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Posted by on in What If?

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There is a major focus on pushing young children to learn academics at earlier ages. Of course this is all well intentioned. Everyone's goal is for children to be successful in school and in life. But, if this is the focus and desire for children, it is essential that the knowledge that science is providing for us is used for the base of the experiences children are having every day.

Previous to technical advances, scientists were not able to study active brains. Early childhood education was based on behavioral studies and theories. Scientific evidence has now been available for many years and should be making a remarkable difference for all children. However, for some reason this is not always the case.

When you ask a child what is it that they want to do most, is the common answer, “I want to do lots of worksheets.”? No, what children express is their desire to play!  Children are born ready to learn. They naturally want to explore, move and figure out what they can do and what this world is all about. This happens through play. And play is exactly what a developing brain needs. Play contributes greatly to the all important development of better math, language, problem-solving and social skills. Evidence also shows that play is very effective for the reduction of the effects of stress on the brain.

Through “hands on” experiences young children are learning about their environment and how things work. Just think about how everything is new to them. They need to use all of their senses and try things out in various ways. Through play children find out that they can make things happen and they have an effect on their world.

You will also commonly see children do the same actions repeatedly. Through repetition the brain verifies that what it is experiencing is true and creates strong pathways for functioning in life.

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Posted by on in School Culture

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Spring is a time for rebirth and new beginnings. As we pull the weeds of winter, we reflect on our learning successes, assess, plan and hope for the next year. Gardens are a grand way to teach children sequence of life, planting, tending and watching that garden grow, just like learning. Tending the garden of the heart.

Teaching is cyclic and routines offer us continuity. We share our rituals and routines with the children in our care, offering much needed stability and a gentle kind of love and nurturing wherever it's needed. And that's pretty much everywhere, one child at a time, for various reasons.

I love class or morning meetings, circles or whatever name you use. The time is well spent. Even five minutes sets the tone for the day, with a quick review of prior learning (especially helpful to an absentee) and transition to the next activity. This is time worth spending. More than time on task, definitely engaged. Engaged in emotional safety and sense of class belonging and visibility. Tending the garden of the heart.

Lately I've seen some really cool school gardens. When I was Principal, a garden was already at the school, a good beginning. We added a wildlife compound and accomplished many project based learning activities, at the time not putting a name to it.

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Posted by on in What If?

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This is the last installment in the “Breaking Sticks” series inspired by my 2 year old son Adam.

“Artists are people who strip habit away and return life to its deserved glory” - Marcel Proust

All children are artists. They get excited by simple things. Whether playing with sticks, jumping on the bed, or engaging in some other “silly” activity they let go of all inhibitions and create magic. They do this, because they are not spoiled by societal norms that delineate “acceptable” behavior and what is deemed “age-appropriate.”

Why is “Forrest Gump” such an incredible and touching movie? I believe it is because it tells a story of how someone “stupid” was able to live an amazing life. What if we allow ourselves to look at Forrest’s life from a different perspective? Maybe he was actually smarter than all of us? He lived and did not apologize for how he lived. He experienced life as it came, not limited by subjective norms and habits of others. Forever, he remained a child and not just achieved, but in fact lived what eludes so many as they look for it endlessly - happiness.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

MessyPlay

I was at the park this afternoon with my neighbor’s four year old granddaughter, Abby. My own grandchildren are in Denver, so I often borrow some to enjoy! It had rained and everything was pretty soaked. But, it was only a short walk and we cut through the grass. “I like the sound my feet make,” Abby said. “Squidgy, squidgy, squidgy!”

The play equipment was wet and there were many puddles. But, we wore our rubber boots and nylon jackets and had dry clothes waiting at home.

Although the sun had reappeared, only a few children were there, so very little waiting for turns at an otherwise busy playground. We splashed in every puddle and went down all five slides, with wet bottoms to prove it. Abby giggled as she glided over the pockets of pooled water on the wavy slide.

We went over to the swings to dry off some, when a blue Jeep pulled up and parked. Mom and Dad got out and unbuckled their little boy from his booster seat. Full of excitement and anticipation, he just wiggled all over. Dad held his hand as he stepped out of the car. It was then I noticed he was wearing a white sweat suit and white sneakers. I let out an audible exhale and anxiously waited to see what was about to unfold.

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Posted by on in School Culture

Do you ever feel as a leader that what you are doing just isn't good enough, that if you only could do more then it would all be better. There are days you question your calling and wonder if you have it in you to continue. It is in those moments that great reflection and clarity can reaffirm your passion and purpose. Wherever you are in your journey consider the following...

Embrace the Mess 

The moment we start falling in love with our content or a token issue we lose sight of what matters most. Our job isn't about teaching curriculum, but rather reaching students. I like what Michelle Forman, a former national teacher of the year, has to say, "learning and teaching is messy stuff, it doesn't fit into bubbles." Many of us are on high need campuses where our students look to us to provide for them well beyond the required curriculum. Daily I encounter students who feel school is the safest place they can be. Face it, our kids and families often come from challenging situations. As leaders, we must accept people as they come, not as we want them to be. People grow when they are loved. It's in the mess that the real learning happens. Reaching the whole child or family requires that we position ourselves to see life not through our content or instructional expertise but simply as a human being. 

We must fight a tendency to treat others as some kind of impersonal "stakeholder" or "customer." These kind of words at their worst allow us to serve people from a distance, rather than up close and personal. Some might accuse our profession of caring too much. When did this become a problem? The anxiety level of many teachers is at an all-time high because we realize the stakes are so high to be so much to so many who need us. You just need to remember that it isn't your job to fix kids or people, just love them through it. 

Elevate The Conversation 

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