Monday, October 27, 2014

Kindergarten Mindset- We are here to learn

His big five year old eyes looked up at me with nervousness as we sat down to work.
"I can't write my name," he said. "I don't know it."

"That's OK," I tried to sound reassuring. "That's why we are here. To learn."

He nodded like he didn't really believe but wasn't going to argue with an adult. He knew all his friends could write their names. He knew they knew the names of the letters. Throughout his day his frustration with not being able to do what his friends showed in those big eyes. He knew.

We worked hard, those mornings, working on forming the letters and learning their names. With our dry erase markers we formed and re-formed each letter. Write, erase, try again.

Then one day he sat down confidently. "I'm learning," he explained to me. "It's OK. I'm learning." 
Without another comment he wrote his name, stopped himself when he made a mistake, erased it and re-did his letters. Over and over again, he confidently caught his own mistakes, not letting himself get frustrated by the imperfection. "I'm learning," he repeated. 

My school focuses on using Carol Dweck's research in her book Mindset in all of our practice.
It drives how we plan lessons, how we talk to parents, and how we interact and talk with kids. We make a conscious effort not to label what kids do as smart, but to label their hard work, effort and problem solving skills. By reinforcing what students are actually doing we are changing how our students approach their school work.

My little friend went from seeing himself as behind to seeing himself as a learner. He gave himself permission to learn- to make mistakes, to be behind, to keep working. He took ownership of his work. It didn't come from us telling him to work harder or giving him pep talks about how he should get his head in the game. It all came from simply repeatedly noticing his hard work as he did it and labeling it. In his classroom no one is using the words, "that's smart". Instead the students around him are also being praised for using strategies, not giving up on difficult tasks, and for using problem solving skills to find an answer. He noticed. He picked up on the idea that we are in school to learn. It is OK to not be the smartest or learn something the fastest. What matters is that you learn.

My friend may have a hard road ahead of him. It may take him longer to learn concepts that will come quicker to his friends. I hope he can hang on to this idea that learning is a process throughout his school career. If so, his determination and dedication are going to take him far.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Three Kid Myths We Use to Judge Each Other

OK, I'll admit it- before I was a parent myself I was a really good parent.

Now? With two kids? Whoa- I'm lucky if I'm in the mediocre range, especially when I compare myself to the magical mother I was going to be before I had kids. From raising my daughter and reflecting on my own judgements I've realized that as a teacher I was operating under some misconceptions about childhood, despite all of my training, education, and constant reading on child development.

Myth One: It's easy to tell a spoiled child. Kids who cry when you tell them no are spoiled. They are obviously accustomed to getting their way.

Ha! Little did I know, kids are not necessarily spoiled just because they cry or argue when they are told no. My husband and I frequently exclaim in frustration, "Little Lipstick, have we EVER let you have what you want after you talk to us like that?" And every time she yells, "NO! BUT I WANT ITTTTTTT"
It's become a ritual in our house. You want cupcakes for breakfast? OK, let's start our daily 'you cry, we ignore you' routine. (Even as I type this I'm preparing for judgement- those of you reading are thinking, clearly there is something wrong. They must give in once. They are giving her negative attention which keeps the argument going, etc, etc. I am working really hard on trusting you to not be doing that. Otherwise I would write pages defending our parenting. Stay with me here and don't judge.) 

As adults when we stub our toe and it hurts like hell we often call out, swear, or hold our breath. We react. Even though swearing didn't change the pain the first time we ever stubbed our toe we still react that way now. It still hurts, and we swear even though we know that will not make it feel any better. We know swearing doesn't change anything. We aren't trying to manipulate the situation by yelling. We are expressing ourselves.

That's true for kids. My daughter is sad she cannot have a cupcake for breakfast. She knows she cannot have a cupcake and she knows we are not going to change our minds, but she is sad so she is expressing it. (She has just now started using the words sad, scared, and nervous and we are getting wonderful I statements like, "I am nervous about going to daycare" and "I am sad about my cupcake", which has put a significant decrease in tantrums.)

I watch a lot of the kindergarten students get upset when told "no". We often think, "Oh, only child syndrome" or "must get their way all the time at home." But I'd like to take back that judgement now. As a parent of a child who has BIG emotions, I know now that it isn't because she always gets her way, it is just because she is stubbing her toe. She is expressing her feelings and getting it out. I'd rather she didn't, but I can't control everything.

Which leads us to...
Myth 2: Parents can control their kids as though they are puppets. 

2) Unless there is a special, secret formula out there that if we follow will give us the perfect child, we are not in 100% control of our children. They each have their own temperaments and personalities. We control how we react to situations and we can set consequences and structure, but we are not the architects of our children's worlds. We can't be. The neighbor's dog, the mean friend on the playground, the bank teller who gives our kid a lollipop even though we ask them not to- these are all elements of our children's worlds. This world we can't control shapes our children. They develop their own opinions- quite separately of ours- about what they like and don't like, what they are scared of, what makes them happy and what makes them sad. We can help them through all of those emotions, we can control how we react to their emotions, but we cannot give our children emotions.

Myth 3: Kids need structure at home like they have in school 

Structure at home? Ha! Structure at school is easy. We have bell schedules, lunch schedules, art and PE schedules. We have routines. Even when there are breaks in the routines we prepare for it ahead of time (field trips get planned months in advance, we talk about it for weeks ahead of time. And fire drills get practiced so many times that they become routine even when they are a surprise.)
Structure at home is totally different. You can have set bedtime and wake up times, and bedtime routines and morning routines and meal routines, but it's not school. There aren't bells and chimes throughout the day. It has to be more flexible. In fact, it should be more flexible. Children need to know how to roll with change. They need down time to explore. They need to figure out what to do when they are bored.

There are many great ways to put routines and structures into a family's day, but it will never be as structured as school. And that is OK. Kids need to breath.

Do you have other misconceptions you've found about how we make quick judgments about kids?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Judge, Judge, and Judge Some More. Is there anything about parenting that doesn't get judged?

This weekend I was waiting for my Starbucks order, chatting happily with my three year old (who, let's admit it, was happy because she was chomping on a large Starbucks pumpkin cookie), when I out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a little girl about to eat popcorn off the floor of Target. Without even thinking (because this is what teachers and moms of toddlers do) I stopped her. "Oh honey, don't eat that!" I exclaimed, and she cried, because that is what kids do when a stranger stops them from doing something they really want to do.

Her mother turned around and gave me a dirty look. Then without saying anything she pushed the cart away from me in a huff.

OK. So we shouldn't talk to kids we don't know. But if it was my daughter (and next time it probably will be my daughter) and I didn't see it (because even the best parent can't watch their child 100% of the time) I would want a stranger to stop her from eating off the floor at Target. Her being momentarily upset that a stranger had talked to her is better than her eating off the floor. And even better, it will (hopefully) stop her from eating off the floor from Target in the future.

At first I was put off by the other mom's dirty look. I was only trying to help. Then I realized she probably felt like I was judging her as a parent. I wasn't. It was the opposite. She had three kids with her- good grief, I know how hard it is to shop with two kids- I can't imagine with three. My thought was not, "OMG, this women is a terrible mother. Her daughter is about to eat off the floor." I thought, "Oops, that little girl is about to eat off the floor. Better stop her because her mom looks busy."

But there is no way that mom would know that. We live in a culture of judgement, especially when it comes to parenting. I'm a member of a couple on-line parenting groups, and I am frequently horrified by the amount of judging that goes on. Off statements like, "I would never..." "If my child ever did something like that..." "It may be hard, but it's my kid so I'm going to do...." are constantly coming out. They are easy statements to think and even easier to type. The internet has given a platform to our judginess. We read so much judgement out there that it's easy to think that we are fighting each other every day. A trip to Target should not be a chance to showcase our parenting for the entire world, as we desperately hold our breath hoping that today our child will not have a meltdown because then everyone would know what terrible parents we really are.

The older my daughter gets the more acutely aware of how much I unfairly judged parents of students I taught. It was especially bad when she was an infant because just being a new parent gave me the license to say, "As a parent I would..."

Ha! I had a baby who could not talk back, throw a tantrum, hit, kick, or blow snot all over me on purpose.

As my very independent, strong-willed and sensitive daughter gets older I am realizing just how hard parenting can be and just how wrong my misconceptions of parenting have been. My next few posts are going to be a series of the myths of childhood that we use to judge one another. Stay tuned...