Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Conscious Discipline for Infants and Toddlers

By Heather Wegerzyn

Think, if you will, of the sound of a crying baby.  What is your gut reaction? Agitation? Stress? Fear? Does the need to quickly rescue the child strike you to your core? Would you smile, take a deep breath, and relax?  If you move to soothe the baby, what methods would you use?  Would you pick the baby up, and repeat, “You’re okay, you’re okay”? Maybe bounce them, and make a shushing sound? Distract them with a toy? Or would you be able to stay calm, and just breathe with the baby until they were able to calm down?  Would you interpret the baby’s cry as a sign of distress or the need to learn how to destress?  

The first three years are critical years in which we develop a mental model of relationships, a mental model of self, stress management, the ability to pay attention, and the motivation to achieve.  The relationships we create and cultivate with infants and toddlers are the key to optimal development, and the precursor to how children learn to cope when the world does not go their way.    

Try this: The next time your child is upset take a moment to Smile, Take a deep breath, And Relax (Remember to be a S.T.A.R.) before approaching.  As you take your relaxing breaths, repeat to yourself, “I can handle this.” Then pick up your baby, hold them over your left shoulder, and just breathe.  After a few deep breaths say, “You’re safe.”
Seem crazy?  Consider the following:  By distracting a crying infant with food or toys we teach them that their emotional state can be assuaged by things or by food.  Have you ever been upset and then bought something you didn’t need?  How about quelling an emotional day with a big piece of chocolate cake?  Sure, from time to time these solutions are exactly what we need, but the ability to acknowledge and regulate your emotions is a skill that most adults would benefit from.  What if we could gift this skill to our youngest infants?  How will they be able to handle their emotions when they reach adulthood?

Conscious Discipline for Infants and Toddlers require us, as parents and caretakers, to rethink the ways in which we react and respond to infants and toddlers.  In fact, it necessitates an enormous shift in thinking.  We know that our brain state dictates the child’s brain state.  If we approach an infant while we are agitated or distressed we “download” our emotional state to the infant reinforcing the idea, “You are not safe!” By shifting our reaction to intentionally calm ourselves before we even approach a crying child we are able to lend them our emotional state.  Depending on the established relationship with the child, and the individual child’s temperament this process may vary in length, but it does work!  

The ability to remain in a calm state, along with the relationships we establish and maintain, is the foundation for success when it comes to optimal development for infants and toddlers.  When an infant or toddler feels safe and connected they are able to explore and interact in their environment.  When it comes to conflict they are more able to problem solve and find solutions independently.  A connected child is more likely to follow directions, and stay focused on their task. These skills taught at the most early stages prepare children for school readiness more authentically than any flashcard or the newest “Teach Your Baby to Read!” gimmick.  

So...that crying baby.  Take a moment.  Smile, it will lift your spirits even if you are faking it at first.  Take a deep breath, and relax.  Approach the child, and say, “I am going to pick you up.” Pick the child up, and hold them over your left shoulder (so the child can feel your heart beat).  Continue to breathe until the child is calm.  Look into their eyes, and say, “There you are”.  You can say, “You seem hungry (or tired or sad)” or even “I don’t know why you are upset, but we can figure it out together.”

We can all benefit by being a S.T.A.R.! Remember we are all in this together, and we are here to help if you need additional support.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

There Is a Giant Tree in the Art Studio: Hillsborough Edition

There has been a tree in the art studio for awhile. It falls over all the time, takes up a lot of space, and is kind of in everybody's way....

But more importantly, the Little School children adore it and have been working very hard and very creatively to make it beautiful! I thought it would be a good idea to have a closer look at this quite magnificent work of art that has been evolving for well over a month. You guys, IT'S REALLY PRETTY!! So if you haven't yet, come spend some time looking at the wonderful little details and think about how hard their teeny little fingers worked to create it! Aren't children so unbelievably talented and creative?


Monday, November 10, 2014

Collaborative Art!

The act of creating something as a community is an important experience for a person of any age, and our little children gain tremendously from it. The children at The Little School of both Duke and Hillsborough have been participating in experiences of this kind, and we are seeing wonderful things come from them!
This mixed media art was created by 2, 3, 4, and 5 year-old children at the little school at Hillsborough. Over the course of a few weeks, children came in in small groups to contribute to the collage. The last thing that we did to this collage was unifying it with some paint. We worked with only one color for a couple of reasons. We discussed how adding one color of paint to the collage helped unify it and what that meant.

Children are more likely to explore different ways to apply paint when the color palette is limited. Here, Micah has just figured out that she can drizzle the paint by shaking he brush. 

"Look I'm making dots, I am smashing my paint brush." -Eva

"What will it look like if I paint on this? (looking at the cork)" -Cole

At Duke, the Otters have begun a collaborative sculpture. We started with sticks, tape, and wire. Future plans include ribbon, paint, and more wire!

 A. made up a story about the sculpture: "Guys, lets pretend that the tree is broken and that we are giving it bandages and fixing it."K decided to attach sticks together and then wrapped gold and silver wire around the sticks.  E was very excited to help his friends with tape. He put himself in charge of cutting pieces of tape and delegated where it should go. 

Children gain so much from creating together. It is a developmentally appropriate way to introduce and encourage sharing. Also, problems that need solving always naturally occur, whether it is a social problem or a construction issue. At one point, A and E worked out an issue that arose when they wanted to use the same roll of tape. Together, K and I figured out how to make two sticks stay together that kept falling apart. From these experiences and many others, these children are developing social and critical thinking skills, learning how to use visual, descriptive language  (describing what we see and what we are creating), tuning fine and gross motor coordination, and exercising creative thinking, to name just a few of the benefits!

Miss Morgan

Monday, November 3, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Halloween has come and gone, and The Little School is still humming with the fun, fall festivals, families and countless parades. We had mermaids and fish, princesses and Wild Things. Lions and tiger and bears, and of course, more Elsa's then you can shake a icicle at! We loved seeing all of our families brave the parking lot and join us for the celebrations. Thank you for sharing in the fun. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Staff Spotlight: Bret

The role of a Reggio teacher has many layers, but is first and foremost that of a learner alongside the children. The Reggio teacher is a observer, a documenter, a self reflector, and a anchor in their classroom community. Bret is a model of these high ideals, and is forever blown away by the things the children are teaching him. It is a joy to watch him teach and witness those gears that never seem to stop turning.... coming up with a new way to teach bicycle riding, or  following the children's lead in a study of sign language.  Bret first joined The Little School as a father at our Duke campus, and quickly joined our staff full-time. Raised by professors, and a anthropologist to the core, Bret is ceaselessly digging in deeper and finding new twists and turns in child development. Both goofy and dry, he is an amazingly good sport, cast into this surreal work environment as one of only two male teachers! He pushes us to think deeply about the capabilities of children, and makes us laugh all the way. We are supremely lucky to have him as part of The Little School. 

How did you find your way to TLS?
Old 86.

What do you value most or hold most dear at TLS?
The effort that the school aims to establish the highest possible standards as opposed to meeting the lowest allowable standards.  My wife and I shuffled my daughter through four other pre-schools before finding The Little School.  The level of excellence that the school strives for was a perfect match for my family, my daughter, and now my professional goals.

What is your educational approach? How do you find children learn best?
Children learn about the natural world through exploration and experimentation, they learn about the social world by observing and interacting with those around them, and these are not mutually exclusive.

What was the most interesting trip you have taken?
In 2005 I went on a 22 day tip to Vietnam and Cambodia with my wife.  We traveled from Hanoi in the north of the country to Saigon in the south, then on to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  To spend so much time on such an extensive tour was awesome.  I can't wait to take my next adventure of this magnitude.

What movie or work of fiction has had the biggest impact on you? Why?
I'll answer he question that I wish you asked.  What two books of non-fiction had the biggest impact on you?

This is probably a tie between Mixed Blessings: Intensive Care for Newborns
by Jeanne Guillemin & Lynda Lytle Holmstrom and Heaven is a Playground by Rick Tellander.

Mixed Blessings by Guillemin and Holmstrom (Holmstrom happens to be my mother)is an ethnographic study of the world surrounding a newborn intensive care unit. The book was my first introduction to ethnographic research and qualitative analysis.  Having immediate access to the researchers and authors reading the book was an illuminating introduction to the world of sociological research.

Heaven is a Playground, is by Chicago sportswriter, Rick Tellander. It is an up close examination of the on and off court culture of street basketball in Brooklyn, NY.  The book offers a fascinating look at the social intersection of sports, society, struggle that can allow players to move from power dunks on the street courts to college ball and beyond.  The books social backdrop offered me a lot of insight into the street life that consumed many of my friends and acquaintances growing up.

Mixed Blessings sparked my interest, and Heaven is a Playground sealed the deal in my ever evolving examination and understanding  of culture and society.

What is something about you that most people may not know?
I have attended 6 different colleges finally graduating Phi Beta Kappa from UNC Chapel Hill with a BA in Anthropology in 2009.

If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Ignore anyone who tries to tell you "How it really is."

What was your strangest job?
I worked as a professional truck driver and mover in Massachusetts for over 5 years and have completed more than 1000 residential moves.  During this time I have moved people from various settings between the projects of Charlestown, Boston to the Old Money row houses in Beacon Hill, Boston and everywhere in between.  It was a facinating anthropological adventure into the culture of modern America.  People are a trip.

Would you rather be a worried genius or a joyful simpleton?
I'll let you guess.

If you were an animal, what would you be? Why?
I AM an animal - Homo sapien sapien.

What is your happiest childhood memory/what makes it so special?
Tromping through the woods in the deep snow by myself in New Hampshire. I was allowed to experience it as a child because my parents felt safe enough to let we wander on my own.

What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?
Put school off longer.

What's the best bargain you've ever found at a garage sale or thrift store?
My best find ever was actually at the Orange county landfill.  Someone dropped of a rowing machine which I took home.  I changed the batteries, it worked, and I exercise in the morning on it as often as possible.

What is your favorite children’s book?
Novel - "Danny the Champion of the World" by Roald Dahl. Picture Book- "The Story of Ferdinand" by Leaf & Lawson.

What's the most memorable class you've ever taken?
The Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft with Phillip Stein at Los Angeles Pierce College in CA.

What words do you live by?
I am partial to the North Carolina motto- Esse Quam Videri - "To be, rather than to seem."

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Story in Every Scribble

By Oliver
"The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences." Loris Malaguzzi, Founder of the Reggio Approach 
Art and the Reggio approach are tightly wound together. Treated as a viable and critical path to learning, art is therefore held-up as important and sacred. Art is a way to challenge ourselves, expand our thinking, and at its very best, help us make to a new discovery about the world and ourselves. Again and again we stress that the magic is in the process, not the finished product. Art can be set in stone or fleeting, art can be endlessly evolving, art can be made with all of your body, as a group, or blissfully in your own world. Art is where you find it.

Art has always been a part of our daily life at TLS, but we are now proud to announce the arrival of our new Studio Art teacher, or “Atelierista” Morgan Kordsmeier. Morgan received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Tulsa, and soon after decided to enter the Early Childhood Education field. She is currently earning her teaching certification for PreK-12 Art from ECU and is integrating what she is learning in her program with her years of experience in early childhood education. Morgan engages a small group of children in the art studio in open ended art and light explorations, taking her cues from the kids as where to go next. She may have a pre-set "provocation” prepared for the class, or she may allow the kids to freely select the materials that they are drawn to. Morgan is in the process of stocking the studio with traditional fine arts materials such as clay and charcoal, as well as repurposed treasures such as scraps of yarns and bottle caps. 

Art is also a community effort. This is a list of donation ideas to help your child be involved with contributing to the studio spaces at their school! It is extremely meaningful for children when they are using materials that have been provided by them or their peers. These items can be used in countless ways by children to create works of art, so use this list with your child to find items to bring to school!

tissue paper
anything else that would make a good drawing surface
cardboard scraps
non styrofoam packing materials
cardboard tubes (paper towel, wrapping paper, we can’t take toilet paper rolls)
By Ronan
fabric scraps
old doilies!
old tights (these are awesome because they are fun and stretchy)
lids (container lids, marker caps, etc)
bottle caps
metal cans
old cds, records, tapes, floppy discs
old picture frames
scrap wood
scrap plexi glass

Monday, August 25, 2014

Staff Spotlight: Sandy

Sandy and Her Family 
The driving principle behind the Reggio approach is that every child has the right to quality education from the moment of birth. Sandy, team lead of the Infants in the Precious Penguins,  lives this philosophy so effortlessly it is as if she is privy to a secret language known only the babies and herself. Of course there is no secret language, and that's just the point.  Not everyone can be an infant teacher, and even less can do it to the supreme level of confidence and quality Sandy possesses. Infants in Sandy's care are an active part of the culture of mutual respect. The children are treated as participants and co-learners, not simply empty vessels waiting to be filled with information.  Children's feelings are given voice, their ideas room to expand.  Knowing that when a child is feeling genuinely loved and secure, they will be able to spread their wings. Her pure objective is to find as few ways to say "no" to an exploring child as possible. She approaches every situation with a tranquility that is enviable and extraordinary. When receiving a cancer diagnosis two years back,  she faced it with the measured composure of a zen master. We are so proud to have Sandy be a part of our TLS family. We asked her to tell us more about herself: 

How did you find your way to TLS?
I was living in the Charlotte area at the time, and I made arrangements to come to the school the day after arriving in town. I immediately fell in love with the school the moment I pulled into the parking lot and by the time I walked through the front door I knew that I did not want to work anywhere but here.

What do you value most or hold dear at TLS?
I love the feeling I get every day when I walk through the door. When you walk into TLS it is like walking into a different world. There are so many wonderful things to look at and you always see children engaged in learning about what’s around them. There is a peaceful and calming atmosphere that relaxes you as soon as you walk out onto the court yard. I remember feeling like Alice in Wonderland the first time I toured the school. Everything looked so magical!

If you could be a superhero what would your super powers be?
If I had super powers they would be super speed and the ability to multiply my hands and arms when needed. Having an extra set (or three) of hands would be helpful at times.

If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t ever stop trying; you can do it.

Team "Sandy's Spiders" at the 2013 Komen Race 
What is your happiest childhood memory/what makes it so special?
My happiest childhood memories are of spending time at my grandma’s house. She used to love to sit outside on her porch swing and hum. I would go out and sit beside her laying my head on her chest. I would close my eyes and feel the cool breeze on my face as we slowly rocked back and forth. Those are the moments that made me forget about the rest of the world and I didn’t care how old or big I got I still curled up next to her on that swing every chance I could. Sometimes if I sit outside on a cool day I can close my eyes and it feels like I’m there.

What did you want to be when you were 12 years old?
When I was 12 I wanted to be a model and a fashion designer.

What’s the best bargain you’ve ever found at a garage sale or thrift store?
The best bargain ever found at a yard sale was actually found by my son, not me. There was a 46 inch flat screen plasma T.V. with picture in picture that a woman was selling for $20. The reasoning behind selling it and doing it so cheap was because the menu screen took up the entire screen and she could not figure out how to remove it so the T.V. could not be used. My son paid the $20 to buy it, certain that he could fix it. My husband chatted with an online help agent that told him all the T.V. needed was an update. They updated it and it works perfectly.

What is your favorite children’s book?
My all-time favorite children’s book is The Little Red Hen. When I was smaller I liked it because I had a record that went with the book and the person that read the story on the record used funny voices for the characters. I like it now because the story has a good moral. You should not expect to reap the benefits of someone else’s hard work if you offered no help at all.

What words do you live by?
Live life with no regrets. In every situation you have been in good or bad you have learned something that has added to your character and made you who you are today.