By Cassie Camara who is the mama behind @camara.crew on Instagram and click here for her blog Camara Crew.
I have three kiddos under the age of 4. Our oldest daughter will be 4 in July and is supposed to go to school in September. Being a mom to 3-pre K toddlers can be extremely busy but we do our best to try to implement various learning opportunities at home for all of them. Each time they can look very different but as long as our kids are having fun and learning something new in the process that is all that matters to us.
A lot of the time the focus for structured activities is on our 3.5 year old daughter. We are trying to prepare her for starting JK in September. She is starting to ask a lot of questions about going to school and they mostly are about what the day is going to look like and those common fears about being away from mommy and daddy. So a lot of our preparation right now is being led by her and her questions. We don’t want to force activities on her, she will learn when she is ready to and we have found forcing her to do learning activities can sometimes increase her anxiety about going to school and results in less participation. By letting her lead the activities and questions we have found our daughter has opened up to us more, asked more questions and participated in activities about learning more.
We’ve been using books to help prepare her for what school is going to look like. Our favourite right now is from Usborne Books “All You Need to Know Before you Start School". Click here.
This book is great for learning what a day at school would look like and also has some activities you can do throughout it. Another favourite is the dry erase books from Usborne which you can find here.
They have a great variety in their wipe clean books and I find Lily enjoys doing these most. It is a great quiet activity for her to sit and practice writing her letters and numbers. I love that there is no pressure if she makes a mistake she can just wipe it clean and start over again. We can also give our 18 month old one to scribble in to be just like his big sister. I find that when we set up an activity for our daughter our 18 month old son typically shows interest in what she is doing. It may just be watching her but it could be copying what she is doing also. I find that by encouraging them to do an activity together it helps teach them to share, be patient and work with others.
The other activity we do often is sensory activities in our Active World Tray from Scholars Choice. This has probably been one of our best purchases. What I love about this tray is it is great for setting up activities, keeping it contained and encouraging our kids to explore their senses. We’ve been using this tray for years and had so much fun playing in it. Whether it is through making a volcano, setting up a farm, a car wash station or some paint the kids love to explore together or individually. We often will set up an activity in the tray and leave it over a period of time for them to go back and forth to. It usually results in lots of imaginative play and some questions about the topic of the day.
Ultimately I find learning at home for us right now is a lot about play and exploration. By getting down on the floor with our kids and playing with them we have learned so much from them. Also by letting them help us with daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, organizing and taking care of a newborn. We are able to implement so many learning opportunities such as patience, sharing, cooking (numbers and food groups) and so much more. I find we see what they’ve learned already coming out through their play. Oftentimes in Lily’s play she will start asking questions through her dolls or we play school and it's a great opportunity for us to answer her questions in a normalized way for her. It doesn’t always have to be in a structured sit down activity. It is amazing what children will pick up through the use of play and their imagination.
We are working on some new content about helping prepare your children for school and would love it if you followed along and shared how you are helping your kids prepare for school too.
International Women’s Day is on Sunday. It’s a day that celebrates the many talents and strengths of women. In celebration, we have rounded up some tips to raise an empowered girl. I know we’ve likely missed some points so let us know your experiences and opinions in the comments. Here is our list:
1. Encourage her to voice her opinion and speak for herself. From an early age, it’s important to give your daughter the opportunities to speak about her opinions and feelings. Listen and show her that her opinion is valued. Let your daughter debate hot topics with the adults and, leading by example, teach her how to be assertive in a respectful way.
2. Help her build positive relationships. Disagreements with friends are a normal part of friendships but there is a huge difference between disagreements and verbal abuse. Girls are often taught to be nice, apologize, and consider others first. But it’s important to be kind AND have a strong voice and boundaries. Teach her how to express and own her emotions using certain vocabulary like ‘When you said this it made me feel this way.”
3. Have conversations about body image. This conversation is imperative because society still puts a huge emphasis on how girls look. Instead of commenting on your daughter’s appearance, make one about how she uses her body as an instrument to conquer achievements. ‘Wow, you held that handstand for a long time. You’re so strong.” Also, show her the importance of taking care of her body and being healthy mentally and physically. Take her to a yoga class. Try meditation.
There’s also nothing wrong with make-up and dressing up! But if/when your daughter experiments with fashion, rather than saying ‘You look pretty” try “You are really talented with the eye shadow. You can braid hair really well.” It’s then an expression of their creative side rather than as a tool to enhance their looks. Be mindful of the conversations you have about your body image as well. As parents, make sure you model positive discussions about your body and do not place emphasis on your appearance being the most important thing.
4. Buy her toys that make her think. Embrace the brain teasers and board games, the medical and scientific experiments, things to build towers and locomotives. Give her the tools to explore, think, tinker as well as dress up. Her toys get her thinking and believing in all the possibilities the world has to offer her.
5. Female role models. Learn something new. Make a new friend. Be assertive. Foster positive relationships and a healthy body image. Be the empowered woman you want your daughter to strive to be. Or perhaps you or your partner have females in your families who your daughter could look up to as well. The more examples of strong female role models in her life the more likely she’ll believe in the reality of achieving her goals.
As a teacher I can confirm that we do have ‘eyes on the back of our heads’ (we see everything our students are up to!) but unfortunately, we haven’t quite learned the talent of mind-reading. We don’t know everything going in our students’ lives, but these events directly contribute to their (lack of) performance inside the classroom. Mental health and wellness have become crucial components of many yearly action plans in schools across Canada. With the concerning number of students reporting stress, anxiety or other mental wellness issues, some school boards are taking action through the implementation of mindfulness programs.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention and being present in the moment. Mindfulness activities range from breathing exercises to listening to music. One school in Vancouver even offers tai chi to elementary students! In a nutshell, mindfulness is essentially giving students and teachers the opportunity to take a break and have some quiet time to reflect.
In 2013, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) introduced meditation lessons to Grade 9 students at Dr Norman Bethune CI. Known as The Mindfulness Project, this workshop was led by classroom teachers and carried out in six workshops over two months. The students at Bethune practiced breathing, body scans and other strategies to assist them cope with daily pressures. The students’ response to the program at Bethune was extremely positive. The project’s organizers received a TDSB Award of Excellence 2014 and the workshop has since been extended to all Grade 9s in the school district.
In January 2015, a mindfulness program co-developed by actress Goldie Hawn was tested as a control study with 99 Grade 4 and 5 students in Coquitlam, BC. Known as MindUp, the students were taught social, emotional and mindfulness skills with activities that included mindful tasting, listening to music and “brain breaks.” The results from the study were also extremely positive. The children exhibited less stress, more optimism and even showed improvements in their math abilities. The MindUp program now partners with schools in Abbotsford, Coquitlam, Vancouver, West Vancouver and York using 15 lessons to help teach students how to be mindfully engaged.
Another mindfulness project at a school in San Francisco has seen some exceptional changes in their students. Visitacion Valley Middle School implemented meditation in 2007, with twelve minute ‘quiet times’ to start and end each day. Since then, the school’s truancy and suspension rates have decreased by more than half while the state of California’s rates have continued to climb.
With my own students, I’ve found that by allowing my students some time to get themselves into a positive and calm headspace ready to learn, they’re more engaged and happier.
Here are a few mindfulness activities, some that we use with our students, that you can use at home to introduce mindfulness to your child:
Whichever mindfulness activities you choose to introduce your child, just remember these tips:
Most importantly, feel free to get creative and have fun exploring quiet time together!
Please note: Teachers to Go is now offering sessions in the comfort of your own home (in-person or online) with a teacher certified in mindfulness for children. They will design tailored lessons for your child to practice mindfulness and promote self-confidence. For more information please contact us.
Julie Diamond is a certified teacher in Canada and the founder of Teachers to Go.
Julie Diamond speaking at the OISE conference for Alternative, Innovative and Inspiring Career Paths for Teachers at the University of Toronto.
Jenna Srigley is the administrative assistant/social media co-ordinator at Teachers to Go and offers invaluable insight as a mom of 2 teens.
Fun Fact: Her and Julie (see above) are also sisters :)