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Kindergarten: Readiness & developing literacy at home

  • Written by Karen Pettersen

When kindergarten teachers ask about what they like to see in a well prepared kindergartener, it’s not how many letters and numbers they know. It’s how do they conduct themselves in a classroom? Can they make friends?Resolve social conflict? Participate in a group setting? Can they follow directions and stay on task?

These are the basics for a good beginning to formal education. Preparation for classroom readiness is most likely to occur in a classroom format.  Enrolling your young child in a toddler group or preschool is your first step. There are many great programs to choose from.

To create interest in literacy at home, model reading and writing. Let them draw scribbles that look like writing such as having them add “their words” to a letter to grandma.  Even if they can’t write yet, if you have them mimic writing and then ask them what it says, they absorb the idea that you can communicate through writing. Reading in front of them and to them is the most powerful thing you can do.  Read good stories that capture their imagination and create a desire to read themselves. Play letter games:  “Your name starts with a J.  It looks like a fish hook. Let’s find Js while we’re driving, on menus, etc.”  Make it fun and don’t force it on children at this age.  A very young child who is forced to learn past their natural interest level learns to dislike learning and shuts down.

When do you worry about the kid who doesn’t like homework or writing?   First grade.  First grade is when study habits and work ethics need to be modeled and enforced. Good study habits take a long time to develop, and parents need to set the stage for their children’s success by being tuned into their child’s homework and study expectations at school.  Parents also need to follow up to make sure that children are meeting those expectations on a regular basis.

Assign times for your children to do their homework after school. Set up a place for them to work and make sure the TV is turned off.  Don’t schedule too many extra curricular activities that sabotage their time/energy/focus from completing their school work. Be available to help, but at all costs, don’t do it for them.

The curious truth about school success

  • Written by Erica Peterson, Campus Manager, Dartmoor School Woodinville

What makes a student successful? Ask Sophie von Stumm, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Edinburgh, and she’ll tell you that it’s not just a matter of IQ. In fact, her review of 200 studies of school success turned up a simple, yet commonly overlooked ingredient in the magic potion of academic success predictors: curiosity.

Stumm calls it having a “hungry mind.” “If you’re intellectually curious, you’ll go home, you’ll read the books. If you’re perceptually curious, you might go traveling to foreign countries and try different foods,” she notes in a press release for the Association for Psychological Science (Curiosity par.4). Either way, curiosity feeds the brain’s capacity to gather, organize and process new ideas and new experiences.

But what exactly is curiosity, and how do parents and educators harness this powerful force to help boost the success of the students who need it the most? Put simply, curiosity measures not how well students think, but how much they enjoy thinking and willingly engage in thinking tasks. In the studies reviewed by Stumm, curiosity was assessed with a common psychological measure called the Typical Intellectual Engagement Scale. This assessment has participants report how often they engage in activities that involve brain power, such as reading philosophy and news, enjoying art, or just thinking about life. Students who like these tasks tend to also participate in them frequently, and students who participate in thinking tasks develop their mental muscle.

Tragically, many students who would typically benefit from this powerful force for intellectual development lose their curiosity early on. For some students, repeated failures in school can cause burn-out; for others, too much homework causes intellectual activity to be associated with feelings of frustration.

For curiosity to exert its power, intellectual activity needs to be fun. That’s great news for parents and educators, who can help students to find the venues for intellectual exercise that are most appealing.

“Teachers have a great opportunity to inspire curiosity in their students, to make them engaged and independent learners. That is very important,” comments Stumm (Curiosity par. 6).

Too much screen time? Fun Activities to Stimulate Your Inactive Child.

  • Written by Margaret Bell, PT, DPT
Studies show that children who watch several hours of TV a day tend to have greater health risks than children who spend this time engaging in physical activity or non-screen time activities.  In today’s society we are surrounded by screens – television sets, smart phones, computers, iPods, portable video games – and the list continues to grow.  All of these gadgets are full of gripping and sometimes mindless entertainment that can keep us content for hours on end, no matter what our age.  With more and more time spent in front of the screen, we are also losing direct social contact time, which is necessary to build and refine social skills. Not all screen time is “bad.” A lot of what is offered is educational, helpful, a great way to explore our world and sometimes just pure fun.

While it is fine to include some screen time activities in your child’s day, it is also important for children to engage in non-screen activities to stimulate growth, learning and social skills, as well as to promote and teach healthy lifestyles. Try to add physical activity into your everyday routine where everyone stands up and moves.  Make sure you pick activities that your child enjoys, while also encouraging him or her to try new movements. You may even let your child help choose the activity from a list of 2 or 3 options.

Now that winter is here and we are spending less time outside, it becomes more difficult to stay physically active.  Below are some ideas of things to do indoors during the winter months to help your kids stay active:

1.    Make an obstacle course out of cushions, pillows, blankets, or yarn, and things to crawl over, walk or balance on, and jump over.

2.    Play balloon tennis or balloon volleyball.

3.    Have a crab-walk or bear-walk race.

4.    Make a hopscotch grid with tape on the floor.

5.    Set a timer for 1 minute, and see how many jumping jacks, sit-ups, hops on one foot, or heel raises (going up on tip-toe) you can do. Try to beat your number the next time.

6.    Go explore a Children’s Museum, Aquarium, or Science Center.

7.    Play charades.

8.    Play Simon Says.

9.    Put on music and dance!

Laziness: Fact or Fiction?

  • Written by Maren Schmidt, M.Ed.

“Idleness, indifference, irresponsibility are healthy responses to absurd work.”

—Frederick Herzberg

“Marjorie is lazy.  That’s all. You need to push her to get things done,” said Ms. Busch.

We were in a parent/teacher conference and I felt uncomfortable with the word “lazy” as a descriptor for five-year-old Marjorie.  Lazy seemed derogatory.

Marjorie’s teacher, Ms. Busch, had 25 years of experience to my five.  Marjorie’s parents nodded their heads and didn’t seem upset that they had a lazy child.  To me, the word “lazy” felt like a splinter under my fingernail. Lazy didn’t belong in a sentence about a five-year-old girl. I wanted to banish the word with its perception of character.

After the conference, I visited with Ms. Busch about her use of the term. As an observer in her classroom of three to five-year-olds, my questions were directed toward understanding classroom dynamics.

“When you use the word ‘lazy’ what do you mean?” I asked Ms. Busch.

“Lazy is someone who can do the work, but won’t.  They would rather visit with their friends, watch the clock, play outside, go to the bathroom 10 times a day, wander around the room, whatever, to get out of doing what they should be doing,” Ms. Busch said.

“What specific behaviors do you see in Marjorie that make you think she is lazy?” I asked.

“Marjorie,” Ms. Busch said with a gentle grin, “loves to talk. She gets some work out and looks busy, but she’s talking to her neighbors at the table. She never completes a task. When it’s clean up time, she heads straight to the bathroom and emerges when it’s time to go outside.  She cries and whines if I try to get her to complete a task.  Marjorie can do the work, but she won’t.  She is lazy.”

“Would you mind if I observed Marjorie for a couple of days and kept notes?” I asked.

Ms. Busch was right.  Marjorie talked all the time and seemed skilled at avoiding any kind of meaningful task that was age appropriate. Marjorie did spend time with the three year olds, showing them how to do puzzles, sweeping and dusting.  Marjorie “bossed” the four and five year olds around. She was busy all day long in everybody else’s business and avoided her own.

Observing children at work gives us insight into their character, their interests and possible obstacles to their development. After observing Marjorie for a day, I didn’t believe she was lazy. I saw Marjorie avoiding work that involved writing or lining up materials, such as math materials for counting or moveable letters for spelling, activities in which other five year olds were actively engaged. Marjorie’s choices for work were appropriate for three and four year olds.  Visiting with her neighbors covered up Marjorie’s careful watching of their actions.

By observing Marjorie, I saw her difficulty with fine motor tasks such as using a pencil and scissors or picking up small materials, such as single beads or puzzle pieces. She had difficulty cutting a straight line and putting objects back in order.  Marjorie’s “bossing” of four-year-olds was her translating into spoken language certain knowledge, such as numbers to one thousand.

Marjorie was hitting obstacles and had weak fine motor skills.  She needed to process information out loud to form clear long-term memories.  To overcome these difficulties and compensate for lack of skills, Marjorie talked, did “baby” work and avoided work with small materials.

After discussing my findings with Ms. Busch, we brainstormed for lessons for Marjorie that would assure her success by using larger materials, by building her fine motor control and by allowing for verbal processing.

Ms. Busch told me: ‘It’s like we were taught. It is the adult’s job to remove obstacles for the child.  I was focused on Marjorie’s being stuck on an obstacle instead of trying to figure out what that obstacle was and removing it.  Laziness is a sign that a child’s between a rock and a hard spot.”

How to help your child love food

  • Written by Dara Schmeck, MS, CCC-SLP, Bothell Pediatric and Hand Therapy
The USDA has established guidelines for healthful eating patterns, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.  However, many picky eaters tend to refuse these foods, leading to mealtime battles.  Here are some things you can do to help your child learn how to enjoy a broad variety of foods:

Offer a variety of foods at each meal and snack.  Be sure a starch, protein, and fruit or vegetable is present at every meal.  Teach your children about those foods, talking about taste, texture, and smell.  Keep your language positive or neutral, and avoid any negative words (e.g., slimy, stinky).  Model how to eat those foods, and what happens to them as you chew.  Encourage any interaction with new foods; sometimes poking a new food can be a victory.

Establish a mealtime routine.  Include a verbal warning prior to the meal, set-up (e.g., washing hands), and clean-up (e.g., clearing plates from the table).  When a child knows what to expect at the meal, they are better prepared to handle the challenge of a new food.

Eliminate distractions.  Turn off the TV, remove toys from the table, and focus on the food.  The table is your classroom to teach about food and eating patterns; help your child focus by removing attention-stealers.

Schedule meals and snacks.  Children should eat approximately every 2.5 hours, resulting in 5 meals/snacks each day.  Their stomachs are too small to hold enough calories for the day with only 3 meals.  As well, the body’s natural hunger cycle occurs about every 2.5 hours.  Take advantage of naturally hungry times to offer more healthful foods.

Eliminate snacking or grazing between meals.  When your child is snacking between meals, they will not be hungry at meals or snacks when you are offering healthier food choices.  This makes it easier for them to refuse those foods.  Juice or other flavored drinks can also reduce appetite.  Offer only water between meals and snacks.

Engage your child in mealtime preparation.  Let them come grocery shopping and help you cook.  Empower them by letting them choose and prepare that dinner’s vegetable - they may decide to try it!

Get messy.  Playing with food is a normal part of the developmental process in learning to eat foods.  Use food as your materials for art projects or even as face paint.  The more exposure a child has to a food, the more familiar it becomes, and the more likely they may be to decide to try a new food.

You are the most important factor in your child’s relationship with food.  Model healthful eating patterns yourself; your child will learn by your example.  Be patient - eating habits do not change overnight. If you continue to struggle with your child at mealtimes, our Food Explorers feeding therapy program is designed to promote positive interactions with food and decrease resistance to touching, tasting, and swallowing food.