Tag Archives: development

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Thinking About Gender with Preschoolers

This year we teachers have been re-visiting our anti-bias curriculum, looking for ways to help challenge the stereotypical thinking we may see developing among the children. This is part of our teacher’s on-going training, and helps us develop strategies that support the school’s mission and philosophy. Most recently our focus has been on gender.

As stated in Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards book Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, “While gender anatomy is universal, behaviors and attitudes considered typical and acceptable for each gender vary from culture to culture and over time.” We know from both our observations and conversations with children, that cultural messages about gender roles and limits are already in play by the time children enroll at LCP. We want every child to explore their identities fully, and to feel free to develop their capacities to make full use of our classroom environments regardless of cultural assumptions or expectations.

Our discussion highlighted for all of us how important it is to be mindful of the language we are using as we engage children, and about the biases that may be present in traditional songs, rhymes and stories that are part of so many family and school cultures. Gender distinctions seem to reach into every aspect of our program. Do we really need to use the masculine forms of words, or are there easy ways to make adjustments in the words we use? Are we greeting girls with comments on their clothing or are we acknowledging their actions and feelings? Do we talk with boys about their actions and accomplishments more than we do with girls? Do we assume that it is only boys who will be unable to listen or sit still, or that boys will be less engaged than girls in discussions, books or the visual arts? What about girls who only want to wear comfortable clothes, join running and climbing games, and play roughly? Do we value developing friendships between boys and girls that are based on common interests? Can we feature both girls and boys in traditional rhymes by adding a line or two? Are there ways to talk with the children about whether it feels fair that either girls or boys are sometimes left out? How can we assure that we show every child that we value the unique qualities that make them who they are as individuals, and assure that all children are encouraged to explore the full range of intellectual activity and classroom life?IMG_0029

We also know that as social interests grow among the children, questions come about friendship and about who can be a friend, and this can have implications related to gender. Are friends always alike? Can a boy and a girl be friends? Does a friend always do what I want them to do? Do I always need to sit near a friend or play with a friend to stay a friend? What if someone else suggests that I can’t be someone’s friend? Since questions like these have been on some children’s minds, we teachers thought about how we might incorporate conversations about friendship into conversations about gender.

One beginning was to simply ask our youngest children what a friend is. The answers included:
• A friend is someone who lives in a different house
• A friend is someone just like me with a different name
• Friends don’t have to be the same
• We can play with a friend
• We can share toys with a friend
• Friends always get along
• Friends always want to do the same thing

We’ve engaged these questions by reading many books that offer opportunities to talk about friendship, feelings between friends, and differences in temperament or play choices between friends. Books like I’m Sorry (Sam McBratney and Jennifer Eachus) and Pearl Barley and Charlie Are Friends (by Aaron Blabey) are great conversation starters for even our youngest children, and feature friendships between boys and girls. Fred Roger’s old classic Making Friends uses clear and simple language about friendship and differences between friends in a non- fiction treatment of the issues. Our discussions of these books help clarify the limits to each child’s understanding, and the impact development and life experience has on how children think about friendships. For example, when a group of our youngest girls read about a boy’s club where girls weren’t allowed, they immediately reacted with outrage about the unfairness of exclusion. But those same girls were a little less sure that it would be fair to include boys in a club for girls.P1120351

Recently in each class we introduced the use of Venn diagrams (overlapping circles showing inclusive and exclusive sets) at meeting to ask basic questions and see results: What do girls like? What do boys like? By allowing children to move their ideas around the diagram we hoped conversations would lead us all to the conclusion that children, boys or girls, may like the same things or different things and that all choices are available to everyone.IMG_4259

In each classroom, children did come to the conclusion that the things they listed were liked by children (boys and girls). But the tone of the conversation was quite different between classes. Our youngest were fairly matter of fact and quickly dropped saying boys or girls and talked about children. Children began the conversation using some common stereotypes (“Girls are quiet”; “Boys can be fire fighters”). But both boys and girls were quick to say that they too could do that other thing, or like that other thing as well, and soon everyone acknowledged that there were many things that children (not boys or girls) like to do.

The Nuthatch class children, a bit older, were passionate about issues of fairness and access. Someone brought up that only boys play in blocks. This immediately created a healthy debate as girls in the class who play in blocks said that boys only playing in blocks is not true, fair, or nice. Similarly, it was stated that only girls dance and wear dresses. Again, a great conversation was sparked from many boys saying how they love to dance and how many children in the class go to dance lessons with both boys and girls in the class. The conversation about dresses was a bit more controversial. There were a few boys who said that boys could wear dresses if they wanted to, but many boys felt strongly that they did not want to wear dresses. This created an engaged conversation about the difference between boys being able to wear dresses and boys having to wear dresses. Once some of the boys realized that even if other boys wanted to wear dresses, that would be okay as long as all boys didn’t have to wear them. Dresses then got moved to the both section. It is wonderful to see children think independently, standing up for what they believe is fair by using concrete examples that disprove one or another cultural stereotype. As the children looked at the diagram, they noticed that every idea could be done by both boys and girls. The consensus was that “boys and girls can do whatever they want to”.

The Goldfinch children, our oldest preschoolers, got a bit stuck when someone mentioned that girls can have babies. (This was revisited with the clarification that it’s women, not girls, who have babies.) The boys in the Goldfinch class worked hard to come up with something they could do that girls couldn’t, but were unsuccessful.

Gender issues come up all the time in the classroom, and we believe that children need to feel supported in their efforts to articulate their feelings about acceptance and exclusion, fairness, and cultural stereotypes they hear about, read about or experience. We teachers listen carefully for the meaning behind children’s words, find ways to challenge limited thinking and expand children’s sense of what’s possible. It’s an on-going process that looks different every year.

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Exploring Early Literacy at a Family “Open Door” Day

We recently invited families to join us for a family “Open Door Day” when we could talk together, share perspectives about how children learn and why we approach curriculum development the way we do, and focus on one important area of development that we are all thinking about. Our area of focus was early literacy and beginning reading.

We teachers know that many family members wonder about the best ways to support their children’s literacy skills. An “Open Door Day” format offers a perfect opportunity to meet with teachers and other parents, collect information, and ask questions. After a discussion, the classrooms are set with activities that are engaging at school and that can be easily replicated at home. There’s no better way to get a feel for how developmentally appropriate, engaging, playful activities and interactions support learning than spending an hour or so playing with the children in the classroom!

We talked about many things, including:
• The importance of conversation – listening, talking about topics or experiences that are personally meaningful to children, sharing feelings and ideas about shared experiences
• The values of reading to children, even as they begin to read on their own
• The importance of developing a rich and expanding vocabulary
• The continuum of developing reading, from infancy on
• How children develop an understanding of symbol, and the importance of pretend play in that process
• The development of writing from drawing
• Using sensory materials like shaving cream, finger paint, or sand to support fine motor development, alphabet knowledge and writing
• Helping children develop an understanding of why reading and writing have value – reading and writing as communication
• Joining children as they discover print in their environment
• Developing language and an awareness of how lines come together through descriptive conversations about children’s artwork
• Beginning stories and storytelling
• The values of puppetry in developing a sense of story and character
• The relationship of musical experiences to early literacy
• Breaking down skills that children need to read, with an understanding that skill development without a meaningful context is insufficient
• Choosing good books for beginning readers

Here are photos of children, families, and teachers together:

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Beginning a New School Year

Fall, 2016

It’s common for children to experience some anxiety at the beginning of a new school year, even if they are returning to a school and to people that they know well. There are so many adjustments to make – summer activities are ending, daily routines may change, there may be new teachers and children to get to know. And the children themselves have grown and may be thinking about their upcoming school experiences in new ways.

Some children adjust to change very quickly and others will need more time. Many experts suggest that it’s not uncommon for children to experience typical separation anxiety for up to ten days before routines settle in.  Your consistent positive support can make a big difference as children form deeper relationships with their teachers, who will be their primary supports while they are here at school. Remember that it’s ok for children to take the time they need, and that each child’s feelings need acknowledgement and understanding. And while acknowledging feelings, family members can set up consistent routines, kindly but firmly remind children when you’ll be together again, and develop strategies together that help ease the transition period.

Here are some practical tips to think about:

1. Look for the special ways your child handles the transition time comfortably; take your cues from your child.

2. Support your child – try to be positive. Children are very sensitive to your ambivalent feelings; these can represent doubt to your child, and add to his or her sense of insecurity.

3. If you enter the classroom and choose an activity to aid in your child’s transition, choose something that has a definite end (puzzle, book, etc.). Let your child know that upon completion of this activity, you will be leaving. Then stick to it.

4. It is helpful for some children to bring something from home – a favorite stuffed toy, book, photo of a family member, note, etc. This connection to home can be very reassuring.

Here are some helpful phrases you might use when it’s time to say good-by:

“I know it’s hard to say good-by.” “Mom and dad will always come back.”

“This is a special place, just for children.” “Will you make me (daddy, sister, etc.) a special drawing today?”

“I’ll be back to pick you up at lunch time.”

“Have a fun day.”

I’ve included some links below to articles on NAEYC’s “For Families” website with more tips on handling transitions into school:

A Few Thoughts on Separation Anxiety

Tips for Easing School-Time Anxiety from a Mom Who’s Been There

13 Tips for Starting Preschool

Have a Concern about School? Tips for Talking to the Teacher

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Science and Math

Is my child ready for kindergarten?

That’s a question we hear often. With kindergarten information meetings scheduled and registration for public school programs beginning, many parents of eligible children are thinking about their options, and trying to imagine how their children might fare. There are also families with children who are not “age eligible” for kindergarten. These families may be considering preschool options with the thought that their children might be ready for something different.

In both situations, a transitional kindergarten program can serve as a bridge and offer children the gift of time to develop socially, emotionally, physically or academically. At the Learning Circle, the curriculum is geared to meet the developmental needs of five year olds, but is adapted to meet the unique and individual needs of each child as they grow. Children are challenged in those areas in which they need challenge, and supported in those areas of development in which they are less secure. Class size is small to assure individual attention, and the setting is warm, flexible and nurturing. There are projects and other experiences that support skill development and challenge children academically, as well as extended time for creative use of open-ended materials and play. Having this extra year to grow can make a tremendous difference to children’s confidence in their ability to learn and express themselves fully in a school setting.

A transitional kindergarten program can serve as a bridge and offer children the gift of time to develop socially, emotionally, physically or academically.

Age eligibility for kindergarten may also be worth thinking about well before your child is five. If you have a younger child who will miss the age requirements for kindergarten when the time comes, you may see your almost three year old as ready to start preschool, but may worry about the prospect of three preschool years before kindergarten. If this is the case, consider asking questions about the ways each prospective program you visit can individualize curriculum so that your child is both supported and challenged at each point of their development. Considering these issues early can help reduce the number of transitions in your child’s early school experiences.

The Goldfinch class at the Learning Circle accepts older pre-k children who are not yet eligible for a public school kindergarten but who may benefit developmentally from a transitional class, as well as children who will make the transition to first grade in the following year. It is taught by Barbara Lapal, a certified, nurturing teacher who has taught in both public and private school settings at the pre-k and kindergarten level, and Anne Regnier, an experienced teacher of primary-age children with expertise in teaching, reading and literacy and with a background as a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher for the public schools. The program is highly individualized, the schedule is flexible, and the class can accommodate families that prefer an all day option (8:30-2:45 or longer on four days, with a half day on Friday), as well as those looking for half day and/or kindergarten enrichment options. Extended program options for any child at Learning Circle Preschool can be arranged between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

For more information about the benefits of transitional kindergartens, we invite you to tour our school and speak directly with our teachers.

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Decorating a box to make a boat

Thoughts on How Children Grow and Learn

We’ve now had two opportunities to think together about Priscilla Sloane’s recent presentation on Brain Development and Sensory Learning. A few parents joined a “drop-in” discussion one early morning, and others joined our monthly evening discussion that was part of our November Board meeting. Here are some of the “big ideas” we’ve been thinking about together:

  • Early experiences have an impact on physical development and on brain development.
  • Sensory and motor learning create a link to language, social skills, and emotional development. For example:
    • A child must be able to lift his or her head to take in facial expressions and establish eye contact – both part of early language development
  • It’s important to connect children’s current behavior with their developmental history. For example:
    • A child who tires easily, is always leaning or can’t sit at the table, may have low muscle tone
    • A child who moves too quickly or is always running may have been an early walker and had less time engaged in weight -bearing activities earlier in development. Using speed can compensate for having less control.

Children think and learn through physical activity. They need many varied opportunities to take action in their environment, experiencing a full range of tactile and sensory experiences. Children need opportunities to use open-ended materials over time that can be used in diverse and increasingly complex ways. These materials require children to problem-solve and create their own meaningful experiences, so that play ideas come from each child’s imagination and not from an external source.

We can encourage children through both our interactions and through the materials and activities we offer:

  • Model “give and take” in conversations, so that children listen as well as talk, use eye contact, experience conversations where they both give and receive full attention
  • Encourage games that require taking turns and eye contact
  • Resist the temptation to “rush” into paper work or abstract learning too early. Children need a full range of tactile/sensory experiences to develop physically. For example:
    • Offer materials that require finger work and strength – playdough, putty, clay, crayons (more than markers that require very little pressure), sand, fingerpaint, pipettes, tongs, etc.
    • Use vertical surfaces for play whenever possible to support muscle development
  • Encourage open-ended interactions with natural materials outdoors
  • Encourage pretend play and other child-organized play
  • Think about the amount of time children are spending with ipads or other technology. Using these materials too much takes time and interest away from more foundational activities.

As we approach the holiday season, it’s a good time to think about how you can best support active, hands-on learning. Remember that “less can be more” – simple open-ended materials often offer the best play value. TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment) has posted a useful “Toys, Play, and Young Children Action Guide” that gives a great overview of the value of play, some good toy options, and what parents can do to support their children’s optimal growth and development. Check out the guide here and look over other resources that TRUCE has on their website too. For example, you’ll find “Family Play Plans” that have a collection of simple ideas for family activities with basic materials like cardboard boxes, playdough, mud, chalk, or water:

TRUCE Toy Action Guide

TRUCE website

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