Perspectacles – A Critical Lens for Distance Learning

Earlier this week I went to the grocery store near my home. The isles had shifted to one-way traffic patterns and the floor was marked with red arrows and landing pads indicating where I could and could not stand. At the cashier, the woman standing in front of me was complaining openly about the situation, her inconvenience and general dissatisfaction. As I listened, I realized that I was feeling similar emotions… Why were the Cheerios I wanted not in stock??

Reflecting back at home, I realized I needed “perspectacles.” The Urban Dictionary defines perspectacles as a magical glass that somehow gives you the power of perspective. It is also a movement that has been used in schools and other organizations around the country to talk about empathy, perspective, leadership, and compassion.

A few years ago, I tuned in to the writing of Glennon Doyle and her often viral blogposts. In 2014, Glennon wrote a post about her gratitude for everyday things in her home. With COVID-19 as a reality check, Glennon as my inspiration, and perspectacles on, I share with you some of the things for which I am grateful.

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I have pantry shelves that are stocked with food. It’s like a mini-market – in my house.

I have toilet paper. Think about that… Paper that we – flush – down toilets. Granted, my household supply is limited, and we are rationing squares, but I live in a place where soft, two-ply tissue with ripples for cleaning one’s backside is a norm. It’s a luxury that until recently I allowed to freely flow off my wall-mounted dispenser.

I have CLEAN water that I can drink straight from the tap without fear of getting sick. Not only can I get water from my sinks, but I also have a couple of show and two outdoor spickets. In addition, I have electricity. There are switches all over the inside of my house that I can turn on any time I want – day or night.

This one deserves a moment of silence…

I have a COFFEE POT. I put a little capsule into this magic machine, push a button and, shazam, a hot cup of liquid energy pours out on demand. I can do this as many times as I want – every day.

Thank the lord for coffee.

I have internet and my son’s teachers are delivering his BCD education right to our kitchen table. His middle school teachers, just like your child’s preschool teachers, are pouring their hearts and souls into making sure that he feels supported while also navigating the challenge of teaching children on giant conference calls.

With my perspectacles on, I see that by connecting on Zoom and checking in via phone and email, his teachers are emphasizing the parts of education that I consider most important:

  • He’s learning to be flexible and adapt to new things.
  • He’s learning to show up for people – even when it’s not easy.
  • He’s learning that his teachers care and are there with him – even at our kitchen table.
  • He’s learning how people at school and in communities around the world can work together and support each other in new and innovative ways.

I hope that you will wear your perspectacles as you consider the heartfelt energy our preschool teachers are putting into supporting your child and family. They are working tirelessly to think of creative ways to bring the magic of our classrooms into your homes.

Listen to Me!

Over the last week, I spent some time thinking about the skill of listening and revisiting Mary Renck Jalongo’s book, Learning to Listen and Listening to Learn. In her book, Jalongo poignantly describes how listening is a skill that is commonly misunderstood and hard to define because it often has different meanings to different people. To emphasize this point, Jalongo shares the following examples: If a teacher says to a child, “You’re not listening,” it often means, “You’re not thinking along with me.” If a parent says the same thing to a child, it usually means, “You’re not doing as I say.”

Learning to listen may seem pretty simple, but actually, it’s not. Consider this… When learning to listen and the skill of listening to learn, children must practice effective listening – meaning they must be able to:

  • Take in both verbal and non-verbal messages,
  • Attend and keep our attention focused completely on the message, and
  • Interpret or understand the message.

In addition, they must also be able to filter out distractions, process information, ask relevant questions, and formulate connections. Yowzah!

Now, consider this paradox… Listening is the skill most often used – but least often taught. With this in mind, we believe that learning to use effective listening must be intentionally taught.

In preschool, we teach effective listening skills by practicing “Whole Body Listening” using the descriptive language listed below:

Eyes = look at the person talking to you

Ears = both ears ready to hear

Mouth = quiet – not talking, humming, or making sounds

Hands = quiet in laps, pockets, or by your sides

Feet = quiet on the floor

Body = faces the speaker

Brain = thinking about what is being said

Heart = caring about what the other person is saying

Right about now, some of you are probably wondering – Okay, that’s great. But really…

How do we teach effective listening skills and what can I do at home? Below are some tips and strategies that we recommend:

  • Encourage listening by varying the volume of your voice. Sometimes, children listen best when we whisper.
  • When reading aloud, pause at strategic times to check for understanding by asking who, what, where, or why questions.
  • Be aware of background noise and interruptions.
  • Don’t start talking until your child is showing you “Whole Body Listening.”
  • Keep directions short and use simple, sequential steps.
  • Talk slowly enough to give children time to process information.
  • Ensure children know WHY what you are telling them is important (keep it short).
  • Balance questions that have one right answer with open ended questions that can be answered in a variety of ways.
  • Provide fun opportunities to practice listening. Talk on the phone, listen to children’s podcast, play an audio book.
  • Practice giving your child times of undivided attention. Turn the TV and/or your phone ringer off.
  • Model active listening yourself and characteristics of “Whole Body Listening.”

What To Do When The “Force” is NOT With You – Intentional Teaching and Understanding Children’s Play

How The Batman Brigade Changed My Understanding of Play

Let me set the scene… Three preschool age children are tearing around the room using quick zig-zag motions – climbing on tables, jumping off chairs, darting out of sight. They’re wearing capes that they fashioned for themselves by ripping open pink skirts commandeered from a box of dress-up clothes. Locked and loaded with Lego guns, they’re on a relentless hunt for bad guys. In their minds, they are saving the world. In reality, they’re terrorizing my classroom and destroying my confidence as a teacher.

This was a “Calgon, take me away!” moment… And, the children had me questioning if I was cut out to be a teacher. They pushed me to the edge and I almost threw in the towel – until I decided to join their forces. I needed to better understand what was driving their need for this type of play. Why was it so attractive?

Let’s dig into that scene a bit more… It’s 1995. We’re in a US Department of Defense school in a small town in southern Germany. The children in my class have parents who are either members of the US Armed forces or diplomats from former Eastern-Block countries. Together, the class speaks 13 different languages. And, just a few hundred kilometers away, the Bosnian War is going strong. The children are communicating with each other through play to process their emotions, try on different roles and grasp a better understanding of what is going on in the world around them.

Once I better understood their need, the WHY that was controlling their inner Batman, I was able to support their need for exploring war play.

War play, perhaps more than another other type of activity, is super attractive to children. It helps them to feel strong and in control – “masters of their own universe” – as they plan for and carry out attacks. According to Nancy Carlsson and Diane Levin in their book, Who’s Calling the Shots, war play fits nicely into how children think. They typically group things into simple one-dimensional categories such as good vs. bad or sick vs. healthy. You can be one or the other – but not both. War play provides children with opportunities to feel a sense of power as they experiment with their thoughts and feelings within these categories. We typically see an uptick in this type of play when children are experiencing a difficult event, such as divorce, a sick parent, or in the case of 1995, a nearby conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic now joins the list of catalysts.

The Atlantic recently published an article about how the coronavirus is influencing children’s play. In the article, Kate Cray writes that “Play is children’s language. They act out pretend scenarios to express concerns, ask questions, and, crucially, reshape a narrative. During pretend play, children are driving the plot and can change the outcome of a scary situation or try out different solutions to a problem.” With these needs in mind, Cray goes on to reassure parents that they should not discourage this type of play. Children need outlets for processing emotions, coping with worries and fears and practicing creative problem-solving skills. While many parents would agree that this is all well and good, many of you wonder – what you can do to support your child’s play as they process emotions?

Below are some strategies suggested by Carlsson and Levin:

  • Get to know the scene. What are the themes or storylines in your child’s play (good vs. bad, sickness, family dynamics)? Who are the main characters? What are they talking about? What are the problems that they are solving? What strategies are being used to solve problems? How much time is devoted to the various themes? Is your child inventing scenarios or situations or are they imitating something they experienced personally or saw on television? When observing the scene, think about strategies you might use when joining a conversation cluster at a cocktail party… Most of us will listen in for a while to determine what people are talking about before contributing to the conversation so that we don’t take it over. Follow this same etiquette with your child.
  • Once you understand what’s happening in your child’s play, try to participate without taking over. The power in pretend play is the feeling of control and adults need to make sure that we don’t interfere. One way to ensure that you don’t take over is to limit your language to making comments that describe what is happening such as, “I see that your dog is sick and that you’re rushing him to the emergency room.” Or, “I hear you talking about using your superpowers to kill the bad guys.” Another strategy is to use open-ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with yes/no or a response that is right or wrong). For example, “What do you think you can do to help your dog feel better?” Or, “How do your superpowers help you to fight the bad guys?”
  • Try to learn about the needs being worked on in play. Does your child’s play focus on being powerful and strong? Are fears or insecurities such as getting lost, dying, or monsters surfacing? If so, try to find a quiet moment to talk with your child. Reassure your child without belittling their feelings or making promises that everything will be okay. You can also read books aloud to your child that cover similar topics. I really like the book, Kate’s Giants. The message in this story is, “If you can think it in, then you can think it out. Just take a deep breath before you think.” Honestly, we could all benefit that advice right now…
  • During times when the world is unsettled, look for simple ways to help your child feel a sense of empowerment and control. Provide opportunities for your child to make limited choices within a non-negotiable decision that is already made. For example, you can say, “It’s time for lunch. (non-negotiable) Would you like to have peanut butter and jelly or egg salad?” (choice point) Or, “It’s time to get dressed. (non-negotiable) Would you like your red shirt or your green shirt? (choice point) Experiencing an ability to make meaningful choices will help your child feel in control of their world.

Some of you may be thinking “you know, I think my kids are battling each other with those makeshift swords simply because it’s fun” and in many ways that could be very true. Its fast pace, level of activity and accompanying sound-effects (Ka-POW!) are appealing. But there are often subtle (or not so subtle) feelings behind the play themes your children choose. Be observant, show interest and look or any patterns that may indicate that you child could use a bit of extra emotional support.

If you are noticing changes in your child’s play and would like to connect, please feel free to reach out to me. In addition, if you sense that your child is struggling or acting out, you are always welcome to contact Sterling Kranjcec, BCD’s school counselor at skranjcec@bouldercountryday.org.

We’re here for you!