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Thursday, May 26, 2011

I hate preschool rest time! -an alternative system for courageous carers

One of the things I really loved about being a preschool room leader was being able to stamp out the compulsory 'rest on a bed' after lunch. 

And one of the greatest frustrations of being a casual worker these days is having to conform to the routine of each centre, which invariably means telling some 4- and 5-year-old children (and some even younger) who really aren't tired that they have to lie on their beds for a certain length of time.  And them making them comply.

To me, insisting that a young child lies down and stays still and unoccupied when they're not tired- accompanied by the inevitable threats, pleading, raised voices, bribes, lies and confrontations when they won't comply- is a recipe for disaster.  In some cases, it's completely disrespectful and in breach of the rights of the child (as laid down by the United Nations).

Does that shock you- that carers threaten, bribe and lie to children? It shocks me. I can't do it.  So why is it such common practice?

And yes, it IS common practice.  Here are a few anecdotes from 'rest times I have seen'.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Whistle-blowing and parent awareness in childcare

This morning I have had a good old cry.  Sometimes the frustration I feel at seeing bad practice with supposedly good intentions is overwhelming. Stamping out really bad practice is, as I've discovered in many years of blowing whistles, a little harder than just reporting breaches of regulations.

And so at risk of making your blood run cold if you have a child who's cared for by others, I feel a need to vent about some bad practice I've seen over the years and what happened in a couple pof cases when I tried to change things for the better.  And in the interests of you being able to sleep at night, I'll also volunteer some ideas on signs that your child's centre might be engaging in poor practices.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Literacy, little boys and fairy tales

There are some great conversations happening on the 'We Teach' forums about getting boys to read- eg here Literacy for boys.  Today a related story turned up in the SMH- Tell teenagers stories and they'll read - which is really worth a look if you're interested in motivating teenagers about anything at all.

It got me thinking about the energetic little 4- and 5-year-old boys I read to; I'm talking about those little boys who love pretending to be superheroes, wrestling with each other, climbing trees, riding bikes... the ones who have trouble sitting still for long enough to eat their lunch, let alone long enough to hear a whole story.  I thought I'd share a few specific tips for engaging this group in story time, because since I've realised what catches their interest, I've never had trouble getting them to sit and listen.

The value of taking tantrums seriously

Lately I've been doing a bit of 'homework' on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), as I'm working with some children who've been diagnosed with a variety of conditions within that range.

One piece of advice that stood out was that when children with Asperger's Syndrome show extreme distress over some seemingly small and unimportant matter, their concern should be taken seriously- even if acting on it seems silly to you- as their anxiety is real and is based on actual physical or psychological discomfort. Yes, it can physically hurt when they are forced to look you in the eye. Yes, a change in their routine can cause extreme anxiety. And so forth.

Yesterday I used this information to deal with a little girl's meltdown over a small dirty mark on her clothes. 'Bree' had tried to remove the mark by wetting half her sleeve on a freezing cold morning, and another carer had immediately sent her inside to change- at which point the hysterical crying, screaming and thrashing started. I was handed a package of loud and violent 4-year-old misery to deal with, complete with stern directions to make her put on a dry top.

Yes, Bree has Asperger's. But as I wrestled with her specific issue using my new-found knowledge, I started wondering if this way of coping with a small child's distress was really so ASD-specific, or whether it might be useful to keep in mind for all children who seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill.

This is not to downgrade the relevance and importance of the information to the welfare of children with ASD- not at all- but I found much wisdom in the advice which could be transferred to general parenting and benefit all children.

Has your child ever had a ridiculous tantrum over, say, a minor clothing issue, or the fact that you broke their block building, or an item they aren't allowed to take with them when you go out, or some other seeming non-issue (to adults)? How did you deal with it?

Let's do a bit of a breakdown of Bree's problem and see if we can use an ASD strategy to help us deal with out-of-control neurotypical children too.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thoughts on Mothers' Day

As my Facebook page fills up with my friends' urgings to celebrate my mother, the TV shouts at me to buy a gift for my mother and the junk mail in my letterbox splatters images of mothers all over my consciousness, I've started thinking about children who don't have a mother and how they (and their dads) deal with Mothers' Day. And of course there's the flip side- mums who've lost their partner and children who've lost their father, and who have to deal with that as Fathers' Day approaches, complete with school craft projects and gift stalls and morning teas and card-making.

I'm thinking like that, of course, because all this Mothers' Day saturation still makes me wince- and it's nearly 25 years since my mother died.

So, how do teachers make sure they don't bruise feelings through their programming at this time of year? And how do parents who've lost a partner- whether to death or divorce- ensure that their children don't feel lost and miserable at these times of year?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Measuring excellence in your child's teachers

There's a lot of hoo-ha going on in the press at present about Julia Gillard's intention to introduce financial rewards for excellence in teaching.  The main topic of debate seems to be how to measure excellence with any sort of accuracy.  Parents are constantly interested in the standard of their child's teachers, too, but the yardsticks they use are many and varied.

So for what it's worth, here are my views on getting a clear impression of a teacher's performance, along with some personal anecdotes about teachers I have known- excellent, and not-so-excellent!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The preschooler as author: first steps in creative literacy

Today my group of six 4-year-old preschoolers made up their first story. They looked at me in complete amazement (and to be honest a fair amount of disinterest) when I told them what we were going to do today- but 20 minutes later we had a story up on the wall, and they were shouting 'Let's do another one!'  with great excitement.

It's not the first time I've had this reaction to such a seemingly advanced activity with completely normal (ie not necessarily gifted) 4-year-olds. Yes, the story had a beginning, a middle and an end, it made pretty good sense, and the ideas were all from the children.  The only tricks to achieving a similar result with your own group of young children are in the preparation and the timing of any subtle 'nudging'.

So here's a user guide to starting story-writing with little kids.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What will your kids' childhood memories be?

Have you ever wondered what enduring images are tucked away in your children's heads?

Our view of what our children might remember isn't always accurate- it's coloured by our own emotions and priorities. Think back to your own childhood.  What emerges first from the mist? And do you think your own parents would have been able to guess what you remembered?

Putting ourselves 'in the zone' of childhood like this helps us to see our children's point of view. It's so easy to forget what it's like to be a child.  We can learn from what we ourselves remember. Here are some of my childhood memories, and what I've learned about children from those memorable moments.