Supporting and Nurturing Young Readers and Writers during the Pandemic and Beyond: Kathy Collins, Matt Glover, Aeriale Johnson and Vicki Vinton

 

Matt Glover

Vicki Vinton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2013, a University of Cambridge research team published a study that followed the reading history of two groups of children. One group began formal instruction in reading at the age of five. The second group had a more play-based curriculum and began their formal reading study at the age of seven. The results of the study were quite interesting. They concluded that by the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 tended to develop less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.The report  advised that “formal schooling” should be delayed until children are at least seven and that pushing it earlier is damaging children’s “academic achievement, especially when it comes to reading.” 

This report is particularly interesting to consider during this pandemic when children’s schooling has been so suddenly disrupted. No Child Left Behind, Race to The Top, Common Core Learning Standards, High Stakes Standardized Testing….all of these have traumatized educators, parents, and children, turning what should be the joy of learning into a competitive race. Now we add  to this pressurized school environment the terror of a destructive pandemic.

 There have been many magazine and newspaper articles where parents of young children expressed the fear that their children were falling behind. Parents and teachers worried that children would have difficulty when they were able to return to regular school. In a New York Times article, a mother of a kindergarten child voiced anxiety about her child and the other children in her child’s class. She worried about what would lie ahead for them when they entered first grade. ” If they are transitioning into first grade, will there be time to catch up and get them up to par?”

On Tuesday, January 5, 2020, I met with four extraordinary educators, Kathy Collins, Aeriale Johnson, Vicki Vinton and Matt Glover, to discuss their thoughts on how we can best support young learners during this time. What does reading and writing mean for a 4, 5, 6 and 7 year old? Should we have particular expectations? Can a child of that age be falling behind? 

Their conversation will, I believe, provide much comfort and food for thought for parents, teachers and school administrators. 

 

 

 

Books by the participating educators

 

Learn more aboutAlready ReadyLearn more aboutCraft and Process Studies

 

Learn more aboutProjecting Possibilities for Writers

 

 

 

WHAT PRICE DO CHILDREN PAY WHEN PLAY DISAPPEARS? In Conversation with Dr. Peter Metz, Nakoley Renville, Anne Haas Dyson and Peter Rawitsch

“The protected place in space and time that we once called childhood has grown shorter.”

 Mary Pipher

 

 

 

 

 

In 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. The report included this statement: “Because every child deserves the opportunity to develop to their unique potential, child advocates must consider all factors that interfere with optimal development and press for circumstances that allow each child to fully reap the advantages associated with play.”

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, in their 1989 Declaration of the Rights of the Child, declared, in Article 31,  that every child has the right to play.

Considering these two important documents, one wonders why, in 2020,  we still have to advocate for the child’s right to play, both in school and outside of school?

On December 17, 2010 I had a fascinating and illuminating conversation with four outstanding advocates for the rights of children – Dr. Peter Metz, Nakoley Renville, Anne Haas Dyson and     Peter Rawitch. It is, I believe, a discussion to ponder carefully and, perhaps, to share and discuss with parents, teachers and anyone interested in the well-being of young children.

 

Parenting During The Pandemic: In Conversation -Christy Ziegler, Pier Imbriano, Katie Rust-Brown, Sheldon Brown, Melissa Toogood and Dana Roth


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One reason to stay calm is that calm parents are the ones whose children keep talking. ”

 (Mary Pipher)                    

On December 15, 2020, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of parents, via zoom, so that we could discuss their experiences parenting during this unusual time in our history. The ages of their children varied from almost two years old to a just-starting- middle- school eleven year old. 

Did any of their experiences overlap? How were their children adapting to the changes in their schedules and in the life-styles of their families?  In addition to caring for their families, supervising school-age children with schoolwork, doing their own work from home, and generally worrying about when this would all end, how were these hard-working adults taking time to care for themselves? 

Join us…

 

Bringing Choice Time to China: A Conversation with Larry Leaven and Nancy Du

 

In 2018 I had the very exciting experience of traveling to Hong Kong to work with the educational staff of the Hong Kong Dalton School. Larry Leaven, who was director of the school at that time, had introduced my book on Choice Time as a professional study text to his staff. I had my first experience doing a professional development session over Skype and then Larry proposed that I come to Hong Kong in August and spend a week working with his staff. What an exciting experience I was in for.

The teachers were all interested and so engaged in their work. I went into classrooms to work with them and we also had one full day dedicated to professional development. Teachers from other schools in the city were invited to join us. Nancy Du was the assistant director of the school at the time (She is now co-director with Shaun Porter) and she and Larry had the wonderful idea of translating my book into Mandarin. The Beijing Normal University Press was interested in the idea. They all believed that the teachers in China were eager for information on how to bring more inquiry and play into their classrooms.

Over the next few months, Nancy worked on the translation, occasionally asking me to clarify some points in the book. And so, at last, the Mandarin version of the book was published and went into the hands of many teachers in China!

 

One evening in New York, (morning in Hong Kong,) Larry, Nancy and I met via zoom to discuss their experience of bringing Choice Time, the book and the ideas in the book, to China. Here’s a bit of their personal  backgrounds. 

Larry Leaven, most recently the Founding Principal of the Dalton School Hong Kong, has worked in education for 32 years. He earned a degree in elementary education and in music education from Houghton College, Houghton, NY and received his master’s degree in education and a certificate of advanced study in educational administration from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. Before moving to Hong Kong in 2016, he served two years as the principal of the Beijing International Bilingual Academy in Beijing, China. Prior to that, Mr. Leaven served in various capacities in New York State, including: teacher, principal, adjunct lecturer, and assistant superintendent. In addition to his teaching and leadership roles, he has presented at international education conferences and has served on various non-profit boards.

Dr. Nancy, Lijuan, Du grew up in Beijing, and studied at the Beijing Normal University, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the University of Hong Kong. She has degrees in Pedagogy, Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language and Assessment. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Du has been working in different international school settings in Beijing and Hong Kong, and has been serving in many leadership roles. She is currently the Co-Principal of Dalton School Hong Kong. She is super passionate about education, and is a great advocate of Chinese culture, dual Language program and child-centered philosophy.

 

In Conversation: Bill Fulbrecht, Amy Binin, Merril Miceli and John Allgood – Bringing Children Into the Natural Environment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Let children touch nature because that which is untouched is unloved.”  (Emma Morris)

John Allgood, a very dedicated kindergarten teacher, observed that when he brought children  into the natural environment, they quite naturally become engaged in collaboration. Although there were still disagreements, they were of a different nature than those that took place in the classroom and children more naturally learned to resolve them. He said that the hierarchy that often exists in the playground, where students with the greatest physical facility  become dominant, was devalued when children are playing in parks and in the woods.

On Thursday, December 10, 2020, I met, via zoom, with John and three other early childhood teachers, Bill Fulbrecht, Amy Binin and Merril Miceli. All four of them have found ways to incorporate bringing children into the natural environment into the lives of their classrooms.

Here is our very informal and engaging discussion,followed with a link to Emma Morris’s TED talk, and also a link to an exciting early childhood program in China, Anjiplay.

Emma Morris’s TED talk – https://www.ted.com/talks/emma_marris_nature_is_everywhere_we_just_need_to_learn_to_see_it

Anji Play – http://www.anjiplay.com

In Conversation With Richard Lewis and Kristin Eno: Living by Wonder-The Imaginative Life of Childhood

 

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In his book “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul,Stuart Brown writes, “Joy is our birthright, and is intrinsic to our essential design.” However, it is probably obvious to many people, now and before this devastating pandemic, that joy been put on a back burner in many classrooms around the country. Joy, as an important priority, has been taken over by the anxious drive to get young children ready for upcoming high-stakes standardized tests.

Thank goodness we have educators like Kristin Eno and Richard Lewis. They both prioritize joy, wonder, poetry, art and music when they work with children and they don’t forget about how important parents are in this equation.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, December 9, 2020 I had the delightful opportunity of taking part in a conversation with Richard and Kristin. The discussion became so exciting that we decided on making plans for a part two. But that is still in the works. For today, here is part one of Living by Wonder: The Imaginative Life of Childhood. After listening to our talk, you can view one of Kristin’s studio lessons for the preschoolers that she works with at Beginnings Nursery School at the bottom of this post.

 

A Conversation With Lella Gandini and Cathy Topal: The Gift of Discovery

I met Lella Gandini in 1996 when my husband and I were visiting Rome and staying at the American Academy . At the time, her husband, Lester Little, was the director of the Academy. On the plane trip I was reading The Hundred Languages of Children and I was so surprised when we reached the main desk of the Academy to check in and I saw Lella’s photo on a bulletin board above the receptionist’s desk. We have remained correspondents since that visit.

Amazingly, I had a second surprise visit connected with Lella. This one included Cathy. When my daughter was having a concert in Worchester, Massachusetts, I was introduced to the publisher, Wyatt Wade. He invited me, along with my daughter and son-in-law, to visit his newly restored office. When we arrived, Lella and Cathy were there waiting for me! After a tour of the office, we all went to Wyatt’s home for dinner. It was a visit that I’ll always remember.

When I came up with the idea for this new series of conversations, I immediately thought of these two inspiring women. I crossed my fingers when I invited them to participate and to my utter delight, they immediately accepted the invitation.

Lella serves as Reggio Emilia Liason in the United States for Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach. The Principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach include:

  • a deep respect for the ideas of children and teachers.
  • a belief that knowledge is constructed through social interchange.
  • the value of using materials and media to express and communicate feelings, thoughts and understandings.
  • the desire to document children’s and teacher’s processes to preserve memories and sustain in-depth work.
  • the joy and growth that comes from collaborating with other teachers and with children in the search for knowledge and understanding of relationships.

    Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini took some time the morning of November 17, 2020  to talk about Beautiful Stuff and the Gift of Discovery.

To see a more in-depth demonstration of the work that Cathy and Lella have done together with Susan MacDonald, this is a must-see PowerPoint presentation: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Yd7y6MssD1_q7DoUcrB–xUQXONFBsXv/view

Here is a very apropros and  entertaining video of how the artist Hanoch Piven uses beautiful stuff in his art. You might want to share this with your children. They will love it! https://youtu.be/f7bZWbzuW_I

 

 

A Conversation With Deborah Meier And Anna Allanbrook: • The Interplay of Democracy and Play in Education

 

When I began teaching in the late sixties and early seventies, I heard about the new public school in Harlem, Central Park East, and its foundation of progressive education. At the same time, I was reading Charles Silberman’s magisterial anthology, The Open Classroom Reader. These possibilities for creating schools and classrooms that honored children’s innate intelligence, desire and need for play and exploration filled me with an excitement for teaching.

Then, as the years went on, the educational landscape changed. Testing and rigid standards that didn’t take into account all that we know about children, how they develop and what they need to become creative thinkers and future adult citizens, took over what was happening in classrooms across the country.

Some, however, stayed strong and true to their ideals. Deborah Meier and Anna Allanbrook are two of the shining examples of progressive leaders in education who did not give up and who keep fighting for what they know education should stand for.

I’m honored to have had a conversation with these two noted educators and inspired thinkers. I hope you enjoy this important dialogue.

Thinking of Children in the Time of Covid

During this frightening and sad time in our history something personally disturbing happened to me. While I stayed practically locked up in my house with my husband, I saw so many people busy at their important work. We live near a hospital and in addition to the painful sound of ambulance alarms, day and night, I was so aware of all the brave people who were working in the hospital, always facing personal danger of catching the virus themselves.

Teachers were quickly learning the technology that would allow them to reach out to their students, hoping that they could soothe, assure and instruct them at the same time. Parents were working from home while simultaneously becoming home-schoolers, teaching their children how to manage often-confusing technology and helping them to stay focused on this new mode of instruction.

In my own family, my husband,  whose time had been taken up with some exhibitions of his work, was now back in his studio, totally immersed in an exciting new painting. My daughter  saw her entire year of piano concerts get cancelled one by one. After a few months, she pulled herself out of an understandably depressed state and began recording CDs, teaching students, via Zoom, as far away as Asia, and performing concerts that are being streamed on the internet. My son-in-law took on a huge project, with the help of my grandson, and built a magical, screened-in summer room in their garden. Now he’s back at work, teaching 4th grade students at P.S. 321. My grandson, who has been studying acting in London, auditioned and was given an important role in a new Netflix film about a group of teenagers who attempt to start a heavy metal band. He’s now in Portland, Oregon filming Metal Lords!

That leaves me. I seemed to be faced with a personal, existential crisis. Where is my place during this unusual time? As an early childhood consultant, focusing on exploration, play, Choice Time and inquiry, my work disappeared for now and possibly in the future. I seemed to have no constructive purpose and I felt, to put it mildly, useless.

My daughter wondered why I wasn’t writing on my blog. How could I? I don’t have an authentic voice. I’m not working with teachers or children now. I’m not parenting a young child. Why would anyone have an interest in what I would have to say?

Simone, forever wise, suggested that I interview interesting people and post the interviews on my blog. I thought about her suggestion and came up with a twist to her idea. Instead of interviews, I am going to record conversations between people who have very interesting and provocative contributions that should inspire refreshing thinking about the education of young children.

Perhaps these ideas might guide us in taking hold of education and assuring that something positive will grow out of this challenging, distressing time.

Here is the list of the upcoming blog post conversations:

Richard Lewis and Kristin EnoLiving by Wonder: The Imaginative Life of Childhood

Deborah Meier and Anna AllanbrookThe Interplay of Democracy and Play in Education

Nancy Du and Larry LeavenBringing Choice Time to China

Bill Fulbrecht, Amy Binin, John Allgood and Merril MiceliBringing Children Into the Natural Environment

Lella Gandini and Cathy TopalBeautiful Stuff: The Gift of Discovery

Dr. Peter Metz, Peter Rawitsch, Nakoley Renville and Anne Haas Dyson – What Price Do Children Pay When Play Disappears?

Christy Ziegler, Melissa Toogood, Katie Rust Brown, Sheldon Brown and Pier Imbriano – Parenting Young Children During the Pandemic

Kathy Collins, Matt Glover, Vicki Vinton and Aeriale JohnsonNurturing Young Readers and Writers During the Pandemic and Beyond

For Parents: Tell Me a Story


“Tell me about when you were a little girl.” “Tell me about how you and daddy met.” “Tell me about your grandma and grandpa.” Simone, my daughter, was always asking for more “Tell me about…” stories. She loved to hear stories that our friend Teresa, in Rome, would tell her about what it was like in Italy when she was a little girl. My stories of growing up in Brooklyn (in the olden days!) intrigued her. She ate these stories up. She wanted the same story told over and over. She never seemed to tire of the same story just as she never tired of hearing Goodnight Moon before going to sleep each night. . Now, years later, my 18 year old grandson is hungry for stories about my father, almost as though my memories might provide a magic key to unlocking some mystery that might be hidden.

Children just love to hear stories about what seems to uncover the secret lives of their parents. Now while families are all sheltered together at home, why not have a special time a few days or evenings for story sharing. Adults can begin the storytelling, remembering special moments from their childhood. After a few days of story sharing, children can be encouraged to share their own stories about memories from their lives.

Storytelling has, over the years, taken many forms. Children might find it interesting to learn that cavemen told stories by writing pictures on the walls of caves. They used a stick to draw onto muddy cave walls.

When I was teaching kindergarten, the children in my class were fascinated to learn about how the Egyptians wrote messages in hieroglyphs, using pictures to stand for words and sounds. We had a flurry of hieroglyph writing for a while!

Of course, oral storytelling has a rich, international tradition. The Cherokee Native Americans gathered together as different versions of the creation story were (and still are) shared as are more moralistic stories that tell why a certain animal looks a particular way, or acts with unique behaviors.

Anansi, the spider who is a cunning trickster, is the subject of the very rich oral storytelling tradition that was brought to this country from West Africa and the Caribbean. Anansi was such a trickster that he was considered able to turn the tables on the slave owners, allowing the slaves to gain the upper hand. He was considered an inspiration of resistance. Telling the Anansi stories allowed the Africans who were enslaved in the United States to maintain a connection to their homelands.

Some years ago, when I visited the early childhood schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, I was surprised to see how few books they had their classrooms as compared to the classrooms back in NYC. I asked one of the teachers about this and she told me that the Italian families would sit around the dinner table and listen to stories told by the elders in the household. Dinner would last until late in the evening and this rich tradition of family story telling took the place of our bedtime stories.

Story telling can become a fun, comforting and inspiring tradition in your home during this pandemic. If you have spent, say, a week sharing stories, why not come up with the exciting idea of putting all the stories into books? You could staple or click a few blank pages together and begin the process as collaboration. Draw pictures together to recreate one of the stories.

If your child is young and not doing traditional writing, you might wonder if you should be transcribing the story onto the pages. This is a tricky question. Sometimes, in my class, a child would ask me a question about some aspect of religion. That’s when I would say, “That’s a good question to ask a grown-up in your family.”


I have my own ideas on whether adults should be writing on children’s stories but I would say that this is something to ask your child’s teacher. What are the protocols for writing in children’s books? Some teachers transcribe the child’s words and some ask the child to write “as best as you can”. My personal instinct is to leave the writing up to the child. What looks like random marks on a paper to an adult can have very personal meaning to the child who is writing a story. If you want to read more about this way of thinking, I would suggest the Heinemann book, Already Ready, Nurturing Writers in Preschool and Kindergarten by Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover. However, bottom line is that you might want to be consistent with the instruction your child will be getting when school returns and so it probably makes sense to consult the classroom teacher on this.

Here’s another possible fun follow-up to story telling. If you shared the history of cavemen’s wall paintings with your child, find a big piece of paper if you can, tape it to the bedroom wall, give your child some crayons and talk with him about what family story he’s going to draw as he imagines that he’s in a cave, drawing with a stick on a muddy wall!

You also can cut out strips of paper, find images of hieroglyphs on the Internet, and challenge your child to write one of the stories with hieroglyphs! Remember that it will be the process of thinking about what to write, not whether or not the final product is correct, that counts here.

If you have family photo albums, sharing them together can spark the telling and retelling of family stories.

The next time your child says, “Tell me a story” why not begin a meaningful storytelling tradition in your home?