“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.

Our First Advent Calendar: 24 Days of Yuletide Fun

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After days of trolling Pintrest for Advent Calendar ideas, followed by more days of collecting materials and a very late night setting up, our first family advent calendar is up and creating christmas magic.

Instead of 24 Days of candy (and candy crazed kids) I opted for 24  of activities (with some candy here and there).

The whole kit and caboodle cost $100 including all materials, gifts, and activities (could be cheaper if you already have supplies).
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Materials:
Gift bags
String
Command Strip Hooks
Clothespins
Tags numbered 1-25 (25 if you want to include your xmas tree for the big day)
24 cheap craft items, books, gifts, and treats

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Paint Clean-Paint Messy: One Day, Two Very Different Painting Experiences

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Painting is an all senses on deck experience for my youngest son and lately he’s been asking to do it more and more often. Sometimes I’m up for the hose ’em down when they’re done style of backyard body painting, but other (most) times I’d rather not. Research suggests that the sensory simulation of finger painting is very beneficial for the brain development of little ones. So, finding time for that kind of immersive creation is important. There’s also strong  empirical evidence that my kids have no business finger painting while I’m trying to make breakfast at 8am. There’s a time for everything.

Clean “Painting”:
Paper towel or paper
Brush
Small amount of water in a cup (to minimize spillage)
This “painting” in quotes because…well there’s no paint. I was actually shocked at how content he was with this super clean painting substitute. Thinking about adding a paint brush to my arsenal of purse items as another tool for keeping the kids occupied at restaurants. “Why yes, I would like water and a paper towel.”

Messy Painting:
Non-toxic Paint
Brushes
Rolls of paper
Something on which to put mass quantities of paint. We used a baking pan.
This is Painting with a capital P because it is an all in experience. There’s no painting smock in the world that can handle the mess that ensues when I get my two boys outside for mural finger/face/body painting. After they’ve had a good time smearing with their hands I take the paper off of the wall and put it on the ground so their feet can have a turn. Then I get out the hose and towels.

Classroom in the Kitchen: Making Edible Legs

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We’ve been learning all about the body; our most recent topic has been muscles and bones. It’s hard for kids to understand that there are things inside of them since they can’t see it.  So, with the help of some simple ingredients we explored the most basic elements of the legs-bones, muscles, fat, and blood- in our kitchen, and ended the lesson with a tasty snack!

Materials:
Premade pizza dough (skin)
Marinara (blood)
Mozzarella cheese stick (bone)
Shredded cheddar cheese (fat)

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Objective: (for 3-5 year olds)
Child will be able to identify skin, fat, bone, and blood.
Child will be able to briefly explain the function of:
Skin-helps us feel
Blood-sends oxygen and nutrients around our body
Bone-helps us stand up and makes blood
Muscles-helps us move

A note on objectives: these are variations on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and are likely very similar to objectives for prek in most states. The expectation is not that the child will master the objective after just one lesson, but rather that they are simply working towards mastery over time

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Learning is Messy Business: Valuing Effort Over Perfection

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Beautiful calendars are nice, clean weather charts are easier to read, and I could have set up our new September calendar by myself on August 31st, but I’d rather Maxwell learn how to draw numbers, shapes, and patterns; color in his own graph; and take ownership over creating our new month. Messy= Maxwell actively learning.

I won’t get on my soap box very often on this blog, but I want to encourage everyone with little ones to actively demonstrate an appreciation for effort over outcome. It’s still important to value accuracy, but when a child feels like trying and failing is okay they’re more likely to take risks and recover more readily from failures. By contrast, when they feel like things need to be perfect and they fear their capabilities may fall short they may not try at all.

I’ve seen this in all ages as a teacher. Students in my preschool classroom would cry the first time they tried to use scissors and say the phrase that I eventually banned “I can’t do it.” I gointo this a little more in my post While Little Brother Was Napping… the Scissors Came Out

The stakes were much higher than whether or not a heart could be cut out of folded paper in my middle school classroom. Repeating 8th grade was a very real risk for one of my students who could discuss complex historical events in private , but was too afraid of seeming stupid or not cool to complete challenging assignments or participate in class.

It’s not just kids who benefit from having a growth mindset. I think we all probably know someone who is worried “they won’t do it right” or “don’t know where to start” when it comes to teaching their child. As a result they don’t start, and they and their child miss out on the fleeting opportunity to learn and create together.

Don’t get me wrong, I can get hung up on getting things “just right”. I want my boys to abide by the old adage “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right”, but more importantly I want them to see that getting things right doesn’t happen on the first try and hardwork and persistence are inextricably linked to all real success.

So, get messy, make mistakes, and laugh as you learn with your little ones. Our time with them is too precious to worry about perfect.

Here are some useful resources if you’d like to learn more about the growth mindset, malleable intelligence, and persistence in learning:

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

HINT: Don’t tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on “process”—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life
By Carol S. Dweck | Jan 1, 2015

The Growth Mindset

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True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It

11 tips on how to teach persistence/grit

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No Couch Shall Come Between Them: An Update on the Shared Montessori Bedroom

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We had the great room re-branding less than a week ago-as chronicled in the post The Great Room Re-Branding : A New Shared Montessori Style Boys Bedroom . The boys were pumped and much merriment was had by all, until the great chasm that is the brown couch became too much for Maxwell to bear. He just wanted to be closer to baby brother.

Who can say no to a boy just trying to be a big brother? We certainly couldn’t especially because he refused to take no for an answer and just got into Patrick’s bed with all of his toys and brother.

So, we reconfigured the room and there were a couple of considerations. First, we had to keep the couch where it was because it blocks cords and electrical outlets. Most importantly, they couldn’t be side by side because of the risk of the beds sliding apart and one of the boys getting stuck in between. My ingenious husband came up with the idea that we put both beds on top of each other so that the meeting point ran along their waists. Last, we needed the beds to stay together, so we just pulled a blanket tight over the two and tucked it in.

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Viola! A double-wide-twin-montissori shared boys bed.

Bonus: Story time is now much easier and more cozy.

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Toys that Teach: Color Sort Vegetables

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Instead of buying the gigantic mess-monsters that are the 200 piece sets of pretend food, we chose to buy this simple vegetables and color sorting baskets from Amazon.com two years ago for my oldest son’s first birthday. I can honestly say it’s one of the smarter toy purchases I’ve made for the kids. Not too many pieces, easy to understand sorting activity for the kiddos, and good for pretend cooking as well. It’s one of the few toys that have stayed in the play room this long.

Check it out here: Color Sort Vegetables $29 on Amazon.com

It came out again for this week’s focus on color sorting and you’d think it was a new toy the way Maxwell took to sorting and little brother stirred the food with a play hand blender.

For more color sorting ideas check out my post: Sorting by Color and Rocking Your Kid’s World

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