Friday, February 25, 2011

Providing Power

Just a little out of reach, my toddler stretches up to grab the gymnastics bar during our weekly gymnastics "mommy and me" class.  What do most parents do?  Grab their kid and boost them up?  Not me!  I look at her and say, "Need a boost?"  In this case, a fist does the job.  I ball up my hand, kneel on the ground and say, "OK step up!"  She steps up on my hand giving her any extra three inches and she clasps onto the bar with both hands and flips her feet up to the bar to hang upside down. She smiles at me and says, "I did it!"  SHE  truly DID do it!
I will do it alone, Mommy!

After several years of teaching and as well as a few years as a parent I have acquired one belief that has stuck with me and has helped to form a philosophy of parenting.   I do not EVER enable my child.  In this sense, I NEVER take my child's (or students') abilities away from them.

You can think I am mean, but if you listen carefully how I give children power, you too might think differently about how you HELP your children (at ANY age!).
I am fearless!

As a teacher we talk about how children learn within their ZONE of proximal development.
Let's take a little bird walk with this one, and I will share an AH-HA moment with you:
One of my greatest prides and joys is in my life was  "the conversion" of my hubby from a self centered (OK he still is a little of that too, but...), "I only want to work a job where I can be alone in my solitude" arborist, to a well loved, talented MIDDLE SCHOOL (no doubt!) Science teacher!  HA! 
It might have been my well known, contagious energy for teaching and kids, that did, or it might have been a little of the 9 month work year jealousy (man was he ever wrong about that one!!), but at one point he decided to "become a teacher too!"  It started with a few hours a week of volunteering, to branching out to help my colleagues, then to becoming an occasional sub, and finally to enrolling in a credential program, that did it!

It was during one of these Theory or philosophy classes that he came home to tell me about his "AH-HA!"  His class was talking about the Zone of Proximal Development.   Life and education all of a sudden made sense to him.  The concept of children tuning our learning (or filtering information) when it is too easy or too hard for them was foreign to him. BUT IT MADE SENSE!

As parents, we know that we don't want to make things too hard for our child, for fear of them rejecting the objective, but too easy is just as detrimental to their learning and their psyche!  As adults we all know about this, we do not want a job that is "beneath" our abilities, and we really do enjoy a challenge that we know that we can carry out. 

How often do we do this to our children?   I cannot help but think, as a teacher HOW OFTEN students are let down when the bars a lowered for them.   What would have happened if I had picked up my daughter and carried her over to the bar and placed each hand on the bar, and then going that extra step, I swung HER legs up to the bar to help her hang upside down? She would not learn how to stretch her self to meet her actually abilities, and she would not get any stronger. Parents and teachers do this to children ALL THE TIME!  : (  It makes me very sad and frustrated.  Are you telling your kids, "it is OK, you can't do it, so I will help you."?

It has been my motto for children in my life, to say, you need to stretch or you will never grow.   Encouraging children to challenge themselves and for their caregivers to challenge THEM, they will INDEED grow.

Do you have a toddler in your care?   Here are some great examples of ways that you can include, teach and ask YOUR children to grow!
  • Teach your child how to help themselves with daily tasks
    • teach them how to drag a chair or stool to the sink to wash their own hands after using the bathroom
    • have a special place where you store plastic cups and bowls (BPA-free of course!) so that they can get their own sip of water, or bring you bowl when they want a snack of cheerios
      • make these plastics their responsibility while unloading dishes (my daughter has been helping with her plastics since she was about 15 months old
  • Give your child many opportunities to try something new
    • if you sign your child up for a new class or offer a new task, positively encourage them to keep trying and the routine itself will be a learning experience.  
    • stop a task before it gets too repetitive or before they get tired of it
  • do not create a situation that  you cannot easily assist with (too difficult)
  • do not act as a scapegoat if your child is not in harm's way
  • give them a helping inch not a mile!
  • create routines that are age appropriate (my daughter is expected to clean up toys as she completes playing each one of them, she knows that all her art supplies go back in their storage unit, with a drawer for crayons, one for markers, one for paper, etc.)

Give your child POWER and do not take their ability to grow and achieve away from them.  

Do you have some ideas how you give your children the POWER to learn and grow?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ready Readers - Picture perfect (coming soon)

Ready Readers - Learning Letters

As parents, who are always looking for ways to give our children any advantage to become more ready for Independence, we are all interested in ways to make our preschoolers more ready for their first experiences of school. 

As a teacher with years of experience in early literacy and with working with children in the early grades, I am most concerned with my child's readiness for learning how to read.  There is a direct correlation of students who are early readers with their future success in school.  That being said, I would like to share with fellow parents some simple tricks to get your child engaged in learning early literacy skills.

While many articles will tell you that all you need to do to get your child ready to for Kindergarten is read TO them.  I agree with that, as children should LOVE to be read to and LOVE books. Exposure to books with do that!  I will offer some great ideas for helping your child learn literacy grammar, in a later post.  This one is much more rudimentary: teaching your child their alphabet. 

When I was a student, Kindergarten was ALL about the alphabet.  Each day we would learn a new letter, draw and color pictures that had the same initial sound.  Now your kindergartners are expected to learn all 56  letters (upper and lower case) early in the year.  They are now expected to apply that new knowledge of letter sounds to begin to sound out CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words, like cat, tin, and pit. They are also expected to begin to identify the most common 50 sight words (words that cannot be sounded out using conventional rules).  Finally they begin to use their new-found knowledge to begin composing their own sentences. 

Firstly, I will tell you that honestly, young children are VERY capable of learning how to read and write at the levels that are expected to in their classrooms. Secondly, children will be even MORE ready if parents take the basic steps to HELP to prepare them for these high expectations.

Here are some simple ways to begin to expose your child to the alphabet.
  • Starting at age 1, begin singing the alphabet song to and with your child.  This is not as difficult for them to learn as you would think.  By this time in their life, they will have become very familiar with the tune as it is the same tune, as the all time favorite, "Twinkle, Twinkle"
  • Start teaching letters as objects and shapes.  Your young toddler can identify animals by name, letters are the same thing. They have distinguishable shapes and features that will help your child to recognize them.
  • Choose letters that included in your child's name.
  • Choose letters that are very similar in both upper and lower case (o, s, m, n, p)

Here is how you start introducing letters as shapes.  Purchase a set of lower case magnet letters for the fridge. 
  • Play with the letters, arrange them, talk about their color, the shapes, (curvy, straight, etc)
Next time you curl up with a good book with your child, choose one of those simple letters (o, s, etc) off of the fridge and have them hold them while you read stories.  Occasionally have them play "I spy" while looking for that letter.  Call the letter by name.
Point out the letters that you have exposed them to, in your daily environment (I will NEVER forget the day that my daughter, not even 2 years old, yet shouting out in the car. "Mom, daddy, I see the letter s! letter S!"   She saw it on a sign on some building.  A majoity of our waking hours are spent as just mommy and Daisy, so I was pleased that my husband was along to witness her brilliance, first hand!  

Soon, as your child starts to learn 10 letter names or so, invest in a letter/ picture chart that you can hang on the wall.  Your kid will love their new "toy" and you will love helping them sort the pictures into the pockets. 
It is likely that your little one will be able to identify the pictures, but soon they will start to recognize the initial SOUNDS that they hear and they will connect them with the letter names.  Early on, kids will start to HEAR the letter sounds in the letter names.  "Snake starts with /s/,  it sounds like "essss". 

If you have any fun ways to share with us, how you help your child to learn their letter names and sounds.  I have not yet touched on the topic of having your child use writing implements to practice their new letters.  This will also be an upcoming topic, as well! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Terrific twos, threes and fours

Looking back, I KNOW that we skipped the terrible twos and we are still avoiding the terrible threes. Don't get me wrong, we have had a tantrums and struggles, but the terrible "every things" have been avoided.

I am hardly bragging, as I know that it still might happen, especially with the new baby coming in about 8 more weeks (plus or minus two!).

I DO want to share with my friends of children that are nearing their twos that one of the things that I believe is that communication is key. I know that this sounds trite, but teaching your children to communicate with you, at a VERY young age will help to lessen the tantrums.

At a very young age Daisy was communicating with me (and NO I am not one of those parents that guesses until I get it right, either).

As many "Davis" parents I started off with baby signs with Daisy at a very young age (it was hard not too, as one of the researchers and authors of this topic lives and works in our community).   We started with the basic needs (eat, done, milk) at about 5 months.

Soon after, she was saying those words on her own.  As you will read in the book, that the key is to begin asking them to sign back, instead of anticipating their needs.  As you feed them, for instance, saying "more" and signing it, and then asking for them to ASK for more.  They will GET it very quickly!

In addition to baby signs, it is important to talk to your babies all day long.  I know that it sounds strange, but actually narrating everything that is going on, is the perfect way to do teach vocabulary.

Be careful to vary your verbiage as well.  Think about the daily routines that you do and what you explain to your child each day. Now, each day add a new word into the context of the situation that they can start to pick up.   Try "dispose of trash" instead of "throw trash away", or "munch, chop and chew" instead of "eat" food.  Obviously, the options are endless.  This concept can be applied throughout their lives.  (This evening, as we waiting for dinner to finish up, Daisy and I were reading a version of Goldilocks, and Baby Bear, used the word ravenous to explain how hungry he was.  I EXPLICITLY taught her her this word, instead of letting her just "absorb it."   I said, "Look there is another word for hungry, ravenous.  Let's tell Daddy that we are hungry but let's use ravenous, instead."  We then stopped and turned to him and each complained about our empty tummies and how ravenously hungry we were. 

Researchers of vocabulary development have determined that homes where parents talk to their kids at the dinner table and read to them on a regular basis have been exposed to a much greater vocabulary than those that do not do those things.  There is also a strong correlation between parents' education and the child's success in school, specifically reading. Looking toward the future, the poorest readers in classrooms are those with the most limited vocabularies. (take a look at the research on this website if you are interested in more info:
Young children who can express their needs to their caregivers are often less stressed and less frustrated.   These children seem to understand the world around them, as well as reasoning.  Reasons why we do not act certain ways, reasons why things are, the way they are.

I just wrapped up a quick conversation with Daisy this evening.  As she has gotten older, things such as bed time have gotten easier.  I told her it was time to get ready, and she used the classic, "but I am having fun playing right now," excuse.  I reminded her that she does not want to be tired for preschool tomorrow, to which she shrugged and said, "you are right, I am going to go get ready now."  DONE!    Communication, and the ability to understand and comprehend are keys to easier parenting.

Mommy reading to Daisy at 3 days old!
So add reading to your child, to that list of daily to dos!  It really helps to make it a part of the routine.  In our family daddy and mommy each read a story to Daisy before bed.  (I will offer great techniques to help your child be ready to BECOME a reader in upcoming blogs).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mommy Moments

There are moments within each day, amongst the pouting and the Kindle being tosses across the room like a Frisbee, that I am SO proud that I am a parent.  More specifically, I am proud of the child that my daughter is becoming. I would like to think that I have a part in her strong character.  Today's moment came at 7 am, when she crawled into bed with me.  "Mommy, I slept good last night!" as she gave me a kiss on the cheek.  "I am happy that you slept well, honey." was my semi-grumpy reply (it was too early for my taste!) "I slept good because I do not like sleeping with diapers."  This was her 3 year old way of reporting to me that she had, had a her fourth diaper-less night in a row.  It was not the fact that I no longer had to deal with and purchase diapers for her, that made me so proud at that moment, but it was how this moment came to be.

As I alluded to a few sentences prior, I DEEPLY value my sleep.  Sleep deprivation, has been, in fact, the HARDEST part of being a parent, frankly.  The last step in her potty training that I was avoiding WAS bed time.   Earlier this week, as we were preparing for bed, she declared, "I am NOT going to wear diapers to bed, anymore!  I am a BIG girl!"   This was NOT a concept that I had planted into her brain, nor had her father.  I was actually surprised. I even tried a little of the "are you sure? do you want to wake up with wet pants?" dialogue too. She had made up her mind. "I am done," was the last thing she said before she went to sleep.   This is just one of many moments of her independent character that I attempt to take credit for.

Partially Perfect Parenting (coming soon!)

Openly Optimistic

I have been called optimistic to a fault.  Maybe you would even characterize it as naive!  I would like to think that the world will turn out fine and my children will be ok.

I do realize, though, that living in the moment and not looking toward the future can lead to a future of regrets.  So I am always trying to do the best for my children (even in the unborn state) as I can.  I will admit that I spend too much of my income on books, (ok my personal education, in general!). These books are always found stacked on my night stand, and next to my bath tub and under my coffee table, throughout the house.
As I start to ponder what the future holds, I realize that I can effect my future today.  SO today I learning ALL that I can about my pregnancy, and my preschooler.

When I write in the blog each time, I will be sharing with others what I am learning and how my children are benefiting from what I am learning.  I will always recommend that others pick up the books (or upload if you have caught the Kindle bug, as I have) and read the whole thing, but I am going to be sharing my applications of what I read, as well as the high lights. I hope that you find them beneficial.

As a teacher, I am lot like I am as a parent.  I am always looking for another idea, more research and  better strategies.  I often took those ideas and incorporated them with my own ideals.  When I came across this book, I KNEW it was a must read.  I have read others my Dr.Nelson and was very impressed.  I still believe to this day, that I was hired for one of the best schools in my school district after citing this author  during  my interview. 

The book is written in a very accepting and positive tone.  Parents will close the book each night feeling empowered and  will appreciate their child for the learning stage that they are in.  Each topic is enlightening and increases confidence as a parent. I LOVE that it gives specific anecdotes about children at all ages, 3-6 years old. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

First Blog

Well, here I am!
I decided that it is time to share my parenting adventure with the WORLD, so I might as well utilize technology and do it!
I haven't really decided what I will post each time, except that I have those AH, HA! moments and want to share with others!
In the past decade I have worked with kids in many capacities, teacher, coach, principal,tutor and most recently as a parent.  ALL OF A SUDDEN all the pieces are starting to fit together!  I see my 3 year old, darling daughter as an on-going product of my own life lessons, and I am happy with who this is little smarty is becoming!

I am also about to start this process AGAIN in two months, and I cannot be more excited!  THIS time I am going to be having a BOY. I know that I will have to re-read one of those books on Gender issues, since the only males that I am used to are my dad, and husband.  BESIDES teaching them, boys are kind of an enigma in my mind!

Purpose of Parenting

"Mommy, help me, PUH-lease?" my 3 year asks on a daily basis.  Yes, as the title may indicate, we have many purposes as parent.  I often try to remember what my main purpose IS, as I move through my day.

As parents we make innumerable decisions within our day, that concern our children.  These may range from the mundane, such as when to make for dinner to the routine, such as getting ready to get out the door in the morning. BUT what is the goal of us, the big people, in these little one's lives?  Is it to teach them how to become legendary baseball players?  Or is it to make them happy smiley little humans?While both sound like great goals,  I have determined that my goal is neither, directly.

My main goal, as a parent, I have determined, is to simply, raise a human that is an independent, self motivated person, who others want to be around.  Or, simply to create an independent person who makes logical decisions.  For every trip that our family takes, class we sign up for and each day we live, I continue to keep in mind this important goal.

I would be interested to hear what you, my friends think.  What is your most important role as a parent?