Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sometimes We Just Need To Focus Our Lens!

I overheard a conversation today that I can't resist the temptation to reflect on.  Now I wasn't eavesdropping...okay maybe I was, but their conversation truly intrigued me.  I was first drawn in by the statement, "I went to preschool with [insert child's name] today."  Now I don't know if this was a mother, a grandmother, or an aunt for that matter, but her next comment hit me in the gut.
She looked at her eager listener [not me] and said...
"I'm not sure they ever teach at that school! Every time I visit, the children are ONLY playing."

Whoa!  From that point on, every other sound in the room was tuned out so that I could, for research purposes only, listen intently just in case the conversation might let me in on what key aspects of learning she was looking for.

To summarize, here is what she saw during her visit to her son's pre-kindergarten classroom...
  • "He was digging through spaghetti noodles to find grapes."
  • "He was running around the carpet playing 'Monster Mash' freeze."
  • "He was wandering around the room wearing 'monster goggles' with colored lenses."
After hearing her description of the day, and thinking to myself, 'I hope she's talking about one of my classrooms because those are great lessons', I forced myself to take a moment of reflection and take off my teacher lenses.  

The words that she used did not exactly paint a conventional picture of learning, learning the way that she was probably taught.  I found myself wondering...'Did the teacher offer any kind of explanation for the learning that was embedded within those activities?'  

I truly believe that it is our role as educators to support the parents' role as the primary influence on their child's education.  In order to do this, we must communicate with parent's regarding how young children learn!

Post reflection, my gut was telling me to do something that I was not completely comfortable with.  I knew that I had to take this opportunity to 'let this lady borrow my teacher lenses.'  Somehow, I weaseled my way into the conversation and together, we began a conversation about children's learning that I wish I could have recorded and mass produced to all our parents.

As our conversation drew on, I realized that this woman did not need 'teacher lenses', she just needed to learn how to focus her own lens!!!  I explained that childhood is a time of learning and children learn from all they do, see and hear.  I helped her to see the importance of early childhood teachers providing activities that encourage active engagement that is essential for learning.  

A 15 minute conversation made all the difference to how she now viewed her child's learning experiences.  As we discussed the activities that she had observed, Sheila [I now knew her name] was immediately going home to tell her husband all that her son had learned at school today and her lens was focused and ready to watch for teachable moments with play!  Because she now knew that...


  • He wasn't just "digging through spaghetti noodles to find grapes."
This activity not only reinforced his tactile perception and manual dexterity by sorting the grapes from the spaghetti without any visual cues, he was also participating in a sensory activity that would engage his senses in a learning experience that would stimulate brain development.  From the instant that he was born, he has been exploring his new world through his senses.  As he experiences new and different textures, smells, sights, sounds, and textures, more neural connections are made in his brain, and his brain becomes a rich network of connections that will help his development for the rest of his life.

  • He wasn't just  "running around the carpet playing 'Monster Mash' freeze."
He was learning self regulation by using his auditory processing skills to determine when it was appropriate to run and when he had to stop.  Self regulation is a skill that will greatly influence his success in kindergarten.   He was doing all this while, using his spatial relational reasoning to manipulate his body in space and not run into any of his friends.

  • He wasn't just  "wandering around the room wearing 'monster goggles' with colored lenses."
By wearing the colored lens goggles, he was encouraged to 'focus his lens' on the task at hand.  The teacher was asking them to find shapes in the environment.  By removing the added distraction of multi-colored items, the students were able to focus on the physical attributes of the shapes that surround their everyday environment.  Finding shapes in our environment, creates concrete examples for a task that can be quite an abstract concept.

So parents...I challenge you today to 'focus your lens' and discover what learning is occurring during your child's favorite activities.  

Please share your discoveries, we can learn a great deal from each other!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Early Reading Skills

Look for your child to...
Develop a sense of story.

Your child may…

  • Tell a story from pictures.
  • Recognize variations in re-telling of stories.
  • Predict outcomes of stories.
  • “Read and re-read” stories.
  • Tell stories with beginnings, middles, and endings.
  • Dictate stories for other to write down.
  • Tell stories based on personal experiences, imaginations, dreams, and/or stories form books.
  • Recall information about stetting, characters, and events in a story.

You can support your child...

  • Encourage your child to recount experiences and describe events. Ask: “And then what happened?” to urge the story along.
  • Make a “story” journal to include descriptors of favorite outings. Illustrate with snapshots and drawing.
  • Allow your child to dictate a story to you and later “illustrate it.” Make comments: “I really like how your story began. I really like the ending of your story. It was nice that they boy found his lost dog.”
  • Allow your child to share his/her day activities during the dinner meal.

Get started reading today- The Saint Joseph Public Library

Post by: Community Action Partnerships of Saint Joseph, MO.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Can Play Dough Help My Child Be a Better Writer?

As parents, we are told not to compare our child to others because each child develops at their own pace.  Let's face it... that's easier said than done, especially with something as visible as their writing.  Have you ever found yourself asking these questions wondering if something is wrong:
  • Why is my child only scribbling when others in his preschool class are writing their names?
  • Why does my child write so big that his name can't fit on a single piece of paper?
  • Why does my child write many of his letters backwards?
These are very common questions asked by parents of very typically developing writers.  

First of all let's revisit the statement, "...each child develops at their own pace."  This is true from birth.  When learning to walk, a baby progresses through many stages of development that strengthen his muscles in preparation for his first steps.  First a baby rolls and then sits on his own. The child slowly begins to crawl, which progresses to pulling up on things and strolling along them.  Until finally, they take that big step toward a loved one.  A parent never would expect them to take their first steps right after they had mastered sitting up.

The same holds true for our young writers.  See below, the developmental stages of writing that are typically represented in a classroom of pre-kindergartners.  It is important, as a parent, to know where your child is in this continuum so that you know how to appropriately support them as a learner.

Now let's revisit our questions from concerned parents.
Q:  Why is my child only scribbling when others in his preschool class are writing their names?

A:  Your child is in a typical stage of writing development for preschoolers.  To move to the next stage in the continuum, your child needs to develop strength and control in his fine motor muscles.  To strengthen these muscles provide the following materials for your child to explore with.
  • play dough:  kneading play dough will strengthen the muscles that your child uses to grip and control a writing utensil.   (click here for some fabulous homemade play dough recipes)
  • hole punches:  the repetitive squeezing motion of a hole punch will strengthen your child's muscles that are used to grip writing utensils.
  • scissors: cutting objects other than paper such as straws, felt and string will promote the dexterity that your child will need to manipulate a writing utensil.
  • broad tip markers:  the wider grip of these are easier to control and markers take less pressure to produce an effect on paper, making exploring more appealing.

Q:  Why does my child write so big that his name can't fit on a single piece of paper?

A:  Children that are merging from the Pre-Literate stages of writing into the Emergent Stages often have a tendency to write larger.  Larger strokes on a paper are easier to control than smaller, more precise strokes.  Now is NOT the time to try to constrain your child's writing to lined paper.  This is a time for free exploration of the movement of letters and transition from a gross motor movement of utilizing their entire arm for writing to practicing moving their fingers to control the movements of their writing utensil.
  • Lacing cards:  using a pincer grasp to manipulate a small thread in and out of holes will promote dexterity in your child's fingers that will enable him to control the strokes of his writing utensil.
  • Finger painting: gliding their fingers along the paint's slick surface is a fun way to practice the movement of shapes and letters.
  • Crayola Pipsqueak markers: these small markers encourage the appropriate placement of your child's pincer grasp that will ensure more control while writing.
Q:  Why does my child write many of his letters backwards?

A:  As children begin to explore with environmental print and attempt to write what they see on paper, often times the written representation of what they see is a skewed version of the original.  Let's put their development into perspective.  This is their first attempt at taking something from their 3D world and representing it with a 2D expression.
Prior to their experiences with the written word, an object retained it's name independent of it's placement in space.  For instance, a cup is a cup whether it is sideways, upside down, or right side up.  With written print, this no longer holds true.  In fact, this transition can be quite confusing until the child has a solid understanding of directionality.  For some children, this is a concept that is not mastered until 6 years old.  So no worries, this too is developmentally appropriate.

Our role, as parents and educators, is simply to determine where our children are and scaffold their learning to the next level...not to make them run before they can crawl. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes

"Out of the Mouths of Babes"

Babies are Born to Learn! From the moment of conception, we are preparing our children to be lifelong learners. My name is Debbie Kunz, and I am the coordinator of the Parents as Teachers program. As a contributing writer to this blog, my posts will focus on kindergarten preparation as it applies to the first three years of life. The focus of this week will be language development.

From the moment a fetus begins to hear in the womb, it is beginning to tune in to language - from the patterns of speech to the rhythms to the tonal quality. Babies learn that humans communicate their thoughts, feelings and needs through speech. They also learn that a healthy command of language will assist them in their adult lives.

How, then, as parents and caregivers, do we encourage healthy language development?

A few ideas are listed below:
Make time for face-to-face communication -

* give the baby time to respond; you are teaching her the 

art of communication

* take turns with your baby and honor what she has to say, providing plenty of time for the baby to respond.
* As your baby watches your mouth, he will learn how to shape his mouth for appropriate speech

Sing Together!!

**Singing together is FUN! The baby is learning while playing, which is the essential "work" of early childhood
**Songs use repetition, which strengthens the child's neural connections.
**Songs teach the child how to communicate with gestures, an important step in expressive speech for young children
**Singing enables the child to learn the individual phonemes of speech

Use "Parallel Talk" and "Stretch Talk"

**Tell the child what he/she is doing to make the speech relevant
**When the child says "Dog" and you say "Yes, you see a fluffy dog," you are stretching the child's speech and increasing his/her verbal competence
**As you interact verbally with the child about what he/she is doing, you are teaching the child about verbal problem-solving
**Since the child is egocentric, he/she will pay attention better to speech that is centered around what he is doing

Read Together

**The most important predictor of literary competence, reading together is critical!
**Reading brings routine to the child's world, the structure around which allows the brain
to create optimal connections
**Allow the child to manipulate the book and respond to his interest. Don't worry about reading all of the text in the book. Label pictures and tell your child what he is seeing.
**Answer any question that your child poses. Give concise answers and allow the child to continue asking questions if necessary.
**Hold your child on your lap while you read to send important messages of security, trust and affirmation
**Reading increases vocabulary, bonding, language awareness, context/knowledge of the world and empathy

Have fun making language an important part of the child/caregiver relationship! Your efforts will reap rewards as you see your child enter school with the confidence and competence to be a lifelong learner.

Images in order of appearance from the following websites off google images: (first two)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pre-K Approaches to Learning

Exhibiting creativity...

Look for your child to...
Use imagination to generate a variety of ideas.

Your child may...

  • Make up words, songs or stories.
  • Engage in pretend play.
  • Make changes to a familiar story by adding actions or characters.
  • Express ideas through art, construction, movement or music.

You can support your child...

  • Play pretend games, talk silly talk or sing rhyming songs that either you or your child make up. Make up different ending to a favorite story.
  • Act out pretend stories with your child, and let her be the teacher or the doctor or the mother.
  • Let you child take the lead in pretend play. Try to expand her activities (e.g., say “Oh, you’re a firefighter? There’s a fire here. Please come and bring your hose and ladder!).
  • When she is pretending to be someone, talk to the character she is role-playing. If she is pretending to be a waitress, talk to her in the way adults would talk in a restaurant (e.g., say, “I’d like to see a menu, please.”).
  • Many young children have imaginary friends. If your child has pretend playmates, let her talk and play with them.
  • Provide materials that encourage make-believe play. These could include dolls and doll clothing and equipment, hand and finger puppets, small plastic animals, Little People play sets (including figures of different cultures and races), empty shoeboxes, and art supplies for making play sets.
  • Use an old suitcase or box to house pretend-play supplies such as dress-up clothes, tools for various occupations and writing materials.
  • Provide child-size equipment. Include kitchen utensils and dishes, tools for various occupations, writing materials, sinks, stoves, tables, chairs, beds, etc.
  • Avoid props for pretend play that promote stereotypical behavior, aggression and insensitivity to violence. These might include realistic-looking toys guns, swords and other weapons, and action figures based on characters from violent TV shows an movies.
  • Limit the time your child spends watching television or playing video games. Encourage your child to “play the story” or “make up a new ending” to TV shows or videos you have carefully chosen.

Have Fun!!