Thursday, February 25, 2010

And All I Do Is Teach Them How To Share...

If you feel like getting a little upset, check out Geralynn's recent post at Empowered by Play:

And here I am, thinking I'm preparing kids for kindergarten. Okay, forgive my language, but really---What the Hell?

I won't go on forever about No Child Left Unabused, but I have to say that this madness (yes, madness, crazy fever sickness!) has got the worst of our country, the worst of our politicians and is providing the absolute worst for our children.

November 2011 will be my 20th year working with young children. When I took my first job as a teacher's aide in '91, the director didn't even bother to check my references. As years passed, I worked as a lead teacher (yes, even without my ECE I was still allowed to sculpt young minds), had my own preschool, and was a nanny for several families. I do this work not just because I love kids, but also because I believe in the moral calling of my work: to help children grow up to be future citizens of a world I would want to live in. Empowering children at this age is important to me because this provides a strong foundation for learning in the later years and gives them tools they can use well into adulthood.

I am glad, grateful, that there is a focus on finding qualified preschool teachers and caregivers for children--truly, I am. Yet it seems that this has been taken to an extreme; the push for everyone to have their bachelor's degree seems a bit dangerous to me. It's not that having a degree in Early Childhood Ed is bad by any means, but it's the idea that everyone learns in the same way that disturbs me.

Along with creating a uniform standard of education, this Race to the Top program the Obama Administration endorses carries with it many intrinsic flaws. For the start, consider the title: a Race to the top. Um, isn't this what many former yuppies freaked out on in the 1990's, when they realized that they weren't any happier racing to the top than they were before they got there? For me, I'm thinking that my Kiddo doesn't need to be The Top at age five. (You can read some of the absolutely absurd criteria at the above link.) That's a heck of a lot of pressure on kids.

And then, once again, there's the whole idea that making teachers jump through hoops and compete for funding (via state mandates) will help kids learn. Aside from being--at best--developmentally totally inappropriate, this is just going to be a new layer of hell for teachers and families both. The misguided thinking which informs this sort of program is almost a weirder, scarier version of's almost like they took off last season's jeans and packed elementary education in a newer, showier model which promises to give you a sleeker physique---but it's really riding up in all the wrong places.

What if we all decided enough was enough? Said 'screw you' to the standardized tests (which don't prove a damn thing about how children learn) and created homeschool pools? What if so many of us said No Child Of Mine is Going to Suffer Greatly at the hands of policy makers who---dare I say it--know nothing of how children learn. The evidence is clear and abundant that this sort of education doesn't make kids smarter but creates more problems for teachers and their students.

And it's a trickle-down process, because for the first time in my life, I find everyone asking me for my credentials. I'm not offended at all, but people need to understand that just as there are people with a talent for one calling or another in the professional world, so goes it with kids. I've known several people in my lifetime who had their ECEs and should never have been working with children. One must be temperamentally suited to the work, one must genuinely like children and want to develop relationships with them. One must be personally invested in helping children to work through their challenges, sometimes even in ways that we don't necessarily feel are right for us, but which work for the children through their own initiation. One must be able to put one's agenda aside and 'read the room' as I like to say, to see what the children are needing in the moment. All of these skills are learned over time--you can't buy this at a college or university: it's a gift.

This isn't to toot my own horn, but to say that there are plenty of us who have had less opportunities earlier in life and have turned them into so much more. That, in and of itself, is the American Dream. Our country simply doesn't have the structure to create an early childhood ed system that can serve every single child out there with degree-qualified teachers. We don't have the funding and frankly, it just isn't going to happen anytime soon. Family care providers are the backbone of childcare in this country; we offer prices more working families can afford and yes, while some providers end up in the papers as simply horrible, there are lots of very gifted and talented providers who are doing a great job helping children to be truly kindergarten-ready.

So enough, Mr. President. Our country isn't going to get any better by stealing recess and pushing our kids to achieve ever more lofty goals. Will this impact the teen suicide rate? Will the age of the average drop-out be pushed even lower, because kids are so stressed they just quit? If Washington wants to make education better, perhaps they need to start by asking the educators first. Perhaps we need to mandate that every student in public school has at least two recess breaks a day, in order to make learning actually stick. Labor laws require that workers in this country are at least allowed two ten minute breaks and a lunch. Think about it.

As for me, mmmm...that homeschool option is looking mighty tasty.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Listening Ears, Changing Mind...

...sounds a little like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and I guess that's apropos, considering how much parenting feels like some sort of martial arts discipline. I try to ground my own actions with my son more in observation than action itself, and watch-and-listen becomes an instrumental tool in finding the best solution for everyone.

Only, sometimes, Mama's not so quick on the uptake. And when the "a-ha!" moment happens, it's as if the answer was so clear as to be right in front of me.

As some of you know, we have a preschool here in our home. Our Kiddo is nearly three now and while he likes to have playmates over to spend the morning, he's really not keen on our Morning Gathering. I know enough to understand what he might not like about it: I think he equates it with my transition from Mama to Teacher. And frankly, he's been a bit overt about letting me know; for days he's been talking about "Don't want to go to Morning Gathering" and all I've been hearing is my own question "How do I help to include him in a positive way?"

If you think I'm not listening to him, well, you're halfway right. As a teacher, my limits are pretty clear; my group is only asked to come together three or four times during the morning: at meals, cleanup, and Morning Gathering. It's safe to say that our activities at the Gathering are more structured, and it's also a chance for the children to have a little community, even if we are only singing about what our friends are wearing. This is the preschool part of preschool, in a way. That's not to say that our remaining times spent in free play and various activities aren't preschool, for they certainly are---all the sharing, self-regulation and skill-building that goes on are indeed work and learning for the children---but Gathering is the most adult-directed part of their day.

And it's also when I am touching base with other children. For my son, that might seem just a bit much on some days, when I've been too busy setting school up to play, or shooing him and his thousand instruments back into his room to clear the space. I imagine he feels a little evicted and demoted, and it's not ideal.

But Kiddo has some lovely qualities, and I guess he just understood that I needed more clarity. He thinks it comes through repetition. Even through last week's bout of croup, he'd randomly tell me "Don't want to go to morning gathering" as if to say "gee, get the message already". For a kid who isn't prone to "don't like" statements, he's been pretty clear.

Last night, I finally got the message. After he was asleep, Joe and I talked about altering our routine so that Kiddo comes to school after Morning Gathering. This isn't the best choice, ideally--I do run on the principle that kids need to follow the teacher's directions at school and coming to gathering is one of them. And I'm also a mom and know that he's going to have plenty of opportunities to do this in the coming years. The separation of school and home is still incredibly abstract for him, whereas the other children would experience this as a more concrete, distinct transition: "I got into my car at home and got out at school". I knew this was going to be a challenge, and all things considered, Kiddo's done well. He's remarkably willing to share the toys and help other kids: in fact, he genuinely likes them. He just is trying to suss out how to enjoy them even as his Mama is paying lots of attention to them and less-than-usual to him.

You might be laughing right now. He's got a pretty cushy life, I know. But if I can be the Listening, Observing, Strategizing Parent, all the better, right? So I'm going to let him lead on this for a week or two and see how it goes. Maybe he'll want to come back for this part of the day, maybe he'll miss it. Or maybe I'll have a different challenge when Joe goes back to work. Who knows? But I believe that I do have the chance to listen to his needs and support them in a positive way, and this usually helps children resolve some of their problems on their own.

So, until it's resolved, I'm going to cross my fingers...and keep listening.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Too Much Mean

This afternoon, once preschool closed down, we headed to DHS. For those of you fortunate enough not to know, DHS is not the name of a pub--it's the Department of Health Services. And we were applying to get Kiddo insured.

Although we can't afford the continuance coverage offered to us there's no way we can apply. Well, we could, but there's 52,000+ adult applicants already waiting for the lottery system to pick them. So we adults cruise along without insurance, just taking extra care to stay healthy. Joe got a Neti pot, at long last, to keep sinus troubles at bay. He's liking it. I'm washing my hands a lot and feeling thankful for the years of illnesses past that have now made me immune to most anything a kid can smear on me in snot form.

But really, 52,000 people, at least, waiting for health coverage? And I'm sure that some of them are far worse off than I am. AND that huge 39% increase in insurance premiums in California, in a crap economy? C'mon! Somebody's gotta fix this!!!

The world has just felt a little mean these days. It's not just faceless corporations (oh, yeah, nice going to the guys at AIG who just earmarked another $100 million for--you guessed it!--bonuses!!! Ka-ching!), or the horrible disaster in Haiti, it's also just been out and about. At a supposedly kid-friendly cafe last week, it was more meanness, but worse: it was mommies being mean.

In my head, the title to that post would have read something like "And what fresh hell is this?" Besides the dismal service--Kiddo's bagel was left in the toaster to cool until is was rock hard and then only given to me because I asked for it--three of the few mothers there were appalling. After bragging about her kid's expensive Montessori school, one mother of a maybe-two-at-the-most toddler saw her daughter take a toy from another little person. Mom forcefully ripped the toy out of her child's hand and said angrily "We don't take things from people!" Later, when her child said they needed a toy, she sneeringly corrected, "No, you don't need the toy, you want the toy." and then turned to her adult friends, explaining that she was trying to teach this concept to her teeny little kid. Besides being sarcastic and developmentally inappropriate, this sort of turn of words always makes the adult speaking them seem very selfish, shallow, nasty and mean. I hear this self-righteous correction every season or so and really want to sit that person down for a little chat.

I know if someone I loved spoke that way to me, they'd get the cross-eyed "Oh, you so can't be serious, right?" look of mingled disgust and pity. Why do people talk to their kids this way? (I know, I know...more than you can possibly imagine.) In a separate area, two mothers ignored their children to chat while the five children were in various stages of upset; the older ones were dealing with what I like to call 'property issues' (taking turns with toys), the wee ones were wanting to roam beyond the closed door of the room and the middling was getting into some dangerous situations because he was really too young to be exploring the space. I did rescue him a couple times, to the point that another patron asked how old he was, assuming he was my son. Later, one mother actually used her Loud Mean Scary Voice to tell her 20 month old "You stop!" because her kid was still sad that she couldn't go out. Ugh. Fresh hell indeed.

It just seems like there's so much meanness right now. Is this what we've come to? Some days I feel like buying the side of a building and painting in huge letters something along the lines of "The Shit May Be Hitting the Fan, the World May be Crumbling, Still: BE NICE TO YOUR KIDS! They will remember this." I know that there are a lot of people in a bad spot right now. Many are feeling upset and are facing things they never dreamed of facing. I get it. But I've also got to say, the mothers at DHS were far nicer to their children, even the mom whose 16 month old daughter screamed her head off for 45 minutes--that mother looked beleaguered and exhausted and she never once yelled, threatened, or said one nasty thing to her kid. So, then again, circumstance isn't everything.

Folks, this is my plea for today: try to see yourself through your child's eyes. Kind of the way we wish the powers of bureaucracy (and insurance companies) could see themselves through the eyes of the consumer-- so it is with our kids. Are you a big, faceless uncaring corporation, or a friendly, helping hand? I think the prevailing attitude at DHS was one of silent accord: we're all in this together, so why have an attitude? Yes it sucks, but getting ourselves into a snit isn't going to make things any better. So let's remember, no matter who's screwed your family over, let's not screw our own families over. Be kind to our kids. We really don't need any more mean.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

5 Question Saturday

(I am stealing from my sister Amanda because it's fun.)

1. Would you ever vacation alone? Oh, heck yeah! But then I would get bored because I love my friends and family.

2. Do you go the speed limit? No. I walk way too slowly. I'm guessing three miles an hour or so.

3. Why did you start blogging/following blogs? Because I'm a writer and when I wasn't working, I needed some way to feel like I was expressing myself and all those big words just made my kiddo confused.

4. Where do you shop for yourself? Peets, Pastaworks, Belmont Station and the like. I love food. Clothes shopping never feels like it's for ME. Well, rarely.

5. What was the song you danced your first dance at your wedding? Well, since we got married at Belmont Station's Biercafe, we never had a wedding dance. But we did have a great bottle of Pere Noel for our toast! And we dance like fools at home.:)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Farewell Forums! : or How to Post a Question for a Forum

Consider it a parting gift. Really.

Over the last weeks, I've taken a hiatus from MomForumLand. No, the site's not called that, but I think this will make a nice pseudonym. I like helping other parents, but not when they just don't want to be helped. And while I haven't posted for a while, I occasionally read the digest updates that arrive in the email.

Yesterday, one mother's post caught my attention. It wasn't for the exemplary spelling or grammar--both were a train wreck. No, it was the nasty, abusive way the woman described her in-laws, her husband, just about everyone. And the bejeweled crown on the dungheap? Her insistence on "positive responses only". Oh, my.

Human curiosity is a silly thing, and I had to check her post again today. Up at the top, her comment to the folks kind enough to respond: "Enough crap answers".

Wow! What a positive person! Don'tcha just want to get to know this lady?!

(Now, if for some weird reason you are that lady, I just have to say that honey, you did all this to yourself.)

I scrolled down to find that everyone gave her concrete, solution-oriented suggestions. Every person was very positive, even the one who joked that "if I couldn't trust my husband with my kid, I'd get a divorce". Although I think that maybe she wasn't joking, and it's still good advice. I know that some of these ladies are nice, gray-haired grannies who are a tad too decent to call this gal out. But I had no problem politely giving her my two cents, one last "crap answer" for her to disregard. And she will.

Forums have their place. Let's all be clear on this. Here's a quick and dirty guide to using forums effectively:

Forums should not be about getting medical advice on whatever weird substance is gushing forth from your whatever. That, my friend, is an ER visit or a doctor's office call. Even the reference desk at the library will probably be more helpful. And no, don't call them. Call the county clinic, or the advice nurse. Chances are, if you've never seen it come out of your body, they're going to want to see it under a microscope.

Forums have indexes. That is, you can go back to the subject which is of concern to you and see what other people have suggested. This is a great resource and I hate to say it, but unless it's one of those mystery diseases (see above), another parent has probably gone through it before. You are not unique, your child isn't the first to struggle with toileting, be a picky eater, wake up in the middle of the night repeatedly, put weird stuff in their mouth, be rude, have friends you wish they didn't have, hate baths, get a diaper rash, etc, etc, etc. Use the index. That's what it's there for.

Forums are an audience. This can be helpful when you are genuinely seeking support and have a concrete question which doesn't involve making everyone else the villain and yourself the victim. Actively seeking out resources is great, like, say, asking which dentist in your area is great with kids. Other issues, well, consider the index. Or consider if you need an audience for your problems. Then get off the virtual couch and pay for your therapy like the rest of us.

Forums only know what you tell us. I mean this very simply. We only know what you describe to us, and we read your tone. If you get mad because people are concerned by your negative tone in regard to your child or spouse, well, it might be worth re-reading your post. A lot of people post questions when they are angry and this hostility is very readable.

Forums are just that: forums. When you throw your question into the ring, take into account that Everyone In The World can read it and that we all have an opinion. That said, also take into account that The World is filled with a huge spectrum of people with differing degrees of education and levels of function. I've regularly seen acts of child abuse suggested as suitable discipline by people who just didn't know, or care, better. Forums are free advice and one generally gets what one pays for.

Posting on Forums to your Best Advantage isn't all that hard. Here are some easy tips:
Keep it simple. State the question as if you are submitting it to a "Most Concise Question" contest and give the facts. Fact: "My son keeps messing his pants every day after preschool. Does anyone have any experience with this, and what worked for you?"

Keep it real. By this, I mean keep your opinions (which are not facts) about the people involved to yourself. "My mother is so mean, she has all this time in the world and she won't watch my kid" is only going to get you a lot of "Well, she had her kids and now you have yours. Don't expect it." Instead of a whiny post, trying something more along the lines of "I'd like to help my child develop a good relationship with my mom, but she seems uninterested in watching the kiddo. Does anyone have any suggestions for making some meaningful connections?" This gives your audience a great jumping off point and clearly describes what grandma's abilities and limitations are. This way, you don't get a stack of answers suggesting overnights with popcorn and a movie at grandma's house.

Keep yourself likable. That is, we only know you from what you tell us. If you are like Crap Answer Woman and post a diatribe on why everyone in your world sucks, we are just going to think that you suck. If you get holier-than-thou about how great a parent you are and how you've tried everything but your child/spouse/friend/friend's daughter/daughter's friend/daughter's friend's mom is just the devil incarnate and it's all their fault, well---no one's going to like you very much. If instead you ask a reasonable question: "I've noticed my daughter coming home from her friend's house with lots of makeup on. We don't allow makeup on our kids until they are 65 years old here at our place. Does anyone have experience with approaching another parent on a similar situation?" Yes, people will know you are joking when you say 65, and by not talking trash about that other mom, even if she does look like a streetwalker, you are going to get posts that reflect your query, not your attitude.

Keep yourself intelligible. I can't emphasize this enough. If I can't read it, if it has ellipses all over the place in lieu of punctuation, if you are using the 'young language' of texting (no, "U" is not a replacement for "you"), you won't be catching the people you want answering your question: intelligent, educated people. If you are rambling in a circular fashion and don't understand the importance of the paragraph, my friend, all might be lost. If you need to, type it as a Word document and use your spelling/grammar check and then paste it in. I'm an idiot on the computer and even I can do this. So can you, too. And trust those little red lines. They aren't out to get you: they're there to correct you.

And here's my question to all of you: what else makes a good question? I welcome comments. Except from Crap Answer Woman. I already got yours.