Making your voice heard this year is critical. There are active attempts to limit access to safe voting and to suppress voting by Black and Brown voters, in particular, as is common in our great nation. Not one of us is going to get the $100,000 treatment that the outgoing president received to fight COVID-19, so make a plan to vote by mail in our General Election, this November 3, 2020. Here’s how:
Educator and activist Edissa Nicolás-Huntsman works to ensure democracy and has voted by mail since she lived overseas two decades ago. She’s safe at home, social distancing and exercising her right to vote.
I’m writing to day to share this important and beneficial resource for all of our families during COVID-19. Our youth are all experiencing the loss of crucial socialization with their peers; students of all ages are struggling with online learning and engagement with new technologies without previous support systems; and parents and families are grappling with the challenges of balancing work, study, community and free time with the use of technology such as video games, tablets, computers, TVs and other devices. In short, we’re inundated with electronic media.
As part of our ongoing discussion of healing our own ailments, it’s time to consider the ways we invest in our well-being. As the old adage say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I believe it. Whether it’s PTSD, a physical injury or an emotional trigger point, the more an element of pain is activated in our bodies, minds or psyches, the more we are primed for recurring illness. That’s the law of the land. In a sense, our pain receptors, physical nerves, emotional buttons and hyper vigilance to trauma get atrophied in the “on” position.
In the same way that we cannot heal a sprained ankle by running on it, we cannot cure ourselves if we continually reactivate our pain receptors. Unfortunately, by design, our pain receptors are more easily activated than our joy and happiness and positivity receptors owing to our wiring that enables our auto-responsive defense mechanisms. In other words, we are built to feel pain quickly and easily so we can get out of the fire fast, with the least amount of damage. This generally works great most of the time. But, many of us unconsciously keep the fire burning when we don’t need it, and constantly insert a hand in it to see if it’s still hot. You may laugh even if you’ve done it yourself.
Maintaining a strong physical, mental or emotional boundary is akin to dousing the fire that threatens to consume everything in your path. So why are so many of conditioned to believe we have no right to personal boundaries? This is a rather important question to explore with a mental health practitioner if possible. And, even if counseling is not possible for you in this moment, I give you full permission to put up health barriers that protect and insulate your emotional, physical and mental health from any and all forms of disease, harm and dangers, including all of the following.
Learn to create, protect and enforce Your Personal Boundaries in all these areas:
Toxic people: relatives, family, friends, coworkers and strangers
Physical threats: aggression, micro aggression, trauma, violence, sexual assault and abuse from people or animals or other entities
Predation: energy vampires, financial drains, sabotage, time waste and unreciprocated/one-way investments that deplete your resources and ability to thrive
Personal harm: activities, foods, sounds, media, relationships or areas that trigger negative sensations, fatigue or the release of stress hormones
Of course, there are many ways to enforce our personal space to protect our loved ones from injury. Mindfulness, awareness and contemplation are important tools for discerning where the fires are, so that we can give them our loving attention. Just as you wouldn’t allow a child to run in front of a car, you get to erect a beautiful boundary around yourself that reduces any future harm and pain, so you can concentrate on healing past situations. Once you you are able to protect your boundaries as part of your routine self-care, you can look to remedies like tea, medication, therapy or Reiki to bring your equilibrium into a normal range.
Photo by Ashton Huntsman for Living Artist Project
Early childhood education at home in the time of social distancing can be restricting and confining, however it does not close off opportunities to provide your students with enriching and vital educational opportunities. There are many resources available to parents looking for academic activities for their preschool age children to engage in. Though some are more time consuming for the parent in terms of setup and materials, there are many activities that can get your student to work quickly and require little of the parent’s time. The key to a solid activity is one that engages the student’s motor skills and hand eye coordination while also laying the foundation for future academic lessons. For example, drawing letters or numbers, coloring shapes, and cutting and pasting, when combined these activities activate the most important elements in the education of a preschool age child.
There are a few examples here that are great activities for students of this age. There are other less academic activities that are in some cases more important and engaging while also providing vital foundational life skills for the student. Allow daily tasks around the house to become learning opportunities for everyday life skills. Children have a tendency to mimic the routines performed everyday by adults. Utilize this need in your student for learning from watching to learning by doing. Turn daily chores into a fun way of taking care of the house and students will not only learn how to complete these tasks, they will also associate these tasks with positive memories and experiences. Though it may take more time, allow the student the extra time for sweeping the floor, or for meal prep, or making the bed. Though these seem like small tasks and the time needed for a preschool aged student to accomplish them may seem wasted, these learning moments are invaluable to the growth and development of the student.
When cooking allow the student to use cleaning and cooking utensils that fit into a child’s hand. This provides an opportunity for the student to accomplish real work on a smaller scale and will boost the student’s confidence and give them real experience and solid groundwork for advancement in the skill. Working with food that is healthy and fresh provides an opportunity to teach the student about diet and the process and place for food in the health cycle. Through their experience in the cooking process students are working with numbers and math whenever they are using a measuring cup or getting the right number of ingredients. During a cooking activity students are introduced to science and chemistry in the form of the transformational process between ingredients to meal, as well as the chemical change that takes place when cooking.
There are natural ways in which the student learns and explores their world that facilitate the development of mental faculties that are incredibly important but can be difficult to access from the position of teacher or parent. These imaginative capabilities are utilized and sharpened whenever the student is at play with their imagination. When they are in the play zone, for example playing with a bucket of toys and talking or singing, the student is working through problems or scenarios that the adult mind does not consider, but with which the mind of the child must engage in order to make sense of the world in relation to their perception and experiences up to this point. Though the problem or scenario be imagined, the work that the mind of the child is doing to solve the imaginary problem is concrete and necessary for the healthy development of the mind.
August is here and with it arrives back to school time. With no clear guidance or plan from leaders and government and no end to the pandemic in sight, parents and teachers alike are wondering what exactly school is going to look like for their children and students. Fear and confusion is natural in times like these, especially with teacher unions threatening to strike, one way to combat this chaotic situation is to take matters into your own hands. You can turn every moment of everyday into a learning experience for you and your student.
Learners in early childhood education settings are learning basic life skills and foundational elements of academic concepts. Life skill learning can be implemented through daily chore activities, such as having your child clean up a messy playroom. Academics can be emphasized by having the student count and name each item as they take it from the floor and return it to its proper place. Learning and reciting household rules, brushing teeth, combing hair, and clearing the table can all be educational and a part of the everyday routine for the student.
On the topic of routine, ensure that a daily time is set for starting the day, and that the morning routine is completed in a similar manner each day as to help with the memorization and learning process taking place in the growing student in early childhood education. All of this should be interspersed with rest, breaks, or nap time in order to allow for periods of relaxation throughout the day.
The basics of academic concepts should be reinforced during the day, and these can be made into fun tasks or games that emphasize learning. For example, the alphabet can be learned through locating items in the house that start with each letter. Story time can become learning time when students are asked certain questions that call upon the student’s memory and analysis of the story that they just heard. Students should practice writing their name, the letters of the alphabet and as many numbers as possible in preparation for the next grade level. Students should try to write the names of objects that they drew or colored and write the names of shapes and colors. A beneficial daily practice includes taking turns speaking, and speaking in complete sentences as well as following instructions. As much as possible try to incorporate motor function skills in a daily routine that includes cutting and gluing in the exploration of the topics above. For example, a sheet of paper with the shapes printed on it and within each shape the name of a different color. Have the student identify the correct color that each shape should be and color in that shape with its designated color. Then have the student cut the shape out and glue it onto a lined sheet of paper and beside them write the name of the shape and its color.
These activities should be extended out to include learning the different forms of the weather, the days of the week, the months of the year, the seasons, identifying different animals, usually beginning with domesticated, and the continents, and really any aspects of the physical and natural world that you feel the student is capable of identifying. Physical activity is also important, so getting outside and running, climbing, jumping, playing a sport, cycling, even early exposure to self defense are all healthy and beneficial to the growth and education in these early stages of the student’s development.
These are all ways in which education can be implemented and accessed in a very loose and informal manner, that parents can use on a day to day basis to enrich and lay critical foundational structures in place for their child’s education. However there are more formally planned and structured activities that can also be utilized in a home setting, which will be explored further in Part 8 next week.
As we near what would be the start of the school year in the new reality of coronavirus and the possibility in some states of another quarantine, more and more school districts will be opting for a distance learning education model for the first few months at least. Though difficult, students older than 8 who have access to the technology, will encounter similar curriculum and assignments that they would have had in a in class setting. But what about students in early childhood education age groups? How can distance learning be effective for preschool or daycare aged students? What can parents do to ensure that their younger students still have the most effective learning environment possible in this unique situation?
The first thing to know is that children under 6 learn best through play. This is the natural way that all children learn. Through exploration of their environment and hands on experience, children in this age group are introduced to the fundamentals of the world around them. Crucial to the development at this stage in the child’s education is the opportunity to learn from play.
This can be made more complicated than it need be, but really everything a child does during their day is an opportunity to learn from their experiences. Playing with toys like blocks in the form of shapes teaches young students the differences between the shapes, and what shapes can be stacked and which shapes do not fit together. They learn about momentum and instability when stacking blocks too high. On the playground they learn that climbing to the top of the jungle gym is easier using the steps rather than the slide. Interacting with other children teaches them how to take turns and share and to communicate. The magnetic alphabet teaches students to differentiate between upper and lowercase and to recognize letters.
As a parent, providing the tools for your child to learn during this time does not have to be expensive or complicated. Pebbles, sticks, leaves, books, toys, water, can all become valuable tools in the early education of a child. One example is to write a number on a piece of paper and have the child hold up the amount of objects that match the number. The most important thing is that the activity be fun, because the students will learn something that you intend them to learn, and something that you were not expecting them to learn. Kids have shown higher abilities to retain information when the learning is centered around a fun activity.
It is also important to have some easy to use workbooks for math and writing, but it should not be the basis for their learning, because they are so young it is important that they associate learning with fun or interesting rather than boredom or force. The workbooks should be utilized in association with play. Let them decide how they work in it, where they want to start in the book, and how they want to interact with it.
Finally, it is suggested that students get outdoors as much as possible, and the distance learning scenario allows for more exploration than ever before. Take students to libraries, go to parks and playgrounds, if there is nature somewhere in walking distance allow students to explore it as often as possible. Everything that the young student experiences during this time in their life is a learning opportunity and easily enriched through play and exploration of new environments.
How can parents help their child understand and express their emotions in healthy and constructive ways? First by assigning a name to the emotion the child is feeling, and encouraging conversation about what they are feeling. With a vocabulary for emotions the child now has a tool for exploring and understanding their feelings. Second by giving children the chance to determine what they are feeling and what someone else may be feeling. Third by pointing out the variety of reactions to their feelings available to them, and this can be reinforced by the parent with their own experiences in dealing with their emotions in the form of stories that serve as examples for how to react to emotions and feelings. Fourth by utilizing friends and family as examples for the child to see different ways to react to emotions.
When naming emotions it is important to use a name that is easily understandable for the child. This can be done while watching kids television shows or movies, or reading children books. The child can point out what emotion the character is feeling and how they reacted to it. Also utilizing the actual events that are taking place in their lives as examples and teaching moments for the child to identify their own emotion. If they felt sad yesterday due to some event, talk to them about what they felt and why, and have them assign a name to it. These are the beginning steps of building their vocabulary around their feelings and connecting them to their experiences.
Communicating with the child on the possible responses available to them when experiencing emotions is vital to developing their understanding and their relationship to their feelings. The more that the child can be responsible for their own strategies for dealing with emotions the better. They should come up with how they will handle their feelings. Then parents should discuss with the child the positive and negative responses to emotions. When the child uses inappropriate expression when dealing with an emotion the parent should present healthy alternative strategies to the child that can help them with future similar situations. It is important that the child experience the negative response as a way of emphasizing why the positive response is preferred.
When children choose to talk about their feelings it is important that they be met with positivity and encouragement. Clear instruction as to what the child did right and what the child did wrong will encourage them to communicate about their feelings and feel comfortable coming to the parent for future discussions and development of their understanding. It is important that the time and space for these conversations be daily and predictable. During dinner, or game time, when the child is open to engagement on these types of topics. Throughout the day things will happen that provide topics for conversations surrounding emotions and feelings and every opportunity should be utilized to practice discussing how they felt about their day and how they should respond.
It is important that when the child is emotionally charged, that these conversations do not take place. The child should be calm and at ease when discussing their feelings and strategies for dealing with and responding to their emotions. They should associate these communications with parents as positive experiences, rather than as negative experiences attached to discipline for misbehaving. After the tantrum or emotionally charged situation, and the child is calm and ready to receive information in a positive form, the strategies above can be utilized to help the child analyze the situation, their emotions around it, and how they responded. Part 6 next week will center around emotional governance.
One of the key aspects of emotional intelligence is the ability to regulate one’s own emotions. Development of the understanding of language in the process of emotional maturation is vital to children in the early childhood educational setting. The evolution of the ability to communicate is directly connected to the progress of the emotional regulation ability. Once the child has developed the language with which to identify and describe emotions, the ability to assess effective methods of handling emotionally charged situations. The language connection to emotional awareness, emotional intelligence, and emotion regulation, is the point where culture intersects with practice. Different cultures have different ways in which emotion is processed, where emotion is felt, how emotion is felt, when emotion is felt, and to whom emotion is expressed. So it is critical that early childhood educational practices within a multicultural setting take into account the varying relationships to emotion that different cultures possess.
Socialization in early childhood educational settings is directly connected to the ability of a student to navigate relationships with peers and teachers, and is a signifier of the level of emotional competence the student demonstrates. When a child cannot regulate their emotions properly, or in accordance with societal norms, their judgment and decision making become compromised. One area where emotional regulation is important is in transitioning from one stage of life to another. In early childhood education a major milestone for the student is also an opportunity to assess which students can transition from preschool to kindergarten successfully. The successful transition is an indicator of the ability to regulate emotions, while a difficult transition may be an indicator that the student may need more support in the area of emotion regulation. However the goal should be to provide students with the tools necessary to have a successful transition to kindergarten, as this is directly correlated to the ability to access academic information.
The ability for adults to perform cognitive tasks is connected to their ability to regulate their emotions. This is true for children as well, as planning, memory, and attention are inhibited in the student unskilled in emotional regulation. The ability to be successful in the early academic setting is tied to this skill, lacking this, students are less able to be present for and retain the information being presented. Emotional regulation is also connected to behavioral regulation, and impacts the student’s ability to complete academic tasks and assignments.
So what does this all mean? The key takeaway is that students need to be able to respond instead of to react. A response requires forethought and planning, whereas a reaction can take place without thought and lead to undesired consequences. Once a student is equipped with the tools of forethought or emotional awareness, they can more readily attend to the various academic requirements that they may face for the rest of their lives. This is an example of the old saying, fix a big problem while it’s small. In this case while the student is small, if we can teach them to identify their emotions as well as the emotions of those around them, and then provide them with the tools for regulating their emotions, then that is one less obstacle in their path towards academic success.
Of the categories above: emotional awareness, behavioral awareness, and social awareness, all can be placed under the umbrella of self regulation, which will be the topic next week in part 5 of this ongoing series exploring early childhood education.
Psychiatry has a long history of being used to control those who present or behave in a way opposite to what is expected in mainstream society. Today, we have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5, which helps counselors and therapists identify psychological maladies. One of the main criticisms of this instrument is that its existence is based on eurocentric, patriarchal cultural norms and therefore, pathologizes any behaviors or beliefs that exist outside of those outlined in the manual.
This is harmful because it erases and marginalizes all patients that are children, female, do not present as “left-brained,” have social mores that are more communal than individual, and have intense emotional and physical sensations. This is compounded when those who have these traits are melanated and are treated as if they have a disability due to their genetic makeup. The use of medication such as Ritalin and Adderall to “control” children, more specifically Black children, is harmful if it doesn’t address actual brain imbalances.
It takes everyday work to be an ally and not lean on privilege. Here are a few ways you can help those who need it:
Do authentic work when providing services that were not asked for.
Remember that just because you can not see a person’s ailment, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Understand that an event or proclivity may not be distressing to you but it might be to another person due to culture, upbringing, and expectations.
Encourage and allow those who need assistance to speak for themselves, while honoring their concerns and requests. Do not change or influence what they want for your own benefit.
Provide adequate resources to allow those you are assisting to help themselves.
Last week I talked about the importance of emotional intelligence in early childhood education, this week I would like to focus on some strategies for teaching emotional intelligence. The first category I want to focus on is Identifying Emotions. This is in regards to the development of emotional awareness which is the capability to identify and comprehend our own emotions and actions as well as the emotions of others, along with the understanding of how our own emotions and actions affect ourselves and others, and how the emotions and actions of others affect ourselves.
One strategy to teach this skill to children in an early education setting is to show them a picture of someone displaying an emotion, and then have the students recreate this facial emotional representation on their own faces. Next, assign each student an emotion, and have them walk around the classroom displaying that emotion on their face while also identifying the emotions on the faces of their peers until they find someone who matches the face of the emotion they were assigned. This allows students to not only practice identifying the emotions of others, but also to become comfortable with identifying the spectrum of emotions and displaying those emotions themselves in a safe and fun environment.
Another strategy for identifying emotions are mood boards or emotion indicators. These come in various forms, but are visual cutouts, or small posters that the students decorate and can carry with them or leave on their desks. Each card has a picture of each emotion and the student can identify quickly what emotion they are currently feeling.
Identifying emotions can be reinforced through an activity that has the students draw four basic emotions on four separate pieces of paper. For example, sad, mad, happy, silly, and during various activities the students, when prompted, can hold up the emotion that they are feeling, for example during storytime. The students can display the emotion they are feeling during a particular moment in the story, rather than shouting out or talking with peers. This helps students to connect emotions to actions or ideas taking place in the story.
These are great for when students are engaged and not experiencing any difficult feelings, but there should be activities for students to participate in when they are actually going through an emotional difficulty. There should be visual posters or areas around the classroom that help students to cope with what they are feeling. A spot in the room where the students associate good feelings and happy thoughts, where they can go when they need a break, when they need to gather themselves, or when they need redirection or some time to refocus their attention.
In this area manipulables can help to de-escalate their emotions, things like silly putty, or destressors like squeeze toys or cards with strategies for regaining calm. Posters with strategies that teach kids how to identify the emotion they are feeling and what to do when they feel that emotion escalating. Many students learn best by engaging in activities that put them in situations where they will have to practice emotional awareness in real time. Through activities geared towards peer interactions, students will be put in situations where the full range of emotions will be present, and they will have to learn for themselves how to navigate the emotional spectrum in themselves as well as in others. Once proper emotional display and strategies for de-escalating high emotion have been modeled, it is time for students to practice the strategies and engage in social activities where they will deal with real emotions in a safe, low stakes environment.
Next week, in part 4, I will continue this look at best practices for teaching emotional intelligence and awareness.