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 The work of childhood!! 

Imagine you go into work in the morning and the boss says you can work freely on whatever you want, you find a project that interests you and you get into it, but before you are finished, you are called to a team meeting. This meeting may be about something that is of interest or importance to you, and it may not be, but you will have to sit and pay attention for the whole meeting because this is important to your boss.  Let’s say the meeting lasted 30 minutes and then the boss says you are free to work on any project you want as long as it is one of the prechosen projects.  Some of these projects are ones that can be completed in minutes, and some are ones you can really get into and keep at for hours. It doesn’t matter what task you choose; you must stay at it for the next 20 minutes. When those 20 minutes are up, you must move on to another prearranged task and again, stay at it for 20 minutes which might be too long or might not be long enough to complete the task to your liking. 

Finally, you get a break, but you have to take your break in the area decided by your boss.  As with the inside tasks, the area for your break is limited and there are strict rules to follow.  After you have had 20 minutes to enjoy this break, you are sent to lunch.  Your lunch is chosen for you and consists of highly processed foods and is very carb heavy.  After lunch you get to take a nap, but you have to nap in a room where people are going in and out and talking the whole time.  You finally fall asleep after an hour and just as you fall into a deep sleep, the lights are turned on, you are woken up and told to get up right away. 

You are still groggy from your nap being cut short, but it is time to eat a snack, this snack may or may not be something you like, and you only get one serving either way. After snack, there is another meeting.  At this meeting the boss tells you she wants you to learn about time management.  You might not have a problem with time management but that doesn’t matter.  For the next 45 minutes you will be doing activities to teach you about time management.  Some of these might be of interest to you, some might not but you have to do them all. During one of the tasks, you and a co-worker have a disagreement, as you are trying to work it out, the boss 

comes over and takes charge, they tell you and your co-worker how to proceed, neither of you feel satisfied with this outcome but you have no choice but to do what you are told. After you have finished all the time management tasks, you get another break and decide to embark on a project of your own choosing during this break but unfortunately, your break is not long enough for you to finish the project and it will not be saved for you to come back to. 

When you get back to the office, you are told you will need to work in another room with another group of co-workers.  Once in the new space you are assigned a project and must keep that project in the proper spot and cannot collaborate with anyone else unless they were specifically assigned the same project. This is how you spend the rest of your day, unless the boss decides to bring in more people and have you all watch a video that is unrelated to the work you are doing. 

Imagine that you do that same thing day in and day out.  Some of you may enjoy the predictability of these days but I’m sure most would feel frustrated at the lack of control you are given to finish your job to your standards. There is a good chance that you would not look forward to going to work or feel pride in what you are doing.  

Now imagine you go to work and are allowed long periods of time to work on what you want to work on.  If you have to stop for any reason, you get to save your work and come back to it later.  When you take a break, you get to decide how to spend that time and are given many options of activities and the only rule is to not hurt anyone and not break anything.  

After your break, you get a lunch that is made mostly of whole fruits and vegetables along with protein.  After lunch you go to a quiet, dim room to nap. Before you fall asleep there is a relaxing story and then calming music helps to drift off.  When you wake up the room is still dark, there may be a window open, but you can lay and relax until you are ready to get up. 

Once you are ready, you get to have an afternoon snack. The snacks are plentiful, and you get to have as much or as little as you want. 

Then you get to spend the rest of the day working on the project of your choice.  If you and a co-worker have a disagreement, your boss tells you to talk it out and come up with a solution you are both happy with.  You are free to go back and forth from project to project and to work with whoever you want.  

When you leave in the afternoon, there is a good chance you feel fulfilled and happy to have been able to do your job to your standard. 

Now replace the word boss with teacher and you see the difference between your typical early childhood education model and a true play-based model.  Play is the work of children; it is how they learn and how they gain the skills needed to function in life.  When we interrupt play to “teach” we are actually robbing children of the opportunity to learn. 

The Birdsall House way believes that given time and the proper environment, children will learn everything they need to be ready for academic learning. We don’t create lessons, we don’t tell the children what we think they need to learn, we trust them to explore and create their own lessons. 

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How do we do it? Naptime

We often hear from families that they are amazed that we are able to get all of the children to sleep at the same time.  So, today I thought I would share what we do to help that happen.  First, I must state that we are not always successful at this, but the majority of the time, these things work.

Routine, I think this is the biggest thing we do to reach this goal. While things do not always happen at the same time, they always happen in the same order.  After lunch the children use the restroom, pick out a book and a stuffy and then sit on their cot looking at their book until all the children are on their cots.  Then the teacher who gets to read (we all love reading at nap and so we take turns) gathers the books and sits down, usually near the youngest two.  The teacher and the children take big deep breaths and then the teacher reads.  Before the last book is read, they all take more deep breaths.  After the last book we turn on the naptime music mix and ocean sounds on a sound machine.   These things always happen in that very order.

Tenacity, sometimes all it takes is being willing to sit or lie next to them and rub their backs or their heads for a good ten/fifteen/twenty minutes.  If someone starts moving their fingers in an attempt to stay awake, we gently rub their arm or hand.  Think about how it feels when you get a scalp massage our when someone gives a gentle massage.

Get tricky, often we have older children who tell us that they are not tired.  We tell them that we understand that they don’t feel tired, but we need to be sure. We tell them that if they really are not tired, they should be able to lie still for one minute with their eyes closed.  We let them get comfy and close their eyes and then we start counting, low and slow.  If they move, we simply start back at one, each time they move or open their eyes, we start over.  Generally, we never make it to 60. Sometimes I will combine counting with a back rub or holding their hand. 

Be flexible, somedays they may need a back rub and for you to count, somedays they might need you to hold their hand and say “shhhhh” (that’s another trick we sometimes use.) The most important thing is to stay calm, without falling asleep yourself.  Just yesterday I had a four-year-old who wanted to snuggle, I focused on taking deep relaxing breaths, she was asleep in less than 10 minutes, and I was very close to sleeping myself.  

So, when you see photos of classrooms of napping children, it is not magic, it is just determined teachers who have a book of tricks up their sleeves to make it happen.  Hopefully you can use some of these tricks at home too. 

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child development positive guidance respectful parenting

Let’s talk about biting, hitting and other disruptive behaviors.

 I have recently learned that there are many childcare centers that terminate for things that are developmentally appropriate.  One of our parents shared with me recently that the center her child was at before coming to us had such a policy for biting and that her 10-month-old was on bite number two, with the third bit meaning they would be terminated. 

Parents are under enough stress without having to worry about their whole life being disrupted because their infant behaves in a developmentally appropriate way.  I know it is upsetting when your child gets hurt while at childcare. Over the years, I have had many parents threaten to leave over their child being bitten.  I feel these policies are a knee jerk reaction to such threats. 

Creating policy that punishes a family for their child behaving like a child, is a missed opportunity. It is a missed opportunity to educate parents on natural child development.  It is a missed opportunity to educate parents on why biting happens and what to do when it happens.  It is a missed opportunity to educate parents to see what is often seen as misbehaving, as what is really is, natural child development.

When one toddler hurts another, it is rarely, if ever, an act of aggression.  In this piece I am going to use the word bite to stand in for all the words listed in the title to avoid having to list them all the time. When we have a child who bites our first step of action is to look at what was happening right before the bite.  There are some obvious reasons like fighting over a toy or someone was in their way, and sometimes there seems to be no cause. 

One common reason for biting is frustration. Not necessarily frustration at what just happened but built-up frustration. I’m sure most of us can recall a time when we had a rough day and then snapped at someone for some small infraction.  The same thing happens with toddlers, maybe their morning was rushed, and they didn’t like their breakfast and one friend had taken a toy and now another friend looks like they might take a toy and snap, they bite that friend.  To the observer, it looks like they bit for no reason, but that is not really the case.

Another common reason for biting is a lack of verbal skills.  We all know that in a toddler’s brain, what they had 10 minutes ago is still theirs.  They see another child start to pick up a toy they had earlies and without the words to say “hey, that’s mine” they use the tools they have and bite.  

Curiosity is also another reason for biting.  I have seen toddlers look at another child and simply bit them just to see what happens.  Experimenting is what toddlers do and they don’t know that biting is not an allowed form of experimentation.  Just yesterday, I had a toddler who was sitting near me, bend over and bite the tip of my slipper. This child was not mad at me, this child was not wanting to hurt me, this child simply looked at my slipper and thought “I wonder what it would feel like to bite that?”

None of these children are being bad, they are expressing emotions, communicating and experimenting.  Which is exactly what they are supposed to be doing.

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General

What is The Birdsall House Way?

Hi and welcome to The Birdsall House Way blog.  My name is Kelly Raines AKA Ms Kelly and I founded Birdsall House in 2015 along with my friend Nikolas Huffman.  I had worked in early childhood education for 25 years and in numerous centers during that time. 

Over the last 5 years Birdsall House has proven to be everything I hoped it would be and I’d like to share a bit about that with you. Our focus is on science and the arts, with those as starting points the learning grows. Here is an example. 

Albert Einstein is credited as having said:

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

We agree!

At Birdsall House we have no set plans on where the days learning will go.  We observe and look for opportunities to expand on what the children are doing. Here is a great example using a modern fairy tale.

One day one of the children asked one of our teachers to tell a story.  The teacher decided to tell a very animated version of The Lord of The Rings, complete with action and voices, the children were enthralled.

The children went home that night talking about Gandalf, Frodo, and Bilbo and their parents were surprised and thrilled. 

The next day one of our students brought in a LOTR sketch book so they could see the characters.

The children continued to ask for the story to be told and to discuss the story and use it as inspiration for pretend play. 

The next week one of the children brought in a map of Middle Earth.  Everyone gathered around to look at where the different places in the story were.  They explored the map key and discussed the hills, valleys and other aspects of the map.