Welcoming Immigrant Families to ECE Programs

•April 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

One of the greatest blessings about working in early childhood education is the broad diversity of the individuals I have the opportunity to serve in my work. There have been many occasions upon which I have welcomed a family into my school after they have recently immigrated from another country. Welcoming these families in a way that is respectful and inclusive is important for laying a foundation of trust with them. Here are the best techniques you can use when on boarding an immigrant family to your program:

  • Forget any and all cultural stereotypes you may have about the country of origin.
  • Prepare yourself to ask a lot of questions and remain very open to the possible answers.
  • Offer translation services for enrollment meetings as well as translated paperwork to the parents.
  • Familiarize yourself with basic greeting customs for the culture.
  • Remember that the culture/language isn’t always the same for one country, be sure you know the region of the country from which the family is immigrating before you start your research.
  • Be aware that physical touch and eye contact may not be the desired approach when greeting.
  • Have additional community resources available to you and to your new family for added support.

The more families from foreign countries you welcome into your school, the more comfortable you will be with the uncertainty that is possible in these situations and the more confident you will feel with helping this family find their way in their new community.

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To the Hollow Man on the Street

•April 13, 2014 • 3 Comments

To the hollow man on the street:

Hi. You might not remember me, but we encountered one another the other day on the street in Denver. I was walking through Five Points on my way to the post office. I was wearing a purple dress. You were wearing black and carrying a back pack. You were walking on the other side of the street until you saw me and crossed over. As we approached one another your eyes narrowed and a wide smile spread on your face. When we passed each other, you stuck your face into my breasts and breathed your sticky breath on my chest.

I jumped and ran across the street while you stared back at me and smiled. In that moment, you won. I was afraid. You were happy. I felt small, insignificant, and objectified. You felt powerful, strong, and manly. My value reduced to the meat on my chest. Your value inherent in your abrasiveness. Now that I have had a couple of days to calm down and reflect I realize that you won in the moment, but the truth is that you are the loser in the long run.

My worth has a breadth and depth that is infinitely larger than any meat on my bones. Yes, I am a beautiful woman with a full bust. I understand that this is attractive to some people and I happen to agree. My body is beautiful. It is evidence of the long line of full-figured women from which I come, it is a testament to my mother, my aunt, my great-grandmother and all of the curvy beauties that preceded me. I am also a beautiful woman because I am smart, fierce, and confident. I do purposeful work and I have a life filled with incredible humans who help me be a better person everyday.

When I reflect on our interaction I realize that you lose. You, somehow, have made it into adulthood believing that female objectification is an acceptable and desirable behavior. It is a reflection on the sad life you have lived. I wonder if you were surrounded by weak men who were unable to confidently embrace and respect strong women, instead resorting to primitive behaviors aligned with terribly outdated cultural norms. Or were the men simply not there at all? I wonder what sorts of women you had to look up to. What happened in your relationship with them that caused you to not see all females as forces of life and creation to be respected and revered? I am sad for you because I know that, while you may be drawn to women, you will never have a truly meaningful, authentic love with a woman because you will never be able to see her.

I do not know your story, but I know it is a sad one. The cultural tide in America and much of the world has been slowly changing. I have shared the story of our interaction with several men in my life. These are men of dignity and strength. They consistently react with a mix of horror and disappointment. They see that, while women are beautiful and physically admirable, this is the least of the traits that makes them worthwhile. I win because I live in a community in which the majority of the men see that objectification is useless. I am valued for my whole self on a daily basis. I imagine that you feel disempowered and lonely a lot. You likely don’t even realize that you have chosen into the situation all by yourself.

What I want you to know is this, you can turn it around. You don’t have to be at arm’s length from genuine interactions with people. You have to choose it though. Nobody else can make you see that your behaviors keep you from truly experiencing the blessings that true love and friendship have to offer. I also want you to know that I forgive you. But, until you figure all of this out, stay on your own side of the street.

Respectfully,

A Confident Woman

Perspectives on Culture & Diversity

•March 23, 2014 • 2 Comments

I asked two of my friends to share their perspectives on culture and diversity with me. Their answers were, at times, surprising and always interesting and informative. My friend Paul Bareis-Golumb is a Montessori elementary and married father of two grown children. He has lived in the US his entire life and relocated from South Dakota to Colorado well over a decade ago. Sandie Nelson Coutts is a British expatriate living in Colorado. She has three grown children and relocated to the US when her children were young. They each offered a fresh perspective on their definitions of culture and diversity.

SANDIE:
Culture is the myriad of experiences and events that influence and shape us as we grow and learn. I believe that all learning takes place within the context of relationships and so the people we encounter in our families, communities and societies are critical in the development of our individual values and beliefs.

Diversity to me is about what makes us unique as human beings and also what connects and binds us together, Our essential humanity, which I believe is universal and transcends cultural differences is one pool of collective consciousness. I believe that life is a gift that we are blessed with and how we express and utilize that gift is what makes us a diverse human race.

People by their very nature desire to be connected to each other, and so we define ourselves and those around us using beliefs and values and we try to make sense of our world through the commonalities we share with other human beings. I grew up in England in the 60’s and 70’s so the events and experiences that shaped my growth into womanhood were very different than those of a woman growing up in another part of the world. Here are some examples:

The IRA bombing campaign of the early 70’s caused deep fear and anxiety in my childhood. I started to understand the concept of hatred as I struggled to come to terms with those fears. I still believe that hatred is a failure of imagination and that to truly hate a fellow human being is not possible once you acknowledge that they are truly human just as you are. Knowing that there were people in the world who hated me enough to kill me just because of where I was born was a terrible truth to learn at a young age.

I was a teenager when England had it’s first female Prime Minister. This was hugely influential on my emerging beliefs about the possibilities of what a woman can achieve in the world, even though I personally disagreed with everything she stood for as a politician.

I grew up in a welfare state with access to free health care and came to understand this as basic human right. It has been a painful transition to come to the US and see how easily a person can be thrust into poverty simply because they are sick, injured or disabled. This has been a constant source of sadness for me. I believe a society is ultimately judged against the way it cares for the young, the old and the sick.

I grew up in a county with strict gun control and an unarmed police force. Gun crime was a very rare and unusual thing in my childhood. This has undoubtedly shaped the way I feel about guns and those who use them.

I started my career in early childhood education in a country where teachers were deeply respected and well paid. Quality nursery education is part of the public school system in England and so is free and universally available to all. Again, I came to believe that this is a basic human right and was horrified to find that not to be the case in the US. To see a child disadvantaged in school and life because of the inability of their family to afford a preschool education goes against everything I believe in.

PAUL:
Interesting that when we think of cultural diversity, we often first think of physical differences, but I think it is the values, attitudes and beliefs that really define cultural differences. It’s even more interesting when two people of the same race, upbringing, etc. are radically different. A personal example would be myself, a white male born and raised in South Dakota. Now living in Denver, most of my values, attitudes and beliefs would be atypical for SD and one of the major reasons I’d never return there to live. My brother continues to live in SD, and is quite happy there.

Thank you to my friends for offering these varied perspectives on culture and diversity. I am grateful to you!

American Refugee

•March 15, 2014 • 1 Comment

A message to my blog followers: This blog is one that I use for both personal thoughts as well as blogging assignments I am given in graduate school. This week I was asked to imagine that I a major disaster has struck America and my family is forced to evacuate with only three possessions and no choice about where we end up. The following blog post is my response.

As an American, the thought of being a refugee feels so distant and unreal. It is hard to understand or sympathize with those whose experiences are very different from our own. I would imagine this is why there is a general state of apathy in American culture when it comes to the plight of global refugees. This exercise was a welcome opportunity to gain perspective on how challenging it must be to be a refugee.

I frequently find myself sitting in my home feeling so pleased and grateful for it. I love my home and its quirky charm frosted with my personal style. I was surprised to realize that, while I appreciate my home and possessions a great deal, it was hard to think of three specific items that I would really want to bring with me. It put into perspective for me how much I don’t really need most of what I have. All I kept thinking is that I would want to bring my husband and daughter with me, they are what really matters.

One item that I would likely take is a ring that I wear every day. It is made of silver and opal and it belonged to my grandmother and was made for her by my great-grandfather, a jeweler. If I were only allowed to keep one item, this would be it for sure. I would bring my camera to document our refugee experience. This would be valuable information for the world and a way to remember what my family went through. Finally, I suppose I would bring a journal for sketching and writing my thoughts. This would be very important for my own mental health and wellness. I cannot imagine how stressful and emotionally draining a refugee situation would be.

For more information of global refugees and how you can give back go to:

http://www.rescue.org/

http://www.unicef.org/

 

 

 

5 Ways to Help Your Young Child Succeed at Home

•March 8, 2014 • 1 Comment

One of the most inspiring aspects of the Montessori community in which I work is the overt dedication the parents have to their children. It is obvious that each one of the children at our school is loved deeply. Not only do I see parents that love their children, I see parents that are devoted to laying a foundation for a secure future for their children. Because of this devotion, many parents ask about how they should work with their children at home to help them develop the critical skills they need in life. The good news for you is that working with your children at home is easy, most of the time.

Reading is good…chapter books are better.

Of course, reading to them should be a top priority. When you read to them turn off your electronics and focus on it fully. This teaches them the importance of books and shows them that you value literature. When they are under eighteen months, do not anticipate actually getting through full books. At this stage it is more important that they become oriented to the nature of books by learning how to use them and understand them. Slowly move from books with one or two words per page to increasingly more complex picture books. By the time your child is three or four years old, I encourage you to take a stab at reading chapter books aloud. At our house we started with The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl. They were a hit with our just-over-three daughter. She is now seven and voraciously devours chapter books for hours on end. I encourage you to give it a try too!

Develop a family relationship with food.

The best thing you can do is to include your child in the daily activities that go on around your house. If you are doing gardening, make sure that you have child sized tools and some seeds available for your children. For the last three years we have given our daughter one of our thirteen garden beds for her to grow whatever she wants however she wants. She consistently grows better vegetables than us. In the kitchen she has helped me chop and prepare the things we grow since she was two. We do it every day in Montessori toddler and primary classrooms. If your child attends a Montessori school, chances are that he has already been planting seeds and chopping vegetables.

Dr. Montessori in the garden with children.

Dr. Montessori in the garden with children.

Be makers and doers together.

My husband is a woodworker with a shop at our house. In it she has a workbench with a complete set of hand tools and safety equipment. She has made some beautiful objects under the loving guidance of her father in that shop and she has made some incredible memories with her dad as well. Woodworking is an activity that is encouraged in the Montessori curriculum. If you have a hobby that involves using your hands in any way that isn’t typing, bring your child along to learn with you as soon as you think he or she is ready. Even good old-fashioned housework will do! The beautiful moments you will share will be priceless and the confidence your child will develop makes the potential frustrations that arise totally worth it.

Let your child take the lead.

Be sure that you are taking time to participate in activities (that don’t involve a screen) that your child enjoys. Build with blocks, dress up dolls, have a dance party, color, do whatever it is that your child wants to do at least once a day. You will learn so much about your children if you let them lead. They are pretty clever individuals!

Be quiet and walk away.

Finally, I advise you to also give them a lot of time to just be alone. It is okay to give your child “quiet time” in their room. The earlier you start this practice, the less resistance you will get. You can also just practice the art of being in the other room when your child is engaged in an activity. It is important for them to have time alone to explore and process the world in an environment that is safe for them. We love our children so much and we find them to be so interesting that it is hard for us to not comment, coach, or get involved when our children are exploring. They need us to give them space just as much as they need us to play with them and comfort them.
Wait a minute? Did I just say “finally” without addressing the importance of writing practice and flash cards? Why, yes I did! These two activities, or any other adult-directed academic activities, are not necessary unless your child is independently choosing them without influence from you. Requiring these types of lessons is a good way to cause your child to resist either you or resist his teacher at school when she attempts academic lessons. This may manifest is fits, hiding, excessive silliness, or attempts to remain unseen while engaged in less academic work such as unit blocks and painting. Academics are best left in the classroom. It is like forcing your child to bring the office home with her.
Your young child works hard all day. In primary and elementary, they are working hard on developing academic skills and abilities that are necessary for success. They do math, geography, reading, writing, and science lessons all day long. At home the best thing you can do for them is offer them loving security and show them that you value learning and the pursuit of broad interests. The best learning happens when we are experiencing something interesting with people we love. Allow the world to be your child’s classroom instead of the dining room table. Your family will be stronger and happier for it.

“What we need is a world full of miracles, like the miracle of seeing the young child seeking work and independence, and manifesting a wealth of enthusiasm and love.” –Maria Montessori

Ethics & Equity in Early Childhood Research

•March 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As I ponder everything that I have learned about research in the field of early childhood education I cannot help but think that all validity for this area of study lies in equity and ethics in the research model. Researchers must ensure that they are aware of existing cultural biases that may unduly influence their research as well as recognize potential deficit models, research assuming deficits in non-white, middle-class sectors of society, that may cause their interpretation of the data to be flawed.

Children are a sensitive research topic, yet it is so important for us to know about and understand their growth and development. However, researchers must continue to be sensitive to the fact that children are unable to give fully informed consent and they are at a power disadvantage when acting as the objects of research. Children with linguistic, cultural, or gender differences that are outside the anticipated norm are at an even more distinct disadvantage to potentially be misinformed, mistreated, or misinterpreted during the research process.

I know that it has been a challenge for me to confront and acknowledge my own biases and take the opportunity to consider differing perspectives, but it has been well worth it. My understanding of Head Start programming and existing research models regarding that program have grown significantly over the past few months and I look forward to finding an opportunity to apply that knowledge directly to work that I do.

Early Childhood Research in Sub-Saharan Africa

•February 8, 2014 • 3 Comments

The world of early childhood research is something that is largely viewed in our culture to be an almost exclusive pastime of American and European universities. This, of course, is far from true. I have found that a plethora of early childhood research comes out of several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The University of Victoria in South Africa hosts a website that features many links to early childhood research conducted and published throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

The research coming out of this region of the world is varied in topic and context. However, there are a few themes that run through a lot of the titles of the studies. Many of the researchers focused their inquiries on establishing programming that had a focus on cultural development including a study out of Malawi called “A Community-Driven Rural Early Childhood Development Project, with Emphasis on Culturally and Developmentally Appropriate Exploratory Learning Concepts.” This paper focuses on an incredible project focused on not only educating and caring for children, but empowering a whole community. The program that was set up in Malawi focused on training women in the community to be the teachers and administrators at a school with a curricular foundation in exploratory learning in which the child is heavily involved in directing his own learning path. I was surprised and thrilled to see this remote area in Malawi exposed to a progressive model that brought success to the whole village and provided a model for replication throughout the country. Many of the studies reflective an approach to early education that reflected a very high quality.

On the Victoria University website I also noticed that many of the published research studies focused on developing training programs for early childhood professionals and assessing their effectiveness. One such study came from Lesotho. This study, called “Developing an ECCD Teacher Training Curriculum in Lesotho as Part of a College Education Program, this paper focuses on a project designed to reform a poorly coordinated teacher training program in the tiny nation surrounded by South Africa. Instead of non-standardized government training programs, the teacher education programs were moved into community colleges and standardized. This program was not designed just by the university. Rather, it was designed with the input from a variety of stakeholders in early education. The results were a successful program that empowered early education teachers in Lesotho to educate their children and care for them with confidence.

One fact that I find of note on the Early Childhood Development Virtual University website is that a significant portion of the studies published in Sub-Saharan Africa focused on the establishment or development of new programs. This tells me that the concept of formalized early childhood education is new to many countries in this part of the world. I am curious if the establishment of an ECE system reflects their changing economies or possibly the encroachment of western influences on Sub-Saharan Africa.

Photo Credit School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria.

Photo Credit School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria.

 

 
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