Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mind in the Making: Seven Essential Life Skills

John Medina, the author of Brain Rules, recommended reading this book by Ellen Galinsky. 
She believes there are seven essential life skills that children need.  These skills are:
 1.  Focus and self control
 2.  Perspective taking
 3.  Communicating
 4.  Making connections
 5.  Critical thinking
 6.  Taking on challenges
 7.  Self-directed, engaged learning
I'm going to give a summary of each of these seven skills, both what they are and how to promote them. Here are my notes on the first one.

Skill One: Focus and Self Control
     Executive function could be just as important as IQ - kids with good attention skills are more successful in reading and math
     This skill includes:
        a.  Focus
        b.  Cognitive flexibility: being able to shift attention from one thing to another, adjust to a change in demands or priorities, or switch perspectives
        c.  Working memory: allows you to do mental arithmetic, relate one idea to another,or prioritize what you need to do
        d.  Inhibitory Control: this allows you to pay attention despite distractions, stick with something even when its challenging, and to think before you act

     How to promote focus:
       1.  Help teach them to how bring themselves under control
       2. Games that help them focus by learning to pay attention:
           - guessing games
           - I Spy
           - puzzles
           - red light, green light
           - musical chairs
           - bell game: everyone walks around carrying a bell - the goal is that the bell doesn't make a sound
       3.  Read stories in a way that encourages them to listen
       4.  Select video games and tv shows that help children pay attention
       5.  Background television can be disruptive and distracting
       6.  Make sure they are well rested and have breaks, as this will improve their attention and self-control.
       7.  Teach by example!

    How to promote cognitive flexibility:
      1.  Play sorting games with changing rules: sort different types of objects (for example flowers and cars in three different colors) - This suggestion reminds me of the card game SET!
      2.  Encourage them to pretend and make up stories
      3.  Give them puzzles

   How to promote working memory:
      1.  Play games that have rules
      2.  Encourage children to pretend
      3.  Have them make plans, follow the plans, and discuss what they accomplished

   How to promote inhibitory control:
      Play games where the rules force them to inhibit what they would do automatically
       - peg tapping: This is a game where you must do the opposite of the other person.  For example, if you tap one, the other person taps twice, and vice versa.
        - Day-Night: When shown a picture, you say the opposite of what it shows.  For example, you see a picture of daytime, and say night, and vice versa.
        - Have cards with names of colors written in different colors - the goal is for them to say the color they see, rather than read the word itself
        - Simon says, but do the opposite: for example, sit when they say stand

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Science and Design

I was amazed and inspired when I visited my old school's brand new science wing.  They start teaching in the space in January, and I know it's thoughtful design that seems to include every possible bell and whistle will only inspire more creativity and innovation in their lessons.

One of my favorite things about all of the rooms was the fact that every single surface could be used as a whiteboard!  This means teachers and students are not chained to the front of the room, but teaching and writing can happen virtually anywhere in the space.
Rather than being limited by the size of a traditional whiteboard, the entire wall is one!  How cool is that??
Rather than using disposable chart paper, they have portable whiteboards that hook onto the wall, but can be taken down to record lab data with groups, or ideas at tables.
Even the cabinets and the backsplash can be used as space to write.  I've dreamed about this, and it's real!  I also love the green color here, fitting since this is a biology classroom.
Here's a good example of how the cabinets can be used as a writing surface - a diagram of a parallax angle in a physics classroom.
Even the inside of the cabinets can be written on!  This, by the way, is the physics prep room.  It's so big and well-organized I wish it was my closet, or even possibly my bedroom!  (And that person who you will see in many of my photos is the wonderful science department chair there, who can explain the reasoning and planning behind the entire space much more eloquently than me since he helped design it.)
The plethora of whiteboard space can also be used for science related art.  I love this drawing that one of the school's art teachers did of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  It's quite appropriate since this is the astronomy classroom!
Even the tables in the student lounge are a whiteboard!

My second favorite thing about the space after the unending sea of whiteboards, was the integration of dynamic, science-related art. 
My favorite is this rube goldberg-like kinetic art piece created by a famous Chicago artist for the wall space between the two Physics classrooms.
In between the two biology rooms, they were in the process of installing a saltwater fish tank with actual coral reef (but no living coral).  It will be maintained by the store that installed it, which means less work for the already busy teachers.

The new wing is also filled with lots of technology.  There are smartboards in every room.
In addition to the smartboard, they also have flat screens above the teaching station (which is offset, so it's easier for the teacher to walk around while teaching). The monitor is attached to the document camera below so a document or lab results can be shown above while other items can be written on the smartboard.  The monitor is also hooked up to a video camera that's permanently installed in the classroom.  This allows teachers to tape themselves teaching, which means if a student is absent, he can watch the lecture remotely.  (I think it would be a bit scary to have every lesson recorded, but it's nice to have the option!)
Here is a crazy huge bank of eight flat screens in the common space between all of the classrooms.  These monitors are also hooked up to the video cameras in the classrooms so visitors can watch what's happening without disturbing classes.  These are also hooked up to the internet.
Unfortunately, the photo above is blurry, but it shows a monitor in the hallway that will show the energy usage in the building.  They've installed solar panels and a wind turbine on the roof, so this will show how much electricity is being produced as well.
You can tell these rooms were designed with a lot of input from the teachers and what they would need.  One example are these metal bars installed in the ceiling of the physics classroom.  They are strong enough to do chin ups on, but are there for activities like pendulum labs.
I miss having a proper prep room, and the ones here are HUGE!  This is the Chemistry prep room.  There is also a separate closet (really a small room) for all the chemicals, complete with beautiful wooden shelves (non-reactive material), an acid cabinet, and one for flammable items.
The prep room would also be an enviable office (or studio apartment) since it has huge picture windows that overlook Lincoln Park.
There is even an independent study space for students who might want to do their own research.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Our nursery was on OhDeeDoh!

I didn't get a chance to post about this before, as it was right after Olivia was born and I was a bit overwhelmed and sleep deprived, but Apartment Therapy's ohdeedoh posted my submission for Olivia's nursery!  It was so exciting to see it up there - yippee!

Bright from the Start: Child Care

A lot of the book Bright from the Start by Jill Stamm repeated what I read in other books, but I found the section on choosing childcare helpful.

Choosing infant day care
What is most important?
1.  Who the caregiver is: It's important that there is a consistent individual responsible for your child.  A daycare that has the same person looking after your child at the same time every day and offers annual contracts is preferable.
2.  Child to caregiver ratio: It should be 1:3 when a child is between 6 to 15 months old according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.  (This is also specified by the National Association for the Education of Young Children if the group size is 6 children or fewer.)
3.  General environment: It should be safe, bright colorful and inviting.
4.  Personal contact: Infants need hugging, holding, and rocking.  They also need to be talked to regularly.
5.  Openness: You should be able to drop by whenever you wish.

What is less important?
1.  The physical building - as long as it is safe
2.  New or fancy toys: They should be plentiful, age appropriate, and in good condition.  There should NOT be a television!
3.  Advanced degrees - as long as they have a basic understanding of brain development and affection for babies
4.  Schedules - babies have individual sleeping and eating needs
5.  A strong academic program: a play-based curriculum is preferable to formal academic instruction

Other factors to consider:
1.  Distance from work or home
2.  Licensing and accreditation: the National Association for the Education of Young Children is the highest standard in the childcare industry
3.  Cost: higher cost doesn't necessarily mean better quality of care. but paying for a consistent individual giving your child individual attention and responsive care is worth paying for

Interview the Caregiver
- Do they have enough time to love and care for all the children they are responsible for?

Observe the Caregiver
- Do they speak directly to the children?  Do they seem to genuinely enjoy them?
- A checklist of what to look for when observing a caregiver interact with a child from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development's Early Child Care Research Network:
   a.  Caregiver responds to the child's vocalizations
   b.  Caregiver asks the child questions
   c.  Caregiver praises and says something affectionate to child
   d.  Caregiver teaches the child
   e.  Caregiver directs other positive talk to the child (describing objects or events, comforts or entertains the child, sings a song, tells a story)
    f.  Caregiver doesn't use negative or directive talk towards the child

Share your expectations
- Have toys on hand that encourage brain-based play (mirrors, colorful books, ...)
- Let them know that developing routins and bonding with your baby is important
- Encourage tummy time (and sleeping on their back)
- Let them know what information you'd like at pick up - what do you want them to tell you about your child? (attention, interests, diet, naps, ...)

Don't be jealous

Toddler Daycare (age 2 and beyond)
- Brain specific things to look for:
   a.  Caregivers who hug, let children climb in their laps, etc...
   b.  Ratio of 1:4 for 2 years old and 1:7 for 3 year olds
   c.  An expanding variety of materials: tactile, blocks, art supplies, dress-up, pretend play
   d.  Child-directed pace

Make changes thoughtfully
- Is your child happy?

What do you DO all day?

The most difficult question I face now that I'm staying home with my baby girl is, "so, what do you DO all day?"  I don't have a good answer to this question other than taking care of little O, and that doesn't sound adequate when I say it out loud.  There's also all of the house work: vacuuming, washing dishes, cleaning the litter box, doing yard work, cooking dinner, washing baby laundry, our laundry, and cloth diapers.  However, most of this are things everyone does, except for spending every moment with an infant.  I'm not sure how to make that sound important to those without kids of their own.     

Wednesday, November 16, 2011