The holiday season is upon us and so many parents have asked me the question over the years of what they should get for their children. Here are responses I have always given and stick to. Our children don't need all the fancy gadgets. Below are some ideas for gifts for your child that are not only fun, but help to increase their achievement and love for learning along the way!
Below are a few of my favorite things as an educator I recommend parents give their children for holiday, birthday gifts, and for whatever event throughout the year, and gifts I also enjoy giving my own children.
Give the gift of writing
No matter how old your child is there is always time to record important life happenings and along the way strengthen their writing skills. When my children were babies and toddlers, I had a journal for each of them that I would try to write down little happenings and cute quotes or “firsts” that they would say or do.
Then when they were preschoolers, they would tell me what they wanted to remember about the day and I wrote it in their “forever” journal. When my son became a kindergartner, he began asking me to help write and I encouraged him to sound out the words in the sentence, but just give it a go for spelling for ideas are most important. Then as both my kids grew as first and second graders they were able to write their own sentences each night with little assistance. This writing work helped not only by helping them reflect on their day but preparing them to orally recall small moments, a great beginning to writing personal narratives. Now they both can't stop writing and want to be authors! In fact, it is a big crisis in our house if there is no paper or we are out of staplers and a book cannot be created! Just a packet of copy paper, a stapler, and some cool pens can help your budding author!
And guess, what? For older children, journals or diaries help give a parent a little window into their world and open communication between parent and child. As they grow, journals can also be therapeutic and encourage positive emotional growth.
Give the gift of reading
• New books
Of course, in my mind there is no greater gift than a new book or several new books! In our house we have books in our library, books in the living room, in the kitchen, in the bathroom and stacked on our bedside tables. Books everywhere! And if your child doesn't have a bed lamp, that is a must as well!
A recent study supports this culture of books in our homes. “Scholarly Culture and Educational Success in 27 Nations,” a study by four researchers in the United States and Australia and based on 20 years of research, suggests that children who have 500 or more books in the home get three years more years of schooling, on average, than children in homes that have no books. Even just 20 books make a huge difference in a child’s life. In my mind, there can never be enough books in a home as we work each day to raise readers who can and choose to read.
Also, remember if you are looking to buy new books support your local bookstore! Elk River Books here in Livingston always has a great selection and recommendations of children’s literature and books for all ages. If they don’t have a certain title in the store they can always order the book for you. They have been supporting the parent and educator book clubs at Winans and we are super grateful.
Give the gift of math
• Games: Board games/card games
The one thing that is most often overlooked as educational is the power of a board game – talk about fun! Not only do most board games, yes, even Candyland, help a child with one-to-one correspondence, counting, focus, and memory, they help a child learn to follow rules, directions, and get along with others in an often competitive situation.
Board games help teach children how to win and lose, a skill needed for the rest of their lives. Classic games like Yahtzee are perfect for kids working on their addition or multiplication facts, Monopoly for the understanding of money; the game of Sorry is especially good for reading and counting forward and backward. The list goes on and on. What does your child need to work on in the area of math? Find a game to help. There are a multitude of websites that can recommend specific games for ages and math skills.
Give the gift of time
You know your children and their interests. Maybe this year give them the gift of an art class, gift of a concert, a cool hike together, the gift of traveling on a new adventure or experiencing an outdoor excursion and join them! Give your child the gift of time. What our children probably most want to put at the top of their wish lists is for us to slow down, put down our phones, put away our computers, and listen to them and reconnect.
The journals, books, and games listed above can support this family quality time, as well. We learn so much about our children when they write in their journals about what they want to remember forever at the end of the day. We share special moments when we read the last chapter of “Charlotte’s Web” together and both express our feelings of happy and sad together. We enjoy the laughter and smack talk we offer one another during a good game of UNO that seems to go on and on forever. It is these moments that our children treasure most and we should hold onto as well.
I remind myself each day how fast they grow. I want to treasure these times, these moments and just by you reading this I can tell you do, too. You care about your child’s education and the fact that it is important to have fun and I agree, that is the key.
One of the best gifts we can give our children is the joy of learning.
As your child’s first and most important teacher, remember the gift of yourself you give all year long is what matters most to your child. Enjoy this holiday season and all the many special memories of writing, reading, playing games and spending quality time together.
You are a wonder. You are.
Think about it. You are here for a purpose.
Each one of our students at Winans Elementary are truly wonders. You see, obviously, but now you know I my blog is probably inspired by the recent hit movie, "Wonder" which was first the amazing book, "Wonder" by R. J. Palacio.
Our teacher book club at Winans just got done finishing it and discussing it and it truly hit home to us as educators, but also to many of us as parents. You see, all of us think our children are wonders, and as we should! They are! Each of our children are unique human beings with traits to teach us something and yes, even test us at times. But that is the beauty of it all. Like the parents in the story, we are protective, yet not trying to shelter are children too much. It is a fine balance to teach our children about this world, be their advocate, and yet give them the tools to also be their own advocate.
At our school we are really trying to empower students to take ownership over their own learning, academic and social and emotional learning.
Academically, we are teaching students to choose books they are interested in and are at their "just right level"- not too easy and not too hard. We are teaching strategies writers use, like rereading their writing to make sure it makes sense. We are not just having students practice math but think of all the ways to solve a problem.
With social and emotional learning we are teaching our students strategies to know what "zone" they are in - red, yellow, green, or blue and identify their feelings. We have calming spaces in our classrooms now, so or students can regulate and know when they need to take a break, regroup, play with their favorite fidget tool if they need to, and then return to the class. We are teaching them Kelso's choices that if you are in conflict with another friend you may use your words and tell them to stop, walk away, cool down, and or get an adult for help.
In our student leadership groups we are teaching our students that their ideas matter and at the young age of 6, 7, and 8 they can be a leader, make a difference by being an upstander on the playground, a good friend to others, create a game room, and build a buddy program.
These are just a few examples we are doing here at school and think of all you are doing at home to teach your child. You are a wonder. You are.
It is not easy. Being a parent is hard and we just have to hope we are making the right choices most of the time.
One thing is for certain, if we know we are doing the best we can and keep learning and growing, they will, too.
Take some time during this holiday season to slow down and see the wonder around you, see your child, the wonder, and see yourself as a wonder.
Like the main character Auggie Pullman stated, " Everyone deserves a standing ovation because we all overcometh the world. "
This time of year has me thinking about traditions.
As a classroom teacher I loved traditions. In fact, one tradition I always did with my students was having "Ellie the Elf" leave a book each day beginning Dec. 1st. Each day we would come into the classroom to find a new book (usually a holiday related book) left by Ellie. We had a big stocking that each child took turns pulling the book from and then I would read the book for our special read aloud. The kids would leave notes for Ellie and Ellie would leave notes for them. Ellie really helped us improve as readers and writers, not to mention add joy and fun to our classroom.
When I became a mom, Ellie began visiting our home as well. -) For ten years now, a book has been brought each day for my children leading up until Christmas. They look forward to Ellie coming. Sometimes it was a brand new one, sometimes a library book Ellie had checked out for them, and other times a used book Ellie had found at a used bookstore- but always a book and a special surprise. It also meant a special moment where I got to read to my children these special gifts. This tradition lives on today and my children are already talking not just about Santa coming, but Ellie the Elf coming and wondering what books she will bring.
As a family we of course also have our favorite Christmas movies, Christmas letter tradition, Christmas cookie making time, giving to others, pajamas for Christmas Eve, and the going out into the woods to get our Christmas tree and then of course the decorating party where we hang the angel. Many of these traditions were not possible living abroad, so I think I am even more excited for this year when we get to do them all again. The joy of the season is real and we can choose to get stressed, busy, and overwhelmed, or be mindful, present, and remember the little things like traditions are what mean the most to our children. I wonder when Ellie and Santa will no longer be longed for... but until that time comes I am going to treasure this season, these beautiful moments with my children and I hope you do, too. Childhood is fleeting and honestly, to be around children during this time of year makes my heart full. It is in their questions, their little excitement, their ideas for giving not getting, that really brings this season to life.
My holiday wish for you is that you truly treasure the traditions and this time with your little ones.
What are your family traditions? Share them on the comment space below!
The fall months are always a busy time. This Thanksgiving break ahead is a time to rejuvenate, relax, and reconnect. But how do we do this?
I have been thinking a lot about this as my own children's first and most important teacher lately. You see, as a working parent just like many of you, work can sometimes take over our lives. We can often forget the balance and although we often forget it, our children are the ones who can give us that balance. When we are stressed out ourselves we have a harder time being patient ourselves and our children often get the brunt of it.
My goal in this upcoming break is to be present, mindful, and there for my children, really whole family. I challenge us all as parents to do the same. Life can be so stressful, but at the end of the day, what matters most?
I want to share with you a piece of writing I came upon this past weekend that inspired me in creating this goal of mine for Thanksgiving break. I hope it inspires you, like it did for me. We need some reminders, for sometimes a mother and/or father forgets...
by W. Livingston Larned
Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blonde curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
There are the things I was thinking son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, "Goodbye, Daddy!" and I frowned, and said in reply, "Hold your shoulders back!"
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stocking were expensive- and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!
Do you remember, later when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. "What is you want?" I snapped.
You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding- this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: "He is nothing but a boy- a little boy!"
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday, you were in your mothers arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.
Grateful for Gratitude…
I am so grateful for gratitude and all it has brought me. It has changed me and how I view the world. Practicing daily gratitude all year long has created a more positive life for me and I believe for my children and I’d like to pass on a little of what I have learned even though I am always learning and growing in this area.
One thing that was awesome about taking our children abroad for a few years, was them learning all they couldn’t get in another country and the gratitude that actually happened. When we came back to the United States we were so grateful! Red vines, rootbeer, and hot tamales were at the top of our list, but there was so much more that I saw in their thinking. It was in the little things… but gratitude affects the big things!
I don’t think one needs to move abroad to become grateful. There are so many ways to incorporate it in our day. In the research that is coming out now about gratitude it is incredible. They say grateful and mindful people are happy people and happy people are not only mentally healthy but physically healthy and live way longer. I think most of us parents want our children to be happy and live longer, so how do we help them to be grateful first?
Gratitude creates happiness because we focus on what we have and not on what we don’t have. A perfect example of a practice I have started in the past years is when I start to get down because maybe something isn’t going well in my life. In the past I may have felt sorry for myself, now I try to tell myself three things that are going well for me. Gratitude takes the “poor me” self talk away and instead allows you to have the “I am so fortunate” self- talk which allows a person to also put things in perspective and become resilient in high stress or hard times. Successful people can do this and we want our own children to be able to do this and find success through their hard ship.
Here are just a few more tips I have used in my classroom and in my home that might be helpful….
Gratitude Jar- We are actually going to start this in our staff lounge this week. I am so grateful for gratitude because it takes us from a fixed mindset or a growth mindset… things might be hard now, but look at all the good, it is bound to get better! With a gratitude jar people put on little slips of paper one thing they are grateful for… it adds positivity to a home or workplace. This can be done in many different ways… next week we will have leaves on the table at Bingo Night so all can share what they are grateful for. When we express our gratitude we also feel positive feelings inside.
Gratitude Self- Talk- Every morning on the way to work I try to think of one amazing thing I am grateful for… sometimes it is the color of the sky, my heated car seat, sometimes the fact I have the best job in the world being surrounded by incredible students. Life is hard, so if we start our day with gratitude it tends to set us up for a more positive day.
Gratitude Envelopes- One tradition I did in my classroom and always on Thanksgiving in our home are “Gratitude envelopes”. Every child in the class or every person who comes to dinner gets an envelope and then there are slips of paper that say “I am grateful for…………..because……. Each person fills out a slip about each person and puts it in their envelope. It can stay private and people can read it on their own or you people can share if they choose, but it is a great way to “fill others buckets” some might say.
Gratitude Dinner Talk- My son was going through a phase a few years ago where he was really being negative about school, about our life, our move, etc. and we started taking turns saying three things we were grateful for each night during dinner. At first it was really hard for him to think of, but by the end of the first week, it came easy and the negativity turned to positivity, just from this simple dinner talk.
Serving others- I have always found that when I serve others I feel grateful. Before we moved from Ecuador I was a chair of a non-profit where we gave books to kids in need all over the Seattle area. Our non- profit ended up going from only giving a few thousand books each year to over 100,000 books to kids each year. Then in Ecuador my family helped build the first library and the first little free library in all of Ecuador. This serving others who were less fortunate has always given me and my family great feelings of gratitude. Find a cause, and do it together… not only it is a way to give back and feel gratitude, it also brings you closer together as a family.
There are so many ways to feel and show gratitude in our lives each day. Even on the hardest and roughest days, there is something we can be grateful for. Here are some other great articles that can help you encourage and foster gratitude in your kids. I for one, feel so grateful I can even pass these articles on to you… thank you for reading them and helping your child be grateful citizens of our world. Thank you for being their first and most important teachers and for helping them be happy and better people because of the gratitude they feel and show each day.
After two years abroad in Ecuador, I have returned back to the United States where I find TV once again is such a large part of our culture. Did you know? Children under the age of six watch an average of two hours a day (Moses, 2006). The average child watches three to four hours of TV a day (Statistical Abstracts, 2013). This number does not include video games and other forms of screen time. By age eight, 71 percent of children not only live in a home with three televisions but also had a TV in their bedroom, which added an additional hour of viewing (Trelease, 2013). According to this research, this rate increases as a child grows.
We know that too much TV is not good for kids. We know TV can have many harmful affects on a child’s life. Excessive TV viewing decreases physical activity, develops unhealthy eating habits, lowers school performance, causes sleep deprivation, adds to the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD and when exposed to violent TV shows, increases aggressive behavior in children (Borzekowski & Robinson, 2005; Owens et al.,1999; Christakis, Zimmerman, DiGiuseppe, & McCarty, 2004).
However, there is also much research to support the educational value of TV. The TV is a well-loved object (Linebarger 2010). And when I say TV in this day and age, that may mean watching shows/movies on an ipad, phone, car DVD player, streaming device and on computer, along with regular programming from a cable network. After reading many research studies I have created some guidelines for the TV that hopefully can help you and other families.
A few years ago and after researching a ton on this topic that ended up actually leading to my doctoral dissertation I created some guidelines for parents (and even educators!)...
Dr. Brooke’s Guidelines for the TV:
It is your and your family’s decision to obviously follow these guidelines or do away with TV altogether. I know many families who have a rule of no TV or screen time during the school week, while other families limit their child to one show after school. My rule of thumb is that if it’s affecting a child’s learning it is definitely time to rethink and create a new plan. I hope you find these guidelines helpful. I call them guidelines, because once again you are your child’s first and most important teacher. Best wishes in creating a home that supports and fosters a healthy life and a love for learning.
I remember my first parent teacher conference vividly. My son was in Kindergarten and even as a teacher myself I was anxious about this meeting. I worried about what the teacher would say, what I would learn, how he was doing making friends and socially along with how he was doing academically. It was over in a matter of minutes and I remember thinking, wow, okay, what was I so worried about?
Here are three important things to create a great conference!
1)Parent Teacher Conferences are a time where parents and teachers can come together to really talk about the strengths and areas of improvement for a child. It is important to not just ask about how your child is doing academically in math, reading, writing, but also socially and emotionally. Our children act different at home then at school, so I have always found it interesting to learn from a teacher's perspective their view of my child. Ask about participation, friendships, and who your child is connecting with in class so you can help make those out of school playdates to strengthen those relationships. Ask what your child does when they get upset and what tools they are learning about to help regulate their emotions so you too can use those same words/strategies at home. Ask about participation and group work, how does he/she do working as team player, in a whole group setting, or individually? Maybe you find out your child could work on being more independent or work on being more of a team player and those are things you could talk about on the way to school each day setting a goal with your child in. The classroom setting is so different from the home, so asking the right questions to understand that perspective is really crucial.
2) Ask the teacher how you can help your child at home! This is super important. All children can create goals and work on something at home that we could help them at home. For instance, at one of my conferences I learned my son was just reading fiction all the time, so a goal we made was to have a more balanced diet and we began looking for non-fiction everywhere we went. At another conference, I learned my daughter was really eager to learn her multiplication facts, but before she could jump ahead she needed to be more fluent in her basic math facts, so we made a goal to play more "Math War" at home to help her with these facts. Something fun and that would help her reach her goal of learning those multiplication facts!
3) Parent Teacher Conferences are also a time to build a relationship with the teacher. I love thanking them from the beginning for all the hard work they have been doing and again always at the end. Remember this parents! Teachers work so hard and beginning with a thank you and ending with a thank you goes a long way to begin a great relationship with the teacher. They care about your child deeply and go to great lengths to plan instruction every day to help support your learner. A simple thank you goes a long way.
These are just my top 3 that I want to remind you about... below you will find a few other articles with many more helpful hints to create a successful conference. Please take the time after to share all the great things with your child you heard and also set goals on anything they want help improving on. This feedback and just appreciation of celebrating our children right where they are, their unique personalities, and helping them reach their potential are the encouragers are children need.
Have fun at the conference. Try not to be anxious.-) Be excited and grateful for all the good learning your child is doing and hopeful for all the great growth that is about to happen this year!
And thank you, for coming and making it a priority!
Ask any teacher what they have done to help their own child be successful in school and they will tell you about the power of reading aloud. For we educators know firsthand, the glaring difference between a child who enters our classroom and has been read to compared to one who has not.
As a parent and educator, I gladly share the importance of reading aloud as I strongly believe reading aloud to your child is the single most important thing you can do as your child’s first and most important teacher to help your child succeed not only in school, but life. Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was right, when he said “The more you read, the more you know, the more you know, the more places you’ll go!” Research tells us this is so true. For the more you read and the more you know the longer you will also stay in school, earn diplomas and degrees and have endless opportunities. We know the opposite is true.
So, when should you start reading to your child?
Now! First and second grade is the perfect time. Even from the moment your child was born they could recognize your voice. When you talked and when you read to your child your voice soothed them and continues to. With this they also recognize sounds. In the first months and even to know, these sounds and words serve to create a bond between parent and child.
When should you stop reading to your child?
Never. As your child grows from a newborn to a toddler, to a preschooler, to a kindergartner, first grader and beyond, never stop reading aloud to your child. You are giving your child the gift of words at a time when the brain needs it most!
Not only does research indicate that reading aloud to children substantially improves their reading skills, as well as their written, oral, and auditory, in addition, children who hear stories read aloud have an increased positive attitude towards reading more so than those who do not hear stories read aloud (Jim Trelease, “Read Aloud Handbook”).
In other words, children who are read aloud to not only enjoy reading, but become readers themselves. And as researchers have seen in children across the world, including all social classes, kids who read the most, read the best and achieve highest.
In 1985, the U.S Department of Education declared in its report “Becoming a Nation of Readers,” these key important findings. First, the single-most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. Second, reading aloud is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.
As a classroom teacher many parents I knew thought that when a child begins to read independently, they no longer need to read aloud. But this is also not true. “Read aloud now and never stop!” This is the message I give now.
Kathy Collins, author of “Growing Readers and Reading for Real,” and a leading expert in teaching reading agrees. “Never stop reading to your kids – read to them as long as you can, as long as they’ll listen, even longer!”
She also recommends that every parent read “Reading Magic,” by Mem Fox and reminds us to think of reading aloud not only as a time for parents to provide their child with an advantage, but view it mostly as a precious time of focused attention and warm interaction with their children.
As a parent of a 4 and 2 year old, it was easier to read aloud to them. I treasured that they brought me dozens of books each day and begged to read just “one more” each night before bed. I dreaded the moment when they said “enough.”
Now with a 8 and 10 year old, they read constantly by themselves. However, they still beg for me to read aloud to them and I still enjoy it. My 10 year old and I are reading the book, “Wishtree” right now and the conversations we can have together and the time spent together I treasure.
Jim Brozina knows the moment all too well. When his oldest daughter was in fourth grade she decided she had “enough” of her father reading aloud to her. Brozina, an elementary school librarian, knew the importance of reading aloud and couldn’t let this happen when his youngest daughter grew older.
So, he proposed, “The Streak” to read aloud 100 nights. The 100 nights turned into 1,000 and pretty soon he had read aloud to her every day until she went off to college. Their little “streak” created a lifelong reader, a graduate with honors, and an everlasting father-daughter relationship.
The decline of older students’ recreational reading coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them. By middle school, almost no one is reading to them. By 12th grade, only 19 percent read for pleasure. What would happen if we just kept reading to our children? We didn’t allow them to say no. Not only would there be great academic gains made, but think of all the topics that might be brought up, the conversations that would be had, feeling and thoughts you might hear from your possibly closed-off teenager, the many parent-child bonds that would be strengthened.
Just because our child can’t sit on our lap anymore, does that mean they no longer have to brush their teeth, wear their seat belt, eat dinner at the family table? No, so why would we allow them to no longer listen as we read aloud to them when we know the great benefits.
Yes, our read aloud choices will most likely change as our child grows from board books, to children’s picture books, to poetry, an interesting article in the newspaper, or an age-appropriate paperback. But we should never stop reading aloud.
Possibly if we continued to read aloud to our upper elementary children, our “tweens,” our teens, yes, even our high school aged children, our children would continue to choose to read as well. As a teacher and as a parent, I think about this quote all the time by Lucy Calkins, founder and director of the Reading and Writing Project at the Teachers College at Columbia University. She said, “The crisis in America is not that kids can’t read, it is that they choose not to.”
Every time we read aloud to our children, whether they are infants or 15 years old, we are sending a very important message. We are showing that reading is not only important, but joyful and entertaining. In my classroom, whenever I felt that the excitement for reading is fading a little, there is nothing like a good read-aloud to bring the joy back! We can do this at home, too.
I believe parents must enjoy these read-aloud experiences and look forward to this time just as much as our children. Instead of always giving our children the choice, we can also be choosing books that we want to read, that excite us, that changed how we thought or made us feel when we were young.
I don’t think I would be the same person today without the devoted and loyal Charlotte, the feisty and independent Pippi Longstocking, and the passionate and strong willed Jo March. I have enjoyed sharing these childhood favorites with my own children. It is like introducing them to bits of me, but also watching them as they find their own favorites that challenge their thinking, change their ideas, and help them form new ideas about themselves, the world and people around them.
You are the first and most important teacher in your child’s life. In some ways, you are also the co-author of your child’s life. You write the beginning of your child’s story by reading aloud to them from day one. You create the setting by providing your child with the three “B’s”: Books, Bathroom (books in the bathroom), and a Bed Lamp (Jim Trelease, “Read Aloud Handbook”) and a TV out of the bedroom.
You set the tone by modeling your own reading life, making time for reading, providing a quiet environment free of distractions, continuing to read aloud, and remembering to enjoy every minute of it. In doing so, you make a huge difference in how the story goes for your child. As your child’s first and most important teacher, read aloud to your child from the very beginning and never stop, so your child may have a happily ever after ending.
For me personally I have been thinking a lot about mindfulness lately. I’ve been reading the book, “Mindful Parenting” with the Winans Parent Book Club and I am eager to begin to read the book for our Winans Educator Book Club called “Mindfulness for Teachers”. What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is "paying attention to the present moment without judgement."
Honestly, going abroad for two years, I think taught me and really all of us, my husband and two children, that we must "pay attention to the present moment". It was easier in a way in our two years in Ecuador, living in a different country, zip-lining in the cloud forest one weekend, traveling down the river in the Amazon River the next, swimming with penguins in the Galapagos… you knew it wouldn’t last forever, so you had that mindset of “treasuring the now”. And now that we are back in the U. S., I want that mindfulness, that gratitude of each day, each relationship I have, those moments shared, to be treasured, as if again, it won’t last forever...
This past weekend it was our first visit from Grandma and Grandpa to our new home, first visit to a pumpkin patch in over two years, first fall in awhile… it makes me think about the little things we sometimes take for granted. My family didn’t know how much we missed the pumpkin patch, the fall leaves, the taste of apple cider, the visiting with grandparents… until we didn’t have it anymore. I think too often that is what happens in life and why I myself have really gained interest in all this mindfulness learning as well. A huge part of the mindfulness work is about being grateful in the moment. It is no wonder that research has found that people who are most mindful, have strong relationships, and are happier and healthier in life.
Kristen Race, Ph.D, the author of the book, Mindful Parenting, states that the first part of mindfulness "paying attention to the present moment" is pretty straight forward, but the second piece of the definition "without judgement", is the hardest.
It is not always easy to do either, especially without judgement, when life is hard. A perfect example of that may be when our child is having a meltdown… and in that moment we have a choice, to react and make it worse, or to help by being the calm. We know that most of the time when our children are upset there is something underneath it…. first things first- we can go to hunger or thirst… are their basic needs being met? Then maybe something happened to them that they can’t even explain themselves. They need listened to… really heard. Are we taking the time to do that? Personally, every time I have reacted with my own children in a punitive disciplinary way (like yelling), it has backfired and no learning has ever occurred. When I have listened, helped them calm, helped them identify what they are feeling, and then asked questions of why, this is really when learning has occurred. This is when we can reflect about how to make a different choice next time and/or how to make it better. And then if we are mindful within even these tough moments, as parents and educators, we learn! We learn the needs of our children. For example, my son needs hugged. My daughter always needs a drink of water. Instead of asking, what is wrong with this child? We ask what has happened to this child? And we become mindful in the toughest moments and learn a lot about ourselves in the meantime.
Many of us, were brought up in a punitive home. And for so long, our school system has been under a punitive school system. We have suspended kids at a drop of a hat, or used detention to “punish” kids. Research on years of this system has discovered these punitive discipline systems have no teaching element to them and may be a short term fix but long term the child gets angrier and even revengeful, mad at school, feels unwanted, and often drops out. If the home is also giving the same message, you can imagine what happens to these students.
Now is there a time or place for suspension, of course, but these mindful practices with our children- this teaching of the behaviors is what is going to long term show our children that we care about them. There are restorative and mindful practices happening all over the world now, where children and adults are learning how to calm and de-escalate themselves and not be reactive. The outcomes are incredible. And once again, I go back to what research tells us and what I know as an educator, the relationship between the adult and child is everything. This is why the beginning of the year can be so hard for so many children… they don’t know these people or “teachers” yet, and they test us at school and at home- do we care? Will we spend the time to listen, to problem solve, to help? Will we be mindful enough to take the time and not react?
There is a lot of good research around this topic right now and I feel the mindfulness work our parents at Winans are starting to learn about, as well as our teachers, are really putting us on the right path for long term success. At Winans for the past five years, the teachers and staff have been implementing a lot of this good work around a school wide positive support and discipline plan and have received the Silver Honor Award from the Montana Behavior Institute and MSU. We are carrying on with this good work this year as we learn even more about trauma informed practices, sensory education, and social and emotional learning for ourselves and our students. The mindfulness piece is part of all this amazing learning happening at our school with parents and teachers and it is truly exciting.
So do me a favor, check out our incredible mountains, look at the orange, reds, and yellows in the leaves surrounding us, think about the beauty that surrounds us and the next time something really makes you mad, upsets you… stop, breathe, count backwards 10, give yourself a “break” (even in another room), and think of something you’re grateful for, how much worse it could be… and instead of reacting, try to just be. It is amazing when children see the adults in their life trying these strategies too… what an impression it has. Together, the school and the home…imagine all our children, not reacting, but having the skills to calm and be mindful, so that they are able to make good choices, have strong positive relationships in their life, live a healthier life, and ultimately a happy life. Imagine…
If you are interested in learning more... join us at book club Oct. 24th or in our Winans Parent Book Club on facebook or check out www.mindfulschools.org
The first grade and second grade leadership teams met last Friday during lunch. It was incredible (but no surprise) to hear all their amazing thinking they came up with about what a good leader is and how they felt they could help their school community.
We started off the lunch talking about what a leader is... they shared many examples of leaders in our community like firefighters, police officers, and leaders in their school, like teachers and principals and even in their home, like mom and/or dad.
First Grader student leaders came up with a bunch of great ideas:
What is a leader?
Someone who helps others.
Someone who serves others.
Someone who keeps us safe.
Someone who helps us move forward in life.
Someone who takes care of us.
The first graders decided they wanted to do something to help friendships grow in our school by possibly creating students leaders who at recess help people solve problems and use Kelso’s Choices.
Kelso's Choices are strategies promoted through a social and emotional program where a frog named Kelso helps students use strategies when they are upset or angry and to problem solve. For example, some of Kelso's Choices include walking away, going to a different game, talking it out, saying please stop, making a deal, and waiting and cooling off.
As a parent you can recommend your child using these choices to help solve conflict at home even with brothers or sisters to reinforce these good choices at home. Also, when talking about issues that happened at school, please ask your child what choices they are using to problem solve. The more the school and home are on the same page, the better!
Second Graders also met and came up with some really great ideas.
What is a leader?
Someone who keeps others safe.
Someone who always helps their team.
Someone who can help just one or a lot of people.
Someone who is a problem solver.
Second graders also interestingly enough, came up with a similar idea of a “friendship patrol” and we left with them saying they wanted to be called the “Eagle Squad”! They were also interested in helping students solve conflict and problem solve. We will meet again this week to grow our ideas and put them into an action plan.
I was surely inspired and you should be too, by our first and second graders. I know they will help make an impact on our school community. These student leaders will continue to meet with me on Fridays all month and we will then put their plan into action. With us all working together, teachers, parents, and students... we are bound to see an amazing positive impact in our school.