We want our kids to reach for the stars, dream big, think for themselves and grow up with a life and career that they happily built. But how when the winding path to achieve such goals involves so many variables and, sometimes, challenges that may be out of our control? Well, there is a way, and the path is actually straight forward. I’ve walked it myself with the many students I’ve had the honor of teaching. It’s a ticket that our children can take anywhere and it opens all doors no matter the variables. It’s Reading to be a Critical Thinker.
In education, all roads converge with Reading. Reading is key to becoming a Critical Thinker. And Critical Thinkers reach whatever stars they set their eyes on. Simple Reading strategies to obtain Critical Thinking Skills are easy and exciting.
The technical definition of Critical Thinking is to utilize data, decipher fact from fiction, gather information to synthesize, reflect and find resolution. Because our kiddos are not quite ready to knock out a dissertation, it’s easy to swat the entire concept away. After all, we want them to enjoy reading. Not to fret. The real-world, enjoyable, application of Critical Thinking that I teach is much smoother: Emphasize conversation not curriculum.
Two simple strategies reap indispensable rewards:
Set a comfortable reading routine; 20-30 minutes daily and if the child wants to read longer, then great. However, never allow reading to be a chore or punishment.
Check in with your child by asking about what they read; a 5-10 minute conversation twice a week can accomplish this and when you can do more, then great.
Yet, there isn’t always time to read every word your child read. So how will you know what to ask? Simply ask anchor questions like the examples below and keep the conversation lighthearted. When a child has this consistent interaction, they naturally find deeper meaning as they connect to the story and build a greater awareness of the world around them.
Ask about any fiction book:
Before you read, glance at the pictures. Can you predict what the story will be about?
Have you had a similar experience to that of the characters?
Did you read about an idea or situation that surprised you?
Where did the story take place and how did it eﬀect the problem in the story?
Can you tell me in your own words what you read about today?
Describe a character’s personality? Do you agree with their actions? Why?
Ask about any nonfiction book:
Before you read, take a brief glance at the pages. Can you predict what the text will be about?
What is the main purpose the author wants to share? How do you know?
Did pictures, maps, graphs or visuals help you better understand the information?
Did a person share information about the subject? What did they say?
Did you learn a new fact?
Do you think combining the diﬀerent pieces of information is helpful?
Playing an active role in a child’s reading is nothing less than exceptional. Encourage them and you will engage them. Have fun involving your child in book selections, yet also expand their palette by seeking a variety of fiction and nonfiction. Soon, it will be second nature for your extraordinary child to read beyond the page. Critical Thinkers are lifelong learners, reflective, more responsible, innovators and their opportunities are plenty. They pave their own road ahead and won’t just reach for the stars, they will probably find and name a few new ones. So begin sharing the joy of reading today.
Early Childhood Education is a vital foundation for children of tender age. Not only are they introduced to various experiences, but they are also taught how to form and maintain positive social relationships, a sense of belonging, and developing specific skills to reach their full potential.
We see regular acts of racism, sexism, and prejudice being displayed among people of all ages in society. The need for greater diversity, inclusion, and equity is becoming more evident, from videos we see on social media to news headlines.
Raising a tolerant, accepting, fair and empathetic child should start from an early age. Incorporating equity and inclusion into the early childhood curriculum is one of the best ways to do this.
Equity is simply displaying the quality of being fair and impartial. On the other hand, inclusion is incorporating people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.
Educators incorporating equity and inclusion in the classroom will help them to combat prejudice and racial discord by supporting positive behaviors among students, fostering a sense of belonging for all students and their families, and teaching respect for everyone.
How Do Children Benefit from Incorporating Inclusion and Equity in Early Childhood Curriculum?
The benefits of inclusion and equity are numerous for all children. Schools including these vital lessons into their curriculum can help children to reach their developmental potential. We have compiled a list of some of the many benefits of successfully incorporating inclusion and equity.
Improved problem-solving skills
Develop positive self-image
Respect for others
Being accepting of differences
Being more understanding
May reduce bullying
Being able to recognize unfair and discriminatory scenarios
How Can your School Incorporate Inclusion and Equity in Early Childhood Curriculums?
It is no secret that children are more comfortable, grounded, and able to learn more when their school, classmates, and instructors respect their diversity.
Strategies that schools can use to successfully incorporate and promote inclusion and equity in early childhood curriculums include:
Use a multi-tiered system of support
Using this strategy involves Collaborating with early childhood special educators and other allied education and health professionals when needed. Facilitate each professional establishing a relationship with each child to maximize potential.
Provide high-quality early childhood learning resources that demonstrate a commitment to equitable outcomes for all children.
Schools can arrange budgets within their means to equitably meet the needs of children and staff. Recognize that high-quality programs will positively reflect the values, beliefs, and practices of specific children, families, and communities.
Develop opportunities for multiple voices with different perspectives to participate in decision-making.
Recognize that unspoken biases have often resulted in limited opportunities for members of marginalized groups.
Prepare current and prospective early childhood educators to provide equitable learning opportunities to all children.
Schools can ensure that educators understand the historical and systemic issues that have created structural inequities in society, including in early childhood education.
Involve children, families, and the community in the design and implementation of learning activities.
Involving children, families, and the community in learning activities will help children to embrace the idea of inclusion and equity. This will also help to build a sense of belonging with those involved.
Introducing and incorporating equity and inclusion into early childhood curriculums will benefit children and the instructors, family, and the wider community. This strategy will also help build a better future where people will practice more accepting and respectful lifestyles.
In 1994, my 6-year-old son Nicholas failed first grade. Testing revealed he could read ten words, showed no strengths, and had a low IQ. The prognosis was dire, his future bleak. Finally, the diagnostician called him: “The worst child I’ve seen in twenty years of teaching.”
I had the option to remove my son from school for six short months. Teaching him myself, I began by using a recommended standardized set of books, titled Success for All. Their focus was on decoding of isolated words. They too, were an abject failure. Nicholas appeared to have no memory for letters, sounds, or words.
It was at this point, I was given some unforgettable advice from my mother-in-law: “Lois,” she said, “make learning fun.” Now I have no books and a son to teach. I felt totally responsible for his learning. Having a blank slate forced me to examine my son’s learning. What can he do? Does he have strengths? I recalled some previous successful learning activities. He can see patterns and he can rhyme words.
Poetry. Write a poem. But I don’t write. I, too, am dyslexic. Despite this being an enormous challenge for me, I felt pushed – no, driven to try something—anything.
Putting rhyming words together into a simple poem was easier than I imagined. The act of writing a poem transformed our little classroom, as I read the poem to him. Nicholas laughed. We found more rhyming words, illustrated the poem, and finally, he recited the poems from memory to his family.
Every day, I had a new poem waiting for Nicholas. He blossomed. Instead of panicking about learning, he recalled the words in the poems. Poetry provided a cocoon for letters and sounds. Illustrating the poems engaged us in multi-sensory activities and in reciting and performing words as we searched for deeper meanings.
But it was the poem to learn the oo sounds as in book, look, and cook which metamorphosed our learning. Instead of talking about cooking, I wrote about Captain James Cook, one of the last great explorers. Through poetry, we explored the changing map of the world to which Cook contributed greatly.
“Who came before Captain Cook?”
“Who came before Christopher Columbus?”
His questions stumped me. I could not answer many of them and I thought these were not the questions that come from a child with a “low IQ.” Using my son’s learning, I became a literacy specialist, teaching children who failed to learn to read in normal settings. I developed the knowledge and skills to turn around children’s lives.
What can parents do?
Turn fictional texts (books or short stories) into plays or dramas. Why? The child is connecting the text with actions. Book language varies from oral language. By re-writing the story, the child is now the “author” and can change the words in the text to use their words.
Read and recite poems. Poetry is the foundation for phonemic awareness. (Phonemic awareness is the ability to play with letters and sounds.) Building on rhyming poetry, the parent enables the student to hear the rhyming words and sounds.
Sing and enjoy songs, rhymes, & limericks. Use the beat and the words to engage the child with words and actions.
Show language as “dynamic.” Find, read, and tell jokes and riddles. Jokes and riddles often depend upon wordplay. Many students with learning disabilities see the world “concretely.” They struggle with the abstract nature of language. Enjoy the language and wordplay and teach children how to “look” for additional meanings.
Use audiobooks! Audiobooks or reading to a child is the most powerful way to engage the child in literature.
Above all, enjoy learning. Make it a game. Find time to enjoy learning together. When children “fall in love” with books and learning, it becomes an activity they want to do. That’s when learning happens.
The typical image of a child reading includes a comfortable chair, plenty of light to read by, and a colorful book with a riveting tale. If you are looking for a great story for children, the New York Public Library has a list of 100 classic books for children. Or maybe you want to look at what Time Magazine selected for its top 100 children’s books. There is plenty of overlap between the two lists in terms of books. You cannot discuss the best children’s books without having Where the Wild Things Are or something by Dr. Seuss on the list. There is another factor both lists have in common.
There are very few nonfiction books on either list.
Amazing nonfiction books are available for children of all ages. However, most of them are not making it into the hands of students. According to a study performed in 2000, in the first grade only one of ten books on average is nonfiction. Those books were not removed from the shelf often; children were reading them for 3.3 minutes a day in high-income school districts. In low-income districts, that number dropped to 1.9 minutes a day.
Getting children into the habit of reading seems easier with fiction. However, nonfiction stories encourage students to learn different lessons. Most school texts, the ones they will need to succeed, are nonfiction. Preparing them to extract information while they read when they are young improves their ability to do the same with school texts down the road.
One lesson they learn from reading nonfiction is that they do not need to read books in a linear fashion. With the help of the table of contents, they can skip right to the information they need and read from there.
If they do not see it in the table of contents, they can look for information in the index. These are two ways second- and third-grade readers can start to learn how a textbook or other nonfictional tome can be used.
The most obvious benefits of nonfiction reading are the lessons children learn from reading the books! They can learn about Balto, the heroic dog that saved an Alaskan town, or about presidents like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. There may even be some focus on the curious critters we come in contact with in our everyday life! Encouraging children to read about subjects that interest them at a young age lays a strong foundation for learning about those topics in school. And such reading may lead them to find other topics and books that interest them.
As you build your home library, or looking through the library for new reading material, spend some time with nonfiction. It teaches lessons that fiction cannot, like how to search for information, and exposes them to different vocabulary words. Reading nonfiction can lay a foundation of knowledge that will help them as they go through school. It will be just as comfortable in that reading nook that they love while teaching them skills that help through college and beyond.
Homework was not always a staple of a student’s’ life. Until the 1950s, homework felt to be an unnecessary burden on school children. When they left school, it was time for chores on the farm or around the home. It was not until the Cold War, when there was a fear of falling behind the Russians, that a fresh emphasis on homework reignited. We needed to keep our educational edge.
Over the last decade, educators have been examining the wisdom of giving students hours worth of homework every night. A rule developed suggesting ten minutes of homework for every grade the student was in. So a second grader would have twenty minutes of homework, while middle school students would have over an hour of work to do when they got home. This “10-Minute Rule”, while not an exact science, is a rule of thumb that many schools and school districts have adopted.
Homework at a young age can be a critical step in turning your child into a lifelong learner, but homework amounts can cause negative results. Too much homework can be intimidating to a new learner, driving them away from school and learning. Too little and they are not stimulated enough to want to learn outside of school. The National Education Association (NEA) goes by guidelines suggested by Harris Cooper: ten to twenty minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional ten minutes per grade. This research is where the 10-Minute Rule developed.
This rule works in multiple ways. The first way is keeping a definite time for children to explore. Studies show that the further children get in their school careers, the more homework becomes a benefit to them. Before third grade, most children cannot learn outside lessons from their homework. They can do it and understand what they do, but they cannot fully apply it. As students start to read to learn, a love of reading becomes essential. Younger students, however, do most of their learning by playing and exploring the world around them. Small amounts of homework benefit students at this age, as long as it does not interfere with their exploration of the world.
Homework at a younger age puts stress on parents as well. Older students that have developed more critical thinking skills can answer the questions on their own. Younger students do not always have that ability, and may struggle with assignments. This puts some of the onus for educating them on the parents. This can add stress to the parents, especially if they have busy lives.
Younger students’ benefits from homework are much different than older students. The repetition and reinforcement of the lessons they are learning in school are the primary reasons for elementary school students’ homework. Homework for younger students is a way to allow parents to see what they are learning in school. As parents help their young children, they can look at the lessons and can reinforce them at home. The children also are starting to understand the necessity of doing schoolwork at home. This is a valuable lesson as they move through their education.
Though the pendulum of how much homework to give students will always swing, we have discovered that homework is an essential tool for students’ growth. It teaches them more than what it is on the paper. It helps them with discipline, reinforces what they are learning in school, and builds them into better learners.
The beginning of the school year is a busy time. There is work to be done, from getting the classroom and lessons ready to welcome in the new students. Though the first few weeks are hectic, reaching out to parents is an act that can have a major impact during the school year. Parents can provide insights into the best ways to reach certain students in the class. They have the ability to extend your lessons, showing students the work done in the classroom has applications in other places. Parents are also going to be the ones that have the most investment in their children’s success!
Building relationships with parents does not have to require an enormous time commitment. There are small actions that can be done at the beginning of the school year to start building your rapport with them:
Establish connections early in the year – Parents will always be anxious at the beginning of the year, whether it is the first day of kindergarten or the first day of senior year. Hearing from their children’s teachers early opens the channels of communication on a positive note. These initial contacts establish that you are interested in helping them educate their children.
Introduce yourself to them… – As part of this early connection, give parents of your students some insight into who you are as a person. Tell them about some of your favorite vacations, books, and things to watch. Give them a rundown of what you have planned for the year, so they know what to expect and when.
And ask questions about their children – Getting to know your students is another step in building trust with parents. They value your interest, and the knowledge you gain in the classroom helps tailor parts of lessons to what the students like. To learn more about the children, you can send home short surveys or develop online versions through tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms. The questions should be easy to fill out.
Communicate with parents often – The only time they hear from you should not be when their children are struggling, either socially or in their education. Let them know some of their children’s activities or what the class does together. Give them a window into a day in your children’s classrooms.
Invite them to participate – There are many ways parents can help you in their children’s classrooms. They may have specific skills that would demonstrate lessons. They may be able to help with parties or events, or they may have some ideas on improving the classrooms or communicating with students. Listening to what they have to say is important for communication, even if it is not implemented.
Offer resources to help – Many parents are very eager to help their children succeed. They are simply unsure of how to help or where to find the resources to do so. Share the resources you have with them, whether they are digital ones or something they can find at the library.
Parents are excellent partners when it comes to providing extra help to students. They invest in their children’s success, providing the ability to reinforce the lessons you give in the classroom at home.
Opening lines of communication and developing partnerships with parents benefit teachers for the school year. However, they benefit the students through their educational careers. Building such relationships is worth the investment.
Back to school time is here! Sales are in full force, teachers are getting their classrooms ready, and families are taking their last trips and vacations. The start of school means that late nights are over, as well as spending excessive time playing video games. It is back to early mornings, gathering homework, and getting everyone out the door on time. It can be stressful for families to make this transition without the right planning.
Putting the whole family on the school schedule does not have to be Herculean labor. Nor should it be something that is expected to work suddenly. Over time, the following strategies will help you get your family off to school and ready for a full day of learning.
Plan out a daily schedule – When school begins, schedules can get complicated. Having a master schedule for both parents and children will help keep everyone coordinated when the days get busier.
Plan out wardrobes – Scrambling for clothes in the morning can be time-consuming. Not just deciding what everyone is going to wear, but finding all of the clothing items and making sure they are clean.
Create a lunch schedule – It takes time to prepare lunches in the morning. Working out a monthly or weekly program of lunches allows you to take time on the weekend to do the shopping and preparation. That way, on a busy morning or before bed, putting together meals to go happens in no time at all.
Organize a space for school work – With a school routine comes homework. Even in a small space, a dedicated area for doing homework can exist. It allows children to set a routine while giving them a quiet place to do their work. It could be a small desk in their room or a corner of the kitchen table you set up just for them.
Start to set a regular bedtime – Getting into a schedule is critical for students. That includes having a regular bedtime. During the summer there can be some flexibility, but it is vital that during the school year they get enough sleep. Experts recommend that school-aged children have between nine and eleven hours of sleep a night. They should be getting at least eight. Lack of sleep can cause a multitude of issues, from children not remembering lessons to behavioral problems.
Start getting your morning routine ready the night before – As a parent, you are going to have some time after your children go to bed to get your morning routine ready. It is going to be very similar to your child’s routine – getting your lunch ready, choosing your outfit, and preparing all the things to get you prepared for the day. Mornings are going to be busy, and prepping in the calm of the night will help.
Create a School Organization Station – Many homes have family organization stations. They are locations where children find everything they need for their day. Schedules, backpacks, homework, books, and any accessories required for the day. Locate it near a door where everyone leaves, so it is convenient for the family.
Have a fun activity planned after the first day – Even though the first day is typically not very stressful, it is nice to have something fun for children prepared when they get home. It can be playing one of their favorite games, reading a favorite book, or letting them choose a favorite dinner. It is a little thing they get to look forward to at the end of the day.
Over the first days and weeks of the school year, there will be glitches in the system. Your children become used to putting their bags at the organization station, working on their homework, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. All this extra planning makes the transition back to a regular schedule much more comfortable for younger children, making it easier for the family to get into the back to school mode.
April is National Poetry Month! While many of us lose our love of poetry over the years (only 9 of 10 Americans say they enjoy poems), when children are developing reading habits poems have some substantial benefits.
But where to begin? There are hundreds of books of poetry out there for children. There are well-known names like Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and Mother Goose that are well known and incredibly popular. Shel Silverstein, of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” fame is another author that is easy to find and a joy to read to children. There are many other poets, both contemporary ones, and ones from the past, that have written poems that children love.
Bill Martin Jr. – He has been a fan of poetry since it was his gateway to reading in college. After he started to see the impact reading it to his students had on their love of reading, he began to write his poems. One of those poems, I Love Our Earth, is on our Wish List this year!
Francisco X. Alarcón – A prolific poet for both children and adults, his books of poetry are often bilingual. His inspiration comes from his strong attachments to his Latino heritage and love of the communities that raised him. He is known for his Magical Cycle of the Season series, poems that embrace the uniqueness of each season.
Jon Scieszka – Embracing his odd sense of humor and love for education, Jon started to write tales for children as a teacher in New York. His poetry books include Science Verse, The Book That Jack Wrote, and others. One of his books, The Stinky Cheese Man, is part of our summer Wish List!
Robert Lewis Stevenson – Adults know his writings through tomes like Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. He wrote A Child’s Garden of Verses, a highly regarded book of poetry for children. He uses his poetry to relive the experiences of his childhood, running outdoors and exploring the world!
Jack Prelutsky – The first Children’s Poet Laureate appointed by the Poetry Foundation, Jack’s work is heavily influenced by his love of music. He writes poetry about every subject, from the size of a hippopotamus to the problems of being a dragon. You can start with one of his most famous books, The New Kid on the Block, and explore his work from there!
Reading poems aloud to students can do more than show them the wonders of poetry. It can bring back a love of poetry for the adults who may have put it down years ago and never picked it back up. If you would like to explore some poems and authors on your own, Poets.Org has a wonderful page full of brilliant poems for children. Enjoy a month full of getting to know poetry with your students!
A day in which we show the people who are important to us just how much we care for them. Much of that affection is shown through red and pink gifts of candy, cards, and maybe a trinket or two to play with, but the best gift you can give a child is time.
From birth through the time children go to college (age 18), there are 936 weekends. That sounds like a lot of time until you consider that when they start hitting middle school years, they will have activities, sports, friends, and all manner of other entertainments to occupy their time. Those weekends can go quickly, and when you think about how fast that time can fly, it’s easy to see the value of sharing time with your child whenever possible.
The gift of time relies on the quality of the time and much as it does the quantity. Being in the same room together doing different activities is not the best gift you can give; focusing on the child is the real gift. The importance of time spent focusing on children holds true in school as much as it does at home.
Countries like Finland, considered the gold standard in education by many, spend roughly 700 hours in front of students, while in the United States we spend nearly double that. Spending time does not have to be hours on end. It can be playing a tabletop game or cooking a meal together. Reading is a fantastic way to spend a little time together.
Selecting the right books can be a springboard for other activities through the year; as your child asks questions, you can plan events to help them answer them. As a teacher, you can develop lessons in the future that address student questions while still fulfilling state requirements.
What other gifts can spending time with books provide?
Building a love of books – Young children will mirror the activities of the people around them that they love. If they see their favorite teacher, or parent, enjoying the time they spend reading, they are more likely to pick up a book for pleasure.
Expanded vocabulary – The more children read, the more they are going to have to learn the meaning of the words in their favorite books. Instead of sitting down and teaching them words, they organically build their vocabulary. This will also lead to…
A curiosity about the world around them – It is a big world out there, full of dinosaurs and families and stories about raining food! One way to get to explore it is through books. Journeys can be started at the library and continued at museums, stores, and even in the kitchen.
Improving social skills – Being quiet while a parent or teacher is reading is a polite way to enjoy a book. Waiting until someone else is done talking to speak is an important skill to develop. And the only way to enjoy a book read by an adult is to listen intently. While children become engrossed by tales of cats in hats, they are also learning valuable social skills.
Better behavior – Children do not always know how to ask for what they want. If they feel they are being neglected, or are frustrated, they may act out to get the attention they crave. By giving that attention without asking, it will keep them better behaved at home and in the classroom.
Sitting down with a child to read a book shows you love them in a variety of ways. You are spending quality time with them (which they love!) while teaching them skills that are going to help them in school. It provides benefits they may not appreciate when they are young, but they will as they grow older. Along with the card and some sweets, plan on giving them a book and spending some time with them. It is a Valentine’s Day gift they will treasure forever.