Free Summer Learning Through Nature and Science for Kids in the City

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I’m sitting in Central Park on a sun-dappled blanket, book in hand. It’s a perfect Sunday afternoon. Suddenly there’s a burst of the most infectious laughter a few feet away.  I turn to see a small boy of about three in a dress shirt and shorts, barefoot in a patch of dirt. He’s taking fistfuls of it and letting it slide through his fingers onto his feet. He’s wiggling his toes. He’s making patterns with his finger. He’s captivated. Apart from sensory play, here are two reasons why exposure to nature is especially necessary for city kids. First, children’s lives are increasingly (and alarmingly) disconnected from the natural world. And worst of all, any experiences they do have are predominantly rooted in media and visual imagery, even in the classroom. This means that children are expected to love and care for the earth before they’ve been allowed to develop affection for it all on their own. Second, research shows us that if we’re to raise environmentally conscious little ones, we must give them a reason to want to protect the earth. Children’s emotional values of nature develop earlier than their logical and rational perspectives. So what can we as parents and educators do to embrace the magic of the outdoors? According to several studies, rather than books and lectures, nature itself is children’s best teacher (Coffey 2001). Follow these simple steps for free summer learning and science fun in Central Park! You can teach nature appreciation in a myriad of ways:

  • Invest in some New York field guides! Children love to identify birds, plants, and insects they come across. Before going on a nature walk, little ones might look through their guides and make predictions about what they’ll discover on their adventure. Showing children how to use resources teaches them valuable skills about research and observation.

  • Looking is key! While it may be tempting to get to a destination, try to slow down as much as possible to take in your surroundings. Tools that will help children to become more observant might include binoculars or magnifying glasses.

  • All children are budding naturalists! Help them to develop scientific vocabulary by asking them open-ended questions like “how do you think that grows here?” “what kind of bird might have built this nest?” or simply “what do you notice about this bark/insect/feather/rock?” Your curiosity will support theirs and spark language development as they compare and contrast, noting patterns, textures, and sounds.

  • Don’t know where to start? Try The Ramble! In these thirty-eight vibrant acres of enchanting woodland paths winding around streams and rock formations, children will find hundreds of birds species among the trees, fungi and moss of all shapes and colors in the undergrowth, and of course, squirrels and other small mammals gathering nuts and berries among the bushes and brambles. Take a notebook and some colored pencils and park on one of the many benches and encourage little ones to sketch something they find interesting.

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Living in a city means you’ll have to get creative but that’s where our 848 acres of grass, trees, ponds, and wildlife come into play. You don’t need to be a science major either to know how to support their learning. Pack a snack, a few jars and bags for findings, age-appropriate observational tools and watch as your city kids transform into nature aficionados! Letting children touch different kinds of bark, look under leaves for Monarch butterfly eggs, or stare at brilliant scarlet cardinals through their binoculars fosters wonder and the ability to see their world as something to care for because it brings them joy. While little ones may be happiest observing a caterpillar’s movements or stacking pebbles in a pattern, older children could develop critical observation and mindfulness skills by sketching and labeling elements of nature that capture their interest or pressing leaves and flowers in their notebooks. That’s the beauty of the park. You don’t have to schedule, entertain, or rush. In fact, the best thing to do in nature is simply experience. Is that a cicada you hear? Could that feather belong to the infamous Red Tailed Hawk circling above the trees? What kind of plant does that seedpod belong to? It’s a magical world for those who care to close their textbooks and don their sense of wonder.

About Maggie:

Early Childhood Educator with Masters from Teachers College, Columbia University, who nurtures little ones through hands-on learning. She creates a child-responsive environment by designing innovative lessons focused on Literacy, Math, Science, and Art.

 

The Dearest Blog is presented by Dearest Educational Childcare. Want to book Maggie for a fun nature adventure? Visit her profile!

Event: Global Readiness Workshop For Ages 3-8!

Event: Global Readiness Workshop For Ages 3-8!

Last Saturday, we traveled around the world for our Global Readiness Workshop! Children ages 3-8 joined us for a trip to learn about other countries’ customs and traditions on celebrating birthdays. Along with our Dearest educators, they visited China, South Africa, and Mexico for an immersive, multicultural experience! 

Show Me What YOU Can Do: Process Art vs Product Art

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Imagine that you are walking into a classroom. Close your eyes and visualize the kind of artwork you see. It could be hanging on the wall or in the process of being created. My guess is that your mind’s eye is seeing picturesque, ‘Pinterest-worthy’ art.  Even though perfectly cut out shapes, expertly glued papers, and meticulously colored masterpieces are appealing to look at, I can bet that perfectly cut line is not the work of a 3, 4 or even 5-year old… It is the work of the teacher!  There have been countless times as a teacher and as a School Director, where I have highlighted the importance of process art vs. product art. This may be the first time you’ve heard of these terms, but you will soon be an art expert!

What is Product Art?

Product art is when the main focus of your lesson is the end result.  It is usually based off of a finished copy, with step-by-step instructions outlining how to complete the project. This typically results in an array of work that looks almost identical. For example, a preschool class at my school was studying fairy tales, specifically “The Three Little Pigs.” To make an art connection, the teacher wanted each of them to make a pig.  She showed them her example, and then cut out enough ears, snouts, bodies, and tails for her class. This resulted in 12 perfectly plump, pink piglets. While it was adorable, I had to ask her, what did the students learn? I challenged her to dig a little deeper and answer these questions: did it enhance or improve their fine motor skills? Did it allow them to think creatively? The answer to each question was “no”. While it did show their ability to follow instructions, it is also important to see what children can do with their own creativity and ability.

What is Process Art?

Process art is focused on the journey, not the destination. Process-driven art is based upon each child’s creativity, experience, and natural interests. As a result, no two pieces of art will look alike. For example, I asked my students to make pumpkins to decorate our classroom for fall. That was the only guideline given to them, and they had free range of all supplies. When the project was over I was left with some classic-looking pumpkins; some short, some fat, some tall and skinny! I also had quite a few colorful pumpkins and even a rainbow one! Each pumpkin was unique. I can tell you which work of art belonged to which student because they reflected their individual personalities SO well!  

This approach teaches students that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do art. It sets up all children for success and allows them to develop a personal connection with their work.

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How do I foster the learning through Process Art at home?

  1. Provide a variety of art materials for each project, even non-traditional art supplies.

  2. Don’t make an example for them to copy! I know this may be hard, but children have a deep desire to please. If they see your example, they will try their best to copy it. If they fail to copy it or do it “correctly,” it may leave them feeling frustrated or not good enough. Instead, guide them through the process.

  3. Enjoy the journey! Art isn’t a race! If they can’t finish in the time allotted it’s okay! Highlight the importance of the experience as opposed to rushing to get a finished piece on the wall.

Art aids development in so many ways. It grows their fine and gross motor skills, expands creativity, enhances problem-solving capabilities, and helps them to focus. I know it may be hard to relinquish control, but once you do, your "mini-Picasso's" will create amazing things!

About Ashley:

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Experienced School Manager and education professional with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry.

Back-to-School Blues: How to Help Your Child Cope with Separation Anxiety

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That crisp feeling in the air, leaves changing color, your local supermarket carrying crayons, binders, and pencils. These are telling signs that the seasons are not only changing, but that school is in full swing! But after all the preparation for the new school year, parents are still left with a lot of questions: Are they enjoying their teacher? Are they making friends? And most importantly, are they adjusting to their new school routine? Some might have made a seamless transition, but some might be facing anxiety. If your child hasn’t fully adjusted yet, don’t worry! Here are some things that you can do!

  • Set Up Your Routine

If you don’t have nighttime and morning routines established, now is the time! If you had a plan that used to work but is now missing the mark, it may be time to reevaluate how you approach bedtime transition as well as morning routines. Your child is most likely exhausted from the longer school day, which is jam-packed with activity. As a result, they will need more sleep! Start by going to bed a little earlier as a family. Engage them in quiet evening activities, such as reading a special good night story, which will allow them to relax and get a full night’s rest.

It is also helpful to have them start a routine of packing their lunches, and laying out their outfits the night before. Even if they need assistance with these activities, they will feel like an integral part of their school prep. Not only does it give them some control of their situation, it also cuts down on morning chaos. In my experience, a well-rested child that has had an organized and predictable morning will have a much easier, tear-free drop off!

  • Reinforce Friendships

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A lot of anxiety comes from seeing a sea of unfamiliar faces. Even if they’ve been seeing their new friends in school for weeks, they may not have established a strong connection yet, which can lead to an overall feeling of dissatisfaction. This is especially highlighted if friends and family have only watched your child or if they haven’t gone on regular play dates. This point was really driven home for me this year when a new student would come in crying each day. I reminded him that, he stays the night with his grandparents, his classmates like him etc. so school should be a breeze. He responded with, “Ya, but they love me. My teachers and school friends don’t love me yet.” It broke my heart and I realized, he was absolutely correct. If the only experience they have is with family members, I would highly recommend setting up a play date with some students from their class. When they have friendly faces to welcome them, they will begin to grow more confident, build elements of trust and community, and find that sense of belongingness in school.

  • Read About It

Books are a great way to help your child deal with change. It allows them to read about characters that are going through a similar life experience, and provides an element of comfort. I personally love: “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn, “Llama Llama Misses Mama” by Anna Dewdney, and “I Love You All Day Long” by Francesca Rusackas. These books deal with the feelings of leaving family, making new friends, and separation anxiety. As a teacher, I use books all the time to introduce new ideas, or to deal with feelings in my classroom!

  • Home Sweet Home

The last bit of advice I have is a tried-and-true method, pack them something familiar. Bringing a little piece of home to school will provide a tremendous amount of comfort. It can be a piece of their baby blanket, a snuggly toy, a favorite book, or even a picture of your family. When they are feeling homesick they will be able to take it out and remember that home isn’t that far away!

If your little one is still clinging to you and cries, “Mommy don’t go! ” just remember this is a temporary challenge that will get better with each drop off. In a few short weeks, they will be begging you to stay in school longer!

About Ashley:

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Experienced School Manager and education professional with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry.

Dearest educator Back-to-School Breakfast Event!

Dearest educators came together at Columbia Startup Lab for a Back-to-School Breakfast event to get to know one another, share activities, and brainstorm on the upcoming Dearest curriculum. 

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We began with introductions and an ice breaker led by Eiko, our founder. Our community has been growing and it was definitely exciting for our Dearest educators to meet some of the newest members! 

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A highlight of the event was a "show-and-tell” of Fall-themed activities. As seasons are changing, we think it’s a great opportunity to teach students about the concept of autumn and the science behind it. We handed out a booklet full of interactive fall activities for future sessions. It includes creating a tree paper craft to fine tune motor skills and a tree number matching activity that promotes mathematical learning. Our Dearest educators also shared many great ideas, such as a fall scavenger hunt with riddles for cognitive development and a fun game of “giants, wizards, and trolls”  that offers a twist on the classic “rock, paper, scissors.” 

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Eiko then offered a sneak peek of the Dearest educational care curriculum, which is being developed as a way to accumulate early childhood development expertise, knowledge, and feedback in one place. The curriculum is aimed at providing our educators the right resources for them to prepare fun and educational activities that meet the stages of individual student.

Our educators play a huge role in helping us improve the quality of learning for the students. They may come from different backgrounds and specialize in different fields, but they all have one thing in common - their passion for teaching. They provided a lot of useful insights during the brainstorming session and we are already working on them to give families an even better experience with Dearest. 

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We closed the event by sharing some quotes we received from the parents, about our Dearest educators. As we continue to grow quickly, the quotes are an important reminder that we should always focus on the quality of the child's learning experience. 

Many thanks to our Dearest educators for an active participation in the event!! 

For updates, like our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram @dearest.io.

 

Individualized Learning: Ways to Promote Your Child’s Success

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Individualized instruction is a hot topic in the education world today. Not long ago, this term was only associated with children who require special assistance, or students placed on Individualized Education Plans (IEP), such as those impacted by autism or ADHD. However, parents and educators have come to realize that there’s a flaw in this way of thinking. If you ask a parent if their child has the same interests and strengths as his/her peers, you will get a load of information that highlights the child’s individual strengths, weaknesses, interests, and eccentricities. We see each child as an individual, gifted with a unique set of talents and skills.

As a teacher, I have always felt that schools, both private and public, needed to arrive at the same conclusion that parents have always known: children also need to be educated on an individual basis. Luckily, the educational tides are shifting, and educators are finding the worth in modifying instruction to meet the developmental needs of all children. As the saying goes, “you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole!”

So how can we practice this child-centered teaching with our little ones?

  • Get to Know Your Students

Whether you’re a parent or an educator it is important to know what makes each child tick. What do they enjoy or value? What are they capable of doing? What motivates them? All of these questions can be answered by way of a simple assessment, ‘getting-to-know-you’ activity, or my favorite way, sit down and have a conversation with each child. Adults who take the time to interact one-on-one with the child will gain a greater understanding of his/her abilities, learning style, and interests.

  • Create Opportunities for Learning

A successful educator will build on a child’s interests to create a love for learning regardless of ability. I really want to stress finding out what interests and motivates them, because that is the key to success. If they love dragons, but dislike reading, introduce books that have dragon characters or themes! It may seem like such a simple idea, but it will create a stronger relationship with the student. Having someone acknowledge their unique interests means the world to them!

  • Monitor Children’s Progress
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Taking note of their individual progress not only provides a basis to celebrate success, but it also informs your teacher’s instructional approach. It is important to create a way to assess their progress. I find that a non-formal assessment, such as observation, works the best in identifying their growth. Not every student is a good test taker, so formal assessments do not work for every child. Working one-on-one or in small groups will give you a window into their thought process, what areas they have mastered, or areas that still need to be developed. An effective educator will then use this information to modify their instructional approach, which will then help them decide when to introduce new content, or increase support for a difficult skill. Ultimately, it will allow you to meet the varying needs of ALL children.

  • Celebrate Every Success

This is the most important thing! At the end of the day as parents and educators, we are preparing these little people to do big things! It is important to keep in mind that success varies among children and comes in different forms. Whether it's tying their shoes, reading a sight word, or writing their name, it truly is unique for every child. Celebrating every success, no matter how trivial, encourages them to persevere through difficulties and creates a positive and uplifting learning environment.

My biggest successes as an educator came when I relaxed, saw each child for who they were, and threw away any preconceived notion of how school should “look.” I instead focused my energy on creating a diverse learning environment that was tailor made for each student. As a result, we are in a much more joyous and productive place.  I encourage everyone to slow down, get on their level, and have a conversation. The results will astound you!

About Ashley:

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Experienced School Manager and education professional with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry.