Chores…or being more responsiball!

With all the focus on the academic curriculum today, I salute the teachers that continue to assign and expect students to do simple classroom chores. Dr. Robert Brooks did research on school memories and found that most of our school memories are not about whether we got an A or a B on a test, but rather about the service duties we did in the classroom. Being a line leader, watering plants, taking a note to the office to name just a few give students a sense of responsibility, a task that needs to be initiated, sustained and completed. I can’t help but wonder if more services duties were available throughout a school day, if students attitude and activity level would improve. Sometimes to reach my toughest students I ask them if they will help me with a problem such as fixing a toy, carrying items etc. Rarely am I turned down, and even the most oppositional child will rise to the occasion to help this old lady. I worked with a teacher once that had the chores last 2 weeks. She believed that 2 students should be assigned to the same chore, share the work, materials and responsibility. Kids loved it because they had a buddy to share with (don’t you remember enjoying some time with a classmate that was less structured? I personally would always volunteer to clap the erasers if Colleen was the other student! She and I would chat away as we worked in the yellow chalk dust outside the classroom window. One morning when I was in the classroom prior to school starting the phone rang, the teacher took the call, hung up and laughingly said “That was Sarah’s mother, Sarah is going to be out with the chicken pox this week and wanted her mom to call so Katy knows she’ll have to water the plants alone for the week”. As I remember it, I still am amazed that a six or seven-year old would be that committed to her job and her classmate. Sometimes I use chores as part of my interventions, for movement breaks, executive skill practice and fine motor enhancement. So if you are a teacher already doing chores, keep it up…it builds character for your youngsters and if you are not, consider revisiting this idea to engage, encourage and create a sense of  service duties for your classroom community. As I was looking through some writing samples today (they were persuasion letters written by 1st graders), there was one child trying to convince her parents to get a dog. She talked about walking it, feeding it, playing with it and brushing it. There was one sentence that hit my funny bone. The sentence summarized the title of this blog…”I want to be more responsiball”. And isn’t that one of the most important traits that a student needs to succeed?

Strapping kids in!

Eric Jensen’s book Teaching with the Brain in Mind says that the average 2 year old has spent over 500 hours strapped in a car seat! In 1960 the average 2 year old spent just about 200 hours in a car… When I read this, I immediately went back to 1960 (I was just 5 years old).  I thought the backseat of my Dad’s Plymouth was my playroom. Granted there were no seatbelts and I would kneel on the seat gazing out the back window watching the sites go by. Sometimes I’d snuggle up with one of Aunt Ina’s afghans (she must have made a thousand, as we had one in every room of the house!) and nap for the ride up north. Often Barbie and Ken were my playmates as I kneeled on the floor and danced them around the back seat. I’m not saying that travel should revert back to the old days. I’m posting this because I feel strongly that 500 hours of being strapped in needs to be counteracted by movement, outdoor play and gross motor activity.  If you are a parent, aunt, grandparent or caregiver, take the challenge to counteract this sedentary behavior. If the child is an infant, massage their legs, arms, roll them and orient them to the fun that tummy time can bring!  If they are mobile, have them walk, crawl, roll, tumble or squat. Foster their imaginations by walking like animals, climbing mountains of couch cushions or ascending the steps of a kid size slide. Another point to consider is that car seats or being strapped in doesn’t end at two. How many more hours in the car of going to piano lessons, play group or what have you are children held captive.  I want kids safe but I also feel that if we can combat the effects of strapping in, then our kids will be more likely to be active and enjoy their body and all it can do!

Child held in a car seat by a five point harness

Child held in a car seat by a five point harness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Opening Limbic Systems or Catch that Kid and Reel Them In!

Fishing reel

Fishing reel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

—”Attention comes last, your brain will look at relevance and then attend….”  Martha Burns

It struck me yesterday how tired I was at the end of the day and as I reviewed how many students I connected with, I realized that I was opening limbic systems all day long. As the quote states… this is the way to attention and focus.  As therapists, teachers or parents we attempt to engage children in focusing and attending. Many of us intuitively attempt to connect with our students through inroads that we think will engage them in our tasks. “Oh Sam you are going to like this activity today, we will be driving our letters on this rope road with matchbox cars”. “What’s your favorite animal Charles, lets pretend to walk like that bear”, Alexa, I know you like history, why don’t we practice your typing skills as you copy this paragraph on the Incas?”From doing that, we create the bridge of social connection which in reality will be relevant to the child and therefore the attention will come. Unfortunately many classrooms today are filled to the brim with students. Teachers are often overworked and overwhelmed. Do all teachers get a chance nowadays to connect with each child everyday? We all have our moments of automatic pilot, but now knowing this tidbit about the brain and attention that comes from opening that limbic system,  my plan is that I’m going to bait my hook and go fishing! Here are some simple tips to gain information about your kids. If handwriting is the goal, do a quick-write where kids practice list making based on your questions. What is your favorite ice cream flavor? What do you want to be when you grow up?  If you had to stay home what would you be doing today? You end up with your writing sample but you also get the big fish of limbic system information! Think of yourself in a social situation where you don’t know someone, you are more apt to chat with people about your interests because that helps keep that connection. We know school work isn’t of interest to all kids, now your challenge is to engage them by making some kind to connection to their limbic systems! Get out your pole, know what bait you’re using and go catch a child in learning!

Being in the Moment

Aberdeen Library Snapshot Day 2012--A preschoo...

Aberdeen Library Snapshot Day 2012–A preschooler explores color vision during block play at Family Storytime. (Photo credit: Timberland Regional Library)

Yesterday was one of those days when I truly felt like a therapist. I was working with 3 and 4 year olds in their preschool. We were spontaneously playing with blocks. A structure was put up 2ft by 3ft with an opening in the middle. When I asked them to tell me about it I was told it was a TV. Two boys brandishing 8 inch long blocks pretended to play video games on the “TV”. It hit me at that moment that they truly were playing from their perspective and relishing in generalizing knowledge of activities they enjoyed. I would have never nor would have ever thought of this scenario! From a tutoring point of  view I encouraged them to pretend to be the characters in the video game and crawl into the “TV”. That is all it took and I watched as they angled their lithe little bodies into the mock TV. We then gathered a crowd of others who also liked the idea of being on TV and proceeded to enter through the block built TV. Sometimes it was knocked down, but quickly patched together. I broke into an off tune song “The Ants go Marching into the TV” and all took turns, adjusted their movements and experimenting with different approaches independently. From that, a group started trying to walk on flat blocks and we began to create a long balance beam. Those who were true pioneers of the activity decided to make it more challenging having others step over larger blocks on top of the balance beam. As a therapist, I was witnessing play in its own spontaneous, kid directed and developmentally appropriate way. Mind you… they included me, looking for reassurance, facilitation and kudos for a job well done. I thank them for that and I am grateful that I was able to witness the learning that occured.

Free book for 3 year olds…download it now!!

One thing I’m always talking about is developmental appropriateness. Many of my colleagues agree that we are seeing kids that are being asked to do tasks and activities well beyond their developmental level. Often coupled with that are developmentally appropriate activities that are left by the wayside in lieu to promoting reading and writing.  This book is written by a doctor and appears to be not only a book to read to a child but also offers a wonderful developmental milestone guide for caregivers that read it to the child. Enjoy!

Organized Play or Beware of Children with Big Sticks!

Organized Play or Beware of Children with Big Sticks!.

Organized Play or Beware of Children with Big Sticks!

I love this picture and would love a little background on what is going on.  Unfortunately in most of the schools I work at, this would be considered dangerous and therefore not allowed. I would imagine kids with the sticks would be the leaders just by having the sticks in hand!  Ha! Life on the playground especially during a school day should be a time to play, let off some steam, chill out and socialize. Also there usually is a sub-culture of who is the leader, the follower, the organizer, the negotiator, the caregiver? (sounds like a group of co-workers in the lunchroom, doesn’t it?) If adults try to organize the play, it no longer becomes play.  I know its a trust thing and there may be boundaries crossed that cause the need an adult to guide and facilitate proper play rules. I believe the loss of recess isn’t helping the physical needs of all parties to move their bodies.  But I can’t help but wonder if the loss of recesses sacrifices the critical social, negotiation and cooperative skills that occur on that playground.  Here’s the weekly challenge, if you have access to a child, take them to a playground during off hours, let them explore, master the equipment and enjoy it. By doing that, they then may be better able to do the social piece and become part of the whole experience of recess play. If you are a staff monitoring recess, step back, observe and let play occur in its natural, spontaneous form. (Just don’t get hit with a stick!)

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