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A Whole New Digital World

child with mom and tablet
By Helen Hadani, Ph.D.
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most parents worried about how much time their young children were spending on screens and how often they were engaging with digital technology. With many schools shifting to remote learning and most afterschool activities canceled, children’s technology time has increased by leaps and bounds. So, what are parents to do? 

Instead of swimming against the current, try embracing a different perspective of the digital world and seeing the potential of technology to strengthen skills that we know young children need—creativity, collaboration, motivation and persistence. A recent paper from the Bay Area Discovery Museum titled Tech Time with Purpose offers a new way for parents to examine the myriad of digital games and programs out there for children. The paper uses the museum’s CREATE Framework, which stands for child-directed, risk-friendly, exploratory, active, time for imagination and exchange of ideas, as a guide to the digital world for young children.  

Child-directed learning leverages your children’s natural curiosity about the world around them and allows them to explore (i.e., get into everything) with minimal adult involvement. View technology as a way for your children to express their creativity by painting using a tablet (that way, they don’t get paint on your kitchen table), building a world in Minecraft or recording a story on a smartphone. 

As a parent, it is hard to watch your children struggle or even failbut exposing your children to risk-friendly environments encourages them to try new things and builds confidence. Digital games allow children to take risks without serious consequences. For example, apps like FlummoxVision or PeppyPals Sammy Helps Out provide an opportunity for children to practice social interactions without the stress of trying those skills out in public.  

From a young age, children conduct experiments and engage in exploratory play to learn more about the world around them. Children as young as preschool age can practice basic coding skills in a playful way using coding programs like ScratchJr or drawing a path to direct Ozobots.  

Technology gets a bad rap for being a sedentary activity, but certain digital technologies can encourage children to be physically active. Try digital games like Dance Dance Revolution or Pokémon GO to get your children up and moving.  

 Children can spend countless hours pretending to be superheroes or turning cardboard boxes into spaceships or castles. Certain digital technologies can take time for imagination to whole new levels by promoting creative exploration and original thinking. Children can bring their ideas to life in makerspaces by using digital fabrication tools like 3D printers and laser cutters to build a 3D model of an airplane or rocket.  

While technology has a reputation for isolating people, some digital technologies provide opportunities for children to exchange ideas with others and provide a new outlet to express themselves. For example, in a time when visiting friends and family members is difficult because of the pandemic, using Skype or FaceTime can be great for connecting with friends and family memberswhether they live down the street or across the country. Apps like Marco Polo and Voxer can model how technology can enhance relationships.  

 

Managing Gift Expectations

child with gifts

by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Why shouldn’t our children see the holiday season as the high point in a year awash in retail celebrations? It is in everything they see, hear, and taste, starting after Halloween. What’s a parent to do in the face of this tsunami of acquisition? Is there any kind of life jacket that is helpful as the tide of consumption rises around your family?

Spend a few moments in your own head about what you want to convey to your children through your own behavior about this event, especially the relationship between giving and receiving. Then share it with your partner and see where they are on this issue. Are there any values or beliefs about the holidays in your ensuing discussion that are not related to consuming? If so, that’s a good place to start an actual conversation with your kids.

Most holiday traditions mix sacred and secular elements which are sometimes hard to reconcile, but it’s worth a try if you are going to help your children (and you) keep their sanity in the coming weeks. Asking for their holiday wish list sets the stage for disappointment and budget-busting in most cases, often amounting to online retailers having more power than the parents. Asking if they need your help with their holiday giving lists helps set the stage for more of a balance, and is often a good place for them to learn from your behavior.

Five Ways to Teach Children about Gratitude

grateful child

by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

No matter how many place settings there were to accommodate three generations of Pruetts at our Thanksgiving Feast table, everyone had a seat at the grown-up or kids’ table. Every celebration I can remember began with my father−a pastor by trade−telling everyone to hold hands and, starting with the oldest, share one thing for which they were grateful on this day. It was hard to be patient, sitting there, mouths watering, and wondering what you were going to say when it was your turn. In this simple act, we learned that gratitude was what made this meal different from all others. I was amazed year after year by how seriously everyone took this charge. Answers ran from sacred to profane, but the lesson was clear; families thrive on gratitude.

The Holidays are an important opportunity to affirm values that most parents hope (or wish) their kids were developing naturally. The bounty of family life−so obvious on the dining room table−is less obvious to our younger children, and most of them need a little help seeing the connections between what we share as a family and how we feel about belonging to that family. While children seem to have a natural drift toward empathy, even compassion, feeling grateful for what they have is a harder sell. Grown-ups need to place this high on their agenda, along with plenty of patience for this sapling graft to take hold. Before you start, think about why this matters to you and how you got that way. Share those thoughts with your partner, and make a plan about how to sell gratitude as a family value to your children, as it is one of those desired human values that does not always unfold naturally, as our children grow.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Regularly express your own thankfulness verbally. (We are very lucky to have grandma nearby. I’m thankful to have a son like you in my life. Your dad made that so easy for all of us.)
  • Express gratitude behaviorally. (Take a casserole to a neighbor who has been kind or needs some extra help for whatever reason−even better if the children help you make it. When the hand-me-down toys end their cycle, make a Goodwill run with the children in tow.)
  • Make generosity part of your family’s routine. (When seasons change, collect clothes from everyone’s closet to donate or take canned goods to the local soup kitchen.)
  • Take the children along on community fundraising activities, runs, walks, etc. Explain to them why this matters to you. (Make sure they meet the organizers and understand the purpose; if it’s personal, it’s remembered)

Consider this: regularly planned simple activities can make children feel useful and appreciated as givers, not takers, which is the antidote to gratitude). These are the roots of self-esteem, not reward or praise.

5 Ways to Calm Holiday Stress

stressed mom holding new born baby

by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

It seems a given that the holidays will be overdone yet again this year. Kids are only young once, right? After the year many families have had, who wants to cut back? Furthermore, parents have their own ideas and images about how the holidays should or should not go, and if there are two parents, it is unlikely that they are identical ideas and images. Throw in a limited budget and visits with extended family and things can get pretty exciting/tense pretty quickly. Most of us tend to focus on keeping our kids and their schedules – especially of the young ones – under some kind of control to limit the damage and hurt feelings that frequently accompany this overdoing. But the most effective way to calm holiday stress is to manage our own. Kids will learn far more about staying calm when we get there first.

1) Manage your own expectations. Perfect holidays do not exist in real time. So expect some happiness, delight, surprises, disappointments, fatigue and the occasional meltdown. Tell your kids to expect the same. Families are just like that during the holidays, even when they are at their best.

2) Make a list. Well ahead of time, sit down and make a list of holiday things you’d like to do or achieve, then cut it in half and proceed. One or two special events spread out over two days, with a generous dose of hanging out and ‘just being time’ (as our teenagers labeled such inactivity), is a pretty good pace. Get some sleep with the time you save instead.

3) Accept help from others. Remember, you have already yielded on perfection as a goal. So let people bring some food and distribute chores on the bigger events. People old and young typically love being useful, even it adds to the chaos.

4) Watch the sweets, fats (kids and grown-ups) and fermented spirits. Your (and your kids’) tensions can all be exacerbated by lousy dietary indulgences, not to mention the guilt and the weight gain, which only add more stress. Having fewer of them in the house or apartment to begin with tips the scales toward success.

5) Get out of the house and exercise (kids and grown-ups). It helps to repair the damage to routines and relationships by freshening the internal and external environments. Once, when I was in 5th grade, my parents (who were not typically jokesters) actually faked a power outage between the main holiday meal and dessert, just to get everyone away from the TVs and out of the house for a while. It was one of our favorite holiday gatherings ever. Lesson learned.

Preventing Screen Brain for Children Over the Holidays

Toddler Looking at Screen

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

As in changing any behavior, one might anticipate howling protests prior to separation from devices from children or teens. The equivalent of the primal yawp, or NOOOOO!. I advise parents to be steadfast and clear, and define the limits (no screens means…zero screens), and make these borders non-negotiable when possible. Pushback from the peanut gallery may amount to carryings-on, kvetching, complaining, loud grousing, grumblings, mumblings and bitter statements meant to be overheard. I’d recommend meeting these with the professional cool of an airline attendant sharing a long delay. “We apologize for the hardship, but let’s do the best we can to work together to make the journey enjoyable…” is the vibe I’d go for. Whinging is best ignored, quote the law and move on. Kids will eventually follow.

Card play, board games, or lively ‘parlor game’ type activities, like pictionary or team based activities can get kids out of their grouchy headspace and distracted (or dragged) and into the shared activity. In the case of my kids, this could sometimes take a round or two of play,  to clear the cobwebs and distraction of getting back to their device. Like many kids, they didn’t always want to, but they should be committed to a reasonable amount of time to engage that feels sufficient (15 minutes), and soon enough they moved on and got lost in the game. During such evenings, I’d argue, that ALL screens are best valet parked for the duration, and at least for the evening.

 

How to Limit Children’s Sugar Intake During the Holidays

young girl eating donut outside winter

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

As the holidays come upon us, and the cornucopia of delectable desserts and candies and sweet offerings become ubiquitous from late October through Valentine’s Day, consider the following strategies on managing how much is too much for young children in terms of junky food and sugary snacks.

Is it excessive to sequester them to the kids’ table, where they might only access kale chips and dried fruit? Perhaps.

What is most important is stepping back for a moment, and thinking holistically. How many sweet or junky (and no doubt, delicious) foods or drinks do children consume on a typical day? Parents should have a sense of what a child eats. Keeping a food diary for 2 to 3 days may provide an informative snapshot towards that end.

For those kiddos who consume a larger amount of sweetened drinks, candy and junk food (say, several times a week), their parents may want to be more mindful and more vigilant in general, and work as a family to define what is reasonable. Resources like myplate.gov offer some nice resources to start that conversation. And, I’d reckon, a fair number of families may find that their children take in more sugary calories than they think.

So what to do for the holidays, then? A more pragmatic and sustainable approach of limiting sweets and sugary foods tends to eliminate free-range access to candy dishes and cabinets of findable goodies. Simply, don’t buy or leave these items around. They will be found!

Rather, during holiday gatherings, when the breaking of bread and sharing of food becomes a focal point of many family bonding sessions, buy them then, and perhaps in less mega quantity than wholesale brands would have you think you need. And, for the day or two that friends and family are about, set some ground rules and ease up a little. Perhaps if a child finishes a reasonable portion, then they earn a reasonably portioned dessert. Keep it conversational, and children will engage–and even cherish–times when the treats are allowed, and they are given a little liberty to indulge. Done thoughtfully, perhaps sharing that ‘special rules apply’ on these special days, children will understand. Limits will be set. Goodies will be had!

Bon appétit!

How To Get Your Little Ones To Try New Foods

Toddler trying new food

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

Getting toddlers and preschoolers to try new foods, or say, eat their vegetables (gasp) is about as easy as getting a newborn to sleep on a schedule or getting a teen to do her chores without being asked a second time. Until they’re 10-12 months or so, children will usually try foods of all types and tastes and textures with gusto, having little fussiness or particularity about texture or taste. In truth, some families have toddlers who are excellent consumers of what is put before them and will hoover up whatever morsel of protein or carbohydrate put within reach. For a lot of parents, however, they find their children, around 12-15 months old, tend to become picky or even avoid healthy foods they previously ate with relish (the condiment or the enthusiasm, as it were). So how do you get your little ones to eat their fruits and veggies before they subsist wholly on the orange food group (mac ‘n’ cheese, cheese puffs, chicken nuggets, etc.)?

Children do require some number of fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, there are great articles (with tables and grids!) to help guide you on your journey. Toddlers should eat two to three servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Portion size for this age group should be about a quarter to half what the grown-ups at the table are served. Toddlers and preschoolers should be offered about a quarter to half a cup of canned or fresh fruits and the number of tablespoons of vegetables for every year of their age.

Correspondingly, children should be served protein two to three times a day and carbohydrates (think snacks!) up to six times a day.

How do you get children to eat broadly, though? In my practice, I counsel parents expressing concerns about picky eaters in their family to offer one new food with two well-established foods to their child’s regimen. For example, if you know your daughter likes pasta and chicken, serve those as usual and add a portion of a new vegetable to her plate. We established early in our house that you at least have to try it, one bite or taste. Research shows that most children will take to a food after up to about a dozen tastings (for some super picky or rigid eaters, such as those on the autism spectrum for example, it may be many, many more times). Set kids up for success by discouraging snacking or tanking up on beverages before mealtime, and try not to feed them when they are too tired or too hungry. Also, keep mealtimes positive by involving kids in food prep and getting enthusiastic in the craft and presentation of food. This may cultivate interest and curiosity which can lead to the development of a more adventurous palate.

Never force feed or go to war about making your child eat. Everyone loses. Don’t hesitate to contact your child’s primary care provider if you have concerns that he or she has issues around eating. It happens. It can be a quirk particular to your child, a temporary age and stage issue that will be outgrown, or it can be a marker (rarely) of a child with extra sensitivity to food tastes or textures, or food allergies. If you aren’t sure, ask. Best to be reassured and unstressed. Food is an everyday thing best enjoyed and not worried over!

Should Your Child Be Reading by Now?

Family reading with young child

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

Parents are very concerned during these days of virtual learning or limited school time with what their children are actually learning. This is especially true of parents of preschoolers and kindergarteners. They are asking, “Should my child be reading by now?  Should my child know numbers and be able to count?”

Put away the flashcards, and relax.  Children begin learning letters, numbers and shapes at varying times. You may find a toddler who can name all the letters in the alphabet and a four-year old who does not seem interested at all. How they demonstrate these recognition skills will vary from child to child. The natural curiosity of most children between the ages of three and four will begin to nudge them into pointing out letters and naming them or counting a few items and naming the numbers.

Here are five easy, fun and stress-free things to do to support your children’s learning:

  1. Read to your children every day, and they will begin to make the connections between letters on a page, sounds and meaning.
  1. Sing together. The alphabet song is a classic that helps children make connections to letters and sounds.
  1. Count out loud as you are setting the table, or count the few steps you take from room to room. Have your children join in the fun.
  1. Play the I spy game with the letters of your children’s first names. Try saying, “I spy something that begins with the letter S.”
  1. Put some sand or rice on a tray, and encourage your children to make letters in the sand. This helps support early writing skills.

Most children will recognize letters, numbers and shapes by age five. They may be starting to write their own names. If your children are not, it is fine. If you feel they are truly struggling, then you may seek help with an assessment. Remember, children learn at their own paces. Research does not say that the earlier children learn these things, the more advanced they will be later in school. Enjoy this time with your children, and have fun talking, reading and singing together.

 

How to Set Up a Child’s Room for Playful Learning

a photo of a preschool child's bedroom

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

Setting up a child’s room can be so much fun, but it can also be overwhelming. Don’t worry – you likely already have more than you need. Do not stress over how educational each toy is or feel like you need to fill up the room. I recall my nephew as we were setting up his room. He lined up all his trucks on a shelf and announced, “Auntie Lee, just leave the blocks and trucks. You can sell the rest.” He was four.

The two most important things are safety and fun. The learning part will come as your child explores, imagines and plays. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Use colorful bins or tubs and sort toys your child can easily access;
  • Create a reading nook by placing books on a low shelf or bin. Add a soft place to curl up and read;
  • Place a small plastic mirror on the wall at ground level – it’s a wonderful addition for infants and toddlers;
  • Add art and science or math spaces in an area that can be made messy and then easily cleaned up again. For art projects, have a variety of papers, paints, crayons and other materials on hand. For math and science discovery, measuring cups, bowls, rulers, dried foods like pasta and even food scales are wonderful resources for hands-on learning;
  • Think about what toys are safe for your children at their current age levels. Place those within easy reach and let your children dump them out and play away;
  • Create a dramatic arts area where your children can dress up, play pretend and use recycled food items to expand their understanding of the world around them;
  • Add new items and rotate older ones out occasionally. Later, bring some of the older ones back;
  • Blocks, puzzles, board games and stacking toys are always a hit;
  • Introduce new toys one at a time and add items that might give your children a challenge. For example, if they can do a 10-piece puzzle, add a few 15-to-20-piece puzzles into the mix;
  • You don’t have to create a designated space for technology since it should enhance other learning experiences. Instead, take a tablet outside for a photo or video-making session, help your child create an e-book in your reading nook or look up steps to create a robot in your science area;
  • Avoid clutter as it can be overwhelming and inhibits creativity and exploration.

Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun as you set up this space, and be sure to keep an eye out for what fun learning experiences your children have there!

“But Mom/Dad, Why Can’t You Play Right Now?” How to Answer This Question Effectively and More When Working from Home with Children

testing-blog-graphics-1

By Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D., Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

For weeks now, I’ve been spending my days shifting between multiple roles, and it isn’t getting any easier! When I’m working, I feel like I’m ignoring my children. When I’m attending to their needs, I feel guilty about not being able to make progress on work-related projects. When stress hits, I’ve often reacted to my children’s interruptions and emergencies with an abruptness that I later regret. I’m guessing many of you have experienced something similar at some point.

In this blog post, I share a practical strategy for how to interact with children in a way that respects their desire for your attention and your need to set boundaries that help you get some other things done. The approach is described by Dr. Marjorie Kostelnik and her colleagues as using personal messages. It’s a developmentally appropriate strategy that helps both parents and children achieve their goals while building trusting and affectionate relationships. In my role as a college professor, I teach it to college students who are learning to interact with preschool-aged children. It might seem awkward or too wordy at first, but it gets easier with practice. It pays off because the more your child hears you talk like this, the more tools she or he will have to control her or his impulses to interrupt.

The following is how it goes.

STEP ONE: Offer a reflection that describes your children’s perspective.

I think of this step as sportscasting, except instead of being on ESPN saying, “he shoots, he scores,” I’m in my home office having conversations like the following:

When my adorable child says: I’m tempted to say: Instead, I try to say:
“Moooom, you said we could make brownies!” I can’t right now. You’re frustrated that I can’t make brownies with you yet.
“Come see what I did!” I’m busy. You’re excited about your painting and you want me to take a look.
“I’m bored.” Shhhhh I see you’ve finished that episode of Daniel Tiger and you don’t know what to do next.

Describing a child’s perspective before reacting shows that we are trying to understand his or her point of view and that we care about his or her experience. It also gives us a few extra seconds to think about how to respond next.

STEP TWO: Share your own emotional reaction and explain why you feel that way.

STEP THREE: Tell your child what will happen next. Be sure to follow through!

These steps give children a chance to practice their developing perspective-taking skills and to improve their understanding of emotions. Then, by hearing parents share clear expectations for what will happen next, children can begin to develop strategies that will make moments of waiting easier.

Step One Steps Two and Three
You’re frustrated that I can’t make brownies with you yet. The people I work with are waiting for me to finish this project, and I want to get it done. After I give it to them, we can go to the kitchen together and make our special treat!
You’re excited about your painting and want me to take a look. I’m proud of you for working so hard on your art project. I’m on a conference call right now and I will come to see it as soon as the call ends. 
You’ve finished that episode of Daniel Tiger and you don’t know what to do next. It’s important to me that I have some time to get a few things done. I’d like you to find something you can do on your own right now. Do you want some help choosing a few puzzles to do?

When adults talk in clear, responsive and respectful ways, children’s self-regulation skills improve. It’s also important to model your respect for their activities. Instead of interrupting their play or media use, you might say something like, “It looks like you’re having a lot of fun drawing with chalk, I have a break now and it’d be nice to take a bike ride with you. Is this a good time?”

Full disclosure: As I’m writing this, I’ve been guilty of responding a bit abruptly to my youngest child’s plea for attention. it’s not easy to practice what I teach consistently. But when I catch myself responding with annoyance, I start over and try again. Many people give up on personal messages because it feels clumsy at first. My advice is to keep trying. Practice makes better (forget perfect), and we have a lot of opportunities lately to refine our skills in warmly-communicating clear and respectful boundaries with our children.

OPTIONAL ADDITION

Note – Planning can ease the pressure of competing responsibilities. One important strategy is providing young kids with a visual cue to your availability. In my house, when I can’t be interrupted, I put a note on my office door letting my older children know when I’ll be available next. With younger children, I suggest displaying a picture of Quiet Coyote or some other signal so that they know not to interrupt. Be sure to take it down when you’re better able to be interrupted.