While many around the world celebrated Father’s Day in June, here in Australia Father’s Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in September. Since that is now just a few weeks away, I thought I’d get in early with some low-cost Father’s Day gift suggestions that can be incorporated into your literacy and art programs.
A cautionary note
However, before I share them, I’ll begin with a cautionary note.
Be aware of the diversity of families in your class and the needs of individuals. Not all children have a father present in their lives, and not all fathers fit the perfect role model. While the day is not just for dads, but for grandfathers, stepfathers, and other male carers and role models too, a day to let them know how much they are appreciated; for some children, the day can be a painful reminder of someone missing. Be sure to adjust what you do to be inclusive of children’s circumstances, for example; “Celebrating a special adult in my life day”, or consider leaving any celebration to the children and their families.
Most classrooms are peopled by children from a diversity of traditions and cultures. Learning about and appreciating the similarities and differences is an important part of establishing a supportive classroom environment and encourages acceptance of and respect for each family’s composition and heritage. Suggestions to support discussions are available in readilearn History resources. Conducting Getting to know you surveys about families and who children live with can also help identify suitability of the celebration with your class.
Gifts from the heart on Father’s Day
Encouraging children to create and give a gift from the heart demonstrates that not all gifts need come from a shop. It allows children from even the poorest families to give their Dads a special Father’s Day gift. It helps develop their creativity and teaches them skills that they can apply in future gift-giving situations. It shows how thoughtfulness and imagination can combine to make a unique gift that will be treasured.
A gift of love lasts longer than any store-bought gift.
In this post I suggest ways of helping children develop friendship skills, and describe some readilearn resources for celebrating friendship.
Developing a welcoming, happy, supportive classroom environment, a place where children want to be, is essential for learners of all ages, but especially so in early childhood. These classrooms are the first that children experience and influence lifelong attitudes to school and learning. It is important to establish strong foundations with positive attitudes, respect, and friendship.
Making friends doesn’t come easily to everyone. Simply being put with a whole bunch of other children of similar ages doesn’t ensure friendships will be established, or that children will be accepting of, and respectful to, others.
Strategies for helping children develop effective social skills need to be interwoven throughout the curriculum. Respect, kindness, and empathy need to be modelled and taught. It is especially important for children who have had limited experience mixing with others, or for those who respond to others in inappropriate or unkind ways.
Some useful strategies include:
Develop a vocabulary of words used to describe feelings. Words
In a previous post I introduced you to Pauline King, The Contented Crafter. In comments on my blog, Pauline revealed that she was a teacher so passionate about education that she had attempted to establish an alternative school. I was excited to discover that we have these things in common and I immediately invited her to share some additional thoughts about children, learning, schools and education.
I am honoured that she has agreed, and delighted to welcome her here. In this post Pauline shares a little of her life journey, and her reflections on teaching and school. In a future post she will share her some of her wisdom about children and parenting.
Pauline, please tell us a little about yourself. What things are most important to you? What do you hope to achieve through blogging?
I was a Steiner School Teacher for some twenty years, here in NZ and in the UK briefly. It was a demanding vocation that taught me more than I ever imparted to the students in my care. I left teaching in 2003, spent a year or so recovering my health and eventually took up life coaching – a kind of a natural segue as I had spent a lot of my time in the school system mentoring young parents and teachers. I retired in 2014 and stepped full time into the art of contentment. It’s what I think I spent my life looking for and in these later years what I taught to the women who came to me for life guidance.
In my personal life I have always been a creator – hand work, interior design and decorating, gardening and various crafting and artistic outlets that changed over the years. I took up blogging almost three years ago simply to keep track of my creative work as I was notorious for making stuff, giving it away and not being able to remember what I made or the processes around it. I soon started using my blog as an on-line diary, documenting the things that amused or dismayed me along with whatever I was playing around with at the time. I don’t think I really expected anyone to read my blog and was quite surprised when I got comments and returned visitors and followers. In a surprisingly short time I discovered a new world that was peopled by like-minded souls and fun people and I kept blogging for the joy found in the community that built up around my little blog.
I live alone in a tiny house with a Maine Coon called Olando and a Shi-Tzu X named Siddhartha [Siddy for short].
I live simply and contentedly, paying close attention to my own personal development and take responsibility for the events in my life. I am not religious but view life and the planet from a spiritual outlook. I study quantum physics, enjoy nature and believe in spreading positivity wherever I can.
I don’t write about education in my blog – even though it is an area I am passionate [and opinionated] about – I simply don’t want it to impinge into the simple creative life I lead nowadays.
Pauline, you were a teacher? What was it that attracted you to teaching in the first place?
I always wanted to be a teacher, from a very young age. School was a safe place for me in a family that was damaged and dysfunctional, so I guess that may have been the genesis. However, I was not allowed to stay in school and was put to work in a factory at the age of 14 [my mother lied about my age]. When I gained my freedom I set about continuing my education and have kept on learning formally and informally ever since. I was 33, a wife and mother, before I finally achieved the goal I had as a child.
What things did you love about teaching?
I loved being in the classroom – working with the students and the Steiner curriculum [which is a wise and clever thing]. Later when I side-stepped into too much administration and other non-teaching roles I simply dried up and eventually became ill. That made me really conscious that it was the art of teaching that I really loved.
You said that you spent many years attempting to establish an alternative school for your eldest daughter. Why was this important to you? What was lacking in schools available to you? How would your school differ?
My feeble attempts to start a school were short lived, I did not go as far as you did as there was little support or enthusiasm for my initiative. Within two years I had discovered Steiner Education and serendipitously fallen head first into that with my two daughters. Both began to bloom and blossom in ways they never had in the state system they were so briefly in and I soon transferred my interest and passion to that form of education. I began an informal study under the auspices of a venerable old retired teacher and soon went on to study full time. I think I was incredibly fortunate for throughout this time I was mentored and supported by several practising teachers, and one wonderful head lecturer who went out of his way to keep pouring his wisdom into my listening ears.
How wonderful to have the support and encouragement of a community so passionate about children and education. Do you have anything else to add?
Only that, from this vantage point I find I have become a person who would like schools scrapped and to see education in the true meaning of the word be given back to parents and the community. My new mantra is ‘It takes a village to raise a child – and educate one too.’
I totally agree with your new mantra, Pauline! Thank you for your openness in responding to my questions. I could hear the passion in your words as you answered them. I appreciate the time you took out of your contented creative schedule to share your thoughts with us. I think there are many of us who could do with some contentment mentoring. I look forward to welcoming you back next week to share in your wisdom about children and parenting. I’d also love to know more about the Steiner curriculum. Another conversation …
Addendum: Since this post was published, in an attempt to add clarity to her statement referring to the scrapping of schools, Pauline has expressed some of her reasons for wishing to see changes to schools and the way children are educated. She has done so in a response to an observation made and query posed by Anne Goodwin which you can read here, and a little more clarification here. I apologise, Pauline, if the inclusion of that statement misrepresented your position and caused you concern. It made perfect sense to me! The differences I see between education and schooling feature regularly in my posts.
One of the greatest contributors to a child’s happiness at school, indeed for happiness in life, is friendship. Talking with children about their day at school will more than likely contain some reference to their friends; who they played with, who they didn’t, who was absent, who was mean. If they felt sad during the day it was possibly because someone wouldn’t play, wouldn’t let them play, or was mean.
Getting along with others seems to come naturally to some children, especially to those who see positive social skills modelled by parents and family friends, who are given lots of opportunities to mix with others of all ages, and who are encouraged to express themselves and their feelings. Other children don’t find it so easy, sometimes due to lack of positive role models, but often for other reasons.
Most children require some explicit teaching from time to time, for example to share, take turns and to use friendly words. Many schools incorporate the development of friendship skills into their programs. Some schools, such as one that employed me to write and teach a friendship skills program in years one to three, develop their own programs. Other schools use published materials such as the excellent You Can Do It!program which teaches the social and emotional skills of getting along, organisation, persistence, confidence and resilience.
In the early childhood classrooms of my previous school, we used the songs, puppets and stories included in the You Can Do It! Program. We also involved children in role play and discussion, providing them with opportunities to learn the language and practice the skills in supportive and non-threatening situations. Having a common language with which to discuss feelings, concerns and acceptable responses meant issues were more easily dealt with. More importantly children learned strategies for developing positive relationships and friendships with others. They came to understand their own responses as well as those of others.
I have talked about friendship in many previous posts, including here, here and here. My online friend Anne Goodwin, who blogs at Annecdotal, even wrote about it in a guest post here, and I described friendship trees that I used with my class here.
In this post I want to acknowledge a new friend and a long-time friend. (I can’t say ‘old’. She’s younger than I!)
My new friend is Pauline, The Contented Crafter. At the beginning of last week Pauline announced a very generous giveaway for Christmas which I shared with you here. Pauline invited readers to nominate someone as a deserving recipient of her beautiful Christmas light catcher. She posted the nominees and their stories here and invited readers to vote for the two they would most like to receive the light catcher.
I nominated Robin, a friend of over thirty years. That must be deserving of an award in itself! In case you missed her story on Pauline’s blog, I include it here so that you can understand why I value her friendship so highly.
I have a wonderful friend for whom this beautiful light catcher would be a perfect gift. Each of its strands holds a special significance, as if Pauline had her in mind.
She gifted her friendship to me more than thirty years ago and, thanks to a miracle and the protection of angels, it is a gift that continues.
Over twenty years ago, on my birthday, she was involved in a serious car accident. My birthday became her life day, a constant reminder that life and each passing year is a precious gift.
Her many injuries, requiring numerous surgeries over the years, did not injure her bright, cheerful nature and positive outlook on life. Although she lives with constant pain you wouldn’t know unless you asked, and then only if she chose to tell you.
She has an enormous generous and loving heart, and her home is warm and welcoming. Family, especially her two grown daughters and her dear Mum who passed this year, is important to her. She loves to bake and craft individual gifts for her family and friends. She is always busily thinking of others.
She is a gifted musician and amazing music teacher. She plays the flute and sings like a Robin. She incorporates music and fun into classes for children and lessons for adults learning English. All come to her classes eager to learn and leave singing with joy and acceptance.
At Christmas the family gather round to decorate the tree and “remember the moments” marked by ornaments made by smaller hands, collected on travels, or signifying achievements and occasions like graduations and engagements.
I know my friend would treasure this beautiful light catcher as another reminder of life’s precious gifts and moments that make it magic. Thank you Pauline for the opportunity to express openly how much I value her friendship.
You can find out more about Robin on her website and even purchase her wonderful CD “Notes from Squire Street”.
I am very excited to say that Robin is included in Pauline’s list of winners. In fact Pauline’s generosity is being extended to many of the nominees, and even to one for commenting on the post. Very soon Pauline’s light catchers will be dispersing rainbow light of friendship and joy around the world. I think that is a beautiful and generous gesture.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.
The end of the school year in Australia is fast approaching; assessment is almost done and reports completed.
After a hectic year, thoughts are turning towards Christmas and the long summer holidays.
However the teaching and learning in the classroom doesn’t stop until the final farewells on the last day of school.
These last few weeks of the school year allow a little more flexibility and time for spontaneous explorations of children’s interests after the curriculum’s imposed learnings have been achieved. Sure, skills still need to be practised and extended but the pressure is not so relentless.
As the thoughts of most children are on Christmas and what they will do during the holidays, why not harness those interests and that excitement to make classroom learning meaningful and fun while developing important social and cultural concepts and understandings as well as practising and extending literacy and numeracy skills.
Over recent years there has been some controversy over whether Christmas should be included in school programs, some arguing that it is not inclusive and excludes those students whose cultural backgrounds neither recognise nor celebrate Christmas.
I have a number of reasons to support my argument that Christmas should be learned about in school, and my reference is to secular rather than religious celebrations which are best left to organisations dedicated to that purpose.
I would like to say that the main reason is that I love Christmas (the excitement, the anticipation, the decorations, the gift-giving, the celebrations with family and friends)!
But that would not be true.
My focus is educational:
Cultural respect: Most children in Australian schools celebrate Christmas. Including Christmas in the classroom program acknowledges this and draws upon their interests and prior knowledge.
Cultural awareness: Investigation of traditions celebrated by other class members, community groups or countries develops a recognition of other perspectives, including those who do not celebrate Christmas and those who celebrate other traditions such as Hanukkah, Ramadan or Chinese New Year.
Cultural understanding: Learning about the traditions of the dominant culture in which one lives makes one more comfortable within that society, more able to converse about important events and holidays, and able to develop shared experiences i.e. helps to develop feelings of being included, rather than excluded by participating in the outward traditions. However, this knowledge does not necessitate participation or belief.
Cultural acceptance: Learning to understand that, although not everyone shares the same beliefs or traditions, we all share a common humanity and that there is good in everyone is important for creating a peaceful and nonjudgmental world.
Self-awareness: Christmas is a time for reflecting on the year’s achievements and behaviour e.g. whether you have been “naughty or nice” or whether you have worked hard are superficial questions which can lead to deeper introspection. This self-reflection can lead to celebration as well as to the setting of positive goals for improvement.
Other-awareness: Recognising one’s own strengths can help to identify, recognise and appreciate the strengths and achievements of others.
Emotional intelligence: Children learn to recognise and describe their own emotions, and the emotions of others. They understand that not everyone thinks and feels the same way about similar events and learn to respect the thoughts and feelings of others.
Social-awareness: Recognising how others think and feel about certain events can develop feelings of empathy. Children are more likely to find common ground upon which friendships can be built.
Being kind to each other: Christmas is all about sharing and giving. In a classroom these can lead to discussions about working cooperatively and collaboratively, getting along with each other, and giving the greatest gift of all: friendship.
Enjoyment, recognition and fun! I couldn’t stop at 9, and I think the inclusion of fun in the classroom is one of the most powerful ways to engage and motivate learners!
Decorating the classroom is one way of setting the scene for explorations of Christmas traditions while encouraging the children to work cooperatively, take pride in their shared achievements and talk about how Christmas is celebrated (or not) in their families.
It became a tradition in my year one classroom to make a large 3D Christmas tree to adorn our classroom wall and become the focal point of our learning.
We would sit in front of it to have our discussions and read our stories.
To the display surrounding it, we would add child-made decorations, stories and poems they had written, holiday messages and gifts.
I would photograph each child in front of the tree, holding a sign with the message e.g. “Happy Christmas 2013”. These photographs would then be added to calendars which became a Christmas gift for parents.
The children loved doing the tree, partly because of the inherent excitement at the end of the school year with Christmas holidays imminent. But they also loved doing it because they were working together, making something meaningful to them; and as they worked together and saw the tree take shape, they realised that what can be achieved together is far more (as well as more fun) than they would have achieved on their own.
And while they were busily tracing and cutting, they were talking and sharing ideas and thoughts with each other and with me. We began to learn a lot about each other’s experiences, traditions and feelings.
Having made the tree together, the children had an enormous sense of collective pride in what they had achieved, especially when all those viewing it remarked upon how lovely it looked.
While I include instructions for making the tree here, they are also available from readilearn.
What do you think? Do you think Christmas should be celebrated in schools?
What reasons would you add to my list? What do you disagree with?