Archive for Education

The Show Must (Not) Go On?

You might think this is satire from a “fake news” site but it isn’t–a Long Island elementary school in the Elwood school district has canceled a kindergarten play because they are “responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills…”

Elwood Kindergarten Play Canceled

Another letter references the unusually high number of missed school days due to snow. Elwood, like the district in which I live, has half day kindergarten. So, morning kindergarten was likely canceled when there were delays. Although missed days in excess of allotted snow days are made up–kindergarten days missed due to delays are not.

However, the reference to “college and career” readiness implies a connection with the demands of the Common Core. Do the administrators at Elwood genuinely believe that a few days spent preparing and performing a school play in kindergarten will affect little Ava’s ability to succeed in college and find a high-paying job? Or are they scared that Brayden will bomb the state tests in third grade because his demanding rehearsal schedule distracted him from test prep? Or are they using these children as pawns to protest the requirements tied to implementation of the Common Core in New York?

Does anyone really believe that a five year old’s time is better spent bubbling in more scantrons?

Whatever is going on in Elwood, this is a sad day in early childhood education.

Walking with Dinosaurs Coming to Barclays Center – Opening Night Discount

Walking with Dinosaurs is coming to Barclays Center and I can feel the excitement–or is that a giant tyrannosaurus rex?

Walking with Dinosaurs Barclays Center

My eldest son is a junior paleontologist who has memorized every episode of the BBC “Walking with Dinosaurs” series and I know he is going to be thrilled to see these dinosaurs–moving, roaring, practically breathing–live! And when the people at Barclays Center say, “live,” they mean it! Using advanced animatronics, Walking with Dinosaurs Live creates the illusion that the audience has been transported back in time to witness real, alive dinosaurs hunting, raising their young, and more.

“Ten species are represented from the entire 200 million year reign of the dinosaurs. The show includes the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the terror of the ancient terrain, as well as the Plateosaurus and Liliensternus from the Triassic period, the Stegosaurus and Allosaurus from the Jurassic period and Torosaurus and Utahraptor from the awesome Cretaceous period. The largest of them, the Brachiosaurus is 36 feet tall, and 56 feet from nose to tail. It took a team of 50 – including engineers, fabricators, skin makers, artists and painters, and animatronic experts – a year to build the production.”

Barclays Center is hosting Walking with Dinosaurs Live July 16 – July 20 (9 Total Shows): July 16 at 7PM, July 17 at 7PM, July 18 at 10:30AM & 7PM, July 19 at 11AM, 3PM & 7PM, July 20 at 1PM & 5PM. Tickets are available for $99, $75, $55, $35, with special opening night tickets for just $30 (valid on $55 & $35 price points). Group Ticket discounts of over $20 per ticket are also available for groups of 12+.

Buy Tickets: Tickets for Walking with Dinosaurs at Barclays Center are on sale now and can be purchased online via Ticketmaster or by calling 800-745-3000. For more information about the show, visit: http://www.dinosaurlive.com/

Walking with Dinosaurs Arena Spectacular

Disclosure: As a member of the press, I am receiving tickets to attend opening night of Walking with Dinosaurs at Barclays Center and share my experiences with you.

Twin Day for Spirit Week: A Bit of Fun or Exclusionary?

Earlier in the year, my daughter brought the “Spirit Week” flyer home with the list of daily “themes.” This year, there was a new addition, “Twin Day” was slotted instead of the wacky hair or crazy hat day that we had last year.

the-shining-movie-the-grady-twins

Our school has spirit weeks several times a year and they are always fun. A number of parents grumbled about the “literary character day” last year but my daughter went as Dorothy and had a lot of fun with it.

Something about “Twin Day” sent my mama-sense tingling, however.

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Yes, I’m THAT Mother (Already)


When I was teaching, I swore that when I had kids I wouldn’t be that mom. Hyper-involved, helicopter-parent mom. The one who thinks her precious spawn is just so-supah smaht and needs more attention.

But here we are.

My daughter really loves structured lessons based on themes. And so, with mixed feelings about the very concept of preschool, I decided to enroll her two days a week for two and a half hours each session.

After the first day of preschool, I noticed they were writing her name on her paper. She knows how to write her name. So I told her next time she could say if she wished, “Thank you for helping me but I would like to write my own name.” And the next session, she came back with her own scrawl on the paper. Good job, kiddo.

Generally, I would prefer to stay out of things and let her work them out with some parental advice and guidance. At the same time, I am also very afraid of her getting bored in school. I got bored in school at a very young age and the results were not pretty.

I got on the horn the other day to request that if they must do dittos in preschool (which I’m not all that fond of to begin with) could my daughter could do dittos more in-line with her skill level.

For example, on her letter ditto, she is supposed to “color in” the letter–but I know she can already write the letter, identify words beginning with the letter, sound out words with that letter in them, etc. Or on another, she had to trace a pre-drawn dotted line connecting an animal with where it lives (right across from the matching animal)…why not have her free-draw a line to match the two? These are things she already does at home.

First, the teacher justified their use of dittos by saying they will have to do dittos in kindergarten.

Ummm…but she’s three. Should I hand my one year old a ditto based on that theory?

Ultimately this issue is besides the point, though, because although I’m not thrilled with dittos, my daughter thinks they are fun…so let her enjoy her dittos…can we just match her level a little more closely.

The answer to this was that they were all reviewing. That some of the kids don’t even know what it means to trace.

I’m sorry but that brought out Mama Bear. I don’t really care what the other kids do or do not know. We’re talking about my kid. Not the other kids.

I replied that as a former classroom teacher, I recognize the challenge of differentiating instruction for different skill levels. HOWEVER, these are DITTOS. Dittos already DONE INDEPENDENTLY. I’m not asking them to change their curriculum. Just PHOTOCOPY ANOTHER WORKSHEET ON THE SAME TOPIC.

I also recognize that I will be beating my head up against a one-size-fits-all system throughout my children’s lives, whatever their ability levels. However this is a private preschool, for which I pay. And I purposely chose a Montessori school because of the emphasis on independent exploration. And they have a mixed class of three to five year olds…so they are presumably already differentiating.

At this point, I feel like the teacher thinks I am pushing academics. And please, believe me when I say I am not. There are no baby flash cards, baby educational videos, or any bionic-super-duper-baby paraphernalia in my house. In fact, I’d rather her go outside and play more, or wriggle her fingers in some playdough, or finger paint, than do any dittos at all. I just don’t want her to get bored doing dittos she already knows how to do.

She assured me that most of their time was spent playing outside or indoors on the mat with the Montessori materials. She promised they would be “evaluating” (shudder … but that’s a whole ‘nother rant) the kids and differentiating soon.

As I hung up the phone, I thought about the absurdity of questioning the pedagogical tactics of teachers who spend a combined total of 5 hours a week with my child, when I spend the other 163 with her.

And I realized that yes, I have become that parent.

I guess, somewhere deep inside, maybe I always knew I was that parent. I just didn’t think the transformation would happen so very quickly.

Photo Credit: Mike Baird

Your Baby Can’t Read

Okay, perhaps YOUR baby can. It is possible. Stranger things have happened. But most likely your baby cannot read. Anyone telling you that your baby can is selling snake oil. Expensive snake oil.

What your baby can begin to do is recognize that certain signs or symbols represent certain objects. And that is pretty neat. But you do not need to spend hours training your baby to do this or buy expensive systems to accomplish this.

Once your child is a little older, he will begin to recognize that those black squiggly lines are letters. And letters make up words and words stand for certain things or ideas. But memorization of sight words, while important, is not “reading.”

My ten month old knows that squeezing his hand represents milk. This does not make him bilingual or fluent in sign language.

When my daughter was not yet two, my husband taught her to respond that two plus two equals “four.” But that doesn’t mean she was performing mathematical operations or understood addition as a concept.

Memorization plays an important role in learning, but it must have its proper place within a framework of other skills and concepts. First you learn what quantities and numbers are, then the idea of multiplication, and then you memorize the times tables.

Now, no harm is done by showing your baby the word “Mom” and teaching him to point to mom. It is cute, certainly.

And if you want to buy books or CDs or flashcards with suggestions for games, that’s great. As parents today we can be very isolated and sometimes we need these ideas for playing with our babies. Check out your local library and you will find tons of books with ideas for playing with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

However, I take issue with expensive systems that claim that rote memorization of images is learning to read.

Even worse if the website for the expensive system asks that you show a three month old videos an hour a day every day. And counsels you in tips to focus the baby’s attention on these videos if he does not wish to watch them.

Now, I do not think television is evil. However, studies I have read about how television affects the brain wiring under age two gives me pause about any “educational” program that insists on television viewing for young infants. School-aged children, especially at-risk school aged children, do learn from television. And I doubt that occasional viewing will harm a healthy baby. However, I do not believe television is the best or even a good way to set your infant on a path to a lifelong love of reading.

Please, take that time to playt with and read to your baby instead. If you do not speak the dominant language in your current residence, that’s fine–read in whatever language you can. And if you are not literate in any language, there are great free programs both for babies and for adults at many local libraries.

If library or other comunity programs are not an option, you can borrow or purchase books on tape and show baby the book while reading the tape. You can also buy a LeapFrog TAG system at a fraction of the cost of these expensive systems. If you really want video, there are free ones available on the web and most of them are just 5-10 minutes long.

Pre-literacy skills are important building blocks. Letter and sound recognition are steps on the road to reading. And a child who has some of these skills before entering school will be more confident and more likely to self-identify as a successful “reader” and “learner.” To extrapolate from that and conclude that a 10 month old “reading” (but not really reading) will have long-term benefits is simply not supported by current evidence.

She’s a Poet…and She Knows It!

Today Diva the Kid announced that she was “making a poem” and out popped:

At night his daddy came.
A soft cloud
arisen by the mist.

Now, leaving aside the improper use of arisen I think that is pretty darn good for a 2.5 year old.

Especially since we haven’t been consciously teaching her poetry. She’s been making up a lot of silly songs but as far as I know this is her first self-designated “poem.” Captain Dad has been explaining rhyming words and she can fill in the end of rhyming couplets…but this poem doesn’t rhyme.

Actually, take a syllable off the first and last line and it is a haiku. Maybe it is Wabi Sabi influenced?

Now I just have to teach her to write sonnets.

Preschool Curriculum; Welcome March with a Lion and Lamb Weather Calendar

My dear daughter really likes to do an organized project each day. So, if we do not go on a play date or to the library, I try to plan something. Often it is impromptu but lately she’s been calling me on my lack of organization (“Mommy, butterflies in Spring. Not Winter!”).

So, I borrowed a bunch of preschool curriculum books from the library and I’m trying to actually plan things in a semi-thematic and/or seasonal way.

Today is March 1, so we printed a blank March calendar and some Lion and Lamb clipart from The Big Book of Monthly Ideas : Preschool-Kindergarten : The Best of the Mailbox Monthly Idea Books. (This whole activity is modified from that book.)

I shared the saying, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”

We talked a little about lions (fierce, strong, roar) and lambs (gentle, friendly, baa) and what type of weather each might represent. Then we selected the right animal for today: lion.

We placed the lion on the calendar day and also wrote down that it was snowy and a high of 35 degrees (note to self to get a thermometer so she can read it herself, instead of me looking it up on the Internet).

We also wrote “Lion Days” and “Lamb Days” at the bottom of the calendar and made a hatch mark next to Lion Days.

Each day we’ll paste the right picture on the calendar and make our hatch mark. At the end of the month, we’ll talk about whether March was more of a lion or a lamb and whether it did in fact come in like a lion and out like a lamb.

Hoo Will Be My Valentine?

Hoo loves ya, baby? My darling girl adores owls so she really enjoyed this great Valentine’s Day owl craft from my fellow MOMformation blogger, Molly. Check out more of her great crafts for Valentine’s Day plus links to others.

I’m expecting a lot of stories today and tomorrow about “low-budget” Valentine’s Day celebrations…why not make some crafts?

I’ve never been hugely into Valentine’s Day but now that I have kids, it is another nice opportunity in the year to reflect on the gift of love.

Whether or not you are in a relationship, I hope you are able to celebrate love tomorrow and every day.

Social Networking for Learning


My latest edition of Ed Magazine (the Harvard Graduate School of Education publication) has an interesting article: Thanks for the Add. Now Help Me with My Homework.

The topic is whether or not social networking sites help students–not only with valuable tech and social skills but also with learning more traditional material as well.

Usually when we hear about the Internet and students, it involves CyberBullying, embarassments, or predators. But, as Blanding points out, there’s a lot of potential for savvy parents and educators to use social media as a teaching tool. Like any other tool, there is a potential for abuse.

The article discusses using messaging tools to discuss assignments, video and audio streaming to share events and ideas, and networking sites to connect with other students. I saw no mention of Twitter, which I think could also be a huge boon to class discussions, student journalists, and students surveying people for tips and quotes.

The tech geek in me is excited about the possibilities.

The former classroom teacher in me is concerned about responsibilites. If a teacher assigns students to survey people on twitter, post a documentary video, or create a facebook cause page, what happens if one of the connections made is a bad one?

This is not a new problem, teaching authentically involves getting students to think outside of the classroom box. However, as with many issues, the Internet has a way of magnifying them. Having kids bring a class project to the lunchroom, open school night, or the community center also has risks, but those risks are easier to manage.

Have you or your kids engaged in any educational projects using social networking? Do you like this idea?

Photo credit: Tongue Out on Flickr

Butterfly Craft for Child Victims of the Holocaust

When I wrote about my daughter’s coffee filter butterfly craft, I received an inspiring comment about the The Butterfly Project. Here’s the information from the site.

1,500,000 innocent children perished in the Holocaust.

In an effort to remember them, Holocaust Museum Houston is collecting 1.5 million handmade butterflies.

The butterflies will eventually comprise a breath-taking exhibition, currently scheduled for Spring 2012, for all to remember.

They prefer 2D butterflies and I wanted to help my daughter create something special for The Butterfly Project, so here is our tissue paper butterfly we will contribute in remembrance of the Holocaust’s youngest victims.

I wanted to create a butterfly that incorporated the outline of her hands because this is a butterfly from an innocent child to represent one of the beautiful children who was lost to this world. We decorated the wings with tissue paper to create a mosaic of lovely sparks of bright colors.

As we made the butterfly, we talked about how wonderful it is to chase butterflies in the spring. I told my daughter that once there were some children who liked to chase butterflies, just like her. Unfortunately, there were also some cruel people who did not understand that children had a right to chase butterflies and run in the grass and live their lives. I explained that we are making this butterfly for these children and also for us–so we never forget. I figured that was about all the Holocaust education that would be appropriate at age two and a half.

Please feel free to make a butterfly like ours or using a different butterfly craft and send it to The Butterfly Project (link fixed). And please spread the word so they can meet their goal and honor the spirits of these children.

Supplies

1 piece of cardboard or posterboard
scraps of thin paper (tissue paper)
glue
pencil
scissors
poster paints or markers
pipe cleaner (optional)
Popsicle stick (optional)

Instructions

  1. Trace child’s hands (fingers together, not spread) on a folded piece of cardboard and cut out shapes. You should have four hand-shaped pieces.
  2. Paint the Popsicle stick in any color or colors and allow to dry (I was out of Popsicle sticks so I just cut another piece of cardboard).
  3. Tear up pieces of paper (we used tissue paper, but you could also use scraps of left-over wrapping paper or, for a completely different effect use newspaper).
  4. Paste paper on the cardboard, overlapping the pieces of paper and adding more paste as necessary (we used a glue stick, brushing on watered-down paste would also work well).
  5. Fold excess paper over and paste down to the back side of the wings (if you used thicker paper, you might need to use scissors or an exacto knife to trim).
  6. Glue wings to overlap in the shape of a butterfly.
  7. Paste the Popsicle stick body over the wings. You can wrap the entire stick in pipe cleaners, just wrap the head (this is what we did), or not wrap it at all. If you choose to use pipe cleaners, you can use your pencil to curl the ends of the antennae. Otherwise, you can paste the butterfly on a piece of white paper and use a marker or paint to add in the antennae.

Please let me know if you make a butterfly of your own!