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.

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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.