Passing the Torch: Early Ed… Then What? Why and How We Should Be Ready for Our Children. Speaking up for Children, Families and Educators

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

“Come as you are”, said he. “But I love you, so I will not let you stay there. I will move you, and it will hurt, but I promise I won’t leave you.” –sum.c

Recently, we attended a conference, “It Takes A City” in DC and I reflected on my experiences and how I felt immediately. While sitting at a table of educators, with widely different views and experiences in education and hearing from a high school teacher, first grade teacher, education specialist and an assistant…When asked what I do, I responded I work in an Early Learning Program in DC. I heard from most of them at the table “They are just so cute but I don’t know how you do it.” Pause. Sigh. I took a deep breath. I realized I was sitting at this table for a reason.

There is a disconnect between early childhood education and the K-12 world. As I listened to their set of experiences, I realized we are so connected so why is there a disconnect? A high school teacher lamented how 23 out of 26 of her students have IEPS mainly for ADHD. 23 out of 26. My eyes widened. My chest hurt. These numbers bothered me and I could tell it bothered her too. I talked more about how early education focuses on the whole child. After my talk about developmentally appropriate practice (DAP), meeting children where they are and helping when needed, utilizing the curriculum but being flexible and following the lead of the child…the teachers said how thankful they are when children come from a high quality program and previous classes that supported them. They said our work shows. We make a difference!

I thought we don’t do this kind of work for a thank you. Our work should not stop there. Children come to a classroom with a diverse set of experiences, perspectives and ways of being. They come as they are and it is our job to help move them. Families, get to know your child’s teacher. Write a letter explaining who your child is and how he or she best learns. Paint the picture of your child in a positive and realistic light. Show and share who your child is in order to create a mutual understanding and best possible support. What is your child’s hopes and dreams? After all, you know your child the best. This way teachers can meet him where he is developmentally. Collaborate. Families are a child’s first and most important teacher. The mentality of readiness…of children being ready needs to change. Testing? This is not the only way. This idea of readiness and testing causes anxiety for the child, family, teachers and administration. We need to think like this: educators and schools should be ready for children. We hope that after children leave our world of early education that our work continues not only through our children and families but from their new teachers. We pass on the torch. As an early childhood educator, we hope that children will be challenged, asked how they feel, asked open-ended questions, met where they are. Most of all, we hope they are cared for, supported, inspired and understood.

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Often we hear how children are misunderstood. This is not working well. Emerson stated, “To be misunderstood is to be great.” When misunderstandings happen we should seek to understand. We have the power to change this way of thinking. We can totally relate to children: at some point grown-ups were in fact children. Do you remember standards? Do you remember the one-dimensional testing? Do you remember the cookie cutter art? Do you remember being quiet during lunch? Do you remember not playing? What do you remember? What made you proud, confident, loved, inspired? What caused an a-ha kind of moment for you? What challenged and hurt that helped you grow not caused anxiety?

The reality is that too many children are labeled. We are talking about high quality and equity in education but how is this fair? Diagnosis: ADHD Answer: Medication. Diagnosis: Disruptive, hurtful and troubled. Answer: removed. Isolating and shaming children to “remove the problem” so we can continue teaching? We are educating children who will one day be grown ups. They are not grown ups yet so we shouldn’t treat them like grown ups but who they are: children.

Although we realize children are uniquely and amazingly different, have a plethora of experiences, personalities and skills coupled by our understanding of current research, DAP and being culturally responsive; there are still educators and leaders who settle on the maturationist point of view of children…knowing what we know we cannot sit passively and think a child will mature and grow based on a life cycle. This is where we work to help children build and learn. This is when we mold them.

If we know there is a five year range in children’s literacy in an average kindergarten classroom then there is not only one way to teach a subject such as reading. There also should not be a standard that all children must be at. Standards and goals are necessary but let’s use them to challenge each child in different ways by meeting him or her on his own unique level of understanding. Only then can we help a child grow, actively learn, and move forward in his development.

Children are not meant to be test takers but movers and shakers of this world. If we are to adequately challenge and promote 21st century skills, we must stick to our gut instincts as educators, families and leaders and do what is right and developmentally appropriate for children. Testing should not be the only method or option in seeing where children are. There are tons of other ways as well.

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Every child may not be good at test taking just as every child who scores high does not mean he knows or understands the subject he was taught. Learning is a lifelong activity, a hobby for some of us. It keeps us going, allows us to stay sharp and relevant. We want our children to love learning, right? We want them to try harder each time, to think that there is no limit for growth. There is no job that is impossible to get. With education, comes great opportunities. From meeting friends who continue as colleagues and or partners to high paying jobs or satisfying careers. Most important of all, we want them to be successful in every which way. How is this possible if we do not speak up for them, if we do not stand up for their needs and rights?

For each one of us there is at least one thing to do. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, teachers, administrators, doctors, policy makers… The list is long and there is always at least one thing for each one of these individuals to do to advocate for children. There is always a step each one of us can take when we see injustice, misuderstanding, maltreatment, unfairness… It is everyone’s job to protect the youngest citizens of this world. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect their interest and to pave the road to success. We reap what we sow and what we want to sow is the best seed that will grow and take his place in life. One day, they will continue the cycle and when that day comes they will be confident, happy, productive, thoughful, succesful, innovative, problem solvers and leaders… Be their voice, now.

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Lighting up Creativity by Keeping the Magic Alive: The Power of Creativity in Children and Grown ups

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

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Creativity=Magic. It comes down to being present in the moment and wanting to be there even in the difficult times with children and families in order to create an awesome learning experience. It’s about doing the right thing for your students, families and yourself and having the courage, confidence and creativity to thrive. I think even if you have the most up to date technological school what is at the heart is caring and nurturing teachers, families and children. A person can have a school anywhere in the world even without the best of the best but it comes down to educators, families and children. When you walk into an awesome classroom you immediately want to be there: it feels warm, accepting, safe and fun. You don’t want to leave. You feel it. To be a part of something like that is incredible.

Inspiring Ways to Spark Creativity and Ingenuity at School, Work and at Home

  1. Visit a museum to look and admire art and/or living/dead things. Admire some bugs together or face a fear of creepy crawly bugs. Marvel at the fragility of a butterfly. Bring a hands on activity for you and your child to recreate what you see together. There are awesome and free museums, our national zoo and the sculpture garden in DC to explore. Not to mention the reopening of the Renwick with the exhibit Wonder. http://renwick.americanart.si.eduskullswonderbuginsectzoo
  2. Give them real tools to copy you and put stuff at their level. Children may not always listen to and/or follow our advice or even have a hard time learning limits but I do know I am 99.9% sure children imitate what they see. Whether we call ourselves role models or not we are that for children. Be who you want your kid to be.aub
  3. Invite children to your workspace. Bring them for a day in the life of your work. Ask working family members to volunteer some time so they can visit their work too. Make it fun and interesting. Play make believe with them.  After the work experience ask them what they think about your work? Ask them their opinions and ideas. They are our future. Before you know it they will be grown ups.   Help them think of ways to think outside of the box and change the status quo. This leads to changing the world.

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  1. Offer open-ended art materials. Don’t buy into commercialism all of the time. Many toys on the market inhibit creativity. They have certain limited functions. Cardboard, paper, (large paper), wood, paint (mixing primary colors to make colors), clay, chalk, crayons, pastel, collaging, mixed media arts, journaling, art journaling, photo journaling, dancing, singing, sports (recreational and organized). The list is endless. Harness whatever it is they love and let them run wild with it. Let them be in the moment making a mess. Be in the process with them.
  1. Read good books. You know what we’re talking about. The ones you like. And, read many genres. When children grow, they will appreciate this exposure and become literate awesome global individuals of the world. Teach them not to just read to read but read to understand.
  1. Make up stories together. Illustrate them too. If your children love this let them do it and appreciate it. Show them the process of publishing. And, as we are changing into the world of self-publishing show them that too. A great source of inspiration is Stephen King’s On Writing.
  1. Go on adventures. A lot of them. Take a trip somewhere. Take planned and unplanned ones. This way you show a planning process and spontaneity. We need both of these in our lives. Without a balance we get dull. Keep that gleam in your eye. This carries into old age. Keep the magic alive.
  1. Show how technology rules but does not rule you. Don’t always be on your phone. Be present in the moments. So many of them you can’t recreate or get back. Show how technology rocks. There is a thin line between our real lives happening now in the moment and technology.
  1. Eat cereal and watch cartoons together in your pajamas.
  1. Visit places to discover how things work, are made and so much more.
  1. Ask them. Ask yourself. Find out what your child loves to do and let them do it. Find out what you love to do and do that.
  1. Give your time.