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

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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

 

 

Stick Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly: Walking, Working and Moving Together

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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:

Share everything.

Play fair.

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.

Flush.

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.

From: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/246075-these-are-the-things-i-learned-in-kindergarten-1-share

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:

http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford

 

stick tog pic ford

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.

Tis the Season: the Jolly and Not So Jolly of Times

With the results of the election, holidays and inauguration looming I am feeling tension and unlike myself lately.

I chalked it up to the full moon and it’s power of making waves. In fact, there has been a cataclysm of events making waves. Lately, I have been hanging on to hope and resiliency. I stare at a photo of 6 year old Ruby Bridges who endured and triumphed standing as a metaphor and reminder that “what doesn’t kill you does in fact make you stronger”.  At 6, Ruby Bridges showed a courage that resonates today. I had the opportunity of listening to Ruby Bridges speak in 2015 at the annual NAEYC conference. The kind of courage and poise she personifies and how it connects with us, children, families and educators will be written about in a later blog.

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Holidays are hard for many. For a lot of my own life, holidays were often off for me and awkward. There are empty chairs of those we miss and love. You feel the infinite loss and ache of missing loved ones. It is easier to send a gift and/or photo of smiling faces saying Happy Holidays. It is the thought that counts but what do we do for those who feel alone? How do we help others cope during grief or a sense of loss? What gifts can you give to the broken-hearted?

Here are gifts to give:

  • Gift of Memory: Take a moment to remember and honor the memory of a loved one by a hug, card or phone call. Although there is an empty chair at the table fill it with memories and honor their memory.
  • Gift of hope: We experience both sadness and joy. It’s deeply triggered by the holidays. Show up and offer to help those you care about. From the daily routines to collaging and scrap booking memories.
  • Gift of Love: Be in the moment with those who are still living. Show them you love them. If you are the one feeling sad tell them it is hard but stay hopeful.
  • Gift of friendship: Invite and include those who feel sad even if they may cancel or decline from shopping to having dinner.
  • Gift of Surprise and Spontaneity: Encourage doing something unusual such as a road trip or a flight to visit loved ones still here. Follow through.
  • Give the gift of time: Its about time well spent with those you love so spend it wisely. Spend some time whether over coffee, a movie, a stop by visit or something special to do together
  • Give the gift of food for the soul whether baked goods or a home cooked meal to enjoy together
  • The gift of listening: remember, it’s not not knowing what to say but listening and being there.

Looking for more gift ideas? Visit Sympathy Solutions at:

http://www.sympathysolutions.com/current-newsletter/10-things-you-can-do-for-someone-lost-loved-lone.html

Most of all, ensure to reach out, don’t expect someone who feels alone to reach out to you.

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Everyone Lies. Where Do We Draw the Line?

There are many reasons why we do or say things the way we do. The truth makes some of us uncomfortable. It is said “truth hurts”. However, it is always better for us to be 100% real with each other than to pretend. That is if we want to form long lasting relationships built on trust.

On the other hand, think about your day-to-day life. How often do you lie? How often do you think you are lied to? Call it lying or being untruthful, both are the same. A lie is a lie is a lie.

One of the biggest lessons to learn is to protect your heart. Share it but protect it. Deception and betrayal are real.

When you catch someone in the act of lying how do you feel? It’s easy and natural to feel betrayed, hurt, and/or angry.  How about when a child lies to you? The feelings echo the same sentiments.  But want the honest truth? It’s normal and typical to lie.

Everyone lies at some point; however, we do have the choice to be truthful.  When you want to get off the phone you may say something like: “I have to take this other call, it’s urgent” or “I have a meeting in five minutes”. How about minimizing something such as running a red light as you are pulled over for it. Why do we do this? In the depths of our being, we are hoping to get out of paying the ticket. Most of all, when we lie we want to get out of or away with something.

It all comes down to solving our problems realistically even if it hurts. Hurting is good if it is equivalent to growing pains.  We need to teach and guide children to face the problem and solve it, not find a way to get out of problems or find excuses for them.

We wonder why children lie. The answer is the same as why adults lie in general.

  • To avoid hurting someone else’s feelings- white lie
  • To avoid getting caught or getting in trouble- not so white lie
  • To get attention- white or not depends on the situation
  • To get out of doing something that we do not want to- white lie?
  • To lead separate lives- not white at all
  • To establish self identity or pretend identity- not white at all

When addressing lying with children, don’t make things complicated. Understand the underlying cause and address the root cause of it.

  • Be specific about the situation (Don’t beat around the bush)
  • Be simple, clear and direct
  • Assure them that honesty is valued and lying has more negative consequences than the mistakes themselves.
  • Don’t close up, always be open
  • Do not argue
  • Give a consequence if a natural one did not present itself
  • If you give a consequence, ensure it connects to what happened (for example, if she lied about doing her homework and instead played video games, state you will not be able to play your video games especially not until homework is complete)

We all have values. Many people talk about honesty but the reality is that many people lie. It’s a problem that can be solved by modeling honesty and integrity in every way of being. It is about walking the walk. Action speaks louder than words.  

In the meantime, we can teach and coach our children to show others who they really are with courage and integrity. We can teach them to own their mistakes and learn from them instead of covering them up or running away from them. This is the way we can make a change. Now and in the future.

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.

The Human Story

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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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We are stronger when we work together.

Building Up Trust and Respect in Relationships

Often we talk about trust and respect and most often some tie these two terms to age and/or titles. Is this realistic?  Relationships are based on mutual understandings. The understanding of self, shared vision, mission, goals, and mutual respect and trust.

  • Teacher to Child
  • Child to Teacher
  • Teacher to Family
  • Family to Teacher
  • Family to Child
  • Child to Family
  • Human to Human
    … among all living things…

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By nature we depend on relationships. We are hungry for interaction through conversations, play, arguments, misunderstandings. We are social beings. We recognize and overcome hardships to form positive and fruitful relationships and take steps to help someone through the process is our responsibility. Acknowledging individual and collective responsibility is one of the most crucial stepping stones of human life.

On Self Reflection:

How am I doing? Can I be better at what I am doing? Can I play a better role in my relationships? Do I make mistakes? Do I know what to do next? Who can I get help from? What can I improve about myself? Do I play a role in this relationship? What kind of role is it? Am I a positive influence for someone? Who is my role model? Am I a role model? This stage of self reflection and evaluation hurts us but it helps us grow. It makes us uncomfortable in a good way. For the betterment of ourselves and others around us. Any time we feel discomfort, we are growing. We are shifting and moving on to something.

As Maya Angelous once said: When you know better, you do better.

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On Listening:

How many of us know what listening is? Believe me, not many. Many people think they are listening but all they do is hearing bunch of words, sometimes jumbled up together like a noise. This happens when you think you are listening to the person who is talking but you are actually busy forming your thoughts and comments so that you are ready to reply. The reality is you do not truly “hear” what the person is saying. In many relationships, including with children, our urge to make a comment or reply prohibits us from allowing our brain to focus on the individual. Then comes assumptions, misunderstanding, blaming… Listening what the person has to say and then taking a few seconds to digest it shows that you respect the person’s thoughts and what  he or she has to say. This is a lifelong skills we all need to know.

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On Control of Emotions:

It takes so much to control our emotions. Think about a child who is crying and screaming because he does not want to walk. First, we question the reason for his behavior. Next, we try to have eye cntact and see if we can figure out what the problem may be. Then we comfort him by holding his hand, carrying him or simply explaining what is happening. We build the trust, understanding and show emphathy for him. On the other hand, if we simply continue to walk, drag him by holding his hand or arm and completely disregard his upset, the only message we are giving is: Your feelings do not matter, I say it you do it, I do not respect you. In addition, if we do not control our emotions and are disturbed by his cry, we start threatinnig him by saying “if you do not stop crying, you cannot play, eat snack, go outside…” It sounds so negative and hurtful. It is the same way with any relationship. Controlling emotions allow us to choose our words carefully, to remain calm and in control of the situation. We are not saying “Do not feel emotional”. What we are saying is “have control over your emotions” so that you can help the situation instead of contributing to a possible negative result such as stress and broken relationship. During these times, people need each other the most and you must be the one with a leveled head so that the other party can rely upon you or you can take control over the situation to make things better. Keep in mind that this is not an easy step but can be done with practice, deep breathing, taking a moment and self check.

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You do not need to have all of the answers:

Just because you are a mom, dad, teacher, leader … does not mean you have all the answers to every question, problem, dilemma or for every situation. People will expect a lot of things from you throughout your life. If they see that each time you are helping them, you are beating yourself to death to get an answer for them, they will keep expecting a solution from you each and every time and most likely they will not try to figure it out for themselves regardless of their capacity and ability.

In fact, they will never reach their capacity because there is “you” who do things for them. In addition, because of these expectations, you feel obligated to continue to find an answer and provide a solution in a way that when you do not have the answer you feel awful. You criticize yourself and again, beat yourself up because you feel like you are letting them down. It is important to recognize that we cannot save everyone from every situation neither we can provide a solution for every situation. This is something important to understand and accept because it is part of self respect.

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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.