3

Through a Child’s Eyes… It Was the Best Day Ever

IMG_0644As a parent of twin four-year-olds and a principal of an elementary school, there are times when I look back with disappointment in the way I responded impatiently or somewhat disrespectfully to my kids and/or students. As I lay calmly in bed later at night, I think, “why did I respond like that? It really wasn’t a big deal, but I made it into a big deal simply due to frustration. Why can’t be better at…”

We can be so critical of ourselves. I see my wife at home as well as some staff members at school who are often very hard on themselves when reflecting on their day spent with kids. It is so easy for us to see the negatives… to see all that went wrong in a day. I am not saying it isn’t important to look back with a critical eye but far too often the negatives become the focus.

I recall observing a teacher do a fantastic science lesson that had students moving, engaging with others, reflecting, and creating. Kids loved it! When I asked the teacher how she thought it went, she listed off all the things that went wrong in her mind. That is far from what I saw. What we see depends on what we look for. If we look for the positives and strengths, we will find them; unfortunately, we too often look for all the problems. We need to see both but we also need to do a better job of seeing the strengths.

A few months ago, I was away for a few days and I texted my wife and asked how the day was. She said that our girls had a really rough day filled with meltdowns, tears, fights, and frustration. I felt for her as I can only imagine how hard it is for my wife to run her business and look after twin preschoolers by herself… especially during a day full of meltdowns and tears. The interesting thing was that when I Facetimed my girls at bedtime, it was a very different story of the day.  They eagerly told me they went for a bike ride, they swam, they baked cookies, they read stories… and they told me it was “The Best. Day. Ever!!!”.

Simple moments that we may take for granted can be important memories for our kids. I need to remind myself to take the time to look back with a more positive lens so we, as adults, can also smile at these moments. We know we will look back years from now and smile… the challenge is to do this now.

Teaching is incredibly difficult. Parenting is incredibly difficult. But these are the best “jobs” in the world… because, as teachers and parents, we have the power and the opportunity to possibly make a child’s day “the best day ever”.

To all the educators and parents/families out there, have a wonderful school year and here’s to making many days the “best day ever”.

Thank you to our Superintendent, Suzanne Hoffman, for reminding me of this by showing the following film at our summer admin meeting. Take 4 minutes and watch this powerful short film, “To A Child, Love is Spelled T-I-M-E“. #grabthekleenex

33

Let’s Rethink “Kindergarten Readiness”

A great family moment. Skating together on their own for the first time.

A great family moment. Skating together on their own for the first time.

Considering it is kindergarten registration at our school next week, I wanted to share my personal thoughts.

I have never taught kindergarten nor have I ever run a preschool program.  I have been an elementary educator for 8 years and am now a father of two wonderful girls that so many people think we should be getting them ready for kindergarten.  I read so much from childcare “experts” that push parents to get their kids “kindergarten ready” and this often focuses on skills like letter recognition, counting, colouring, sitting still, etc.  Preschools and daycare centres market themselves as the “best places to get your child ready for kindergarten”.  Parents feel the need to give their kids the edge by getting their children into the “best preschools”.  (I LOVE the preschool our kids go to… not because they are focused on academics but because they love and care for our kids and give them an opportunity to be happy learning and exploring with others – and to be clear, I don’t blame preschools for marketing themselves – they are a small business and often must do what the market demands).

When did we “realize” that pushing children to learn outside the home at a young age best prepared them for kindergarten? I have yet to meet a kindergarten teacher (and I have had the privilege of meeting some amazing ones) that says to a parent that their child should have this ideal list of skills prior to entering kindergarten.  Yet, so many articles say “kindergarten teachers all want…”.  What message does this send to parents if we say a child should know how to print and spell their name and their child comes to school not knowing how to do this?  “Thank you for bringing your child to our school… but she cannot print her name so you have failed as a parent to get your child ready for kindergarten.”  We would never say this but how many parents feel this? How many parents are so stressed out to get their child ready for kindergarten that they miss out on the wonderful moments of love, exploration, curiosity, and play?

A kindergarten teacher said to me, “The only thing I ask of parents is that they give their child all the love and care they can provide… I will teach them once they arrive. It is up to me to be ready for your child”.  Of course we want to encourage read alouds, exploration, outdoor play and so many other joyous parts of being a parent; however, we don’t need (as parents) to feel pressured to sit at the table going through a kindergarten readiness workbook trying to ensure our kids learn how to sit still and do worksheets so they have a better chance of “graduating” from kindergarten.

As a parent, I have been blown away by the constant comparatives of our children – percentile scores, toilet training (some call it the real life “pissing contest”) and other quests to achieve milestones earlier than the “norm” (who’s Norm?).  Parents are constantly inundated with marketing ploys and information to give their child the “edge”.  I get it – we want our kids to be successful.  I also know that there is such strength in parent/family attachment.  I worry that the pressure to give kids an edge actually affects parent attachment in our kids.  Through pressure to get kids involved and schedule them in activities so much, we actually encourage attachment to someone else and take time away from family time… time which we will never get back.  I am not saying we don’t get our kids involved in activities they enjoy; I am saying let’s do this for the right reasons.

The current reality for many of our families is that both parents work.  This makes time with family that much more important.  I never want to tell parents what to do but I feel that we need to relax a bit and stop worrying so much about giving our kids an edge and preparing them for kindergarten.  Education is a life-long journey and the years of parenting kids seems to fly by at an incredible rate.  Let’s give parents a break from the stress of always being told what to do to be the “best parent”.  Let’s stop forcing families to constantly compare the development of their “baby” to some arbitrary “ideal” academic standard for preschool aged children.  Let’s rethink the pressure of things like “kindergarten readiness” and instead promote ways that families can spend more time together playing, reading, imagining, exploring, and living in that moment… because we all know how quickly these moments pass.

I would love your thoughts on this… as I am still trying to figure things out for myself as an educator and a parent.

A plug for my friend Scott Bedley who, along with his brother Tim, have created an opportunity to start a conversation around the importance of play.  February 4th is Global School Play Day and this is a great kick off to encourage schools and families to embrace the joys of creativity, exploration, friendships, and learning.  It is a reminder to put down the devices, put aside the schedules and be in the moment.

 

9

Taking a Moment to Stop and Play in the Puddles

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Always important to take a break and play in the puddles.

As parents and educators, we often grow frustrated by children’s lack of focus and how easily they become distracted. Sometimes, though, they can teach us to focus less on the end point and notice the wonders of the journey along the way.

The other day my wife and I went for a run so we packed the kids up in the stroller and drove to one of our beautiful nearby parks. Being parents of twins, sleep and mealtime routines keep our girls happier and my wife and I more sane. We promised the girls after our run, they would have some bike riding time so they could have fun and burn off some energy. Because of some “potty struggles” with one of my daughters, their bike ride time decreased so when they both finally got on their bikes, I was strongly encouraging them to ride around. No less than five minutes into bike ride time, they both hopped off their bikes and ran to investigate some small puddles (photo above). My first response was, “C’mon girls, we only have a few minutes… Keep biking”. Of course, being 2 year-olds, they chose not to listen and began to jump and play in the puddles… Enjoying the moment. At that point, following some toddler giggles that can make anyone smile, they again taught me something – stop, and enjoy the moments; be wide-awake to all that nature and childhood can share. For me, it was about burning energy… To my girls, it was about the first puddle they had seen in over a month… It was about the joy in jumping In water… It was about the sensation of picking up mud in your hands and letting it slide through your fingers.. It was about play and wonder.

We often get caught up in getting to the next event or achieving the next goal in our lives and filling our statements with phrases like “hurry up” or “come on, let’s go”. We sometimes grow agitated when our students and children continually get distracted by sights and sounds (often new to them) outside of what we are trying to accomplish. Sometimes, however, we need to realize that the journey is not solely about us and we need take our kids’ lead by taking moments to enjoy the wonders and curiosities in our journeys… and stop and play in the puddles.

For me it was a good reminder that although routines are important to our family, they are nothing compared to the small moments we will always remember. Sometimes it takes a couple of 2 year-olds to teach me to embrace the journey… Wherever that leads.

8

A Priority of Family Instead of Medications

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by stephanski: http://flickr.com/photos/stephanski/6749689975/

This post stems from a personal experience and is NOT a criticism of parenting but merely a way to express my concern for the structural and societal pressures many North American parents face.  Medications are a necessity for some children and this is not meant to be the focus of this conversation.  As a society, I believe we need to better support families so there are less pressures to spend time away from our kids.  By supporting parents better as a North American society, I wonder what impact that would have on our kids?

I recently read an article from Psychology Today, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD” , and I found myself nodding my head in agreement at the start and then becoming frustrated as I continued to read.  In the article, the author states that 9%* of school aged children are diagnosed with (and medicated for) ADHD while in France, this number is 0.5%. I appreciated the section that focused on societal issues that stated,

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context.

Although there are health disorders and disabilities that are very real and require significant medical support (as well as support and care for families), I often think that the culture and structures of North American society leads to a variety of disorders in our children. I was thinking that this article might support my thoughts and answer some questions.  The author briefly mentioned that parents and society play a key role in child development by providing key structures (ie. meal times).  Then, it took a concerning turn that aligned with much of the dialogue that occurs in schools and households in North America when it stated,

French parents let their babies “cry it out” if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months…  But French parents have a different philosophy of disciplinine. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.

I think the article missed the key point here.  When family time is a priority, we see less children experiencing difficulties. Structure is important but it is not about spanking nor is it about “crying it out” methods.

In our North American society, with a high cost of living and little support, parents often are both forced to work.  Daycare is a booming industry.  Meals can be a series of snacks on the run. Parents who  make a decision (and have the financial ability) to not work when their kids are young state they are “JUST a stay at home mom/dad”.  Families are pressured to have their kids “kindergarten-ready” (whatever that means) to do well in school.  Parents pressure each other to get their kids registered in the “best” pre-schools and in the “top” organized activities. We pressure each other to get our kids involved with other groups of kids so they can be “socialized”.  We apply “programs” from best-selling authors and experts that disagree with each other.  When we do all this, we give up the opportunity to just BE with our kids.  We give up the chance for our kids to be with us and learn from us.

Being a relatively new father as well as an educator, I have read a few books and watched a few videos on the topic of child development and early learning.  I enjoy the bigger ideas in books like Raffi Cavoukian’s “Child Honouring” and Gordon Neufeld’s “Hold on to Your Kids” but I struggle with the books and videos that teach parents and educators to rely on a program or a standardized approach.  We often try to simplify parenting and education to a solution of a series of checklists and strategies that can be boxed and sold.  This minimizes the needed effort for us as parents.  What we really need is for us, and our society, to prioritize our time and relationships with our kids… we need to be truly present in their lives. Ironically, if we did this, we would likely need significantly less programs, books, videos, and medications. As stated, this is a result of deep societal issue in which we are so rushed in our daily lives that we are often forced or choose to have other adults (and often peers) raise our kids.

Although I appreciate articles that encourage our society to move away from medication as a fix, I fear that the underlying message in the Psychology Today article becomes a checklist of things to do TO kids rather than making family time a priority so that we can do more WITH kids.  We need a holistic approach that places children and family at the centre of what we do – a society that values family and makes raising our children our main purpose.

It is no secret that I struggle with work-family-friends balance.  However, I wonder if our society supported and placed family and children at the forefront, would our kids better develop the social-emotional skills required to handle the endless challenges they face?

I understand that there are medical conditions that are very real.  We need to support parents and families.  Our kids need us.  They do n0t always need experts**.  They do not always need medications**.  They need caring, attached adults.

 

**Note: I do understand there are disabilities and challenges that are very real and require medical attention, medication and expertise.  This is not a black and white topic.  The challenge is knowing when it is a medical issue.  Parents of children with disabilities need societal support instead of judgment.  Whether it is a medical or social concern, our kids need us parents more than ever. 

*ADHD in Canada is estimated to be 3-5% (Mental Health Canada).

As always, I would appreciate your help, thoughts and feedback on this topic.

7

Accidental Parenting and Accidental Teaching

From http://bit.ly/o0iYCv

The first 9 months of raising twin girls has been some of the most challenging and rewarding moments of my life.  During these months, my wife and I have been such learners as we try to figure out what works for our girls.  We have read a number of books and talked to many people about strategies, philosophies and ideas that will help us as parents.  One book that has stuck out and provided us with tons of great ideas (and much more sleep) is The Baby Whisperer by the late Tracy Hogg.  Her philosophy aligns well with ours (we are not the ‘cry-it-out, Ferberizing’ style of parents) as we try to listen to what our children are telling us – why are they crying? What cues can we look for? What is that facial expression or body language tell us?  It is truly amazing what happens when you actually understand what your kids are telling you!

One of the ideas that Hogg writes about is what she calls “Accidental Parenting” and describes it as:

Start as you mean to go on.  Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment parents sometimes do anything to make their baby stop crying or to get the toddler to calm down.  Often the “anything” turns into a bad habit that they later have to break – and that’s accidental parenting”.

Hogg goes on to give a number of examples such as taking your baby for a drive to get him/her to sleep.  She explains that this WILL work… but unfortunately it will teach the child that he/she needs motion to fall asleep and will struggle to fall asleep on his/her own.  Another one is when an infant wakes up in the middle of the night and parents put the child back to sleep with a bottle.  Again, this works but teaches the child that he/she needs a bottle to go back to sleep.

At times, having twins has placed us in survival mode and we have had to resort to types of accidental parenting at times and although it has worked short term, it has definitely caused problems in the following days.

As my wife and I were doing our best to avoid accidental parenting, I could not help but see the obvious link to what we do in schools.  How many strategies do we use that work in the short term but accidentally cause problems later on?

Here are some examples of “accidental teaching” that I have used in my career as an educator:

  • Rewards, bribes, prizes – if you do this (or do as I say), you will get this shiny prize.  Kids figured out very quickly that it was all about the prize and not so much about the task.
  • Yelling – I yelled at kids and then they became quiet.  Guess what happened after this… they knew that they could be loud UNTIL I yelled!
  • Punishments – I used my power as an educator to give consequences strictly on my terms… because I could.  I was not concerned for the reasons for the behaviour but more about the statement I needed to make.  Kids learned to just misbehave when I was not looking and avoid getting caught.
  • Worksheets – kids were quiet and seemed content to do endless worksheets and busy work.  If the goal was busyness and silence, then this would have been a great success – unfortunately, the goal was learning so I kind of missed the boat.
  • Focus on grades – if you do this, you will get a good grade.  Students crammed, copied homework, memorized… and forgot to learn.
  • Focus on the result – as a young coach, it was all about the score.  When my players faced a tough opponent or were in a big game, they crumbled because they were focused on the scoreboard.  Once we began to focus on process rather than result… we, ironically, started to do better on the scoreboard.
  • Awards – I have given awards and been part of a number of selection committees.  When the focus of players and students moved to the award rather than the process, I realized we had a problem.

In our current system with large class size and challenging class composition issues, teachers often see no other option than to resort to rewards, punishments and other forms of accidental teaching.  I continue to catch myself in a stressful situation resorting to actions that do not align with my philosophies.  The key for me is that I am catching myself and reflecting upon my actions.  I still have a long way to go as I continue to make errors in judgment but I do see myself continuing to grow as an educator  and parent; each year I gain tools in my toolbox that help me deal with stressful situations much differently more effectively.

As stated, I realize that parenting and teaching are often very stressful and majority of decisions are done with the best intentions.  I encourage you, as parents and educators, to reflect upon the decisions we make with our kids.  Are we parenting and teaching for the long term or are we teaching some lessons by accident to help us get through the day?