Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Want to get your kids into college? Let them play

Some interesting reading and research that supports the philosophy of the Integrated Preschool

Editor's note: Erika Christakis, MEd, MPH, is an early childhood teacher and former preschool director. Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, is a professor of medicine and sociology at Harvard University. Together, they serve as Masters of Pforzheimer House, one of the undergraduate residential houses at Harvard College.

(CNN) -- Every day where we work, we see our young students struggling with the transition from home to school. They're all wonderful kids, but some can't share easily or listen in a group.

Some have impulse control problems and have trouble keeping their hands to themselves; others don't always see that actions have consequences; a few suffer terribly from separation anxiety.

We're not talking about preschool children. These are Harvard undergraduate students whom we teach and advise. They all know how to work, but some of them haven't learned how to play.

Parents, educators, psychologists, neuroscientists, and politicians generally fall into one of two camps when it comes to preparing very young children for school: play-based or skills-based.

These two kinds of curricula are often pitted against one another as a zero-sum game: If you want to protect your daughter's childhood, so the argument goes, choose a play-based program; but if you want her to get into Harvard, you'd better make sure you're brushing up on the ABC flashcards every night before bed.

We think it is quite the reverse. Or, in any case, if you want your child to succeed in college, the play-based curriculum is the way to go.

In fact, we wonder why play is not encouraged in educational periods later in the developmental life of young people -- giving kids more practice as they get closer to the ages of our students.

Why do this? One of the best predictors of school success is the ability to control impulses. Children who can control their impulse to be the center of the universe, and -- relatedly -- who can assume the perspective of another person, are better equipped to learn.

Psychologists calls this the "theory of mind": the ability to recognize that our own ideas, beliefs, and desires are distinct from those of the people around us. When a four-year-old destroys someone's carefully constructed block castle or a 20-year-old belligerently monopolizes the class discussion on a routine basis, we might conclude that they are unaware of the feelings of the people around them.

The beauty of a play-based curriculum is that very young children can routinely observe and learn from others' emotions and experiences. Skills-based curricula, on the other hand, are sometimes derisively known as "drill and kill" programs because most teachers understand that young children can't learn meaningfully in the social isolation required for such an approach.

How do these approaches look different in a classroom? Preschoolers in both kinds of programs might learn about hibernating squirrels, for example, but in the skills-based program, the child could be asked to fill out a worksheet, counting (or guessing) the number of nuts in a basket and coloring the squirrel's fur.

In a play-based curriculum, by contrast, a child might hear stories about squirrels and be asked why a squirrel accumulates nuts or has fur. The child might then collaborate with peers in the construction of a squirrel habitat, learning not only about number sense, measurement, and other principles needed for engineering, but also about how to listen to, and express, ideas.

The child filling out the worksheet is engaged in a more one-dimensional task, but the child in the play-based program interacts meaningfully with peers, materials, and ideas.

Programs centered around constructive, teacher-moderated play are very effective. For instance, one randomized, controlled trial had 4- and 5-year-olds engage in make-believe play with adults and found substantial and durable gains in the ability of children to show self-control and to delay gratification. Countless other studies support the association between dramatic play and self-regulation.

Through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment. By allowing children to imagine walking in another person's shoes, imaginative play also seeds the development of empathy, a key ingredient for intellectual and social-emotional success.

The real "readiness" skills that make for an academically successful kindergartener or college student have as much to do with emotional intelligence as they do with academic preparation. Kindergartners need to know not just sight words and lower case letters, but how to search for meaning. The same is true of 18-year-olds.

As admissions officers at selective colleges like to say, an entire freshman class could be filled with students with perfect grades and test scores. But academic achievement in college requires readiness skills that transcend mere book learning. It requires the ability to engage actively with people and ideas. In short, it requires a deep connection with the world.

For a five year-old, this connection begins and ends with the creating, questioning, imitating, dreaming, and sharing that characterize play. When we deny young children play, we are denying them the right to understand the world. By the time they get to college, we will have denied them the opportunity to fix the world too.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Erika and Nicholas Christakis.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Seasons Greetings

The staff of the Burlington Integrated Preschool would like to wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season. Take time to relax and enjoy your family and the magic of the season.

Please remember, school will be close on Thursday December 23rd and will remain closed until Monday January 3, 2011.

Enjoy the winter break and we will see you all next year.

Lucky Ducks and the Gingerbread Man AM Class

This video is from the AM session of the Lucky Duck Class. They wrote and created the play and made all of the props. They did a great job and it was very fun to watch them preform.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Helping Young Children Cope With Frustration

I found this article today at I thought it had some great advice. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful

By Lisa Medoff

One of the best lessons that you can help your young child learn over the years is how to cope with frustration. As they move through school, children will be asked to do increasingly challenging tasks that are at or beyond the limits of their capabilities; they will inevitably encounter frustration, both in academic and social arenas. In fact, the gulf between successful and unsuccessful children will not necessarily arise due to differences in intelligence and skills, but rather due to differences in ability to handle setbacks and persist in the face of frustration.

Preschool children do not have very much experience dealing with frustration, as all of their needs have always been met by their caregivers. They haven't yet acquired all of the language skills that they need to express themselves verbally, and they also lack the brain development that enables adults to label and regulate emotions and how those emotions are expressed. In order for children to develop both the verbal and social/emotional skills that they need, it's important that they be encounter situations that involve a small, manageable amount of frustration.

Preschoolers can get easily overwhelmed, and need a lot of assistance in terms of breaking down problems into manageable parts, a key step in handling frustrating situations. Children that do not learn how to deal with frustration early in life may encounter later problems, such as lack of confidence, anxiety, anger, trouble with friends, and difficulty trying new things. If they do not know how to tolerate and cope with frustration, children will always expect others to solve their problems and will give up in the face of the first sign of difficulty. Here are some tips for helping your child cope with frustration:

Keep calm. When you see your child become frustrated, try not to mirror that frustration in your own voice or behaviors. Instead, focus on staying calm and talking your child through the situation in a gentle voice, guiding her to mirror you. Acknowledge that she is frustrated, but stress the importance of continuing to try to do something that she finds difficult.

Set challenges. Look for opportunities to challenge your children. Routinely ask them to do things that are slightly beyond what they have been capable of doing in the past. Do not jump in to help them. If you see them struggling, instead of immediately helping, try to prompt them by offering hints to make the situation easier. If they are really having difficulty and do not seem to be making any progress after a few minutes, break the task down into small steps. If necessary, guide them through or even do the first step for them, and then back off again. Your child should be hearing the following phrase quite often: “Try it yourself first and if you can’t do it, then I’ll help you get started.”

Wait for it. Help your child learn the important skill of delaying gratification. Preschool children do not yet have the brain development or experience to effectively cope when they have to wait for what they want, so you have to give them practice developing this skill. As much as it is practically possible, have them wait for what they want, even if it's just for a minute or two.

Talk to them about how to distract themselves while they are waiting for something.
Encourage independence. Make sure that your child is given many opportunities to play with other children in situations where close adult supervision is not required. Adults should be responsible for ensuring children’s safety, but other than that, try to let children work out problems among themselves. When children play independently, they learn how to deal with frustration in ways other than letting adults solve their problems.

Foster effective communication. Do not teach your child that expressing frustration inappropriately, such as through screaming or hitting, is a good way to get your attention, even if it is negative attention. Ignore these behaviors if they're not causing serious harm, and give lots of positive attention for times when your child handles a potentially frustrating situation in a healthy manner. Point out specifically what she did effectively.

Rely on routine. Keep your child’s world as predictable and routine as possible. If children feel confident and secure in general, they will be able to handle minor setbacks and frustrations.
Talk with the teacher. Use your child’s preschool teacher as a resource. Ask for suggestions about how the preschool deals with frustration in children in general, as well as for specific tips about helping your own child. The more that you can be consistent with what the preschool is doing, the easier it will be for your child to internalize the lessons that you are both trying to teach.

Be a role model. When something irritates you, tell your child what you are feeling so he can learn to recognize emotions in others and label them in himself. Then talk yourself through the frustration so that your child can hear you telling yourself things such as, “Relax and take a few deep breaths,” “It’s okay, I can deal with this,” or “This is really not that big of a deal. I need to calm down.” Any time you encounter frustration while in the presence of your child, imagine that he will replicate your exact behavior every single time he is frustrated for the rest of his life

—so proceed carefully! Take care not to raise your voice too loudly, be rude to others, or lash out physically. If you do any of these things, don’t be too hard on yourself, but make sure to tell your child that you made a mistake behaving in that way and need to make a better choice next
It can take a long time to develop the right skills for coping with frustration, but you can guide your child in the right direction so that eventually he will learn how to manage each challenging situation on his own. Your child’s ability to handle frustration during the preschool years will form a foundation for how he will cope with difficulty for the rest of his life. Learning how to handle challenges is an incredibly important skill that will help promote success not only in academics, but also in interpersonal relationships of every kind.

Lisa Medoff holds a B.A. in psychology, a master's degree in school counseling, and a Ph.D. in child and adolescent development.

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Gingerbread Bakery

    This month to go along with the “Gingerbread Man unit” we have made fun gingerbread play doh. To make it, we us our favorite play dough recipe and add, a few teaspoons of cinnamon or nutmeg. Many of the classrooms have turned the dramatic play area into a Gingerbread Bakery. They have added the following props to make bakery: rolling pins, cookie cutters, beads, and foiled covered plates. I have added the recipe in case you would like to duplicate this at home.

    Here is the recipe:
    1 c. flour
    1/2 c. salt
    1 T. cooking oil
    1 T. cream of tartar
    1 c. water
    cinnamon or nutmeg (about two teaspoons)
    food coloring (if you want to give it a color)
    Measure the ingredients into a nonstick pot and stir until well mixed. Then cook over medium heat until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. Dump the dough out onto a cutting board and knead it until smooth. Keep the play dough in an airtight container or ziploc bag; it usually lasts a few months. Enjoy!
    You can use this recipe and change the cinnamon or nutmeg for other fun things. This time of year some people use peppermint extract and make and red food coloring for a fun holiday doh. In January you can put glitter to make it look like fun winter/snow play doh. Be creative and have fun.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Supplies Needed

    Hand and hand with the cold weather comes lots and lots of runny noses. All of the classrooms could use a donation of tissues and hand sanitizer. Many of the children have mild colds with very runny noses. We spend lots of time wiping noses and sanitizing hands.
    Thank you in advance for all donations.


    The cold weather is upon us and I wanted to take a moment to remind you that children will continue to go outside on a daily basis. (weather permitting...we will not go outside if the temperature is under 25 degrees) Please make sure that your child has a winter coat, hat and mittens on a daily basis.

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Anti Bullying

    On Monday the staff of the Burlington Integrated Preschool spent the day with Dr. Greg Hanley, PhD BCBA. Dr. Hanley is a professor at Western New England College in Springfield and has researched and developed "Preschool Life Skills Curriculum". The PLS is an approach to teaching critical social skills to preschoolers. The skills that this curriculum teaches were selected because they are the same skills early elementary teachers have identified as being critical to early school success.

    The goal of the days professional development was twofold; to define what bullying is and how it presents itself in the preschool environment. Secondly to learn strategies to prevent bullying types of behavior and to teach young children appropriate social skills. Dr. Hanley spent most of the day outlining that if the Preschool Life Skills is implemented with fidelity and embedded into daily activities it will prevent many problem behaviors.

    The staff found this professional development to be relevant to what happens in the preschool on a daily basis and are looking forward to implementing the Preschool Life Skills Curriculum.

    Friday, December 3, 2010

    Gingerbread Man

    For the month of December the theme in the preschool will be the Ginger
    bread Man.
    This is a fun unit that the children enjoy and the teachers love teaching. I think one of the best
    things about this teaching unit is all of the fun literature that goes along with it. There are several books that are read through out the unit that are all associated with the story of the Gingerbread Man. The children love hearing the different versions and have a lot of fun comparing and contrasting the differences in the books. Here are just a few of the program's favorites. Take a trip to the Burlington Public Library and see if you can find other versions to read. Have your child tell you how t
    hey are the same and how they are different. You will be amazed at how well they can do this.

    No School on Monday

    School will be closed on Monday for professional development. The staff of the Burlington Integrated Preschool will be spending the day with Dr. Hanley, BCBA, to discuss anti bullying legislation and how it relates to preschool. We will spend much of the day discussing social skill development and conflict resolution.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    Gingerbread Songs Safari Scouts PM

    The following are songs that the children will learn this month that go along with the Gingerbread unit. The children seem to be enjoying them a lot and they are fun to sing. See if your child can teach you some of the movements or words to the songs. Have fun!