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06.03.2014
Without warning, you have to quickly set things aside, suddenly shift gears, and hope you can find the same rhythm when you get back to it. Over and over again, we ask our kids to stop what they’re doing and shift gears to another activity.
I realized this was a common challenge as I polled my audience during yesterday’s Ending Power Struggles Webinar. Just like you would like a heads up before shutting down your own project, your kids appreciate getting fair warning that they’re about to shift gears.
Giving kids some sense of power and control really increases their acceptance of the transition because they feel a sense of ownership and direction.
Often we meet resistance as we ask our children to leave an activity they’re enjoying.
Transitions can create a lot of challenges for parents, but when we remember to give kids the same courtesies that we would like to have offered to ourselves, it can make a huge difference in how they respond. But what I knew about the flip side of that, how the brain was influenced by that parenting approach took more research. Scientific studies tell us that positive guidance techniques, and the responsive approach to parenting which it encourages, are associated with improved cognitive and social development as well as emotional, communicative, and behavioral competencies. The obvious answer is that positive guidance creates an environment where the brain is capable of learning. At the toxic level, this stress can change the architecture of the brain in negative ways (as this video explains very succinctly).
Interestingly enough, studies (including this one) have shown that responsive parenting can actually lower a child’s cortisol levels in stressful environments and can increase the brains ability to regulate that stress hormone. Another study demonstrating the way positive, responsive parenting can moderate brain-based outcomes, showed that while the length of the corpus collosum in infancy was associated with executive functions (impulse control, judgement, decision making) years later, that association could be minimized through the use of positive discipline techniques. So positive parenting can have a compensatory effect, mitigating the outcomes of other factors associated with brain development. The study didn’t just find that the brain development was different for subjects whose parents practiced positive parenting techniques, but it delineated where those differences were found. Whether you’re a parent or an educator (or both!), child behavior is at the top of your concerns at some point in each day. This new paradigm requires us to realize that there is a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Provide Choices: Rae suggests that instead of using rewards to motivate, we should offer choices to generate intrinsic motivation and engagement. Involve Them: Encourage children to think critically about their behavior or performance themselves, rather than receiving it passively. This section of the reading included the topics of praise, time outs, bribes & threats, and expulsions, so share your thoughts on any of those specific topics as well. You know that famous scene in The Princess Bride, when the legendary Spanish swordsman, Inigo Montoya, says, “You keep using that word. I feel like I have to pause the speaker or writer immediately to ask for their definition before we proceed. Thankfully, there are many educators who recognize that developmentally appropriate practice and rigor are not mutually exclusive, but work together in an intentional, child-focused classroom to create thorough, in-depth learning experiences. In this example from NAEYC’s Young Child, the authors outline the practices of exemplary preschool teachers who skillfully create a classroom that is both rigorous and developmentally appropriate.
Perhaps the answer lies, once again, in ensuring that all participants in the educational community understand child development and developmentally appropriate practice.


What are your perspectives and observations when it comes to the concept of rigor in early education? This section of the reading included the topics of technology, the homework debate, and the disappearing arts, so share your thoughts on any of those topics as well. Too often we project our understanding, our perspectives, and our priorities onto the children we love and teach.  Developmentally, children are supposed to be ego-centric.  What’s our excuse as adults?
Read more about what I learned from my grandma in the post, Allowing Children to Bloom in Season. Succeeding Through Failure: Read Along Section 7–What If Everybody Understood Child Development? The Great Bambino held the record for career home runs for decades, and is still in the top three of all time.
Twelve publishers rejected Harry Potter before JK Rowling finally landed on a company that would put the tale in print. Before revolutionizing the automobile industry, Henry Ford had been written off by everyone in the business after a string of failed ventures.
And Steve Jobs was famously fired from his own company before returning and creating an empire. It seems that those who excel have a healthy relationship with failure. Is this ability to learn and persevere through failure something we’ve forgotten to teach children? Check Your Attitude-  Promote an environment where it’s safe to take risks and learn from mistakes.
Process Not Just Product – Talk and support children through the process of learning new things and taking risks. Of all the things we work so hard to teach children, perhaps one of the most important things we can teach them is that success is not the absence of failure, but the product of persevering through it.
What are your perspectives and observations when it comes to teaching resiliency over perfection? This section of the reading also included the topics of handwriting and technology, so share your thoughts on those chapters as well. An Assessment of the Testing Culture: Read Along Section 6 – What If Everybody Understood Child Development? Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, the organization responsible for the study, describes a dog-pile scenario where agency after agency has loaded on redundant and ineffective tests, saying, “You’ve got multiple actors requiring, urging and encouraging a variety of tests for very different reasons that don’t necessarily add up to a clear picture of how our kids are doing.
Case in point:  Last school year, Florida kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles outlined the many different layers of tests and assessments she administers to her 5 year old students in this letter to parents explaining why she would be refusing to administer one of those tests. As new assessments are introduced, we must ask, can young children respond to this test in a reliable manner? As we talk about validity, and whether tests are measuring what we assume they measure, we also have to look at the appropriateness of that starting point as well.
For example, in the article shared above about an ill-fit test for first graders, Carol Burris takes issue not only with the confusing presentation of the questions, but also with the standards from which they were created. Is the test valid in that the standards it is measuring are also valid and appropriate expectations? Do the results guide and inform instruction or simply label children, teachers, and schools? That’s certainly a lot to consider when deciding whether or not our assessments are appropriate. I can never assert strongly enough that I am absolutely in favor of using assessments as tools for serving children.


Prescribing testing to improve learning is like prescribing a blood test to improve anemia.
It seems that in an effort to correct the anemic outcomes in some of our schools, we have simply provided more tests. The mystery of the disappearing recess, is not an uncommon topic of discussion in elementary education. According to a statistic cited in our read along book,What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children’s Lives (affiliate link),by Rae Pica, 40% of US elementary schools have removed recess from the day’s schedule completely. As many as two thirds of administrators report withholding recess as a punishment for a lack of focus or disruptive behavior, in spite of data that suggests that recess helps students to focus and is connected with a decrease in behavior problems. On the flip side, scans also show us that brains at play are awash with neurochemicals that encourage growth and learning.  As Dr. Designing a school day that is void of recess is at odds with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, is ignorant of what we know from research is beneficial for children and for a positive learning environment, and disregards what we know about human development and what is needed for children to grow up physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. Rae does an amazing job in this section of the book of outlining why kids need recess and sharing valuable resources parents and teachers can access to prepare themselves to petition for the preservation or return of recess time.
But amid all the data, all the research, and all the numbers, reason #1 is because they are human beings. While I’m sure you could find plenty of examples to validate each perspective, I tend to wince a bit whenever I hear these tendencies to frame parenting in the extremes. While a lot of attention is given to the false dichotomy of permissive parenting (high warmth, low control) vs authoritarian parenting (high control, low warmth), the balanced, authoritative approach is often overlooked.
Unfortunately, a balanced, positive approach is often mistaken for something that it’s not. On the flip side, however, there are also some who believe they are practicing authoritative, positive guidance, but mistakenly perceive assertive boundaries to be incongruent with their philosophy. With contradicting messages coming from either extreme, parents can be left feeling confused and overwhelmed. But the purpose goes beyond the valid desire to keep more tally marks in the positive interactions column.
Lastly, stating positive, clear directions gives enough information to tell kids what we do want them to do.
I remember working with a teacher once who was telling me about the linguistic wrestle she went through as she tried to think of a positive phrasing to use with a child who had a bit of a biting problem.
I’ve been putting together some fantastic resources to help you recognize these core principles and the tools that bring them to life. Olga Jarrett, a fifteen minute recess yields 20 minutes of quality focus time because it reduces fidgeting and increases the child’s ability to stay on task.
It was first believed to function as a brain center for responding primarily to anxiety and fear. In students, these neuroimaging findings in the amygdala are seen with feelings of helplessness and anxiety. When the amygdala is in this state of stress-induced over-activation, new sensory information cannot pass through it to access the memory and association circuits.



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