I’ve spent much of my adult life studying how young children develop and learn. The world of early childhood can feel like a beautiful rainbow-colored, idealistic bubble. It is full of rapid development and snuggles, what could be better? But the children we teach do not just exist in this bubble; each of the young children I cherish continues to grow long after they’ve left my preschool. One day they will even become teenagers (gasp!)

During the teenage years the brain goes through a second major phase of development. So to learn a bit more about what the next decade will bring for my students, I went to hear brain expert and author Daniel Siegel speak about his new book Brainstorm.

According to Siegel, current science and pop media provide conflicting reports about the adolescent years. Many of the popular, but fundamental myths, about teens can be destructive to the relationships between the teenagers and their parents. For example, one of the largest myths about teens is that adolescence is a period of immaturity.  While it is true that this can be a very dangerous time for young adults (accidental deaths etc.) it is not due to immaturity, nor from raging hormones. In actuality the brain is going through a period of remodeling. Similar to the pruning process that occurs in the brain around ages 3-4, the teen brain is also pruning unneeded synapsis and neurons. The teen brain is also becoming a more specialized brain through the process of myelination. Myelination makes existing brain connections stronger and more balanced. The myelin allows the neurons to communicate up to 100x faster! This process of remodeling the brain is not just through the teen years however, longitudinal studies have shown that this process continues into our early twenties; which to me, explains a great deal. Think about any kind of remodeling, in your house or otherwise. It is an exhausting process and it costs a lot! This is what the teen brain is working against: the stress and exhaustion of remodeling the part of your body that makes your decisions and attempts to regulate your emotions. It’s no wonder that for teens everything can seem like a life or death situation!

Siegel wants us to look at adolescence not as a period of chaos but instead as one of untapped creativity and potential. In order to help us reframe our view, he has created an acronym that he calls the ESSENCE of adolescence. This essence is made up of the following:

ES = Emotional Spark

Adolescents undeniably have big emotions, in both directions. On the positive side this spark is about passion, vitality and a spice for capturing life. On the downside, there is the classic teen moodiness and emotional outbursts.

SE = Social Engagement

During the teen years there is a shift in the majority of social engagement being with parents to being with peers. Teens feel they need to hang out with their friends; it’s a must! This is positive because social engagement has been shown in numerous studies to have positive benefits on our physical and mental health. But of course, the relationship to your peers needs to also be positive to have these benefits. On the other side, the importance of social engagement can include negative peer pressure with a need to impress your now hyper-important peer group.

N = Novelty

As adolescents’ brains begin squirting dopamine, novelty-seeking behavior emerges. This is where teen risk-taking comes into play. On the positive side this can lead to a willingness to try new things, move away from the home and become comfortable with the uncertain. However, this can also lead to a risk of injury, addiction and other new, exciting and dangerous behavior.

CE = Creative Expression

This expression allows for a push against the conventional, not necessarily accepting just what is but challenging everything to come up with something new. One downside of this is that challenging conformity can be a stressful experience, one that even feels isolating. However, on the positive side, creative expression is so much of what we want life to be. Discovering the new thing, following our passions, this is what we strive for and adolescents have that natural drive within them.

As Siegal says, “The ESSENCE of adolescence turns out to be the essence of how to live a full and vital life as an adult.” So as much as I tend to look at my 3 year olds for inspiration about a fulfilling adult life, I now realize maybe I should be taking a cue or two from the teens!

What do you think about the teen ESSENCE?

It’s holiday time and gifts are on my mind. It seems that with the popularity of Birchbox and other subscription services nearly anything and everything can be shipped to you monthly in a pretty box! So how about educational toys for your child? You bet!

I recently became acquainted with Sparkbox and now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t come up with it first! SparkBox is a subscription service that will send you 4 high quality early childhood educational toys in each box. You can choose to receive a box every 4, 6 or 8 weeks. Each box is personalized and based on your child’s phase of development. The best part is after your child plays with the toys for a few weeks, you send them back! No extra toys clogging up your closets, bins and play space. As your child develops, the toys your child receives develop alongside. It’s kind of genius!

I appreciate that Sparkbox works with child development specialists to target the toys to not only be fun but educational and help your child build foundational skills. This is how they phrase it on their website:

We aim to foster a well-rounded education curriculum by infusing each SPARKBOX across diverse skills, varying engagement levels and activity categories. Our skills are broken into Motor, Social/Emotional, Linguistic and Cognitive categories. Our learning types include: Audial, Visual and Kinesthetic. Each box builds on the skills that were exercised in the previous. The more feedback you give us, the more we can personalize your child’s learning curriculum.

To top it all off Sparkbox uses eco-friendly vendors & renewable packaging. Fun & Green!

Though this may sound like an advertisement, I have not been in any way influenced or compensated. I simply came upon it and thought it was really great, especially for the holidays! For more info on the products & services visit www.sparkboxtoys.com

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It’s been a long time, too long, since I posted anything on this blog. There are a few reasons for this. One is that I have a new job this school year! I have stepped out of the classroom and become the assistant director at my school. It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time, and it has been amazing. Having thrust myself into this new position, I have not been pondering the same type of questions I once pondered on my blog. But to blame my web absence on this alone would be telling a half-truth.

So I must confess something, I have a fear of writing. It’s not a fear that wakes me up at night in a cold sweat after dreams of journaling pop into my head. It’s a calmer, ignored the kind of fear. So whenever I’m faced with the task of writing I simply avoid, avoid, avoid. It’s honestly the main reason that I have failed to keep my blog current.

But I’ve realized that so much of what I do and more importantly, what I want to do in the future will require me to write and to do so comfortably. So I’ve self-prescribed aversion therapy to help me overcome my fear. I will face it head on and force myself to write! Currently, my plan is to choose one night a week to write for an hour, with no distractions. This means no cell phone nearby and no TV in the background. Just me and the blank screen on my monitor. Scary!

To be honest, my fear is about failure. Deep down I worry I’m not a “good” writer. I’m not even really sure what a “good” writer means; but I know it’s this concern that hinders me. So inevitably, as I always do, my thoughts of my own insecurities and fears bring me back to thinking about my students.  I see this same fear of failure in my students emerging at a very early age. Each year there are the children who shy away from certain kinds of work; many times they will simply say it is not something they enjoy. When pushed a little further maybe they will explain that they don’t know how to do it or they simply “can’t”.  In these moments it is so important to have a supportive teacher who can guide them through the activity and scaffold the areas where they need extra guidance. This support allows them to have a successful outcome which they can then attribute to their own capabilities. But I wonder what else can we do to support our fearful children and not shy away from the things they perceive as difficult.

Many times it is the things that don’t come as naturally to us that provide the biggest rewards once accomplished . So while I may think I don’t enjoy writing, or that I’m not quite skilled at it, I know through my student’s perseverance that it’s worth it to keep trying. As the saying goes, “nothing worth having comes easy”. I am going to keep at my writing and in the meantime I am going to continue to brainstorm how we can support our students to do the same.

I’d love to hear from you about how you support your students through their most challenging tasks!

As many of us who study early childhood know, the world of make-believe is so much more than meets the eye. I recently rediscovered the work of Bob Hughes. This brief refresher has caused me to, once again, sharpen my eyes to the play I see happening  in my classroom daily.

For this blog I would simply like to share a list of the various types of play identified and detailed by Hughes. He  categorized the following 16 types of play in his 1996 book A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types, London: PLAYLINK, UK.

  • Symbolic play — when children begin to substitute one object for another, for example when a stick becomes a horse
  • Rough and tumble play — close encounter physical play such as play fighting
  • Socio-dramatic play — play which allows children to take on different roles and act out experiences, such as taking care of a baby doll
  • Social play — interacting with others through play
  • Creative play — allows children to explore and discover their creativity
  • Communication play — play which involves any form of communication, for example using words, listening, telling jokes, singing, acting, body and sign languages, facial expressions etc
  • Dramatic play — children using their imagination to act out various roles/events
  • Deep play — risky play that confronts fear and allows children to discover their boundaries
  • Exploratory play — play that allows children to investigate and discover their surrounding environment and factual information
  • Fantasy play — when children rearrange the world in a fantastical way
  • Imaginative play — pretending to be or an object to be someone, something or somewhere
  • Mastery play — when a child is able to control motor movements to a degree where they no longer have to focus on them and can focus on other types of play simultaneously
  • Locomotor play — play which involves movement of any type, for example running, skipping, jumping climbing etc
  • Object play — playing with objects and discovering their uses and potential
  • Recapitulative play — play through which children explore their ancestry and history which could include rituals, story telling, fire and growing food
  • Role play — when children explore different ways of being, such as pretending to be a doctor or a police officer or a cowboy etc

 

As I’ve mentioned before, for years I have gained much insight and pleasure from being involved in the TEDx community. It has served as a forum to feed my brain and last week I attended an event that once again did just that. I attended a dinner salon where I had the pleasure of hearing a talk given by Adam Grant. Adam is certainly an impressive gentleman. Not only is he the youngest tenured professor at Wharton Business school, he is also their single highest rated professor.  Did I mention, he completed his PhD in 3 years?

At last week’s event, Adam highlighted how altering the way you speak could change how far ahead you get in business. He proposed that shifting to a more passive way of speaking would make one seem more approachable and thereby help one get ahead. He suggested one way to accomplish this more approachable way of speaking was to begin asking more questions as opposed to answering them. For example saying, “do you think we should change this?” Instead of assertively saying, “we should change this!”

The moment I heard this, I turned to the person sitting next to me and said, “that is exactly how you should talk to children!” As a teacher, I have often reflected on the way we use language with children and how the words we choose can have different effects. I have come to appreciate the power of questions with young children. As we all know, children will ask what can seem like hundreds of questions per day. However, the worst thing we can do is answer each of these questions! The best moment comes when you turn the question back on the child and ask, “What do you think about that?” Immediately the child’s wheels start turning and they produce a creative and thoughtful answer. I savor that moment each time it happens.

I started to wonder how this would work with adults. As Adam proposed, asking more questions is the way to seem more approachable, more like a team player and more like a person that others want to promote.  It is so interesting to me that while my immediate instinct is to ask children questions, I have not already applied the same technique to my adult and professional interactions. I am eager and excited to begin using this more often in the workplace and I am also proud to continue using this technique in my classroom!

What do you think? :)

Last year I wrote a blog about Kid Snacks, because I personally love to cook with kids and there are tons of great recipes that they can easily contribute to. Guacamole anyone? Nothing more fun than smashing avocados (ok maybe a few things more fun, shhh).

This post is inspired by EASY snacks parents & teachers can make for kids that are both delicious and healthy. I have recently been persuaded to begin using Pinterest for a host of ideas and so in this blog today I am sharing with you some ideas inspired by or directly taken from other imaginative, creative cooks out there. I have included the links to each of the blogs and recipes so you can learn from them directly too. Enjoy!

1. High Protein Peanut Butter Balls, brought to you by Maria’s Nutritious and Delicious Journal

peanut butter balls

You’ll need: 

2 cups NATURAL crunchy peanut or almond butter
2 scoops Jay Robb chocolate whey or egg white protein powder
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 TBS freshly ground flax seeds
1 tsp psyllium husks (optional thickener and fiber for the little tikes!)

To make: In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients. Mold the mixture into small balls (like a large marble), and place them in a container lined with parchment to separate the layers. Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving. EASY!

2. Yogurt Fruit Pops, brought to you by Yummy Mummy Club

You’ll need:

Yogurt- plain or fruit

Sliced fruit of your choice (i like berries in mine)

To make: Mix the yogurt & fruit. Fill popsicle stick molds if you have, if not use small paper cups and popsicle sticks. Place in sticks and pop in freezer!

3. Squirmy, Wormy Apples, brought to you by Babble

WormyApple2-200x300

You’ll need:

1 apple
1 gummy worm
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 large/thick straw

To make: Use the straw to get to core of apple, cut off the top 1/3. Scrape out remainder of the core. Place worm in the center and through the hole, scoop peanut butter on top & replace top of apple.

4. Sweet Potato Fries, brought to you by ME!

You’ll  need:

4 small Sweet Potatoes, cut into slices (try to make them as even as possible)

Olive Oil

Paprika (a light sprinkling, more if you aren’t serving kids!)

Salt

To Make: Heat Oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix oil, salt & paprika in a bowl. After cutting potatoes, toss them in the oil mixture, coating each evenly . Make a single layer of potatoes on the baking sheet & bake for around 20 minutes or until golden. Let cool before serving!

If you have other great Healthy & Easy snack options, I’d love to hear about them!

Children are attracted to things of beauty. Now what makes something beautiful? That is probably a deeper question for a different blog. When it comes to what young children are attracted to think of color, shape, pattern and form.

Many educational approaches/philosophies hold strongly to the belief that beauty is an essential component in appealing to children and inspiring their creativity. Maria Montessori believed the school environment needed to be filled with aesthetically pleasing objects in order to invite the children to work with them independently.  She created her materials to be innately beautiful and attractive to children.

Friedrich Froebel, an early pioneer in education, who inspired Maria Montessori in her material construction, created materials for children that he called “gifts”. These gifts were meant to introduce children to concepts ranging from geometry to form. As Herbert Spencer noted, concrete objects have a significant place in children’s learning, “The truths of number, of form, of relationship in position were all originally drawn from objects and to present these truths to the child in the concrete is to let him learn them as the race learned them.” Froebel hoped that by experimenting with these materials and through noticing aspects of their construction such as symmetry, children would find beauty in each gift. He also introduced the children to activities with his materials called “forms of beauty” in which children would use his pieces to create symmetric arrangements in two or three dimensions.

Finally, take one look at any school that models itself after the Reggio Emilia approach and you will understand the place of beautiful objects in early childhood as a way to inspire creativity. If you are interested in learning more about Reggio’s approach to beautiful things and finding the beauty in found materials check out this book called Beautiful Stuff! Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal

To get you started on your journey to filling your home or classroom with beautiful and inspiring objects, I wanted to share a few with you that I found particularly attractive. Enjoy!

CRAYON ROCKS crayonrocks2

These drawing materials are made of soy wax from soybeans grown in the United States and natural mineral powders for the color, which makes them eco-friendly and safe for your child to use. Another bonus is the shape designed for young hands working on developing the fine motor skills to prepare to hold more traditional writing utensils. You can purchase them here.

Learning Materials Workshop 

This award winning company makes beautiful Reggio inspired materials for children, however I know many adults that enjoy their designer appeal. Here are two of my favorite materials they sell.

Coloraturo Block Set $75                                              Dwellings $40 dwellingscoloraturo1

I posted this sampling of my favorite Winter Books last year and wanted to post it again before the New Year (with a few additions, of course!) Enjoy!

Frederick by Leo Lionni was one of my favorite books from childhood. I still have the same copy that my mother used to read to me. In this story, a group of field mice are preparing for winter. They scurry to gather grain and food while Frederick, an artist & poet, seems to just passively sit by. But when winter comes, Frederick’s value and work is revealed. This book celebrates individuality and shows us the value in the artistic soul.

In The Mitten by Jan Brett, a young boy loses his mitten in the snow and before the mitten can be returned to its owner, a group of animals make it their home! Children love the outrageousness of all the animals fitting together in this tiny mitten. It is fun to predict which animals will come next!

The Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson is a great book for younger children; they enjoy the repetitive phrases in the book and enjoy chiming in! I use this book as a novel extension of our winter conversations about hibernation.

Another cute story which can lead into the subject of hibernation is Bedtime for Bear by Brett Helquist. In this story Bear is trying to sleep in bed for the long winter while his friends keep trying to get him to come out to play. At first Bear turns them down because “it’s bedtime for bears” but soon he is out playing in the snow. bear

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen is a more grown up story and much longer in length than the previously mentioned books. It is a beautiful story about a daughter and her father who go out looking for owls on a winter’s night. The writing is mature and the illustrations match the words in their elegance.

Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser is such an endearing and silly take of a squirrel and his friends who have never seen it snow. Together they attempt to stay away long enough to see the snowfall and mistake all sorts of objects as the white treasure. In addition to making my students laugh, I love this book for it’s beautiful illustrations!squirrel

WISHING YOU ALL A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Through my work with the TEDx community, I recently met a woman of whom I’m fast becoming a major fan. Her name is Tania Luna and she is Surpriseologist. What is that you might ask? Well, she specializes in the art and science of surprise, providing one-of-a-kind experiences at her company Surprise Industries.

Over a cup of coffee, Tania and I began chatting about the role that surprise can play in early childhood education. As we were talking I came to realize how the two are actually quite connected. For young children the world is full of surprises, so many experiences are new and seen through fresh eyes. However, in the classroom, routine can quickly set in and once it does active learning steadily decreases. So how can we as teachers (and parents) reinvigorate their learning experience? Well through surprise of course!

Here are some quick & simple ideas to bring back the wonder:

-Move things around: In my house I am able to navigate through my bedroom and hallways in the dark. Everything has been in the place for so long that the motion of moving through has become second nature to me. I am no longer actively thinking about walking through the space. But put something else there or move the furniture and I actually have to think for a moment in the dark about what might be right in front of me. The same works for the classroom; move things around and get kids thinking. This can apply for the home as well. If you have a play area in your house, move everything around, switch it up & give it a fresh feel.

-Introduce a new material or sensory experience: Have you tried Oobleck? I love it! Or how about Flubber? Ditto. These are two great sensory play materials, easily made at home, that are worth a try. Or switch to a natural version of a familiar substance to see the difference. For example, introduce real clay instead of Play-doh and listen to your children as they explore, see what new ideas come out if their discoveries.

-Use an old material in a new way: Have your kids ever helped you make a salad? Have they enjoyed using the salad spinner? What if instead of lettuce you put in paper and drops of paint? Spin-Art is so fun and a surprising way to use a common household item.

My students surprise me every day, the best thing I can do is to return the favor and always keep our learning fun. How do you incorporate surprise into your classroom or home? I’d love to hear your ideas!

For more information on Tania and her tips for incorporating surprise into your life, check out surpriseindustries.com

After a few recent spikes in temperature, it seems that Fall is fully upon us, and I couldn’t be more excited. I love Fall! Which means I also love coming up with fun Fall activities for my preschoolers. As I am currently in brainstorming mode, I figured I could share with you one of my favorite (and super easy) activities from years past.

One of the main focal points in my classroom is a handmade paper tree. This tree changes throughout the year, with the help of my students, to reflect the change in season. Our first tree activity happens in the Fall when we have to change the colors of the leaves. To do this we make dry leaf collages.

The first step is to go outside with the children and collect dry leaves that have fallen from the trees. On our leaf hunt we try to find leaves of all different Fall colors: brown, orange, yellow and red.  This in itself is a fun activity when you turn it into a scavenger hunt and assign kids a different color or shape of leaf to look for. After bringing the bags of leaves inside, you have a choice of crumpling them up into potpourri style leaves or keeping them whole. The kids usually like to crumple them up!

Next is to let the kids get to gluing! Teachers give children a choice of a (pre-made! eek!) leaf cut out to make their collage. I like to give the kids paintbrushes with cups or plates of glue instead of glue bottles, it’s much more accessible for the students in my class. And finally glue away!

   

            

Feel free to share your favorite fall activities here, I would love to learn a few more!