, I started bringing in my own basketball and showed children how to play and guided them in the process.  As a result, I observed more joy and togetherness.  I grew up playing basketball. While my sister pushed me to be a strong athlete my brother in law showed me the fun side of it.  Balance.

We are not meant to sit all day long. Our bodies need to move. Our brains need a break.  A Turkish saying goes ” Healthy body, healthy mind”. In aftercare, children do homework and eat snack. What happens to all that energy and the need to interact with one another, socialize and create friendships? Where is enrichment so that our children turn into well rounded adults? How can’t they get bored and get in trouble because they are not intrigued and occupied by positive activities?  It often feels more like a boot camp than an educational experience. It makes the cradle to school to prison pipeline real for me. We are preparing children for…prison? I recognized it started there.

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It doesn’t matter where you come from to make it to where you’re going. This is true. This is what my life’s work is built on. This I believe is what life is built on.  We can change this as people, citizens, educators and whatever else our social roles are.  If we work together… People fought and were tried before. Of course, we will get tired. It will not always be a smooth ride. We’re human and we believe our children are worth fighting for.

Setting Children Up For Success

Families and educators have one thing in common: every family wants the best and for their children to succeed. Is it enough to want it?  What are some of the corner stones of success for our children?

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Unfortunately, there is not an exact list or recipe for this but now we know more than we have ever known thanks to research and data. The bottomline is: families!

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As a mom of a wonderful boy, I used to do everything for him. Dressing him up, putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, cleaning his toys up, preparing his bookbag for school and tying his shoes. Actually the list is longer but this last one was a wake up call for me and my husband. I thought, “I can do this better, I can do that faster, he is tired let me help…” Until one day, he was playing soccer and while all of the other children were able to tie their cleats, our son was looking at us: “My shoes are untied, help”. It is ok to help of course but a 6 year old should have known how to tie his shoes.

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After all, this is a skill they usually learn by four or five. How could he have learned when I was constantly disabling him by “helping” him tie his shoes? Since that day, gradually I stepped back and now I allow him to try and try again. Unless it is absolutely necessary, as in an emergency, I wait and he does it on his own. Folding his clothes, putting dirty clothes in the basket, preparing his bookbag for school, taking breakfast items out, setting the table, cleaning up his toys etc. In fact, every time he does something, I see the feeling of accomplishment and pride. Especially, after he helps take the groceries into the kitchen and puts things away with me. Small steps for me but a huge one for him: responsibility.

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Taking responsiblity leads to appreciation. Instead of finding everything readily available, he works for it. He has a better understanding of coming home after a long busy day and helping to set the table or preparing his uniform for the next day. He has empathy for mommy and daddy because he knows how it feels fulfilling responsibilities no matter how tired we are. This is not any different than someone getting up and going to work even if he is tired from the previous day or night. Or in college, getting up early for finals after studying all night or completing a project by the deadline, no matter what the circumstances are. This is beneficial especially when most families are not with their children once they go to college.

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The importance of healthy social emotional development is undeniable. We encourage children to use their words instead of being physical. We model how to identify and label feelings so they can communicate and share their feelings with one another. We walk them through steps to resolve conflicts and negotiating. These are crucial skills for adulthood. Think about your collegaues, coworkers, family members and even friends.

What are the common issues in relationships? From experience, I find it to be lack of understanding, empathy, self-regulation and communication. The majority of the time, these are the culprits of poor performance, unhealthy and dysfunctional relationships. There is a saying that goes, “You should straighten the tree when it is young, once it gets older, it becomes harder and if you try to bend it, it breaks”. From childhood, you can see the predictors if the child will succeed or not. Childhood is precious and children have great potential to become functional and positive members of this world, as long as they get what they need to reach their fullest potential.

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We work to set our children up for a better life than the one we had. The kind of life we never had not the kind of life we want for children. We help children set up the life they want for themselves and encourage, encourage not praise the whole way. There is a thin line between the two. In order to understand where you are going, you must recognize and realize where you come from. Coming from a family that valued hard work, grit (resiliency), integrity and fun, I carry that with me everywhere I go and apply it to every part of my life. Often when faced with challenges I think no worries, life is short, live the moment and in Pete the Cat’s terminology, “It’s all good”.

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John Lennon was once asked what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said happy. They said he didn’t understand the assignment and he told them they didn’t understand life. When we think of our loved ones, we want the best and the best in reality is for them to be happy. If we instill this way of being, then they will not settle for less than they deserve.