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."