May is a Good Month to Read!
Well really any month is a good month to read! The benefits of reading even to a baby who does not yet understand words are numerous. Spending even just ten minutes a day reading with your child can have a huge impact on his or her development and future success in school. Reading with your child has such a huge impact on a child that experts say it can even impact their adult health. Wow! So let's get reading. We love reading at our house, but sometimes life just gets busy. We always like to read before bed, and we think we are doing a good job getting everyone ready for bed, but then we look at the time and it is later than we hoped! It happens. Here are a few ways that we sneak reading into our busy lives, and maybe they would work for your family too!
1. It sounds funny, but we would sit and read to our kids when they were potty training!
2. If you are running out of time at night, do two things at once and read to them while they are in the tub!
3. Our family LOVES listening to audiobooks! Instead of having kids watch videos while you travel, listen to an audiobook!
4. Read at the table! During Lent when our kids were little, we would read a Bible story each night at dinner.
5. Read outside! There is something so relaxing about reading in a hammock or on a blanket looking up at the sky.
6. Go to Story Time!! I would take my kids to story time at the library every week! That is how we discovered some of our favorite books!
Fun Activities for March
March is here and has us all dreaming of spring, but the weather is just not there quite yet! While we all have some cabin fever from the snow and cold of the last few months, I wanted to provide you with some fun activity ideas for the month! Do them all, or pick your favorites! No pressure! Just do what works best for your family! Enjoy and have fun!!
by Carla Lynch
I am a mom of four kids, so I know how easy it is to just hand your child a screen to get a couple more minutes of sleep, or time to make dinner or just a little peace and quiet! Believe me, I've been there! The trouble comes when it becomes the routine, and kids these days (and adults as well) spend an exorbitant amount of time on screens. Studies show that too much exposure to screens can be detrimental to our children's development. There is a study attached below that talks about the affects of touch screens on kids' ability to focus. I know when I would tell my kids, "Time to turn off the TV," or "No, you cannot play on the ipad," it was always met with resistance. Maybe a tantrum would happen or they would become upset or sullen. Giving in was always the easier option, but definitely the more costly one! Though it was usually met with opposition to start, I was always grateful in the long-run that I didn't give in to them. Though the first couple minutes were a battle, what would follow was always worth it. Usually great teamwork or cooperation would emerge. They would decide to do puzzles together or build a fort, or break out a toy that hadn't been played with for a while. Perhaps they would show up a few minutes later all dressed up as super-heroes, or princesses, or football players or a strange conglomeration of all three! They would get creative and really play, and it was wonderful!
A wise person once said to me that whenever you say yes to one thing, it means you are saying no to another. Our children's time on screens is taking away from the time that we had as kids to pretend, to build, to create, to dress-up, to play. None of us are perfect parents, and to say we will not allow any screen time is not realistic. Let's try to say "no" more often to screens. In turn we will be saying, "yes" to all the amazing benefits of play for our children.
by Wendy Occhipinti
Mister Rogers Neighborhood first premiered on television in 1968, the year I was born. I grew up watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood and what I remember most about the show was how kind and nurturing Mister Rogers was. If you have never watched Mister Rogers Neighborhood, take a minute to YouTube an episode and watch a portion. While it may seem out dated compared to today’s children’s shows, it was magical to the children who were watching in the 70’s like me. Mister Rogers would interact with the children who were watching the show by talking directly to the camera. While I was watching the show, I felt as if he was talking directly to me! I can still recall all the words to the opening song which ends with…" Won’t you be my neighbor?” Mister Rogers created a calm, safe place for children to learn about themselves and the world around them.
You may be wondering what Mister Rogers Neighborhood has to do with “Helping Children Deal with Violence” – the title of my blog post today. Well, when I think back to my childhood, I have a feeling of Shangri-La and that my childhood was a wonderful safe time in our society. Where there wasn’t anything to be afraid of. I feel like I lived in Mister Rogers neighborhood – this calm, safe place where everyone was good to each other and helped their neighbors. For those of you who know your history, 1968, the year of my birth, was anything but Shangri-La. 1968 was considered “The Year that Shattered America”. Movements that started in the 60’s – The Vietnam War, The Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement – exploded that year. The Vietnam War was in full swing and in March gave rise to The Tet Offensive – a series of surprise coordinated attacks by the North Vietnamese against 36 major cities in South Vietnam. The Tet Offensive is historically seen as the beginning of the end of US involvement in the Vietnam War. There were two assassinations - Civil Rights Leader, Martin Luther King Jr and Presidential Candidate, Robert F. Kennedy. It was a year of many civil rights protests – one famously at the Olympics where 2 black athletes took a stand against racial discrimination by raising their fists during the national anthem. If I didn’t know better, it sounds a lot like 2018 with one exception, the absence of school shootings. A more recent type of violence that seems never ending.
Which brings me to the reason I have decided to write my blog today on Helping Children Deal with Violence - the most recent school shooting yesterday in Parkland Florida. My heart breaks that yet again we are witnessing violence in our schools – the place where our children should have a calm, safe learning environment. I find my self thinking where is Mister Rogers and his Neighborhood? How do we give our children, a calm, safe environment in which to grow up in. While I always felt calm and safe growing up, the reality was that the world I grew up in was neither. What made the difference in my life? How was I shielded from the violence that was going on in the world? Many will say the difference is the media coverage. With news broadcasted 24 hours a day, violence can be seen and heard in our living rooms all day long. While there was not 24-hour news coverage in 1968, the 60’s saw the rise of television and by 1966, 93% of all Americans had a television. Television became THE most important news source for the Viet Nam War. So, I must ask myself these questions again…What made a difference in my life? How was I shielded from that violence? The answer…my parents and all the other important adults in my life – grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches, neighbors and family friends. They were my neighborhood. They were my support system. They shielded me from the violence, answered my questions and made me feel safe. Another factor that made a difference in my life growing up was that many of these events didn’t feel personal to me. They didn’t feel as if they directly affected me. I didn’t live in Viet Nam, I didn’t know anyone who was in the military and as a young girl had never experienced discrimination. The problem with school shootings is that almost every child can relate to the concept of school. Children as young as 2 or 3 know the concept of school, have a sibling who attends school or attend school themselves. Because of the familiarity of school, children are more alert when they hear the word “school” and can make a personal connection through their own experience. This makes these types of events even scarier for children. They think - can this happen at my school? my brother’s school?
So, what can we do about it? How can we make our children feel safe and shield them from the violence around them? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but Mister Rogers does. That wonderful, calm soul who created a nurturing neighborhood for children in the 70’s has some great advice for all of us. "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world." – Fred Rogers
For more information and other resources visit https://www.fredrogers.org/parents/special-challenges/tragic-events.php
My New Favorite Book!
by Carla Lynch - Sand Hills Preschool Toddler Time Teacher
I have recently been reading a great book called, The Self-Motivated Kid: How to Raise Happy, Healthy Children Who Know What They Want and Go After It (Without Being Told) by Shimi Kang as part of a book club with my kids’ elementary school. It talks about raising happy and healthy kids, and who doesn’t want that? The book makes the argument that our society has mixed up priorities and has our kids over-scheduled and pushed to the limits. (And we are too!!) I could really identify with the feeling of pressure to do it all! Our culture has a “more is better” mentality, and that if your kids aren’t in lots of activities, sports, classes etc. they are missing out! The book presents the idea of needing balance in our lives in order to have the “best” in life! Her prescription for balance in our lives and the lives of our children is as follows:
-Give your child some free time
-Breathe deeply and be mindful
Part of the balance prescription was free time (that doesn’t involve a screen)! Allowing children to have free time in their lives so that they can PLAY is a huge part of the book. It talks about all kinds of interesting studies and research that shows how creative play actually affects people’s brains and allows them to be successful in life, and how a lack of play can have negative outcomes! In short, we have our priorities mixed up, and we are selling ourselves and our kids short with our crazy lives and hectic schedules! I couldn’t help but think of our school while reading this book and how it really embraces this mindset and really understands this idea and how learning takes place through play, especially at this age!
So here is our challenge for the month: let’s try to spend some time playing with our kids! We might have to say “no” to some activities or events. We might need to clear out our schedule a bit. It might feel irresponsible at first, but I think once you start to achieve and experience the balance that she speaks of, it will be so freeing you won’t want to go back! There are no right and wrongs here, embrace your inner child and allow yourself and your kids some free time to play! It will have lasting benefits! Let us know how it goes!
The Ordinary is Extraordinary
I just learned about the book "The Ordinary is Extraordinary: How Children Under Three Learn" by Amy Laura Dombro and Leah Wallach from an email I received at work. Needless to say I was very intrigued. This book was originally published 28 years ago but I feel it’s message is relevant in today’s world as well. In introducing this book, Amy and her co-author Leah Wallach shared the following observations:
"The book is about the tremendous education you give your child simply by loving her and living with her. Recent child-rearing literature often stresses the importance of 'quality time' — time parents dedicate wholly to their children.... The hour you set aside just to teach your child is exciting and valuable for both of you, but it is only a small part of the time you spend with her, and it is not the most important part. Most of your time together is inevitably spent on personal and household routines: changing, dressing, and bathing her; cleaning the house; preparing dinner; paying the bills; doing the laundry; reading the paper.
"These everyday activities are not just necessities that keep you from serious child-rearing; they are the best opportunities for learning you can give your child and the most important time you can spend with her, because her chief task in her first three years is precisely to gain command of the day-to-day life you take for granted. Ordinary time is 'quality time' too.
"...To a small child, our chores are intriguing performances: fresh, complex, and absorbing. For children, the mundane is new, unclassified territory, and it's magical. They set about exploring every day by collecting, organizing, and reorganizing information about their bodies and their environment, about people and how people behave and communicate with one another."
My children are now adults. After reading these comments I found myself thinking back to the days when my own children were young. Back then, our financial situation was such that any activity that cost money was simply out of the question. We stayed mostly at home and I enlisted them to help out with the ordinary chores that I did all day long. Folding laundry, feeding the dog, dusting and vacuuming, preparing dinner. We spent a lot of time reading, coloring and playing with toys as well. We would have outings to visit their grandmother and have lunch, take walks to the local park and have a picnic. Our days were quietly spent with each other.
I didn’t think I was doing anything extraordinary and to be honest I used to feel bad that we didn’t have outings to the zoo, aquarium or science center. Since I have been involved in early childhood education, I can see the wisdom in all the mundane, every day activities we did. While they are mundane and “everyday” to us, to small children they are exciting adventures. And the one thing all small children want and crave is their parents’ attention and affection. It doesn’t matter if they receive it through doing ordinary household chores or visiting the zoo.
So don’t feel bad when you have to clean the house or do the laundry. Enlist the help of your child and turn the mundane into the extraordinary.
Woodworking with Children
Children learn by doing. They learn by communicating, both speaking and listening. They learn by using their hands. Woodworking provides all of these.
One of my great joys is to share the fun experience of working with wood. We start by talking about safety, and what we are going to make. We talk about how we will smooth the wooden figure by sanding until the edges are as smooth as our cheeks. We put on our safety glasses, then we begin cutting out the figure, my hands over theirs, until just before we’re done, when they do the last bit of cutting all by themselves! We talk about how it’s ok if we cut outside the lines because no two things in nature look the same, and this figure will be uniquely theirs. They sand and paint and decorate their wood project, and the pride starts setting in…I MADE THIS! And they don’t even realize they’ve been learning.
Christmas Book Recommendations
It's the Christmas season and I thought I'd share some of my favorite Christmas books for children.
Preschool Education Matters!
Sand Hills Preschool has signed up to be a part of a new initiative within the state of NJ called Grow NJ kids. Grow NJ Kids is a collaborative effort of the state of NJ and the Departments of Children and Families, Education, Health and Human Services. It is a rating and improvement system designed to assess child care and early learning programs, provide training and incentives to improve them and communicate their level of quality to the public.
I first heard about the program through a flyer asking for volunteers to sign up to for the pilot program. I applied to be a part of this new initiative right away as I wanted to be a part of the initial process where I felt I could have the most impact on early education in NJ. Sadly, we were not chosen. Information was then sent out about a year later for schools to volunteer for the first phase. I signed right up! Many factors went into my decision to sign up.
We get money! As a non-profit school, I am always on the lookout for ways to reduce our budget and anytime I can get something for free, I jump at it! So when I found out that we could receive incentive money to make improvements to our program and obtain free training for all staff, needless to say, I was very excited.
We get help! Yes! We are assigned a Quality Improvement Specialist who helps throughout the process. Our QIS meets with us regularly to assist us in understanding the self-assessment process and informing us of training and any changes made to the program. It’s like having your own specialist at your beck and call!
We are validated! What we do is important! GNJK is a collaboration between the Department of Children and Families (the organization that regulates childcare and preschool) and the Department of Education (the organization that regulates public education – kindergarten through high school). I had always felt that there was a disconnect between what we as preschool and childcare professionals believe are the benefits of early learning and development and what the general public felt. For lack of a better term, I had always felt like childcare was viewed as babysitting rather than an essential part of a child’s education. There has been a lot of research done lately revealing that children’s earliest learning experiences (birth – 5) have a huge impact on their learning outcomes later in school. Hooray! Finally, the conversation has changed and people are realizing that preschool is crucial to educational success. The cooperation between these organizations raises the bar and validates the benefits of quality early education. When an institution like the Department of Education is involved, we move from a “babysitting” mentality to an “education” mentality.
Sand Hills Preschool celebrated 20 fabulous years of serving our community this year. We are an accredited preschool with a high quality program. In order to stay that way, we need to keep up with the latest research and information in the education field. If we want to be here 20 years from now, we need to make sure we are recognize the changes coming and adapt accordingly. I feel that Grow NJ Kids is helping us to do that.
Back to School Jitters
Well it is back to school time and it can be nerve-racking for both children and parents! Especially here at the preschool where for some children this is their first school experience and possibly their first time away from mom and dad. After 16 years of experience with preschoolers and also from my experience as a mom, I would like to offer you some advice for the next coming weeks. Below are my top 10 things to remember for your preschooler's the first days of school:
1. Dress your child for fun and play.
2. Always have your child wear sneakers or comfortable shoes.
3. Send in a family photo to help your child to feel more comfortable at school.
4. Read all notices sent home and information posted throughout the school.
5. Pack an extra set of clothes in your child's school bag. A favorite toy or comfort
item can be sent in as well to help with separation.
6. Read books at home about school and school activities.
7. Talk to your child about what they did at school. Information on the classroom
boards will tell you exactly what they did all day and give you some great ideas
for what to talk about.
8. Always be positive and encouraging about school and all the fun your child will
have. Children can sense your anxiety even if you don't talk about it.
9. Give your child a big kiss and a hug and say goodbye.
10. Leave. Call the school in 20 minutes to get a report about how your child is
doing. Children need to fully separate in order to adjust. Lingering around in the
classroom or outside the school building just makes the separation process more
Remember school is a positive experience for your child. While it may take some time for your child to adjust, in the end they will come to learn that school is a fun place to learn and play with friends.