“Problems” Into Potential: Banning Pre-k Through Second Grade Suspensions

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The HISD Board of Trustees voted to remove language from the district’s policy proposal that would have ended suspensions and expulsions in pre-k through second grade.

Imagine a school suspending a four-year-old because the child couldn’t tie their shoes. The idea of suspending a student for failure to master a skill seems ridiculous. Although students aren’t being expelled because they can’t tie their shoes, more than 38,000 pre-k through second grade students in Texas are suspended for behavior caused by failure to master social and emotional skills such as self-control, according to Texas Appleseed in their recent study on the school to prison pipeline.

Even more troubling is the data showing that the majority of these young suspended students are disproportionately boys of color, low-income, and/or students who are already behind academically and are only set back further by suspensions for their behavioral difficulties. “Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not,” according to a 2014 Departments of Education & Health and Human Services Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings.

As a teacher and mother of two small children, I know the momentary feeling of relief when a difficult child leaves my room and becomes “someone else’s problem,” but I also know the profound feeling of power and possibility when a new teaching strategy – like Positive Behavior Intervention or other Restorative Justice practices- is used to effectively reach the most challenging child in my classroom. Even more empowering is knowing that district at large and school administrators have the will and the resources to support teachers, and the capacity to help de-escalate any potentially unsafe situations, instead of simply casting out young students with the greatest need for emotional and academic support.

The HISD Board of Trustees had the opportunity to provide the additional support administrators, teachers and students need when they voted during a second reading of the proposed student discipline policy on Thursday December 10th. By eleminating suspensions and expulsions in pre-k through second grade, the Board could have sent a clear message that they continue to put students first by committing to increase training for teachers and support for an alternative to exclusionary discipline.

These young suspended children are not “someone else’s problem”. They are our city’s potential for a future with less violence, fewer young men in prison instead of college and more compassion for those among us with the greatest need.

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The Mud-Don’t-Scare-Me Mom Tribe

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My youngest son is 21 months old and is able to find a mud puddle in a dry park the same way I’m able to find a Starbucks in a new mall. Today was no exception, but instead of throwing my day into chaos, the mudpocolyps was managed with humor, a garden hose and the help of two great ladies.

Since moving nine months ago I’ve been trying to find like-minded moms of children the same general age and temperament of my boys. This proved to be much more difficult than I had anticipated, but after joining countless area mom groups and trolling the neighborhood parks I am finally beginning to feel like I’m finding my niche. I’ve been meeting up with a couple of moms regularly for a few months now and today it was clear that we are all part of the same tribe- the mud-don’t-scare-me tribe. Finding your Mom Tribe is kind of a big deal-especially when your children are covered in mud at a park.

So, when my curly headed cutie began to splash in the mud with the joy and thoroughness of a hippopotamus at a safari day spa, these ladies didn’t cast me an “I can not believe she’s letting him do that” look.  Instead, they laughed along with me. Then when my 3 year old became so engrossed in play with their children that he had a potty accident I felt no fear of judgement when I sighed and said to him, “alright, take off your pants and join your brother if you want.”

This moment was the toddler exemplification of the phrase “in for a penny, in for a pound.”

While I was overseeing this bacchanal of mud, one of the moms found a garden hose and the other mom found the spicket. It is this kind of practical, judgement free, and resourceful problem solving that defines members of the mud-don’t-scare-me tribe.

Within 10 minutes both boys where hosed down and I was more than ready to fasten them securely in our mud puddle free car. While I was driving my half naked boys home I was grateful that instead of crying from the stress of the seemingly impossible task of managing them I was laughing at the memory of their gleefully mud-spattered faces and counting my lucky stars that there are other moms out there who aren’t afraid of a little mud.

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Scarecrow Decorates for Fall

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After a rain induced 2 day sabbatical, Scarecrow has returned to check on the cleanliness of the playroom and to reward tidiness with tidings of Fall decor. Maxwell industrially cleaned up the room this morning to remedy the hot mess he’d left last night. I helped scarecrow decorate during the rare occasion when Patrick actually napped while Maxwell was at his two day a week school.

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The pumpkin/jack-o-lantern window cling was only a dollar at Target. I plan on having Maxwell and Patrick change the face each day. It’ll be good for Patrick especially to identify facial feature names.

I’m holding a lot of decorations back so that the boys can earn them by taking care of their things and following directions.

More about The Scarecrow in the Yard:
Introducing: The SCARECROW in the Yard

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Introducing: The SCARECROW in the Yard

imageYou may have heard of The Elf on the Shelf but I’m pretty sure you’ve never heard of The Scarecrow in the a Yard. Why haven’t you heard of it?  Probably because I made it up three days ago when I saw a 5ft scarecrow for sale at the craft store for $7.

Who is this mysterious straw stuffed friend?
He was inspired by the character No Noggin from the special Curious George: Halloween Boofest (also on Netflix)-a scarecrow who looses his pumpkin head. Maxwell loooooves this show. So, I knew he’d be totally bumped if we had a scarecrow of our very own. Our Fall Friend Scarecrows(very important to market him as a friendly-not scary – scarecrow) was waiting to meet Maxwell and Patrick right outside their playroom window one morning after I’d told Maxwell I thought I heard a scarecrow outside the night before.

The Scarecrow stays outside all day scaring away crows, but at night when all of the birds are asleep he can come down from his stick!

What can scarecrow do?
1) He watches kids play all day and has fun watching them clean up, share,  and learn.
2) If any toys are left inside at the end of the day he likes to sneak inside at night and take them!
3) When he sees children make happy choices he will get them surprises.
4) He loves Fall and likes to surprise people by decorating their house at night.

Why a Fall Friend Scarecrow?
1) It’s fun.
2) Apparently, the good opinion of a straw stuffed piece of felt holds greater sway over my sons’ actions than does mine. They really wanna impress this guy.
3) He helps me keep the playroom clean by stealing toys.
4) There are so few ways to meaningfully observe Fall in Texas since the two seasons here are Summer (April – September) and slightly less hot summer (October-March).
5) It’s super cheap.
6) It probably creeps out our neighbors to see a scarecrow facing into our house and periodically moving it’s position around our yard. This just makes me chuckle 🙂

I will continue to make updates on new ways Scarecrow interacts with us throughout the Fall. Goodness I love how kids make MY imagination come alive 🙂

Updates:
Scarecrow Decorates for Fall

Great Website with Lots of Songs About Fall and Scarecrows
http://www.preschooleducation.com/sfall.shtml
Before revealing scarecrow each day we sing one of our scarecrow songs.

The Floppy Scarecrow
Sung to: The Itsy Bitsy Spider

The Floppy, floppy scarecrow
Guards his fields all day.
He waves his floppy, floppy hands
To scare the crows away!
Repeat and replace Hands with arms, toes, head, legs, etc…

Scarecrow
Sung to: “Teddy Bear, Teddy bear turn around”

Scarecrow, Scarecrow, turn around.
Scarecrow, scarecrow, jump up and down
Scarecrow, scarecrow, arms up high
Scarecrow, Scarecrow, wink one eye
Scarecrow, scarecrow, bend your knee
Scarecrow, scarecrow, flap in the breeze
Scarecrow, scarecrow, climb into bed
Scarecrow, scarecrow, rest your head

I’m a little Scarecrow
Sung to: “I’m a little teapot”

I’m a little scarecrow stuffed with hay.
Here I stand in a field all day.
When I see the crows,
I like to shout
“Hey! You crows, you better get out!”

The Apocalyptic Toy Time Out

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“I’m making a mess,  making a mess, making a MESS!”, screams my 3 year old as he trashes his playroom like a rockstar in a four star hotel after one too many drinks. Carefully organized toy bins toppled, letter magnets scattered everywhere, and every single puzzle piece on the floor- he looks up at me with what can only be described as an impish grin. I return his grin with a smug one of my own and say, “You have 15 minutes to clean up.”

In the past I would have begun cleaning up for him, but not this time.  No, this is my chance to employ the toy time out as it was so called by several other moms who recommended the strategy to encourage their little ones to clean up after themselves. The idea is simple, if a toy is left on the ground at the end of the day it “goes to time out”.

So, my response to Maxwell’s who’s-gonna-make-me-clean-up face was, “you can keep everything that you put in its place, but if it’s still on the floor when we go to bathtime in 14 minutes it will go away for one week.” He didn’t seem sufficiently concerned by this because his next move was to dump a box of blocks over. Over the next 13 minutes I proceeded to explain very clearly what my expectations were and what the consequences would be if they were not met. He never asked for help, because if he had I would have helped a little at least. I would never enforce such an apocalyptic consequence without being extremely clear and giving plenty of warning. In the end, he cleaned up exactly 3 balls and half of a puzzle. He went up to bath and bedtime with little to no concern for the future of his toys, and I spent well over 30 minutes putting nearly all of his toys in time out after everyone was asleep. Worth-every-minute.

The next morning he was greeted by an empty playroom and indignantly said,  “hey, you took all of my toys.” Not known for being a particularly reasonable creature, I was rather surprised when Maxwell then began a very reasonable dialog about when he would be getting them back. How long is a week? What date will it be? Could I show him on the homeschool calendar? He then assured me that he would clean up his toys in the future. Talk is cheap folks-especially the talk of an onery 3 year old boy, but I’ll take what I can get.

I’m pretty sure there’ll be several tantrums over the next few days as he realizes which favorite toys are gone and is reminded that it is his actions that sent them to time out. Happily, I’m also certain that cleanup will be done in record time for at least the next 7 days.

Connecting Homeschool and Schoolschool: Our New School Wall and School Poster Activity

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Two days of Maxwell’s Mother’s Day Out program are in the books and my little guy is loving sharing with friends, learning new songs, and creating crafts with his teachers.

We still do about 30 minutes of homeschool every morning and 30 minutes after school when Maxwell makes his “school poster” where he dictates to me what he did and learned at school. When the school sends home his work from the week (which is just two days-Tuesday and Thursday). We spend time discussing each item and displaying them on his school wall. I’m still brainstorming ideas for storing the work and posters. He’ll recap everything again for Daddy later on tonight.

Compelling questions and prompts are key to making this a rich activity.
-Tell me about a time you felt funny/happy/sad/proud/excited today
-Describe your lunch for me.
-What did your friends eat?
-Could you sing me a song you sang today?
-What books did you read? Could we act them out?
-Tell me about a time you shared something. How did you feel?

This line of questions will garner richer dialog than the old “How was your day?” Plus, it’ll get them used to telling you about their day in a detailed way that could be helpful if issues at school

More on our first day of Mother’s Day a out on my post Strategies to Increase your little ones Investment and confidence before during and after the first day of school
So happy with first week!

Strategies to Build Your Little One’s Confidence and Investment in School Before, During, and After the First Day: Out First Morning of MDO

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Upon picking up one very joyful and enthusiastic little boy today from the first day of his two day a week Mother’s Day Out (MDO) Program I knew I’d made the right choice in enrolling him. More on that decision making process on my post Choosing to Send My Son to a Two Day a Week MDO In Addition to Homeschooling .

In addition to talking to the teachers and staff about their curriculum, learning methods, songs, books, and language used in the school I wanted to make sure that Maxwell would get the most out of the program by building his confidence and investment.

Below are some of the strategies we used before, during, and after school:

Before School-
1. Attend an open house or at least type the school in advance
2. Let your little one help choose their backpack, lunch box, and nap mat.

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3. See what the school’s policy is on bringing lovies for nap time and if it’s allowed have them choose one and explain to the toy what school will be like.
4. >Featured Activity < The morning of school we made a poster and recorded what Maxwell was most excited about and then I told him to be ready to tell me what he liked most when I pick him up. This really did an amazing job of avoiding the all to common exchange of “how was school” answered shortly with “it was fine.”

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During school-
1. Prepare a special treat to be waiting for them in their car seat to celebrate their successful first day of school. Nothing too big, I just got him a special rare juice treat.

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2. Breath, remind yourself they’ll be fine, and keep yourself busy to avoid going to back to the school and picking them up early. If I hadn’t been a prek teacher myself I wouldn’t have believed it, but really, they do have fun once the parents leave.
3. Use this time to create things for homeschool or dishes and laundry there’s always plenty of those to go around.

After school-
1. Complete the first day of school poster.
2. After the first day, have a regular part of your day be your child teaching you, their toys, their siblings what they learned that day.
3. Draw pictures of specific aspects of school- a friend, a toy, something they learned, something they ate and have them dictate what their drawing is about.

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4. Make a “school wall/board” to showcase their school artwork, calendars, and reflections.
5. Make their day the center of that night’s dinner table conversation. It’s an important day for them.

Have compelling conversation starters:
-Tell me about a time you felt funny/happy/sad/proud/excited today
-Describe your lunch for me.
-What did your friends eat?
-Could you sing me a song you sang today?
-What books did you read? Could we act them out?
-Tell me about a time you shared something. How did you feel?This line of questions will garner richer dialog than the old “How was your day?” Plus, it’ll get them used to telling you about their day in a detailed way that could be helpful if issues at school ever arise.



If you’ve ever Googled or Pintrested (yeah I know

that’s not really a word) the phrase “first day of school” you know that there is an unlimited number of resources out there. These are a few simple ones that work for us.

Back to School Resources:

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The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
This book is great for any parent child separation and has a million cute activities you can support it with. I actually read this book on the first day of school when I taught before having kids as well.

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Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Season 1 Eposide 3: Daniel’s Babysitter/ Daniel Goes to School
Also, great for any parent child separation. I have Maxwell watch this any time we’re going on a date night, a meeting, or even just a yoga class at the Y. The song is everything.
“GrooownUPS Come back!”

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Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
Very sweet little book about three owls that have to be brave while their mother is gone hunting for good. I have said “be brave like owl babies” countless times because of this book.

Happy back to school everyone 🙂