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Join Pam Morris, director of the East Valley JCC’s Early 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 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.

On the Road Again

May 27, 2021

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On the Road Again

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Learning Center

On the road again. I just can’t wait to get on the road again. That is how a famous line from a classic Willie Nelson song goes. And Friday, May 28th is national road trip day, the beginning of Memorial Day weekend and some say the official start of summer. Do you have plans to head out of town for the long holiday weekend with the family? 

With such a short amount of time to be away, a car ride is really the only way to go. But it could be a bit daunting if you are packing up the whole family. What will you do with the kids?

Playlist

When I drove across the country with my family, we listened to whatever cassette tapes my parents had or had to hope we could find a radio station as we drove across Pennsylvania. It seemed to take forever and the options for stations weren’t that plentiful. But now with music apps, you are no longer at the mercy of random stations. Choose music you all like. That doesn’t mean you have to choose only Raffi or Baby Shark. Think about the music you like and throw some of that in. You would be amazed at how your enthusiasm or lack thereof can affect those around you. 

Keep it simple

Look for fun, simple activities to bring with you. Paper and pencils can go a long way. If you are traveling with an infant, making a simple fortune teller or little frog that you can use as a distraction will help occupy some time in the car. And if you have three- or four-year-olds (or older) they can do the folding while your  baby watches and it is a win-win!

If you can sit back and enjoy a little organized chaos, bring along a bucket or something similar and the kids can play backseat basketball!

I spy

No matter where you are traveling the outdoors have a lot to offer as you speed along the highway. Make up fun, easy to find scavenger hunts as you go. Who can find 5 purple things? Who can spot 4 things smaller than our car? Who can find the letters in your name on the highway signs? And these are all ideas if you don’t include nature. What can you see in the clouds? What does that mountain look like to you?

Snacks

This is a necessity as you take off on your trip. Have fun, small treats that you can offer along the way. Typically after about 10 minutes in the car, someone is hungry and once one person is, everyone is. Take my advice on this. My family and I regularly drive far distances for our summer vacation. And don’t forget the napkins and wipes!

Plan stops

If you have the time, be strategic in the route you choose to afford the most stops along the way. Many rest stops have small playgrounds. This is another place to do a fun scavenger hunt so you have a specific finish time and don’t spend all day there. 

Bring wipes!

Baby wipes aren’t just for diaper changing. They take care of sticky fingers in the car, wiping down hands and faces after being at the rest stop, and they become another activity in the car. Have the children use the wipes to clean their car seat, their brother or sisters car seat, the door handles, you get the idea. 

Plan what you will do when you reach your destination 

This is a fun activity for the older children. They can use their electronic device to look up sites and places to visit near your destination. It gets them excited where you are going. 

I would love to hear about your successes and missteps. We can all learn some new ideas. 

Have a peaceful and family-filled weekend; Shabbat Shalom!

 

Superheroes

Feb. 25, 2021

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Superheroes

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Learning Center

Superheroes fill our movie screens – even the small ones we have in our homes. They are the subject of many shows, books and more, showcasing their extraordinary powers.  The creative writers dream up fanciful scenarios and almost always the superhero triumphs against the villain. 

This is a theme that is common not only in movies but in reality as well. Many hold by the notion that there needs to be a clear delineation of right and wrong, good and bad. 

In education, we see this type of play often among preschoolers. They see the world in two categories- good and bad. And since most children are trying to figure out their world, asserting control over anything they can, superhero play is a natural progression. 

They use their hands as their super powers spraying, blasting, directing and shooting those powers at the “bad guys.” They are pretending so they can be in control of what might scare them. 

According to Kendra Moyses, Michigan State University Extension : Play is a way children process what they see in real life, is an outlet for expressing feelings and helps children develop and practice language skills, social skills, gross motor and thinking skills. Play supports building children’s imagination and creativity which in turn allows them to build their thinking skills.

Adults look at super hero play with an adult understanding, knowing all the bad things that can happen in the world children are living in. However, we need to look at this type of play from a child’s point of view and focus not just on the content, but at the whole situation of play including “substance, theme and content,” according to Emily Plank, author of “Discovering the Culture of Early Childhood.”

Children are fascinated by the powers the super hero or main character possess. By pretending to have these superpowers, it can make children feel powerful, like they have no weaknesses and are in control of their own world.

Since children exert very little control over their own environment, it is easy to see why this type of play is so appealing to children and occurs naturally.

This week we celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim which revolves around the Book of Esther. She is the hero in this tale, using only her intelligence and persuasion to save the Jewish people. When stories are told of heroes who can use their intellect to defeat the “bad guys,” this gives another perspective of what talents and “powers” one must possess to feel safe and protected.

Wishing you all a Chag Purim Sameach – Happy Purim and a Shabbat Shalom!

Feb. 4, 2021
Chores are Good for Kids

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Chores are Good for Kids

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Learning Center

Each morning, parents all over the world get up, get themselves and their children ready for the day. The kids head off to school and the parents begin their work day. Working gets us what we need – money to live and play and fulfillment to increase our self-esteem. How do we instill this important work ethic in our youth? Get them to help around the house by doing chores.

 And it is never too early to start.  As young as 2 years old, your children can help around the house. Begin by having them put away the toys they played with before they move onto something else. Make it a game and work together until they are doing it on their own.

 By the time they are approaching 3 years old, they can be setting the table. Start with non-breakable  plates and plastic cups and work your way up from there, if that helps you feel more comfortable. If you show that you are careful with the items, even when they aren’t breakable, the children will model your behavior and be able to move into using the “real glasses and plates” in no time.

 Similarly, at this age,  they can sort the laundry into separate baskets for each room in the home and deliver them.  Stairs might be a bit trickier, but they can still help with the sorting.

 As the kids get older, start adding additional responsibilities and tasks that they can help with around the house. Try to keep in mind those tasks that  meet their interests. For instance, some children will gladly wash dishes every night where another one will be happy to sweep, especially if they have a broom and dustpan that is their size.

 If you are among the just over 40% of families with 2 or more children (pewsocialtrends.org), then it’s time for teamwork!  Engage your older child to take their younger brother under their wing to help with chores around the home. Work is always more fun when you have a partner. Help your children practice the importance of teamwork to get it all done!

 The important part is to get them involved and learn the importance of developing that work ethic so they can grow to be successful adults. 

 According to the Harvard Grant Study, the longest running longitudinal study in history, researchers identified two things that people need in order to be happy and successful: The first? Love. The second? Work ethic.” (“Kids Who Do Chores Are More Successful Adults” By Bill MurphyJr. billmurphyjr.com@BillMurphyJr.) 

 Why else is this so important?

 Chores are a great way to help children develop their math, reading and writing skills. Have your young ones create a list of what needs to be done. Have them sound out each of the items on their list. Then as they finish an activity, have them check it off.

What concepts have they just strengthened? First off, they are using letter sounds to spell the words. They can use a simple alphabet chart with pictures as a tool to help, not only with sounding out the word but also forming each letter, the next skill that they are practicing. After they complete each task, they need to “read” what they wrote and check it off. This is where the math comes in. What did they do first, second, third? How many do they still have left? If they had finished three and still had two more to go, how many did they start with?

All of these are simple math concepts that will pave the way for the fabulous word problems that begin in kindergarten and will continue throughout their math career.

 Murphy goes on to say that children helping with chores (or any activity) isn’t about making less work for the parent. It is about helping “the other person learn from the experience.”

It’s a great way for parents and kids to form closer bonds over these tasks as they become second nature, there is time to just talk. And while at the age of 4, there are a great deal of opportunities to engage with your children, just wait until your 4-year-old is 14.  Now these daily or weekly chores that you do together, give you scheduled time to share thoughts and feelings.

And then there is the principle of “something bigger than ourselves” at work here. “By making them do chores…they realize (they) have to do the work of life in order to be part of life. It’s not just about me and what I need in this moment.” (Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of “How to Raise an Adult & former dean of freshman at Stanford University)

How will you roll this out in your family? I would love to hear about your successes and missteps. We can all learn from each other about what works and support each other through this. Have a peaceful and family-filled weekend; Shabbat Shalom!

Jan. 28, 2021
Time to Explore

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Time to Explore

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Learning Center

Rain has come to the Valley – our winter has begun. Not sure how long it will last, but I know that I appreciate any weather we get here in this part of Arizona. Coming from back east, everyday was different and at the time I lamented the fact that you never knew one minute from the next what would come out of the sky. Now, having everyday be sunny is quite a blessing, although I do enjoy the occasional break in the routine.

 This week we celebrate the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat. In general, it is the birthday of the trees. While there are some traditions associated with the holiday, especially food ones, it is very minor and just fun. The food ones center around food that you can find in nature and most specifically from trees – trees that you would typically find in Israel such as figs, dates, olives, etc. What a great way to embrace some fun, light food choices and experience something new!

I always look to this time of the year as one to embrace the cold, enjoy it for however long it lasts and truly appreciate the outdoors. Henry David Thoreau says: “It is the marriage of the soul with nature that makes intellect fruitful and gives birth to imagination.”

As a child, there is wonder in everything in nature. Puddles, sticks, rocks, dirt, trees, leaves – the list is endless. I think they see it as another place to learn and explore. No need for electronics, movies, toys, or any outside materials. It is time that they need more than anything. 

We are often rushed to get from one place to another. Whether it is to work, school, running errands, there always seems to be one more thing to get done. I encourage all of you to find one period of time during each week where you can take the time to allow your children to take the time and explore.

Maybe it is your backyard, the neighborhood park or a more adventurous trip to one of our regional treasures, such as Veteran’s Oasis Park in Chandler or the Gilbert Riparian Preserve. And then, with the help of a friend or family member, if you want the support and camaraderie, let your children explore. Listen to their observations, what they say and the things that interest them.  Try and let them lead you where they want to go. As long as you pack a lunch and enough water, you can truly let them lead the way!

I would love to see pictures of your explorations! Electronic is fine. It is always fun to see where everyone goes on the weekends. Shabbat Shalom!

Jan. 14, 2021
Connect and Reflect

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Connect and Reflect

By Pam Morris
Director, East Valley JCC Early Learning Center

Many of you know that I recently lost my father. To say that this has had a profound impact on my thoughts and feelings would truly be an understatement. It is traditional in Judaism to sit Shiva. It is a time to focus on the person who is gone while others share in the memories you have.

I have spent this time, via Zoom, connecting with people all over the country, telling stories about my dad and listening to theirs. As we talked about him, it was the connections to his family, both near and far, to their synagogues over the years and to his friends, that were the constant theme of all of the conversations. These connections will be his legacy he leaves behind to us, especially those to his granddaughters. But listening to all the funny, quirky things my dad did, made me appreciate the connection I had with him, that others had with him and long for ways to define how to make these just as special with others in my life. During this time of social distancing, connections are what I miss the most.

What does it mean to connect with another person, to truly be a part of their lives, even if just for a moment in time?

This will look different for everyone and no one way is better or more right than another. So I will share how I connect with others. Whether it is via a video conferencing program, on the telephone, via texting or in person, I listen. I want to hear what you have to say, what you want to share, what  you want me to know. I am present in our conversation so I don’t miss anything you have to impart. I have learned the importance of this listening skill (and am still learning) as I connect with others.

Eye contact goes a long way to forming that strong bond between people. Texting and phone calls definitely make this more difficult and it is why so many people (read teens) have trouble forming that close unity with others. Texting is the most problematic in this important skill. With phone calls, you can hear the nuances in someone’s voice. You can hear the sarcasm, the laughter, the stress, the sadness, the care and the love when you talk with another person. Texting doesn’t allow for any of this, unless you are using emojis. I suppose that is how the younger generation are bypassing the need for phone calls and face to face interactions. 

 Reflections

 And what about that second part; the reflection aspect? I think that once you listen to another and make that connection, you need to take a figurative step back and appreciate these connections. Think about how they make you feel and how you have affected them. Appreciate their perspective and learn from it, even if it is only to strengthen your resolve in the opposite direction. Take what they have to offer, enjoy it for all that it is worth. Then repackage it with what you have to give and share it tenfold with that person and with others. 

 And while this is all coming from the perspective of adult to adult, please adapt it for the generations in your life. If you have children in your life as their parent, caregiver, aunt, uncle, grandparent, cousin, friend, listen to what they have to say.

It is so important to welcome people into your life and just connect. Show them who you are, what individual qualities make you unique, let them learn from you through listening, modeling and just being around you.

Lillian Katz, a renowned early childhood educator, writes in her article , “What Should Young Children Be Learning,” that there are four areas that are important in early childhood education: Knowledge, Skills, Feelings and Dispositions. She says Dispositions are not learned through instruction or drill. The dispositions that children need to acquire or strengthen – curiosity, creativity, cooperation, friendliness – are learned primarily from being around people who exhibit them.”

Through connections with children and with others, you will be able to show the attributes you value, modeling them so that your children and those you connect with, will take on these same traits so that everyone can benefit. It’s how we can make the connect and reflect be the positivity on even the darkest days.

 Wishing you all connections to your loved ones and Shabbat Shalom.

Dec. 17
Tradition, Tradition!

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Tradition, Tradition!

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

Tradition, Tradition!

As I say these words, I think of Zero Mostel belting out the words to the Broadway show tune by this same name in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I had the privilege of seeing this show on Broadway many years ago. Not with Zero Mostel but the effect was the same. A father and mother and their daughters trying to hold on to how they had always done things. Their traditions were what tied them together as a family.

What is a tradition?

I feel that we all know what a tradition is in the broadest sense of the word. Dictionary.com defines it as: the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice. 

A tradition can be as elaborate as having the same family members over for dinner each year on Chanukah, using the same tablecloth that grandma used and eating Aunt Sara’s sufganyot. It can also be as simple as using the same kiddush cup that saba used at his bar mitzvah.

How does a tradition begin?

While reading “Why Every Family Needs Traditions And How To Create Them,” at rediscoveredfamilies.com, I came upon this short, bizarre story: A family tradition is born: My family has a bizarre family tradition that started when I was a teenager. One evening at supper my youngest brother made the mistake of saying, “I don’t want this….” Immediately his three older siblings swooped in on the plate and emptied it.My brother was quite a bit younger than the rest of us. We were ravenous teenagers and would eat anything going! It was at that moment that our family tradition of GAMES was created. When there aren’t sufficient leftovers for everyone to have seconds it is time for games. The players position themselves around the table forks at the ready. The leftovers are placed in the middle of the table and there is complete bedlam as everyone tries to spear the food.

There are no rules, although jabbing someone in the eye would be frowned upon!

Everyone begins their traditions differently. They may be carried on from one home to another; think when you as an adult moved out of your parent’s home and into your own. Maybe you took a tradition that you did with your parents. They also might be brand new; something you created when you started your own family. What ties these traditions together is that they are such an important part of your family identity and what helps to make you a cohesive unit. 

Sharon Harding of rediscoveredfamilies.com says, “Traditions will bind you together and provide a deep sense of security for your children.” I will go a step further and say that it will provide a deep sense of security for you! It’s the icing on the cake when holiday time rolls around. In my home, lighting the chanukiah (Chanukah menorah) is a family affair and each person takes out the one of their choosing to light. It’s a small piece of the holiday but it’s a piece that my children look forward to. At my parent’s home, my mom hides money and we each have to go on a scavenger hunt to find our allotment of Chanukah gelt. 

And while people usually associate traditions with holidays, they don’t have to be relegated to only these times of the year. Remember that consistency is helpful for children and for adults. Having these memories take you from one situation at one time to another helps you to feel grounded, comfortable, safe and secure – you know what is coming next.

I would love to hear about your traditions – holidays or otherwise. Check out the button on the WOW page on the EVJCC website and share your traditions and I will feature them with or without your names if you prefer in a later WOW.

Shabbat Shalom!

In the Dec. 17 “Words of Wisdom with Pam,” Pam asks for families to share their family traditions. If you’d like to share your family tradition, submit your family’s traditions below. 

Dec. 10
Miracles and Where to Find Them

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Miracles and Where to Find Them

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

I don’t know about you but I have been stressed out since March! Not everyday, but that is a pretty accurate way to describe how I have been feeling since all of this began in earnest way back in early spring 2020. It is easy to find all of the negative to complain about. There are just so many options to choose from!

But what if, instead of focusing on what is going wrong, we instead shift our attention to the blessings and the miracles we see everyday? This is a big ask, I know. Focusing on the miracles requires you to be in the moment, to be present and to adjust your way of thinking just a little bit.

“I Don’t See Any Miracles!” you shout to anyone who will listen. “Pam, you don’t know what you are talking about!” I promise, we can walk through these exercises together and find the blessings and miracles around us.

Take a Walk

One way to be present and in the moment so you see these miracles, is to take a walk, a bike ride, a jog. It doesn’t have to be long. Just take yourself outside and look at the sky, look at the nature around you, and if you are lucky enough, take your child. They will show you the meaning of “stopping and smelling the roses” which is really just another way of encouraging you to focus on the blessings around you.

Make a Phone Call

Texting has been a big plus and it makes it so easy to stay in touch with people who are not so close by. But taking the few minutes to make a phone call will do wonders for you in three ways: you will make a personal connection, you will get to hear the delight in the recipient’s voice and for just a few moments, you can tune everything else out.

Have a Conversation With Your Child

Have you ever sat down and had a conversation with a two, three or four year old? They will bring up the silliest ideas and talk about them like they were the be all and end all. Listen to them, watch their facial expressions, really hear them and the ideas they have that delight them, will transfer to you.

On Thursday evening, we begin the eight-day celebration of Chanukah. Jewish families around the world will take out their Chanukiot (Chanukah Menorahs) and light two candles for the first night – one for the first night and the second is the Shamash, the helper candle that is lit each evening to light all the others. This holiday commemorates when the Maccabees were rededicating the Temple and only found enough oil to light for one night and the oil lasted for eight days. This was a time when olive oil was used to light the eternal light in the Temple and it took eight days to make the kosher olive oil. There’s a meme on social media that says something like, “to understand the miracle of light on Chanukah, imagine if you only had 10% battery power on your phone and no charger and your phone lasted for 8 days!” then you will understand the miracle of Chanukah!

May you all experience and appreciate the miracles and the blessings around you. There are a lot of bad things, but I promise you that the good outweighs the bad!

Shabbat Shalom.

Dec. 3
Join Me in the Process

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Join Me in the Process

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

When I have the time, cooking and baking are my passions. I have a favorite chef whose recipes are usually my inspiration. Her name is Jamie Geller and I love that I can get all of her recipes right on the internet. She makes beautiful items; her presentation just really draws my attention to her creativity. While as a professional, she has many levels she needs to focus on – taste, of course and presentation.

My cooking and baking skills do tend to produce good quality taste – even my pickiest child has favorite dishes that I make. However, my presentation is usually lacking. My food and my baked goods just aren’t always pretty.

But as a teacher, and as a cook, I have found that it really isn’t about the product and what is on the outside; it truly is about the process and what is on the inside.

In a classroom, there are times when art projects should be more teacher-directed and therefore a little more product oriented. But the majority of art time, in my opinion, should be process oriented and therefore child-directed.

As a baker and a cook, I love having fun with the ingredients, making a mess which is inevitable, and creating something delicious. As a child, I believe their independence and their creativity should have a chance to shine through. 

According to Giftofcuriosity.com, “Process-oriented art facilitates self-expression and encourages children to make connections to the world around them. When children engage in art as a process, they have opportunities to predict, plan, compare, and problem solve. They also get to feel a sense of ownership and pride in their original creations.”

Educational excellence comes from making those connections with children. The more that a child can take what they know and associate it with something new, the more they can learn in any given situation. 

In a classroom, teachers give the children opportunities to explore and be creative in many ways – open-ended materials fill the classroom – block area, Lego table, dramatic play, and writing/drawing/art all lend themselves so well. While you can add in special items that relate to the classroom theme, these just enhance the connections for the children so they can truly explore and express themselves.

And the art piece, which is often the most difficult to make open-ended, is actually the easiest. In the art area, try to not direct the outcome as much as possible. For a teacher, look at a month’s worth of planning and choose 3-5 projects that you want to direct – these are when you can focus on direction following and building specific skills.

For a parent, also look at a few items you want to make with your child that will be focused on that finished product – the Challah cover to use at your Shabbat table or picture frame that will be sent to Grandma and Grandpa with the newest photo. And for the rest? Just offer crayons, paint, paper, chalk, glue, glitter, pencils, etc. and let your child take the lead.

We are lucky to live in  Arizona where the outdoors are so accessible so many days out of the year. It allows all of this messy art exploration to take place outside. Being able to give the materials out on the patio, might lower your anxiety as a parent for clean up and stains. As a parent, make sure you are comfortable with the mess that will be created and then let your child go to town. 

And if you are really brave, try this with cooking. You will have a product when you are finished (which is always fun to be able to have a reward for your bravery) but let them choose the recipe and try to let them be creative in what you make. Baking doesn’t really work as well in this type of situation as baking is more science based and often does require specific ingredients and measurements to be used in order to make something edible and successful even if it isn’t pretty. Cooking, however, allows you to adjust for taste and preference. It is also a great way to get your children involved in making something they will eat. 

In a few short weeks, we are welcoming Yaffi Lvova from Baby Bloom Nutrition. She advocates strongly for making your children involved as much as possible in the process of making foods for the family and for themselves. She will be spending 4 parenting sessions with us and I hope that  you will join in!

Thank you for spending this time with me and remember to be present, enjoy the journey with your children and have fun!

Shabbat Shalom!

Nov. 12
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!

Nov. 5
Small Choice, Big Impact

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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.

 

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!

Oct. 22
Nurturing Kindness

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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!

Oct. 15
Challenging and Worthwhile

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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.

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!

Oct. 2
Let Your Kids Be Kids