Parents, Reject the Fear-Mongering #TeacherMom

Phones are destroying our teens

…except that it turns out the negative connection between tech and teens’ mental health is fairly minor, according to research.

Children are being abducted on their way to school or from distracted parents…

…except that “children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children.”

The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live

…except that the opposite is true. See below:

Where are his/her parents? a passer-by might wonder…

…except that unsupervised play is critical for children to develop properly.

(sidebar: isn’t it funny how despite essentially every child in human history spent their days getting dirty, it’s only now that showers are ubiquitous that we have grown uncomfortable with the idea?)

Parents are bombarded with worst-case scenarios every day. Even casual Facebook posts from a concerned friend or relative often contain terrifying videos or messages that end with “Keep your babies close.” I shared one such example with my daughter in our conversation about how strange it is that these videos go viral when they really don’t represent the actual dangers kids face today. Far more threatening to our kids are dangers of childhood diabetes, obesity, heart problems, and mental health issues that seem inextricably tied to the modern lack of childhood independence.

For those in the U.S. observing Independence Day tomorrow, celebrate by saying no. Push back against those viral videos. Question the frightening headlines (see this excellent piece on zooming out for context). And above all, allow your children to experience some of the same freedoms you yourself probably had as a child. Perhaps start by asking some of these questions:

  • Does my elementary-aged child know how to navigate our neighborhood independently? Does she know where her friends and family live within a mile radius? Could she get herself home from school?
  • How might learning to ride a bicycle help further my child’s independence?
  • Has my child ever tried to earn money independently? Lemonade stands, bake sales, yard work, etc?
  • Can my child handle something risky by the same age I was permitted to as a child (starting a fire, using a pocket knife, etc)?
  • Does my child know how to go inside a store to handle purchasing something independently? How might allowing my child to help with groceries help foster their sense of competence?

What better ways to celebrate independence are there than fostering it in our children?

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10 Signs That Your Child Is More Ready for Kindergarten Than You Might Think

Ah, summer. A time for relaxation and rejuvenation. But for one group, those balmy days might be overshadowed with panic: first-time parents of kindergartners.

After all, parents today receive a steady stream of messaging that the quality of kindergarten experience can define a child’s success for the rest of forever (though I’ve argued before that this is likely more the correlative nature of having involved parents than the particulars of kindergarten).

Throw in a child who seems uninterested in identifying letters yet (much less reading), and you might get some parents on the verge of a nervous break-down.

Having waded through this quagmire with our oldest, now about to start 4th grade (and who thriving as a reader, despite initial reluctance), I’m writing today to help reassure as many stressed kinder parents as possible: you are probably doing better than you think. Here are signs that, even if your child is not yet writing their memoirs or reading Tolstoy, they are probably more prepared for kindergarten than you think:

#1: Their brains are being regularly strengthened by unstructured play. This is even more valuable when the group of children is mixed-age, which gives older children opportunities to teach younger, and younger children the chance to explore new possibilities. As cited by researchers, “It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.”

#2: They enjoy stories (even if they aren’t sitting perfectly still for every story-time yet). This enjoyment also leads them to possess print awareness — a general feel for books turning from left to right, how to hold a book in their laps, and the presence of words on the page. Children at this age tend to make leaps forward in their development, so even if they don’t have all 52 upper- and lower-case letters down yet, if the basic pre-literacy support is there, they will get there!

#3: They are able to relate socially and emotionally to other people. When they have hurt someone, they are willing to listen and learn to consider that person’s feelings. They don’t immediately resort to biting or hitting for every offense, though this will definitely be a work in progress more for some kids more than others!

#4: They make up songs and stories with you or in make-believe play. Not only does this strengthen a child’s narrative skills (important for early literacy), but it helps them build skills for healthy social interaction.

#5: They are given as much book access as possible. Even if you do not own a lot of books, regular trips to the library can foster a love of reading that is worth its weight in gold. As the reading skills grow, it’s important for kids to have choices to find the books that will delight them.

#6: They are showing signs of building problem-solving skills. They may pull out a stool to reach something for themselves, or they may help soothe a sibling. Whatever it may be, these small signs of problem-solving are indicative of the kinds of independence that will serve them well throughout school and life!

#7: They are given opportunities to explore motor skills and balance. Tree-climbing, playdoh-smashing, curb-walking — the basics will be sufficient. Giving kids plenty of time to explore their motor skills and balance will lay a foundation for holding a pencil, for sitting up in a chair, and generally feeling comfortable in their own skins. 

#8: They are potty trained! Yes, this counts and should be celebrated as a kindergarten readiness milestone. There may still be the occasional accident, but general independence in using the toilet, as well as in dressing and eating, are good signs for readiness at school.

#9: They help out around the house. Maybe they have their small chore, or they are in charge of making their bed. Helping them gain a sense of responsibility and contribution to the group will be so valuable when they gain a new community at school!

#10: You help them see what they are capable of, and they believe it! This kind of mindset is easy to take for granted if it’s present in your home, but it’s essential for kids about to embark on school. They will be discovering all sorts of tasks and ideas, and it will serve them well if they believe they can handle new things with confidence.

The nervousness in sending your oldest child to school may not go away. But I hope parents can feel a little more at ease at the prospect of kindergarten readiness and enjoy the summer together!

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In Honor Of Teachers & Mothers

I just had to share this beautiful video in anticipation of Mother’s Day this weekend.

What exactly is the role of the teacher? SO much more than the conveyor of knowledge.

All of these roles are assumed by both parents as well, but it is tender to consider and qualify the many roles of a mother, especially since these efforts are usually upaid and uncounted. Teachers often face similar undervaluation. See Melinda Gates’ excellent recent piece entitled, “The massive, hidden costs of women’s unpaid work.” She writes,

“To care is human — and caring for children or aging parents should be an expression of love. It can offer us some of the most meaningful moments of our lives. But if it’s assumed that women will do all these tasks, then caring that should be joyful becomes a burden, and work that should be shared becomes isolating.”

Melinda Gates

Let us count these roles, these efforts, this love. It is beautiful, powerful work, and becomes more so when we really see one another for what we are providing for the world’s rising generation.

Happy Mothers Day & Teachers Appreciation Week!

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On Feeling Like We Can’t Nurture It All… #TeacherMom

On a given day, a parent might come across lists of ways they should be nurturing their children’s…

…creativity

…resilience

…confidence

…problem solving

…empathy

…assertiveness

…fine & gross motor skills

…communication skills

The list goes on. And meanwhile, we have days where just getting dinner on the table feels like someone should be giving us a medal.

While it is true that all of these require individual, concerted effort from time to time, the truth is that trying to tend to all this nurturing on an individual basis each day would be like drinking from a fire hose! When we try, we’ll quickly find ourselves under a crushing weight of what I’m going to call “nurture-overload.”

Instead, here are ways we might avoid that overload and feeling of hustle:

  • Follow the child’s lead. Allow their questions or daily tasks to drive the discussions and inform how you help them connect to various skills and traits.
  • Read together regularly. If it is a regular part of your time together, you can depend on a healthy exposure to many different concepts.
  • Trust your child’s independence. As we allow kids to have responsibilities as they grow (and not allow media hysteria to color what we view as age-appropriate), many of these skills will strengthen naturally. See if you can count how many skills and qualities might be cultivated in this Sesame Street example below (from one of my favorite websites, LetGrow.org)

We want our children to grow up to have all the skills and traits they’ll need to be caring, capable adults. If we step away from worry about getting it right and step toward more trust, we may find that these things come more naturally than we might anticipate!

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Hair Care & Respect Books: Why We’re Loving Them #TeacherMom

Last year was a veritable cascade of picture books relating to hair. Specifically, how to care for and respect natural black hair. And I couldn’t be more thankful when it comes to teaching my daughter to care for and respect her own and others’ hair.

First, we came across Cozbi A. Cabrera’s “My Hair Is a Garden.” Though my daughter’s hair isn’t natural black hair, it is curly and wild. As such, it has produced a lot of frustration at the amount of care it requires. As we read Mackenzie’s story, I observed the way my daughter was able to relate. She felt relieved to find that she isn’t the only one who needs to give her hair more nurturing (and to realize that there is nothing wrong with that)! I love the way this gorgeous book normalizes black hair (since of course all hair is normal), while also validating the fact that differences do require different kinds of care.


Next we read, “Don’t Touch My Hair,” by Sharee Miller. This hilarious read got us laughing as it gently but firmly asserts essential principles of boundaries and respect. I think the page of even mermaids trying to touch Aria’s hair was my personal favorite!

One other read we loved last year was Princess Hair, also by Sharee Miller. My daughter loved learning all the different names for hairstyles, and seeing the way all of the girls loved and rocked what they had!

Picture books are such a marvel, aren’t they? The way they validate, teach, assure, entertain, and enlighten. These hair-care and respect books have definitely done all of this and more! Thank you, authors!

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Tolerance of Messy in Favor of Learning #TeacherMom

I like tidiness. I find myself struggling to think straight when my environment gets too chaotic.

And yet for the last several months, our family room inevitably returns to some version of this:

Not too bad, but when it happens every day, several times a day, and across every room and even his bed — it starts to wear down this parent’s sanity.

Lately, however, I have started to try and shift my perspective. I realize that the repetitive scattering of books can look like a mess…or it can look like rich early literacy development.

After all, my 2 year-old is not just yanking them out just to make a mess. He is just devouring them, sometimes flipping through the pictures, other times approximating the story out loud for himself.

When we’re in the classroom, the reality is that we can’t always handle the volume of messy learning — especially when there are 30+ students! That’s why it’s important to spend time talking about our shared responsibilities for our shared learning space, and making room for students to express how they feel about their environment.

We are currently working on learning to put the books back on the shelves, as well. But through this process, both with my very small student at home, and with our classroom students, it’s important to always hold aloft what matters most: the learning. It reminds me of a quote I’ve often heard:

One might similarly state, never let a problem to be solved become more important than learning to be gained.

What are ways a shift in your perspective has helped you navigate the complexities of teaching?

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In Which the Preschool App Gets Me Revisiting Scaffolding #TeacherMom

Have you ever downloaded the Monkey Preschool Lunchbox app for your kids? If so, you probably know that they adore & can independently play all the games except two. And you probably know exactly which two I’m talking about:

“Put the Fruit Back Together…”

…and “Match the Fruit”

These two games take more stamina than the others. You can’t just start tapping randomly until it moves on until the next game. Which leaves me three choices:

#1: Do those hard games for him so he can play the rest of the game.

#2: Take a firm stance that if he can’t do it all on his own, he’s not ready to play.

#3: Do the hard games together, helping him hold his finger and talking through the process (where did we see the other banana?).

I have tried all three! The teacher side of me would definitely choose #3 every time, but the truth is, sometimes life gets messier than that. The game is usually only even out when we are at a long appointment. Sometimes, he tries to insist on #1 while I am trying to speak with the doctor. Sometimes, I try to assert #2, but find he really does want to give them a try again on his own.

The more I reflect, the more I realize that the only truly damaging stance when it comes to the scaffolding we give our kids is one that is rigid and not sensitive to context.

We like to think of scaffolding as a nice linear graph, gradually releasing toward complete independence in a smooth, graceful line. But really, there are plenty of dips, spikes, and wild turns along the way, all of which require patience for our young students, and for ourselves.

Even for something as silly as making a monkey cheer you on when you match a pair of honeydews.

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