The moment we walked in the door questioning eyes were on us: “Who are you?” my coaches asked my brother in law and father figure as he questioned them as to why I wasn’t getting any playtime on the basketball team. My brother is black and I am white based on societal descriptions. He always stood up for me and had my back. From elementary through high school. We would get side way kinds of stares by people who weren’t exposed to different kinds of families.
My mother died when I was turning 10. My (I think biological father) was incarcerated off and on. I was raised by my sister and my brother in law. We were rare and uniquely different. Looking back and reflecting on my upbringing, I realize just how thankful I am. I was exposed to what children normally are not exposed to and as a result I am an eclectic kind of person. I watched and listened to shows, movies and music such as The Sopranos, Poetic Justice and The Streets is Watching. However, I always had someone present and there telling me someone made it or it was directed by someone. Someone made it up from their brain and it was inspired by real life events. I always had someone like my sister or brother in law telling me to cover my eyes during the racy parts.
I have so many memories from playing ball, driving around pretending to be on MTV Cribs to witnessing drug raids to people dying. This was my reality. So, I understand many walks of life. I was and am blessed to be surrounded by real, authentic type love. A rare kind of love that you cannot find. They never had to buy love or material possessions. Getting Chinese takeout, laughing, yelling and crying a lot, playing monopoly and playing ball was enough. It was my foundation of what a family is all about. Not perfect but perfect if you know what I mean.
As a grownup, I am working towards planting seeds where children will make a better life and ultimately a better world by reaching mutual understanding across cultures and perspectives. A world where people will know who each other is the moment they walk in the door. Questioning eyes will fade. The who are you will turn into I know who you are. A place where different families exist and it’s cool and unquestioned. People will stop and stare for how beautifully dynamic and powerful differences are. A place where it’s cool and dope to be different aesthetically, creatively and intellectually.
I remember singing in the car with my older sister during my formative years. Janet boomed from our car speakers: “Thats the way, thats the way, thats the way love goes.” We would sing our hearts out. I reminisced about my childhood memories of singing a lot during my last night drive with my other sister and we sang a lot during our road trip.
When is the last time you sang in the car? In the shower? With your family? Singing has endless benefits for our young and old. An Alzheimer’s patient may not remember their name but you know what they can remember? They can remember their favorite song!
Singing in the early education classroom is one of the keys for brain plasticity and growth. During the first five years of life the most connections (think synapses) are made out of the entire lifespan. Every year of a child’s life is precious, but when it comes to development, the first 8 are the most important. This is when a child becomes the person they are going to be. It is when they learn appropriate behavior, boundaries, empathy and many other important social skills that will remain with them for life. Guess what else will stay with a child for life? Their favorite jams!
Babies are born with more synapses than adults. In a child’s early development stages, the speed of the synapse formation is the greatest from birth until 18 months of age. From 18 months until 3 years of age during the process of cognitive development in kids, synapses continue to form and expand. The number of synapses reaches about 1,000 trillion at this age and because of that a toddler’s brain is twice as active as an adult’s brain. This is also the reason why toddlers enjoy heavy outdoor activities such as running, jumping and climbing. From 6 to 9 years of age in kids’ development stage, the brain reduces the number of synapses which are not used and they eventually die off.
So sing. Sing your heart out! Play Motown to Country. Most of all sing and dance to your favorite songs and ask families for their favorites. Home school connection is powerful. Even change the lyrics to the songs.
Here are 7 benefits of singing. For more benefits click: https://takelessons.com/live/singing/health-benefits-of-singing
- Singing creates a better sense of well being and causes us sensations of feeling good.
- Improves concentration, alertness and memory.
- Singing strengthens the immune system. That’s right it’s good for our health like an apple. A song a day keeps the doctor away.
- Singing is in fact exercise
- It helps with sleeping well and getting a good night’s Zzz.
- It lowers stress levels
- It’s a natural anti-depressant
So, turn the speaker up and sing like no one’s listening or watching!
We are preschool educators. After a discussion of how children learn and recognizing our many kinds of learners, we narrowed in on, noticed and talked a lot about recess and recognized the importance coupled by the lack of it. We call recess by another name. For us, recess goes by the name of play.
Often we inform our families to advocate for their child and the kind of learner they are as they grow, move on and become kindergartners. We do this in order for their new school community to be ready. We now realize how we need to take our own advice. So here goes.
Are you ready for our students? Our children will ask you questions: lots of them. Get ready. See, please understand we allowed and followed their lead. We facilitated and encouraged our students to solve many problems socially, cognitively, emotionally, physically, mathematically, creatively, linguistically through play. Not just any kind of play but intentional and meaningful play. We weren’t focused on getting them “ready” because we know you are ready for them. We hope and hold on to that.
As mentioned, we all learn differently and we believe it is a process and are looking to connect and build a relationship with you as we have a lot to learn from one another. We want to connect in order to facilitate and help bring recess and play back to our community. Back to your school. We know it won’t be easy.
However, it will be worth it for all. Our children are showing and sharing with us what they need, it’s time we listen.
Let’s talk and bring back recess.
a.k.a TPA: The Play Alliance
While there are many stories from preschool that resonate with me, none affect me more than being in the middle of our own classroom stories. The poem by Robert Fulghum illustrates it best:
All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum
Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.
These are the things I learned:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
I learned these life lessons shared by Robert Fulghum even before Kindergarten. I learned these little life lessons in Head start where I started preschool. These are the same lessons that I now pass on in words and action almost two decades later in a preschool classroom and playground.
I work at being the kind of grown up I needed as I a child. Families do their best with what they know each and every generation. By walking, working and moving together we create a reciprocal relationship where the best kind of learning takes place: from one another.
Best of all, children rise up and pass it on. I was a child who rose up. Preschool changes trajectories. Preschool definitely changed mine. A group of people worked together with or without knowing the power of the early childhood education profession. Not to mention the power of tuning into Fred Rogers. http://www.fredrogerscenter.org/
However, that is for a whole other post. In the meantime, here are some of the lessons from Robert’s poem in real life action:
We share. We come up with questions and solutions. “When can I play with it?”, “Is there another one?” or “I’ll play, read or create something awesome in the meantime.”
We often play fair and when it doesn’t feel fair we talk about it. Racing faster than cheetahs teaches us a lot on the playground. “Is it fair to run before finishing the sentence: “Ready steady, go” or “On your marks, get set, go!”
A game of tag teaches us gentle touches without having to say, “Don’t hit.” When frustrated we verbalize it. When we can’t we rip paper, pound and squeeze play dough, paint, hit a pillow, yell among so many more strategies.
When it comes to saying sorry, we go a bit deeper. We work to fix what we did and help our friends to feel better. We get to the root of the problem. “What happened?”, “Why”, “What can I do?” and “how?”
Our hands are very dry. You know why we keep lotion on standby.
We flush. When we don’t, we still flush. It’s called a courtesy flush. Because, we all forget sometimes.
Warm cookies are delicious especially when we followed the recipe but sometimes we go overboard with the amounts we shake in. We just can’t control our excitement for making these cookies right now! (Side note: Doesn’t have to even be cookies could be anything: play dough, Oobleck or just putting it together to see what happens as we wonder what will happen as we test out our theories). If children getting excited about mixing flour and water doesn’t remind you to appreciate and marvel at the little things, I don’t know what will.
Robert covers living a balanced life in the poem itself. If you don’t see living a balanced life in action at your child’s school or at your work then it’s time to find a new one. Living a balanced life looks like the bolded words below and STILL applies to grown ups.
“Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.”
We take our naps. We sprinkle magical sleeping sprinkle dust after reading a few stories and making some up from our brains. It works…every time.
Most of all, we sing each and everyday.
When walking up the sidewalk, we sing. We sing: “Stick together like peanut butter jelly.”We think about what else could be as sticky. We change the words to gum, play dough, tape, duct tape, hummus, yogurt, glue and the list of words never end. We hold hands. We look out for one another. We stick together. Not only do we watch out for traffic, we watch out for each other.
Jill Telford is an American artist, author, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found:
By Jill Telford and Berna Artis
From the President to the stay at home mom or dad, everyone’s idea of “school” and “education” is different. I almost can hear you say “How, Berna? Education is education and school is where children, youth and people in general go to learn, better themselves so that they can get a good job and live a happy life.”
Yes and no. I wish it were that simple. In my opinion and based on my experiences, there are three types of schools:
3. Supressing and Depressing
Inspiring schools are about students. Their needs, interests, potential, creativity, personality, family dynamics, 360 degree development (as we say “the whole child”). School leadership and faculty put students’ well being in front of academics. Students are not numbers, they are people. In a data driven world, these schools are great because they balance these two needs instead of tipping the scale with one or the other.
There is another thing that takes place in these “inspiring schools”. Encouragement of higher level thinknig, thinking outside of the box. Conversation, dialogue and cooperation is encouraged not by a set of rules such as “raise your hand before you talk, raise your hand before you get up and walk”. Have you ever seen an adult raising his hand in a conference room? Yet, they can talk all one by one. There is almost this silent sign or code signaling “it’s my turn to talk”. Have you ever seen a person raising his or her hand to go to the other side of the room while the host or the speaker is talking? No. because they get up quietly, discreetly and mind their business. Why treat students like this when we are preparing them for the adult world and tell them “You must be successful at what you are doing out there”.
Students or learners are involved and engaged in their school planning. Projects, tagline for a competition, lessons, study subjects… Yes, of course there is a curriculum but there are ways to incorporate all these into the curriculum. Is there only one way to teach mixing colors in art? How about addition? Why not slice up an apple while teaching fractions? Does it have to be only 1 or 2 dimensional? No. 21st century schools are far better than that. If we do not have one type of learner then we cannot teach with one method.
Mediocre schools are neither here nor there. Teach according to the curriculum. Use a tourist approach as in “Black History Month. Let’s learn about Harriet Tubman. It’s April, let’s talk about recyling and talk about Earth Day”. Why not expand these throughout the year and stretch the subjects into every area of learning. Math, science, social studies, art, music…Why not encourage learners to think deeper and perform at higher levels by letting them absorb all the information in comparison to memorizing? Why rely upon tests so much? Why is a child nervous taking a test? Does this mean he doesnt know or is it only an issue of learning how to control feelings such as anxiety.
Supressing and depressing schools are the worst. They think “rigor” is awesome. Learners are like little soldiers. They are expected to be quiet unless the teacher asks them a question. They are required to move, talk, laugh IF the teacher gives permission. They are expected to act alike and behave alike. Leadership and faculty associates listening as in raising hand and keeping it quiet unless the teachers permits them, with learning and getting high test scores. Naturally every child is different. No matter what the expectations are, they cannot act alike and think alike all the time. They cannot have the same needs and understand the subject in the same way and within the same time period. What happens to these children? They get punished, isolated, pushed away, mocked and belittled. They get bullied by the teacher and of course later on by the classmates and schoolmates. Why not follow in the teachers’ footsteps? Trust me I have witnessed it. These children may eventually get kicked out of the school or held back a year or so. Because they are the “black sheep”. Why not follow the herd? What is so great about being an individual and adding your individual strengths and ideas to the learning environment? This is the thought. They set children up for failure.
Like Berna, I recognize how many have different perspectives when it comes to learning. While most may have a different idea of what education may be or look like what remains true is it’s purpose. A school’s purpose is to help and guide not punish and expel. A school adds onto a person’s character and brain not takes away. I rise to the challenge of math and will say with confidence that if a school works to take away problems as opposed to solving them then in the end nothing will be left. “What happens to the children who can’t sit still or are labeled as a problem or ADD/ADHD?” “Who is their voice?” When I think about schools, I think about what is inside…the meat of it. So often a child is labeled and removed in punitive ways. I equate this with removing a problem not solving it. Most of all, not helping the child to solve it. Often I think about the school to prison pipe line and why removing the “problem” is not the answer and what we can do to stop it.
They say you can tell a lot about a country by the way it treats its prisoners…I believe the same can be said for how a country treats its children. Invest money in our schools and education for high quality not in more jails. Invest in our children, families and educators. Education is supposed to be inspiring. It is meant to change lives and trajectories.
This is real. A real problem here in our country. We have to solve it and do the right thing for our children not pockets. This is how we break a cycle.
The return of investment is immeasurable when you invest in education.
It’s easier working and guiding children as opposed to fixing broken grown ups.
Education meaning the elements of literacy, the arts, math, the sciences, play and higher level thinking skills AND SO MUCH MORE are vital to keep our country thriving, alive and most of all moving forward and rolling.
Let’s follow the money and watch where it goes. The money is here. It’s being spent not to better schools such as Detroit’s and Scranton’s, it’s being used elsewhere. We need to come together as a community and nation to build each other up. Debt and bankruptcy should not be an option. Invest in our communities.
When you move out and go to someplace “better” what does that really solve? There is good and bad everywhere. We have to own our problems and do something about them. Removing a “problem” is not the answer. A child should never be labeled as bad or a problem. The behavior is a problem not the child. We are here to help solve problems by working together using positive guidance to help a child learn.
It comes down to our expectations and positive guidance. It comes down to doing the right thing for children who will later become our future grown ups. It’s about building partnerships with families and making them stronger and in return growing stronger from them as we all have something to learn from one another.
The thing is is that leaders already know the value of education and the return of investment as I am sure their children are in the best of the best of schools… We deserve these models of excellence. Every child deserves high quality and equity in a real education. We know what it looks like.
Every child deserves the kind of education that makes you think, dream, imagine, hope, create, advocate and speak, work together and most of all believe. But this kind of real schooling starts with us.
A school can be the most advanced, technologically savvy, have beautiful things but what matters most is what is ticking inside of it. The hum of the people within in it. Do they have children’s and families best interests at heart? Are they there to listen and understand? Do they care? Is it a neighborhood where you feel welcome and a part of it? Is it authentic? How is the learning and interraction happening? It’s people not things that make a school. This a strong foundation to build a school out of not brick and mortar.