A couple of weeks ago a professional FB group I belong to posted a challenge to choose 16 photographs that best describe our program. 16?!? How do I choose 16 out of over 1000?!? "Can I combine photos to make a single photo?" Nope! Any post over 16 photos would be deleted... Well! Challenge accepted! It took me about a week to narrow down my selections. It was torturous. Choose this, exclude that. Ultimately I chose my 16 and I think they are a pretty good representation of who we are and what we do and yes, you will notice that there are a couple of photos that I combined for this post but since I run this site, I gave myself permission to cheat! Here are my top 16 picks of 2016 in no particular order (except #1 & #2):1. Our staff! These 7 women make it possible. Everyday they come to work with the dedication to carry out our vision. None of them come from a play-based background yet they enthusiastically embrace our mission, attend trainings, read and put into practice the research and see first-hand why learning through play is the only way to truly guide our littles. They don't ask "why?", they ask "why not?". 2. Our Families! Part of the conditions of enrollment in our program is the agreement that each family is required to volunteer a minimum of 15 hours each year. Participation at parties, donations, attending the annual work day and simply reading a couple of stories to the littles are all examples of how families add to our village. Our environment is richer because of them. 3. Trust. Risk. Power. Trust your little to know their own limits. Provide your little enough risk so they can know what their limits are. Do you remember how powerful you felt when you were taller than the world? Our rules for climbing the fence? You may go up as high as you feel comfortable. You may not go over (today anyway). You may climb where there is dirt beneath you (no concrete). Staff stand close by and trust these littles to negotiate the complexities of climbing a chain-link fence because one day they are going to do it without someone spotting them. 4. Awards! Our Ms. Tressa was awarded the Terri Lynne Lokoff/Children's Tylenol National Child Care Teacher Award this past year. Each year the foundation recognizes 50 child care teachers across the United States who exemplify excellence in child care and Ms. Tressa certainly fits the bill! Read more about the award here. She was also awarded a Certificate of Recognition from Governor Edwards in honor of her national award. 5. and 6. Social Emotional Resiliency. Mastering the ability to control your emotions is a long process. Let's face it, some adults I know still don't have the ability! Providing a multitude of opportunity for our littles to practice emotional control is essential. Allowing them to work through conflicts, negotiate terms of the game or comfort each other are all examples of how they practice. 7 to 11. Exploration and Autonomy. Our littles are given the time and the materials to explore as they see fit. Yes, we have overall guidelines like ask someone if they want mud thrown at them before you throw it and you can't take something away from someone if they are not done using it but we are able to provide a place and space for the littles to figure things out on their own. 12. Spatial Awareness doesn't just happen but working with bubbles is a fun way to practice! 13. Opportunity to explore "what ifs"! Working a see saw backwards is not as easy as it looks. 14. Fine motor development. The adult agenda behind this activity was to make bird seed playdough. The children's agenda was much different but the fine motor development that came out of this activity was amazing and there's a good amount of visual discrimination thrown in there to boot! 15. Our love affair with loose parts. So much more learning than with a toy that only does one thing. Our world is changing and what was once is no more. It's critical for our children to be able to think about things in a new way, to be able to figure out that there is more than one way to do things and that cannot be done with toys that only serve one purpose. Have you ever threatened that next time you get your little a gift, it will just be the box the toy came in? Children learn so much more when given parts and pieces like empty boxes, bricks, boards, sticks, rocks, buttons, ribbons, blocks... 16. Trust! Adults trusting that the child can use a hammer and follow all the safety rules that accompany the use of said hammer (or whatever the tool happens to be) and littles trusting one another to work together toward a main goal. There are so many more images that capture who and what we are because we are so much more than just 16 photos. Visit our Facebook page to see them all.
It has become tradition here to have a Christmas Pajama Fiesta in mid-December to usher in the winter holidays. We all wear our cozy pajamas, our families bring the fixings for nachos and our Chameleon & Grasshopper classes make the piñata. We fill said piñata with various things like stickers, pompoms, last year it was filled with glitter! Boy did the parents love us! This year? This year we filled it with bird seed/squirrel food so that our wild neighbors would have a nice holiday feast. The kids were so excited to make something for the creatures they love to watch (and the parents were overjoyed that it wasn't glitter)! So why don't we purchase a traditional piñata and fill it with candy? Because that's not what it's about. Making our own is about the process and what we learn and experience from the process, not the product. Filling the balloon with air, making the flour and water paste, ripping the newsprint into strips, dipping the strips into the paste, smoothing the paper onto the balloon and adding just enough layers to make it sturdy but not too many so that it will never dry (quite a feat in Louisiana!), painting it, filling it then getting to hit it hard enough to break teaches so much more than just showing up to whack the heck out of some random character hung up by a rope. Ours is not beautiful by adult standards but it is for the child and that is all that matters. The following is a list of just a few things that the Chameleons & Grasshoppers experienced while making the piñata that no lecture, demonstration, or series of worksheets could ever teach: collaboration, compromise, cause and effect, order, angle, trajectory, force, physical properties of glue, coordinating fine and large motor activity, eye-hand coordination, measuring, estimating, spacial relationships and language development. An incomplete list to be sure but impressive none-the-less making that big blue blob even more beautiful in our eyes.
It's two days past Halloween and my Facebook news feed is already filled with suggestions and activities and outings for the upcoming holidays that can't be missed, not to mention all the family obligations! All of them look and sound wonderful and make me think that everything is not to be missed, or I will somehow deprive my family of a magical holiday season. But here's the thing - most of them need to be missed in order to have a magical holiday season! The pressure to squeeze everything in and to get everything done is enormous and it's the youngest members of our family who have the hardest time coping. How many times have you walked past the one hour plus line to see Santa and witnessed screaming children and stressed out parents? Or gone to Christmas in the Country and planned to spend all day in quaint St. Francisville only to be derailed by your toddler's meltdowns? Or gathered the whole family at your house for some cookie decorating and your little one spends the whole time stuck to your leg like glue and refuses to budge? This wonderfully magical season can be anything but for our children. Here are some ideas that may help ease the stress of the holidays:
- Don't expect children to always be happy or appreciative during this chaotic time. Children will feel anxious, upset and grouchy when their routine is off or they are over scheduled.
- Keep routines as normal as possible, even while on vacation. Maintain normal mealtimes and bedtime routines. A simple disruption can create havoc.
- Eat healthy. It's very tempting to grab a bite on the go but adults and kids alike need to eat plenty of healthy foods during the holidays. Limit your caffeine and NEVER allow children caffeine. Be mindful of their sugar intake. A caffeine and/or sugar crash will lend itself to a meltdown of epic proportions.
- Plan for plenty of down time and don't fill up every single minute with one activity after another. Remember, if your child was at school or child care during the day, they have probably reached their limit of stimulation for the day.
- Make a plan of what is most important to you. Letting go of the less important things won't dampen the holiday spirit and will most certainly ease the stress. Take into consideration your child's routine and best coping time of the day and plan events and outings around that.
- Focus on "the experience" and "the people" instead of "the things". Is it more important to have perfectly decorated cookies than to have fun with the people gathered together to bake?
- Prepare children for holiday guests. In all honesty, many of the people who come visit or you go visit during the holiday season may be relatives but are relative strangers. Sometimes showing photographs to children and talking to them about who will be visiting helps. Do not force you child to hug or kiss someone they do not want to (body autonomy - a topic for another post) and explain to your guests that you support your child's decision and will not force your child to show affection.
- Lastly - include your child in the preparations. Whether it's creating decorated placemats, making homemade wrapping paper, setting the table or helping cut the vegetables and preparing the meal, include your child in meaningful tasks. They will be more connected and feel proud to be included.
All images for this article sourced from a Google Image search of "crying child".
We all do it. Repeating an action over and over even though the process or outcome isn't what was desired, because it's what we've always done and it takes a "duh" moment to shake you out of it. Mine (at least one of them) was our annual parent meeting. Every fall we host an adult-only parent meeting. We review events and activities that will be happening throughout the year, fundraising opportunities, what we do and how we do it. We have a slide show that I recycle each year updating photos periodically that outlines my talking points. The parents spend time listening to me yammer on about play-based, child-led curriculum and how beneficial it is for their children. They spend time in their child's classroom participating in an open discussion about developmental issues that they will be experiencing over the course of the next year, and they get a couple of minutes to socialize with one another. This year, our annual meeting was scheduled for a few weeks post flood. For those not from around Baton Rouge, we experienced a devastating rain event at the beginning of August that caused wide-spread flooding in our community. If you were not directly impacted with water inundating your home or business, someone in your family or one of your friends was. Needless to say, everyone was too busy to be able to make it to the meeting, so we decided to cancel. It was only the second time in 17 years that I have had to cancel the meeting. The first time was when a hurricane blew through. As I was thinking about rescheduling the meeting and maybe doing it a different way this year, I got to thinking about the purpose and the why; what were our goals and why do we do a fall parent meeting. That's when the "duh" moment hit. We do this primarily for parents to meet one another and to be able to talk with our staff without the distraction of little people. So if that was our purpose, then why are we doing what we were doing in the way we were doing it? Sure, it's nice to be able to spout on about play being important and THE only way children learn and retain new information and how children who are fortunate to attend programs like ours are better set for the rigors of "big school" all the way through college to a captive audience of believers. But that's just it. Our families ARE believers and they already understand the importance of play, that's why they chose our program over the academically based program down the road. See? Duh! Time to rethink how we facilitate our main goal. Out with the meeting and in with cocktail hour! We met last Saturday at The Radio Bar. Everyone brought something yummy to share and because we met at happy hour, we practically had the place to ourselves. Parents came. Staff came. We talked, laughed, and played darts. We talked about all kinds of things, kids, parenting book recommendations, camping, developmental milestones, movies, respectful discipline, where to go out after. It was fun! An d most importantly, it far exceeded our goal! Parents met one another, they had the opportunity to learn more about our staff, and they got to spend a couple of hours talking with other adults who share some of the same values and parenting styles they hold. We will definitely do that again! As for all the other stuff we usually cover at that meeting, isn't that what email, Facebook, Instagram and blog posts are for? I do have to say, it was really hard to let that slide show go but I can always use it when I visit other centers and do their training, right? So I have to say, my school is cooler than yours and if your school doesn't have happy hour parent meetings, maybe you should look into mine!
I read something last week issued by the Louisiana Department of Education that scared me. It really scared me. The LDOE is pushing for “strong and coordinated curriculum and assessments” in child care and early education. They are even going to implement a program for centers to either get approved curriculum free or funds to help purchase and implement high quality, approved curriculum. WHAT?!?! The push down of academics into early childhood education is nothing new. It’s not right, but it’s nothing new. I believe that the intention behind it is sincere. “They”, they being the policy makers of our state and federal government, want our children to succeed. Sure. Grand idea. Children are not entering kindergarten prepared to do what is expected of them, never mind that what is expected is not developmentally appropriate, so let’s push these academic principles down to our 4 year olds, our 3 year olds, our 2 year olds so that when they enter kindergarten, they will be better prepared. We must get them ready for school. IT’S NOT WORKING! The children are farther behind than ever! It must be the child care centers, the early learning centers, the preschools so let’s get stricter and push even more down on our youngest children so they can be ready to enter school. Well people, it’s still not working and it never will. You want to know why? Because it’s not. developmentally. appropriate. Those little brains are not made that way and no amount of drilling, flashcards, worksheets, computer games, teacher-directed instruction and no outside time because there is too much to learn is going to change that fact. It is a scientific fact that humans learn best through self-directed play. Scientific people. Look it up. Here, I'll get you started with this, this, this, this & this. There is no scientific research that proves academics introduced to children during their toddler, preschool and pre-k years is successful. In fact, scientific research is proving the opposite. More harm is done in the long run. IF, and that’s a big if, a child who has been in an academic environment during their preschool years enters kindergarten slightly ahead in academic knowledge than their counterparts from a play-based, child-led program, they certainly do not enter kindergarten socially advanced and any academic difference disappears by 3rd grade. At this point, other difference begin to emerge. These differences have been present all along but the gap becomes exponentially larger. The child from the academic preschool environment falls dramatically behind socially, they have poor impulse control as they have had all along and a poor attitude about school which translates into poor performance in school, on assessments and a higher drop-out rate. The rise in childhood mental disorders is also directly linked to the decline of play and the rise of academics in early childhood. Now, why does the LDOE helping child care centers purchase and implement high-quality curriculum scare me so much? Don’t I want children to begin their academic journey with as much of a head start as possible? Of course I do but high-quality curriculum does not come in a box. It does not carry with it pages and pages of assessments that are to be placed upon the child. High-quality early childhood curriculum comes from an enriching, engaging environment where the child is free to choose what they will work with, how they will work with it and how long they will work with it. High-quality early childhood curriculum comes from being outside for most of the day and working with loose parts in whatever way the child can dream of. High-quality early childhood curriculum provides the child plenty of opportunities for them to figure out how their bodies work and how powerful they can be. High-quality early childhood curriculum comes when the adults get out of the way and instead ask “what else do you need?” ensuring the child has everything they need to fulfill their goal and not the adult’s. High-quality early childhood curriculum focuses on social-emotional development and provides opportunities for children to figure out how social dynamics work. High-quality early childhood curriculum does not, and never will, come from a box. It cannot be purchased. It is up to each child to create their own curriculum. Children are only ready for kindergarten when they have had enough time to explore their world on their terms. Only then will they be ready to allow someone else to tell them about their world. For those of you who know us (The Co-op), you know that we don’t subscribe to the canned curriculum. We allow our children the opportunity to explore the environment on their terms. They drive the curriculum. Our children are competent and eager seekers of knowledge. Our center is one of a kind in our community. I wish it wasn’t. The children in our community, in our state and in our country deserve a high quality early childhood and they are not getting it. My wish is that one day, “they” will wake up and think, “This isn’t working, maybe we should look at all that scientific research.” Maybe one day those centers that are using TV and flash cards and worksheets with their littles will read the evidence that they are helping to perpetuate the poverty cycle. Maybe one day families in our community will stop putting their children into inappropriate environments because they fear their child won’t be ready. Maybe one day publishers won’t print that canned curriculum. Maybe one day I won’t have to defend what we do. Maybe one day…