Raising “Socio-Economically” Aware Kids

Wouldn’t it be nice if raising/educating children was mostly about the straight-forward stuff? Potty training, sleep schedules, even the “3 Rs” are not easy, but they have clear goals. What trips me up most about being a Mom-to-a-toddler (and was true when I taught 3 year olds) is the “hidden curriculum.”

That is the stuff that isn’t written on a lesson plan, but is almost more critical.  Helping them learn to engage with peers, interact with adults, stand up and be true to themselves, find and engage in their passions (responsibly).

Moving a step beyond that and you have the skills that you have to lay groundwork for now, but won’t be “finished” well….ever.  I’ve talked about teaching respect to a toddler, that is a big one, but there are others that I feel even less prepared for.

Teaching children about race, racism and respect for others is a constant that needs to begin early. It is a myth that children don’t “see” race when they are little. Children begin sorting and classifying their world as babies and show racial preference at a young age. Parents should “step in” and lay groundwork for tolerance at a young age, because children will form their own opinions.

As a white Mom, raising a white son in a neighborhood that is not incredibly diverse, I feel unprepared for this topic. However, there seem to be a lot of resources to guide me. The book “Nurture Shock,” various educator resources on anti-bias classrooms and articles with strategies for raising children who are racially conscious and teaching tolerance. There is even an entire exhibit that looks at the concept of race and what it means culturally and biologically. I’m not “ready” for these lessons yet, but I feel like I have the tools I need.

No, where I really get stuck is on raising a child who is aware of socio-economic differences.  Sure, I will get him involved in volunteering (even at 2 he loves “helping”) and learning to take care of others is a key part. However, that just teaches him that he is in a position to help others.

Just like you wouldn’t want to teach a child that “insert name of minority group” needs you to “save” them, you don’t want a child to only think of interacting with others in terms of “helping.” What I want to know is how do I really help him learn that people…are people…no matter what their economic status is.

This is a topic that I haven’t found any helpful guides on and am drawing a blank when thinking on my own. Maybe there are some helpful voices on the internet that can point me in the right direction?


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The Kindness of “Big Kids”

The Kindness of Big KidsThis blog is about museums and early childhood education, but sometimes I veer a little off course. Today is one of those days, because I am just so overwhelmed by an act of kindness that I got to see.

We got a snow storm last night so the hill across from our house was busy with kids sledding all day long. After nap, I bundled my 2 1/2 year old up and we trudged out with his little inflatable tube. He saw all the kids and immediately asked to go sledding “with the big kids.” We worked our way over to the hill and he watched them doing tricks and zooming down the hills as fast as they could.

When there was a break in the action he plopped down and I gave him a push. The sled slid lazily down the hill, almost stopping mid-way, before making it to the bottom. He jumped up and grabbed my hand to climb back up the hill.

When we got to the top, one of the “big kids” (maybe about 10 years old?) detached himself from the group and came over. He squatted down and smiled at my son and said “Hey! Do you want to ride with me on my sled? It goes faster?” I think Ace was so overwhelmed at being talked to by the “big kid” that all he could do was nod and be led over to the sled.

For the next half hour, his new best buddy rode down with him multiple times on the sled. He was careful to steer it safely but went fast enough to please the heart of a toddler. He also chatted with Ace and talked to him just like he was one of the “big kids.”

As I watched, Ace seemed to stand up a little taller. He wanted to walk up the hill “by self!” and when they tumbled on a particular fast run he grinned through a face covered in snow. He copied everything the “big kid” said and listened carefully to all directions.

I was also really impressed with the other kids at the hill. Although they didn’t interact as directly with us, they made sure Ace got his fair turns on the hill and were careful to steer around him as he worked his way back up. They also didn’t seem to care that a “grown-up” was hanging around and gave me plenty of tips on the type of sled to get that would go faster!

Although this is mostly a story of kindness that made a Mom’s heart melt, it also reinforced one of those “hidden curriculum” items that all parents, teachers and caregivers are constantly striving to teach.  These are the things like working together, kindness and respect that just make our world run better. In this case, it wasn’t just kindness to others but a special kind of awareness of what another person needs and a willingness to move at their pace to get them there.

I am very grateful to the “big kid” at the hill today. He gave my son confidence to try something new, a sense of pride in being like “the big kids” and the happiness that comes when someone is kind to you…for no reason at all.

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Using Food for Play with Young Children

Using Food for Play

As a follow up to my post on “Process vs. Product” centered art, I was thinking about using food in art and play with young children.

When I say “using food” I don’t mean having them help cook, exploring different tastes or food based science experiments….that I am all for! Instead, I mean things like a sensory bin full of rice or making potato and apple prints for an art exploration.

When you have infants and young toddlers (who still put a lot in their mouth!) it can give caregivers peace of mind to have safe objects for children to explore. For the very youngest children I am more comfortable with food based items being a first introduction to art and sensory materials. However, as they get older, I have trouble with the idea that food is a plaything and disposable.

For me personally, the main reason is because there are so many people in the world who don’t have enough to eat. The thought of pouring pounds of rice into a bucket and telling kids it is “for play” just doesn’t sit well with me.

Also, the choice of materials can send a message about what food is “important” and what is “for play,” which is not something that an educator who is teaching tolerance would want to have happen.

Finally, blurring the lines between edible and non-edible makes it harder for children to distinguish what is OK to eat and what isn’t, and can make them feel free to waste/play with food that they ARE supposed to be eating.

This is something I come back to as I play with my toddler and teach art and science workshops for young children. There doesn’t feel like a clear cut answer, just a pretty solid opinion.

If you search “Using food for play in early childhood education” you will find a lot of interesting and thoughtful posts on the topic. I would love to hear your opinions and if you have any examples of food being used thoughtfully in play.

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Product vs. Process Centered Art

Process vs Product ArtArt 019

“Process vs. Product” centered art is a pretty trendy buzzword in early childhood education circles. But, what does it mean? Why does it matter? After all, aren’t all art/craft projects a process?

In a nutshell, “Product” centered art is when the main purpose is to have a specific end result. Usually it means there is only one “right” way to get there and a certain set of steps have to be followed to make it happen.

“Process” centered art is when the whole point is the creation of the piece. The learning happens along the way as they are exploring through the art. The end result is only important because it illustrates the process that occurred.

Process vs Product ArtI have a pretty good example of the difference in two pieces that my son created. This first is a sweet little Jack-O-Lantern that he made at a Halloween party. Do you notice something…symmetrical about it? Something that would be hard to get a 2 ½ year old to pull off on their own? When he brought it home I pulled it out and exclaimed “Oh wow! Look at this! Who made this?” He looked over at it, shrugged dismissively and said “Ms. X.” Although I know Ms. X didn’t do the whole thing, he didn’t feel as much ownership over the end result.

Art 019Example two is a painting he did with a babysitter. When I got home, they brought it over to me and she jokingly said “We titled this one…All the Colors!” Sure enough, the paint was smeared on so thick the paper was crinkly and many areas had turned a muddy shade of brown.
We spent a full five minutes looking at this painting as my son eagerly showed me every different color he had used, how he had dabbed the brush here and smeared it there and what had happened when the colors mixed. He was proud of it because of how engaged he had been in the process.

Of course, the problem with “process” based art is that sometimes it is hard for the observer to understand. You may have a child who is very worried about getting things “right” or a caregiver or educator who doesn’t understand why it doesn’t “look like anything.” You may have to spend some time explaining how the lesson and learning is all woven into what they created and, if it going on display, be thoughtful in the description of what people are looking at.

When you are planning a program for young children, it is natural (and great!) to want to include art in it. Art is a fantastic way for children to explore and learn and is often easy to adjust for kids with different ability levels. However, you need to look at WHAT you are planning to have them do.

It is not “wrong” to do product centered art. After all, kids and adults like having something they recognize and it can be a wonderful keepsake. That Jack-O-Lantern will go up with our Halloween decorations year after year! Also, learning how to follow directions is a skill that is important to develop and this is a fun way for them to practice.

However, be thoughtful about the process that gets to your product. Is there a set “script” they need to follow? Will deviating make it not look “right” in some way? Does it take you more time to set up the experience then it does for them to create it? If so, re-think your project. With a little planning your little artists can still be fully engaged in the process, and come out with a wonderful product.


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State of the Union: Affordable Childcare

I didn’t watch the State of the Union address. This isn’t something I’m proud of, it wasn’t a political statement, I was just too tired. My husband was traveling all week so I put the toddler to bed and pretty much fell into bed myself. .

When I woke up the next morning my inbox and social media feeds were filled with other parents and early childhood educators sharing and cheering the President’s stance on affordable childcare and especially moving it from being a luxury issue for women to a necessary component for our country to thrive.

This hits home for me because the work I am doing is something I love and am passionate about…but doesn’t pay a whole lot. We did the math when we know a baby was on the way and figured out what our break even point was. As long as I make that, I feel like it is “ok” to keep doing what I am doing. Which is an odd place to be, working but feeling I should rank it like a hobby in terms of where it takes precedence in the families priorities and scheduling.

This dovetails with a discussion I saw on Facebook tied into #museumsrespondtoFerguson. It was talking about the privilege of being able to work at a museum. Generally, the pay is not good. So many people who can choose to work there are ones who have support in some other means (one person asked how many people had higher earning partners that made it possible to keep that career). In the same vein, many talented early childhood educators have to leave the field because they can’t support themselves or can’t keep the drive for excellence because their time and money are drained.

Finding a real solution for excellent, affordable childcare would help alleviate all of these. People could afford to do the jobs where their talents lie, educators would be in demand hopefully making the field competitive and desirable and children would benefit from a commitment on all sides to providing them a healthy happy start.

I know it is just words right now, but maybe we can make something happen. The parents have the need, the educators want the changes and the country needs it to happen for a better future. So, what is our next step?

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Presentation Inspiration

SECA Conference                                            “Conference Selfie” Is that a thing?

My favorite kind of presentation is the one where I don’t have to do a whole lot. No, not because I am lazy, but because it means the conversation has taken off and all I have to do is guide and nudge it to make sure it stays on track.  That is exactly what happened at the Southern Early Childhood Association conference in New Orleans. My opening questions and activities were met with growing excitement and suddenly the conversation was catapulting off with a lot of voices lending their expertise.

I scribbled notes furiously and wanted to share a few of the really great observations with you here.

Just to recap, this presentation was called “Locally Source Culture: Creating Meaningful Community Partnerships.” The point was to get participants to think critically about their community and all the potential resources that existed and then spend a little time discussing how to “make contact” and start establishing a relationship. It was an extension of my article in Teaching Young Children but really aimed at getting people to rethink whether there was “nothing” in their community they could use (hint: that is almost NEVER true!)

Here are the inspiring points that the attendees brought up

  • Never underestimate the power of the little things: Maybe a big truck, a train ride or just a really cool tree. It is easy as adults to look at things through the wealth of life experience we have. Young children are not there yet! The most simple aspect of your community will be met with a sense of wonder
  • Bring the community to life that they may only see through a window: In communities where the main type of transportation is a car, many children may only SEE their community, not really experience it. Look for ways that you can bring them out into the community so it brings it to life for them and makes them feel connected
  • Connecting to the community helps humanize the people who are in it; One teacher shared how her class had a new appreciation for vegetables after meeting “Farmer Joe” and another shared they always make a point of welcoming police officers in the classroom to help children whose relationship with the police in their neighborhood is not as positive. She said she wanted them to see that police are people and can be friendly and helpful to them also
  • Your families are your first community: Look to your families first for ways to connect with the rest of your area. There are so many talents and skills among the parents and caregivers that can be shared with your class.  This might take some digging, they might not realize that they have anything worthwhile to share, but ask and encourage.Not only will there be a wider range of things you can expose the kids to, but think how it encourage those families! It gives them a chance to be the expert, gives the student a chance to “show off” the pride they have in their family. One teacher shared a wonderful tradition where they did a field trip to each child’s house. It let the child show off and allowed the whole class to appreciate how everyone has things about their home life that are the same and things that are different. That particular method will not work everywhere, but the spirit of it can be channeled.
  • Community partnerships benefit all kids: Whether you have English Language Learners, children with special needs or a mixed-age classroom, looking at community partnerships is a great way to make something approachable for all learners. “Learning through doing” is a cornerstone for many places and they will be able to support you in your planning.
  • The community wants to get to know you: Many individuals, businesses and organizations in the community are eager to get to know you and your students. They may be just as unsure as you are about how to connect! They will need guidance on how to work with young children, how to engage with children with special needs or English Language Learners but they can be helped along the way. Your school can be a direct link for them to families and help community networks, agencies and community resources assist families.
  • Mutually Beneficial: Working within the community will help everyone feel more connected and engaged, and that seems like a good thing for everyone.
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Holiday Season- Conference Season

I didn’t mean to take a month “off” from writing. It just sort of…happened. Holidays, travel, a toddler hitting a “stage” and first trimester exhaustion came together in a perfect conglomerate of excuses to push it aside.

Like any skill or hobby (or…dare I say…New Years Resolution) once you fall out of the habit it is so much harder to start up again. Luckily, we are heading out of “holiday season” and into “conference season.” Conferences always get me fired up again about what I’m doing. After a session I am always scribbling notes and ideas in the margin of my outline and come away with about six new projects that I want to start IMMEDIATELY!

I’m making quite the round of conferences this spring. If you are going to any of them, come and find me!

I just got back from the Southern Early Childhood Association Conference but coming up there is….

* Virginia Association of Museums

* Virginia Association for Early Childhood Education

* American Alliance of Museums

I’m also trying something for the first time, I’ll be part of a Google Hangout sponsored by the National Arts Education Association all about young children and museums. This is online, free and happens over a lunch break (Feb. 11th at 1pm EST).  You will be able to join through their Google+ page (the main page is here). I’d love to have a lot of voices contributing and asking questions!

In case you need a refresher on “conference survival” you can read this post for tips! Have a great conference season.

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