Tuesday, June 25, 2013

International Mud Day Activities

Until recently, I never realized there was an international mud day. But, it sure sounds like fun.  I spent my childhood puddle jumping, tree climbing, and playing in mud.  It seems like a lot of children today do not have that opportunity.  And, I must admit, that as I looked through suggestions for mud day, I was concerned about the dangers associated with some of the ideas.  Some of the mud puddles that I saw looked deep enough to be drowning hazards and, of course, mud is dirty.  But, with appropriate care and supervision, mud activities can be safe and fun.

Here are some possibilities for celebrating International Mud Day on June 29th (and perhaps all week). 

  • Make mud bricks in ice cube trays or muffin tins.  Bake in a 250 oven for about 15 minutes to dry the bricks (if you don’t want to wait for them to air dry).  Use additional mud or plaster of paris as mortar to build with the bricks.
  • Create mud sculptures.  Add sticks, leaves, rocks, etc.
  • Paint with mud.  Paintbrushes or fingers on canvas, cardboard, wood, or the side of your building or fence. 
  • Build a mud puddle for some free play (make sure it’s not too deep and that children are well supervised).  If, like me, your local soil is clay, bring in a few bags of topsoil to make the mud.  If a full-on mud puddle is too much, you can do your mud play in a dishpan.

Have a hose ready for rinse-off, some clean clothes ready for the little adventurers, and enjoy your muddy day!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stop the Summer Brain Drain

Every year, students experience a phenomenon known as the “brain drain” or “Summer slide”.  During summer vacation, the average child loses 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in math and reading.  Because children’s brains develop at such a rapid pace, taking 3 months off from learning over the summer can be quite detrimental.

The first thing we can do to stop this brain drain is to teach and show children that learning does not just occur in a classroom.  There are things to be learned everywhere if we can just help them to see the opportunities.  Of course most children enjoy a break during the summer, but they don’t need a break from learning.  An ideal summer will blend rest and relaxation with fun, hands-on learning.

We have compiled a few ideas of how to keep children having fun and learning throughout the summer.

  • Cook together—cooking provides opportunities for learning about sequencing, cause and effect, fractions, and calculations like how to double a recipe.
  • Keep a lot of reading material around—books, magazines, comic books—and read to and with the children.
  • Check out your library’s summer reading program.
  • Before heading to the beach or a baseball game, pick out a book that discusses the activity.
  • Make a comic strip—it’s really easy to make a template on Excel. 
  • Write postcards to friends, family, or pen pals.
  • Go on a tour—there are many free ones around—jellybean or chocolate factories,  sporting venues, police and fire departments, etc.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Learn a new art technique or style.

Have a great summer!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Do You Know the Signs of Drowning?

I read an article on FaceBook the other day that still has me shaking my head and sharing it with everyone I possibly can.  It’s one of the most surprising and possibly most important things I have ever read.  It is from Mario Vittone and is entitled “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning”. 

My two sons are pretty well grown now, but, having a pool in my backyard and practically living in it every summer, I always thought I would know what it would look like if one of them or one of their friends was drowning in our pool.  After all, how do you miss a child that is gasping and flailing in the water?  I always assumed that, when someone drowns, it is because the pool, lake, whatever, was too busy, too loud, too big, etc. for the victim’s thrashing to be seen before it was too late.  Turns out I was wrong.  Vittone calls the type of drowning I envisioned to be “Hollywood drowning”.  Or, to be more kind, “aquatic distress”; the person is in trouble in the water, but has not yet started the actual process of drowning.  

Vittone describes a “Instinctive Drowning Response” as:

  • The victim cannot call for help.  As speech is a secondary function of the respiratory system, in distress, the primary function of breathing overwhelms the ability to speak.
  • The victim cannot wave for help.  The victim instinctively extends his or her arms horizontally across the surface of the water to push down on it in an attempt to lift his or her mouth out of the water.  Again, waving for help would be a secondary function.  Similarly, a person who is drowning cannot aid in their own rescue by swimming toward a potential rescuer or reaching for a life ring, etc.
  • The victim will remain upright in the water rather than rolling over and kicking.

In these situations, a potential rescuer usually has from 20-60 seconds to reach the victim before he or she is submerged.

The Centers for Disease Control list drowning as the second most common cause of death in children under the age of 15 (behind vehicle accidents).  Vittone cautions that, just like many things with a child, if the child is being quiet, that is the time to be worried.  Please share this information with anyone you can.  If they already know it, great.  If they don’t already know it, the info may just save a life.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Any Monkey Can Do It"

The child care consulting side of our business has always been plagued by a phenomenon that we have semi-jokingly referred to as “any monkey can do it”.  There seems to be a widespread opinion that anyone can set up and run a child care program, especially if that person happens to be a parent.  I can’t tell you how many proposals we have presented, just to be shot down by the corporate decision-maker who explains that employee so-and-so is a mom, so she will be in charge of setting up and managing their child care program.  Of course, that employee has no early childhood education nor any experience in working with children other than her own, but that does not present a barrier to her employer. 

I recently read an article that explained that this phenomenon also occurs in reading instruction (although they call it the Illusion of Explanatory Depth).  Recent research by Louisa Moats indicates that many teachers have a perception of their ability to teach reading that exceeds their skills in the area.  My big take-away from this article is that we all need to be careful to develop expertise in our primary area, but also recognize those areas in which we are not experts and to recognize those who are.  I can run a program and manage staff, but there is no way you would want me working in an infant room…or any other classroom at this point of my career.  

For those who are tasked with teaching reading but not given the necessary support, the areas identified by Moats as being the most critical are:

  • phonics—sound/letter correspondence
  • phonemic awareness—identifying individual sounds within words
  • which letters team up to make common sounds and, therefore, which words are regular and which are irregular
  • identifying spelling units—blends, digraphs, vowel teams, silent letters
  • syllable division and spelling patterns
  • basic parts of speech

Knowing how to read does not make one a reading teacher any more than being a mother makes one a child care program director.  However, if you are stuck in a role of teaching reading, developing skills in those six basic areas will help considerably.