Process Art versus Product Art

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While attending our annual statewide conference, I participated in a workshop about the value of process focused art experiences for young children. The instructor invited us into a conference room with a wide variety of art materials scattered on the table top: ribbon, glue, string, wood pieces, scissors, varied papers, and stickers.

In her introduction, she offered us each an index card and a color reproduction of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. She asked us to draw it on our index cards. While we were drawing, she reminded us to make it look as much like it as possible, and to finish up in five minutes. There was a lot of chatter and giggles, even a little bit of whining. Then she asked us to write down how the assignment made us feel, upon request and as we worked.

The overall theme was stressed, pressured, inadequate, and a sense of an unrealistic expectation. We discussed this for quite some time, and then transitioned to another activity.

Eventually it was time for another task, and this time the assignment was less focused: “It’s time to use the materials on the table. Feel free to open closed packages, use materials in any way you’d like, take your time.” Some participants reached for materials that they had been eyeing since we first arrived, while others explored first. The room was very quiet, and slowly, some conversations arose, though they were low key and focused.

When the instructor saw that we were all finishing up, she asked us how we were doing and if we needed more time. After a few more minutes, she opened the floor up for discussion. How did this assignment feel, upon request and while working?

The responses from participants included: relaxed, peaceful, excited, happy, fun, trusted, respected, and lucky. So what does this all mean?

There is a wonderful handout from our instructor Laurel Bongiorno of Champlain College that highlights the main differences between product and process focused art:

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There is a place and time for both types of art, but we must be clear about our objective. For example, is the goal to teach the children how to follow directions, use new vocabulary, or practice using scissors? Is the objective self-expression? Or maybe is it for the purpose of sensory input? We must be thoughtful as to our objectives, and keep in mind how those objectives make children feel. Feeling rushed, pressured, and frustrated is never my goal.

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Elementary School: what’s going on with my kiddo?

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Now that school is back in session, I hear a lot of parents asking what’s up with my child? Is it a phase? Ugh! Kids are still reaching new milestones all the time, and I’ll get to what those are shortly.

But I think we, as parents especially, forget that there is still so much going on for our children socially, cognitively, and physically. In the early years, we see infants and toddlers grow so quickly and reach new milestones often. It’s easy to forget that our 6 years olds are meeting them too. And just like with toddlers, it’s scary to grow and learn. When a child is struggling with autonomy, for instance. The push-pull relationship between a child and caregiver/parent is something I’m sure you all remember: “carry me, I can do it. Help me, I did it”. So it’s only natural that our 1st grader will give us some of that action as well.

So here’s a little list of some of the things going on for your elementary schoolers. Remember that becoming more independent and skilled can lead to some angst, but your kids still need your patience and understanding, even if it seems like they hate you. Besides, I always say if they hate you, you’re doing it right!

Kindergarten
Social: easy separation from adults, turn taking
Cognitive: re-telling a story, self-regulation
Physical: run, climb, skip

1st Grade
Social: seeing the point of view of others
Cognitive: seeing patterns in words, numbers, and the world around
Physical: greater muscle development, increased stamina

2nd Grade
Social: judging own strengths and weaknesses , offering opinion that contradicts peers
Cognitive: understanding concept of money, mental math
Physical: knowing your own body, increased ability for repetition

3rd Grade
Social: group work, independent work, peer pressure awareness
Cognitive: more abstract thinking, apply ideas across situations
Physical: overall fitness and health awareness, ability to assess gross and fine motor skills

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Let Your Kids Cry

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I’ve worked with young children for many years now, and the words of a mentor are still in my head: “it’s okay for a child to cry, there’s no reason to try to make them stop”.

In this particular situation, she was referring to a three year old child who just moved here from far away. New town, new home, new surroundings were all just too much for this little guy. I was speaking to my co-worker, asking her what else we could do to get him to stop crying.

My mentor, our boss, reminded me that the crying wasn’t just something he’s doing because he’s mad or sad, but that it is a way of expressing and releasing emotion. She recommended ways to support him as he struggled to find his way and navigate all of his emotions.

You see, when a child is crying, you have to ask yourself, “what is this child trying to tell me?”. There are times when that cry is to get attention, you know that fake cry that some kids can turn on, right? My kid can anyway… But really, young children cry to express anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, relief, and the occasional “I have no clue” cry. Letting go of the feelings is cathartic and provides relief to children, it’s how they work their way through to the other side of the conflict in their hearts.

Holding in tears, keeping emotions inward or stifling them can be harmful to self esteem, but also to our bodies. The nervous and cardiovascular systems are impacted greatly by stress, as many adults know very well. We want to instill the value of expressing your emotions early so young children develop healthy coping strategies now. (Seriously, crying can lower your blood pressure according to Dr. William H. Frye II PhD)

The other benefit to letting a child cry when they feel the need is the ability to inspire community. When children see that another child is crying, it creates an opportunity to empathize with their peer. Children will reach out to one another, offer hugs, stories, conversation even. It’s a tool that can enrich the classrooms emotional environment.

Please keep in mind that I’m not saying to ignore a crying child. I’m simply saying that trying to make a child stop crying or not allowing them to cry at all is unhealthy. This is something to keep in mind especially as children move out of infancy. Our expectations change as they have more skills and language, but the child will still feel sad. Crying is a natural way of expressing feelings at any age, and regardless of your gender. Remember, boys can cry too.

So the next time you have a sad child in front of you, give them a snuggle and let them cry it out.

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What I did on my summer vacation:

I visited family, swam in their pool and listened to my son laugh. I went for a lot of walks and ate really good food. I took my son to one of those indoor arcades that I really don’t enjoy, but he loves! I sent my husband and son off to the fair together. I went to the ocean with them next. We ate ice cream almost every night, went walking on the beach and looked at the sand and waves. We spent hours and hours in the water and on the beach. My husband and I got to have uninterrupted conversations. And we just spent time as a family.

In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, it’s more important than ever to take time as a family. Leave your house, chores, and worries behind. Just hanging out together helped us reconnect and remember all the good parts of our life together.

I also returned to my work feeling renewed and energized. Having that time out of my typical surroundings and spending time in nature gives me a lift. I hope everyone can take time to have a vacation now and then, even if it’s just a couple days to walk away from your worries and start fresh. It’s so worth it.

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Being honest with kids..,why is it so important?

When it comes to kids, it’s tempting to sugarcoat answers to their questions. Children are curious beings, and we want to nurture that curiosity. But guess what? If we give them cute answers or un-truths, we are doing them a disservice. If we give them answers that are simple so they can understand, but are based on fact, they will seek further answers as they grow. Being honest will actually nurture the critical thinking skills that are so important.

Some questions I’ve been asked over the years include:

Where do babies come from?
Why is that man sleeping on the bench?
How come that lady is acting silly?
How come that kid needs a wheelchair?

And the inspiration for this post, my son of course. A car full of teenagers was pulled over in front of our house tonight. There were 2 sheriffs, 1 town officer, and 1 state K-9 unit. Now he’s. 9, so I had to go into more detail than I would with a three or four year old, but basically I went with the truth. They broke the law and there are consequences. This led to a conversation about laws, police, drugs, and safety. What an amazing opportunity for him to learn about these things. Someone asked me why I would tell him about drugs, but I would rather he hear about the topic from his parents. Besides, it’s only a matter of time before he tunes us out!

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Math: How to include more math in play

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I recently attended a workshop that focuses on integrating math into literacy and play. It was sponsored by Vermont’s Early Learning Initiative, and training was based on the new common core state standards and Mother Goose Cares About Math and Science, a VT Center for the Book program. see more about mother goose here.

1) math doesn’t always mean numbers and 1,2,3’s.

It can be shapes, patterns, and sounds, or even the events in a story. When a child hugs a big tree, stretching their arms around it, they’re doing math. Ask them how many more friends can hug the tree. Using a non-standard unit of measurement is still math. We can also nurture pattern observation by providing small items for sorting such as pompoms or wooden beads. Noticing various attributes is math. Offer an egg carton for sorting, ask the child to tell you about the shapes, colors, or other properties they notice.

2) kids love to be mathematicians and scientists.

Children respond to being trusted, valued, and heard. What better way to support this value than to gather predictions from the children and conduct experiments, and then chart the results. “How many shoes do we need to line up to get to the door?” Grab a large piece of paper and make a T chart. “How many of us have brown eyes? Blue?…” Create a pie chart illustrating the eye colors of the whole group. Charting is also a great opportunity to use words like more, less, near, far.

3) books and pictures don’t have to be about shapes or counting to provide opportunities for math learning.

A book about jungle animals can be just as valuable as a book on 1,2,3’s. Look for patterns or rhythms in the words (Dr. Seuss books are great for this). Clap your hands to the beat of the rhymes. Help the children identify the recurring characters on each page. They’ll learn to recognize shapes if they have practice, even if they’re not geometric shapes.

4) incorporate materials and routines that offer opportunity for math.

The children in my care set the table everyday. They count how many friends are here and identify the dishes we need. They practice 1 to 1 correspondence when placing one plate at each seat. We also count heads on our way out the door and on the way in. Offering materials such as dominoes, dice, small items for sorting, and measuring tools are helpful as well. As children learn what three dots look like, counting will become easier. Seeing standard tools of measurement will also prepare the children for their eventual use.

Most of these suggestions are geared toward preschool age children, but keep in mind that they are easily adapted to support many ages. And remember, just because they’re little, doesn’t mean that toddlers aren’t capable of learning math concepts. I have seen children as young as 18 months recognizing simple visual patterns, like seeing a dog on every page of a book.

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“Don’t make a scene.”

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Ever heard yourself say these words to your child in public? Ever heard someone else say them? You know what happens, it’s like a green light for a power struggle. It’s like your child wants to make you even madder so you’ll give in. They push and push until you just can’t take the staring and humiliation anymore. And you give in, and it happens again the next time and the next time. You feel like your child is some sort of manipulative genius, right?

I’ve been there, and I’m sure so have many of you. Guess what? Your child is not trying to manipulate you. There is no secret desire to embarrass you. So what gives? You’re at the grocery store with your three year old child, and you pick up a container of strawberries and place it in your cart. “Not that one! I want that one over there.” You stand firm and ask what the difference could be, they look the same to you. “That is the one we need. Put this one back, I like that one .” It’s just a container of fruit, no big deal.

Now, this is a verbal child, and that makes a huge difference in how this could play out. But the bottom line is the same: do not worry about the other folks in the store judging your response. You are the parent (or guardian or grandparent…), and you need to approach each situation as you see fit. If your child doesn’t agree with your decision, react as you would had no one been observing. Children expect consistency and predictability from the adults in their lives, and that goes for every situation (I know I use these words often but they are just so true).

And some of those power struggles are the child’s way of checking in just to make sure all the rules are still the same. My 9 year old will ask for something, I’ll say no, and he’ll say, “can’t blame me for trying.” If our young children could say this to us, wouldn’t it be so much easier?

And let’s remember that all of us have either been there, or will be there at some point in our child’s life. I remember walking my child into preschool in his pajamas with only one shoe on one time. He was crying and whining, and all I could think was : “I’m so embarrassed. I’m an early educator in this community and my kid is acting like this?” Guess what? His teacher reminded me that the other parents were probably just relieved it wasn’t their child that day. She reminded me to take a breath, and be the parent that I had been just 10 minutes before when I told my child, “if you won’t get dressed, that’s your choice, but you still have to go to school.” I stood by that decision, and was so glad I did, despite the perceived judgement.

It’s sometimes those moments that our children learn the most from us. So next time you’re on the edge of a public power struggle with your child , remember: you are still the parent you were before the scene began, and you’re not alone.

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When Accidents Happen…

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Coloring Pages…Helpful or Hurtful?

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Some childcare providers provide coloring pages to the children, and it’s quite a debate among caregivers. Personally, I’m against them. Professionally, I’m against them. Let me tell you why.

-no imagination required. How sad… Creative expression is a stress reliever for children, as well as a coping strategy for children processing a life transition. It also helps build young amazing minds that can solve problems and think outside the box.

-coloring in the lines is hard for many children and leads to frustration. Skills develop in time, and children can feel pressure to have a “better” picture than they are capable of producing.

-they require very little collaboration between peers. Working together to create a beautiful work of art can be very rewarding.

-they aren’t open-ended, meaning the activity of coloring is the only choice. When you have blank paper, you can create anything, and use anything.

My experience has shown some benefits for some children on occasion. When you’re at a restaurant with three young children waiting for food, the coloring pages keep the kids occupied. But as early educators, our job is to keep the children engaged as opposed to busy. There’s a big difference.

Occasionally, children who are difficult to reach will migrate to coloring pages as a task. The structure and predictability of having all those lines can offer a sense of security. But of course, so can the presence of a caring educator.

This is not meant as a judgement, just advice. Please consider the intended use of coloring pages before you offer them, especially all of you early educators out there.

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Food Pouches…good or bad?

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One of the latest trends in baby and toddler foods are pouches. They offer a nutritious and highly portable option for feeding young ones. They require no specific temperatures for storage, and have a decent shelf life so they are great for travel. They are also a tidy alternative to messy baby food in a bowl. Many companies are offering these products made organically, and include super foods like kale and chia. And then there’s the independence that a pouch offers to a toddler who wants to do everything on their own.

So what’s the down side, you ask? They are expensive for one thing. Cost can be anywhere from $1.50 to $2.75 per pouch, depending on where you are located. The other downside is that while you can order your own refillable pouches, many of us don’t, and the one time use pouches are not recyclable in all areas. The other thing to consider is that more and more eating is happening on the go. Sitting down at the table is an incredible opportunity to connect with your family. In our hurry up world, we can’t afford to lose this critical family time. Besides, sitting down is the safest way for a toddler to eat.

Another drawback to offering pouches to older infants and toddlers is that they may develop a preference over solid fruits and veggies. What a shame for them to miss out on the variety of textures and flavors, not to mention the sensory experience that solid foods offer. Just think of the impact chewing food has on the jaw muscles. The muscles of the jaw need the workout and the sensory input.

I think it’s important to point out of couple of things here:

-most families willing to make the investment in pouches still value traditional sit down meals.
-many families still value the benefits of eating solid foods.
-many families who try to eat organic and whole foods are also the same folks who are trying to preserve the environment.
-pouches offer a nutritional option for travel and as a fast food alternative.

Bottom line, pouches can be a great part of a nutritious diet rich in variety and whole foods. Please use them wisely and responsibly. And please continue to offer solid foods as well.

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