Communicate with Intention (Unlearning Oppression: Lesson 18)

Recently, I received a beautifully written “Out-of-Office automatic reply” that opened my heart with compassion and awareness. Without delving into too many details about the message, the author outlined her circumstances and the nature of her personal challenges; explained how her situation was impacting her work and her ability to respond to the needs of others; and requested the readers’ understanding and patience. Her message caused me to pause, breathe and re-read her note. It was obvious to me that while her message wasn’t longer than the usual content, the care and self-awareness required to write such a missive were unique.

She showed that she cares not only for herself and her immediate family, but that she also respects anyone who may try to communicate with her through her work email. Her impressive mindfulness is important aspect of communication. That she outlined a course of action and that her relationship to the reader is clearly important and worth her careful consideration were additional dimensions of her active good will. With deliberate thoughtfulness and kindness, she coveyed the boundaries she needs to thrive. For the reader there is no mystery, no loss of focus or confusion. She effectively eliminated any misunderstandings that may arise owing to lack of skillful communication.

“Pathway”

Lesson 18: This week, before you pick up the phone, answer an email or leave a voicemail, take a breath to make sure you are calm and able to respond with good intention, so that you can communicate your message with love and kindness. Rely on your Accountability Group if you feel challenged by any emotional aspects of the communication

While not sufficient in itself, it is commonly accepted that the “Tool of Intention,” often utilized in prayer, meditation and contemplation, has the transformative capacity to improve outcomes. Whether intention is used for physical, mental or spiritual healing, intention sets a pathway to communication that relies of love and spirit to transmit good faith and harmony. During these trying times, we could all use intentional communication to ask for what we need, reduce harm and show good will.

Contributing Writer Edissa Nicolás-Huntsman at home, healing and working toward Social Justice

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 8: Home Preschool Curriculum

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbpreston

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.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 7: Practical Homeschooling

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbpreston

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.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 6

Homeschool Education

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbpreston

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. 

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 5

Emotion Words

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbprest0n

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.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 4

Regulating Emotions

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbprest0n

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.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 16): See’s Parable

One day, a rich and powerful White Woman invited a Black Woman from her church to work at her Famous Nonproffiting Feminarchy because she had demonstrated her character. During the Black Woman’s interview she was asked questions that did not pertain to the job, and most of the interviewers appeared to be angry or unhappy. She smiled and answered all the questions politely and with a bit of humor. Perservering through the Institutional Gatekeepers, she became a loyal and hardworking employee. Generous with her time, resources and support, she got to know the eight women where she worked four days a week, (not five). After two years, they seldom included her in conversations and sometimes snickered as she approached their groupings. When she left a meeting briefly, she returned to inexplicable hostility, which she valliantly attempted to ignore in order to participate. That summer, at their annual Professional Development Training, the White Facilitator attributed all the negative personality traits of the type to this Black Woman, while reserving all the positive traits of the same type to a White Woman across the room. The Black woman ran out on the second day of training, weeping. No one followed her out. No one checked in with her. A week later, this Black Woman believed she would eventually win over every woman in their small team, so she stopped at See’s Candies during her lunch break to buy dark-chocolate balls and mints, a favorite combination of the women in her office, but which she herself didn’t eat. In a sweet email, the Black Woman explained that she had left a special treat for everyone in the kitchen. At five o’clock, the Black Woman stopped in the kitchen to wash her mug and noticed that all the mints and all the chocolates were gone, but no one had thanked her or mentioned her contribution. The End.

Lesson 16: Learn how to identify and interrupt Microaggressions when they are enacted near you. Use the resources below and your accountability group to unlearn microaggressions and reduce instances of their harmful effects on Black, Indigenous and Latina women in your workplace.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 3

Teaching Emotional Intelligence

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.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 2

Social & Emotional Landscape

As stated in Part 1 of this series on Early Childhood Education there are several core elements of development during these crucial years of a child’s life. One of those core elements is learning social skills, or in more modern academic verbiage, Social and Emotional Learning. This refers to the development of the ability to a) engage in relationships that are meaningful with both peers and adults, b) to identify, articulate, and monitor one’s own range of emotions as well as the emotions of others, c) learn and cultivate social skills as well as an understanding of their environment. 

It is crucial that during this period of rapid growth and development, the child have access to a space that offers safe and enriching opportunities of exposure to this type of learning, as this will form the foundation of their social and emotional lives on which their future relationships and emotional well-being will be built. So then the question is how is that foundation built? It is built by the interactions that they have with their environment, which includes but is not limited to, parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, childcare providers, and peers. It is because of how quickly the brain develops during this phase of their life that each interaction the child has is so impactful upon the way that child will perceive and interact with their social environment as well as their own emotional landscape for the rest of their lives. 

Indications of positive social and emotional early childhood development include learning to develop close relationships with parents or guardians, to calm themselves during times of heightened emotion, to play with and share with peers, and to follow and listen to directions. Children who are exposed to risk factors in either their environment or in their relationships, have their social and emotional development disrupted. The more prolonged or severe the disruption to their development the greater the risk of permanent damage to the psychological as well as physiological development of the child. It is important to highlight here that this invaluable time in a child’s life is not the sole responsibility of the parent. The phrase ‘it takes a village’ is common because it is true. The construction of relationship norms, social norms, language, expectations, values, beliefs and attitudes are all influenced by the family, the community and the culture. All of these important factors are required in order to encourage the healthy maturation of social and emotional development.

Infographic for Social and Emotional Learning in Elementary Schools

There are specific long term benefits to emphasizing healthy development in social and emotional learning. Along with physical and mental health, the ability to forge relationships with others, to learn, to memorize and to focus attention, all stem from our emotions and our ability to employ them in the manner in which we act and in the way that we think. All of this is even more important in the mind of the developing child. Studies show that children with stronger emotional intelligence foundations tend to perform better in school, govern their own behavior better, are better at displaying empathy, more easily create positive relationships, engage in school more meaningfully, and are more able to focus their attention.  There are five essential skills that can be taught in order to foster emotional intelligence, some of which have been talked about above, but I want to name them explicitly. 1) Identifying the emotions of oneself as well as others. 2) Connecting the source of an emotion with the consequence of that emotion. 3) Correctly naming emotions. 4) The expression of emotions in the proper time, place, and culture. 5) Governing emotions. Using these five skills to model emotional intelligence and teach children the skill of emotional intelligence will be the topic of Part 3 of this ongoing series next week.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 1

Society is vastly different today than it was a mere six months ago. Many of the habits and creature comforts, the structures and routines that constituted the lifestyles of a large percentage of Americans have been altered or done away with completely, if not indefinitely, then at least temporarily. These changes have caused disruptions to everyday life, and services that have been taken for granted or overlooked in the past must now be reassessed and refocused on, for the health and well being of individuals in our community but for society as a whole. One such service is early childhood education.

The most crucial time in the development of a human being is this section of life between birth and the first years of public school. However I would extend this as far back as the first trimester of pregnancy. It is in the womb where early childhood education truly begins. The importance of prenatal care cannot be stressed enough in the early development of a child. This includes but is not limited to: seeing a healthcare professional as early on in the process as possible, eating a healthy diet which includes iron and protein, taking prenatal vitamins with folic acids,  maintaining regular exercise, staying away from drugs and alcohol, and drinking plenty of water. Also if possible, having a tranquil and calm environment in which the baby is growing can go a long way in the cognitive and emotional development of the child. Activities such as meditation, soothing music, and reading to the baby can all help to provide stability and bring the baby smoothly into a world that is unstable.

Once the baby is born, the early childhood education begins in earnest. This is the period where the child will undergo the most accelerated stage of physical maturation and cognitive evolution. In the life of a human being these years mark the most accelerated phase in the growth of the brain and so it is crucial that these years be effective in shaping the development and quality of the child’s future as an adolescent and beyond. There are key categories and milestones that serve as the foundation of a successful early childhood education that this ongoing series will highlight and focus on. The categories are: Social Skills, Self-Esteem, Perception of the World, Moral Outlook, and Cognitive Skills. The milestones are greater in number so I will highlight those as they come up.

Before that I would like to discuss some numbers. These numbers come from a variety of sources including, the CDC, the Learning Policy Institute, the National Center for Education Statistics, UNICEF, the National Institute for Early Education Research and the U.S. Department of Education. According to the numbers, about 28% or 1.4 Million four-year-olds were enrolled in a state funded preschool program last year. 54% of pre-kindergarten aged African-American children were enrolled in some kind of state funded preschool program. This is important because children who are enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program for at least one year are more equipped with the tools necessary to develop critical skills needed to succeed in school and have lower percentages of grade repeats or drop outs. 

Source: nces.ed.gov

The other half of the story is that in the fall of their kindergarten year, children who received either no pre-kindergarten care or home based pre-kindergarten care scored lower on assessments of reading, mathematics, and cognitive flexibility than those children who received pre-kindergarten program based care. Early childhood education is a tool whose core goal is to enhance the quality of access and relationship to academic and social behavioral outcomes, but this is only a first step in the process of developing healthier people in the hopes of improving our communities and society at large. Due to the shifting societal reality much of this work must take place in our communities and on a grassroots level and we must work together to educate one another on best practices for the development of our children and a healthy and safe environment for us all. This discussion will continue in Part 2 of this ongoing series.