Monday, December 22, 2014

Executive Function Part 2: Tools to Support Choice Making & Self-Regulation

In Part 1 of this series on executive function I wrote about how to organize shelving to help children make choices and how to demonstrate choice making.  In this post we will talk about tools that support choice making at school and at home.

When you work in schools, whether the children know you well or not, they will tell you things that are important to them.  As you kneel by a table to watch children playing with counting cubes it is not unusual to have someone turn to you and say something like "I have a dog." or "It is my brother's birthday." Recently I was walking with some children to the cafeteria and a boy whispered to me with a great sense of pride, "I am the table wiper. That is my job."

In my house we had a job chart on the refrigerator.  List of kids names down one side, jobs across the top.  The jobs changed each week.  Instilling personal responsibility through meaningful activity gives children the chance to internalize motor planning skills and experience confidence.  Sarah Ward notes that adding "er" to a verb can help children to visualize themselves doing that activity. Instead of "Wipe off the table." you could say, "You are the table wiper." or "We need a table wiper today."

An important aspect of executive function skills is the ability to make decisions and engage in purposeful, meaningful work. This helps children organize their thinking and develop self-control and confidence.

However, opportunities for children to engage in self-directed activity can be scarce. What opportunities do children have to make choices that involve decision making, accompanied by important motor planning experiences such as carrying materials, making choices from shelves  - and not simply have things put on tables for them? 

Think buffet, not full service restaurant.

But before we choose our entrees or get started on our jobs we have some things to do.

Asking children to choose and engage in activities without first demonstrating how to handle materials and clean up can result in a chaotic atmosphere at home and at school. Play the "Clean Up Game" to model.  Have the children watch you take out several materials. Put them on tables or on mats on the floor or the rug.  Ask children to watch carefully to see if they can remember where you got things. (At home, emptying the dish drainer or dish washer is a great activity.) Then ask for volunteers to put things back. Demonstrate how to carry trays, tubs, chairs, etc.  Show children how to handle materials carefully whether it is a small laundry basket at home or a tub of blocks at school. (Have small children put their thumbs on top of the edges of a tub or tray or plate when they carry things for stability).

Responsive Classroom techniques use Guided Discovery Elements to introduce everything from water color paints, to dictionaries, to crayons, to the scale in the video: 
  • Introduction, Naming, & Care of Materials
  • Generating and Modeling Ideas
  • Exploration
  • Sharing of Work
See You Tube for examples of this process - Guided Discovery of a Balance. Notice that the teacher is on the floor with the children.  I think this lesson is actually a little long and requires too much wait time for most children, but the elements are there.

Montessori teachers also do very thorough large and small group presentations of materials from dollhouses to specific didactic materials and You Tube has some examples as well.

To learn more about executive function see The Art of Control, a great resource for classroom and home ideas.

Now for the buffet - Choice Boards are one way to help children make choices once they have finished a center or required activity, or can be used for your free choice time to help children put closure on play and make decisions about what to do next.

There are lots of different versions of these.  Sometimes the "boards" are in the actual areas of the room where children "sign in and out" of a playspace by putting a card or tag with their name on it on the board near the area.  No more spaces on the board means that area is full. Here are some Choice Boards from a very quick Pinterest surf.

Healey Head Start
This choice board uses pictures of children and Velcro backing for photos and for the actual activity cards. Notice that there are a potential of 4 spaces at each center but some are covered with a black square indicating that fewer children can go to that activity.  Also note that there are really three types of choices here:

1. Static areas, such as "blocks" or "easel"
2. Discrete activity  at a table such as "magnets",
3. Dynamic area that has many choices within it such as "writing center" or "math shelf" or "art area".  These last type of choices give children practice making decisions about what they  might want to do within a particular content area.

The choice board below is painted homosote (really inexpensive from the hardware store), small cup hooks, and paper key tags for children's names. Each card represents an activity of one of the three types mentioned above.

Important is that when a child finishes one activity and cleans it up (or at least prepares the  materials for the next person in some way), they must return to the board before going to the next activity.  For many children this is an exercise in self-regulation.  It forces them to think:  "Am I finished?"  "What must I do to make this area ready for my friends?"  "What do I want to do next and how will I get there?" 

Small key tags with children's names on them
are moved from hook to hook by children as they
decide what to do next.
Child Study and Development Center, UNH
Like everything else, the choice boards also need a full introduction and modeling.  But the resulting self-regulation will be worth it.  I also advocate for having children approach the choice board by "child" not by "activity".  So I never say, "Who wants to go to blocks today?" That simply puts me in the position of choosing for children and creates overt competition.  Instead I ask, "Who thinks they know a few things they might want to choose today?  Remember if an area is full when I call you, make a different choice and you can change choices when there is space."  The children's pictures or key tags are on a small mat in front of the choice board and children are called to make their choice.
Think about how you  might want to start off the new year with a job chart or a choice board and help children become "builders", "sweepers", "dishwasher emptiers" "counters" and "readers".
Happy New Year and more posts in January!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Rethinking Holiday Gifts: Being Crafty about Saving Money and Sparking Creativity

Thanks everyone for the wonderful feedback on the blog. If you or someone you know would like to receive this blog regularly please register to the right of this post under the "highlight" photo.

I know I spent some time this weekend thinking about holiday gifts for my family and friends.  As an educator I am aware of the power of the toy industry and commercialism on our spending habits.  A friend recently said that she avoided Black Friday sales after realizing that most of what she bought that day ended up in the yard sale pile at the end of the summer.

So what makes a good gift for young children?   Sometimes it is not what is on the shelves (or online) at the major toy stores. Here are some ideas for saving money and giving gifts that spark creativity and thinking. Teachers can also think about these ideas for their dramatic play areas in the classroom or for community service projects to make for children in other settings.

Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment (TRUCE) has some great ideas for family fun at home or at school using easy to find materials.  Ideas for forts, cardboard boxes, socks, playdough, etc. can be used as inspiration for a "kit" that you put together yourself.  The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood has a nice guide to commercial free holidays with ideas for "coupons" you can give.  I know as a parent I like to receive coupons for extra dishwasher emptying, laundry folding, dog walking, car cleaning, etc. from my kids.

Assistant principal at the Capuano, Alli Franke, made this craft purse for her niece using a repurposed bag. Items like glue, tape, left over wrapping paper, stickers are easy to find at drugstores or Staples - the biggest expense was the zig-zag scissors and glitter pens.  Dollar bins at places like Target or craft stores have inexpensive supplies you can add.

When my children were little they loved playing spy and superhero. We made them a spy/superhero kit (a shoebox covered with paper) with a small flashlight, magnifying glasses, safety goggles, sunglasses, a cape (piece of fabric or pillowcase), a thrift store baseball cap, old keys on a key chain, small notebook with a little pencil, carabiners that can hook onto belt loops to carry items - total cost usually around $10-15, sometimes less.

Think kitchen chef kit - whisk, bowl, little rolling pin, etc.

Think gardening - seeds, small pots, paint pens to decorate pots, soil, bulbs to force open during the winter, small trowel.

Instead of the toy store, think about the supermarket and hardware store as a place to shop!

Let us know if you have ideas we should add and I will put them up here and in the Family and Teacher pages above.


Science Kit at Home - ideas for making a home science kit.

Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood - lot of good information here on how much advertising is directed at our children and the need for parent intervention, especially in talking to our children about toys that do more harm than good (think recent hubbub over the Barbie who tells us she needs help with technology from the boy doll).

Interesting piece, Hobbies in the Home on the toy industry and  extolling the benefits of play and passing down one's interests to our children.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"We don't sing!"

Recently, Maura Mendoza, a parent liaison, reminded a child as he went out the door at dismissal, "Tell your mom what you did at school play, you read, you sing..."
He interrupted her at that point saying, "We don't sing!"
Now Maura knows that teachers are using music with children and that they go to music class once a week.  But the child's response made her think about children's perception of what "counts" as singing at school. 

The next day she brought her acoustic guitar and visited five classrooms during "choice time." After that children were singing a long the hallways, during drop-off and dismissal time and of course every time they saw her at school!  
This led to continue her project - "Music Mondays" - a once a month 20 minute session right after preschool dismissal at 1:45. There were sign ups with a flyer and sign up sheet.

About 30 families signed up and over 40 families ultimately came, lured in by the music and obvious event happening. 
What Maura found is that not only do children love singing but their families joined right in once they learned the words. Important here is that Maura sang songs that were in children's home languages or had "nonsense" words that were easy to learn and where you really couldn't make a mistake. For example, songs like Ram, Sam, Sam (which I learned as Rum, Sum, Sum) have many versions and can easily be adapted. 

Singing in front of other people can be anxiety producing, especially if you are not confident as a singer. But you know what?  The children are not music critics - they really just want to sing, belt it out, join their voices with yours.  So singing in your own voice is actually crucial to song learning, song sharing, and skill building.  When you use your own voice you can adapt, slow things down, speed them up, stop and explain.  CDs are great for learning songs but are no substitute for our own voices. 
Music also has other benefits:
  • Learning songs in another language 
  • Song charts used in classrooms are good for vocabulary & word recognition
  • Keeping the beat is important for math and literacy - listening for and practicing the patterns of a song
  • Singing supports expressive language
  • Rhyming, rhythm helps with memory and motor control

When children sing every day at school they will sing at home, and parents will want to learn the songs too. Also, ask parents to teach you songs in a child's home language. Consider sending home words or links to YouTube videos or even make a CD of the children singing that parents can play at home so everyone can sing together.  And parents can share the songs they sang when they were children - your kids will love them!

Rick Saunders, Director of Music for Somerville Public Schools shares the following resources for families and teachers:

The Importance of Singing to Your Baby
Four Important Reasons to Include Music

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanking Our Teachers

As Thanksgiving approaches "thankful" curriculum emerges from classrooms.  Teachers work with children to surface what they are thankful or grateful for - important lessons in what may be children's first public expressions of gratitude. Children know what is important:  noodles, smocks, family, shoes, Ninja Turtles, even sisters. No one would argue that helping children to be thankful is valuable - and so we must also think about how we value our teachers.

recent Washington Post article - Teacher to Parents - has been posted numerous times on Facebook in the past week or so.  In it a teacher explains to parents about why she cannot tell all the details of a particular child who has been identified as "that kid".  Teachers must maintain confidentiality but also a commitment to working for, advocating for each child.  This means that while much of a teacher's work may be public, there is much that happens behind the  scenes that often goes unnoticed, and many times unrewarded. In the past weeks I have seen countless acts of support in classrooms for children, your children. The article is worth a read, especially the list at the end of what a teacher might do daily for a child.
For these things we can be thankful.

Last week NIEER (National Institute of Early Education Research) highlighted findings from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment's new report, Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages: The Childhood Workforce 25 Years after the National Child Care Staffing Study.  NIEER reinforces what we already know - that early education matters, whether children are home with family members (who are their first teachers) or in family childcare settings, center-based preschools, or in the public schools.
We have far to go in figuring out equity in compensation across settings, but are thankful for those who continue to work with young children in all these types of programs.

In Somerville we are thankful to have received an Early Learning Challenge Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) for the past three years.  This funding allows us to look carefully at programming across the city with a goal of making sure every child is ready for kindergarten. We are especially mindful of the alignment of various professional development opportunities for teachers. In the coming year we will work to bring teachers  together to share their work with each other - and we will share that work here on these pages.

 I am thankful to have such thoughtful and committed teachers across the city to collaborate with as we work for all children.

Thank a teacher this week.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Executive Function & 21st Century Skills - Part 1: Making Choices and Environmental Design

This post is the first in a series about how children move through environments and the role of self-directed activity, classroom schedules and room arrangement, and what "counts" as choice time in school and at home.

A young child moves across the room to put away her supply box.  For some of us a simple task. For the young child, a potential obstacle course where many things can happen along the way - an accidental bump of a peer turns into a conflict; a joyful conversation with a friend ensues; difficulty figuring out how to get from one side of the room to another during a high traffic time.  We take for granted what goes into getting from one place to the next.  But young children need time and modeling to make these excursions successful and also develop important cognitive and motor abilities while doing so.

Executive function skills support planning, completing and evaluating tasks, and oversee communication exchanges (Cognitive Connections - Sarah Ward, FAQ). Executive function is like the air traffic control system for the body and mind (The Art of Control). It helps us to understand a series of steps such as: come into the classroom, put my things away, wash hands, go to the rug - and to make choices about how to approach tasks.  Many children need previewing and practice for their executive function systems to work efficiently and for some children, this must be an important part of their day - and not just with arrival and clean up routines (See Boss of the Paints post).

I had a rich conversation last week with a teacher who was examining her classroom with a focus on helping children make choices from materials on shelves during the "free choice" parts of her day. While observing I noticed that children wandered from shelf to shelf, area to area, but many things were "closed" and not really available - and children did not seem to know how to choose. We talked about modeling choice-making very deliberately:

1. Demonstrate how to walk around the room and think about what you would like to do.  Use quiet "voice over" narration as you model: "Hmm, I wonder what I will do today?  This looks interesting. I think I will carefully take this out and put it on the table."
2. Model careful use of the material.
3. Then model the clean up. "I think I am finished.  I will put this all back so it is ready for the next person." Get up and show how to put things away.

This kind of choice making has another benefit - developing self-direction - crucial for a robust executive function system. Shelf organization can support executive functioning. Children need to see what is available and distinguish between adult storage and kid-friendly materials. When materials are piled up or not readily visible children have difficulty accessing items and aren't sure where things go at clean up time.  The arrangement below can be problematic.

Shelves with materials in open baskets or trays, one item in one space on a shelf, make it easy for children to find, choose, and put things away - and often less is more.  Offering a few puzzles or manipulatives in rotation adds novelty to your routines and allows children to gain mastery with the materials they do choose. 

So why does this all matter? The Framework for 21st Century Living advocates for a skill set linked to optimal learning, life, and career success - and all the skills are linked to healthy executive function.

This skill set includes things like critical thinking, collaboration, communication, flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, productivity, and accountability.
While the phrase, "21st Century Skills" is always puzzling to me as these are skills we have always needed, it represents things we want to support in children and in ourselves. However, it seems that in the current education climate we focus mainly on productivity and accountability when in reality the skills are inter-dependent and must be fostered in concert with each other.

So think about this:
Are there opportunities during the day for children to practice decision making? Do children move from choice to choice during a "free choice" or "center time" on their own? Or must they wait for a signal from the teacher?  Is the self-regulation in the classroom really just adult regulation of children?

If children are to develop the kind of self-regulatory skills we hope they will have, they must have the chance to practice moving and choosing, but with modeling of how this looks first so there is freedom within a structure. At home we can think about how to give children blocks of unstructured time where they can play in a safe environment, and organize spaces for choice.
(See Self-Directed Executive Function and  The Art of Control.)

See also this blog on Routines that has wonderful ideas for home and school related to helping children organize their thinking and becoming self-directed.

In future posts I will address how our schedules can help promote more child directed experiences, and how we can set up environments to support choice while still adhering to the skills and curriculum we want to cover in a given school year. The Somerville Early Education Pinterest Site has new pins related to shelf arrangements and executive function tips.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sensory Tables - Not Just Another Piece of Furniture

Lots of pictures this week.  I have been thinking a lot about choice time and options for play that get at multiple developmental needs. A sensory table is a standard piece of equipment in many classrooms. But because they can be covered they often end up as just another surface to store or display things. This can mean that an important opportunity for children is now out of circulation.
Plastic tubes, marbles and very fine sand
provide a soothing play experience

What is your sensory table being used for and why should you open it sooner rather than later?

The sensory table is one tool in a teacher's repertoire to provide much needed sensory experiences throughout a child's day.  In addition, these experiences can also incorporate play, communication, sorting & classification, and science options.

Depending on the materials, sensory tables provide an open ended experience where children learn the properties of the materials and how to control them. And children often stand at the table, enabling movement in classrooms that increasingly expect children to sit.

There is also research supporting sensory experience's impact on motor performance, cognitive development, sensory processing, social-emotional learning - not just for children with disabilities, but typically developing children as well.

The American Occupational Therapy Association has a wealth of resources and links to current research.

This board is attached with velcro to the edges of the table to provide a
place for experimentation.
Water is an obvious choice - it can be calming for some children, and small scoops & cups encourage repetition and precision.  Add eye droppers for increased fine motor practice.  Colored water for color mixing experiments.

Choosing materials and adding novelty over the course of a few days or even weeks sustains interest and focus.  For example you might start with colored water and scoops, then add droppers, then other colors, then plastic test tubes.

Bark, wood pieces, plastic forest animals, sand - for dramatic play,
construction, and sensory stimulation.
Think about natural objects for the table to create beauty in a child's day.  Children with special needs and typically developing children benefit from sensory experiences that stimulate the nervous system in a gentle way.  This kind of experience used to be part of children's every day lives as they encountered water, dirt, sand, did practical work in the home or outside.  But children now have fewer opportunities to engage in every day sensory activity.
Some object to the use of food in classrooms - so if you do use food items, make sure you can reuse them, store in airtight containers for future use.  There are some great tactile opportunities with items such as rice, beans or flax seed. But you can use different colored pebbles, shells, etc.

These children had been sorting (above) for days and when they began scooping and counting their teacher gave them a clip board and asked "How many scoops do  you think it will take to fill the jar?" "How will you keep track of how many scoops?" These 4-year olds developed a dot "tally" system for counting (right).

Rice, sprigs of lavender, blue containers
You don't need a special table, although the tables children use at school are nice for fostering collaborative efforts that allow children to stand and move while playing.  A wash tub will do - plastic or metal.

I remember pulling up a stool to play in a tub at the sink while my mother did other things in the kitchen.  This kind of opportunity allows children to play alongside adults, and even practice some of the things grownups do - like wash potatoes, scrub carrots (and maybe even peel them), play with measuring cups in water, mix cornstarch and water and see what happens - all provide sensory experiences that involve play, motor practice, and scientific discovery & math.

This 2012 link from High Scope not only has ideas for sensory table explorations, but reinforces the rationale for using the sensory table often and with intention.

Some ideas for your table:
  • Base Material: flax seed, corn meal, types of sand, rice, tiny stones, water, glass jewels, play dough, cornstarch & water, ice or snow (with gloves), leaves, acorns
  • Tools: plastic scoops, measuring cups/spoons, eye droppers, tongs, tweezers, small cups, bowls, fish nets, muffin tins, clear plastic or glass containers

  Some combinations:
  • water, fish nets, shells, plastic fish
  • playdough with jewels or tiny stones hidden in the dough, golf tees to press in
  • playdough with sprigs of fresh herbs - rosemary, lavender, etc.
  • aquarium rocks, water, and plastic turtles and frogs
  • ramps, cars 
  • paper tubes, marbles
  • pom poms, pipe cleaners, beads
  • wire, cut up straws, washers
  • rocks, driftwood, clean pea gravel or sand
  • plastic bugs, dirt, seeds
  • half fill with soil, plant grass seed, cover with plastic wrap to create a greenhouse, water and then play in the grass with plastic insects, animals, wood, etc.
Now take the lid off, fill it up, and enjoy.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Go Get Some Sleep!

At a recent meeting of the Early Childhood Advisory Council - a group of folks from across the city gathered to talk about children and families in Somerville - we asked, What are the needs of children and families in Somerville at this moment in time? While important topics such as transportation, housing, food, and access to educational opportunities were brought up, there was another topic, a by-product of some of these issues, that is central to young children's well being on a daily basis:

Did you know that the average 4 year old needs 11-13 hours of sleep per 24 hours, including up to 2 daytime naps? But many children don't get enough sleep to sustain them through the demands of the school day.

For some children, sleep is interrupted by family members who are up later, staying awake to see a parent whose work schedule doesn't jive with a young child's sleep schedule, and of course children who are hungry or sick may not sleep well. Sometimes we misread a child's signals. A child who looks "wired",  is over active, seems like they have a lot of energy, may actually be exhausted.

Babies adapt and may sleep wherever and whenever, but between 6 months and 1 year of age consistent sleep patterns develop.  Between 3 and 6 months is a good time to establish regular sleeping routines that can continue into the toddler and preschool years.  

This means that adults need to change too. Children generally adopt the same attitudes about sleep that caregivers hold. For example, results from the National Sleep Foundation Sleep in the Modern Family Poll 2014 showed that children having electronic devices (television, computer, tablet, video game, smartphone, etc.) in their bedroom tended to have less sleep duration and poorer sleep quality. Furthermore, children whose parents have electronics in the bedroom were also more likely to have electronics in their own bedrooms. And, while it is not always possible or necessary for a household to be completely silent, quiet spaces for sleeping are necessary.

It is important that teachers and others who work with children, including those in health care, talk to families about the importance of promoting healthy sleep habits.  When behavior problems arise, I always ask about sleep first. Some suggestions:
  • Start bed time earlier
  • Dim lights in the evening hours before bedtime
  • Establish routines that always have the same order - for example, PJs, brush teeth, story, good night hug, lights out or dimmed
  • Make a quiet place for a child to sleep - especially when siblings or family members share a room (curtains or furniture to separate an area)
  • No electronics in bedrooms
Remember we set our clocks back last night so children's clocks may be a bit off for a week or so and that means teachers and caregivers need to pay extra attention to sleep patterns and routines.
Now go get some sleep.

Some interesting reading to learn more about sleep, development, and learning:
The New York Times: What do Students Need Most? More Sleep
The New York Times: Want to Ace That Test? Get the Right Kind of Sleep
Ted Talk: One More Reason to Get a Good Night's Sleep
The Atlantic: Let the Body Rest for the Sake of the Brain

Thanks to Dr. Anne-Marie Chang for her help with this post.
Assistant Professor in Biobehavioral Health, Penn State University
Affiliate Faculty in Medicine, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital

Sunday, October 26, 2014

STEAMED UP: Science and Art Every Day

Nationally, there is a concern about learning associated with an important group of letters - STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.  These words are often associated with intelligence or "things smart people know how to do".  Children are already natural discoverers and given the chance to manipulate and explore, with guidance and direction (see blog post on Boss of the Paints) can begin to formally access the world of STEM.   Ok, time to add another letter  - "A" and ta da! -  STEAM - we add ART. What difference can this make for young children?  A lot.

Children, families, and teachers across Somerville have a real, live STEAM opportunity right at our front door - The Beautiful Stuff Project.  Marina Seevak has a storefront at 137 Broadway in East Somerville where teachers can come and get "stuff", where teachers can bring children, and children can visit with their families.   The photos below are from Marina's work with teachers at the Capuano and at the Somerville YMCA Preschool.  Children are exploring balance, size comparison, spatial relationships, organization, sorting & classifying, design sensibility, sculpture and much more.  And, they are talking and laughing - and we know children learn while they play.

It is not unusual for children to work for at least 20-30 minutes or more as they experiment and create, strengthening their powers of concentration and building perseverance.
But before playing around with Beautiful Stuff, children are given a careful demonstration at a group meeting - how to remove materials from the box, how to use materials respectfully, how to repeat, experiment, troubleshoot.  Then they move to tables where they explore objects in their box, on a mat that helps define their space and keeps materials organized.  And this is process not product - children build and then put the materials back in the box - not gluing or taping actually extends the process. Often, a Beautiful Stuff shelf is set up in the classroom and these explorations become part of choice time (see photo above). Class books of children's creations are also made as a literacy connection. 

Marina Seevak demonstrates how to choose boxes
from the Beautiful Stuff shelf in the classroom
Parents, ask your children about Beautiful Stuff.  When Ms. Seevak comes to classrooms she brings tickets to her storefront where folks can come and play and take a bag of stuff home. 

Teachers, you are welcome to visit the store on M-Th 12-6 and can also get ideas for art and science projects and investigations that you can try out in the studio and then in your own classroom.

All can visit virtually on Facebook:

Also, an interesting article from the New York Times this week about the building blocks of a good early childhood program and the false choice of play or academics - we need both and they can happen simultaneously. "Classrooms that pulse with meaning play are our smartest investment."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bringing Reading Home - Helping Children Choose Books

Libraries full of books are a site to behold, but can also be overwhelming to young children and caregivers.  So many books - how can we choose?

The librarian at the Capuano, Laura Peura, devised some strategies for helping children successfully choose books at school and families can use a version of these when they visit their local public libraries or school libraries. She and her aids, Emily and Lois, found that going to the shelves full of books resulted in lots of books on the floor and not many in hands.  Putting some books on tables helped children to see the covers, open books easily, and make a choice of what they wanted to check out.  Less is more.
Capuano students choose books from the table and then check them out.
Tips for helping children connect with books - at home and at school:
  • Teach book choosing - from how to take a book off the shelf, to how to turn pages, to replacing a book on the shelf.  Don't assume the child knows how to do this. Teach and model it in classrooms and at home.
  • Provide limited choice - model browsing the shelves, choose books, and take them to a table or corner of the library or your home.  Help them choose, then read! In the classroom books can be displayed on stands throughout the classroom in different areas - blocks, dramatic play, etc.
  • Visit the library without your child - bring the library to them.  Choose 5-8 books you think your child will like, fiction and non-fiction. Make a special place for them - a basket or box.
  • Utilize your school libraries - at the Capuano parents can visit starting at 8:15 before or after drop off, or after school until 3:15. Check with your school to find out when you can check out books.
And, check out this link to the Somerville Public School library sites:

Have a great week and pick out some books!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Boss of the Paints"

I can't turn a corner without someone talking to me about "intentional teaching". 

Watercolor paints have the potential to be a medium that children can use to create beautiful artwork.  But how many times have we seen children rolling a dry brush around on a dry circle of paint in a watercolor set?  Deb Curtis and Margie Carter, in their book Learning Together with Young Children, highlight what it means to be the "boss of the paints". 

Curtis and Carter give us permission to teach, coach, guide (you choose the word that works best for you!) and bridge the gap between exploration and mastery of a skill. Responsive Classroom folks call it Guided Discovery. Break it down.
     1. Dip brushes into water 
     2. Put wet brush on a cake of dry paint 
     3. Count to 5 to soften the paint
     4. Move brush to paper and paint
Children experience the satisfaction of seeing rich, deep color appear. The demonstration of "counting to 5" is the key here. Eventually the brush dries - now we have some knowledge about the relationship between the water and these paints - back to the water. Rinse and start with a new color. 


Healey Head Start PreK
Small intentional teaching moments lead to children's independence, confidence, sustained attention, and self-regulation.  I have seen many examples of teachers taking the time to demonstrate these foundational "lessons" in these first weeks of school.  Walking carefully, carrying chairs, sitting at the rug - think about what else you need to break down for children so they can experience success and be the "boss of the paints".

At home, young children benefit from helping with specific tasks such as unpacking groceries, sorting laundry, food preparation - but they also need coaching here.  Specific, clear direction leads to success and confidence. At home they can be the boss of the shoes, boss of tooth brushing, boss of their toys, and the boss of getting dressed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Welcome to SEE (Somerville Early Education)

Contact paper and tissue paper collage, on the
door of the Healey Head Start Pre-K
Greetings from Lisa Kuh, the new Director of Early Education, Somerville Public Schools

I am excited to join the early childhood community in Somerville! My role in the Somerville Public Schools will help us to understand and support programming for young children. I will be working with public and private programs, childcare centers, and family childcare. I plan to do a lot of listening, watching, and learning. 
Some of the questions I will be asking are:
  • Somerville has over 600 four-year olds – how will we ensure that they are all ready for kindergarten?   
  • What practices are making a difference for our youngest citizens?  
  • What do teachers and families need in order to prepare children for school?
I am visiting early childhood programs this fall to learn about what’s working and how we can build upon what is already in place. If you have something interesting going on let me know (, or visit me at my office at the Capuano. 

Check in each week to see what's new on this blog! We also have a Pinterest board where you can look at project ideas and some innovations that are happening in Early Childhood. Join us: Somerville Early Education on Pinterest.


Lisa Kuh