To Die or Not to Die?
That is the question.
“We become angels when we die.”
Do we ever really die?
That is the real question.
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:
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:
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:
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.
Imagine an individualized learning plan that meets the needs of each and every child? This idea is not out of reach. Every child is different. So, why are we treating them all the same? There is not one mold for learning and doing.
So many ideas and thoughts materialize in my mind as I prepared for a panel on keeping play alive for children at the World Forum. We are surrounded by giants in our field of early education. Some of those giants materialize in my mind such as Diane T. Dodge, Sue Bredekamp, Barbara Willer, Dan Gartrell, Becky Bailey, Mimi Brodsky to name a handful. We too are giants and owe it to the giants before us to do the right thing for children even when it’s hard to keep fighting. We are also surrounded by children who are the bigger giants. In Sue’s words “we must stop using kids for research and use the research to help our children”.
When I stepped foot inside of an early education classroom I knew it was where I was meant to be and I knew why. It was safe, welcoming, kind and an environment where children took care of one another. A space where children could create, collaborate and connect. Most of all, children played! I believe that this model should be pushed to higher grades.
At times I hear adults say “Children don’t play anymore, they are always inside.” If this happens during a conversation (now it tends not to because my circle knows) I immediately ask what is the solution? What can we do? We can blame it on technology or the changing of the times.
However, I want to also blame it on ourselves: the grown-ups. We live in such a fast paced instant gratified kind of world that taking a moment to listen to the birds or really see the images hiding in the clouds does not happen as often as it should. There are easy solutions to challenging or in Gartell’s words mistaken behavior found in play. If a child is a rough and tumble kind of player, a game of tag would be one of many play solutions.
We find out so much about children from observing and guiding children in play. More than we do during a standardized test. We are so busy getting children “ready” that we need to remind ourselves each year that they don’t need to be ready for us. We need to be ready for them.
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.
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
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.
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.
In every one of us there is a light.
A hope. A journey. There is a kind of understanding and a belief that we are connected.
Each and everyone of us has choices. The choice to be good or the choice to be bad. Or the choice to be a little bit of both. There is good and bad in all of us. That’s the truth. We all have the ability to learn from our accomplishments and mistakes as a result of the choices we make. This helps us grow or causes us not to. Some stay stagnant and then question how you changed and grew? We are all in a process of becoming. Every level of life we are growing, changing and becoming. In life, just like we have good days and bad days, we have good and bad people.
We never went wrong. There is only a constant battle between what is good and what is bad coupled with our perception of our choices within ourselves.
It is important not to spend time thinking about criticism that is untrue. It is also important not to take it personally. This is not an easy task and it needs a lot of practice for a long time. Everyone of us is on a journey. We take what we can from our individual journey and try our best to understand and learn from others’.
Recently, I (Jill) was a mascot and was drenched in sweat beneath the heavy fur costume. It was hot outside. Even hotter within that costume of fur. I wore it for an hour thinking of others who wear heavy costumes longer than that. I wondered “how do they live this life?” It’s so hot. Sweat. I felt all of the children’s happiness as they hugged, powed and hi fived me. There were two sides of it. It was hard work but it brought joy.
We do not know someone’s life or journey unless we walk in their shoes.
However, we are connected at the same time. We should spend time getting to know one another, not growing further apart. It is easy to judge and criticize others. Especially when you lack or have a hard time showing empathy. The easy way is to be self centered. This is not the way the world works.
Implicit bias has been the buzz word lately. If we know we all have implicit biases then we must face them and work to become better. How? This starts with talking with each other and not making assumptions. If you do assume, face your assumption and fear and work to know someone else. In the words of Maya Angelou: my friend we are more alike than we are unalike.
It’s not race, not religion, not gender, not sexual orientation, not these labels that separate us. It is ourselves. Love, courage and understanding work. We need to choose this as the rock to push up that hill together.
We are stronger when we work together.
“Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult.” – C. S. Lewis quotes
I think a lot. I dream a lot. Turning thirty brought a lot full circle and caused a very bright light bulb kind of moment for me. The best advice I can give you is to follow your dreams and be who you are meant to be. Without dreams, I can imagine a person feeling dead. Over the weekend, I checked in on my dreams and hopes. As I watched my niece, really baby sister graduate, nostalgia set in. How am I doing? I asked myself. Is this where I envisioned my life to be? Yes and no. When you feel uncomfortable it is time to move on they say. Staring long and hard at myself in the mirror, I looked…tired. Is this a good kind of tired? Oh gosh, I thought. I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing right? The tough thing about feeling and being an adult is that you can’t just move on and run away from where you are or from those you care about. Or can you? I realized being an adult is a messed up kind of Catch 22. I’m not one to walk away from anything. I keep my promises.
As I read the book entitled: The Necessity of Strangers by Dr. Alan Gregerman a lot materialized for me. We have the power to unlock potential in others and within ourselves. Did you know there is an actual summer camp for adults? Where they can meet new friends, refocus and reenergize. One of the many lessons I learn from children is how easily they make friends. They are unafraid and courageous. As I was playing basketball with some adults, a child who appeared to be about six years old approached us and naturally became a part of our game. He entered the game saying pass me the ball and we did. If he only stood watching how could we know he wanted to play? No one is a mind reader. In our lives we have to say, “Pass me the ball!” Standing in the same place is counterproductive to who we are meant to be. Imagine speaking up, moving and keeping it a part of your lifestyle all of the time not only for a summer. Movement is life. Stagnation is the opposite. If you are living a life you need to escape from then why live it? Create the life you don’t need to get away from. Live the life you imagine, think and dream about.
The cool thing about what I do everyday is having the opportunity to support children and families. I am right in the middle of it. I am constantly learning. The thing I am learning the most about is in fact, people. Their mannerisms, their motives, their adult life size issues much larger than you can ever imagine.
I realize I want to focus in on being a voice for children, families, play and literacy. I do not want to lose focus so I find myself being more and more selective in 1. How I spend my time 2. Who and how I am helping organization(s) 3. Ways and means that will support either an enrichment program centered on STEAM/literacy/play and/or a Pre-K-3rd program supporting children and families. 4. What to write about
I know who I am and the skills I have. I am an educator first and foremost. I am madly passionate about giving children and families a voice and doing the right thing.
I’m driving and being driven by what I refuse to let go of, my dreams.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
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.
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.