Ready or Not, Here Comes Kindergarten!

Summer is a Great Time to Get Ready for School

There’s lots of talk about school readiness, but what does that really mean?

School readiness is more than basic knowledge of language and math, important as these are. Being ready for school means being ready in all areas: physical, cognitive, AND social-emotional. It also helps to come with a positive attitude toward learning.

There are many facets to helping a child prepare for success in school and summer is a good time to support your child’s readiness. These tips can help make the transition a smooth one.

Lots of new experiences at school!

Lots of new experiences at school!

Practical strategies to help kids prepare for daily school life:

  • Helping hands. Have children take on more responsibility as a member of the household. Together with your child, come up with a list of chores that he can do this summer. Some ideas are tidying up his room, helping with meal clean-up, feeding and brushing a pet, sweeping the kitchen, sorting laundry, making his bed, putting away groceries, planning a meal. Children will have more responsibility at school, so this is good practice. And children thrive when they contribute to and feel like a part of a group.
  • Fine motor fun. Give children a chance to use scissors, glue, and paints, or build with small blocks or legos. These activities help with fine motor development and spark creativity.
  • I did it myself! Look for opportunities to let your child do more things herself. Can she order her own lunch, carry a tray, speak to the cashier or librarian, or pack and zip up her backpack? This builds independence and gives her the message that you believe she is capable.
  • Play. Games that have rules, require waiting, or involve counting are great for practicing self-control, understanding rules, and learning how to take turns. Old favorites like Red Light/Green Light, Mother May I, and Simon Says help children learn the difference between right and wrong, fairness, and delayed gratification.
  • Silence is golden. If your child is talkative, help him remember to share the talking time. Have a discussion about taking time to listen to others and waiting to talk sometimes. This is another opportunity to work on self-regulation – remembering to stop and think before speaking.
  • But why? Encourage curiosity, discovery, and exploration. Get books from the library on topics that your child asks questions about. Look things up online together. Try new foods – have taste tests with unusual fruits or vegetables. Be curious yourself and ask questions about how things work, or grow, or fly (weather, nature, animals, space).
  • Hit the books. Read, read, and read some more. Reading together promotes emerging literacy and language development. And research shows that reading to a child is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading. Plus that time together evokes warm feelings about reading and enriches your relationship with your child!

Strategies to support emotional readiness:

  • Focus on feelings. Listen for the feelings. When your child talks about starting school, stop and listen. Accept all feelings and resist the urge to say “don’t worry” or “there’s nothing to be nervous about” or “you’ll be fine”. Instead of talking him out of his feeling, validate the feeling: “It sounds like you are worried about being in a new classroom. Lots of kids would feel worried about that.” Let that soak in for a minute, then add something like, “Let’s imagine what you think it will look like. Then we can compare that to what we see when we visit.”
  • Teach kindness and friendship. When reading together or out in the real world, point out and talk about what it means to be a good friend. What does kindness look like? How do friends treat each other? Model kind acts by letting someone go ahead of you in line, keep bottled water in your car and hand them out to folks on the corner asking for help, visit a neighbor, take flowers to a friend for no reason.
  • Share your memories. Tell stories of starting school or talk about when you started something new. Certainly be genuine, but spend the most time on the positive parts of your experience: making new friends, learning cool things, getting new supplies.
  • Spend time together. Designate some time when there are no electronic devices and really connect. Spend 15 minutes doing whatever your child chooses (that doesn’t involve technology!); try to have dinner together as often as possible (device-free); take advantage of time in the car to talk and sing together; make time to snuggle.

You child will appreciate your attention during any of these activities. Your positive attitude about starting school will set the tone and help to make it something to look forward to!

Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day 2017: ‘Such fun!’

Teachers and children from around the country and in Bermuda went all out for the 5th annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day!

At Lowell Elementary School in Watertown MA, they had a wonderful celebration complete with fruit kabobs, hummus with carrots and cucumbers, dancing, and even selfies with Al. The children recorded their tasting preferences on this form. They added, “Can’t wait for next year!”

Filling out the Tasting Party chart.

Filling out the Tasting Party chart.

Dancing is good exercise. And FUN!

Dancing is good exercise. And FUN!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Child and Family Network Center in Alexandria VA, children made fruit kabobs, too, creating a pattern using strawberries, bananas, and blueberries. They talked about the importance of eating foods that keep their bodies healthy and strong!

Red, White, and Blueberry

Red, White, and Blueberry

Children at the Catholic Diocese of Evansville IN made Healthy Al hats, played Al Says, read the Al Story, played the rolling dice exercise game, colored on the sheet where they picked fruit for their salad, and completed the maze.

maze no 2

In Richmond VA at the Partnership for Families, we read Al’s Healthy Choices and did Al’s Action Story. It was great fun acting out all of Al’s movements like looking under the bed!

Is Al's favorite book under the bed?

Is Al’s favorite book under the bed?

Can you feel your heart beating?

Can you feel your heart beating?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down at the Corrigan-Camden School District in Corrigan TX, the pre-K classes made a day of it! The Food Service Director presented a short program on healthy breakfast choices. Each child got a chef hat, a cup of yogurt, and blueberries, strawberries, dried cranberries, and graham crackers. Then they created their own healthy parfait. For their outdoor activities, each class planned a game including a ball relay race. Parents attended and participated in the events. Even their principal joined the fun and played games with the children.

Healthy Chefs in the Making!

Healthy Chefs in the Making!

In Wytheville VA, children celebrated by playing duck, duck, goose and having races. They had a healthy lunch of turkey and cheese roll ups, salad, and sliced apples. They talked about the importance of drinking water and enjoyed water that was flavored with fresh strawberries!

Meanwhile in Little Rock AR, there was a tasting party going on at Glenview Elementary School. They tried different fruits and vegetables and made a chart of which were their favorites. They also sent home parent notes about Less Screen Time, More Play Time and Healthy Eating. The students enjoyed dancing and exercising and talked about how this helps them to grow and be strong.

Did you like squash, spinach, or sweet potato best?

Did you like squash, spinach, or sweet potato best?

 

 

Wait…a few more seconds

child waiting with parent

What’s the Rush? 

We’ve all done this, we all do this.  Habits are hard to change.

Imagine: You and your young child encounter another grownup you know.  The grownup looks at the child with a smile and asks him, “How are you?” “What are you up to today?” Your child looks at the ground, then up at you, and you quickly answer “We’re on our way to meet a friend.”

What happened?  The other grownup directly asked the child a question and the child didn’t get a chance to answer for himself. No big deal, right?  Actually, children benefit tremendously when they have more time to process questions before answering.  Some adults do, too.

As adults we often experience this rushed world.  We have become accustomed to immediate responses, instant gratification.  At the coffee shop, we expect our order lickity split.  At work, or even socially, some people jump in immediately with ideas or suggestions. Others may have equally valuable ideas but may not articulate them as quickly. We all process information in our own individual way. It’s important to honor a variety of personalities with varying degrees of willingness to speak up in a group.

The Value of Giving Children Time to Respond

Let’s go back to the child.  The value in giving the child 5-7 extra seconds to form their own response is immensely more powerful to that child’s individual development than saving 5 seconds and answering for them.

Why is wait time for a child important? What’s the big deal?

  • Having the support from a valued adult helps a child feel more comfortable thinking for himself and speaking up.
  • We are modeling that we value other people’s ideas and thoughts.
  • Thinking and speaking on one’s own terms builds self-esteem and confidence. This. Is. Huge.
  • Practicing wait time for children to respond is a valuable form of respect.
  • Waiting helps the child who needs more time to process and form a response.
  • If children are always spoken for, they may begin to believe they are unable to speak for themselves.  They may believe their thoughts are not valuable.

Research shows that when a teacher asks a question, the average wait time is one second or less. But when teachers purposely wait a minimum of five or more seconds after a question, children give higher quality and more substantive answers, their self-confidence increases, and they interact with one another to advance discussion. What’s more, children reluctant to raise their hands begin to participate.

Tips on Giving Children Time to Think and Speak 

So what can we adults do to intentionally give a child time to respond?

  • Take a breath.  “Life isn’t a race.” (As learned from my preschool students.)
  • Believe in your mind and heart that the child can think and speak independently.
  • Show on your face that you believe the child can express himself independently.
  • Say nothing and allow the child 5-7 seconds to think and respond.
  • Look at the child. This will help the other adult also look at the child and wait for the child’s answer.
  • For a child who is particularly reserved, it might help to gently prompt or coach, after giving him ample wait time.

What if the child’s response isn’t true or isn’t right?

  • Ask them more questions! This can be an opportunity to gauge their level of understanding or reality.
  • Is it hurting anyone?  If not, it’s probably fine if they answer incorrectly.
  • Ask yourself, what’s more important in the situation, being accurate or being kind?  We have our whole lives to work on accuracy; we don’t have to race there, but kindness can go an incredible distance.  (You can even transmit kindness by accepting a child’s response regardless of its accuracy!)
  • Are they using their imagination?  Childhood is for fun, for learning through play, and it’s a time to make mistakes and figure out reasons.

Now back to habits… It is tricky to hold back from answering for the child if you are constantly doing it.  Perhaps it’s a cultural norm, perhaps it’s a pet peeve.  If we can begin by being aware that we’re not giving children wait time, that’s a step!

Sure, there will be times that you ARE in a hurry and can’t wait a few extra seconds for a child to respond independently.  That’s okay, forgive yourself.  Barely anything about caring for children is realistic with ALWAYS or NEVER.

Here’s a challenge: try it out, ask a child a question and wait much longer than feels comfortable, maybe 7 seconds.  What do you notice?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and observations!

 

About Our Guest Blogger

Lisa has been in the field of early childhood for about 12 years, working with children 8 years and younger in Richmond, VA, Washington, DC, and Boston, MA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Decision Information Sciences from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree of Early Childhood Education (PreK-2) from Lesley University, and a Post Master’s Certificate in Early Childhood Practice, Policy, and Research from University of Massachusetts in Boston.  She is aunt to four fantastic nephews and one incredible niece.

 

New School Year = Stressed Kids?

A new school year can be a stressful time – lots of new faces, places, and routines. Check out these tips for connecting with children and helping them feel safe and secure.

Easy Ways to Spread Kindness

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop

February 12-18 is Random Act of Kindness Week – and it includes Valentine’s Day as an added bonus. We see long lists of ideas for being kind and spreading acts of kindness. The ideas are wonderful and we think, “I could do that one, and that one, and maybe that one.” But do we? The reality is that sometimes we get bogged down by the demands of everyday life – and there is a lot going on!

Simple Acts of Kindness

So what can we do to combat the day-to-day drag-down and promote positive energy and kindness? Let’s start small, just with ourselves. Here are a few concrete, simple acts that we can each do, every day, right now.

  1. Eye-to-eye: When you pass someone, look them in the eye and smile. It’s amazing to see their face light up as they smile back – and they usually do.
  2. “After you”: Let someone go ahead of you in line – any line. At the coffee shop, in the grocery store, step back and gesture them in. Yes, you may be in a hurry, but it only adds a few minutes, and the goodwill lasts much longer, for both of you.
  3. Help others: Keep a pack of bottled water in your car, and hand them out to folks on the corner asking for help.
  4. Don’t talk: Make an effort to really listen when someone is talking to you. Look at the person, nod your head, pay attention. It lets that person know that you value their thoughts, and that you value them. And all we have to do is open our hearts and close our mouths.
  5. Write it down: Leave a note on someone’s keyboard, pillow, lunch box, steering wheel, or gym bag saying what you appreciate about them.
  6. Be present: Put your phone down and make a connection. In person.
  7. Be kind to yourself: In the midst of our busy lives, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. Remember that we cannot give what we do not have. If we are worn out and depleted, it’s hard to give. Think about what restores you – slow, deep breaths, a quick nap, a soothing cup of tea, a brisk walk, positive thinking? Try to make it happen.

And let’s keep it up beyond the week! When we are aware of how we interact with those around us, we can start a kindness revolution, an upward spiral of goodwill. Plus, we are modeling the kind of behavior we want our children to see and copy. So try to smile, listen, and connect. You will feel as good as the people you do it to!

A note of thanks.

a note of thanks

The Waiting Game

clock in grass

Waiting is Challenging for Children!

We have all faced the challenge of having to wait with young children. There is a lot of waiting in the world: waiting for others to finish snack, waiting at the doctor’s office, checking out at the grocery store, in line for rides at the fair, going to the bathroom at any event. We all have to wait.

How can we make waiting a little more fun, or at least survive without major meltdowns? Here are some ideas that might help.

Plan Ahead

First and foremost, take a few minutes BEFORE the waiting actually happens to prepare children – preferably well in advance. Talk about the fact that there will be some dull moments ahead. Ask what feelings they might have when they have to wait. How will they manage those feelings? Have them brainstorm ideas – what will make the waiting more fun or at least bearable?

When the waiting begins, remind them about that conversation. Check out the feelings first: “Remember you said you might feel mad, and you were right! Do you remember that you said you would take 3 deep breaths when you felt mad? Let’s do that together.”

Some Engaging Ideas to Pass the Time, Have Fun, and Even Learn Something!

Have your child pick one of the activities they came up with or try one of the following:

  • Guess Which Hand – put a small object in your hand and hide your hands behind your back. Have your child guess which hand is holding it. Give your child a turn holding the object and you guess.
  • Sounds Like – say a word and have the children think of all the words that rhyme with it. Start simple with words like ‘cat’ and ‘say’.
  • Guess What’s in My Purse/Backpack/Pocket – see how many items they can guess that are really there. In anticipation of this game, add a couple of unexpected things like a spoon or a bouncy ball or an adhesive bandage and give them hints. Added bonus: you will have those things should you need them.
  • Waiting Time Surprise – wrap small items in newspaper or tissue paper and bring them out at random times while waiting: figures with parachutes, paddle balls, pipe cleaners, bendable figures, small notepad and pencil, punch balls, playdough. (Be sure the item is appropriate for the waiting space).
  • Brainstorm – ask your children to come up with ideas for questions like: “What are all the things we could take on a picnic?” “What would you see on a walk in the city, or in the woods, or in a castle?” “What can you do to cheer up a friend?
  • Think Fast! – give a category and see how many answers a child can come up within 15 seconds. Some categories to get you started: animals with fur, things that fly, what you find in the ocean, kinds of fruit, things you see in a classroom, games that need a ball.
  • Creative Thinking Questions – come up with questions that get your child’s creativity working or try some of these:

If you could have a super power, what would it be? Why? What would you do with your special power?

If your pet could talk, what would it say?”

What would you do if you were invisible?

What do you love about being a kid?

What are your favorite smells?”

What 5 things would you take with you if you were going to live on a desert island?”

  • Build a Story – start a story, then stop after a few sentences and have children add a few sentences before passing it on. “Once upon a time a green lizard named Freddy was bored. He needed something fun to do. He started crawling towards his favorite pond and saw a big….”
  • Thumb Wrestling – “Okay, alright, I declare a thumb fight!
  • How Many Can You See? – look around the crowd and ask questions like, “How many people do you see wearing hats?” or “How many red shirts do you see?” “How many people have sunglasses on?
  • Even or Odd (for two or more children) – First have them guess if there will be an even or odd number of fingers. Then have the children stick out 1 or more fingers and count them up.
  • Drop a Leaf – drop a leaf holding it up high and see if your children can catch it before it lands.
  • Feelings Faces – take turns expressing different feelings with your face or by acting them out. Have the other person guess what the feeling is. Expand this by talking about times when you might feel the feeling that was acted out. “Tell me about what makes you sad.” or “What things do you find annoying?
  • 20 Questions – take turns thinking of an object and have the others ask yes or no questions until the object is guessed.
  • Alphabet Game – try to find each letter of the alphabet starting with ‘a’ on signs, ads, or tee-shirts around you.
  • Sing! – don’t worry about those around you. If you’re outside, sing lustily – maybe others will join in. If you are inside or need to be quiet, try singing songs in a whisper. Encourage your children to make up songs about what you are waiting to do, or what they see around them.
  • And don’t forget the standards: Rock, Paper, Scissors, and I Spy!
  • A small jar of bubbles is always popular and will engage others who are waiting, too!

By planning ahead for waiting times, we can prevent challenging behaviors – children will have fun, be creative, and they just might learn something, too!

 

Cultivating Cooperation

“Our Morning Routine is Not What My Child Has in Mind”

It’s almost time to go out the door and head off to school.  The last time you checked, your four-year-old was taking off her pj’s and was on the verge of getting dressed. Ah, you think to yourself, “It will be a good day.” Now, five minutes later, not only is she still in her pj’s, but she has slipped her sweater on, backwards, over the pj’s. You gently remind her that it is time to get dressed to get ready for school and help her take off the tangled sweater. Instead of getting dressed, she starts to play with a puzzle. Exasperated, and concerned about the time, you pull off her pajamas and put her clothes on, even though she has successfully dressed herself many times before. You sigh. So much for the day starting off smoothly.

Most of us have struggled, at some point, with trying to persuade a preschooler to get ready or finish eating on time. And it is so easy to become annoyed when they don’t comply. We try to stay calm but the more she does her own thing and acts “contrary”, the more we find ourselves feeling frustrated, anxious, and even angry. And on top of that, we start feeling stressed about being late. The more we try to “force” the child, the more resistant she may become and the situation can easily escalate.

Avoid Power Struggles by Engaging Children

Sometimes a shift in our approach can be helpful.  As adults we often find ourselves telling young children what to do and how to do it.  When they don’t comply, we often blame the child for “not listening.”  This can quickly become a power struggle and ultimately no one really “wins.”  Rather than telling young children what to do, we can periodically try a different approach – we can engage them in the process. Young children crave – and NEED – independence.  They want to assert themselves and be in control of themselves. Don’t we all want that? So one of the keys to having children cooperate is to give them some control, while still maintaining expectations.

Strategies to Encourage Children’s Cooperation 

Some tried and true strategies to encourage children’s cooperation:

  • Be proactive. Talk ahead of time about expectations like being ready for school on time. For example, over the weekend, when you and your child are both calm and relaxed, talk together about the steps of the morning routine. Be sure to include your child in coming up with ideas for what she needs to do to get ready (i.e. wash hands and face, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast).
  • Use visuals to help guide and remind your child. For example, create a chart together using pictures for each step. Or write each step on a tongue depressor, and include a picture of it to serve as a cue. Place the tongue depressors in a red cup. As your child completes each step she places them in a green cup. Once all the tongue depressors are in the green cup, it signals to your child that she is finished and ready to go.  And gives her a feeling of accomplishment.

  • Make the task into a quick game. For example, challenge your child to see if she can put her pants and shirt on before you reach 1 when you count backwards from 10. Or incorporate the task into a nursery rhyme: challenge her to finish brushing her teeth before you get to six in the “Buckle My Shoe” nursery rhyme of “one, two, buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door, five, six, pick up sticks.”

Note: Expect to change up the game every so often – if it’s no longer working, it’s time to try something new.

  • Recognize when your child does cooperate – thumbs up, high fives, specific verbal comments like “nice job putting the toys back on the shelf.”

When Children Feel Empowered

This phase does not last forever.  At the time they are going through it, it can certainly pluck our every nerve.  While it is important for children to learn to follow instructions, we can help them navigate this struggle for independence by giving up some control, allowing them to gain some control. By finding creative ways to involve them, we promote their independence and they gain a sense of accomplishment. Making daily tasks into fun challenges can help motivate children and they often will rise to the occasion and cooperate on their own.  Rather than resulting in a power struggle, it ends up being a “win-win.”

For more tips, check out the Cooperation tab on “In a Nutshell” and
download Take Five: Countdown to Cooperation.

Being Truly Present With Children Is a “Priceless” Gift

What’s a Perfect Present for Young Children?

There is a no-cost, easy-to-acquire gift that supports the overall well-being and personal happiness of young children:  Be More Present.

Being more present with children sounds simple, but for many of us our daily lives feel more and more chaotic. We often feel stressed and distracted – so much to do and so little time.

 

Tune Out the Distractions and Tune In to Children

Many adults today are plugged in non-stop and maintain hectic schedules.  Balancing work lives (in or out of the home) and family lives can be tough.  Parents and children are often “together”, but not really together. How many of us have found ourselves talking with our children, nodding our heads, but not really hearing what they are saying because we are distracted by other things? We are physically present but we might be thinking about a disagreement we had with a friend or an email that needs to be finished. Without even realizing it, we are often focused on the past or the future, preventing us from being truly “present.”  It takes conscious effort to focus on the moment at hand.

 

Connecting with Children Helps Them Feel Valued

Young children are intensely present every day, every moment, absorbing and learning.  They can be thoroughly engaged watching a squirrel wind its way up a tree or stomping in a puddle. In a child’s perfect world, their favorite adults will slow down and appreciate their interest in the squirrel’s acrobatics or how high the puddle water will splash. Those adults will take a little time to have that meaningful, in-the-moment interaction.

Consider offering your child (and yourself) the sweet gift of tuning in.  Create some time to simply be more present, on purpose, with your child – even for just a few minutes. When you focus on your child and engage with him, you give your child a valuable message: “You matter. You are important. You deserve my time and attention.”

The gift of bring present  - giving your full attention.

The gift of bring present – giving your full attention.

Tips for Being (More) Present with Children

Of course, we can’t always be tuned in to our children. We have things that need to get done. And we are busy. And tired. And sometimes, in our jam-packed world, it’s ok to “listen” and nod while we think about those things. But connecting with a child for just a few minutes can have a huge impact.  A few strategies are:

  • When your child is telling you something, try to stop what you are doing, and really listen when you can. Let your presence show by validating your child’s feelings, making comments, or asking questions.
  • Watch for opportunities to connect with your child: in the car, walking the dog, settling down at bedtime. Whether for 10 minutes or an hour, focus on being ‘all in’ during this time. Let your child know she has your attention by looking at her, touching her shoulder, or holding her hand.
  • Put your phone away when possible. Let your child see that you value him above all else.
  • Plan a ‘together time’ or ‘just us time’ or ‘the two of us time’ and let your child choose a quiet activity for the two of you. Keep ‘together time’ media-free. Just making a long line of cars or drawing with markers or doing puzzles together creates opportunities for quiet sharing, or simply being close. If you have more than one child, let each know that they will have their chance for ‘together time’ too. Maybe it’s once a week, and maybe it’s for 10 minutes, but it’s invaluable.

Don’t worry if it’s not always a magical “movie moment.”  Sometimes children are cranky just as we are taking a moment to be present. That’s life. You’ll have another chance.

 

Being Present Can Reap Many Positive Benefits

While we all struggle to find the right balance, it is worth the time and effort to deepen our bonds with our children. Being present with your child helps them feel valued and develop a sense of self-worth.  They may even be more cooperative and are likely to show improved behavior. All the result of our truly listening and showing genuine interest in them.

As we reflect back on our own childhood, it is not the stuff we got for birthdays or holidays that stands out, but it is those times spent with a caring and present adult that was the best gift of all.

 

Cultivating Kindness: Bully Prevention for Early Childhood

Bullying and Young Children

Be kind

Kindness counts.

Bullying has been in the national spotlight so much lately.  Does this mean anything for our youngest children?

Apparently, yes.  Not only do teachers and parents report bullying behaviors  in young children, but researchers do too.   Repeated, intentional, unkind actions from children with more power toward children with less power. That’s the definition of bullying.

One teacher shared, “Some years, we see just typical arguing or spats; other years, we are really surprised by the bullying and aggression that crops up.”

Bullying researchers (yes, there is such a thing!) have found that curbing bullying in the early years has the most long-term impact.  The longer bullying continues – the “stickier” the problem becomes.  Studies have found that a child  being bullied consistently in first grade is very likely to be targeted [ more ]