What I wish parents knew about math education in today’s politically charged climate

Milestones and Miracles Note- from Nicole: While we typically aren’t a company that dives into anything political publicly, we are parents and therapists that believe in supporting other parents. And when we know about something or learn about something that might help another parent, we will share at all costs. That’s why we created this space. This blog post is the result of years of begging. My daughters have had the gift of having Cindy Evarts as a math teacher or mentor of their other math teachers in some way for the past 7 years.  During that time, as parents we have not only learned the real “why” behind the frenzy many parents are facing and questioning with their children’s math instruction, but also been empowered to learn ourselves so that we can help our children succeed.  In doing so, I have nagged Mrs. Evarts to put what she has eloquently explained to me into words for others. I trust her immensely, not only for her vast knowledge and experience, but because I have seen my children understand math in ways I once only memorized for short periods. It is my hope that her words will also empower you to get excited about embracing math and the possibilities that working with your child’s teacher hold in helping your child succeed and enjoy learning. We are forever grateful for her unmeasurable contribution to the students and teachers in our county. 

What I wish parents knew about math education in today’s politically charged climate.

By: Cindy Evarts

As I write this – the West Virginia state legislature is debating bills that are intended to change the way I teach mathematics in my classroom.  The debate is heated.  Sponsors of the bills want to “prohibit” the use of Common Core standards in West Virginia and replace them with a set of standards from California from 1997.  The sponsors of the bill cite the “widespread dismay over Common Core standards” as the reason along with opposition to what they see as “federal overreach” to our state.  How did this happen and why do we – both teachers and parents –  need to pay attention?

Standards vs. Curriculum.

First, it is important to know the difference between standards and curriculum.  Standards spell out what students should know and be able to do at the end of each school year.  Curriculum is written to provide ways to meet the standards.  The Common Core State Standards Initiative provided only standards – not curriculum.  Curriculum has always been left up to local school districts to choose and adopt.  So what’s all the fuss about?

Unlike previous standards, the Common Core State Standards did not merely provide a list of topics to be covered by teachers and memorized by students, they also required students to acquire a deep understanding of concepts.  This was what good math teachers had been doing all along and this was what was required to produce students who were not only good at passing math classes – but could also know how to apply the mathematics required to keep our nation competitive with the rest of the world.

Why The Change?

So why the “widespread dismay?”  Don’t we want our students to be able to develop understanding rather than just memorization?  Don’t we want our students to have the mathematics skills they need to compete with students from other states and with the rest of the world?  Do we really want politicians “prohibiting” teachers from using standards that are research based and designed to produce students who can think critically?

Teaching for understanding is not easy.  It requires a teacher with the commitment to understand not only her content area but also to know her students.  It often means long hours seeking lesson ideas that go beyond worksheets and finding ways to provide students opportunities to solve meaningful problems and work together with others to build understanding. Good teachers along with forward thinking school districts have spent countless hours working to build and adopt curriculum designed to meet these researched and rigorous standards.  It has been a slow process – and now, after we are beginning to see progress – we are faced with a situation in which we may be prohibited from using what we know is working. 

Are there problems with Common Core?  Yes – but most of the widespread dismay is really about a lack of understanding about curriculum – not standards.  Textbook companies still want to sell textbooks and busy teachers still want worksheets.  The problem is – how do you design a worksheet to promote deep understanding?  The misunderstandings about how to accomplish that goal made for many indignant Facebook posts pointing out what many saw as ridiculous steps to solving simple problems. The standards were adopted without commitment to the quality teacher training needed to ensure their success and the public’s backing.

But How Can I Help My Child?

Much of the opposition to the standards has come from parents.  I know for parents it can be a struggle to help our children who are taught in classrooms using methods designed to build conceptual understanding.  We were not taught this way – we know the procedures and algorithms we were taught in school but many of us are at a loss when our children are given activities designed to promote thinking rather than memorizing.  I know it is tempting to “teach” our kids tricks and procedures to quickly solve the problem.  However, what we don’t realize is that by providing shortcuts, we take away the very struggle that promotes the brain growth needed to be successful in higher level mathematics.  Don’t worry – the algorithms you know and love will be taught to your children when they are developmentally ready –  and the deep understanding they have gained in the process may help them come up with even more efficient algorithms!  In the meantime – parents should do what they can to support their children’s growth in mathematical understanding and can consult sources like Khan Academy, Youcubed.org, or Greatschools.org for help in understanding the standards.

In my math classroom there is no discussion about standards versus curriculum.  My students don’t have time to worry about federal overreach or listen to a politician debate about who has the power to decide what they learn.  My students are too busy debating how to solve percent problems or the best way to balance an equation.  They groan when I give them homework and they cheer whenever I find a lesson that involves food.  They worry about tests and they are forever losing their pencils.  They are 7th graders and they don’t always see how what they learn today in my math class will apply to their future.  However, they are making progress and they are gaining the skills that will help them to be successful in higher-level math classes.  They have learned to work together and they have learned from their mistakes.  I wish that our politicians could do the same.

Cindy Evarts is a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescent Mathematics (2003, 2013), a President’s Award Winner for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching 2014, and an Arch Coal Award Winner in 2015. She received her BS is Elementary Education from Salisbury State and her MS in Gifted Education from Johns Hopkins University. She has been teaching for 33 years in Florida, Connecticut, Maryland, and West Virginia from preschool – 8th grade and is currently teaching at South Middle School in Martinsburg, WV. She joins us in believing that “Play Builds Brains,” even for middle school students, and teaches math to her lucky students through play with robotics, blocks, and hoola hoops. 

How We Define “READING” with Toddlers

mother-reading-with-two-girls

When experts recommend reading to your toddler, “reading” should be loosely defined as any interaction with a book that involves both you and the child. That might look like just flipping the pages while you frantically try to label a couple of pictures OR just opening and closing the book and teaching them to hold it the correct way OR “reading” might mean just teaching them not to rip pages or eat the book! However “reading” is defined with your little one, keep doing it! Daily exposure to books will turn into a lifetime love of reading. I see it happening in my own children. My girls have always enjoyed looking at books even from a very young age, my son was the one I taught “book manners” to as a toddler. He wouldn’t sit in my lap for more than a hot second when he was 18 months old during our nightly book routine but now has a fierce love for books and frequently asks to visit the library. So keep trying, your efforts will pay off. Those active little ones are absorbing more than you know! And it’s important for them to see you enjoying books too…so read on, book worms!

If you want to attempt to engage your little one with books more, try one of these tips:

  1.  Don’t be an overachiever.  Make sure the books you are “reading” with your toddler are age appropriate.  Little ones like short board books that sometimes don’t even tell a story.  Instead the book may just label objects, animals, colors, etc.  And that’s okay!  Their little attention spans (and bodies) aren’t ready to sit for a complete story and that’s the way it should be.
  2. REAL photos are best.  Babies and toddlers will be interested first in books with real photographs.  In fact, making your child their OWN book by taking photos of their favorite toys, snacks, family members, etc. will instantly turn you into their favorite “author”.  Slip the pictures into a 4×6 photo album that they can carry their book around and look at anytime they want.
  3. Get silly.  Just naming pictures may not be enough to hold your child’s attention.  Try making the book more interactive by responding with a tickle when your child turns the page or maybe when your child touches the spider on each page you make a silly face and exclaim, “Ewwwww!”  Or better yet, make up a song and as you turn each page the song continues!
  4. Capitalize on your child’s interest.  Even young toddlers express toy preferences by often gravitating to the same toy and type of play.  Take them to the library and help them find books with a favorite animal or character that may peak their interest enough for them to sit in your lap to look at the book with you.
  5. Limit distractions during your daily reading time.  Some kids may never choose a book over a screen but if the tv is off, your phone is out of sight and the iPad is put away during book time, they will learn to love books just as much as screens.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents” – Emilie Buchwald

Unknown-1

 

Black Friday Gift For Therapists & Early Childhood Professionals!

Therapists & Early Childhood Professionals – purchase a copy of 1-2-3 Just Play With Me anytime on Thanksgiving Day through midnight on BLACK FRIDAY and you will receive a FREE set of useful handouts to use with parents and teachers/staff. We’ve created detailed handouts like the one below on our TOP 10 TOPICS (aka the things we repeat OVER and OVER as therapists!) So let us help you reinforce your message by having your own copies of these on your computer to reuse as many times as you like!

Topics incude:

BYE BYE BINKIE (Risks of prolonged sucking and strategies for weaning)
READ ALL ABOUT IT (Benefits and tips for daily literacy)
TUMMY TIME TIPS (Benefits & tips for tummy time)
ALL ABOUT PLAY (Information for parents of staying focused on play based activities)
THE WONDERS OF BLOCK PLAY (A beautiful picture graphic on the many uses of blocks)
IS TV SAFE FOR BABY? (Guidelines and education on screens and the young child)
WHAT DOES READY FOR KINDERGARTEN MEAN ANYWAY? (Education & tips on pre-K play based readiness)
PICTURE THIS (Education & tips for picture based communication)
LEARNING TO SPEAK (Articulation Development)
TOY TIPS (Support on choosing toys with a developmental purpose and setting up a play space).

SIMPLY purchase the product from our homepage, send it to yourself or someone you love as a gift (we ship for FREE in the US and can include a gift card – just add your message in the notes at checkout), and also add FREE HANDOUTS PLEASE in the notes. You will receive 10 PDF copies within 24 hours to the email you provide at check out! (P.S. Make sure to leave your email in the pop up for a 10% code!)

 

BYE BYE BINKIE jpeg

OUR GIFT to #ASHA15 Customers!

We are packing our bags and headed to DENVER!  This year’s National ASHA Conference is the biggest conference we have attended and we are thrilled and honored to be among 12,000 Speech Therapists as speakers and as vendors! We hope if you are attending, you will come see us at BOOTH #358 where we will be sharing all we have to offer, including:

1-2-3 Just Play With Me (print and digital) – Print copy at a discounted conference rate!

PLAY BUILDS BRAINS coffee mugs

Customized Developmental Checklists

To celebrate this MILESTONE event for our company, we are sharing our joy in several ways, including:

A FREE TOY OF THE DAY TREAT to use in your work as an SLP (while supplies last!)

An INCREDIBLE daily and grand prize drawing for therapists purchasing 1-2-3 Just Play With Me — you could go home with an inspiring and beautiful bracelet, new stylish totes for your therapy gear, and resources (books, toys, games – including resources from Scanlon Speech Therapy) to fill those totes, PLUS a KINDLE FIRE with the ebook version of 1-2-3 Just Play With Me on it!

See flyer below for pictures of all these great goodies!

ADDITIONALLY – if you purchase 1-2-3 Just Play With Me at ASHA ’15 (which will will ship for FREE to your home or office  – no need  to fill your carry on with our beautiful box!), you will receive a FREE set of useful handouts to use with parents and teachers/staff.  We’ve created detailed handout like the one below on our TOP 10 TOPICS (aka the things we repeat OVER and OVER as therapists!) So let us help you reinforce your message with having your own copies of these on your computer to reuse as many times as you like!

Topics incude:

  1. BYE BYE BINKIE (Risks of prolonged sucking and strategies for weaning)
  2. READ ALL ABOUT IT (Benefits and tips for daily literacy)
  3. TUMMY TIME TIPS (Benefits & tips for tummy time)
  4. ALL ABOUT PLAY (Information for parents of staying focused on play based activities)
  5. THE WONDERS OF BLOCK PLAY (A beautiful picture graphic on the many uses of blocks)
  6. IS TV SAFE FOR BABY? (Guidelines and education on screens and the young child)
  7. WHAT DOES READY FOR KINDERGARTEN MEAN ANYWAY? (Education & tips on pre-K play based readiness)
  8. PICTURE THIS (Education & tips for picture based communication) 
  9. LEARNING TO SPEAK (Articulation Development)
  10. TOY TIPS (Support on choosing toys with a developmental purpose and setting up a play space). 

 

We are proud to be with you at ASHA ’15 as your #1 PLAY advocates! So come have fun with us. BOOTH #358 is the place to be for FUN, useful education, & practical resources! Follow the butterfly & come PLAY with us in Denver!

Let them fill in the bubbles and JUST MOVE ON – a mother’s call to minimize standardized testing stress

I debated writing this blog.

It’s one of those situations where as a person who blogs (I still can’t publicly call myself a writer) you internally struggle with putting your family and your beliefs out there publicly, because there will likely be strong opinions and comments of all sort in return.

In the end I decided it was worth it.

So here goes…

First I want to say that children and education and parenting and politics can all be sticky topics. And while my husband and I have choices we believe in, I understand and appreciate that yours may differ from mine and I genuinely appreciate that. One thing working in the homes of families for more than 10 years has taught me is that what works for me might be awful for you and vice versa.

There you go. Now on to the important part.

If you, like us, choose public education for your children, then they likely begin the ritual of standardized testing in the 3rd grade. We believe and appreciate as taxpayers and as parents that there needs to be a way to measure accountability and progress for schools. However, we, like many American parents, aren’t super pleased with the job that the current testing process is doing. We have a current 5th grader and current 3rd grader and can say with confidence that the tests our oldest daughter has taken (and done well on)  have never been able to fully assess the incredible progress we and her teachers have seen through the years or more importantly measure the talent or work performance of her stellar teachers.

A bigger problem to us as parents is the pressure associated with the test. Because the schools here in our state (WV) are required to document to the state how they are “preparing kids to take the test” and “letting them know how important the test is,” there are lots of activities, written and verbal interactions, and general overkill (in my opinion) that this test is a big deal. Do you remember pep rallies for a standardized test when you were a kid? How about signs cheering you on? Or multiple letters sent home to your parents reminding you to go to bed early and eat a great breakfast? Yea – me neither. We showed up, got new pencils, filled in the bubbles completely (not half way now – that was the only thing stressed), and went to recess.  Is all the “hype” needed?

We enthusiastically say NO! Why? Because kids naturally know it matters and they will either try their best or they won’t. I’d love to see a study that proves the letters home about the importance of breakfast increases test scores. You know what I know for sure it does increase? TEST STRESS. You know how I know? My 5th grader started sleep walking and mumbling about standardized testing in the 3rd grade. There is nothing creepier than walking up to a zombie eyed kid mumbling about taking a test while hovering over you in bed. Worse yet, my current 3rd grader, spent the night before her first day of testing dry heaving for 90 minutes. That kind of did me in as a Mom. I’m tough, but not that tough.

My husband and I debated (passionately I might add) about what to do. My mom is a long term educator and past principal. I know the school needs test scores. I also know my kid needs to worry about riding her bike an extra 10 minutes vs. vomiting over a test at night. We want to advocate for our children AND their teachers. The question is how to do that? There’s a large “Opt Out” movement currently, with some state superintendents actually encouraging parents to opt out with the reasoning that educators can’t change legislation so maybe data will. I understand that desperate thought process (to be honest it tempts me), but I also know in the short term, right here in my corner of the world, it may hurt my precious school and teachers. So I communicated with my daughter’s teacher, prayed, and in the end she was fine the next day when she realized it wasn’t as bad as she had imagined.

And then I wrote to my elected officials. To be honest, even though I am a very optimistic person, I have little faith this will help, but I did it, because I have to do something. And when I shared it with my best friend (and co-owner of Milestones & Miracles), she immediately said, “Share it on the blog.”

So here it is. Here’s my letter. I know it will likely be met with comments of how others handled it differently or how they opted out of a test or even opted out of public education all together and like I said before, that is ok and to be expected. We choose these schools and this village for our children for many reasons not mentioned here (even with a crummy test).  This letter might not be the best option of how I can advocate for my child, her teachers, and her school, but it is the best I have right now. So it is what I offer until I have something better. I shared it with her principal and thanked her for leading educators who care about my child’s future more than a test score.

To me, the real question is, for those of us who continue to want to access public education for our children, what is the most effective way to support both our children and our schools?

Dear Senator,


I am writing to share my opinion regarding our current education system and state testing policies in WV.

Let me start by sharing that as a daughter of a life long educator (most of those years in WV) and a parent who is beyond pleased with the education and experiences my daughters have received, I am a supporter and believer in public education. I have seen my mother change and inspire countless lives. I have witnessed teachers pouring their talents into my daughters and their classmates and not just caring but putting concern into action with students who are unsafe at home. When I speak of their creative projects, their involvement with the First Lego League, and the personal relationships with school staff that have fostered a deep love of learning for my children, people assume I send my children to private school. I beam with pride when I can correct them by saying my children actually attend public school in one of the poorest states in the country. The teachers and administrators we have encountered here in Berkeley County can and often do bring me to grateful tears.

Today is the first day that my 9 year old will take a standardized test. She is a confident and bright child that does well in school and has never complained about a test, an assignment, or going to school. On the contrary, she cries when she is sick and has to miss school! Last night, she shook, hyperventilated, and dry heaved for 90 minutes before bed – because she is “scared of the test.” This is a child that competed individually at the state gymnastics meet, played a main role in the school play, and speaks at our church in front of hundred of adults without even a mention of nervousness. My confident bright child was physically ill last night…because of a test.

photo

As I helped her take deep breaths, reassured her she was well prepared, and promised her that this test will have no affect on her future, I became quite frustrated and angry. What are we doing to our children?

I work for a federally and state funded program (as a Physical Therapist for WV Birth To Three) and so I understand the need for accountability. As a taxpayer I expect it. When we force our teachers to give tests that do not test true knowledge, we place them in a hard position. They feel the pressure and without ill-will pass that pressure on to our children. When we require administrators to document what they are doing to “motivate students to try hard/do well on the test,” we create unneeded stress on children. I would be curious to see if this well-meaning requirement actually hinders their scores. I understand that many children in our state do not have parents at home who are prioritizing or supporting education, but I’m not sure pep rallies for tests, signs cheering students on, and notes and constant verbal reminders on what to feed our children and when to put them to bed will solve that. The extra hype creates hysteria for my child and others. I firmly believe if she could come in and take the test with a good ‘ol “do your best” parents would not be seeing these clear signs of anxiety in our children.
As a home provider of early intervention in many of these at risk homes, might I suggest that working to change that culture in the home 365 days a year vs. the week before testing with community and school support that involves families might be more effective? There are better ways to do what needs to be done. If you haven’t read “The Smartest Kids In The World And How They Got That Way” by Amanda Ripley. I strongly encourage you to. It opened my eyes to the countries that are doing great things with fewer resources than we have here in the US.

I also work as a small business owner dedicated to providing educational support to families, reminding them what typical child development looks like (as a nation we are forgetting this), supporting a child’s need and right for free and safe unstructured play, and encouraging movement and sensory based learning experiences. One way my business partner and I do this is by going into schools and providing continuing education on how the young brain learns best and then problem solving ways for teachers to do this while still meeting state standards.

As a business owner I will continue to do this.

As an early intervention therapist I will continue to try to attempt to strengthen WV families and empower them to be involved with their children’s learning from the start.

As a parent, I will continue to advocate for my child and others, pray for their impressionable minds, and reassure my child that her individualized learning can’t be appropriately measured by one current standardized test. I will also support my child’s hard working and underappreciated teachers and administrators.

What will you do?

Respectfully-

Nicole Sergent

Martinsburg, WV

How to Keep REAL Communication a Priority – Tips from ASHA to manage kids’ screen time.

2015-BHSM-Logo-Horizontal

This post appears HERE on the American Speech Language and Hearing Associations website.   

 

10 Tips for Managing Kids’ Tech Time

 

The average child age 8 and under in the United States uses more than three personal tech devices—such as a tablet, smartphone, or video game console—at home, according to a new poll of parents conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). With even the youngest kids now “connected” via such technology, it is important to remember to manage tech time so it doesn’t overtake time for talking with children.

 

Talking to children in their first years of life sets them up for future academic success. The easiest and most effective way that children learn is simply by talking. Studies have proven the link between the number and variety of words a child hears and later academic achievement.

 

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month—a time to prioritize communication. Here are 10 tips for parents on how to manage kids’ technology use to keep communication at the forefront.

 

  1. Create tech-free times. Find at least one or two opportunities during the day—at the dinner table, for example—for everyone to disconnect. Mealtime is a prime opportunity for conversation. Make a commitment and have everyone check their devices at the kitchen door.

 

  1. Resist overreliance on technology to pacify boredom. Fifty-five percent of parents worry that they rely on technology too much to keep their child entertained, according to the ASHA poll. Roughly half of parents say that they are using technology as a means to keep kids age 0–3 entertained. Remember that the best opportunities for conversation and learning are often found in situations that may be viewed as boring, such as while running errands or on a long car trip—particularly for the youngest children. While it may be tempting, try to resist the urge to immediately turn to these devices as a source of entertainment.

 

  1. Don’t overestimate the value of educational apps. Children learn best simply through talking, conversing, and reading. Technology is not the best way to teach, though it can reinforce and allow practice of skills under development.

 

  1. Make tech use a group activity. While it is most often used on an individual basis, tech use can be turned into a group activity, such as while playing an online game. Talk about what you’re doing!

 

  1. Consider whether young kids really need their own devices. It is not uncommon for kids to have their own tablets or mp3 players. Many are designed and marketed specifically for kids. This may lead to more time spent alone with technology throughout the day. On the other hand, devices designed for kids often offer additional features that appeal to parents, such as limited (kid-appropriate) content and extra security options, so this is a balance for parents to consider.

 

  1. Set daily time limits. Certain devices can be programmed by parents to shut off after a certain amount of time, but you can also make a child aware of the time limit and keep track yourself.

 

  1. Be consistent in enforcing the parameters you set for tech use. ASHA’s poll found a majority of parents report setting limitations on their children’s tech use. However, the reality of their children’s tech use often doesn’t line up with the set restrictions, by parents’ own accounts. Moreover, adherence often seems to break down at ages 7 or 8 despite the rules parents say they set.

 

  1. Always practice safe listening, especially when using ear buds or headphones. Misuse of this technology can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Even minor hearing loss takes a significant toll academically, socially, vocationally, and in other ways, so prevent the preventable. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and take listening breaks.

 

  1. Model the tech habits you want your kids to adopt. Practice what you preach when it comes to tech time and safe-listening habits.

 

  1. Learn the signs of communication disorders. This is important for all parents, regardless of their children’s technology use. Early treatment can prevent or reverse many communication disorders. Parents should not wait to see if a child “outgrows” a suspected speech or hearing problem. If you have any question about your child’s speech or hearing, seek an assessment from a speech-language pathologist or audiologist. Learn more at http://Ideorg.

What does READY for Kindergarten really mean?

Yesterday I volunteered at Kindergarten Registration at my daughter’s elementary school.

As I sat there watching the children march from station to station (either proudly or with nudging) with their parents behind them, I had a rush of mixed emotions. I was excited for the journey they are all ready to start at such an incredible place to learn. I couldn’t help myself from sharing, “Do you know you are going to come to the BEST SCHOOL EVER!? Waves of nostalgia passed over me as I remember exactly what my oldest wore to her Kindergarten Registration and how she went from station to station collecting documents and shaking hands like a 5 year old executive. Small pains of sadness and emotional gratefulness were in the mix too – my youngest will leave that incredible nest in a few months. Where has the time gone? I am going to have a child in middle school next year. Virtual hugs accepted.

1936009_137664924574_4611634_n-1

A child’s (and a parent’s) first step into an elementary school is a big deal. I know it and I felt it for those parents yesterday. That first impression plays a large role in a parent’s impression and expectations for their child’s school experience. And we all know that our expectations as parents play a large role in our child’s expectations for themselves.

I have to say that our elementary school does a really great job of this. Friendly smiles. Calm voices. Squatting down to greet kids eye to eye. Fun and festive decorations. These professionals got it going on! But this does not surprise me. They do an incredible job day in and day out so it is natural to share their gifts with families on their first special day.

As a pediatric Physical Therapist, I have a genuine interest in development, and through our work with Milestones & Miracles, I’ve become specifically interested and fascinated with the benefits of developmentally appropriate learning through play or hands on/multi-sensory activities with a purpose.  Lacy & I are so passionate about this that we developed a lecture to support schools with the good work they are already doing, with ideas to feed a student’s nervous system with the movement and activities they need to learn.

At the table next to me, was our school’s reading specialist. She is young, fun, and good at what she does. The little girls idolize her and the boys have big time crushes on her. She’s an elementary rock star. She was handing out a booklet yesterday to help parents prepare their children for Kindergarten. It quickly caught my eye because I remembered it. And when I remembered it, I also remembered my feelings absolute panic….WHAAAT? She has to do this BEFORE KINDERGARTEN? She’s not ready? Maybe I should wait a year? Will she ever succeed?

photo 3

 

When it was our turn to step into that school, I’ll admit this list clearly stressed me out. The self imposed challenge of teaching my child all of this information by September overwhelmed me and to be honest I didn’t want to spend our last summer before school stated drilling her to learn to write her name. To my knowledge she wasn’t doing most of these things at 4. She had gone to a play based preschool and we didn’t do worksheets or flashcards at home. (Side note: After she started school a few months later, her new teacher proudly shared she actually DID know/could do these things….shocking my husband and I…and starting the precious trend she has for refusing to learn most things we try to overtly teach her).

In solidarity with those parents coming to collect the list and learning sheets, I had a wonderful conversation with the reading teacher. It went a lot like many of the valued conversations I’ve had with my children’s teachers over the years…teachers know concepts they must share are often presented too early or in a format they don’t feel confident with…but the national trend for education and policy making is what it is. I shared that brain research tells us that children’s brains are often not ready/wired to read until closer to 7 years of age. She confirmed that she sees this often with students she work with. I shared as a parent of a first time student, that list made me nervous.  We both agreed our shared thoughts that expecting them to do things their brain isn’t ready for isn’t exactly fair (please note I am in no way saying a Kindergarten student should not learn, be challenged, be introduced to literature concepts etc. Just that there is a need to recognize ALL kids are biologically ready for site words the instant they turn 5).

The packet also included some great and relevant follow up information that expanded on the list..including helpful and reassuring information that these things did not have to be mastered by the first day of school (I don’t remember this part of the list when I received it?! So glad it was added).

photo 1

 

But in addition to those tips, I think it’s important to share with parents that PLAY BASED learning is still developmentally appropriate for 4 & 5 year olds….and beyond that, it is this type of learning that makes those essential concepts, imperative building blocks for advanced learned, concrete and real and strong. Without fully understanding these early learning concepts, our children don’t have a sturdy foundation. And yes some students prefer pencil and paper (even at 4 years old), but we know that the more senses (including movement) we involve with learning, the more our children will learn.

Experiencing is learning.

Purposeful Play IS learning.

Just because he/she doesn’t come home with a worksheet doesn’t mean learning didn’t occur.

Because we are so passionate about this for children and their parents, and because we have been so fortunate to have a unique and strong relationship in partnering with my daughter’s elementary school, I felt comfortable creating a short resource that could be shared to back up these principles.

And because I’m sharing it with that rock star teacher today, I thought why not share with you?

If you are a teacher, parent, therapist or just anyone interested in the topic feel free to share this document with anyone who might benefit. You have our permission to print it. You can find it by clicking the PDF link at the end of this essay. We only ask that you respect our time in creating it and cite us as the source. It is short and sweet but provides practical suggestions for developmentally play based in context learning for those getting ready for Kindergarten.

We can all work together to make change by advocating for developmentally appropriate learning and advocating for play as an essential need for all children.

Is he/she ready for Kindergarten is a question we will all ask ourselves as parents. We believe that defining what “ready” really means makes it a much easier question to answer. We hope this list helps you do just that.

Kindergaten Here I Come – Ideas To Learn PDF

 

Have an infant or toddler? Want to support them with purposeful play – check out 1-2-3 Just Play With Me! 

Making New Ways To Play In Dad’s Old Shop

My Dad is a plumber and a contractor. When I was a kid I loved playing in his shop. I used to stack wooden scraps, bang things together, and pretend copper pipe was my wedding band. (Princesses hang in tool shops too).

Today I got to be a bit of a kid in Dad’s shop again and it was so fun!

I have a few “go-to” gifts that I LOVE giving to my “therapy kids” when they turn 3 and are no longer eligible for my services. They are part “graduation” gift and part birthday gift. Every once in a while though, I have a kid who needs something that is specifically made just for them.

It’s nice having a handy Dad when you are a self employed early intervention physical therapist, creatively making things work for therapy visits in the homes of children. Dear Old Dad has helped me out a few times and today was no exception.

Together (well mostly him), we made this fun board for my special guy and I wanted to share.

photo 6
I liked it so much I decided “we” needed to make 2 so I could keep one for work too!

photo 11

 

I’ve always admired these boards and while they are very focused on fine motor work, I’ll be able to incorporate them into sitting and standing play…maybe even as a motivator for my little ones who are almost crawling but need a bit more motivation!

So if you are interested in making something like this, I’m happy to share that it was not overly expensive. Total cost was about $20 each.  I basically strolled up and down the aisles of Lowe’s choosing mismatched things that were interesting to turn, twist, flick, or flip. (This made the regulars at Lowe’s a wee bit nervous I think).  That part of easy. I will say if you are going to try it you need someone handy and with a few basic tools (electric drill, small saw, nail gun), which worked out much better than my original plan to glue gun everything down!

Here are some of the items I used.


I can’t wait to gift my special guy with his “one of a kind, made with love by my Dad” creation and to try mine out too. Even more fun that playing with these might be the fun I had playing today in the shop.

Like my ring?

 

board ring

“NO” and “YES”: How to Teach 2 of the Most Powerful Words to Your Toddler(s)

When your toddler begins answering yes/no questions (accurately) sometime between 19-24 months of age it’s like the floodgates of communication open. Especially so if you aren’t getting much other verbal communication from them up until this point. These 2 small words hold much power for your toddler, they finally have a “voice” (or a head nod) that helps them express themselves.  In most any situation a yes/no question can be asked to figure out what your child wants/or what they are upset about to squash the inevitable tantrum. So how can you get your child to understand and express “yes” and “no” sooner? Here’s a few tips I’ve gathered along the way as an SLP and mommy:

 

Read books that prompt your child to answer “yes” or “no”.

Some of my favorite baby/toddler books are series by Karen Katz, Leslie Patricelli and Usborne Touchy-Feely Books. These books are interesting, interactive and fun for young readers. And you can heighten their interest in the book by over-exaggerating your yes/no response and prompting them to imitate you.

 

 

Ask silly yes/no questions for your child to answer.

Grab some real objects, a stuffed bear, a wooden spoon, a toothbrush and begin asking your child if the object is what it is. For example to work on “yes” you would hold up the wooden spoon and ask, “Is this a wooden spoon?” Or to work on answering “no” hold up the wooden spoon and ask, “Is this a ball?” And let the fun and silliness ensue!!

 

Model saying “yes” and “no” and nodding your head.

If you child isn’t ready to say the words “yes” and “no” yet, chances are they still understand what you are asking. So you may need to model saying the word and nodding your head for them to imitate. Sometimes physical prompts are needed to help with shaking their head “no” and“yes.”  And you typically will get a whole body shake for a head nod as it is difficult at this age to move the head independently from the rest of the body. Enjoy it and video it…it’s so cute!

 

Lastly answering yes/no questions is one of the many developmental milestones we highlight in 1-2-3 Just Play With Me. Here is what we have to say about toddlers who ALWAYS answer “no”:

 

“Your child may answer “no” to all yes/no questions, even when he really means “yes.” Don’t worry. This is very typical. To help your child understand the difference and respond appropriately, encourage him to shake his head and repeat “yes” when you know the answer is “yes.”

 

Childhood milestones are a MIRACLE. Answering yes/no questions is just one of those miraculous milestones. Nicole and I enjoy watching this miracle occur in our own children and our therapy “kids”. 1-2-3 Just Play With Me can help you appreciate the miracle of your child by helping you know what to expect next in each stage of development and provide you with ways to help your child grow, learn and PLAY!

Avoiding The Container Shuffle – Our guest blog post from Starfish Therapies

We were super excited to share over at Starfish Therapies last week about something that we are very passionate about! To see the entire original blog post – Avoiding the Container Shuffle – click Here! Thanks Starfish for the opportunity!

 

Guest post by: Nicole M Sergent, MPT

As a new parent, I was there. Giddy excitement over the news of a baby on the way followed by showering love from family and friends in the form of gift, and gifts, and more gifts. At the time I was touched (and am still forever grateful for their generosity) but shortly after the baby came I quickly fell into a routine many new moms do. As a physical therapist, I like to call it, “the container shuffle.”

“The container shuffle” goes something like this. Sleep (crib), eat (highchair), play (exercsaucer), calm down (bouncer seat), sleep (crib), eat (highchair), play (positioning seat), calm down (swing) etc. As a mother, I related to the thoughts many of my patients’ parents have. Everyone buys us all this stuff…and baby likes them and is happy…so why not use them? As a therapist, I’d like to tell you why.

I can’t tell you how many children I have assessed with general motor delays without significant medical histories or orthopedic or neurologic impairments. These babies are very stable in an upright static position. They often even sit really well, without ever rolling, crawling, creeping, kneeling, or standing. After I have carefully assessed to make sure, nothing more significant is going on, I’ll delicately share my diagnosis: CONTAINER SYNDROME.

I realize it is not rocket science but think of it this way. When a baby plays on the floor, he/she has the ability to wiggle, squirm, and move. Each tiny movement that may seem insignificant is actually exercise. They are beautiful diagonally directed movements. And they are needed. Because our moving transitions from one position to another (floor to sit, sit to stand), require that motion. How can we expect a baby to be able to move and explore if we always have them strapped in a container? Research tells us that babies who spend less time on their tummies on the floor, have delayed motor skills in the first year of life.

In addition to the ability to practice motor coordination, allowing a child to play outside of a “container,” has additional benefits. Play on a baby’s tummy, aids in digestion, assists with hand eye coordination, and promotes typical skeletal development. The hips have the ability to develop into a more stable, mature position and the skull, free from pressure from resting against a surface, has freedom to develop typically. Did you know that 20% of all infants now have plagiocephaly (flattened appearance of the head/face)? While free play time may not prevent all of those cases, I believe the increase in “container syndrome,” plays a significant role.

I once attended a continuing education lecture, where the OT speaking suggested that infants should spend 80% of waking hours on the floor. As a therapist, I could see the benefit of this time well spent. As a mother, I felt myself slumping with guilt. My daughters did not spend that much time on their tummies, especially my youngest that had severe acid reflux. A practical balance must exist for families. And while I realize “containers” are helpful with a fussy baby and so that one can actually shower, I recommend promoting floor time throughout the day. I tell the parents of my patients, “If you find yourself going to put your baby down, choose the floor or pack-n-lay first.”

Many of those children I have evaluated that had delays with mobility and transition skills that I felt came from “container syndrome,” ended up catching up to typically expected gross motor milestones in just a few short weeks by allowing more free play time on the floor. It can be argued that it is not rocket science. My mother (and yours) might argue it is common sense and “what we did with you.” But in a commercialized world where more = better, maybe we do need a dash of common sense to help keep our infants happy and healthy as they develop and grow.

Nicole M. Sergent, MPT is a pediatric physical therapist and co-owner of Milestones & Miracles, LLC. She co-authored a unique developmental tool for therapists and parents that pairs detailed development with interactive play skills, called 1-2-3 Just Play With Me. It is available in digital and print and can be found at www.milestonesandmiracles.com, Amazon.com, and select retailers. Follow Milestones and Miracles online for developmental support & fun!