Planting Seeds and Sprouting Wings

Helping children and families find their wings but never forget their roots

Apps for Preschool Learners

We live in a digital society. Everyone feels the need to be continuously plugged in. We read, write, play games and do research on our phones.   We wonder what people did before the internet, before Google, before smartphones.  

Our children are digital natives. They were born long after the invention of these technologies that can be such a blessing and a curse.   They are no longer learning in the same way we once did. Information is always available right at the touch of a button, screen time has increased exponentially. This is exciting…and scary.

Currently, not much research exists that show the outcomes of excessive technology use for young children, but, as anything else, moderation is key. Furthermore, we must find ways to adapt to new ways while holding true to what we know works. We know children learn best through relationships; however, we also know that children will have access to their parents’ smartphones, ipads and other devices. It is our responsibility to nurture our children and help them to learn and grow, as parents and caregivers we need to set explicit and clear parameters.  

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that kids screen time is limited to 1-2 hours a day for children and adolescents and avoided for children younger than 2.   I also know that this recommendation is often either ignored or impossible for families to ignore. In that spirit, I suggest that children under two don’t have any unsupervised access, and children over two should be strictly limited to regular screen time hours as much as possible. However, I would also suggest that any time spent with devices and/or television should be heavily monitored and intentional.   Here are a few apps that highlight tried and tested (kid and teacher approved) apps. (DISCLAIMER: children learn best in relationships, so play these games WITH your child whenever possible and extend these activities into everyday conversations and routines.)

For academic readiness

  • Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Oceanhouse Media
  • Elmo Calls by Sesame Street
  • Elmo’s Monster Maker (iphone only) by Sesame Street
  • Peekaboo Barn, Peekaboo Forest by Night and Day Studios
  • Kids ABC Letters Lite by Intellijoy
  • Read Me Stories by 8Interactive

 For social emotional development

  • Tuli Emotions by IMB Argentina
  • The Moon Secrets HD by Playtales Books
  • Things to think about by Jackson County Intermediate School District

Any puzzle apps, books, and alphabet and number knowledge apps are also great, but remember to use in moderation, play with an adult whenever possible and turn the phone, tablet or computer after a half hour and turn on  REAL life experiences. 

NOTE:  Any apps that teach children in the home language, are more important than any of the ones I previously mentioned!!!!

 

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Fathers are Teachers TOO!!!

With Father’s Day quickly approaching, I have decided to pay tribute to fatherhood and their role in their child’s development, especially in the early years. Fathers are so important to the educational, socio-emotional and physical development of their children. They offer a different perspective than mothers and play a different but very valuable role.

They teach their boys (and future fathers) how to be men and how to relate to women. They give their girls (and future wives) self-esteem and help them to develop strong relationships with males. Fathers will play with their children in a physical and vigorous way. Moreover, mothers often follow a child’s lead during play, while fathers like to challenge their children by being the lead and making children think. These two very different types of play are very important for a child’s development.

As educators, we must be INTENTIONAL in providing opportunities for fathers to contribute and be involved in their child’s education. This means making an active effort to include fathers in regular school activities; as well as providing father specific activities to invite fathers to use their strengths in the classroom. This needs to happen regardless if the child’s parents are separated. As the teacher of the child every effort should be made contact the father to ensure he gets an equal opportunity to participate. This in turn will encourage more fathers to be involved. Be more welcoming for fathers and fathers will jump at the chance to be a support

Some of my favorite activities that I have seen over the years have been

1. Building projects with their children. It can be bird houses, doll houses or model cars but fathers enjoy doing this activity that will remind them of the time spent together for years to come.
2. Donuts with dad days- an easy breakfast and fun father focused activity
3. Touch a Truck events where children can get up and personal with large transport and construction vehicles. This tends to excite fathers as well.
4. Science nights with dad
5. Field days where dads will get especially competitive
6. Reading nights with Dads
7. Some schools have a fatherhood committee comprised of fathers and men who can help come up with ideas.

Have fun, get messy and remember: “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” George Herbert

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Unplug and plug into your kids.

A few weekends ago I was going for a jog in my neighborhood when, like any normal day, I noticed children and their families on the playground. As I drew closer, something caught my eye. There was a baby on a safety swing as an elderly man pushed her (or so I thought). I excitedly looked to her face for a view of the utter excitement that usually falls across a babies face when they are flying through the air. Instead I was met with her looking off to the side, at something in the distance. I glanced at the grandfather and realized the source of her disengagement, he was scrolling through his phone, not even paying the slightest bit of attention to her. I slowed to a stop, and contemplated several different approaches to remind the grandfather about the small child in front of him. In the end I decided not to approach him, nonetheless I continue to be disturbed by that scene.

As an early childhood educator, I not only understand the importance of the engagement of children and the adults around them, but I also long to see it. Grandpa had it half right, bringing his little one to the park, but the most important piece of the puzzle was noticeably missing. I couldn’t help but imagine the lack of firing synapses in her small but growing brain. I couldn’t help wonder how detrimental this would be to her long term development. I couldn’t help but lament for our youngest children in this era of technological engagement and lack of people engagement. I understand that this was one time glance into this child’s life, however, I know this is a norm in many families. I along with countless others, can’t help but wonder what sort of example we are setting for children with our attachment to our devices. If children need to model adult behavior, I suddenly understand the need of children to play on phones and tablets. They not only can “be” adult, but they also receive some response to their need of engagement. Granted the computer does not give children anything near what one on one interactions give them, but it does stimulate their brains. How disturbing.

There is a fine line to walk between providing digital natives a way to learn technology and its benefits, while doing it without sacrificing personal interactions. I work for an International Franchising company that designs Early Childhood curriculum for Smart Boards. A strong departure from what so deeply disturbed me, however, the methodology of the program is what really benefits this kids. We believe in providing ECE teachers with content (which decreases the need for research before presenting information to a child), which frees up the teachers focus to be intentional in facilitating the lesson. We follow the American Pediatric Guidelines of 20 minutes of screen time per day, and we encourage parents to use technology intentionally with their children as well. We definitely focus on the importance of relationships in supporting young minds to grow.

Ultimately the key is, as an adult caregiver, to put down your device and pick up your children. Look them in the eye and talk. Go out and play at the park. Leave your phone in the car. Make dinner together. Have a tea party. …And maybe, just maybe after you are done you can pick up the phone and post on Facebook about how much fun you had together.

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Summer Learning, Had Me Some Fun

I recently saw a great video about summer learning loss and how it contributes to the achievement gap.   Low income families suffer the most.  Low income families often have less information about summer learning loss and they often have less access to resources.  However, having an educational summer with your child does not have to be expensive nor time consuming.  There are some amazingly simple ways to have some learning activities within their regularly scheduled routines.   It doesn’t have to be extra, it just has to be intentional.  I have attached a calendar for June for ideas to do with young children and will be tweeting ideas on my twitter account @seedstowings.  Plus here are some additional ideas you can use on a daily basis.

  • Count everything
  • Read and write whenever possible.   Have notebooks and writing utensils in the car/diaper bag.
  • Talk with your child instead of at your child.  Use big words and talk about what they mean.
  • Have conversations all the time.  Each conversation should consist of at least 5 exchanges.
  • Observe things in your world and talk about them with your child.
  • Ask your child lots of questions about how they think and feel they don’t have to be right, they just have to be thinking
  • If your child has a question you don’t know the answer to, ask them what they think.  It will get their brains firing up.
  • Give your child choices and then ask why they made the choice, it gives them insight into their own beliefs and desires.
  • Have fun!  Have fun with words, with movement, with your world.   Learning should always be fun.

(Note: If you and your child are English Language Learners, the bulk of the conversations should occur in your language.  I’ll say it once again, once children learn concepts they only need to learn labels in the new target language)  

Summer_Learning_Had_Me_Some_Fun  (calendar PDF)

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Que Viva el Valle

Over the past several weeks I have been reflecting about things that could change the cultural trajectory of the southwest.  I grew up in a small town located in Southern Colorado; in fact, my hometown is located in a part of the US that was once Mexico called the San Luis Valley.  The demographics continue to reflect its history as evidenced by a large percentage of Latinos, or as the large majority prefers to be called, Spanish.  Our culture and language, for the most part, have survived the generations as we moved from Mexican to US Citizens.

My father started school in the early ‘60s.  His story is like so many of Spanish-speakers’ stories in the southwest during that era.  He primarily spoke Spanish and was consequently beaten by the nuns.  In those days, the belief was that learning more than one language would confuse children.  This shameful abuse of my people resulted in a neurosis about our language that could only be fixed by English Only.  As a result, my brother, sister and I were never taught Spanish in order to avoid the distress that befell our parents.

In an effort to recapture that piece of culture I feel so isolated from, I since have learned to speak Spanish.   I’m not completely fluent but pretty darn close.  However, the fact remains that that the language of my people is slowly dying.  This continues to haunt me.  The Spanish spoken in that area is a rare mixture of 17th century Castillian Spanish, mixed with indigenous vocabulary, as well as new words that were invented to describe new technology, like troque for truck for example.

In fact, the Spanish of the Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico is a distinct dialect that cannot be located elsewhere.   Thus it stands to reason that the culture is quite unique as well due to the Native, Mexican and American influence over several generations.  There are things from culinary traditions to oral folklore that are unique to that area.  All these things will fade away if we don’t make an effort to hold on to these traditions.

Many relocated valleros have expressed their concern about the loss of culture we face.  There have been studies that show the connection between culture and language.  Furthermore, there is a distinct fear of losing culture along with the loss of language.  This is where my urgency lies.  I don’t want my children, my nieces and nephews, or any child feeling further isolation from who they are and where they belong.  I believe in a world where all children have a strong sense of themselves, their families and their culture.

We need to start taking steps before our elders are gone, and we have nowhere to go.

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Books Vs. E-readers

The other day I got an indignant text from my best friend about the woes of yet another bookstore going out of business.  As we wallowed together, it occurred to me that the method of reading is slowly changing.  Is this for better or worse?   Will children lose some of those important skills we emphasize now as “kindergarten ready” skills?  Or will those skills faze themselves out on their own without much ado, only to be the nostalgic pining’s of the broken hearted.

During traditional book reading, children learn to turn pages from the front to the back (or back to front depending on culture); this prepares them for the skill of reading from left to right.  It also develops valuable pincher grasp skills for writing, although that also seems to be phasing out with the focus of typing and texting taking away from the need to practice handwriting in school.

Furthermore, children are able to flip through the pages, “jump forward and backward” to review what happened or will happen in the book, this builds comprehension skills. Tracking skills are developed while adults model following a line of text across the page with the finger.  They learn about the cover, spine and pages.  There are so many skills to be learned from reading a real book.  What are your thoughts regarding a shift from paper books to e-readers?

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Quoted in a Being Latino Article

Hello readers,

Just wanted to share an article written by Ana Maria Trujillo about how expectations affect Latino youth.  I’m quoted in the article.  Subscribe to the newsletter if you would like to learn more about the Latino culture in the U.S.  Here is the mission pulled from the website:   Being Latino is a communication platform designed to educate, entertain and connect all peoples across the global Latino spectrum.  Our aim is to break down barriers and foster unity and empowerment through informative, thought-provoking dialogue and exchanging of ideas.  Being Latino seeks to give a unified voice to the multitude of communities that identify with the multidimensional culture that is Latino.

http://www.beinglatino.us/comunidad/how-low-expectations-title-coming/

 

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Buell ECE Leadership Program

Several years ago, I decided that it was time to further my career by enrolling in a Master’s Degree program.  I had spent my post-Bachelor years in the human services field; however the focus always was on children and families.  As a matter of fact, my lifelong passion had been children and families; however, I had a specific interest for English Language Learners and the importance of maintaining individual home languages.  Nonetheless, I was at a complete loss for what type of post graduate degree I should aim for.

I knew that I wanted to help advocate for this particular community, but I had no idea what career paths were available to take.  I contemplated getting a Master’s in Bilingual Education but that never seemed to come to fruition.  As I continued my work with children and families, I started to notice a large portion of culturally insensitive practices continuing to occur in the preschool classroom.  Oftentimes these occurrences led to unnecessary IEPs and/or inappropriate goals placed on IEPs.  This led me to consider a Master’s degree in Special Ed, yet I was unaware how this would allow for a specific concentration on ELLs, nor could I imagine what path I would embark on after receiving this degree.

I continued exploring different options for obtaining an MA, that would really allow for individualization for my passion.  Eventually the perfect program came along.  They were looking for candidates for the 1st year of the Buell Early Childhood Education Leadership Program.  I was encouraged to apply.   Again, I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure that I could embark on my desired career path from the resulting degree.

After tons of discussion with multiple mentors, I decided to go for it.  I applied, was called in for an interview and waited excruciatingly long for a response.  Unfortunately I was not accepted.  The following year, I was personally contacted with a request to reapply.  I did so begrudgingly, expecting another rejection.  Luckily this wasn’t the case.

I recall the first day, sitting in the familiar classroom setups that are so often trademarked by interactive classrooms to facilitate discussion and collaboration.  I was completely intimidated as we went round robin “telling about ourselves”.  By comparison, the breadth of knowledge all my fellow fellows (pun intended) seemed expansive.

As the year passed, and we discussed, debated and informed ourselves about the issues in the Early Childhood Field, I became more confident.  I found my voice.  I spent my year researching my passion which was centered on English Language Learners with Special Needs.  All the research culminated in a grant to develop a Toolkit for Families going through the IFSP/IEP process.  In short, I built a strong foundation that would propel me for the next stages in my career.

In the years since then, my tie to the Buell community has served me well.  Since the first year that I applied, 97 Buell Fellows from all around Colorado have completed the program.  The beauty of the program is that your learning doesn’t stop the day you end the program.  You continue participating and advocating in a variety of ways in the ECE community.  You continue growing, discovering and evolving.  You find a new sense of purpose and passion.

I signed up for the Buell ECE Leadership Program with the sole intention of getting a MA.  I got that and so, so much more.

 (…and now you can too.   Buell is currently accepting applications.   The deadline is February 22, 2013.  Apply here)

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NCELA Webinar – Common Core State Standards and English Learners

Great Webinar with some nationally renowned individuals sharing how to meet the Common Core Standards with ELLs.  This should offer great strategies and tips.

<p><a href=’http://blog.colorincolorado.org/2013/01/04/ncela-webinar-common-core-state-standards-and-english-learners/’>NCELA Webinar – Common Core State Standards and English Learners</a>.</p>

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Melting Pot?

I’m not sure when English became the language of commerce.  Nor am I sure when the need arose to be English-speaking while working internationally.  Furthermore, I don’t know when English became the official world language (or at least when Americans starting toting it as such).   English, no doubt, is an important language to learn.  It has become one of those languages that spans international business and trade. 

My roots (and my heart) are in the classroom with the children who come to school excited to learn every day.  Currently I work in an international curriculum design company.  I have always been an advocate for maintaining home language, regardless of where you are or where you come from.  However, as my work community has expanded, I have come to realize that the threat to languages other than English is not just an American problem.  

Every so often, I have come across an article highlighting a newly extinct language that was preceded by the death of the last known speaker.   I mourn those losses deeply.   Culture is so inextricably linked to language that once a language is lost, undeniably the culture is as well.  There is so much richness, history and anthropological knowledge in each lost language, that the world will never be the same.   The death of a language is equivalent in my opinion to the extinction of a species.  

I came across this article today “Namibia: English Not a Threat to Indigenous Languages”.  I felt the writer’s passion and concern for the imminent loss of indigenous languages and cultures through the adoption of English and the desire to feel more American.  

It seems as though, this low sense of worth about your language eventually becomes a type of oppression.  Who says that the way Americans live is the ideal?  We rank 11th in life satisfaction.  We aren’t even in the top ranking educational systems in the world, and haven’t been there for 20 years.    In 2010, we ranked 37th in health care.   However, we can boast that we are in the top rankings for the countries with the least amount of languages spoken by their population.   Woohoo?  

I won’t get into all the details surrounding the benefits of multilingualism (subscribe to my blog if you would like to learn).  However the benefits clearly outweigh the risk.  I know America is the melting pot, but I always envision a rich mixture of all the different cultures we represent.  Instead we have people diving into the melting pot and coming out looking just like the first one who went in.               

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