Supporting growth and learning at home during summer and other school closings

School’s out and Summer is here. This year, following the lock-down summer of 2020 and hopeful after the widespread vaccinating drives of Spring 2021, there is much excitement as people across the country are looking forward to summer experiences as they used to be. Summer was always a time when most children put away their schoolbooks and enjoyed travel, visiting grandparents, hanging with friends, and attending hobby classes and summer camps. Unfortunately, the summer break in the American school system is unusually long, often stretching from early May (when many private schools end their academic year) to until after Labor Day in September. This gap of three or more months away from schoolwork will naturally result in the forgetting of some content knowledge that had been learned during the school year. More commonly known as Summer Slide it refers to the loss of knowledge and skills that occurs in the vacation break period between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. Summer Slide may be less apparent with children who are enrolled in summer classes and camps.

To prevent Summer Slide there are several experiences families can plan for at home. Because of virtual schooling during the past pandemic year most parents have probably already developed a level of proficiency in designing learning activities for their children. Still, here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind for those who are still looking for tips.

Apart from the usual summer outdoor activities such as sports, swimming and hiking – all of which are very important – there are countless indoor learning experiences that can be planned around daily activities.

To keep children constructively busy during summer days a well thought out schedule is essential. The planned experiences for children should serve to support their growth in four developmental domains (cognitive, social, emotional, and physical), and also address some academic content learning in Literacy, Social Studies, Math and Science. This may sound daunting to parents but the good news is that several of these targets can be reached with a single interdisciplinary activity or experience that can touch upon all the above content areas. And each experience can be made as simple or as complex to match the age and developmental levels of your children, as well as cultural contexts of your families and communities.  

Say you decide to make Fruit Salad one day. This may be extended into a rich learning experience. First you can help the kids write a list of their favorite fruit. This may be followed by a short research project where together you read up on each of those fruits and discuss where they grow and their health benefits. The next step would be to do a quick grocery run to shop for these fruit and involve the children in adding up the prices and making the payment. Once you return home you can wash the fruit and set up cutting stations on the dining table – give each child a plastic knife a cutting board and a large piece of fruit. The kids would proceed with cutting up the large piece of fruit into smaller bite-sized pieces. Once all the fruit is cut up it is put into a large bowl and chilled. Children then look forward to an afternoon snack that they helped make. While snacking you talk to them about the taste, smell, color and texture of each fruit. This can be followed by a writing and math activity where you help them chart how many fruit tasted sweet or sour.

As one can notice, this entire experience if planned and implemented thoughtfully and mindfully leads to getting kids practice their Reading, Writing, and Math skills and concepts, learning about the Science of the human body and healthy eating. If done with more than one child it nurtures social skills as they share, communicate with each other, and take turns. It also supports fine motor development as they hold down and cut the fruit into small pieces. And cognitive skills as they explore each fruit and identify its color, taste and texture. This experience can be made as simple or as complex depending on the age of the children.

Another completely different experience might be getting children to help with laundry and using that opportunity to discuss how laundry machines work, different kinds of fabric, colors and textures, how detergents and soaps work to clean stains, and then folding each piece of clothing which would be great for motor skills development. Again, depending on the age of the child the underlying academic concepts can be discussed at simple or complex levels.

Whatever the household chore – gardening, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, cleaning and organizing, taking a walk – can all be turned into experiences in sorting, classifying, sequencing, observing, predicting, sharing, helping, team building, and problem solving These experiences can also be used to reinforce academic content like Math, Science, Literacy and Social Studies. Running errands for the elderly neighbors, or cleaning up their rooms and getting them to donate their old toys and books to those in need promotes empathy and citizenship values. Setting up a lemonade stall on a hot summer afternoon teaches children the value of working and being independent while understanding how drinking lemonade on a hot summer day can prevent the body from losing minerals and salts, and becoming dehydrated.

A mindfully planned learning experience each day will go a long way in preventing loss of content knowledge during summer or other stay at home periods of time. Though reading and math are literally everywhere and all around us, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading books. Reading is a fundamental skill that eventually helps children succeed in all other content areas because everything is all about reading, comprehending what you read, retelling it in your own words, analyzing what you understood, and finally being able to apply what you read to a practical situation.

Read more on Summer Slide in the New York Metro Parents magazine:

Educating for Sustainability in ECE

One issue that emerges in research is that teachers are not adequately prepared on the topic of addressing Sustainability in their classroom curriculum and there has been wide agreement on the importance of including the topic of Educating for Sustainability into the Teacher Education Curriculum.

I discussed this with my graduate students and we agreed that it is easy to infuse this topic into all our teacher education courses. We also agreed that it is never too early to begin addressing issues around conserving and caring for our environment in PreK-12 schools even with young children.

We decided to compile a panel presentation on the theme of Educating for Sustainability. Participating on this panel are my graduate students most of whom are early childhood teachers in New York City schools and day care centers, and reflect a wide range of cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversities as do the children they teach.

The course that they are taking with me is Social Studies in the Early Childhood Classroom. The New York State Pre-K Learning Standards for the Social Studies touches upon its 4 pillars: Geography, History, Economics, and Civics & Citizenship. Under each of these headings are sub-themes that include:

Geography: Our Earth and our Environment, Land and water,  Location and Mapping, How people, products and ideas travel between places, How people and environment interact with each other, Conserving and caring for our environment,

History: Change over time, Continuity of human life, Learning about the past

Civics & Citizenship: Participating responsibly in the welfare of the group, Democratic living, Being empathetic, Being socially responsible & considerate of shared space

Economics: Production and Consumption, Scarcity of Resources, Needs & Wants, Interdependence of people and communities

These standards are seen to be closely aligned with the values of Sustainability, Environmental Awareness and Climate Change. And all of these standards can be addressed in very age-appropriate ways in the early childhood curriculum.

Here is the video recording of my students presenting their ideas on how this can be done by giving examples of learning experiences that they have designed for their own early childhood classrooms.

Early childhood teachers draw inspiration from Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman took the podium on January 20, 2021 as the youngest Inaugural Poet at a Presidential Inauguration. There was pin-drop silence as she recited "The Hill We Climb", mesmerizing all who were listening. Every word and every line was stunning in its imagery, clarity and power to inspire hope for recovery, regeneration, rejuvenation : "Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken but simply unfinished".  She reminded us that this wasn't the end but an opening to continue the work of uniting, of creating community. On that cold January day the air waves resonated with her voice, so confident, poised and reassuring, evoking sentiments of hope, unity, respect, empathy, inclusion and a togetherness that the country had been beginning to forget.

In the world of early childhood education community and togetherness are critical concepts that form the bedrock of joyful learning, effective teaching, and happy classrooms. The primary goal of early childhood teachers is "... to build the social skills and attitudes needed for learning in a community to keep the group together, and to engender, maintain and strengthen a feeling of togetherness in preschool (Hännikäinen 2003, 2005)". So in my graduate class of early childhood teachers I re-played the video of the young Amanda Gorman reciting her powerful poem, and I asked my class how this poem inspired them in their own professional work with young children. My students identified the particular lines that spoke to them the loudest, creating images to express their inspirations. These images appear in the photo gallery below in order of the students named here:

Karen Salamea: We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. To me this means that we must come together as a community to help our future become a better place without discrimination, social/color privileges, etc. We should put our differences aside because if we don’t, then we won’t be able to work together and help our community prosper. ​

Lia Albuquerque: Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.

Rashmi Sharma: When day comes, we step out of the shade  aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it. The light/dawn in my painting represents a new beginning, hope, and rebirth.

Guadalupe Muniz: The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it; If only we’re brave enough to be it. When I heard this particular line the vision of flowers blooming and the dawn breaking through the gray sky came to mind and that’s something really beautiful to see and feel because it symbolizes a new beginning.

Jamelin Gomez: We will rebuild, reconcile and recover. And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful. Based on the line  that I choose from the poem I created an image and the image that I created represents unity among the diverse people in the USA.  

Elagance Rowell:

Daniella Rodriguez:

Frances Vellair: We are striving to forge a Union with purpose.  To compose a Country committed to all cultures, color, characters, and conditions of man. That is what we as Early Childhood  Educators strive to do daily, forge a Union with dignity, respect, and LOVE for all cultures.

Keisha Lavia: When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it. This quote brings to mind the beginning of a new day. For me the sound of roosters signals the beginning of a new day.

Shannakay Shaw: I focused on the powerful words of the poem while still authentically representing the colorful aspect of the original image to preserve the meaning. I connected the different shades of skin color and the colors of the rainbow to the overall theme of the poem.

Eloquence Rowell:

Rubaba Mahjabeen: We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. I have drawn the picture from an early childhood point of view, a world without violence and full of love, peace and harmony.

Carly Moreno: It’s the past we step into and how we repair it…love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
I created a digital collage representing three iterations of the American flag. The quotes gave me the idea that as citizens we have the right to challenge and re-imagine the conscience of our country and how it is represented. It can be deconstructed and reformed to better serve who we are as a people now and what we will grow into. The colors red, white, and blue blend together to form a unifying color of lavender.

Michelle Whitaker: We are striving to forge a union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.  I created this picture to show that there are some people who can make changes in our country but are overshadowed by the darkness and those that are the darkest still have their colors of purpose.

Allan Molas:If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children's birthright. As a good citizen of this country we are duty bound to take up space, touch lives of other people, spread  mercy, and increase the virtues of faith hope and charity within our family and the whole society.

Sounds of the City: A picture book for children

It is the best feeling when one can combine being academic and practitioner at the same time, when one can engage in theory and research while also working actively in the field. I had that experience when I was a doctoral student of early childhood education while simultaneously working full time in an early childhood school. The matches and mismatches that I encountered between practice and theory were nothing short of exciting revelations as my understanding of the field deepened and expanded. I studied all about early years care and education while I was working with young children.  

Ever since those graduate school days I wanted to create books for children. That wish however was put on hold as over the years I completed my doctoral research, wrote up my dissertation, and started a career in academia. The years were spent navigating the "publish or perish" pressures by publishing what seemed to be an endless stream of academic books and articles to clear tenure and all my promotions. And then came the pandemic stay at home and work from home era. No longer feeling the academic pressure to publish as a full professor I was able to turn my attention to more creative passions. With not being able to travel anywhere the summer of 2020 gave me that precious time to work on my very first children's picture book. It was a new project with a steep learning curve for me but finally it published by the end of the summer. The paperback is now available on Amazon worldwide:

Book Description:

"This picture book is about a boy named Max who lives in a large city and who loves to take walks in his neighborhood. During one such walk Max encounters the many different sights and sounds that can be commonly seen and heard on city streets. The text and illustrations serve to paint a cityscape in all its exciting diversity. This book was inspired by life on the Upper West Side of New York City during the 1990’s. It will be relatable to any child living in a city environment as it highlights everyday city sights and sounds. And for children living in rural areas and suburban neighborhoods this book will introduce the exciting diversity of a cityscape. This book may also be used to introduce children to practices like silent sitting and mindful listening by focusing closely on sounds around them."

Starting the 2020-21 school year with a Positive Mindset

Following a glorious Labor Day weekend on the east coast schools began a new academic year this past week. All across New York City the year 2020-21 kicked off with in-person classes or on-line classes or in many cases hybrid classes which combined on-line and in-person teaching and learning. My mind went back to my post from May 12, 2020 titled Teachers and Pandemic Fear. In that I had listed all the steps my graduate students would have liked to see implemented before they returned to teaching. From what my students shared with me this week some or all or none of those items had been addressed depending on individual schools and daycare centers. And since during this first week my students had anywhere between 3-12 children in their classrooms there was still a lot of trepidation and nervousness about going back to in-person teaching. Undoubtedly, first and foremost in our minds is how we are going to protect ourselves and our loved ones from these dangers.

Added to the pandemic stress the Spring and Summer of 2020 also brought on a tidal wave of fear and unrest across the country related to racial injustice, natural disasters, and political tensions. In any other year just one of those factors would have been enough to cause high levels of anxiety for anyone.

As difficult as it might be we hope that, as they begin a new school year, all our brave teachers will try and look for the positive within the current negative national and global climates. It's important that we not lose sight of the good and the kind and the beautiful that still bloom under layers of viral disease, racial injustice, political invective, and devastating forest fires that are filling the skies with ash and smoke. It's important to develop a positive mindset despite these challenges.

I asked my students who are working in New York City schools and day care centers to pause for a few minutes, and visually represent what they might be looking forward to even though the year ahead is filled with so many uncertainties. Here are their expressions and images for finding strength in the small comforts we might have all previously taken for granted.

Florencia: For this unusual Fall 2020, I look forward to learning and spending more time in the outdoors with my classroom.

Dayamara: I wanted to evoke both the uncertainty as well as the glimmer of excitement in my piece. I’m excited at the prospect of being settled back into my routines and interactions with new students and my co-workers, while also acknowledging that there are many obstacles we will have to work through...This manifests as planning for curriculum, reconnecting with new families, and seeing students excited (and perhaps even anxious) to learn for the first time.

Carmen: I made this word art portrait with words that were meaningful to me. Much of what I will bring into the classroom this year comes from my experiences, my culture and the people in my life that I love. All of this together has given me the grace and positivity to be generous in the lives that I am fortunate to teach and learn from.

Mary: Picture taken in the backyard of my childhood home- It was the morning after a big rain storm, and I was struck by how beautiful the light and the haze over the yard looked. I am so thankful to be able to wake up to this every day. When I see this, I get a sense of peace and gratitude, and I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be alive. In August I made the painful decision to resign from my job. I love my work, but, due to personal and family health issues, it was too risky for me to go back. The future is uncertain, and I’m anxious and worried about so much. Yet, despite all of that, I feel this is going to be a time of personal growth and self-discovery, and that gives me hope.

Rosanna: What I look forward to as a teacher in Fall 2020 and this academic year is to nurture and foster children's learning, by keeping children engaged in making learning fun.

Dalila: I'm looking forward this semester to go back to my class to welcome all my children with safety precautions.

Shanece: This piece illustrates unity and freedom of expression in a private school. I’m looking forward to teaching in a setting where the students will ALL be able to attend class and build a social relationship. Also, the quote on the board represents our past experience with Covid. It’s there as a reminder of what can be overcome. The book on the desk is called The Future. With this book, I’m aiming to teach my students about adaptation and flexibility in a variety of situations, adjusting to a new school system and expecting the unexpected.

Leanna: I wanted to depict the internal stressors and worries I have about teaching at a preschool and also starting my masters this year, that then lead to the positivity I emit into the universe all while having those stressors and worries.

Perla: During the pandemic, I stood away from the news to try and remain positive and I came across sunflowers. I googled the meaning of sunflowers and it stated it meant "adoration". I am a spiritual person and the sunflower also has a spiritual meaning of "faith". It resembles the sun which for me, meant positivity or sunshine, something to look forward to at the end of all of this. The color yellow also signifies "enthusiasm" and in a time where all I wanted to feel was happiness, it helped. I scribbled two verses of the bible from Isaiah 58:11 and Psalm 118:14.

Daniella: What I’m looking forward to now that everything is going back to normal. I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to try and do a blackout poem.

Carol: To provide a safe and healthy environment for each individual child.To encourage togetherness form 6 ft apart.To plan age appropriate activities and build on children’s prior knowledge.To provide materials that will enhance learning to meet the need of each individual needs. I am looking forward to a positive school year.