Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Here's how it went...

During free play I headed over to spend some time at the art table.  For a while it was a popular place with lots of creative preschoolers enjoying the project.  Which was to use some cut outs and then trace your hands and make an animal.  For the most part the children that came up - took the pieces and did their own things.  They made some amazing creations.   They tried things sideways, they added extra hand prints, they changed the colors anything and everything that could be explored in the project, a lot of them did explore.

When things cleared out another child came up to the table.  He went to the end facing the wall.  When he looked up - he saw the "teacher's version" of how this project should end up.  He saw the product  and I watched him change his process.  It was amazing to me how stressed a 4 yr old face can look.  He kept looking up at the example and then down at his page.  He tried to make his look like what was in front of him.  I could see how frustrated he was getting at himself and his lack of ability to reach the goal in front of him.  Eventually, he gave up.  It was really sad to watch as he tried, and even after he and I talked about how he could do anything he wanted with the paper and paints, he just couldn't stop comparing his to the picture.  He said he "couldn't do it" then he said he "didn't want to do it" then he left.

His experience was so different from those of the children before him.  They we so busy in the moment most of them didn't even see the example.  They were also sitting across the table from each other as opposed to across from the picture so they weren't faced with this idea of  what the project SHOULD look like.

When I went to talk to the classroom teacher about what just happened she said "Oh, no! I left that there as an example for the working parent, because I don't always have time to explain the idea.  We were following up on a character from the story we read yesterday and I wanted them to create their idea of what that character looked like for them.  I had no idea she would post it up."

She then walked over to the art table and removed the picture.

I am not a fan of project oriented art.  I think that especially in preschool the emphasis should be on the process, on creativity and exploration.

I have always thought this, I went to lectures, had discussions with co-workers, basically I was into the theory of process oriented art, but I had never had any concrete examples until now.  Watching him try and give up because he felt he failed  was a learning experience.  Preschool art time should be the time where you feel confident in trying new things because there are no mistakes, just lessons waiting to be learned or interesting projects waiting to be created.

Parenting lesson:
Are you giving your children enough freedom to explore? What types of "perfection" have you placed in front of them and expected them to live up to?  As parents we have to find someway of walking that fine line between challenging and discouraging.

Life lesson:
What "perfect product" have you place in front of your self that may be preventing you from moving forward?  Do you have friends in the "perfect" relationship and feel like yours never quite measure's up?  Do you hate to have people over for dinner because you're not sure if your cooking skills can match what you had at their house?  Think about the barriers you place in front of you.  Try not to get too frustrated with yourself and try hard to allow yourself the opportunity to explore beyond your comfort zone.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What's In a Name?.....EVERYTHING!

The other day I noticed a interesting dynamic going on in my classes.

"Tom, Be quiet in circle."
"Tom, We need you to sit still."
"Tom, it's story time, you need to pay attention"
"Tom, please sit on your bottom at the snack table"
No fewer that 3 of the 5 working adults in the class felt the need to remind "Tom" of the class rules during the day.  It was interesting because the children around Tom were doing the same thing, but did not get the direct attention for it.  Because of a few bad days, Tom was being watched very carefully - but what did that mean for how Tom was starting to see himself? and How the other children were starting to see him?

"Johnny, You are doing so well today" said to a child who was dealing with separation anxiety and had finally begun to have a parent free, tear free day.  Well, right up to the moment that someone pointed out that he was having a great day.  Basically he was reminded that this was not typical behavior for him and not what was expected.

Sometimes without meaning to parents and teachers give children ideas of who they should be.  Childhood is a constant time of self identification.  During the ages of 3-5years (and then again in adolescence) children are seriously struggling with independence and with that comes the desire to figure out who they are and how others see them.  As they search for this self-concept they use many different ways to determine who they should be and in turn how they should act.  When we as adults give them these definitions, they latch onto them and use them.  Adults and peers are the mirrors they are using to see themselves.  How they are treated and the words people use to define them and interact with them become very important.

Children at this age are very concrete thinkers.  They don't understand that good and bad can exist simultaneously.  They don't know that they can be known as the "kid who has a hard time separating" and still grow into an easy separation pattern.  They don't understand that they can be seen as the "trouble maker" who constantly needs to be tapped on the shoulder - and still have a good day. 

Then there is the flip side....

"Fred, Wow that is great work - you're a real artist.  I love seeing you at the art table everyday."

"Suzie, you can write you name really well, you are so smart."

"Suzie" and "Fred" now have a ton of pressure to be artsy and smart.  I saw Fred at the art table after this comment and where before he seemed to be in the moment enjoying him self, this time he seemed to be trying.  He actually stopped and asked "Isn't this a pretty rainbow?"  The pressure was on.

I haven't see Suzie pull out a calculus book, or try to impress someone with her intellect - but I bet if she is told this enough she too will begin to look for ways to be the smart one.  And worse will be disappointed or frustrated in herself when she isn't.

Labels both good and bad are just that LABELS.  They are restrictive.  These young children are trying to grow and with growth comes change and mistakes.  We as adults need to support this growth.  We need to allow them to try on new identities and give them the freedom to express different self-concepts without making them choose.  It's not time yet.  Maybe/Hopefully that time never comes.

What to do?  Be a little less restrictive in your comments.  Practice using more descriptive and narrative phrases. Phrases that are judgment free.  "I see you're at the writing table."   "You helped with the dishes."  "looks like your homework is done."

Expect good behavior and notice it.  "Thanks for sitting so respectfully during circle."  "Looks like you and your friends had a good time in the sand box."

Parenting Lesson:

What labels are you putting on your children?  For the next week or so pay close attention to what you are saying to them and what that is telling them about themselves.  Do you have expectations?

Do you always count on one child to be "easy" on a shopping trip and the other you gently remind of the rules on your way in?  While talking about doing homework does one child say "Mom, I ALWAYS get straight A's!" while the other looks on longingly and has a hard time sharing when they're frustrated with their assignments.  I've heard parents talk about some kids being "great nappers, unlike their brother who was so hard to put down."  While the children were listening. 

Remember children are always listening and learning about who you expect them to be.  I once heard it said that it takes up to 7 positive comments to negate one negative one.  Imagine!

Life Lesson:

What labels have you adopted for yourself?  Are they yours or did you get them from someone else?  A lot of us walk around with expectations of and beliefs about ourselves that we didn't develop on our own.  Take some time to evaluate who YOU want to be.  Does that match how you act or your self talk.  If so, GREAT!  if not, then what can you do to change that?

For more on preschoolers and the development of their self-concept see the links below.



For information on adults see below.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Begins again...

School days, School days, good old golden rule days....

Yay!!  School has started.

I loved watching all the smiling faces walk into the classroom.  Seeing the excited greetings as students saw each other.  It is fun to watch them greet like long lost friends, even when you know some of them saw each other that morning.

A new class coming together makes connections in interesting ways.  I see some of the newer ones trying hard to make contact.  Slowly siding up to someone during the snack time and hoping to start a conversation.  I see the returning ones gathering together, not trying to be a clique, but just finding comfort in the familiar faces.  Some are excited and love to talk during circle, and some are waiting for the right moment, while others are quietly observing. 

There is a lot that can be learned from these first interactions.  Who needs a little guidance, who is already feeling overwhelmed and who jumps in with both feet.  With out thinking about it, people in new situations sometimes display the most honest, filter free glimpse into their temperaments. 

And that's just the Fall Parent Orientation...

Temperament is one of my favorite subjects.  It is interesting.  Think about Parent Orientation and then think about your child's first circle time this year.  You will find that you can tell a lot about who someone is, just by the way they behave at this time.  As I watched one of my preschool classes today, some children sang every song, some sang as we warmed up to the second one, and some didn't sing at all but you know they are singing all the way home in the car. 

One little girl was so fun to watch during music.  We were doing the "freeze dance" it has a lot of stops and starts, almost like different sections.  dance, dance, dance...freeze - dance, dance, dance...freeze.  You get the idea.  Some of these preschoolers, jumped right in and danced like they were on America's Got Talent.  They put all their energy into it and had a blast.  This little girl...at first she was just holding her scarf, not moving it or herself.  When I looked closely I could see she was intently watching the teacher dance around, and then watching her classmates and the parents.  She was soaking it all in.  Her mom was behind her and it was wonderful to see her just let her be.  She didn't force her to dance.  She even said to me "She's just taking everything in."   After a while we noticed her little hips moving, then the scarf, and then she was dancing.  It was great to watch.  She had taken her time and joined when she was ready.

What was so wonderful, was not that she danced, but that she was given the freedom not to dance.  That the whole class honored her temperament and let her explore in her own way.  The teacher was watching and said a few encouraging things, but she was given her space.  Everyone understood that she needed to do things on her own, and it is such a  powerful thing to be able to explore the world at your own pace. 

I always ask parents to think about their child's temperament traits and project those 20 years from now.  Who wouldn't want a son/daughter who examined situations closely before they jumped in.  By the same token we love and need those individuals who will jump in and charge forward.

Just like those parents in the parent meeting, you need everyone - all types.  Those that jump in, and those that take their time analyzing things from all angels before they take part.

Today's Parenting Lesson- Honor Who They Are.

Sometimes in Parent Ed, I ask parents to change the labels they have given to some of their child's more "challenging" temperament traits.  Imagine if you thought of your child not as "shy" but "slow to warm up"  This opens the door to so many possibilities.  What if your "frustratingly persistent" child was actually just super focused.  Your "highly sensitive" child was just "really in tune with themselves."   Turn the tables on your self.  Start accepting those things that you can't change.  Project those traits to an adult, and see how much you appreciate them. 

Sure, for some traits there will be those coping skills  that you want to help teach them.  My "slow transitioner" has learned to ask what's coming up and to start mentally prepping for the next thing.  This skill came because I recognized that as a child who didn't like transitions or sudden changes in routine it really helped to give plans a head of time, to explain who would be there, and what the expectations were.  After time my child starting asking these questions them self, and is the first one to want something written on the family calendar, and to check what the week is like.

Understanding who your child is, and what won't change can help you and them to become comfortable with who they are.  It can help you to understand where conflicts sometimes come from.  Being willing to analyse this in your child allows you to help prepare them for the world a head.  It also gives them the freedom to feel good about who they are and learn to express what they need.

Today's Life Lesson - Get to Know Yourself.

Not only that, but learn to love those things that are inherently you.  Not to say that you don't try on "new" hats.  Just to say that you acknowledge who you are.  That you embrace those things that make you unique.  Also, that you take a look at your own coping skills.  What do you notice about how you approach the world.  Do you cut off tags because they are always itchy?  Do you cry at movies?  Do you wait a while before saying things in a group or all you always the one to volunteer your opinion.  Who are you?  What do you need to enjoy your life...discover it and do it. 

For more information on temperaments check out these websites



Saturday, May 15, 2010


Have you ever wondered why after only 2hrs of preschool children usually take a nap?  I was watching this great group of 3yr olds during closing circle.  All of them were snuggled into there grownups lap lazily listening to the goodbye song, eyes were drooping and bodies were sagging - they were spent.  It was a precious moment.

Of course the educator in me started to wonder.  How is it that these bundles of energy can be wiped out by just two hrs of preschool?  So, I started to pay attention in all my classes and look for where exactly they were wearing themselves out.

The answer I discovered was EVERYWHERE.  

Preschoolers do everything on full blast.  They are always giving 100%.  I noticed that a 1/2 hr recess can bring some to a full sweat, brows getting seriously furrowed as they concentrated at the writing table, snack eaten like this was the best cheese ever tasted, and little actresses playing princess who held on to that character better than Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelley. 

Children don't seem to have an understanding or a desire to do thing half way (unless it's about household chores, but even then their avoidance is 100%).   What ever they focus on and try they give there all.  Projects or games, when they are interested in them, have their full attention and full energy focus.   Just watch.  You will never see a preschooler kinda painting or sorta building with blocks.  If they love something you know it, and if they don't you know that too.  100% is not some motto or something they've been told to do, it is how they navigate the world.

What about the "Boreds" you say?  Well, they do those 100% too.  How many times in five minutes can you say "I'm bored!"  I bet they have you beat.  Maybe they are bored because there is nothing they feel like expending 100% of themselves on.  Imagine if you gave everything 100%, would you be less likely to be interested in doing something you were not extremely passionate about?  I would.

Today's life lesson
Its so simple, I bet you can see it coming....Try something at 100%.  Whether you go out for a run, or cook something new, read a new book or go dancing with friends.  Practice giving your all.  Push yourself to the limit and see if you can find the point where you are so engrossed in something you forget how much time has past.  Enjoy the moments 100% and see how much that changes you perspective and you priorities on how you want to spend you time.

Today's Parenting Lesson
Children love to be engaged.  They thrive on being able to give something all their attention and all their energy.  They aren't born looking for a way to get out of doing something, they just want to love what they are doing.  How can you make that happen for them?  Think of ways that you can foster their interests and sometimes take advantage of their desire to go all out with everything they do.  Make cleaning fun, (why do you think preschool teachers all have a "cleanup song").   To get rid of the "boreds" try asking them for some direction on what to do and it that fails show them something you love - and show them at 100%.  Sometimes, just honor their being bored, we've all been there and we have all had to figure out what to do, what interests us enough to make us stop being bored at 100% and start doing at 100%.  AND - of course just watch and enjoy the moments aware of the fact that their 100% for 2 hrs will almost guarantee you a free 2 hrs, while they nap, to do something you love.  BUT remember to do it 100%.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Are We Raising "Seattle Nice?"

Gotta love preschoolers.

There I was minding my own business and helping one of the 4yr olds get their coat on, when behind me a scuffle of gigantic preschool proportions is erupting. I would love to say that I was on top of things and knew exactly what was happening, but I didn't. I didn't know who started it or what was going on, except it ended with a pushing match.

"She's not my friend, I don't like her!" said the one. (let's call her Sally)

Now you have to picture the other little girl's face. Crestfallen, she snuggles closer to her mom. The sad doe eyes emerge and tears begin to pool like at the top of a cup that has been filled to the brim. The lip trembles...

"I can see your frustrated" (notice the emotion coaching) I say to Sally. "but we're all friends at preschool and Jane looks really saddened by what you just said"

Sally looks at me like I must be loosing my mind.

"She's not my friend." She repeats because obviously I didn't get it the first time. Then she dismissed me with a flip of the hair and walks out of the class and heads to the playground.

So - no this was not one of my finer Parent Education moments, but I did start thinking about what exactly we're teaching our children when we tell them "we're all friends" or "Look at her face, she looks really sad about what you just said"

Are we somehow creating what everyone has come to call SEATTLE NICE.

On the East Coast would Sally have been guided into softer language or would someone have just said "I don't blame you, if someone grabbed my stuff and then pushed me they wouldn't be my friend either."

Is it okay for preschoolers to not be friends? and if so, how do we deal with that in the classroom?

What does it teach someone when you ask them to be friends with someone else who has offended them somehow and what does that say to the offender?

If I had it to do over again (and believe me I have this is an almost everyday occurrence in preschool) I would tell Sally.

"I see you're frustrated. She wasn't acting much like a friend should act, what would you like to say to her and what would you like to see happen to solve this problem?" (or something like that)

Something that showed Sally I understood and accepted her right not to befriend someone who hurt her. Something that encouraged her to express her feelings, but also guided her to look for solutions.

We can't always be friends, and I wouldn't want my children to be friends with people who have hurt or offended them.

In Seattle I think we are raised not to offend anyone, we learn early how to say the right things and bite our tongues. On the other hand, that could be just me. Anyway I've learned a lot from preschoolers and one of the things is that you get to choose who you want to spend time with, that sometimes you get to voice your opinions and not worry about how it affects those around you. That there is power in truth and in listening to it. I find it funny that the people I most admire are those "frank" east coast types. I try to borrow a little directness whenever I can and as an adult, I don't make a habit of having friends who are harmful to me.

If that is what we want for our children - how do we go about it without creating a classroom of non-friends?

Today's Parenting Lesson: Well, hopefully some will come in the comments. But for my part, I say. Listen. When your children express how they feel and have made a decision about someone, feel free to ask questions, have conversations, help them find mutually respectful solutions, and then be prepared to except it. Know that preschool alliances change quicker than those on Survivor and that very rarely is anyone ever voted off the island.  As parents we get the wonderful opportunity to help guide them in problem solving and teach negotiation skills that can last a lifetime. Children are expressing themselves in their flexibility and trying on what works for them. Preschool is the perfect time to experiment with what it means to be a friend and what it means to have one.

Today's Life Lesson: Take a look around. Whom do you have around you and what do you HONESTLY think about them. If the greatness of being young is you get to speak your mind and you can walk away from those who hurt you - why can't we as adults do the same thing. Friends should be chosen because together you add more to each other then you would have apart. If something feels wrong - address it, or look them in the eye say "You're not my friend" fling your hair back and walk with confidence out to the playground.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Raising decision makers.

Quick question: How do you raise children who can state their ideas and lead others?

Quick answer: You give them the opportunity to do so.

I thought of this as I was visiting one of my sites during the holidays. The teacher and children were in the process of beginning to decorate the classroom. She took out the decorations, they looked at all of them and then one by one she asked them, the students, where they thought it should go. This was something so simple, not life or death, not sex or drugs, but simply where do you think I should put this shiny thing.

It was interesting to watch because not all of them dived in with answers. Some were obvious followers, and some were those stand out leaders who knew exactly what they wanted and how to ask for it. One little girl in particular had some "definite ideas" about every one of the decorations and was not reserved about stating them. She knew to be a little loud, a little firm, and if need be get a little closer to the teacher. One child held back did not make a decision until the other children had started moving in a direction and then supported what another wanted.

The great lesson was that everyone got to be a leader, because as she chose who to give the decoration to - this teacher made sure to divide it up. I think she called on everyone. Therefore, everyone felt that they had played an important part in deciding something. No one was labeled a follower, according to her, because everyone made decisions. How powerful for those kids who don’t normally see themselves that way. They got the opportunity to try on making decisions and having themselves heard. You should have seen the smiles!

I also thought it was nice to see the way she handled those off the wall ideas. "Hey, we could hang it from the ceiling" they said more than once. "That's an idea," she said. "How do you think we could get up there?" Ideas flowed from them like crazy, some plausible, some not so - in the end the class decided that would not work. She did not say to them. "That won't work because of..." instead, she let these preschoolers figure it out for themselves and they did.

Today's Lesson: Everyone deserves a chance to be a leader and be heard. If you have found yourself somehow stuck in the follower role figure out where you can be a leader. Each part is important, and everyone has it in them to do both. Perhaps, at work, you are a good productive follower and comfortable with that supportive role – then challenge yourself somewhere else. Find the space where you can be a leader and then try it on. There is power in being heard and you never know others might just find value in what you have to say. Then take that new trait and try it in old places. If you find yourself being the leader, then remember to open things up to those of us who might be overshadowed by your personality. Imagine how many great ideas that class would have missed out on if the teacher had only listened to the one little girl.

Today’s Parenting Lesson: Raise leaders. Give your children opportunities to make decisions. Even small ones. It is about the practice. You cannot develop a skill that you have never had the opportunity to try out. I love that my children comfortably stating their opinions. I love the discussions as we hear each other out. And you know why? Because I know these same conversations are going on with their friends. I know my children have practiced being in charge and stating what is right for them and so I am/will be more comfortable with them out in the world with the tough decisions (sex, drugs, skipping school, etc).

One more thing. Sometimes you can see that one of your children is “ a natural born leader” Great nurture that. I have one and I love it. However, I do remind her that her brother needs practice to and I make sure that happens. Do not let one child get so use to following that leading becomes foreign. Be proactive and make sure that both kids make decisions and that both know their opinion should count and know how to make themselves heard.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Need to KNOW!

"What's this, a dinosaur?" I asked while passing the snack tray. One of my 3 yr old friends had brought a toy dinosaur to the table.

"Yes." (Okay note to self, no more yes/no questions)

"I love stegosauruses."

"It's not a stegosaurus, it's a (some really long dinosaur name), I have a lot of dinosaurs"

"What's your favorite?"

"The Tyrannosaurus Rex, but I like the (some other really long name) and the (ditto)"

This 3 yr old was dino off the charts. He knew names, descriptions, what they ate. He was in short a dino expert. I however as you can tell, can't even spell the names I know and refuse to attempt those I don't.

I talked to his mom after class and she was telling me how excited he was about dinosaurs. She knew all the names too. She talked with passion about how they would read stories about dinos, watch shows, and play with dino figures. This got me thinking back to the time, not so long ago when I was a truck expert. I know those of you who know me are amazed, but I could actually tell the difference between a front loader and a cherry picker. Why? Good question.

Because my child was into it. We would spend countless moments reading stories about trucks, just books that described trucks and YES watching the garbage man. The highlight of the week! Because it was important to my child I got into it to. I wanted to share in the excitement and help in learn about what he was "into" in that moment. Have you watched and excited 3 yr old watch the garbage pick up, or stand in awe at a construction site - how can you not want to support that enthusiasm. Just like the dino mom, I became the truck mom, and I'm sure many of you became the princess mom, or the bug mom, or the train mom. When our young kids show interest in something we do to and we do all we can to help them learn as much as possible and in the process become experts ourselves.


Chatting with this Dino Mom made me realize that I no longer know everything there is to know about the things that interest my children. They are both into soccer and even though I have been to more games than I remember it is only recently that I can accurately tell you what an "off-sides penalty" is and that is thanks to the conversation above. It made me realize that I had forgotten to be interested in what interests the people I brought into the world. I also realized that I hadn't encouraged their interests the way I used to. Yes, I know that part of this is the natural development of parenting and I am letting them discover their own interests, but isn't that what they did as toddlers? Yet, then I helped them along and showed interest too. We had great conversations about things and both learned details and shared moments.

What happens to that? and What would happen if we never let that go?

So, I set out to learn about soccer. I got out of the car (yes, that was me cheering from the car on rainy days) and got into the sport. I actually read the info from the coach instead of asking my husband where the games are, and I can hold a pretty good conversation about what happened at this weekend's game/tournament. I know who was playing where (I'm still working on all the names) and what that position does. I have to say - I LOVE IT!! not soccer, but the knowing soccer, the being able to talk soccer with my kids and have them see that I'm genuinely interested in what interests them. It is great to say "You did some really good defending out there, it seems like you are connecting with the ball and can read the field to know where it should go." or " Yep, if it wasn't for those corner kicks..."

For those of you in class, remember all that talk about praise vs encouragement? Well, this is the ultimate in encouragement. If you don't know what you are talking about it does become empty praise. Knowledge give us authenticity with our kids. It also shows them that what they care about is important to us too. We can have conversations that don't revolve around who needs to do what.

Think back to when you felt that your children stopped listening. It could have been, just around the same time you stopped being interested in their interests. What was left to talk about?

Today's lesson: There are a couple. The first is to get interested. What is it that you are so passionate about you want to know everything there is to know. Can you really be a Jane Austin fan and not know her birthday? (12/16) What about knitting, or football, or running - what is it that you want to know more about? Figure it out and find out. Let your passion become the thing that drives you to discover the detailiest of details. The second is get to know the interests of those people who are important to you. Be truly interested in what someone has to say about something that is important to them. Actively listen. Ask questions and look up information to share with them. This exchange of passions doesn't have to stop as we get older, in fact it should become deeper and more interesting.

Today's Parenting Lesson: Keep up with interests. Don't stop getting to know what they know just because they are getting more independent. Share stories and learn together. Be the one they want to come to with new facts. Imagine the power you have as a parent if you start sharing information with each other. Don't be afraid to not know it all, good things happen when our kids get to teach us things. Use their interests to foster literacy. Bring books home, read articles. Of course you will have to understand that these interests will change. So be flexible. Just because I learned a lot about soccer doesn't mean that I should now be frustrated because I'm about to go read up on swim meets. How do those things work anyway and why do we have to sit there all day just to watch her swim twice? Hmmm guess I better go figure out how far 100 meters is, and whether that is one lap or two.

Any comments?
Let me know what you're interested in, and how do you share your child's interests without taking them over?