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!

Parents need to know that distance learning does not define their worth as a parent.

Take heart…and then take these few simple actions that can smooth the journey.

Distance learning programs designed to bring school curriculums online and into households have been launched by schools all over the globe these past few weeks. For some parents, this may be exciting – a dream come true! For others, it might feel like a challenge from an episode of Fear Factor, or perhaps as though you are being forced to take the stage in a performance for which you did not audition. Gulp!

But, here’s what I want to say to parents – take a deep breath and know that nobody is going to judge you by how well you do – or don’t do – distance learning.

This past weekend I read an article by Dr. Laura Markham, on her website Aha! Parenting.com, about the uncomfortable feeling that some parents may have as they prepare to support their child’s education from home. Several key ideas in her blog resonated with me. However, one point really stood out to me: The situation we are in right now is NOT homeschooling…

Homeschooling is something parents intentionally choose to do. Rather, this is taking on schoolwork in our homes because of mandated shelter-in-place orders and parents should know – they are not in this alone – we are all in this together. As parents and teachers, we are going to find ourselves partnering in new and innovative ways as we transition our teaching and student learning into your home environments – hopefully as seamlessly as possible. At BCD, we believe that the experience of preschool is a valuable tool in the development of children and as such schools should be committed to providing this crucial component of learning and socialization during these tough times to the best of their abilities.

We believe parents need to know that distance learning does not determine their value as a parent. We need to let parents know that we are here for them and that we will support them along the way to ensure they don’t feel overwhelmed. And to that end, we need to offer them tools. Ways that they can set themselves and their children up for success. Below is a list of action items that parents can use to make this period of ‘distance learning’ run smoother. Note, I share some key points here from Dr. Markham’s article as well as some of my own advice.

  • Make the school’s schedule your new best friend. If the schedule they sent doesn’t work for you, make one that does and use it. A schedule will save your sanity and will help prevent every minute of the day from becoming an invitation to a power struggle with your child.
  • Preview any learning activities you can and decide what you can reasonably accomplish. The good news is, if your school is being mindful of children’s needs, as well as the time and energy required of parents, then the schoolwork your school created for your child probably won’t take long. Let your school know what is working and what is not through whatever feedback forum they provided.
  • For Preschoolers, reassure your child that nobody is at school. Your child may not understand what is happening and why they’re not at school. I created a short YouTube video for the families at my school in which I take them on a tour around our preschool building and show them that, really, no one is at school. Ask your student’s teacher if they might be able to provide a message similar to this and I bet they will happily oblige.
  • If you can only do one thing with your preschool child, READ. Research shows that absolute number one thing we can do for our children is to read and model reading. Doing so helps to nurture their love of reading and helps to ensure that they grow up to be a reader – not just someone who knows how to read.
  • Expect emotional development to be on the agenda. We’re all struggling in our own ways right now, and your child is no exception. According to Dr. Markham, some children show this by misbehaving. Others are surly or torment their siblings. You probably have less patience than usual, but your child needs your help to work through emotions they may not be able to articulate. Remind yourself that your child is trying to cope with this unprecedented time, just like you are. Schools understand this and should be making it a high priority within their lesson programming.
  • Give yourself a break and remember to practice self-care. Think of the safety instructions flight attendants give before take-off and put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Be sure to take care of your own needs so that you can better attend to your child’s.
  • You don’t have to be Mary Poppins and you don’t have to suddenly be a model teacher. Resist the urge to compare yourself (or your child) to others. This is new for all of us. It’s not going to be perfect. Focus on keeping things simple and fun as you settle into your new distance learning routines and platforms.

Finally, I cannot resist sharing this Seuss-inspired distance learning poem I found on the internet (source unknown.) I think it really sums up the message the teachers of the world want parents to know right now:

“I will teach you in a room, I will teach you using Zoom, I will teach you while I’m in my house, I will teach you with my mouse, I will teach you here or there, I will teach you because I care…”

With gratitude and support,

Kath Courter, Head of Preschool at BCD

More on BCD’s Distance Learning program

More on BCD’s Preschool program

More on BCD’s Elementary program

More on BCD’s Middle School program

Start the Momentum Early – Why invest in a PS-8 education?

For several years running, usually around the time reenrollment contracts are due, parents have asked me about investing in PS – 8 education. “College is so expensive,” they say, “Shouldn’t we save our resources when our children are younger so that we can afford to send them to the college of their choice?” 
 

My usual answer is that investing in children during their formative, younger years pays dividends down the road. Even still, as the cost of college education continues to rise, I remain firm in my conviction that an investment in the primary years is what best sets students up for success in later life.

When it comes to raising confident and competent children, the importance of investing in a high-quality education when children are young is critical. This makes sense if you think about the rapid pace at which students learn when they are younger. From language development in toddlers to critical thinking in elementary to navigating the social context of middle school, our kids need exceptional school environments to help them navigate what is becoming an increasingly complex world.

Researchers have been looking at this questions for many years now, and there are at least four key reasons to make this investment.

Literacy – Literacy serves as the springboard for education, and students who attend schools that focus on early literacy have an advantage over those who do not. A study run by the American Educational Research Association, investigated the impact of early education by tracking nearly 3,000 students from preschool through their 11th birthday. In short, the research determined that a student who cannot read at grade level by third grade becomes four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than students who are meeting standards.

Brain Development – Human brains grow more during the first five years of life than any other development period, with the first three serving as a mold for the organ’s architecture. Experiences during these formative years determine the brain’s organizational development for the remainder of life. Consequently, these years impact academic abilities, social-emotional skills, and executive functioning.

Young brains are also “plastic” brains. That is, they have the ability to change, or find new neural pathways, much more easily than older brains. The earlier we can nurture and develop those pathways, including an openness to new ones, the more easily brains can adapt to future opportunities.

Natural Explorers – Children in primary school are natural detectives, journalists and mad scientists. They love to explore and take in new material. They are also at the prime season of their life for absorbing information. Schools that use their resources to provide a broad-based, but balanced, curriculum have an advantage over those that do not. For example, early exposure to world languages, the arts, and STEM classes increase intellectual development. Furthermore, a diverse and rich curriculum increases the opportunities our children have to develop the ability to make cross-curricular connections and devise wide-ranging solutions.

Social-Emotional Growth – Academic and social-emotional growth are not mutually exclusive at any point in education, but they are most connected during elementary and middle school. Skills developed through practice, such as self-regulation and social interaction, have positive effects that are evident throughout an entire lifetime. Furthermore, developing a sense of empathy and understanding is critically important at younger ages. This is especially true in today’s world as cooperation and collaboration are rising to the top among skills critical for the workplace.  

BCD invests heavily in all of the above. We use a “flooding” model for literacy instruction, staffing each grade in K – 3 with four specialists from our Learning Center for 30 minutes each day. This intensive model lowers our student-teacher ratio and allows our students to receive more personalized instruction than they would get from their homeroom teacher.

We provide a broad-based and balanced curriculum to engage young brains and to expose them to multiple pathways of learning. Preschoolers start world language classes when they are three years-old, elementary and middle schoolers benefit from diverse curriculum taught by subject areas specialists in the Arts, STEM, technology, world languages, PE, and library. And, middle schoolers engage and participate in our Explore program, a series of electives designed to expose them to a rich array of topics and subjects that more closely resembles a college course catalog than middle school.

Finally, we teach social emotional skills through our Responsive Classroom and DDMS curriculum. As Preschool Head Kath Courter likes to say, “Pushing over a block tower at age five is kind of like annoying a colleague at the copier much later in life.” Teaching these skills and creating an emotionally safe and welcoming environment within which to learn them only adds to the education our children receive.

Simply put, investing “early and often” in a PS – 8th grade education is good policy and better practice.  Students that receive the benefit of that investment outperform their peers, are better prepared for high school and beyond, and have a stronger and more developed sense of self. In addition, they build on the skills and habits they develop at a young age and are more likely to succeed in a college or university environment when the time comes.

Read about BCD’s Preschool program.

Read about BCD’s Elementary program.

Read about BCD’s Middle School program.

Schedule a tour to see what makes BCD so special.

Register for our August 11, 2020 Virtual Open House at 4pm

Where Do You Start Your Letters? Using music to enhance memory and learning

Learning is often enhanced when it is connected to music and in preschool, we have songs for just about everything…  The days of the week, the months of the year, foreign language vocabulary, colors, shapes, letters, math – you name it – we sing it.

Many of us remember the catchy tunes that were part of the Schoolhouse Rock collection that debuted in the 1970s. The learning focused music cartoons were interspersed between Saturday morning shows for a couple of decades. I’m sure that the lyrics to title such as Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function?, or I’m Just a Bill can roll off your tongue without much prompting. Those tunes were a valuable tool to me when I was young, and as a parent, I find myself circling back to the genius of the Multiplication Rock when helping Gus with math.

As early childhood educators, we spend a lot of time our time utilizing the power of music as a tool for neuro-activation. Research indicates that 80% of a person’s brain is formed by age 4. PAUSE. For a minute. Let that sink in. 80% — by age 4! With this in mind, we do everything we can to ensure that songs are an integral part of our teaching. We love the collection of songs from Learning Without Tears. They have a whole line-up of catchy tunes that help children to remember things such as: Where Do You Start Your Letters?, Mat Man, and Magic C.

So, what is the link between music and memory? According to Melissa Yoon, music helps us remember things better because of a process called chunking – the combining of individual pieces of information into larger units – or chunks. Our short-term memory generally holds about seven units of information at a time and if we combine that information into chunks, then we can take in and recall larger amounts of information. Yoon goes on to explain that music works in partnership with chunking by linking words and phrases in a tune. The melody and rhythm act as a framework that we can attach the text to, making it easier to recall later. In this way, the musical structures enhance our ability to learn and retrieve the text of the song. The alphabet song is a great example of chunking in music. Without the song, young children might learn the 26 letters of the alphabet as 26 separate units of information, which is a lot to remember. The song makes it easier for the alphabet to stick.

With all this in mind, we have songs for just about everything:

· The preschool students study both French and Spanish. Two of our favorite world language songs are Bonjour and Adios, Mis Amigos.

· A foundation of our preschool program is language arts and literacy. We believe in the importance of exposing children to letter recognition, letter/sound relationships, and the beginnings of phonemic awareness. The children also begin learning writing strokes. Of course, we love alphabet songs and, the Learning Without Tears song, Where do you start your letters?

· Our study of geometry and shape recognition is supported as we sing about shapes and beginning addition and subtraction concepts as we sing songs such as favorite is Five Green Speckled Frogs.

· One of the most important parts of being in preschool is learning to navigate the social world. With that in mind, we talk a lot about what it means to be a friend and love to sing songs about friendship and caring actions.

To this day, every time I see people ice skating, the tune and lyrics to the Multiplication Rock song for number 8 come immediately to mind. The last time I saw that on TV was probably 1979 and it’s still ingrained in my memory. I hope that you have similar musical connections and that your child is singing to you about what they are learning. Afterall, preschool is a joyful place! 

Where do you start your letters?