The Podcast Has Launched

I have a new podcast: Teaching with the Body in Mind about the importance of children moving for learning.  It is hosted by me, Tom Bedard, Joey Schoen and Ross Thompson.  The first episode launched on March 14, 2017.  New episodes will come out weekly.  The podcast is part of the Explorations Early Learning podcasts: https://www.explorationsearlylearning.com/podcasts

You can find it on iTunes and Stitcher.  We will have a Facebook page for the show in the next week or so.

We talk about various issues related to movement and early learning.  In the first episode, Tom talks about his evolution as a teacher, allowing big body play in the classroom.  In the second episode, I talk about how I started allowing gunplay in my classroom.

I was also a guest on the podcast Renegade Rules with Heather Shumaker and Jeff Johnson.  You can hear me on episodes  46 and 47.

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Following Each Path

Looking back on the preschoolers who graduated, it’s clear that each child is ready to take on Kindergarten head on.  They will continue their journey through school and life beyond the classroom.  Each one is ready for school, and I hope the schools are ready for them.  I don’t doubt the dedication of their new teachers or new schools.  My fear is that many schools offer too few paths for children to take on their learning journey.

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I look back at some of the leaps in knowledge the children took, and I can see how different the journey through my classroom was for each child.  Jack was obsessed with the Mario Brothers game.  Every day he would pretend to be Mario and his best friend, Trevor was always Luigi.  Jack and Trevor spent most of the time running around acting out the game.  The rest of the time Jack and Trevor were building Transformers with Mobilos.

One day Jack sat down with paper and markers and drew a picture.  He asked me to spell “Mario.”  Then he drew another picture and asked how to spell “Luigi.”  Soon he had me spelling Wario, Waluigi, Toad and Princess Peach.  Jack hadn’t really shown much of an interest in writing before, but after a few days he was spelling Mario by himself.

 

 

 

His friend Trevor had been writing for a few months.  Trevor would usually make a card for his mom after lunch.  He would write “mom,” “love,” and his own name.  He would also copy words from a “word book” (a book with pictures and captions showing how to spell the word).  He usually copied the names of foods he liked to eat.  One day he brought over a sheet of paper he had worked on.  He told me it was a new guideline for our classroom.  He had spelled the words himself.  It simply said, “Don’t bring a dog, bring a kid.”  He had drawn a dog with a circle and line through it.  Next to that was a grown up and child holding hands.

Yusef was interested in bringing the whole class over to his house.  He told me he knew the way to his house, and asked if he could take us over in the afternoon.   He drew a map.  He started to label the map.  He drew an H for hospital.  He asked me to spell basilica for him.  I knew that he lived in the suburbs at least 10 miles away, but I was interested in how far he could get us.  He led the class for a few blocks and then he had to stop.  He told me, “Let me look at the streets and let me look at my imagination.”  He thought for a minute or two and then directed us for a few more blocks, all the way to the freeway entrance.  It was farther than I expected.  He really was able visualize a map in his head.  I had to point out the sign that forbid pedestrians.  A few weeks later, he and his mom did invite the entire class over to the house on a Saturday.

Meanwhile Galadriel loved playing with her stuffed animals.  She often made cakes out of play dough for her animals.  She would put candles on the cake.  Sometimes, there was only one candle because the animal was her baby.  Other times there would be ten or more.  She would make birthday cards, copying words.  The parties usually involved two or three other children and their stuffed animals.

Jack, Trevor, Yusef and Galadriel all had their own experiences that fostered their learning.  I focused on some academic skills, but I could have focused on social skills or creativity as well.  I also could have talked about other children from the class.  They each had their own distinct path, but somehow all our individual paths would cross over, merge for a bit and then wander away again.

I am thankful that I was able to accompany each of the children on their paths for this short time.  I can’t wait to see where life takes them.  And I look forward to a new crop of kids to send me in new directions.

You Gotta Move

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I went to see Gill Connell last night speaking on how movement teaches the brain to think. Most of the talk was based on her book A Moving Child Is a Learning Child. I can’t recommend the book enough. Connell lays out child development in a way that is fairly easy to follow. Children are born with reflexes. When a child moves, these reflexes are relaxed and conscious movement takes over. For this to happen, movement skills start as processes that the child must think about. The child repeats these skills until finally they become automatic. Only after these movements are automatic can the brain focus on higher level thinking. In other words, one of the main things the brain focuses on as it begins to develop is movement. I would add the other major thing the brain focuses on is communication. Of course communication at this stage requires movement and (a lot of) crying.

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Connell’s message serves as a good warning to those who want to get preschoolers (or kindergartners) to sit down and

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learn. Sitting does not necessarily lead to learning for any age. Sitting does however lead to health risks. It’s ironic that as we learn more about how movement relates to brain development and learning, we are having young children sit for longer and longer periods of time.

 

 

 

 

The talk I was at was geared toward parents, and Connell focused a lot on how movement is important for literacy

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development, and specifically reading and writing. Afterwards I was thinking about how movement relates to communication in general. Children often play games that involve movement with a few people: games such as chase, climbing together, digging and playing in sand or mud, and, of course rough-and-tumble play. All of these games require speaking and listening skills, but also the reading of non-verbal cues. Children also have to trust each other to play with each other, especially games that could involve physical risk if the other child doesn’t respect their limits.

 

 

 

 

A teacher sitting crisscross applesauce

When children take the risk to trust others, they also build trust, and ultimately friendships. And friendships create a need to communicate. Some of that communication will be face-to-face, but it will also involve writing (notes, texts, emails, and social media posts). Movement build the skills to physically read and write (eye tracking, anchored body, tripod grasp of the pencil, dexterous thumbs for texting, and most importantly automatic movements so the brain can focus on higher level thinking). Movement also creates the bonds of friendship that builds the desire to read and write.

 

Connell describes this as a cycle: The more a child moves, the more the child knows: The more a child knows, the more the child wants to know: The more a child wants to know, the more the child wants to move. I would just add a concentric cycle: The more a child moves the more the child communicates: The more a child communicates, the more the child wants to communicate: The more a child wants to communicate, the more a child moves.

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A Plea for Child Readiness

all families matter
all families matter

The term “School Readiness” has always bothered me. As a preschool teacher, I am not just getting children ready for school or even for kindergarten. I am helping them learn to be life-long learners. I want them to enjoy school, of course. But I want them to enjoy the people they meet at school and enjoy the things they do after school just as much. I want each of them to be a well-rounded person who finds their own way of fitting in to the world and offering something to the communities they find themselves in.

 

A blog post of Teacher Tom’s http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2015/06/your-child-is-not-falling-behind.html

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made me see another reason to dislike the phrase “school readiness.” It is often a euphemism for literacy; more specifically reading and writing. Too often I see programs focusing on “school readiness” put so much emphasis on reading and writing that they ignore speaking and listening skills. They miss out on the power of pretending. It often seems to me that these programs think that if you teach preschoolers like they are first graders, they will learn first grade material. This includes the idea of having them sit for longer periods of time and discourage them from moving their bodies until Outside Time.

 

 

I do believe that people create these programs with good intentions. I am from Minnesota where African American students in fourth and eighth grades are more than three grade levels behind white students in math, and they are more than two grade levels behind whites in reading. This is usually referred to as “the achievement gap,” but Dan Gartrell points out that it should be called “the education gap.” The first phrase puts all the responsibility on the children, but the second phrase points out it is a shortcoming of our education system.

 

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I also want to acknowledge that there is no golden age of education when we didn’t have an education gap. Frankly public education over the past century is filled with so many achievements that the bar has been raised. 1940 was the first year that half of the 17 year olds in the US graduated High School. Public schools have continued to improve on these graduation rates. The education gap we are talking about has always existed, but now we consider it unacceptable.

The sad truth is that our schools have never served most African-Americans well. The push for school readiness is understandable, but the problem is that too many schools are built on the same school culture that has failed. If we want all children to be ready for school, we need schools that are ready for children.

Children need to be moving. It is what is best for them in all developmental domains, cognitive as well as physical, social and even literacy. More and more evidence shows the importance of movement for learning at all ages. Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that sitting for long periods of time is bad for people of all ages. In the UK, there was a recommendation that 2 hours of an 8 hour office workday should be spent not sitting. Too many young children don’t even get that much time to move around.

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Those of us in the education world have to take responsibility for the education gap. We need to find ways for kids to play more, to move more and to express themselves more. We need to address the needs and interests of the children in our schools and childcare programs. We need to think less about school readiness and think more about child readiness.

It’s on us.

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We Don’t Have to Wait

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We often think of preschool as getting children ready: ready to read, ready to do math, ready for school. We hope to set them on a path to be good citizens who care for others.
But I have been thinking about this past year and all the ways my preschool students have cared for others. They help each other when one classmate is sad or upset. They like to help the toddlers whenever they can. They also help others in the community. When a neighbor was having trouble with city inspectors over her garden, the children told her how important the garden was to them. They gave her drawings and showed her photos of the garden. She told them the pictures made her garden look magical and the children told her it was magical.
Last month, on our bi-weekly visit to an assisted living facility there were just a few Grand Friends. We greeted them and learned a few new names. Then we headed downstairs to see their gardens. We looked at the gardens for a while, and ran around the circle path. Then someone spotted one of the regular Grand Friends and shouted, “She’s here.” The Grand Friend wheeled over and told them she got to the activities room late, but she didn’t want to miss them. Most of the kids came over and greeted her before running around the path again.
On our way out, every child said, “Goodbye.” She smiled as they left. A few weeks later, she passed away. It was our final goodbye. The way she had come out to see the kids and the way she smiled, I realized how much the children meant to her and the way they rushed over to her, how much she meant to them. We don’t have to wait to be good citizens who care for others. They already are.
A new study came out that showed that children perceive that their parents care more about grades and athletic accomplishments than they do about their children being kind to others (which actions do you think most parents celebrate the most?). As preschool children grow, there will be many accomplishments to be proud of, some of them academic, some of them athletic, but the children will never learn or experience anything more important than bringing others joy and helping others.

Emotional Learning

As a preschool teacher, I often have to help children who are missing mom or dad or other parental figure.  It’s a bittersweet situation because it is healthy for kids to miss a loved one.  After all, they love them and want to be with them.

When a child is sad, there are many ways a teacher can handle the situation.  But any method that helps the child grow and learn how to appropriately manage emotions has a few things in common.

First, a teacher can acknowledge the emotion without judgment.  “You’re sad.”  If you know, acknowledge the reason for being sad.  “You miss your mom.”  You can always do these two things while leaving room for being wrong.  “You look sad.”  “Are you missing your mom?”  This way the child can correct you if you are incorrect.

After a teacher acknowledges the emotion, the provider needs to be there for the child.  Sometimes that means sitting with the child while they work through the emotion.  Sometimes it means reassuring them.  “Mom will be back after snack time.”  “I bet mom misses you, too.”  Sometimes it means offering to do what mom would do.  “Does your mom like to read to you?  Maybe I could read to you.”  Sometimes it means giving them some power or control over the situation.  “Would you like to draw a picture for her, or write her a letter.”  Sometimes a child will ask to be left alone, and a teacher must respect the child’s wishes, but they can still let the child know they are there for them.  “OK.  If you need me, I’ll be reading a book with some other kids.”

When a child misses a loved one, it is a learning opportunity, and responsive care is the same whether a child is learning how to express and manage emotions or learning how to write words.  You are there for the child, you support their efforts, you reassure them when they are frustrated, and you help them reach a place they didn’t know they could.