New Year’s Resolutions

Each year comes with a new resolution. Mine is simple, but yet difficult to attain: to have fun! Working with children is a big responsibility and maintaining a good relationship with parents can be challenging, so no wonder that in the rush of: setting up activities, changing classroom areas, teaching, supervising the children’s play to keep them safe, dealing with aggressive behavior, making sure they eat their lunch, brush their teeth, sleep, sometimes I feel drained and I find it difficult to have a big smile on my face at the end of the day.

havefun1

What to do then? Well…to have fun doing this. While I love doing all these things separately, in the rush of the day sometimes I don’t have time to do the most important thing: to play.

So, it’s set! In 2014 I’m going to have fun no matter the task, no matter the things that might come in my way.

The First Day in the Nursery

042611hubpmuniforms_512x288New shoes, smart uniform and a quick breakfast, then out of the door, straight to the nursery. But is it really that easy? The first day in a new place comes with a lot of excitement but also with a bit of shyness. Even as adults we tend to worry about new beginnings:  “Am I going to make a good first impression?  Am I going to handle the new situation?”

Parents tend to worry a lot about new beginnings for their children, and rightfully so, but sometimes this interferes with their child’s best interest.  Absorbing the emotions around, children are very sensitive to adults, so no wonder that a child becomes fearful when the parent is fearful.

Sometimes, even though the parent feels relaxed about the first day of school, the child might not feel the same.back2school

Why do children cry on their first day of nursery?

Because they feel anxious, shy , and they didn’t learn how to deal with these emotions yet.  Sometimes it’s overwhelming because they don’t know how to verbalize these feelings, they don’t know how to say: “I feel nervous”, “I feel a bit shy”, so they cry instead.

For some children crying is a tool they use, knowing that when they cry, things change according to their wishes. If this mechanism is in place (cries that he wants a toy, so you buy it, cries that he wants to go somewhere and you go) then he’ll cry to get him back home. The worst thing you can do is to take your child back home because he’s crying! Children need learn how to deal with frustration, but you have to make sure you explain why certain things happen, the mechanism that stands behind decisions, not simply: “Because I said so!”

parent-toddler-250w_207x195What can you do?

  1. The most important thing is to talk to the child and have conversations about the nursery and what happens there. It’s very useful to visit the nursery before the first day and to meet the teacher if this is possible.
  2. Explain that all the children go to the nursery as all parents go to work. Emphasize the nice times that he’s going to spend there: making new friends, playing with new toys, learning new things.
  3. On the day, try to be relaxed.
  4. Don’t spend too much time saying “goodbye”. Give your child a kiss; remind him the time you’ll pick him up.
  5. Do not cry! Children are impressionable and he’s going to get into the same emotional state.

Smiling Girl with Hands Covered in PaintThere are a lot of parent who feel guilty leaving their child in the nursery, but you should remember that you left him with professionals, with his peers, a lot of toys and activities, which translate into learning opportunities.

I have seen cases of heartbreaking first days: children trying to stop their mum from leaving by hugging her or pulling her hair, trying to kick the teacher who held him in her arms, crying for “mummy”, but this only lasts for a few minutes. Children are remarkable in the way they can change mood from minute to minute.

These difficult goodbyes are not ruining their day (even though it’s almost certain it’s going to leave mum in a very bad mood). They get distracted by what’s going on around them, they want to participate in the activities, they interact with other children (it’s super cute to hear a little 3 year old comforting another 3 year old, explaining that mummy is going to come later and that there’s no reason to cry).

Even though some beginnings are a bit difficult, the nursery is soon going to become one of you child’s favorite places. Some children might settle in immediately, some in a few days but for some it’s going to take weeks. Each child is unique and we have to respect that! All the children that I worked with (even the ones described earlier) became happy, confident children, greeting me in the morning with a smile. You shouldn’t wait for the first day of nursery with apprehension!

Meals without Tears

I have often wondered why sometimes parents are too concerned about how much a child is eating during lunchtime. I sometimes had parents who only wanted to know this at the end of the day. Getting the children to eat right is a major concern in our society nowadays but why obsess about getting your child to EAT? Eating is a physiological need so why have adults changed it into a power struggle, demanding their child to eat certain foods and certain quantities sometimes without taking into consideration their child’s taste? Children are aware of our weaknesses and know how to use them in their advantage. If your child knows it’s really important for you to see him eating his lunch, he might refuse to simply test your reactions. The child’s behavior in this case is predictable: crying, pushing the plate away and knocking it down by “accident”.

Sometimes a child’s behavior is a projection of our own actions. Let’s think of some cases.

Your child is refusing to eat.food

Keep calm and eat your lunch. It’s important for him to see that this is not a way to attract your attention. Try to have a relaxed conversation with other people that are around the table. It’s important that everyone sits down and carry on as if nothing’s wrong.

If you spend all your energy trying to make him open his mouth then it’s going to be fun for him (and in time, not so fun for you). He’s going perceive it as a form of play, in which he pretends “not wanting to eat” so that you can chase him with the spoon around the house.

Make sure he knows you’ll have to tidy up the table at some point, so give him a few reminders about the fact that you’ll put away the food at some point. If you tried everything, don’t despair. Have enough strength to tidy up the food and tell him that he’ll have to wait for the next meal. Next time he’ll know that you won’t beg him to eat.

No sweets, no treats. Why “reward” a child for something as simple as eating? I have seen cases when parents give their child biscuits and other unhealthy snacks just to fill their tummies because they didn’t have anything for lunch.

 Food “accidents”

Don’t play with the food! It doesn’t sound too nice, but he/she is not a baby anymore, so teach your child to appreciate and respect the food in their plate. You’ve worked hard cooking it and spent money buying the best ingredients. Getting the children involved in the process makes them more aware of this.

It’s okay if thy spill food while trying to eat but don’t transform dinner time into playtime. Make it fun and enjoyable through other means.

I know cases when parents have made mealtime fun for their child as a baby and when the baby became a toddler, the parents kept their pattern. Now they’re always complaining about the fact that their 3 and a half year old won’t eat unless she’s playing with something while one of the parents is feeding her.

Your child only eats certain kinds of food

I’ve heard this many times. You should ask yourself why and try to find an explanation. Maybe the rest of the dishes are too spicy or simply don’t look tasty. Try to avoid spices because children don’t have a taste for spicy food.

Use your imagination to display the food in interesting ways. You might get some inspiration from the Japanese bento boxes.

Don’t give up, but don’t be too insistent. Children’s taste might change over time, so you shouldn’t avoid a dish because you know your child didn’t eat it. Present it as a choice alongside something you know he likes and ask him to get a bite. Remind him that he won’t know the taste unless he takes a bite.

peaspgI love the book “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss which approaches this subject. “Eat your Peas!” by Kes Gray it’s also a fun book to read with your preschooler. It’s relevant for this situation, and everybody can lean something from it- children and parents. So try to talk about food and preferences during the day, not only during mealtimes.

I noticed that some children change their eating pattern while in the nursery. There are parents who couldn’t believe that their child was eating certain dishes. That happens because as I said before, children need role models. They look around and see the other children eating, so they will do the same. 

Here are some general rules that should apply all the time during meals, and you can follow them at home:

            No TV or toys that might distract your children.

            Don’t feed your children “snacks” before meals. Don’t give them any juices or milk because they won’t feel hungry.

            Involve the little ones in the preparation of the meals. You can even take them shopping and let them help you in the kitchen (washing the vegetables, folding the napkins, counting the plates.) These are wonderful learning opportunities.

           iaurt_jpg Be relaxed. Have nice conversations, talk about the ingredients in the food, the taste of it; show your appreciation by using intonation in your voice.

            Don’t fixate about how much your child should eat (don’t force him/her to empty the plate).

            Don’t feed your child. Children should be encouraged to eat by themselves, even though sometimes it takes longer and their clothes get dirty. Hershel should be watching you eat because children learn by imitation. Soon they’ll manage it.

            Try to transform mealtimes into something enjoyable. Don’t threaten them: “If you don’t eat your lunch then…” Instead you can tell them that they need to eat in order to grow up big and strong like mummy/daddy, to have energy to play, to run faster, the sooner they finish their meal, the faster they can go out to play.food-eat-beat-heat_21812

          Don’t bribe them with dessert. Avoid doing this in order to shape healthy habits.  Dessert is something they should have from time to time, not daily.  Teach your child to make healthy choices instead of banning sweets altogether.

          Don’t cook a special course for your child. Everybody should eat the same thing. Cooking only for your child might transform him into a picky eater.

Fun in the Sun

It’s hot and sunny and all we want to do is stay  in the shade, reading a book, sipping lemonade. But if you’re around children, you must know that their idea of fun is quite different! So, what are the activities that a little one would enjoy on a hot summer day, besides eating ice-cream? Well, first of all, playing with water!soare

  • Bring outside different water containers: plastic bottles, cups, bucket, watering cans, and funnels. Help your child pour from one another, measuring to see how much water you need to fill up a bottle. Compare it with another container.  Add some liquid soap or food coloring to make it more exciting.
  • Since you’re experimenting, you could bring out different objects and see which one sinks and which one floats. Try to predict! Use a sponge to move water from one bucket to another by squeezing it.
  • Put some bubbles in the water and wash some toys. Girls would love to give their baby dolls a bath.
  • Use paint brushes and paint rollers to “paint” with water. See how mush it takes to dry out.
  • Bring out some ice cubes observe how it melts is the sun –try to put some in the water and leave some in the sun and see which one melts first. Let him bring out his plastic toolbox and smash the ice cube.

  • Put some paint in the water before you pour it in the ice tray and you’ll have colored ice cubes which you can use to paint. Children love to experiment and I’m sure they’ll be excited to paint with something else than paint brushes
  • Pour some water into balloons for some squishy-squashy fun. You may add a marble first to make it more interesting.

You can try out these activities indoors as well, but you should take advantage of the sunny weather and go outside. Children +water= fun time guaranteed!

Be a Role Model for Your Child!

I have been asked many times if working with children was difficult. The only answer that comes to my mind is that even though sometimes working with children can be challenging, the most difficult thing is working with parents.

Pointing hand

You!

Why is that? It’s because parents already have their own idea about discipline. I have noticed that although many parents ask for guidance in some cases, they rarely take them into consideration.

Being able to ask for advice, to seek information, to be involved and to try to be a better version of yourself is the best thing a parent can do in order to provide the best education.

“Don’t do that!”; “Stop it!”; “It’s rude!”; “You’re naughty!”  Sounds familiar? Many parents don’t know that these things aren’t helpful at all and might even have a negative impact.

What is the best thing a parent can do? You’ll have to get into the child’s personal space, which means you’ll have to kneel down so that you can look into each other’s eyes and have a conversation about what happened. If your child is having a tantrum, you’ll have to wait until he calms down, but it is important to confront your child whenever he is misbehaving.

Is he refusing to sit down nicely while eating his lunch? Are you eating at the table or are you running around with the spoon trying to put it into his mouth? Does he eat a lot of sweets? Are you having a healthy diet? Is he extending his vocabulary usage by calling other children names or by using swear words? How are you using your vocabulary? Have you ever called him names?

When dealing with a difficult child it is important to acknowledge why he is behaving in a certain way. Offer him attention so that he doesn’t feel the need to be “naughty” in order to receive attention from you. Play with him so that you can build a strong relationship! This is also a great way to make him feel that you’re interested in his activities. Talk to him so that you can help him develop his communication and social skills! Answer to his questions so that he can feel important to you! Don’t do the thing you don’t want him to do!  Remember that happy parents = happy children! Children feed on our energy so it’s important to have your own activities and interests that make you happy.

I understand that being a parent is exhausting sometimes, especially if you’re dealing with challenging behavior, but it’s your duty as a parent to guide your child and the best thing you can do is to prevent some situations by offering a model they can follow. Be a role model for your child and everything else will fall into place!

Schemas in Children’s Play

“Children learn through play.” Everybody knows that, but do the parents really know the way in which this kind of “learning” occurs?

Jean Piaget defined several stages of cognitive development: sensimotor (0-2), preoperational (2-7), concrete operational (7-11), formal operational. According to this, preschool children are in the preoperational stage, a stage where learning takes place through play. There are several types of play, which are called “schemas”. Their names are rather suggestive.

In my work, identifying schema has always been helpful: you make sense of a situation and you can understand better why some children would do certain actions. Let’s have a look at them:

Enclosure -Building fences around the small world animals, sitting in boxes or pretending to be an animal in a cage. This schema is very popular. I had a little girl in my class who loved to pretend that she is a gorilla trapped in a cage. She used to put boxes or toys around herself particularly the big abacus which resembled the bars of the cage, and she spent most of her free play in there. One day she was enjoying herself so much, she forgot to go to the toilet and she wet herself.

“Enclosing” the car

Another example of enclosure is building. There was a boy in my class whose play revolved around this schema all year round. He spent most of his free play time building structures. He loved to build a  “garage” for his car and he used to literally close it between the walls of Lego. He even “enclosed” himself!

“Enclosing” himself between the “walls” of Lego

Enveloping– wrapping toys, layering paper or fabric.

Dressing up, Dressing and undressing dolls, making clothes for the dolls , all of these are also examples of enveloping. These activities are very popular with the girls. In the pictures below the girl is showing that she is in the enveloping schema. She also liked to dress up and to help her friend to do the same. The children with common schema often play very nicely together.

Enveloping expressed through layering fabric (wrapping it around a tree)

Making clothes for the baby, or “enveloping” the baby

Connection– play with jigsaws, tie knots, join things together (like cars, trains, plastic links). Lots of children love jigsaw but when you’ll notice your child trying to make knots with his little hands he might be exploring this schema.

Core and radial schema– drawing circles, or circle with lines resembling the sun. I have seen lots of children doing this kind of drawing to stand for “writing”, people or simply the sun.

Rotation– spinning around, doing rolly polly, running or walking in circles, playing with toys that have wheels.Trajectory– climbing, pouring, throwing different things, kicking. In this category we may include some children who might be seen as misbehaving (sometimes children are, but sometimes they are just exploring this schema): climbing up the table, throwing toys or food, kicking not only balls but also other toys that aren’t made with this purpose.

Positioning– lining up toys, having a preference in plating their food or just sitting under the table. Most commonly way of putting this into practice is by lining up toys and the most unusual way is placing things to  in a specific way. I had a little boy in my class last year who always requested his croutons on a tissue next to his soup (and not in it) or the mashed potatoes on one side of the plate and the sauce on the other, with some space between them. As fussy as this sounds, I could relate to him because I also have my preferences when plating. They say some schemas, although faded, may continue through adulthood. I guess I has a positioning schema as a child which continues today.

Positioning-lining up cars on top of pieces of Lego

Another example of positioning is this one, where the boy specifically placed the card behind the “walls”:

Specific positions: the plastic cars behind the “walls” and the wooden cars behind the plastic ones.

Transporting– moving objects from one place to another. The children who are showing this schema are called “transporters” and if you have one of these in your class, you’ll be spending a lot of time to tidy up. This is very popular  especially with 2 to 3 year old children.

There are some more schema , which I didn’t notice so often in children’s play, like orientation( which means being interested in different points of view).

Identifying children’s schema is important in order to help them extend their play by offering more chances to play in the same schema. We can  do this by planning  the activities according to children’s  schema.

The parents can do this by providing them the toys that they need for a specific schema. A child who is interested in making clothes for the dolls may also be interested in fancy dress, in playing with fabric to wrap himself in it (or others), in wrapping boxes, decorating, painting, going shopping, dress up Barbies and so on.  Eventually, the child will slide into another schema, and we must be there for him to understand, encourage and support him.

If you want to read more about this, I found these articles useful and maybe you’ll want to take a look:

http://education.scholastic.co.uk/content/6681

http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Piaget’s_Stages

http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Piaget%27s_Constructivism

Class Environment

Having a big class is every teacher’s dream, but what’s more important is knowing how to use the space wisely. The furniture that each class has can help you develop beautiful spaces for the children and also great ways of storing and displaying toys.

The toys should be at the children’s level, but they should also have clear labels and pictures so that the children know where to put them back when it’s tidy up time.

Labeling and photographing, laminating and sticking is time-consuming, but it’s worth it. The class will look organized and will provide a learning opportunity for the children (who will try to “read” the label themselves). It will also be a fun way to tidy up for everyone, which is a big bonus.

This is also a nice way of keeping track of resources, noticing when some are missing or broken. Displaying the resources like this can also make the children more responsible in the way they are handling them.

You can even take this approach outside, but don’t forget to double laminate! Children can be tempted to peel the labels off, but once you’ve explained them what their role is, this shouldn’t happen.

In order to customize your labels you’ll need to take pictures of the resources, add the label and then laminate them. Stick them somewhere in the area you’ll want your resources to stay.

For bigger boxes you can also add the label and picture on the box.

You can choose to use large or small photos, depending on your children’s age. With preschool children, it’s best to use bigger pictures and writing. As the children get older, you may want to make the picture smaller than the writing, so they can first notice the writing.

Boys’ Learning and Playing

I have been working with preschool children for 4 years. Two years ago I was given the opportunity to write an article in the school’s magazine. Now that I decided to start blogging, I dusted it off and I posted it here. I hope you enjoy it and don’t forget to leave a comment.

“Seeing the children playing, one can not help to see the difference between the way girls and boys choose to play. We are not encouraging stereotypes, but it’s very easy to notice that the boys choose to involve themselves in more physical play than girls. Most of the times boys choose to play outdoors, climbing, exploring, chasing, playing superhero games or gunplay.

What I particularly found challenging was to overview the playground, since that is the place where children engage in exuberant imaginative games. Watching the children being dinosaurs, chasing each other, jumping over obstacles, playing superheroes or seeing them climb in high places may cause a feeling of anxiety to any adult.

Children’s games that may seem rough have put me in the situation of stopping the game, but when I found out that there are other ways of dealing with it, I decided  to do a little research regarding boys’ play for my C.P.D.(and for my emotional well-being, since more knowledge will probably reduce the anxiety).

It has been acknowledged that not only the boys’ play is different to girls’play, but so is their learning. Boy’s learning was particularly being researched lately due to the figures that show that boys achieve lower in school than girls. It is especially important for Foundation Stage to meet all the children’s needs. Being at a fragile age, we should make the best out of their first experiences with learning. Learning-time should be playful, but it shouldn’t mean only carpet-time. There are many opportunities for learning even during playing-time. The ability to tune in the play and extending it further is the best thing that a practitioner can do during the child-initiated activities.

Having read the theory, opportunities to intervene in the children’s play were there to be discovered. During the autumn, I have notice some children’s preference in riding the bicycles. Later on, in one of their game, a boy put his arms on his hips and with a determined attitude demanded to the other 3 boys riding the bikes to pay speed tickets

I immediately suggested them to write them and brought paper and markers outside. Then, much to my surprise, I observed the 3 boys leaving their bicycles for the writing table. They all wrote their tickets in emergent writing and I found myself being fined by 4 policemen, who didn’t miss the chance to tell me while handing the “tickets”: “You have to pay!”

Then, winter came and all the children were thrilled with the snow and the boys highly appreciated it not because we could make snowmen, but mostly because of the snow fighting. Chasing, running, jumping, building snowmen and then crashing them, playing imaginative games, we had a lot of fun outside while most of the girls chose to play inside. But being outside during the winter was also a learning opportunity, especially for Knowledge and Understanding of the World since the boys noticed the changes in temperature, and all the things related to it.  They discovered in the garden chunks of ice and they later own wanted to make their own ice, leaving the water outside overnight. While being outside they also extended their vocabulary by learning and using words describing ice. They also developed mathematical skills in holding the heavy thick ice and comparing it to the light and thin one.

In the spring, after all the snow had melted, the boys started to play as policemen in a game that was mostly about chasing one another. This time, they weren’t the kind of policeman that write speed tickets, but the ones that send people to jail.

One day I found myself surrounded by policemen willing to send me to prison. But I wasn’t willing to go without a warrant. And so the boys started to write again, but this time they were forming recognizable letters. I was told, while being handed their writing: “You are going to prison!”

The game had repeated itself with the same pattern for some days. “The prison game” has highly popular and the adult went to a wooden-brick prison, much to some children’s cheer and to some other’s indignation. The children who didn’t want the adult “to go to prison” had to write their own note that set the adult free. The boys are still playing the game now, but among each other.

Having the warm weather has resulted in bringing more toys outside and it’s not big news that most of the things that boys play with, will eventually end up as being a weapon. Gun play has always been a sensitive issue bringing up numerous discussions whether to allow it or not.

Jungle Boy

Photo credit: kalebdf

In reading more about this subject I found that gun play can have an important role in boys’ development. Practice has shown that banning a game can only result in making it more desirable. There are numerous examples when the boys who are not allowed to play with guns are constructing their own and then pretend it is something else when an adult is around.  This can only teach the boy the benefits of lying.

Swords or guns, boys choose to play with these toys (or make them) not because they are linked with violence, but because they are linked with action. As practitioners, or parents, it is important to remember that gun play does not mean violent play, it is imaginative play.

This is what Guidance for practitioners in Early Years Foundation Stage: Confident, Capable and Creative: Supporting Boys’ Achievements recommends: “Images and ideas gleaned from the media are common starting point in boys’ play and may involve characters with special powers or weapons. Adults can find this type of play particularly challenging and have a natural instinct to stop it. This is not necessary as long as practitioners help the boys to understand and respect the rights of other children and to take responsibility for the resources and the environment.”

Children should be allowed to play with “swords” or “guns,” but an adult should always establish with them the rules of the game and make sure that the children follow them. It has been announced a very hot summer. Should  we play with the water guns ?”