Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why write down a child's story?

Pehaps my most favorite technique to encourage literacy is to write down a child's thoughts verbatim, especially as they start to create stories.

When my son Keith was about four years old, we stumbled across the delightful book Wolf Story by William McCleery, written in 1947. In this humorous book, a father lays down with his son, to tell a story before he goes to sleep. As the father tries to create the tale, the son keeps interrupting, insisting on new ideas to include, and the father and son go back and forth, arguing and creating. My husband Tony read this book countless times to our sons. As a result, we started to create our own family "bedtime stories" - and I, an avid journaler, recorded them. By day, I would often write down these words on a large piece of paper and let my boys draw a picture to accompany the tale. I remember one tale that we read over and over for many months, after my father ("Papa," to my boys) fell from his roof and hurt his back - Keith and Wade (ages 5 and 3 at the time) could not bear to imagine him hurt, so they would begin with the simple facts and then embellish. They finally agreed on:
Papa climbed up the ladder to his roof to clean off the pine needles. He slipped and went flying through the air to the ocean, where he landed on a dolphin who gave him a ride.

I'm convinced their imagination and creative manipulation of the event helped them come to grips with it.

I am enamored with Vivian Paley, a long-time proponent of storytelling and dramatic play in the classroom - she patiently records and transcribes children's stories and the children act these out in her classroom. In "The Boy Who Would Be A Helicopter," she writes:

"Play and its necessary core of storytelling are the primary realities in the preschool and kindergarten, and they may well be the prototypes for imaginative endeavors throughout our lives."

All my life, I have loved journaling. It comes to me naturally, to record and reflect. Knowing my own penchant for this, I try to follow Vivian Paley's lead in my classroom: as I observe and play with the children, I have a clipboard at the ready to catch their quotes, record their stories, and remember their learning. If you are comfortable writing, this may be a wonderful technique for you to use in your home or classroom. The children are delighted when I read their words back to them and they often insist that words be changed and the whole scene be re-enacted. I think the children receive several important messages from this, including:

- their thoughts matter,
- books and stories are invaluable,
- the written word is exciting,
- problems sometimes get fixed through talking, writing and reflecting, and
- it is fun to work together.

Here's a story written back in January 2001, my first year of teaching, by children ages 3 and 4. I wrote down what I heard, read it back to the children, they acted it out and revised and revised, until they were satisfied with this:

Two Horses and Two Girls: A Lunch Bunch Tale by Sophia, Katherine, Rosemary, and Kendall

There are two baby girl horses and a Mommy girl and a Honey Girl and we lost our father. It is a sad story. We left him at a store and there was a fire and he didn't come out on time.
"I have some fresh hay and some treats," said the Mommy to Honey Girl, "Mommy has a baby in her tummy, I can't go feed the baby horses, Honey...feel the baby kick, feel my tummy."
So they went to the hospital to get the baby out. The two baby horses went to the doctor's with them...well, they went to the vet's. Then they all turned around and went home because they remembered that Honey Girl was a nurse! And Mommy and the baby would be cozy there at home.
Back at home the baby ponies broke out of their barn and they came into the house and made a big mess. "NO! STOP!," yelled Mommy at the horses. "The baby is here, " said Honey Girl. She was trying to take care of the baby, who was not crying. And she helped the baby! "Mother, she's alright now," and Honey Girl handed the baby to her Mom, "but I am not a nurse or a doctor."
And because the ponies got into the house, Mommy and Honey Girl decided to sell them. Honey Girl brought a friend over to buy the ponies. She explained, "Look at this house, it is a mess! I know that your house is already a mess, so you should have the ponies!" And then Honey Girl and Mommy dressed the ponies up in new clothes and gave them to the friend.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What is the value of dramatic play?

Through the years, I have had a lot of fun with dramatic play with young children, both as a mother and a teacher. When my boys were little, I remember sneaking through the house as stealth Jedi with young Keith and Wade, as then baby Bryce napped. I instinctively knew it was a fun way to encourage the boys to be quiet. Some ten years ago, my first year of teaching, Mary Amato used to come in and lead our class of 3 and 4 year olds in all sorts of theatrical make-believe. I remember how we would imagine getting onto elevators and visit different "floors" that were filled with all sorts of fun things that the children desired to see - "Dinosaurs," "Toy Store," or perhaps "Restaurant." The children were focused and thrilled to act out each imagined theme; I remember lots of laughter, too.

Later, at Silver Spring Day School, we teachers were trained by Victoria Brown, the founder and director of Lucy School on the uses of dramatic storytelling in the classroom as a tool to foster language development, literacy, and social-emotional development. My colleagues Megan Howard and Amy O'Brien have expanded on this training, leading extraordinary drama classes for our children and making many great children's books come alive. Each day, I ham it up with the children in some way - whether it is simply through "movement" fun, wherein I am trying to release some of their pent up energy by pretending to ski downhill or ice skate with them, or through a fun storytelling adventure at circle time. I'm continually excited by the ability for young children to focus during make-believe.

This past November, I attended a very cerebral discussion at the NAEYC Conference by Deborah Leong and Elena Bodrova,
"Executive Functions and School Readiness: Neuroscience Research and What it Tells Us About Developing Self Regulation," Tools of the Mind. These researchers base much of their work on the theories of Lev Vygotsky, a Russian developmental psychologist (1896-1934) who believed that developing a child's self-regulation skill should be the emphasis of preschool. Self-regulation is the ability to resist distraction. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is the area that is used in self-regulation and Lev Vygotsky believed "use it or lose it!" - the ability to self-regulate correlates with academic success.

As Deborah Leong and Elena Bodrova explained, the self-regulated learner shows self-control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. To develop self-regulation, you must have experience in:

1. being regulated by another person
2. regulating other people
3. self-regulation

Often, preschool classrooms do only #1 above: the teacher regulates the child. We ask or direct children to behave a certain way and they are expected to follow through. The reality is, in this scenario, children don't necessarily continue to behave in this same appropriate way when the teacher or other adult is not there to give orders.

But, dramatic/make-believe play combines all three of the above and is an excellent tool for promoting self-regulation in children. In make-believe, children agree to play in a scenario (they are regulated by someone else); they tell each other what to do (they are regulating other people) and they stay in a role (self-regulation). Lev Vygotsky and his followers believe one of the most successful ways to help children learn is for teachers to create an imaginary situation and have children take on and act out this situation. This learning can be extended by creating imaginary props for their roles. Children will build the role, build the action, build the speech – and develop a strong self-regulation skill.

There is tremendous value in dramatic play in the classroom. If you can dare to be a little silly, you will have success with this.

In play, a child always behaves
beyond his average age –
above his daily behavior
For in play, it is as though
he were a head taller than himself.

- Lev Vygotsky

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What are learning styles and multiple intelligences?

Every February, our school conducts parent-teacher conferences. Every year, in addition to my school's required paperwork, there is one handout I photocopy and individualize for each child, to help parents understand how their child learns: Jacky Howell's and Lynn Scullen's "Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences." I received this invaluable handout during my teaching certification at Montgomery Child Care Association's Training Institute back in 2001.

The article notes that there are three different learning styles (how people take information in): Visual, primarily through their eyes, Auditory, primarily through their ears, or Tactile/Kinesthetic, primarily with their hands. People often favor one of these styles or they may have some combination of the styles.

The article also briefly describes Howard Gardner's eight different intelligences (Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Naturalist, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal), followed by a brief description of how you might motivate a child who has a proclivity in one or another intelligence.

Knowing this, my teaching has improved. Every time that I plan curriculum, I recognize these differences in learning styles and intelligences and I make sure there is plenty of learning that is provided in different flavors: songs to sing, movements to pose, pictures to consider. Not only do children need repetition in order to learn (that's why you will find yourself reading the same book over and over), but I believe you have to repeat it in different ways - provide "adaptations of the original score."

Let's take my favorite theme of helping children get along with one another...I'm know I'm not going to get very far with some children if I simply read over and over When Sophie Gets Angry, although I like that book very much. I need to role-model conflict resolution, I need to sing jingles, I need to use a calm voice, I need to dance and move and act out emotions, I need to have pictures of children getting along, I need to let them see me get (appropriately) frustrated,...I need to, I need to, I need to, on and on. (I am so lucky to plan curriculum with three other teachers - we scaffold off each other's ideas, embellish, stretch, and come up with a whole range of fun learning opportunities each time we plan together, making it a lot easier to reflect these different intelligences and learning styles, no matter what theme we are teaching.)

At my parent-teacher conferences, I give each parent a copy of the handout, highlighted with what I believe is their child's obvious strengths. I always joke with them that I'd like to hear in the years to come what their child decides to study in college - was I right on, quite off-base, or somewhere in-between? I don't want parents to use this information as a limitation on their child's learning - we each possess all these intelligences, in varying degrees. I hope that this information about learning styles and multiple intelligences becomes another reference for how to help their child succeed.

I'm sorry that I am unable to provide a link to the paper itself - or even a PDF for you to download - I simply don't know how to do this. Let me give you a synopsis, so that you might have some fun with the article, too - consider how your child learns, consider how you like to learn, and reflect on what that means. (Ralph and Paul, I know you are horrified that I am typing this in here!)

Howell, Jacky and Lynn Scullen, "Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences," (Copyright 1996, Montgomery Child Care Institute, Inc. Training Institute, Wheaton, Maryland)]

The eight intelligences as described in the article:

Linguistic Intelligence: Verbally gifted, they demonstrate highly developed auditory skills and enjoy playing with sounds and words. They like to read and write, tell stories, play word games, and can remember facts and trivia. "Children strong in this area learn best by saying, hearing and seeing words," says [Thomas] Armstrong. Motivate them by talking with them, providing them with books, recordings and opportunities to use their writing abilities.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: Conceptual thinkers who explore patterns and relationships, experimenting with things in an orderly and controlled manner. They question natural events: "where does the universe end?" or "When did time begin?". They typically compute arithemetic in their heads and reason out other problems. They learn by forming concepts and distinguishing patterns, so provide them with time and conrete materials for their experiments - like science kits, games such as chess, Clue, and brain teasers, a computer and collecting materials (stamps, coins, insects) they can classify and categorize.

Spatial Intelligence: They think in mental pictures and images. Rearrange the furniture and they'll either love or hate - nothing in-between. Drawing and artwork, designing things, building blocks and simple daydreaming all comes naturally. The key is learning visually. Teach these children with images, picture and color. Films, videos, diagrams, maps and charts motivate them. Provide them with cameras, telescopes, three-dimensional building supplies and art supplies.

Musical Intelligence. They often sing, hum or whistle melodies to themselves. Some react outwardly to music, singing along and moving to the beat. Others show appreciation and voice strong opinions about different kinds of music. They may play musical instruments or want to. They are also sensitive to nonverbal sounds that others overlook - crickets chirping, a bird singing, distant bells. This group of youngsters learns through rhythm and melody. Memorization comes easier when sung out. Study is often more effective with music in the background. Records, tapes, musical instruments motivate them.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. Breakfast table squirmers and the first on the playground, they pick up knowledge through bodily sensations. Athletically gifted, they show interest in sports, dance, acting - anything physical. They communicate using gestures and body language, like to act out their thoughts and are clever mimics. Occasionally they express their skills in crafts like woodworking or sewing. Without appropriate outlets, they may be labeled hyperactive. Learning comes with touching and moving. Motivate them through "role play, dramatic improvisation, creative movement and all kinds of physical activity," says Armstrong. Hands-on activities are their learning opportunities.

Naturalist. The ability to recognize species of plants or animals in one's environment. Children seem to be fascinated with nature, both outside and inside the classroom. Those children often want to bring what they find outside to the inside. They want to know the names and/or characteristics of birds, for example. Often children who are fascinated with and know every name of dinosaurs have this intelligence strongly. Play games in which children recognize the fine distinctions among members of a plant or animal groups. Be willing to explore the outdoors regularly with these children AND be willing to bring the outdoors in. Children will appreciate ample books, visuals and props related to the natural world.

Interpersonal Intelligence. These are "people-people" who frequently become leaders of the classroom. They know how to organize, communicate, mediate, and manipulate. With an ability to tune in to other people, they have a lot of friends. Learning comes through relating, cooperating and interacting with others. Provide them with opportunities to peer group dynamics. School and community activities open learning doors for them.

Intrapersonal Intelligence. Another strong personality group, but these independent kids with a powerful sense of self, shy away from groups and prefer to work alone, even isolated. Their inner life is rich - dreams, intuition, feelings and ideas. They are the diary writers, self-confident kinds who always seem to have something semi-secretive going on. These self-motivating children learn best by themselves. "It's very important for them to have their own private space where they can work on their hobbies and interests undisturbed and spend time in quiet introspection," says Armstrong. Respect their privacy and acknowledge to them that it is all right to be independent.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What do you do when one child hurts another, pt. 2

I was delighted to read yet another excellent advice column by Marguerite Kelly (Family Almanac, Washington Post) in today's paper that supports and enhances my thoughts on this subject from Feb. 5th. This column is entitled "Little giant shouldn't be a big bully." The question surrounds a parent's concern about aggressive behavior by her 7 year old towards his little brother and his overall interest in gun play and other violent games; Marguerite Kelly points out that playing with imaginary or toy guns is developmentally "right on" for his age, but the catch is:

You should worry, however, if your son plays violent games more often than most boys his age and if he is more aggressive than they are and teases and taunts other chilren more than they do. A child likes to play with toys that suit his talents, his temperament and his age, but the way he plays with them reflects the way he feels about himself. And clearly your big little boy doesn't feel great.

I highlighted the words above that I'd like to run with: it's our job as parents and educators to pay heed to our children, to be alert to what they are telling us that they are probably not expressing in words. What's that classic Momism - "Actions speak louder than words"? With children, this is always true. You must help the child express himself appropriately, you must figure out the source of his pain, frustration, worry, or concern. Again, from Marguerite Kelly:

. . . drop the lectures and start listening to the boy. Choose a time when the two of you can be together, then turn off the TV, the phone and your cellphone and give him your full attention.

First ask him, gently, how he feels when he gets aggressive or teases his little brother. What sets him off? And how does he feel afterward? Is he pleased with himself? Or does he feel ashamed? Or guilty? And why? If you give your son plenty ot time to answer your questions, and keep your judgements to yourself, he will tell you how he feels, deep inside - if not in this conversation, then in the next one - and what he plans to do about it.

With this advice, you are focusing on being with your child with the goal of unlocking what he has bottled up inside him.

I am a huge proponent of simple togetherness every day. If you take the opportunity to have focused play time with your child on a daily basis - a time when you put your work and concerns aside and simply follow your child's lead - you will be laying a strong, resilient foundation for this little child, for your family, for your classroom. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton refers to this as "floor time" and notes that you don't need more than 15-20 minutes of this child-led play each day. But the benefits are enormous. You will strengthen your relationship with him, open up lines of communication, and send your child the message that his interests are respected. You will have all this to fall back on when stressors occur. (And we know they will!)

I hear teachers screaming "Oh, come on now, how do you find 20 minutes per child?" Well, you are right. In my 4 hour teaching day, I can't spend 15-20 minutes on each child. But, I keep a mental checklist of time in with each of my students; every day, during our free play period, I hone in on one child, rotating my way through all the kids in my class. I believe I spend probably 10 minutes with each child during one 3-day teaching week. And this time isn't "scheduled into the daily plan" - I don't broadcast it to one and all: "Ms. Maureen is playing with John now!". I simply sidle up to a child and ask if I can play, too. I follow that child's lead, I let him decide what we are playing. I build blocks, I have tea parties with dolls and bears, I paint at the art tables, I race cars down cardboard tubes, I make muffins out of playdough. I always have a lot of laughs - and I am so heartened by the conversations I have with these children, hearing, really, the stuff of their lives "You be hurt, Ms. Maureen and I'll be the princess mommy with the baby who takes care of you." Follow your child's lead.

And see if some of your household and classroom tension goes away.

I'll close here, but I encourage you to check out Marguerite Kelly's column every Friday in the Washington Post Style section. I've been a fan of it for years.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why have parents in the classroom?

This blog entry is a rather lengthy piece I wrote sometime ago, regarding the merits of a cooperative preschool. I hope you enjoy it!

In a cooperative preschool, teacher, parent, and child work together to create an educational community. The teacher receives incredible insight from observing the parent with the child. The parent’s skills are enhanced by the role modeling of the teacher and seeing the child at play with peers. And the child benefits from the rich interplay of the parent and teacher.

I believe teachers gain from working directly with parents on a daily basis. But let me begin with a word of caution here – teaching in a cooperative classroom is not for the faint of heart. You are operating in a fishbowl, your every action is seen, considered, reviewed, and, sometimes, “played back” to those who were not present.

Why have parents in the classroom? Parents help teachers to “get” their to approach, how to comfort, how to reach. Their worries and concerns, their praise and devotion, their pleasure and bragging – all help the teacher in understanding their little one and channeling his exploration, his development, his education. Parents hold a unique key to unlocking the magic of their child’s education.

I am passionate about the value of parents in the preschool classroom. I have years of anecdotal data to support this. I chose a cooperative nursery school for my oldest child some 18 years ago and the education I received from the marvelous, gifted women who taught him and his brothers cannot be exaggerated. They taught me to be “present” with my boys. They demonstrated the value of observing how my boys played, how they learned. Watching my boys at play in a room with their peers, I saw the reality of multiple intelligences – how uniquely everyone learns. As I participated in their early education, I learned tremendous things about how to support their educational experience and how to advocate for them.

Now, I am an early childhood educator in a cooperative preschool; I teach three year olds. Working directly with parents on a daily basis, my teaching becomes dynamic skill – I am stretched to see things from more than just my own perspective. I must know why I do what I do, I must be able to explain why and how I do what I do, I must create believers of my parents. Parents keep me humble, as do the children, because it is obvious when something doesn’t work and I must keep a sense of humor about that. (And, I wonder, isn’t that a terrific message to send to both the parent and the child – sometimes things go wrong. That’s life.) Teaching in a cooperative classroom challenges me to “start and restart” – I am thinking of those inspirational words by Maya Angelou: I did the best I knew how to do. And when I knew better, I did better.

Teachers in this environment should share the conviction that parents belong, that parents have a voice, that parents have much more to offer than simply sweeping the floor or changing a diaper. Certainly, parents keep me current on books, music, tv, and games for the preschooler. More importantly, we teachers are laying the groundwork for parents to participate in their child’s education – how should they speak to teachers? How might they help out? What should they look for in their child’s education? Teachers should be respectful of the innocence of these parents – many preschool parents have only been parents for a couple of years –teachers are in a position of great influence.

There’s that old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” a cooperative classroom, there are so many wheels. The best teachers do upfront preventative maintenance to ensure that their many wheels are well-lubricated – in other words: tell parents exactly what you hope for their role in the classroom, explain their value to you and the children, document and show appreciation for these efforts in your room; otherwise, the one, loud, squeaky voice of opposition will come seemingly out of nowhere and require lots and lots of extra tender loving care to “fix.”

Teachers should ask themselves – what happens in your classroom that reflects your belief in the value of parent participation? Consider – having parents run projects and games; having parents share their passions, hobbies, skills; be sure to greet and include parents (and to have all the children greet parents), at circle and other discussions – sending the clear signal “we are one community.”

Parents have so much to learn from being in an early childhood classroom with their child. There is no better way to get perspective on their little one – watching your child at play in a room full of peers, you will see how he engages, explores, learns. This young style of learning – it is his very soul, something that will drive him always. The child who taps on everything and sings his way through the morning may well have a guitar in his hand, unwinding at the end of his high school day. The little one whose attention gets easily diverted by his stimulating friends may need to study for his AP test all by himself, after he gets home from presiding over Student Government. Being with your child at preschool doesn’t tell you how it will “all turn out in the end,” but it provides a window to the future, if not a door and a clear path to consider.

Parents in a cooperative preschool are partaking of an educational laboratory. To some extent, they need to take off their “parenting hat” and challenge themselves to see the child from another person’s eyes. Try to simply observe their child’s interactions with peers and adults at school– and prepare to be amazed. Watch your child fluorish under new rules, expectations, and tone of voice. A teacher that you might find “cold” may not make your child flinch – in fact, you may very well watch your child stand strong, work hard, speak up, soar. A word of caution for parents – please understand the weight and power of your critiques. In such an open classroom environment, these are not simply “influential,” but can actually derail.

A parent learns many “tricks” from teachers – how to redirect a child’s attention, how to encourage personal responsibility, how to unwind. And the fun stuff – how to make gak, the wonders (and unexpected sensory importance) of shaving cream and glue, painting benches with water, running with plastic bag kites.

I believe children benefit from seeing their parents in the classroom. I marvel at children watching their parents at play in the classroom with the larger group. We often begin the year with the three year old child clinging, shadowing, holding onto his parent. As the year unfolds, that same little one dares to let go, to play with others, to play with his parent with others – what a share that is!

When you observe a child in a cooperative classroom setting, with a family member assisting in the class, you see how the family bond or dynamic affects the child. Often you will note similarities (or cause and effect) of personalities – how an excited parent might have a jubilant, frisky child or a worried parent has a clingy child (or conversely – how a clingy child creates a worried parent). These things often defy genetics – the adoptive parent who is calm and intellectual has a “bookworm” child. I like to consider the power of nurture over nature or – as an educational tool - how environment itself plays a definitive role in a child’s success.

Teachers should ask themselves – what reflects the value of family in the classroom, from a child’s perspective? In my classroom, we have a family book – a great source of comfort when a child is having a bad day, because it contains their greatest strengths – their families. We have photos displayed throughout the room, all year – their families engaged in the classroom. We make a big deal of who is co-oping each day. The last words I say to the child of a co-oper at day’s end – “thanks for sharing Dad (or Mom, or Grammy) with us.” The child receives a powerful message when he sees his loved one co-oping: I am valued, education is fun, I am loved.

All three parts add up to one terrific educational community – parents and teachers working together with children.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What do you do when one child hurts another?

I'm asked this question so often...just today, regarding a little boy who hurts his older sister (scratching, hitting).

I hope I don't sound flip when I say - this is what preschoolers do! It is so commonplace, it is developmentally within reason. A bit of an aside - I can't help but consider the many different ways we learn and I'm convinced that some children learn to get along with others in a much more physical fashion - they will surprise you in their physical reactions to friends and family. Of course, none of this "developmentally-sound/different-style-of-learning" blather is going to help you one bit when you see your own child hurting another. As parents, watching your own offspring hurt one another is an extremely difficult thing.

It is important that you remember you are the adult, you are the role model, you are the teacher. Additionally, little children are sponges. A sharp angry explosive reaction is not what you want your child to absorb.

Take some time apart from the incident to think about a better way to respond. Here are some of my ideas:

When one child hurts another, I turn toward the one who has been hurt ("the victim") and shower him with love and attention - "Oh my dear, what has happened to you? Let me give you a hug...sweetie, let me see." Dare to ignore the one who did the hurting, for a moment.

If the hurt is not too egregious (not bleeding, no lump), consider asking the one who did the hurting to help you take care of the injured person. In my class, I have a "boo boo bear," a soft cuddly bear that gives comfort to someone who is hurt. In a calm, non-threatening, matter of fact voice say "Please get the boo boo bear for your sweet friend; he has been hurt." If the child won't get the bear, I don't make a big deal of it; I continue to shower the injured with attention and care, and get another friend to get the bear, or I get it myself. You might even have the aggressive child help you put a band aid on the hurt. (But please - use the hurt child's reaction as a barometer - if he recoils from having the one who hurt him help, then just continue to love and care for the child yourself.)

I repeat, almost a script, throughout: You are safe here in Ms. Maureen's; we take care of each other; I'm so sad that you are sad; friends are kind with one another; we need to use our words not our hands, when we are angry; I'm so sad this happened; you are safe here; let's help you feel better. Here, I'm really setting the tone - this is the tone of my class, that we get along, that we are safe. It's important to have scripts in our families as well - we love one another, we care about one another, we keep each other safe, no one should feel scared in our home.

Once the hurt child is on the mend and playing again, then I turn my attention to the one who did the hurting ("the aggressor").

It is essential that you are calm and "removed" - as if this is the most ordinary and expected event. Which it is, developmentally - right on!! If you can't muster that calm voice, dare to say John, I can't talk to you about this right now. Go play elsewhere. I will talk to you later. Allow yourself to take a deep, cleansing breath; approach the aggressor only when you are calm. (And, yes, it is okay that the child sees you are frustrated by him, and that you are modeling restraint in responding to him.) When you are ready...

Calmly take this child by the hand (and if he won't come, I scoop him up into my arms - gently, lovingly, assuredly), and walk off to a quieter location. Now it's time to help this child reflect. Here's where my script varies depending on the situation. If it is the first time or a rare situation for this child, I say:
- Did you see how hurt Bob was? Did you see him cry? (Let the child answer)
- What made him cry? (Let the child answer)
Sometimes I lead,
- Bob says you hit him; that you wanted his toy. Can you think of some ways that you could have the toy that don't hurt Bob?
- Let's talk about good choices: what if you said "May I use that when you are done?", what if you traded him another toy?

If this is a situation that happens time and again with this child, I might say again:

- Did you see how hurt Bob was? Did you see him cry? (Let the child answer) and then add:
- Was it a good choice to hit him? What are some good choices instead of hitting?
- What could you have said?

- Ms. Maureen is going to have you take a break now, to find something else to do. You may not play with Bob right now or with the xyz toy. You have lost that privilege. Ms. Maureen tries to keep everybody safe at school, I will help you to stay safe by having you take a break, sweetie.

If this is a repeated behavior, depending on how old the child is (say 3 years old, minimum), you have a puzzle to solve! Behaviors never happen in a vacuum. The good news is, if a challenging behavior is repeated over and over, you have more data with which to solve the puzzle.

There are some tremendous resources for parents and teachers available through the The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning (CSEFEL), based at Vanderbilt University. I particularly like their script called "How to be a Super Friend". I have made this into a coloring book for my class, letting them draw pictures to support the words.

I would also consider one or both of the following:

1) Start a behavior log. Record what happened and also what preceded it, where did the incident happen. Teachers - it would be terrific to have another adult come into your classroom and observe/write down the behavior over a couple of days. (An objective observer will notice the nuances, the triggers that set off the behavior.) Parents, it is not so easy to find an objective observer - you and your spouse are pretty invested/emotionally involved! What I suggest here is for you to think about the incidents at a quieter time - perhaps in the evening, after your children are in bed, take out a small notebook and record - When? Where? What? and any possible Whys? See if something stands out. Perhaps you'll catch some undesirable reactive behavior on your own part - and realize your need to be a calmer force in your child's life.

2) Take the child aside at a calm time - apart from any ugly incident - and start the 1-2-3 Magic routine [1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D] as follows: I notice that you have been hurting your friends with your hands. Ms. Maureen needs everyone in the class to be safe. You are loved, your friends are loved; none of us can use our hands for hurting. Ms. Maureen sees that it is hard for you to remember this, so she's going to help you practice. When I see you start to use your hands, I will call your name and count with my fingers "1", then "2" if you don't walk away or stop, and it's an automatic "3" if you actually use your hands. A "3" means you will have to take a break. We will do this over and over, until you can remember, okay? I know you can learn not to use your hands. I know you can be a great friend. You can do it!

And then - follow through! Keep in mind, "taking a break" (timeout) should last no longer than one minute per year of age. And they are not lecture times! I often sit alongside the 3 year old in my class that has to take a break; just sitting, breathing together, often my hand lightly stroking his hands...physically giving a gentle hand lesson. And when the time is up, I say "Okay, sweetie, let's make good choices now!" and give him a quick hug and send him on his way.

(Notice - there's no ranting, raving, accusing, or screaming.)

Will things be automatically a-ok? Will your child never hurt another? No. But, with your helpful focus on the right way to behave, a calm attitude, and lots of repetition, you can teach your child to be more empathic and kind.