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Join Pam Morris, director of the East Valley JCC’s Early Childhood Learning Center, each week for her Words of Wisdom, where she shares her insight about early childhood education, Jewish values and more. 

 Pam Morris  holds a BS in Psychology, an MSEd in Early Childhood Education from Binghamton University in New York and her Director’s Credential from the McCormick Center at St. Louis University, courtesy of Quality First. For over 25 years, she has been an early childhood educator in both public and private settings across the United States. As the director of the Early Childhood Learning Center at the East Valley JCC, she works with over 30 staff and nearly 150 children from ages 6 weeks through Pre-Kindergarten. Early Childhood Ed is her calling and her passion.

Words of Wisdom for Nov. 12: Hear it, See it, Feel it – That’s How it’s Done: Multisensory Learning

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Hear it, See it, Feel it – That’s How it’s Done

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Childhood Learning Center

 If I tell you that I need you to meet with me at 3:00 pm on Tuesday, that might be enough for you to remember. If I send you a calendar invite that you can read, that might be enough for you to remember. If your calendar sends you a tone as a reminder that we are meeting, that might be enough for you to remember. If we are meeting for lunch, then the thought of that savory or sweet treat might be enough for you to remember. A child will also excel when many senses are engaged to learn or experience something new.

During these past couple of weeks, the teachers in our preschool have been engaging the senses of their children to help them truly understand and embrace learning. They have developed a wide range of activities that engage them through smell, hearing, touch, sight and taste. What if we engage the children in these ways each time when we introduce something new? 

That is what 5 is!

Math is a great place to start with multisensory learning. Throw out the notion of worksheets and filling out equation after equation. Think colorful blocks, fruit salad, rocks collected at the park or just about anything that interests your child. Number understanding – what is the number 5 and what does it mean – takes on a life of its own when the learning is concrete. “We have 5 people coming to dinner tonight. Would you please help me set the table?” Automatically, your child is practicing counting, knowing how many plates they need, how many cups, forks, etc. You’ve used touch, sight and hearing (you have to love the noise the forks make when they knock into the glasses!) “I have only 1 apple left and both you and your brother want  some. What can I do?” Problem solving takes center stage as they figure out the math problem involving division. Now you’ve used taste, touch, smell and sight. 

It’s Clean-up Time!

Ahh, it is the end of playtime and there are blocks all over the floor. What to do now? Enlist multisensory learning! “Would you please find 3 hard, red blocks and put them in the box?” “Now, please find the bumpy, green blocks and put them in the box?” Try to look at each of the items that need to be put away and describe them using your senses to get your children involved in the activity and expand their engagement. Try a song to get them to join you. It can be made up or search Youtube or your favorite online music source. There are a multitude of choices. Now you have added hearing to the list!

 Do I have to get up?

For those of you with really young children, getting them to wake up in the morning is less of a challenge then getting them to actually stay asleep (usually!). But, I promise you the days will come when your child sleeps in and you have to be creative with their wakeup routine. Have breakfast cooking (if you can) or have music playing that gets them moving. You can also use aromas to get them out of bed. Try a new one each morning by spraying it in their room near their face (not too close). You might find that they enjoy guessing what scent you chose that day. Wake up doesn’t always have to be a loud alarm!

There’s so much to do and so little time!

I am a firm believer in taking it one step at a time. Be creative but give yourself time to embrace each step at your own pace. Remember that your child also needs to go at their own pace. Be patient with them and be patient with yourself.

Shabbat Shalom!

Words of Wisdom for Nov. 5: Make a Big Impact with One Small Choice

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Make a Big Impact with One Small Choice

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Childhood Learning Center

Everyday we each have choices that are part of our lives. Some typically have very little impact on our day to day – what we choose for breakfast, which shirt we choose to wear – the purple one or the grey one? (always choose the purple one; it truly is the best color!) Of course there are other choices that will take us down completely different paths at each decision we make. Do I take Alma School or Dobson to work? Should I stay the extra five minutes to answer the emails that are in my inbox? Can I wait until tomorrow to return the phone call? While each of these may not seem monumental, they take your life in a different direction just by making these choices.

Now what if we look at bigger decisions? Should I let the green car merge in front of me on the 101 during early morning rush hour? Will giving up a little space change the outcome of my day? Let’s play the scenario out in both ways.

First: I don’t let the car merge. There are so many people on the road and I am already nearing the time I need to be at work. Plus, the green car waited until the last minute to merge with the rest of us because she thought that she could travel in the lane that was about to end and pass us all. She can wait. 

Evaluate how you feel during this interaction. Are you feeling frustrated with the perceived inefficiency of the driver in the green car? Are you feeling stressed from having not enough time and being worried about not getting to work on time? How do you move on from this stressful situation? Is your child in the car with you at the time? Does your stress spill out onto them?

Now, let’s choose the other option. You let the green car merge. You breathe through the fact that the driver did kind of “cut the line” by not merging earlier. The traffic continues to move as before, you don’t lose any extra time by letting the car in front of you and you still reach work with a minute to spare. 

Evaluate how you are feeling at this point. You just did something nice for someone else. Maybe they too only had a short amount of time to get to work without being late or the driver was on her way to visit her dad at the nursing home to bring him some cheer. Your child is still in the car. How does this new sense of being affect your son?

You never know what someone else is going through. You can only know your situation. But what you can do is choose the path of kindness more often than not. And when you have your children in the car, you can be that role model for them that shows choosing kindness and understanding might be a better way to handle a situation.

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity to choose kindness and be that role model for my daughters. We were in a local store soon after businesses were allowed to open at the end of the summer. Everyone was wearing masks but everyone was in such a rush to get through their shopping, that there was no patience to be seen. Carts were cutting each other off – well the drivers of the carts were cutting each other off. There were two sales people at the checkout area who were crying and the store manager was trying to calm them down. 

My daughters were nearby when this was happening and overheard the conversation. “You handled the situation well and you were respectful to the customer,” said the manager. “You are doing a great job and I appreciate your being here.” The manager then said, “We all just have to remember to have patience with each other and we will be OK.” 

Right after this occurred, I was standing in line with my daughters. A woman in another cart hit me with no apology and then cut in front of me. My daughters were ready to leap to my defense. The woman then turned and said, “Oh were you here first?” My response was, “I was but you can go ahead.” Again, my daughters didn’t understand. I calmly explained that we weren’t in a hurry, clearly this woman was and while I can’t change her behavior or the choices she makes, I can choose my reactions and how I live my life and go about my days. I said, “I choose patience and understanding and kindness whenever I can.”

Do I do this everyday? I wish I could answer yes, truthfully. Do I try to do this everyday? That I can answer with a resounding yes. Each choice I make, when I am fully present, fully cognizant of the situation and practicing mindfulness, I make the choice of patience. But I too get busy and try to multitask one to many items and the patience gets left behind. This is a daily goal I strive for to be a better version of myself, not only to be a role model for my children and the children I get to surround myself with each day but also for me. 

When I practice mindfulness and am choosing the path of patience, I really do feel better about myself and have a brighter outlook.

Your choices may take a different route, but I challenge each of you to look inside yourself and see what might be one small item you might try to change that would give you a calmer outlook for your day. With this one small tweak, imagine what additional strength and beauty you could bring to your child, your family and to the world around you.

It just takes one different choice.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

Words of Wisdom for Oct. 29: Play is the Work of Children

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Play is the Work of Children

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Childhood Learning Center

Join me in this mini-video script:

Scene begins: It is dinner time in the house. Dad is sitting at the table with his 4-year-old son. They are just sitting down to a meal. It is taco night and the fixings are all there for the taking. After each making their own taco, they sit down at their seats.

Dad asks: Daniel, what did you do today?

Daniel answers: I played.

Dad looks exasperated.

End scene.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Have you ever asked your child what they did today and received the answer that they played? Did you ever wonder why that was their answer and they didn’t tell you about the books that they read or the blocks that they built with or the cool S.T.E.A.M. experiment their pre-K teacher detailed in that week’s newsletter?

What is important for you to know is that while they did all of those things, they just know they played. And the fact that this was their focus is because, “play is the work of children.”

Play Is the Work of Children

Fred Rogers and Maria Montessori, both educational experts, recognized this early on in their research and learning. “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning,” Fred Rogers said. “But for children, play is serious learning.” For children, play takes on a life of its own under their direction. Having the physical supplies, children can create an endless amount of learning. It can be as simple as a parent’s  work shirt or a clean dish towel or even a cardboard box and tape might be all they need, and children will run with these as their props for their imagination. When children are given the time and opportunity to explore, they can take the learning in the direction they need it to go.

But how will they learn if all they do is play?

This is a common concern for parents. Not for children though. “If play is the work of the child, toys are the tools. 

Through toys…children (can): 

  • Figure out how things work
  • Pick up new ideas
  • Build muscle control and strength
  • Use their imagination
  • Solve problems
  • Learn to cooperate with others. 

These five areas are what children need for all levels of academic achievement. With the above example of the cardboard box and tape, children will begin to understand how many pieces of tape are needed to keep it closed, how to make it balance and be more structurally sound – math and engineering principles. With the parent’s work shirt, children will model their parent’s actions, developing problem solving skills and if they are playing with another child, they will develop the necessary interpersonal skills so necessary in the real world.

What about reading and writing?

Southwest Human Development shares: Play contributes to all aspects of children’s development — social, emotional, physical, cognitive and spiritual — in ways that formal instruction cannot inspire.

It may be surprising to learn that play supports the development of literacy and early concepts of numbers. When a child uses a LEGO block as if it were a phone, that child is showing an understanding that things can represent other things: a block can stand in for a phone, a crayon can stand in for a spoon to feed the baby doll. Letters and numbers are also symbols, so early play with symbols is preparation for recognizing and working with letters and numbers. Young children also love playing with materials like sand, water, Play-Doh and dirt. Manipulating and pouring these substances helps children learn early science and math concepts, such as the properties of dry and wet, weight and volume.

How do I play with my child?

Southwest Human Development shares some fabulous ideas. 

How to play with your baby

  • Close contact
  • Give the baby your full attention
  • Sing-songy, repetitive voice: Talk, Talk Talk!
  • Imitate the baby’s sounds, coos, “raspberries”— back and forth, “serve and return” interactions help build communication skills
  • Show interesting objects for the baby to look at and track
  • With baby on their back, gently rotate their legs in a “bicycle” motion
  • Share simple books, being sure to let the baby touch or hold the book if they like
  • Pay attention to the baby’s cues that they need a break

Infants may show they need a break from the excitement of play with signals such as turning their head away, closing their eyes, getting fussy, arching their backs, hiccupping or falling asleep. Take a break. They’ll be back!

How to play with your toddler or preschooler

  • Give your child your full attention
  • Get on the floor with your child
  • Let your child choose the toys that interest them and move on to a different toy as they wish
  • Follow their lead in play (there’s no need to remind your child that Batman doesn’t “actually” have heat vision—let them use their imagination)
  • Go along with their ideas, rather than correcting their accuracy
  • Try not to “help” until your child has given something a good try and seems open to help. Persistence is good, but “just enough help” to move forward is useful in preventing too much frustration.
  • Take off the “teacher hat” and just have fun
  • Pay attention to your toddler or preschooler’s cues that they need a break

Toddlers and preschoolers may tell us with words that they are “all done” playing, or they may show us with their behavior. They may whine or become frustrated or lose their attention and walk away. Sometimes, we can entice them to return to play by showing them something different about a toy or playing with it in a different way. Sometimes, we accept that playtime is over for now.

So when you child answers that all they did today was play? Congratulate them on a job well done!

Shabbat Shalom!

Words of Wisdom for Oct. 22: Nurturing Kindness

Ways to bring messages of kindness and caring to our children

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Nurturing Kindness

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Childhood Learning Center

I grew up watching “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” runs through my thoughts as I think about this memorable show. A simple concept spanning so many years and generations, even generating two films, his shows being watched countless times both on Youtube and misterrogers.org, and sparking a new show, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” Fred Rogers even has a learning institute named for him: Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania – https://www.fredrogerscenter.org/.

This learning institute’s mission: Staying true to the vision of Fred Rogers, we help children grow as confident, competent, and caring human beings.

How can we take Mr. Roger’s messages of kindness and caring and bring these to our children?

 

Hedda Sharapan a PNC Grow Up Great Senior Fellow and a former colleague of Mr. Rogers states, “We want children to grow up to be kind — to be considerate, respectful, neighborly. Those behaviors are connected to the social skills that we, in early childhood, focus so much of our time and energy on — sharing, empathy, conflict resolution. What a challenge it can be to teach children those skills in these times of physical distancing, limited sharing, masks that cover facial expressions and especially virtual learning.” 

 

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days learning with Hedda not too long ago at a recent conference I attended. She truly embodied the messages that “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” sought to instill in all of us and I believe they are quite relevant today.

Show kindness to teach kindness   

In a classroom it is the hands on learning that is most effective with young children and I will say also with adults. As adults, we ask children “to use their words” to get what they need. But young children don’t know what those words are; these words need to be modeled. “Can I have the red truck when you are done?” “I want to play with the blocks, too.” Modeling kindness is the same. Children need to see it around them to be able to use this skill. The more they witness the acts of kindness from the adults in their lives, the more they will embrace these qualities. One of Fred’s favorite quotes was the Quaker saying, “Attitudes are caught, not taught.”

Pay It Forward

People all over the world embrace this concept in the line at their favorite coffee house or drive through restaurant and even in the tollbooth line. The concept is simple: I will pay for the person behind me in hopes that they will pass on their good fortune to another and so on. Try this with an act of kindness; with a  wave when you are walking in your neighborhood, with a greeting of good will at the checkout counter at your favorite grocery store and with a smile with your child during every interaction. One day those smiles can be paid forward in the general community  when masks no longer need to be the norm.

Point Out Examples of Kindness

News outlets have many uses, but in this age of the 24-hour news cycle, be diligent in finding those stories of grace, understanding and unselfishness. They are there. These are the stories to “retweet,” share on Facebook, mention to your child and your friends. Facebook often has crusades in flooding the pages with positivity. The more we can highlight these acts of goodness, the more we can internalize them and help us have a kinder, gentler outlook on life.

Noticing the acts of kindness around us

Be on the lookout because they are there. Be present with your children so you can catch them being kind and let them know you appreciate the effort they make.  “That was kind of you to share your blocks with Jodi.”  “You were a good friend when you asked David to play with you.” Be specific in your observations so your child knows what they did that was positive and should be repeated. 

Find Ways to Say Thank You

“Fred appreciated other people’s kindness, too.  We often heard him say “Thank you” even for small everyday things,” says Hedda Sharapan.  It is important to show children why we say thank you. Demonstrate kindness by noticing when someone is helpful to you or when someone is considerate of your feelings. Be specific when you notice their kindness and model that for your children. “Children need our help in understanding why we say ‘thank you’ — that it gives someone “such a good feeling” to hear those words.  It’s a way of letting someone know that you like what they did.” But remember that  young children are basically ego-centric which is why saying “thank you” doesn’t come naturally for them. Young children need to be shown how to convey empathy and truly see something from another’s perspective.  Through your nurturing care, you’re helping them in their journey of developing compassion.

I encourage all of you to try this with your children, no matter their age.  Please let me know what areas of learning interest you. You may see your topic highlighted in an upcoming W.O.W. or at a parenting class!

Shabbat Shalom!

Words of Wisdom for Oct. 15: Challenging and Worthwhile

Five ways to address challenges with your child and help them be successful. 

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Challenging and Worthwhile

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Childhood Learning Center

When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” – Alexander Den Heijer

I love this quote! First of all, you should know that I am a terrible gardener and I am even worse with indoor plants. Luckily, I have my husband who is amazing with plants so our garden is flourishing and I can make an entire dinner using our harvest several times a month! But, I digress… Now this quote honors my shortcomings because I know it is not the plants we chose or the seeds we are trying to grow, but it’s the environment and the materials (i.e. the gardener, in this case me) that is causing the problem.

This idea lends itself really well to children. It’s not the child, it is the environment or the situation.

In her article, “Classrooms as the Root of Challenging Behavior,” Michelle Salcedo wrote “In early childhood classrooms across the country, teachers struggle with addressing challenging behaviors. The image of a gardener tending to a plant provides us with a different lens through which we can examine this topic. When faced with a plant that does not thrive, the dedicated gardener will leave no stone unturned in the quest to discover why. Does it need more (or less) water? Is it receiving enough sun? Is the soil giving the plant the nutrients it needs?

All of these may be impacting a plant’s development. Rarely does a gardener throw up her hands and declare the plant as unfit. Similarly, when a child exhibits challenging behaviors, what if, instead of blaming the child, we were to look first at the environment?

What if the focus were to shift from fixing the child to adapting the conditions in which the child is growing and learning? There is great power to lessen the incidences of challenging behaviors and increase learning (Katz, 2015) when teachers create learning environments shaped around children’s needs (Clayton & Forton, 2001; Inan, 2009).”

This overall strategy is employed by our teachers on a regular basis. They consistently observe children in all situations, seeing where they are most successful, where they need more support and checking to see if adapting the activity and materials will result in a different outcome.

As a parent, how would this work in your home?

Choose the challenge

This is often a tough piece of the puzzle. What is the time of day that is presenting the biggest struggle for you? What activity are you having issues with when working with your child? You need to step back a bit and see what is causing your child the most stress (and therefore, you). Once you find the situation where you all struggle, then it is time to begin.

Break it down

This is a familiar mantra of mine. All problems can feel overwhelming when you are looking at the big picture. I am a strong believer in viewing a challenge as a puzzle and that it is necessary to work on one piece at a time. If bedtime is a struggle, look at all of the parts that are embedded in this routine and focus on one each as you go. The time of day, the place for the sleeping, the bed/crib, the room temperature, lighting, noise, the activities that lead up to the actual bedtime – these are all a part of what could be causing difficulties for your child when it is time to actually go to sleep.

Change one piece at a time

When a child has an allergic reaction, but you don’t know what item is causing it, you need to start with each food group – eliminating them one by one – in order to find out what might be causing that reaction, unless you take them to a doctor for testing. As nursing moms typically do, they begin to eliminate the typical allergens: dairy, spicy food, nuts, eggs, etc. If your child is struggling with putting their shoes on each morning, start with something simple – change the shoes. Are they the right size, are they comfortable to wear, are they simple to put on – these are all pieces to the puzzle and trying to address the physical first, can help eliminate the factors that are outside of your child’s ability to control; leaving you the ability to focus on the emotional piece.

Independence vs. speed

We all know what those mornings can look like. Lunches didn’t get made, the diapers didn’t make it into the car, there was a last minute diaper blow out, etc. and the last thing you have time for is allowing your child to assert their independence and choose their own clothes. I want to say, right off the bat, this is NOT the time to start this endeavor! Ideally, you will pick a day where you actually don’t have anywhere to be by a certain time. That is when you will focus on the task at hand and allow your child to assert their independence and help them be successful. 

Success!

You know that it isn’t this simple but it will work with practice, patience, time and assistance. Maybe it is your partner, your older child, a friend, a video that teaches the skill – use them all or pick your favorite one. Once you are able to practice a routine – bedtime, dressing each morning, eating dinner, putting the toys away – your child will follow as they learn. There will be steps backward but many leaps forward and once you have mastered the first, go back to step one and choose another challenge (as there will be many). 

Whether you view them as baby steps, puzzle pieces, items on a checklist – the wording is unimportant. It is the narrative you create and the parts you put together to make it successful. Have patience for your child but especially, have patience for yourself as you figure out the parts to the situation, focusing on what you can adapt and then make those changes so it will work.

Words of Wisdom for Oct. 9: The Age of Stress

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The Age of Stress

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Childhood Learning Center

 We all feel the stress of the current times – health, work, social, children – you name it. It all can take a toll on our mental capacity to work with it all. 

We feel like, “If I could just get this one more thing accomplished before the end of my day.” “There is an email I need to write (and I am putting it off) because the topic is a bit overwhelming for me and that is all my brain can focus on at the moment.” “Walking into that crowd of people, who I don’t really know, fills me with dread.” “My child used to drop off at school without any challenges, but now she has become ultra-clingy.”

Stress can come in many forms. As parents, as adults, we have so many thoughts, responsibilities, activities pulling us in so many different directions. How can we overcome these feelings or at least exert some control over them?

In “Life Hacks for Living in an Age of Anxiety,” on membershipmatters.com the author states – “We all feel overwhelmed sometimes. Occasionally, we might find ourselves simmering with anxiety caused by stress and worry. While uncomfortable, these feelings usually subside when the problem causing them is resolved.” But what to do until you can resolve the problem? “Have you ever found your mind spinning, rendering you unable to focus on the task and hand because you’re worrying about something you can’t stop thinking about?”

Anxiety is a real thing and if you think you are experiencing anxiety, please see your medical professional!

For stress and dealing with this, let’s look at a few possible solutions.

Deep Breathing

This is a long-trusted method we use with our kids. “Take a deep breath and blow it out.” It might sound simple but it is quite effective at any age!

Focus on the problem and break it down

This is a great problem-solving technique. Think of the stress as a math problem (which might give you another reason to be stressed….) But take it in small parts, focus on each one individually and come up with a solution so you can move to the next segment of the issue.

 Ask for Help!

Being a little bit of a control-freak myself, this is my least favorite choice but probably could be the most effective – depending on the situation. Reach out to a colleague, a family member, a friend and take them on the journey with you. “What’s going to work? Teamwork!”

 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Stress

In the Behavioral health Partners Blog at UMC Rochester, Sara Smith, BSW reports on an interesting method for accepting and helping in a time for stress

Before starting this exercise, pay attention to your breathing. Slow, deep, long breaths can help you maintain a sense of calm or help you return to a calmer state. Once you find your breath, go through the following steps to help ground yourself: 

5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings.

4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your hair, a pillow, or the ground under your feet. 

3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.

2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your office and smell a pencil, or maybe you are in your bedroom and smell a pillow. If you need to take a brief walk to find a scent, you could smell soap in your bathroom or nature outside.

1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like — gum, coffee or the sandwich from lunch?

 Whatever method you choose, find the one that works best for you and best in the particular situation. We all need resources to help us navigate through life!