Literacy and Toddlers


Last night I had the privilege of speaking with the wonderful (now retired) teacher that both my children had in grade one and I told her about my grandson being able to read (deciphering words) before he was two.
She said, (not a direct quote): “My grandson is also a reader. There are lots of little ones reading these days. I think it is the tablets/ipads. And to think of all the work we did to get them to read in the old days.”

I had wondered what impact the computer apps had in my grandson’s ability to read. How much is “him” and his natural gift and interest in words and how much is the experiences with the computer?

And if it is the computer programs, what/when is the best timing of introduction, which programs are the best, and what is the minimum/maximum amount of time the wee ones should spend watching the programs? The last part is probably the easiest — not too much.

Balance, as I always say, is key to healthy development. Infants/toddlers need 1:1 interaction with real live human faces, voices, eyes, hands. They need time to move around, developing their muscles. They need time to sit quietly and observe their surroundings; they need exposure to music, picture books, and sensory materials. .. and perhaps they need some fun apps that teach numbers and letters.

As I have written before about the computer apps, it is important to be selective. You need something that is attention-getting BUT not high speed flashing with the bells and whistles. They need time to process the things that pop up on the screen, time to mentally make the connection between the words spoken, the symbols displayed and any other pictures that are provided at the same time. (written “C”; spoken “C”, the sound of the letter “c”; the picture of a cat.) Probably the amount of time it took you to (slowly) read the description is about the time things should be on the screen before it goes to the next letter.

It is also important to pay attention to the cues that the wee one has had enough. Are they squirming or looking away? They need a different activity. I read a book some years ago that talked about a long-term research project that showed a correlation between ADHD and parents of infants who maintained eye contact and peek-a-boo games (for example) when the babe was trying to turn away to take a break.

The turning away is a strategy to calm themselves, to regulate their emotions, stimulation etc. When we don’t allow this to happen, by forcing interaction through maintaining eye contact, for example, we are impacting the development of this skill.

Follow the child’s lead. Perhaps they aren’t interested in letters and numbers; perhaps they want the computer apps for only a couple minutes a day or maybe it is a few minutes in the morning and a few minutes in the afternoon. Maybe it is just during those car rides when they aren’t going to nap.

Balance — make sure they have a variety of experiences including during those car rides. They need to develop the ability to entertain themselves as well. And also, provide 3-d objects with the letters and numbers so that they can transfer their awareness from the computer screen to “real life”.

And finally, as all parents and educators do, we cross our fingers and hope that what we are doing is the best for each individual child.


The Colony

This past weekend I had the pleasure of watching the two seasons of “The Colony”, a show and experiment to see how survivors of an apocalyptic event would form together and find ways to survive and form a community or colony.

It was a fascinating show and left me with lots of personal insights, questions, and thoughts about myself and the next generations. The participants of the show had to use the skills they had and skills they didn’t know they had along with knowledge, both from their life experiences as well as hidden nuggets of information that they remembered reading about, etc. They had to make do with what they had, create “stuff from nothing”, and they had to find/create the necessities of life: shelter, water, food, and protection.

Watching the show has left me thinking about my own life and the “what if’s” and what I can do, but it also left me contemplating my role for the next generations. I personally may not see an apocalyptic event to the extreme of that in this show but what about the next generation or the next – my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren – those young ones that we may already know and those who, hopefully, we will get to meet and pass on some wisdom? What will they meet in their lifetimes and what knowledge do I have and what skills can I pass along so that they have “nuggets of info” to draw upon?

Taking that further, as an educator, what should I be ensuring the children have? Well, a quick look gives us:

* the ability to do creative thinking, problem-solving and inventing
* the ability to live off the land – planting, harvesting, preserving food
* the ability to select and eat plants in the wild (aka weeds)
* the desire to plant edibles so that there is food available
* the knowledge of how energy works, how to create energy in many different ways so that there is always a backup
* basic survival skills like making a fire and clean drinking water
* and the list goes on

We don’t have to make this serious stuff, scaring them about the possibilities. Most of this can be taught during a camping trip or in our own gardens. And of course the science experiments to understand electricity, solar energy etc. are already part of their education.

So much to do …. so much to learn … so much to pass on!

Has anyone seen the program “The Colony”?
Who makes a conscious effort to teach the children in their care how to live off the land and make do with the resources available? I’d love to hear your stories!


Today’s blog, posted by Mr. Schwaam on Google+ talks about balance and being “full”, full of stresses, priorities, and deadlines. (LINK)

Being “full”: My grandson, 22 months of age, frequently gets full, especially when he is tired. I know the signs, or most of them anyway, and I watch for them. The quivering lower lip, the tossing of game pieces, the aimless wandering, and the low tolerance outburst of tears are all signs that he has had enough.

The little guy likes to use a computer app to practice tracing letters. He used to just swipe his finger around the page and hope that he got something right. Now he slowly follows the symbols that guide him through the process – but oh the concentration and effort put into the muscle control. At some point he gets “full” and the frantic scribbling returns and then the game is closed down. It is too much. The same is taking place as he tackles the stacking toy. He concentrates, he tries, he thinks and thinks… he has successes and he has some “try again” moments. And all is well – until he gets “full”. Then he tries to get rid of some fullness by frantically swinging his arms, sending the pieces across the table.

My job is to find that balance between nudging him forward, encouraging him to keep trying, and stepping in to help. Step in too soon and I rob him of an opportunity to learn and to develop resiliency; step in too late and he is full and overflowing which takes away from his feelings of accomplishment and desire to try again.

It is also my job to make sure that I am keeping a balance between “new” and “familiar”. Too many new activities and concepts adds to the fullness. Imagine starting a new job at the same time as moving, learning a new hobby, getting a new pet, and being put on a special diet. I’m feeling “full” just thinking about it. Where is the stability? Where is the time that I go into auto-pilot and do the familiar?

Children need the familiar. They need repetition, not only to better understand and explore a concept but to give them time to recharge their batteries, to keep from getting full.

Balance: balance of the new and old; balance of active and quiet; balance of independent work and group activities; balance of “follow my lead” and “follow your lead”; balance… balance … balance. It’s needed in every area of their lives (and our lives). Finding that balance begins with awareness: awareness of the signs that one is getting full; awareness of personalities; awareness of one’s goals; awareness of routines and more.

Are you balanced? Is your program balanced? Are you aware of the children’s “getting full” signs?


The Introvert

I’m currently reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain and I am inspired as well as relieved.

In our world of extroverts getting the limelight and driving society through their ability to inspire others, we, the introverts, perhaps feel a little less worthy, perhaps wish we could be a little more like “them”. Self-help books galore are out there helping “us” develop the skills to come out of our shells and be successful. ((Sigh))

But Ms Cain paints a different picture – one that not only acknowledges the differences but celebrates the strengths of this character trait and the ways that it contributes to the Greater Good. “We” are as equally important in this world as those outgoing personalities.

So what does this mean in the classroom? Well, first we have to understand the introvert; then we have to respect it; and then we have to plan for it.
* Do we have quiet spaces for working and contemplation?
* Do we encourage thoughtful, reflective thinking outside of the group?
* Do we accept and respect that Johnny wants to sit at the edge of the circle and observe?
* Do we give enough time for contemplation of answers before asking one of those quick-hands-in-the-air?
* Do we balance “group work and assignments” with individual work?
* Do we help children recognize who they are, how they think, and feel comfortable “in their own skin”?

some things to think about!

The Blending Mind

As I write this, it is 5:30 in the morning and I just watched a few minutes of a presentation on TVO by author and columnist David Brooks. During these few minutes he spoke about Picasso and Steve Jobs (Apple Co-founder) as examples of the blending mind – the ability to mesh two concepts together to create something new.

The blending mind – creative, complex, inventive, and a whole of lot of neurons interconnecting! Just imagine the possibilities of the blending mind, think of the intellect involved in the processes. I am intrigued!!!

As I listed to the speaker and started processing the possibilities, the importance, and the impact of the concept of the blending mind, my brain jumped to envisioning a preschool scene where children bring blocks into the dramatic play area or playdo into the blocks area. Then I see educators putting limits on this play and return the blocks and the playdo to their designated areas. And I see the blended mind blocked, the interconnection of neurons prevented from connecting.

As a mentor and educator it is my job to encourage this blending mind, to role-model, to entice, to support, and to validate blended ideas. I can do this in art activities, with books and songs, during dramatic play experiences, exploration of nature and, well, the list is endless.

How do you encourage the blending mind? What are your stories of children engaging in such activities? I’d like to read your stories.

And now, I have to do an online search for more presentations and resources by Mr. Brooks!

G+ Community

Professional Development via the internet. One of the many pluses of the internet is the ability to share ideas and learn from each other. This is especially true for Early Childhood Educators and parents/families of young children.

Always on the lookout for new activities to do with young children, always open to new ideas to inspire learning and development, the internet is a great place to find it all. One of my favourite educators out there, Deborah Stewart, has created a early childhood community at Google Plus. Here, at “Teach Preschool” people share ideas, thoughts, and activities. (LINK)

Most of my blogging will now take place there unless I have an idea for a more philosophical topic. Over the past several months I have looked at early childhood education and teaching in general from my perspective. I hope I have inspired thinking about the issues and perhaps even some changes. And I hope that somehow I have contributed to the Greater Good and supported the next seven generations.

Thank-you for joining me on this journey.

From The Dalai Lama

I saw this message shared through the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page:

We have to think and see how we can fundamentally change our education system so that we can train people to develop warm-heartedness early on in order to create a healthier society. I don’t mean we need to change the whole system, just improve it. We need to encourage an understanding that inner peace comes from relying on human values like, love, compassion, tolerance and honesty, and that peace in the world relies on individuals finding inner peace.

This is what I have been looking at. This is what we need to be focusing on as we teach all of the other skills that the next generation needs.

Teaching a child to feel that sense of inner peace when he is in a conflict situation or meets a barrier in his path of some goal, for example, is absolutely vital to the health and well-being of the child as well as that of our society as a whole.

Do you role-model this way of being? Do you nurture it in others, empower it, teach it, guide it?