Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Best Gifts Are Not Electronic

Tis the season!  I came across this article this morning Blocks and crayons, balls and tricycles beat video games for kids' gift and wanted to share.  When shopping for gifts this year, whether for your child, niece or nephew, or grandkids keep it "old school". 

Our children live in a world of over stimulation.  Everywhere you go there is a TV (try and find a family restaurant that does not have one!), any kind of music is at our fingertips, you can watch a movie or play a game at the touch of a button.  No set up, no wait time needed.  Even games I played as a kid can be found with a electronic element. Life was my favorite.  I liked spinning the wheel.  I do not like the new version with the "credit card machine".  I have an unwritten rule in the classroom and when my kids were under 3, if it required batteries or needs to be charged it I will not or did not buy it!  Children need experiences to be successful.

Advertising and social media are wonderful at making you think your child needs these educational electronics, ipads, certain apps etc. to be successfull.  They in fact do not!  I repeat they DO NOT!  Those mentioned above, for the most part, target memory.  They do not work on the overall skills children today need for success.  Maggie Fox states in the above article, “These skills are only one part of school readiness. The skills young children really need to learn for success in school (and life) include impulse control, managing emotions, and creative, flexible thinking. These are best learned through unstructured and social play with family and friends.”  

So what should you buy?

Remember the best gift you can give children is you.  Your time, your attention and your love.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Surviving Cabin Fever

We all know it's coming especially if you live in the Northeast like I do.  Winter!  Its just around the corner and with it comes long cold days and being stuck inside!  I am a huge believer in being outside whenever possible but some years the winter weather does not always cooperate.

As parents we are faced with the task of balancing our children's independent play, use of their imagination and exploration of the world vs. organizing their activities and constantly "playing" with them.  I personally aimed for an environment that allowed exploration, independence, imagination and quality 1:1, however I did have to think out of the box and organize some play options for them during our times stuck inside, or I would have gone a bit crazy!

I loved to go a bit "old school" and get all the blankets and chairs and pillows and make forts.  We had tea parties, played board games, decorated large boxes as cars and went to the"drive in" while watching a movie. This took some preparation and sometimes quite a bit of clean up. I am including a link to our Pinterest page Fun Things To Try At Home with ideas for simple activities to try at home to help make the long winter months pass more quickly.

As a parent of a now college student, high school and middle school student, I speak from experience.  Don't waste these precious days with your children.  My children still talk of our snow days stuck inside and remember, not how organized I was or what great project I came up with, but they remember our quality time together. They do not talk about how much I did or did not play with them. They remember me reading to them and making hot cocoa and cookies.  They remember having a pajama day and eating breakfast for dinner.  They also remember the day I "lost it" and sent them upstairs and made them spend the day in one of their bedrooms until they could get along (no TV, no electronics).  They will tell you it was one of their best days. They were upstairs ALL day, even after I allowed them their freedom!  They played games, argued a little, laughed a lot and I'm certain they probably bonded while complaining about me! They were 4, 6 and 10 years old at the time.  I'm not going to lie that was a great day for me too!  I read a book, watched a TV show that did not include cartoon characters, drank my coffee in quiet. 

Use these days to create spontaneous memories.  Be creative, remember our carefree days as kids, and don't waste them worrying about doing the "right" thing or that which will look best as a Facebook post!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Curbing The Morning Craziness

As we know getting ourselves out of the house in the morning can be crazy enough, but add to that a child or two, a pet, making lunches, prepping dinner so you don't eat at 10 PM and maybe throwing in a load of laundry from the wet bed sheets the night before, brings it to an entirely new level!

Creating routines for your family, especially your children can help make your morning go smoother, at least 90% of the time. 

A few things to remember when creating a routine for the family:

  • Keep it simple.  Simplicity is our school motto this year.  Don't get too detailed.  Use picture cards if your child does not read.  
  • Get your kids involved.  Let them have some say in the routine if applicable.  Use a chart if helpful.  If they want to get dressed before breakfast be flexible.
  • Communication is KEY.  Make sure your child knows what is expected of them and try your best to stick to it.  Once established you can be a bit more flexible if needed.
Sample morning routine for preschoolers:

1. Wake up and go to the bathroom
2. Brush teeth 
3. Get dressed
4. Eat breakfast 
5. Put on shoes 

The second KEY element to success is independence.  Teach your child how to dress themselves and put on their shoes.  Let them make some choices.  I promise no one is judging you if they come to school in their rain boots on a sunny day!  Set out breakfast items for them to choose.  Let them be part of the process.  For example, in our house when the children were younger I would offer 2 choices for breakfast.  We had a small pitcher available for them to pour their own milk and cups on a low cupboard shelf. (small juice pitcher) I would put fruit out for them to choose independently. They would get their own drink and fruit while I prepared the rest of their breakfast.  

Power struggles are greatly reduced when you give a child a sense of empowerment, control and independence.  Here are some helpful pointers about routines from Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen and Adrian Garsia.  More information can be found at https://www.positivediscipline.com/

Friday, March 23, 2018

What Your Child Really Needs to Know For Kindergarten

As many of us have realized the demands of Kindergarten students have increased immensely in recent years.  I am a firm believer that children are underestimated in their abilities.They need to explore the world, try new things and learn to be independent

I have sent three children of my own to Kindergarten and have taught too many to count over the last 22 years. I have compiled a list of eight skills that all Kindergarten students should have before September and it has almost nothing to do with academics.

1.  Children should be able to sit and listen to a story with no interruption or talking. They should also be able to retell that story in sequential order.

2.  Children should be independent in the bathroom.  This one is so important! Teachers will not be able to assist each individual child with cleaning themselves, or buttoning pants etc.

3.  Children should know how to buckle themselves in a seat belt.  Most children are still in some kind of booster seat, if not a five point harness.  Some school districts require children who ride the bus to use their seat belt.  Chilren should know how to independently use a seat belt.

4.   Children should know how to dress themselves, put on their shoes, and care for their belongings.  Make sure they can open their backpack and know how to put it on. If they can not yet tie their shoes, you might want to get velcro shoes if they are uncomfortable asking for help. 

5.   Children should know how to eat lunch and handle their food and food containers.  Practice opening and closing the bags and containers with your child beforehand. Let them know what your expectations are. For example, eat your sandwich and fruit first before eating your dessert.

6.  Children should be comfortable verbalizing their needs.  Will they ask a teacher for help if needed? If they are not feeling well will they know to ask to go to the nurse?

7.  Children should be able to recognize at least their first names in print.  Cubbies, lunchboxes, name cards etc. will be a part of your child's day and they will need to be able to recognize their name.

8.  Children should be able to follow 2-3 step directions.  A teacher, for example,  may direct them to put their pencil away, get their lunchbox and line up at the door.

9.   Children should be comfortable initiating and accepting peer interactions.  Are they able to ask friends to play with them?  Are they able to join a group of children and understand the "give and take" of play, taking turns, etc. 

10.   Children should be able to problem solve every day issues.  If they need help, have a problem with a peer, etc., are they able to appropriately handle these occurances?  Do they have the skills to work through problems and formulate a strategy for success with minimal adult guidance?

These skills will be helpful to your child and their success in school.  Being independent and confident is so very important to children.  It creates a feeling of safety and readiness to learn!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Children Need Experiences

Let me start by saying I have been a parent for 18 years and so much has changed in that short time. I have also been teaching for 22 years and have witnessed many changes in the way we choose to raise our children.  With these changes also came huge advances in technology for families. We have also become a culture of convenience. So what does this all mean?

As a 45 year old each advancement was and is new and exciting to me.  I love being able to DVR my favorite shows or binge watch a series on a Friday night.  I love being able to put away the cookbooks and use my Ipad to look up recipes.  The big clunky phone book has been recycled and replaced with google.  I love texting and Facetime, but I also remember the days before all this new technology gave me instant gratification.  My oldest child seems to be of the age where, although smart phones, apple music etc. were new, they quickly became part of his culture. My younger two children seem to be born into it. Limiting screen time was and continues to be a constant struggle even for myself.  

There are many positives to this new culture, many of which I do not have to go into, however there is scary side to it as well.  Our children are beginning to lack real life concrete experiences.  Board games are played on the computer or tablet.  Books are read on kindles. Cartoons are available 24/7 on over 100 channels, food is made convenient with no mess, activities are structured and scheduled daily.  Your child needs new shoes?  No time to shop? Order them on line and they will be delivered to your house in 2 days.  We no longer have to go to the grocery store.  A box can be delivered to your house with all the ingredients included for dinner. 

What impact does this have on our children?

We are not going to change the world.  This is our new culture, but young minds need concrete real experiences to learn and grow.  I have observed that children today appear to look to adults to help them pass the time.  Parents schedule activities, playdates, gym time, story hour etc.  There is no longer down time.  I remember the days when we got home from school and had to change into our play clothes and went outside until dinner, without our parents watching us!  We made mud pies, forts, played on the swings, just talked with friends.  Take away screens for a day, cancel all activities and encourage your child to play, without you!  You will be amazed at what they actually do, after they tell you they are bored a hundred times!

Children also appear to be lacking in patience.  Everything is readily available to them.  You can order almost whatever you want online, you don't have to wait till Saturday morning to watch your shows, your given a phone to pass the time in a restaurant.  Patience is a wonderful thing.  When you child goes to school this is a skill that is most important to possess.  A teacher does not have the ability to give each child the attention they seek at the exact moment they seek it.  There are several other children who also need her attention.

In the classroom I have observed children's overall abilities to problem solve decrease.  Their fine motor control seems to be suffering as well as the ability to self regulate.

How do we help?
Concrete experiences give children tangible practice.  What happens when I don't pay attention and have control of my movements when playing a board game?  The game pieces turn over.  What happens when I spill my milk?   Get a towel and clean it up.  What will I do when I am waiting for my food at a restaurant?  Talk to your family, play ISpy, color on the sheets given, play tic tac toe.

It is important for children to experience different tastes, touches, smells etc.  They need to explore the world to find out cause and effect.  Life is made pretty easy for us today.  Before we allow our children to rely on technology we must first make sure they possess  the skill needed to be able to accomplish the task without the use of a screen.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Spring Stress

Spring time might actually be a more stressful time for 4 and 5 year old children than Christmas time. The Spring brings new life to the outdoors and with that comes daylight savings time, sports, later nights outside playing and Kindergarten registration.  All this leads the way to very tired children.

Lets start with the outdoors.  All winter we have been couped up inside tying to find a creative way to release their energy.  We are able to get outside for a bit some days but the children are typically so bundled up they can barely move much less run around.  Now comes the warmer days.  You are going on bike rides, playing at the park, running in the backyard.  You can stay out for 2,3,4 hours without getting frost bite.  We are tiring our children out with fresh air and exercise.  It is still light out at 8 PM.
They don't want to go to bed when it's light out and either do we!

For some 4 and 5 year olds this is their first chance to play organized sports (soccer, T ball etc.)  Practices and games are held most times after dinner. It is everyone's intention to finish up with games and practices as early as possible, but it still cuts into the many childrens bedtime. You get home, they are hungry, need a bath etc. A decent bed time is almost laughable.

Perhaps the most stressful event this time of year is Kindergarten registration.  For most children this is an exciting time but with this excitement comes apprehension and possibly some anxiety.  Most children find themselves in an environment up until now that they are comfortable in.  An environment where they feel safe.  They know the boundaries, they know the people in their world on a personal level and they know where everything they need is.  We take them to a new place, tell them they will have new teachers and new friends.  They will ride a bus and are going to the big school for big kids.  From the perspective of a 4/5 year old mind this can be completely unsettling.  With no frame of reference for these new life changes added to being tired due to the the "outdoor" activities, you may be noticing some undesirable behaviors.  You may see some regression in skills or behaviors.  Children may all of the sudden cry when you leave or have temper tantrums easily.  Try and look at things from their perspective.

We all want to give our kids the world.  We want them to be exposed to various activities and do what their friends are doing, however, you as their parent know your child best.  If you think that playing T-ball will be too much for you child this year, its ok to say no.  I promise they will forgive you.  Talk to your kids.  Really listen to them.  Sometimes you have to read between the lines. Even at a young age they are fairly perceptive of what is going on within themselves.  I recently had a discussion with my class regarding the difference between being scared and being nervous.  All to often young children use these terms interchangeable.  This led to a discussion on Kindergarten.  They told me they were nervous about not knowing where the water fountain would be, where to go if they got hurt, how to get to their classroom, where they would eat lunch.  Completely understandable worries, but they have no frame of reference to tell them that their teacher will make sure they know where to go and what to do.  As parents we should not shrug these worries off, knowing that they are not rational.  We need to listen, acknowledge and support our children.  Parents also need to take a step back every now again and observe their child's world.