Sunday, April 28, 2013

Human Birthday Graph!

Human Birthday Graph!

Great way to introduce our Graphing Unit for Common Core Standards in Math!

  • Set up index cards with each month.
  • Have students form a line behind their own birthday month.
  • Have students graph their results and create and answer questions about their graph and data.
  • Students get to tell their families that they WERE the graph today in MATH WORKSHOP!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

For Parents

Here are some tidbits that I have picked up along the way and I have been encouraged to share them with you.

  • Children need to feel safe! That is why they "test" you so often. Believe it or not, children love the stability and predictability of Routines & Rules.

  • Routines: They love knowing what to expect, and when they can expect it. They love to remember the schedule and make their own little predictions about what will be happening next. This creates a feeling of stability and they feel very safe. 

  • Go With the Flow: Of course, we always talk about "Going with the Flow" and handling the unexpected, and disappointments with grace and acceptance.  The love of predictable routines can be quite extreme for some children. In fact, if you know a child with Aspergers or Autism, you can see that breaking from routine can cause stress, and even panic at times. In my classroom we talk about how life does not always follow our schedule and we all need to make the best of little disappointments. For example, on a rainy day, when we are losing outdoor recess, we say that we are making our own sunshine in our classroom and think of all the fun things that we can do inside that day. I believe that it is so vitally important to teach children to "Go With the Flow", and handle the unexpected, they practice on the little things that come up each day... then they are better equipped to handle the bigger things later.  The important thing for them to know is that they will SAFE, and everything is alright, even though there has been a monkey-wrench thrown into our plan. Just like if a substitute teacher does something differently, it will be OK.  Just reassure them that they are safe, that's all they want to know.

  • Coping Skills & Disappointments: OK, this is such a big one! This is the next step after "Go With the Flow".  Anyone with a child in their life whether it be your own, a niece or nephew, family friend or neighbor, knows how devastating a disappointment can be for a little one, big ones too!  Our natural inclination is to avoid them at all costs.  Of course we would do what we can to prevent a disappointment, however, I do not believe in jumping through hoops, or creating huge inconveniences, or manipulating events so as not to disappoint a child.  I actually believe that you are doing the child a huge disservice, in robbing them of an opportunity to practice their coping skills.  A common one is to not tell children about tentative or pending plans in case they need to be cancelled or re-scheduled.  I believe in letting them know, and also letting them know that there is always a possibility that something could happen to prevent the event, but that that is the plan right now.  If the weather, an illness or work obligation, etc.  occurs, they have just had an opportunity to practice handling a disappointment.  Here is another one, letting a child win a game at home. This one sometimes gets resolved when there are siblings, or cousins around often, but even families with several children sometimes have the unwritten rule that the youngest, or the one that handles it the worst, always wins.  I feel so bad for the child that always wins at home!!!  I know it might make the evening more pleasant to have that child happily dancing around celebrating their win, again... but guess what, they will some day be playing a game at a friend's house or at school with other children all playing fairly, and I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that they will not ALWAYS be triumphant. Even if they are, they need to learn how to win graciously as well.  Competition and learning to use common sense strategies are wonderful skills to be practiced during board games and other children's games, but social skills and coping skills may be the MOST important skills to be learned and practiced.  Some children pick up these nuances instinctively by watching and mimicking others.  However, some children really need you to help them develop these skills with lots and lots of practice.  Now, I am not pretending that this is an easy thing to do.  The children that pout or cry or scream or tantrum are the ones that need to practice this the most.  I put this little blurb in my Back to School Packet and discuss it at Back to School Night with the parents each year.  "Please do not let me win every game we play at home. I need to learn how to handle the disappointment of losing, or the graciousness of winning when I am at home with you. Otherwise I may need to learn these things at a friend's house or in school, and I would rather learn them with you." , Love, your child.  I knew of a family that had their grandparents sleep on the couch when visiting, because the children could never give up their bed, or room.  I think it's a wonderful thing to have children participate in the arrangements for such special guests and visitors.  Camping out in the living room can be really fun too.  One of the worst examples I have ever seen was a little girl whose mother would ask for the birthday candles to be re-lit so that everyone could sing for her daughter after finishing the song for the true birthday child at the true birthday child's home. The mother would say that she would cry and scream, if this was not done for her, so could we please just sing again.  Of course, if the child was brought home, and missed the rest of the party, she would begin to learn appropriate behavior. This would occur every time. So many people have said to me over the years though, "So, you are a teacher, what do you think.... or what would you suggest....?" I am always so happy to listen and offer an idea if I can.  Sometimes I learn of a totally new situation and it is interesting to try to problem solve and think of where to go or what to try.

  • Rules: Many parents have this situation.  They don't want their children to be mad at them, or think that they are "Not Cool".  Here's something I say often.... "I say 'NO' to children and they LOVE me."  In my classroom and at my house I like for children to feel comfortable and always safe.  I often give children choices and input into the decision making.  Not only can this be an empowering strategy that makes children feel like they are listened to, and important and have valuable contributions, it also is helpful if they later have a problem with the follow-through.  For example, would you like to get right to your homework, and then go out and play till dinner, or would you like to play for a short time, then start homework?  Either choice is fine with me, and the answer may be different each time depending on the weather and season, if it gets dark soon, get some fresh air now, etc. Then, say they choose the play first, but don't want to stop to go do homework. Well, that's wasn't the choice, remember how this feels and next time maybe choose to finish first and have the rest of the time to play.  Choices can be given for possible breakfast items, bedtimes, chores, anything. Now, not having the rules in place, or not following them consistently can cause some real problems.  That's where the feeling of not being safe comes in.  That's when the "testing" goes into high gear.  Here is how I describe it.  Imagine that you are standing on a boat and your back is toward the rail.  You may gently reach back to feel for that rail.  You want to judge how close you are to it, how high or low it is, which direction you need to reach to feel the security of that railing and know that you are standing in a safe spot, that even if there is a sudden unexpected jolt, you know where to grab to steady yourself and BE SAFE.  OK, the railing, that's the RULES.  Children will always reach out and just double-check that those very safe rules are there to protect them.  Don't get me wrong, they may appear to HATE them and challenge them and argue them every chance they get.  Here's the thing, if the rules are there, but inconsistently followed, then they DON'T MEAN ANYTHING.  The rules are there to keep them safe and keep them healthy, and children are not supposed to always know what the best things are for them.  Would we put a 5 year old in charge of another 5 year old? No, there is always a caring adult that would be in charge. So, "NO, means NO!"  Children can have some input and choice in establishing rules and guidelines but parents need to enforce them and follow them consistently.  That is not being mean, that is being a parent or a care-taker.  Pretty much, if your child isn't a little mad, or grumpy or testing you, then they are not quite doing their job.  If you are always the cool parent, with super flexible rules, and sometimes they do get candy right before bed... then You are not doing your job.  It's OK for children to be mad at you.  Believe it or not, they actually like feeling safe, even if they don't get what they want. They have the bigger prize. They feel that railing EVERY time they reach for it.  Imagine this, your child is on that boat, and feeling a little fearful and uneasy.  They reach for the railing and they feel it on the first try! Wow, that feels good, so secure, I'm alright, I'm safe. Now, they reach for it 10 more times, and there it is EVERY TIME! I always know I'm safe with you.  Now, your child reaches for that railing, and they DON'T FEEL IT, they reach again and again, they are trying higher and lower, remember they are reaching back behind them and they can't see the railing, they need to feel it. Now, they are flailing around frantically trying to feel that very safe boundary.  Then they finally feel it, thank goodness, but you have just had a rough night of arguing, maybe tantruming and you probably gave in to what they wanted once or twice before finally asserting your authority. Here is a statistic that I like to use, this is strictly from my personal observations and experiences, no research that I am aware of. If you give in to a childish demand, just to keep things quiet, if you give in 1 out of 100 times, you will continue to argue about this every time for an eternity. Children love consistency, they love rules and routines, and they even love when you tell them NO. BECAUSE THEY FEEL SAFE! When I have to tell my son NO, I tell him that a good mom would have to say NO to that, and I always want to be the best mom for you, even if you are mad at me for a while.  You are a kid and I am the grown-up taking car of you.  I would never expect you to always know what is best for you, I will take on that very grown-up job, because I love you so much!

  • Discussions about RULES and Decisions: Rules need to be flexible and fluid and can be ever changing with the situation and the growth of your child.  Here's another one.  If a child asks for something, "Can I go to a friend's house?", for example.  Let's say the parents discuss this, and think that chores, homework or some responsibility needs to be taken care of first.  Now, if the child respectfully, in their nicest grown-up voice asks to discuss it further, when possible, I would.  If the child has a whiney voice and is arguing, then they have lost the priviledge of discussing it further. The NO stands.  If they even mention it again, I would remind them that they blew their opportunity to discuss it this time, maybe next time they will remember a respectful tone earns a chance to discuss it, and bringing it up again would mean losing something, (game time, dessert, priviledge etc.). Now you are done.  If there is a "grown-up" discussion, and your child has some good points, like, "I already started my work, I can finish in a short time, remember I helped with..., or my friend is not available later, etc. you may re-evaluate the decision.  Sometimes the answer is still NO, due to circumstances, however your child knows that you will listen and controlling their own behavior, and speaking respectfully is their only chance to have further input.  These are great skills to practice for life.  At the end of this exchange, they either feel empowered and responsible, or they get another chance to handle a disappointment.  Or, they learn that they have no chance ever of changing the decision, with poor behavior.  All great lessons.

My History and Background

For my brother and several friends that often tell me that I should write some ideas for parents... this one is for you.

Let me start by explaining where my experiences and philosophies have come from over the years.

Throughout my career and even way before that, I have always been fascinated by children's behavior.  I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, and even that I wanted to work with some of the youngest students.  I have always noticed their behavior, in any setting, whether I have been a participant or just a distant observer. 

In college I majored in Psychology and applied for every possible opportunity to work with or observe children's programs.  Among my experiences is several years of Pre-School, as an observer, assistant and as a teacher.  I also had an opportunity to work as an assistant in a behavioral program for students that were Autistic, Psychotic and Emotionally Disturbed.  I student taught with First Graders and have now taught 26 years of First Grade.  I have taught in a  Second Grade Basic Skills after-school program for about 16 years.  I was also the Regular Ed. partner in an In-Class Support team for 5 years.  That program provided so many opportunities to learn and work with such specialists as Special Education Teachers, Psychologists, Behavior Specialists and all of the members of the Child Study Team. I have implemented and developed many behavior modification and management programs specific to individual students. I have a Bachelors Degree from Binghamton University, NY,  in Psychology and a Masters Degree in Elementary Education from Dowling College, NY.

My observations have come from every single educational setting throughout my career, as well as personal experiences within my own family and amongst my friends.  When giving examples of behavioral situations, just know that they have occured either in my professional life or my personal life and over the span of about 30 years.