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Archive for August, 2019

Five Activities to Encourage Reluctant Readers

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By Lee Scott
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

It is back to school time, and while you busily plan which school clothes and supplies to buy, you may also be thinking about your young child’s next year in school. When my nephew, Ben, was a young child, he was not a big fan of reading. He liked to build things and loved to explore the outdoors, but he had no interest in picking up a book. He was interested in cars, trucks and animals. There is a magazine called Uncle Henry’s that contains lists of all kinds of things for sale or for free throughout the state of Maine. Ben would ask about the lists. We thought that if we could get Ben to read about things he was interested in, we might make some progress. I would sit with Ben and pick out key words as we read the magazine together, looking at the listings for things he liked. His interest in reading started to improve. One day, he ran into the kitchen after reading the magazine to tell me we had to drive to Holden, Maine. He had just read that a farm there was offering free goats. “Why goats?” I asked. Ben said they love to eat grass, and we would never have to mow the lawn! I laughed so hard and was pleased with his reading progress and his logic.

It was rewarding that we were able to get Ben more excited about reading, but as an educator, I wondered why he was so reluctant at such an early age. He liked being read to and he could read, but he just wasn’t interested in reading himself. Why wasn’t he motivated? There are two types of motivation to read: extrinsic and intrinsic. It is the latter that is the most important. Being internally motivated to read, versus reading because the teacher or parent asked, leads to higher engagement in reading and achievement.

Researchers and educators agree that the best way to help children become internally motivated to read is to read to them when they are young and read often. It is also important to read about things that are of interest to them.

There are several other things you can do to support a love of reading that go beyond finding books and magazines of high interest to your child. Try these five activities designed to help young children build a passion for reading at an early age:

  1. Build a home library. Create a home library of books and magazines the whole family enjoys. Select both fiction and non-fiction books; include picture books, comics and a variety of media. Frequently add new books and give away used books to local charities. Have your child involved in selecting a book to read each month or week;
  2. Find the right books. Nothing is more motivating than feeling confident you can do the task. Help your children select books that are of high interest but are also at their reading levels. Consistently struggling with words or word meanings can reduce a child’s desire to read. Most children’s book resources have the appropriate reading skill or age level listed in the book descriptions;
  3. Read without books. You can do a lot of things that involve reading without using books. Try reading and following a recipe with your child to create a special treat. Ask your child to help create the grocery list and read while you shop. Draw pictures and create captions. Play games while riding in the car, such as I Spy, or find license plates with a specific letter;
  4. Embrace technology. Find apps and online games or activities that support reading. E-reading can be fun as children follow the story being read to them online;
  5. Learn something new. Play a new game with your child. Read the instructions and learn to play the game. Select games where reading is required to play. Build something together. Reading the instructions to build or create something can help support reading development. Learn a new song and read the lyrics together.

Back-to-School Countdown Bus Craft

Materials 

  • Yellow and black construction paper 
  • Pencil  
  • Scissors 
  • Glue stick  
  • Smiley face stickers 

Instructions 

  1. Draw the shape of a school bus on a piece of yellow construction paper, and cut it out. The bus should be almost the full length of the paper. 
  1. On a piece of black constructions paper, draw seven small rectangles for windows, a long rectangle for the stripe and two circles for the wheels, and cut them out. 
  1. Use the glue stick to adhere the windows, the stripe and the tires to the bus. Feel free to add additional decorations to make the bus your own. 
  1. Hang the bus where your child can see and reach it during the week before the first day of school. 
  1. Starting a week before the first day of school, encourage your child to place one smiley face sticker in a window of the bus every day. On the first day of school, the bus will be full of happy faces. 

Off to school they go! 

When Separation Anxiety Is More Than Just a Phase

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By Jack Maypole, MD
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Nyla is on her fourth preschool. Her mother is exasperated and says Nyla has become increasingly high maintenance. Of late, she has taken to complaining about school drop-off at bedtime and wakes frequently at night worrying about what could go wrong at school (to her or to her mother while she is away). She is an articulate, bright and otherwise healthy four-year-old who now refuses breakfast because she is nauseated all the time. She all but insists that her working parent stay with her at school so she feels okay.

In some respects, Nyla’s story is typical of an infant, toddler or preschooler who gets fretful at drop-off at school or on a play date. In other ways that are important, Nyla’s story helps us tell the difference between what might be considered developmentally normal separation anxiety in a young child and what might be considered separation anxiety disorder. Worries and fears are natural and adaptive parts of development.

Children who follow a more typical developmental progression will manifest some separation anxiety, usually at around seven to 12 months, especially when their primary caretakers hand them to someone less familiar or step away from their immediate company. Most of these children can be redirected with a mild distraction or soothed quickly by a familiar loved one. In toddlers and preschoolers, these behaviors may manifest as crying at school drop-off, as in Nyla’s case, but in a way that is usually brief and pleasantly easy to redirect with play or shiny objects. Seasoned clinicians and veteran teachers alike agree: to help children adapt to a play date or school environment, make such transition times quick and loving. This will support the new caretaker and will avoid sending any signals that Mom or Dad will come back or linger if the child cries. Leaving fast helps everybody.

Some children, however, arrive on the planet significantly impacted by separation anxiety, even during the toddler and preschool years. Younger children may show a reluctance to fall asleep without being near the primary attachment figure. At other times, they may show excessive distress (e.g., tantrums) when separation is imminent or report nightmares about separation-related themes. Older children may claim homesickness (i.e., a desire to return home or make contact with the primary caregiver when separated) when at school. Older children and even teens may report frequent physical or somatic symptoms, such as abdominal pain or palpitations.

In these older children, a diagnosis of separation anxiety requires at least three of the following:

  • Recurrent excessive distress when anticipating separation;
  • Persistent reluctance to go to school or anywhere else because of separation fears;
  • Persistent reluctance to be left alone or without major attachment figures in other settings;
  • Repeated physical symptoms when separation is anticipated;
  • Persistent worry about losing a major attachment figure;
  • Persistent worry about an untoward event that will lead to separation from a major attachment figure;
  • Persistent reluctance to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure;
  • Repeated nightmares about separation.

Additionally, the separation anxiety disorder diagnosis requires that the behavior is not better explained by another mental disorder, such as the refusal to leave home because of an excessive reluctance to change seen in autism spectrum disorder, the delusions or hallucinations concerning separation seen in psychotic disorders, the refusal to go outside without a trusted companion seen in agoraphobia, etc.

If a family is worried their child may be showing behavior that has not responded to the usual approaches outlined above, they might contact their child’s primary care provider for further assessment. I counsel these families to keep to the same routine when separating if possible. For children of any age, consistency and successful separation experiences can lessen the intensity of symptoms over time. For preschoolers like Nyla, there are even some behavioral health approaches available when needed: parent-child interaction therapy has been adapted to treat separation anxiety. Persistence, attention and a loving approach work well together.

For most families with children with separation anxiety, those times of tears and crying can be difficult but, thankfully, soon become a forgotten phase of early childhood. For those children who persist and worry themselves and those who care for them, there are many ways we can help.

First Day of School Time Capsule

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The first day of school is an exciting time for children. Capture their excitement with a first day of school time capsule.

Materials

  • Clear container
  • String
  • Scissors
  • Pens or pencils
  • Non-toxic paint
  • Paper
  • Photos
  • Labels
  • Camera
  • Printer

Directions

  1. Create a label for your time capsule. Be sure to include a note that reads, “Do not open this until the last day of school!”
  2. For older children, have them place one of their hands onto a piece of paper and trace it. For younger children, dip one of their hands in non-toxic paint and press it onto a piece of paper. Label the paper with the date and the year of school your child is entering.
  3. For older children, ask some fun school-related questions on or right before their first day. What are they most excited for on their first day? What are they nervous about? What do they think they will do on their first day? Record their answers. After school, ask them about their day and record those answers. For younger children, write down some of their favorite things and fun facts about them. Record your thoughts and feelings about their first day of school, too. When you pick your children up, ask their teachers how the day went and write their answers down.
  4. For older children, use a piece of string to measure their height. Have them stand up straight and pull the string up to the tops of their heads. Snip off the excess down by their feet and wind the string around itself so it fits in the time capsule. For younger children, have your children lie down, measure their length from head to toe with a piece of string, cut off any excess and wrap it around itself.
  5. Take pictures and print them out. That way, you won’t have to scroll through your phone to find those first-day photos.
  6. Assemble all the time capsule’s contents and tuck the container away until the last day of school. Just don’t forget where you put it!

What else will you put in your child’s first day of school time capsule?

How to Put the “Kind” Back in Kindergarten

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By Lee Scott
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Many parents ask, “How do I ensure my children will be kind?” We all want our children to be happy, well liked and good toward others. There are some basic things we can do that set a strong foundation for these pursuits and support our children’s social skills.

Act kindly yourself. Modeling is by far the best way to instill kind behavior in your children. Children love to imitate us, and if we act in a kind manner, they will too. Praise your children when they exhibit kindness, and explain why you thought what they did was a kind thing to do. It’ll become a habit.

When you see kindness in others, share your thoughts with your children. “That was so kind of Jane to share her snack with you at school.” When our children hear the praise we give others, they will want to exhibit the same behavior.

Try not to be negative, and redirect your children when they act unkindly. For example, explain how the other person may feel, talk about what your children could have done differently and help your children apologize.

Play games where one person has to help or collaborate with another to win. Relay races, parachute games and family scavenger hunts are several good choices.

Read stories where the characters must make decisions about their behaviors. Talk about the consequences of both kind and not-so-kind reactions. Children learn through the stories by relating to the characters and the events. We have a few favorites that focus on kindness to share with your children:

  • If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
  • Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss
  • The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton
  • The Kindness Quilt by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
  • Possum’s Harvest Moon by Anne Hunter

Four Ways to Raise a Body Confident Child

Body Confidence

How Negative Self-Talk Affects Children

Recently, I was in a fitting room at a local clothing store when I overheard an all-too-common sigh of disgust. The woman who sighed said that she couldn’t believe how much weight she’d gained, that she was going to start a new diet immediately and that she was so gross. The laundry list of insults continued.

Normally, I could ignore something like this, but the barrage against her body didn’t stop. Then, I heard her teenage daughter chime in about running and dieting.

My stomach dropped. She was eviscerating her body in front of her daughter.

Unfortunately, this is commonplace. We’re taught through social media, movies, TV shows and advertising that being fat is bad.

Even children as young as three begin to perceive thin as good and fat as bad (Cramer & Steinwert, 1998).

While we can’t control everything our children see and hear, we can control the messages they consume at home.

Here are some ideas for being more mindful about how bodies are discussed in your family.

1. Pay attention to your words.

We’ve all been frustrated when clothes are too snug, but our bodies won’t always stay the same size. Our weights will fluctuate over time, which is normal. Before you decide to say negative things about your body, check in with yourself. What will it accomplish? Who will hear you say it?

What we say about ourselves around our children, even if we don’t think they’re listening, stays with them. A recent study found that when young girls overheard family members’ self-deprecating body talk, their risk of disordered eating and their likelihood of having a poor body image significantly increased (Webb, Rogers, Etzel & Padro, 2018).

I’ve made a conscious effort to stop speaking negatively about my body in front of my son. I made a pact with myself while I was pregnant that he would never hear me say anything bad about my appearance because negative body talk affects all children.

2. Don’t comment on your child’s weight.

I remember my aunt grabbing my thigh and asking whether I should really have another helping of food. She thought it was hysterical, and I was ashamed. I was in my early teens and already struggled with body image issues. Looking back, I was healthy and fit, but I didn’t see myself that way.

At their mildest, comments such as the one my aunt made may lead to weight and body dissatisfaction into adulthood (Wansink, Latimer & Pope, 2016). One study found that being labeled “too fat” at age 10 was a significant predictor of obesity at age 19. The likelihood was strongest when the comments came from family members.

Even if you think you’re delivering your message gently, talking about someone else’s weight is unkind. If you’re concerned about your child being overweight, experts recommend having

the family make lifestyle changes together. Get outside and play more, serve nutritionally balanced meals and always focus on health rather than weight (Wolfram, 2019). You can also always talk to your child’s pediatrician.

3. Talk to your children.

It’s so simple, but talking to your children can help put issues into perspective. If you’re watching a movie and the characters are making jokes about a person’s weight, remind your children that this is bullying. Explain to your children that it’s not nice to make fun of anyone for how they look.

Be mindful of how you speak about other people’s bodies.

Here are a few unhelpful phrases:

  • He’s gained weight. He looks better;
  • He’s gained weight. He looks worse;
  • She should always wear makeup;
  • She looks better without makeup;
  • She should dress for her size;
  • She should cover up her body;
  • I would never wear that if I looked like him.

4. Show them a diverse range of body types.

Choose books and movies with a diverse cast of characters. Show them that larger bodies exist and that those bodies matter just as much as smaller bodies. Look for shows that also feature people with disabilities and people who are gender-nonconforming.

What do you do to help your children feel comfortable in their bodies?

 

References

Cramer, P. & Steinwert, T. (1998). Thin is good, fat is bad: How early does it begin? Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 19(3), 429-451.

Wansink, B., Latimer, L.A. & Pope, L. (2016). “Don’t eat so much”: How parent comments relate to female weight satisfaction. Eating and Weight Disorders, 22(3), 475-481.

Webb, J., Rogers, C., Etzel, L. & Padro, M. (2018). “Mom, quit fat talking—I’m trying to eat (mindfully) here!”: Evaluating a sociocultural model of family fat talk, positive body image and mindful eating in college women. Appetite, 126, 169-175.

Wolfram, T. (2019). How to talk to kids about weight and obesity. Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/overweight-and-obesity/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-weight-and-obesity.

Here’s What You Should Know Before Signing Your Child Up for Swim Lessons

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We want our little ones to be safe in everything they do, which includes swimming.

Swimming is a great activity for children and adults. And, thanks to indoor pools, swimming doesn’t have to be a summer-only activity. But no matter where we decide to swim, adults and children need to understand how to be safe in and around any body of water.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, swimming lessons are beneficial for children as young as one year old. Enrolling them a program that teaches both swimming techniques and water survival skills may reduce the risk of drowning in children between the ages of one and four (“Swim Lessons”).

Don’t settle for any program. Do some research before signing your children up for a swim class. Ensure that the instructors are qualified, experienced and, preferably, certified through swim instructor certification training. Learn what the classes will teach, and see whether you can watch a lesson or two before enrolling.

Other must-haves include multiple sessions per class, an age-appropriate atmosphere (such as touch supervision for toddlers) and lessons about safety habits in and around the water. Look for classes that also teach water survival skills, such as treading water (“Drowning Prevention”).

Swimming is a lot of fun. Make it even better by helping your entire family stay safe in, on and near the water.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019). Drowning prevention for curious toddlers: What parents need to know. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Water-Safety-And-Young-Children.aspx

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019). Swim lessons: When to start and what parents need to know. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/swim-lessons.aspx

How to Teach Your Children About Money

_bh_5536Do you remember being in your teens and your early twenties? Were you low on funds due to unnecessary spending? Help your children learn the value of a dollar in their younger years to help them save later in life. By setting up an allowance, you can teach your children to budget, save and learn the difference between needs and wants.

Offer your children an allowance and let them buy anything they choose with that money for a limited time. Afterwards, talk with your children about what they could have gone without to save money and what was right for them to purchase.

Make a budget with your children. Talk with them about how much they’d like to put in their savings accounts from each allowance and how much they want for personal use. Since young children don’t need to spend money on necessary items, such as food and clothing, be sure to explain that as they get older, they may have to spend their money on many other things that they need. That’s why this is a wonderful time to start saving.

Help your children stick to their budgets, and keep emphasizing how important it is to save money for what they need rather than what they want.

What are some ways you encourage your little ones to save money?