“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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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

Continue reading

Catching up and Re-establishing Routine

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The turkey has been transformed into tetrazzini and the black Friday deals are in the bag. The kids are thoroughly strung out on pie and their eggnog addiction is in full swing. So, in an attempt to push the proverbial reset button on the family today we did nothing but homeschool in the morning and playing in the backyard followed by crafts.  Nothing crazy, nothing new, we just got back to normal after after family fun and altered schedules.

The boys were still a bit crazy-to the order of about a dozen xmas ornaments ripped off the tree, but they did help put them back.  So, that’s something. We said goodbye to November and tomorrow we begin our 25 days of fun and activities advent calendar! I’m going to be busy setting it up tonight. Pictures to come- of course!

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.

Paper Towel Tube Ramp: When Accumulated Trash Turns Into Science

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Paper towel and toilet paper roll tubes have been accumulating at our house for awhile now despite much eye rolling from my husband when I would tell him I’d think of something to do with them. I finally turned my words into action with this ramp building activity.

Materials:
Tubes
Tape
Wall

Activity:
It’s obvious enough that the objective here is to get something round to roll down the tube ramp. The educational value comes in the planful experimentation to make it work. Have several sizes of objects to test which one will fit through the tubes best. We tried a ping pong ball, a football, and grapes. Encourage your little one to make suggestions about what they think will/won’t work.

Asking questions, experimenting, and problem solving are the essential components of this activity.

This is an exercise in engineering. It would be easy enough for me to just tape up a ramp and say “look things go down” and this is fine for little kids, but the 3+ crowd should help with the process.

We tested the angle and position of each tube placement by dropping our grape through and then adding another tube.

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Eventually little brother ripped the whole thing down, but the learning is in the fixing. So, no worries 🙂

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 🙂

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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