Archive for May, 2011

Using “Think Alouds” to Model Problem Solving

May 18, 2011

Last night my dear sister was over helping my 15 year old with her algebra.    Although not a teacher professionally my sister is a natural educator.  I found myself smiling at all of the “think alouds” that came up during the homework session.   For those of you who are not teachers, and might not be familiar with this technique, a think aloud is when a teacher briefly interrupts his or her formal instruction in order to share their thought process with students. Last night it sounded like this:

“You know when I see a problem like this without the equals sign I automatically think…..”

“Oh wait a minute….I’m thinking now this one looks like…”

“So whenever I see this sign  I think about how I need to….”

“Oh….. I see where you went wrong.  It’s  right here.  You know whenever I come to that part I automatically  think…

These think alouds were very valuable to my daughter’s understanding of the problem solving process.  They took the learning beyond just getting the correct answer and on to the much more important goal of understanding the logical process of solving ANY problem.

Think alouds can be an important parenting tool as well, especially for parents working with kids who have extra challenges.    They have a way of making the invisible act of decision making visible to the child.

Here are some parenting examples of think alouds.
From a dad of  a child who has  problems with anger:   “I’m feeling really irritated with my boss right now!  I actually would like to give him a piece of my mind when he calls back in a minute but I’m thinking that could end badly.  (laugh)  I’m also thinking I need to cool off.  Excuse me for a moment, son.  I’m going out on the deck to clear my head before he calls back.”

Mom of the child who tends to hoard or gorge food:   “I’m thinking about another piece of watermelon.  It tastes sooooo good and it is almost gone.  There won’t be any tomorrow.  But you know I think I will wait.  After all we will have more watermelon next week and I don’t want a stomach ache!”

Parent of child with anxiety issues :  (while driving)  “You know it’s funny.  Merging in traffic like this always makes me feel anxious.  I’m thinking about focusing on the road and breathing.

And again after merge:  “Whew!  Breathing and focusing doesn’t take that feeling all the way away, but it sure helps!”

Think alouds are like narrating  while you model the behavior you want your child to learn.  They can also be  a chance for your child to learn while they themselves are not in a difficult or challenging situation.    So next time you find yourself modeling positive behavior, make yourself a “supermodel” and think out loud!

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Determining School Readiness

May 6, 2011

... she has also felt a little nervous and uncertain.

Tuesday my baby went to kindergarten… admittedly, just for 1/2 hour (it was Buddy Day and next year’s kindergarteners went for a visit) but this is a big step for both of us!  Olivia has been home with me for the past 5+ years and when people ask her what school/preschool she is in she has taken to saying, “I skipped right over preschool and am landing in kindergarten!”   She has always seen her big brother and other neighborhood kids go to school and has been excited about her turn to start school.

And yet….

… over the past several weeks of gathering and turning in paperwork and getting ready for her visit to kindergarten, she has also felt nervous and uncertain.

The morning before her visit, this came out as a weird sort of “mad and sassy”, which is pretty unusual for her.  While there was no mistaking the sassy talk, it took me a minute to figure out if she was just joking or if something else was going on.   Well, it definitely was the latter.  When I pulled her into my lap and suggested that maybe her words were mad, but she might actually be feeling something else, one of the others in “mad, sad, glad or scared”, the facade broke and she cried a little and said she was scared and “concerned” about going to school.

When I told my dear husband about this, he immediately started to worry, went straight into fix-it-mode and said, “Oh no!  Maybe we should find some sort of preschool for her so that she can get used to it and be ready for kindergarten.”

I know that my husband isn’t the only parent to worry about kindergarten readiness. (Families adopting older children have similar concerns about school in general)  Others also jump to the same solution–send them to preschool to get practiced up and “ready” for real school.  In fact, the idea that preschool is needed for kindergarten readiness is so pervasive in our society that it’s fast becoming perceived as “real school”.

Now, my purpose here is not to bash preschool.  I think a well-done preschool can be a great experience for kids and parents, but I don’t think that it’s a necessary experience for children who are in a nurturing, engaged environment anyway.  The skills that one needs to be successful in school are actually not learned in a group situation.   We know that things like security (trust), impulse control, keeping (or getting) oneself calm, empathy for others, etc… are brain based skills learned through one-on-one responsive caregiving from a primary caregiver.  This is something Julie and I have been preaching for years now…  If you’ve taken part in the Because They Waited system, our other recorded courses or webinars, you’ll know that we base all of our own parenting and our education for parents on this piece of brain development science.

The truth is that if children learn these skills from being in a group of peers, children coming home from orphanage would be the best socialized and the most ready for school!  But of course, we know this isn’t the case.

But I digress… the point I wanted to make about my husband’s conclusion that Olivia might not be ready for kindergarten based on the fact that she was nervous is a jump that lots of parents make, but isn’t really true.  Feeling nervous before a new situation is completely normal for anyone, but especially for a child experiencing her first bit life change!   Sometimes I think that we place even greater expectations on our children than we do ourselves or other adults.

Imagine you have a friend who is talking to you about starting a new job.  She loves her old job, it’s been great, but now she’s ready for a different experience and has landed a job will be great for her, only she’s feeling nervous about making the switch.  Would you counsel her to stay where she is?  To find a different job to practice at before taking on this new job?  Or would you encourage her to look at and remember that she is ready and equipped for this change that will bring new joys and challenges to her life?  I think a similar approach makes sense for a child who is developmentally ready for  school, but who is nervous.

Of course, there are some children who truly aren’t ready for school.  Some children are truly scared or anxious as opposed to nervous.  The real question is what pieces of their development need some growth?  Usually, parents cite concerns with maturity, impulse control (ie–focus), security (trust), emotional self-reguation, behavior (speaks to all of these!) and the like.  It’s important to remember how a child develops these skills–not just because they grow older, but because of the brain building experiences they have every day with a primary caregiver.

Olivia and Her Daddy Going to Kindergarten Buddy Day!

The good news for us is that Olivia truly is just nervous and not scared of going to school.  She truly has the skills to go to school and be successful.  She was able to march in happily with her daddy, had a great time once she got into the classroom and because she has the skills, she found the experience to be very confidence building.

Stress, Re-Parenting and Pull Close Parenting

May 5, 2011

I just got off the phone with a dear friend of mine who told me a story that she is allowing me to now share with you.

She is the proud mommy to little 6-year-old C. who came home from China when she was about 2 years old or so. Their family was eating dinner the other night after a rough day and my friend could just see that C. was “in a mood” and really struggling to keep it together.  At some point during dinner, C. asked her mama, “Do you know how some people feed their babies like an airplane?”   (referring to zooming a spoonful of food toward the baby like it’s an airplane while feeding them)  C. went on to ask, “Do you think you could feed me like that?”  and dinner was finished with my friend feeding her big-little girl like an airplane.  My friend went on to tell me that  as she was feeding her daughter, she could just see the tension from the day melt out of C.

What a beautiful example of re-parenting and of a child who is learning to rely on their parent to help them regulate their emotions!  Imagine if my friend was less in tune with her daughter (or didn’t have the knowledge to know what C. was really asking for) and had instead told her to feed herself like a big girl.  They both would have missed out on a great opportunity to teach and learn trust, self-regulation and attunement.

How is your child asking for you to connect and parent them in a close, attuned manner?

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