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Throwback Thursday: A “Kids Bridge” to Kindergarten Success

July 31, 2014 by Alyssa Haywoode

This post was originally published on October 30, 2013.

In Providence, R.I., educators, parents and community leaders have long understood that the city’s children would benefit from high-quality universal pre-k.

However, the community only has limited resources for serving all three- and four-year olds, so to get to the goal of UPK, the city has to take smaller, creative steps and engage in innovative thinking. Kids Bridge is one example.

“The vision is universal pre-school,” Terri Adelman told the Providence Journal. Adelman is the executive director of Inspiring Minds, the nonprofit program that runs Kids Bridge along with the Providence schools. Unfortunately, there are only enough seats for one-third of the children who are eligible for free preschool programs. That’s why supplemental programs such as Kids Bridge are important.

Before they get to kindergarten, children enroll in Kids Bridge during the summer.The four-week program runs in five schools, and it “empowers children with little or no pre-school experience to rapidly catch up academically and socially,” according to the Kids Bridge website.

So on the first day of kindergarten, Kids Bridge children have the abilities they need to thrive. Participation is especially important for children who haven’t had prior access to high-quality pre-k programs at ages three and four. This year, 180 young children in gained valuable exposure to school environments and early learning routines.

A certified teacher and groups of volunteers work with students. The program costs $500 per child. Providence’s school department pays 80 percent of this, and Inspiring Minds covers the rest. There is no fee for families, but they do have to provide their own transportation.

The program offers literacy and math instruction as well as opportunities to build social and emotional skills.

And according to the Journal, “For the first time this year, Inspiring Minds is offering an extended day program for children that offers academic enrichment in the morning and fun activities in the afternoon, offered by the Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA, the Providence Community Library and the Providence Children’s Museum. The program is being piloted at the Messer Elementary School on Westminster Street.”

One exciting outcome is seeing children who arrive in kindergarten “ready to learn”, with an understanding of classroom routines, the ability to work and play with others, and enthusiasm for the kindergarten year. Adelman discusses this further in a video about the program.

Regina Richards, a kindergarten teacher, reports that in addition to academics, the children develop socially. “Being empathetic to one another, learning to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to one another, being polite to one another, some children don’t know that and we’re teaching that in the program as well,” Richards told the Hummel Report, a local news outlet.

Children in Providence should have access to universal preschool. But until they do, kindergarten-readiness programs like Kids Bridge can help them develop some of the skills they need to do well in school and in life.

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Child Care Costs Across the Country

July 29, 2014 by Alyssa Haywoode

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Parents know that early education and child care are expensive. But for a refresher on just how expensive, the Boston Globe recently featured a 50-state map of child care costs across the nation. As the Globe explains, Massachusetts is among the least affordable states with an annual cost of $12,176 for 4-year-olds and $16,430 for infants. Compared to “the state median income for married couples, Massachusetts is the fourth least-affordable state for center-based infant care in the country.”

A recent report from Child Care Aware of America, the data source for the Globe’s map, explains just how high these costs are across the country.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers 10 percent of family income for child care as a benchmark for affordable care,” according to Child Care Aware’s “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care 2013 Report.”

“Child care is an increasingly difficult financial burden for working families to bear,” Lynette M. Fraga, executive director of Child Care Aware of America, said in a press release. “Unlike all other areas of education investment, including higher education, families pay the majority of costs for early education. Too many families are finding it impossible to access and afford quality child care that doesn’t jeopardize children’s safety and healthy development.”

[For a quick primer on how public funding for child care works, visit the federal website for the Child Care and Development Fund.]

Among the report’s findings:

• “Depending on the state, the average cost of full-time care for one infant in a center ranges from 7 percent to about 19 percent of the state median income for a married couple with children.”

• “In 21 states and the District of Columbia, the average annual cost of care for a 4-year-old in a center exceeds 10 percent of the median household income for a married couple with children.”

• “The average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in center-based care ranges from $4,863 in Mississippi to $16,430 in Massachusetts.”

• “The average annual cost for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) in a child care center ranged from $9,175 in Mississippi to $28,606 in Massachusetts.”

• “Families of three in Massachusetts living at the poverty level would have to pay more than 86 percent of their income for full-time center-based care for an infant.”

 How can the country address these costs? The report calls for:

• “A national discussion about the impact of the high cost of child care. This discussion should explore federal and state options; innovative, low-cost solutions that have shown success; and what has worked in other industries.”

• “Congress to require the National Academy of Sciences to produce a study on the true cost of quality child care and to offer recommendations to Congress for financing that supports families in accessing affordable, quality child care.”

• “Congress to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to ensure all children in low-income working families have access to affordable, quality child care.”

In addition, the report says:

• “We call on federal and state policymakers to make child care a top priority when working on budgets.”

• “We call on parents, concerned citizens and early care and education professionals to urge federal and state legislators to address the high cost of child care.”

 Addressing these high costs is a key step toward ensuring that children have access to high-quality early education programs that prepare them for school and life.

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Lessons that K-12 Can Learn from the Early Childhood Sector

July 28, 2014 by Alyssa Haywoode

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Looking for insights on how to improve K-12 education? Consider the lessons offered by the early childhood education field, Joan Wasser Gish advises in a recently published Education Week commentary called “Four Lessons from Early Education.”

Wasser Gish is a member of the Board of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care as well as the principal at Policy Progress, a public-policy consulting firm based in Newton, Mass. And from 2005 to 2006, she was Strategies for Children’s director of policy and research.

There are “four lessons that elementary and secondary education could draw from the early-childhood sector as leaders seek to build P-16 systems and re-imagine schools capable of helping all children attain the skills they need to succeed in the 21st-century economy and society,” Wasser Gish writes. These lessons are:

 1. Expand the mission by engaging families.

“In high-quality early-childhood-education settings, the mission is to serve children and their families. This mission takes different forms in each community, but the federal Head Start program, which serves low-income, at-risk children across the nation, is illustrative: Head Start emphasizes developing relationships with families to support parents as their child’s first teacher and promote positive parent-child interactions.”

“Critically, this approach emphasizes strengthening rather than substituting for families. It shifts away from schools’ assuming core family functions to helping parents and guardians be effective family members, teachers, advocates, and role models for their children whenever possible. Similar engagement efforts in K-12, tailored to the needs of older children and their families, could yield important results.”

2. Facilitate access to comprehensive services and other resources.

“In some states, every early-childhood program, whether in the public or private sector, is connected to resources and supports that are critical to the healthy development of children and their families.”

Wasser Gish uses Massachusetts as an example, pointing to this state’s “network of Coordinated Family and Community Engagement grantees that help connect families to local educational, social, health, and mental health resources.

3. Cultivate all domains of child development.

“Educating the ‘whole child’ is the linchpin of early-childhood pedagogy and refers to fostering growth across five domains of human development: cognitive, language, social, emotional, and physical. As a result, early-childhood teachers are overt about their role in developing character skills. Imbedded concepts like ‘wait your turn,’ ‘use your words,’ or ‘try again’ are the precursors of delayed gratification, effective communication, and grit — all traits linked to positive academic and social outcomes.”

“The National Governors Association has convened six states to create and pilot assessments across the birth-to-3rd-grade continuum that reflect a whole-child approach. Assessments in K-12 could eventually embrace a more holistic and engaging approach to education for all children.”

4. Incentivize and support educational quality.

“States are providing incentives for improving the quality of early-childhood programs and supporting capacity-building at the program and classroom levels, where it matters most.”

Wasser Gish adds: “ It may seem counterintuitive that early childhood has anything to teach K-12 about teacher quality. Only 35 percent of center-based educators have earned four-year college degrees. But in early childhood, unlike K-12, state policymakers have required current and aspiring teachers to attain higher levels of academic achievement and taken the lead to identify and support research-based professional development and practice through coordinated statewide delivery systems.”

Wasser Gish concludes: “As education reformers confront the opportunities and limitations of the standards and accountability era of education reform and think anew about what more is needed to close the achievement gaps, early-childhood education may offer guidance that educators and policymakers across the P-16 continuum can use to better develop the potential of every child.”

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When You Just Don't Have Time for That Meltdown

“How would you handle a situation when
you have to leave the park to go get your other two children and
unfortunately can’t sit on the bench for thirty minutes while she
cries?” – Sandra

In our last post about setting limits with empathy, the three year old was upset about leaving the park, so the parent supported her through her disappointment, which involved tears and anger on the park bench. But that’s not always an option. What do you do then?

Let’s back up for a minute. If you’ve been reading these Aha!
parenting emails for awhile, you know something about how emotions work.

  • When we accept our emotions, they swamp us and then–as they’re acknowledged–begin to evaporate. When try to push them away, we’re stuffing them down into our bodies, where they’re out of conscious control. That’s why we get hijacked by our emotions at times. Our conscious mind isn’t in charge of them.
  • When we allow emotions, we learn to manage them, and can choose not to act on them. The more we practice being aware of what we feel, the more we grow the neural wiring that keeps us from getting hijacked by those feelings.
  • Kids are no different than the rest of us. If you want a child’s behavior to change, you have to make it safe for them to show you the tears and fears that are driving their behavior. Once their feelings are “heard,” they can move on. Otherwise, those hurts stay clenched inside, stored in what we might think of as an emotional backpack. They come bubbling up whenever your child suffers even a small disappointment. 

Since you understand emotions, you sometimes find yourself sitting on a park bench with a sobbing
child. You know those tears are an over-reaction, a chance to empty their emotional backpack. Amazingly, after the meltdown, your child is usually cooperative
for the rest of the day, or even the week. Sibling squabbles diminish
and your child is unusually affectionate and cooperative. 

This is such an amazing experience that any parent who can stay
calm enough to support their child lovingly through a big cry usually
becomes a convert, and starts to embrace tears rather than shutting them
down.

BUT, as Sandra asked above, what if you don’t have time?  Sometimes, after all, you have other children to go pick up, or “the
baby is crawling away putting leaves in his mouth and my toddler is
throwing a tantrum on the swing and my 4-year-old is running to the
slides because he doesn’t want to leave,”
as Kristin said on my Facebook page.

The
answer is that sometimes you really don’t have time for feelings.  So
you do what you can to avoid the meltdown in that moment. 

1. Start early
Since you know a meltdown is likely, start the process of leaving the
park at least half an hour earlier than you think you need to. Worst case
scenario, you’ll get to the older child’s school early and play at their
playground.

2. Be consistent. Children are scientists, figuring out how the world works and how they can get what they want and need. If you sometimes give extra time after your initial warning, your child will always push for that extra time. So there’s nothing wrong with a ten minute warning and then a two minute warning, but if you add another five minutes “just this once” you can’t fault your child for asking every time.

3. Remember to see things from your child’s perspective. Of course he doesn’t want to leave the playground. As with all interactions where you’re asking your child to give up something he wants, EMPATHY is your magic wand. When kids feel understood, they’re more likely to do what we ask, even if they don’t see any benefit for themselves. So make sure your child feels that you’ve listened, understood, and tried to take his needs into account.

4. Distract. If you make a habit of distracting your child when he’s upset, you’re teaching him to stuff his emotions. Used sparingly, though, distraction is a useful tool to get you through some tough moments. Just limit it to times when you really need it, and know that you may pay a price later. 

5. Make it worth their while.
This is not a bribe. This is an acknowledgment that your child needs
something to move towards. Maybe it’s the playground at big brother’s
school, or the music she can choose in the car, or a snack in the car, or she gets to unlock the car. Whatever gives her a little hit of dopamine
when she thinks about it, so she has a reason to get off that wonderful
swing.

6. Divide and Conquer. Put the baby in a sling. Then enroll the four year old in your plan. If she gets
excited about leaving, she’ll help convince the two year old.

7. When all else fails, pick up your howling child and leave. 
If you can manage to grunt out an occasional empathic acknowledgment as
you stagger to the car, great — your child might even feel “heard.” If
not, just bite your tongue so you don’t start screaming. True, you
aren’t helping your child process her emotions, so she may have a
meltdown later today, over the slightest frustration. But at least
she knows you’re serious when you say it’s time to leave, so you only
have to do this once or twice. 

Of course, that’s also true if you sit on the park bench with her for half an hour, as I described in the last post about leaving the playground,
and it’s easier for you to stay calm using that approach. But when you
have two other children waiting, this child’s meltdown will just have to
happen in the car. Hopefully, you can get the other two kids safely
into the car and occupied with music and snacks, and then listen and
empathize a bit with your upset child. But there are times when even
that’s impossible due to time constraints, and you just have to drive. 

The bad news is, sometimes feelings just have to wait–that’s life. But here’s the catch.  Every time you ignore your child’s emotions, you’re
asking her to stuff them. If she doesn’t get another opportunity to work
them through, they’ll drive more “bad” behavior.  You’ll almost certainly have to “schedule” a meltdown later. So if you find that you often don’t have time to support your child when she’s having a hard time, it’s a signal to consider what you might be able to change, starting with your schedule.

Luckily, the good news is that many of these meltdowns can be avoided to
begin with.  Preventive maintenance to help your child process his
emotions gives him more internal control, which minimizes meltdowns at those stressful moments. And if you have
more than one child, you certainly can’t always be available for
meltdowns when your child “blows.” That means that your primary
parenting strategy has to be prevention: Scheduled meltdowns, focusing
on connection, empathy, special time with each child, roughhousing games that get kids laughing, and loving guidance instead of punishment. Children raised that way are better able to regulate their
emotions, and therefore their behavior. Preventive maintenance will make your playground meltdowns much shorter or non-existent.

Of course, this raises a number of other questions.

  • How can you use Preventive Maintenance?
  • What if your child is having a meltdown and another child needs you at the same time?
  • What if your child gets angry, but never breaks through to tears?
  • What if you have a strong-willed child who tests every single limit, no matter how consistent you are?

Stay tuned. Those are our next four posts.

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Empathic Limits In Action: Leaving the Playground

“I’m so tired of parents who can’t say No to their
child and let them rule the roost. No wonder kids today don’t have any
self-discipline.”

Most parents assume that not punishing means
permissive parenting. But resisting the urge to punish doesn’t mean we don’t set limits!
In fact, neither permissive parenting nor authoritarian parenting work
to raise self-disciplined kids.  
Kids raised permissively may not have the opportunity to develop self discipline, which is about giving up something we want for something we want more. Kids raised with authoritarian parenting, however, don’t develop self-discipline either, because they aren’t choosing–they’re being forced. Often, they stop cooperating, rebel, and become very good liars.

So yes, in my view LIMITS are an essential part of raising great kids. But not
just any limits. EMPATHIC LIMITS Which means we:

  • Set limits in a way that empathizes with our child’s feelings and helps him to process them.
  • Stay connected while we set limits.
  • Resist the urge to make our child suffer or feel bad while we set limits.

Parents often ask me for a “script” so they can see this in action. Here’s a situation posed to me by a parent.

Mommy: “Avery, it’s time to walk home and make some yummy peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Would you like to walk or ride in the stroller?” 

Avery: “No Mommy, I’m sitting on the swing.”

Mommy: [verbally empathize with her and acknowledge how she must be feeling] “You’re having so much fun on the swing. You wish you could stay and swing for a long time. [Setting the limit] AND we need to fill our hungry bellies with a yummy lunch! So we need to go home now. Let’s race to the stroller!”

Avery: “No Mommy, I sit here on the swing.”

Now, we all know this can go on and on and on.  The two and a half year old will get hungrier, and the mom will get more frustrated.  So far, Mom has done an amazing job of empathizing.  She stated a limit.  The child did not cooperate happily with the limit.  Since Mom is clear that her limit is non-negotiable, it’s time to show that to her daughter. 

Mommy: “Avery, you wish you could stay in the swing, all day, don’t you?” [Wish fulfillment]

Avery: ”YES!”

Mommy: “I wish you could, too. That would be so much fun, wouldn’t it? [Finding a point of agreement.]  But now it’s lunchtime and we have to go home.  You have a choice, you can jump down and walk with me, or I will pick you up and you can ride in the stroller.” [Mom gives a choice, either of which is palatable to her.  This helps Avery save face and gives her some control.]

If Avery doesn’t select one of these choices:

Mommy: “Ok, Sweetie, I see it’s too hard for you to leave the swing yourself.  I will help you down and into the stroller.”

Notice Mom doesn’t make Avery feel like a bad person because she couldn’t “obey.”  Mom acknowledges that it was just too hard for her.

Let’s assume Avery howls as Mom picks her up.  Most parenting advice says to wrestle her into the stroller and ignore her crying, so we don’t “reward” her crying with attention.  But that breaks our connection with our child.  What’s worse, we give her the message that her emotions are bad, and we will only attend to her if we like what she is expressing — in other words, that our love is conditional.   She’s all alone with those big scary feelings. 

So should we try to distract our child from her upset?Wow, Avery, look at that cute doggie right there!”   If she’s not very upset, there’s no major harm in it.  But the bigger the feeling, the less likely she’ll go for the distraction. And really, what message does distraction give her?  Your feelings aren’t important? They’re dangerous, so we’ll pretend they don’t exist?  In general, we want to listen to our child, not imply that her emotions are too unimportant or too scary for us to deal with. (Does this mean never distract? No. Distraction is a very useful tool at times. But if it’s your only tool, notice that, and notice whether your child is getting the message to stuff her feelings.)

What works best is Empathic Limits.  That means we go ahead and insist on a limit that is non-negotiable to us — after all, the two year old should not be making all the decisions for the family.  But we offer empathy for our child’s upset in response to our limit.

Avery: [Begins to howl as we pick her up from the swing.]

Mommy: “You are crying. You don’t want to leave the swing. You are so sad and mad that we have to leave.  I’m sorry you can’t swing all day, but it is lunchtime. Let’s sit for a minute on this bench; I will hold you while you cry.”

Despite the fact that the other parents at the playground are staring at us, we are not failures because our daughter is crying. In fact, crying is good, and helpful, for a two year old with big feelings.  She needs to express them and show them to us, not to “stuff them.” 

As she cries, if we can hold her and help her to feel safe (instead of strapping her into the stroller and pushing her home, sobbing), she may even begin to cry about other things — her new baby brother, or the way Daddy snapped at her when he was in a rush, or that big dog that barked at her this morning, or how much her knee hurt when she fell yesterday but she didn’t cry because she was with Grandma who told her what a brave big girl she was and big girls don’t cry.  What a great opportunity to get all this off her chest!  

In fact, often kids “pick fights” by resisting our limits, exactly as Avery did with the swing, precisely to get the opportunity to cry like this.  So holding our child while she cries is a tremendous gift.

As she cries, we stay connected by holding her.  We keep the tears coming — yes, on purpose! — by empathizing and reassuring her that she is safe: “You are sad, you are crying, I am right here, you are safe.”

If she is angry and twists away, we stay nearby and stay connected with our voice: “I’m right here.  I won’t leave you alone with those big feelings.”  We breathe deeply to stay calm. We ignore the curious looks from passersby.

Finally, she begins to calm.  She is snuggled in our arms.  We give her a big hug.  “You were crying. You were sad.  Now you feel better.  Let’s go home and get those yummy sandwiches.  Do you want a drink of water before you get in the stroller?”

After a good cry in your loving presence, your child will be free of whatever feelings were making her stick to her position at the expense of getting along with you.  She will feel relaxed and cooperative.  (When kids are rigid and insist on getting their way, that’s a red flag that they need to cry.  Just like with adults! :-))

The first time you do this, your child may cry for a long time.  That is never a bad thing; she’s showing you her pent-up upsets.  Or she may think that her crying will convince you to let her swing more.  If you can, it’s best to start setting limits like this at home, when you actually have the time and energy to sit with the meltdown. This preventive maintenance will make your playground meltdowns much shorter or non-existent.

Is this permissive parenting? No. You’re sticking to your limit. Empathizing with her feelings doesn’t mean you rescind a limit that is important to you. 

Before long, your child will climb reluctantly from the swing and into her stroller when you say it’s time for lunch.  She will have learned from experience that:

  1. Your limits are firm, even if she can’t understand why they’re important. Because of your empathy, she will ALSO have learned:
  2. Disappointment can be weathered, with your help. That’s the beginning of resilience.
  3. You really do care about her happiness. That keeps her seeking guidance from you and cooperating.
  4. Feelings are manageable. That’s the beginning of emotional regulation.

And what if you have to leave the park to pick up your other child, or you’re on your way to work, or you just don’t have time for the meltdown? That’s our next post!

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