Thursday, October 28, 2010

Choosing Words Wisely

Every now and then, I say something to a child that I wish I could undo.  It's almost like I hear myself say it only after I say it, and then it's too late.  It's said.

For instance, I catch myself asking children something when I'm really telling them to do something.  "Can you please put your boots on?"  That was a question.  It implies choice.  What I meant was, "Please put your boots on."  If the child replies to my question with a "no", what can I say?  I did ask, after all.

But that's an easy one.  I can patch it up with a "would you like to put them on now or in two minutes?"  And then it still gives the child a choice.

However, every now and then, I can't patch up what I've said.  I've said it, and I must follow through.  That happened to me just today.

A child asked to borrow something and bring it back the next day.  She didn't ask me directly, but she asked her mom.  So I replied, "Okay, but if I let you borrow it, I'd like you to give me a high-five or a hug or say goodbye." (She was leaving).  In other words, acknowledge me for letting you borrow the thing.


As soon as I said it, I thought, "Why did you do that, silly.  Now you have to follow through." And of course, the child didn't want the high-five, or the hug, or to say goodbye.  (That's why I felt the need to strike a deal).

Aside from the obvious issue that I had turned it into a manipulative way to bargain love, I was not role modeling good "sharing" behavior.  Not that I endorse forced sharing, but I was modeling sharing in a way that is in exchange for something.  A "what's-in-it-for-me" kind of sharing.  That was not sharing.  That was manipulating.

But that's not the point I am making.  The point is that I had to follow through even though it was a sort of unreasonable request.  

There were many reasons not to follow through.
1.  It's easier not to.
2.  It was the end of the day.
3.  The behavior management quota had already been achieved.
4.  I want the child to be "happy". (But does happiness based on giving in to their every whim really make them happy?)
5.  It was about ice.  Yes, a blue ice pack.  That's all.  (But it's never about the thing.  It's the principal and the precedent.)

When she didn't yield to my manipulative tactic, I had to take the ice pack because that's what I had set up in the first place. The child was upset, and I still had to follow through.  It was really not what I intended to sign up for. 

If I had gone back on my word and not followed through, I would be sending several message to the child:
1.  Don't trust me because I don't mean what I say.
2.  If you cry and act helpless, you will get your way.  Just like a helpless Disney princess.
3.  When you are unhappy, the world becomes unstable.  See?  Everything changes when you are upset.  Don't trust the world.  It can change on a dime.
4.  Your school environment only has integrity when certain people are there.  Rules change depending on who is present.  (This is so not true.  I want kids to trust Beansprouts and make sure the our rules apply even at 5:29pm.)

So by not following through, in my opinion, I would do a huge disservice to the child.

You see, sometimes, the teacher's hardest job is following through once we give the child directions.  Isn't it easier to put a child's shoes on for him?  That's way easier than waiting for him to do it.  But letting him do it is better for him.  He gets to see himself work through a challenge, persistence finally paying off in the end.  Rescuing him from the discomfort, I send a message that he is helpless and incapable and in need of the big adult to rescue him.  It's hard work letting kids struggle through putting on socks or pulling up pants or finding a space to sit.  But they learn to be independent that way.  We are very supportive during those times of struggle.  We just don't do it for them.  They get to experience the satisfaction of success that comes from succeeding at challenging tasks.

Of course, if I could go back I'd probably just hand over the object and say, "Okay, you can give me that high five tomorrow."  She's going to be accountable, and I'm not going to spend lots of time beating my head against a wall.  But I wasn't that creative in the moment.  I had used up my thinking-on-my-feet capacity for the day.

And next time, I'll try to catch myself two seconds sooner before something crazy like that comes out of my mouth.  I'll get lots of opportunities to practice.  Because each day at Beansprouts is a new adventure.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

The T-Bomb...dealing with tantrums

If you staggered upon this article in the Merc over the weekend, you may have identified a little with some of the parents with regard to tantrums.  The article had a lot of wisdom and practical advice (except throwing yourself on the floor and having your own tantrum!).

I'd like to give my two cents although I'm for the most part elaborating on what the article has already expressed.  When preschoolers (not just toddlers!) engage their power to scream, here are a few things I like to bear in mind.
  • Acknowledge their feelings, which often get overlooked in the shadow of the wailing.  They need a label for their feelings, and they also need to know that we know how they are feeling (and are still setting limits, despite their hurt feelings or disappointment).  This is different than reinforcing the screaming.  It's a statement of fact.  "You seem very angry about that."
  • Avoid blanket statements like "It's okay" or "You're okay".  These tend to be very empty and meaningless and don't really address the root of the issue.  It also overlooks what the child is feeling.  We know they are okay, but they have to experience the beginning, middle, and end of the process before they will understand that they are ultimately okay.  Becoming upset or angry is a natural human process that cannot be overridden with a simple "You're okay".
  • Set firm and clear limits and make consequences related to the situation.  If I know what the child's motivation is behind the tantrum (was it not getting something they wanted? they wanted to wear a certain thing but it was in the hamper? they want to go to the park but ran out of time? they wanted candy for breakfast?), then I make sure the child understands how to get that thing appropriately.  If there is no chance for them to get it (now or later), then I make sure they know that this behavior will not help, and also I let them know that screaming voids future possibilities of getting that thing.  ("If you choose to scream it, we won't be able to get it out for the rest of the night.").  This calls upon their ability to gauge time ("tomorrow" is very far away to a two-year-old, but they will understand it enough to get the point, and if not they will learn for next time).
  • Strategically ignoring the behavior can be effective.  Giving too much attention to a tantrum may send a message that the adult doesn't trust that the child will get through it on their own.  Assuring the child that you are available when they need you and then separating yourself physically offers support but gives the child space to process what they need to.  Sometimes adults maybe starting talking wildly or intruding on the child's space while the child is tantruming in order to help or stop the unstoppable.  When the whole world goes into a frenzy because of that child's tantrum, the world must be unstable (according to the child's perception).  What an unsafe feeling, to think that the whole world hinges on your behavior.  It's simply too much power for a child to handle.  However...I don't think we should absolutely ignore a child and let them cry it out for an hour.  This emotional event, stored in the brain, could lead to similar behavior later on.
  • Separate yourself or your tantruming child.  If the crying is too loud, as it usually is during a tantrum, address it.  "I'm going to be out here because it's too loud for my ears in here.  When you are ready to talk about it in a regular voice you can come out here with me."  I even differentiate between crying and having a tantrum so we have a common language ("can you be angry in a loud voice instead of having a tantrum?" This might seem ridiculous but the child will start to gauge what is appropriate and what is a tantrum).  The child can understand the difference between being reasonably upset and inappropriately loud. "Can you be upset in a way that isn't screaming?"  This gives them permission to feel their feelings, but sets a limit on what is appropriate.
  • Sometimes, everyone needs some space to process before having meaningful conversation.  Wait for the calm after the storm to get into the details.  Keep dialogues simple and to the point when the tantrum is in full swing.
  • Giving children choices puts the accountability back on them.  "You look like you are really frustrated.  When you are ready to use a quieter voice, you can come back and we'll talk about it".  Or "when you are done screaming, you can go back and play."  Their choice, not yours.  It takes the adult out of the power equation.
  • Coach children on appropriate ways to express emotions during a neutral time.  Stomping feet, frowning, expressing "I'm angry!", are all appropriate ways of expressing anger, which the brain can very literally need to do once the reptilian response in the brain has been activated.  Higher level processing is difficult when this need has not been given expression.
  • Be matter of fact and assertive while offering support.  (Read this article on being "too kind".)  Children tend to trust me more when I am firm and kind, rather than permissive and kind.

    Tantrums will happen.  Not every moment can be a zen moment.  Often there may be a pattern of behaviors leading up to the tantrum that can also be addressed, but that is for a different post. And usually it really is a phase, that in hindsight seems like any other challenge of raising children.   

    Please share your comments on what I've written or your personal experiences (and successes).


    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    We're making it up as we go along

    R furiously writes her lesson plans

    I'm gonna let you in on a little secret (okay, most of you probably know this), teachers don't have every minute of everyday planned out in their lesson plan book.  This was a huge revelation to me my first year of teaching general education to third graders.  Surely, a teacher spends enormous amounts of time writing lesson plans and then sticking to them without ever straying!  I am so glad it doesn't have to be that way.  I am a very big fan of routine and structure, but let's face it, I would be a lousy teacher if I didn't have flexibility, adaptability and a penchant for improvising.

    I found some masks in the basement and turned them into an emotion themed work by adding a mirror.

    Some of my days are the kind where I feel like I'm lacking inspiration for engaging activities.  I sometimes come in a little worried that I don't know what I want to do for circle time or afternoon art activity.  What actually happens on these days?  I let the kids direct our activities.  I pay close attention to their moods (energetic or  low-key), their interests (they really want a story, some gross motor, a specific song) and I GO WITH IT.

    Our recent emotions theme came from the kids talking about feelings.
    This isn't to say that I don't plan out activities.  I love reading other preschool blogs for ideas.  I also know that just because I fall in love with an art project and spend a whole day buying and preparing materials doesn't mean the kids will enjoy it as much as I hope.  That's where the flexibility and adaptability come in.

    I was so excited to try making clean soap.  This photo makes it look fun, but really it was a huge mess and the kids only used it for about 2 minutes. O'well....
    These qualities help make my job as a teacher more enjoyable.  It allows me to be creative and think on my feet.  When something isn't working I don't hesitate to redirect and try something else or just make something up entirely.  It's all part of the fun!

    Things got a little crazy with the masks so I made up this game to redirect and have the kids choose new works.  When I circle the first letter in your name, it's your turn to choose a new work.


    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Our Trip to the Farm

    Before our tour, we had some time to kill, but we were prepared for that! 

    First stop...Maisy the cow.  She was big and beautiful.   I don't remember the other cow's name.

    Personally, my favorite part of the trip was visiting the goats. It was so endearing the way this guy started nibbling on my clothes!

    There were adult pigs, 6-month-old pigs, and little two week old piglets!

     The sheep were huggable and had thick fur.

    There were many chickens, mostly hens and one or two roosters.  The kids fed and pet them.  In the coop, we saw chicks and recently laid eggs.

    I think this was the hardest part for the kids to leave because they wanted to run right up to groups of chickens.

    We did a lot of walking, and after the animal visits were over, we walked to the garden.

    The garden provided food to taste, a nice cooling mist, tunnels, and lots of beautiful, organic plants!

    The kids selected their own pumpkins to take home.

     After the tour, the kids enjoyed their "no garbage" lunches.

    What really made this tour were the amazing tour guides.  They educated the kids about things that come from the farm, what the animals eat and how they live, and seemed to understand the farm through the child's perspective.  It made it a fascinating trip, both of the kids and the adults.

    Preschool Grocery Store Theme

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    Our Grocery Store

    If you recall from this post, our Grocery Theme arose out of the minds and interests of the children.  It developed into a wonderful opportunity to explore many concepts and ideas.

    Where food comes from
    Money and exchanging goods
    Foods and food pyramid and food groups
    Mass and volume (how much can you fit and carry in your shopping bag?)
    Representation (coupons and food items)
    Written and verbal language (lots of these activities involved use of language and exploring new vocabulary)
    Trying new foods
    Whole foods (cutting and exploring the entire apple instead of just the slices)
    Cooperation and give-and-take at the cashier lane

    -Grocery Hunt in the yard

    bean bowls, mixing beans and glue

    printing lasanga noodles with carrot stick stampers

    Maria hosted a market, where children got to purchase their own fruits for snacktime

    Leslie made a scale out of a hanger so children could compare weights of wooden foods and other objects

    Fruit prints (shaking paper + paint + fruit counters in salad containers to make prints)

    Cutting apples to look, feel, taste, and smell

    Cutting out coupons from the newspaper 

    Children dictate their own recipe cards

    Fruit and veggie stamping

    Veggie and fruit stickers on strips of paper (that became a language activity as children talked about the foods on the stickers, and also these became crowns!

    Create your own pizza on a paper plate


    Re-usable shopping bags and real groceries, like cans of food, cracker boxes, empty bottles of spices, etc.

    A coupon matching game

    A barn game (that's where food comes from, right?)

    Fruits and veggies and strawberry baskets in the sensory table

    Plastic eggs and pom pom matching game

    A fruit and veggie sorting game

    The cashier lane...a big hit...equipped with blanket receipts and a crayon, printed and laminated money in a silverware tray "cash drawer", and a keyboard "cash register".

    Allowed the children to "unload" their groceries into other areas of the classroom, if they agreed to put them away when they were done playing the game



    Based on Veggie Soup, we made veggie soup!  We also...

    ...went to the grocery store

    ...and received a visit from some baby chickens

    Songs and circle time activities:
    • We changed the song "Apples and Bananas" to having the kids take turns saying what they like to eat, and then we would sing that.  For example, "Mary likes to eat, eat, eat, broccoli and carrots".
    • Categorizing foods into food groups
    • Exploring food colors
    • Grocery store yoga!
      • Shavasana: "the dinner plate pose"
      • Bow pose: "shopping basket pose"
      • Windmill pose: "picking berries and putting them in the basket"
      • Reaching high: "reach the cereal on the top shelf" pose
      • Squats: "hold your shopping cart while you exercise" (pretending we are holding the handle of the shopping cart while doing squats)
    • "Ridin' in the Car" song from the Music Together Family Favorites album, and pretending we are riding to the grocery store
    For the fellow teachers out there, I'm including our initial brainstorm...boy, how a theme can develop!
    money matching
    food projects/recipes
    grocery clerks
    food pyramid
    making grocery store in classroom
    food and fruit puzzles
    cooler icepacks
    recipes and books
    farmers’ market
     healthy eating

    Wrestling is good for children.

    Originally published Sept 2010 Many of our parents seemed shocked when they came to pick up their children from Beansprouts and found the...