Tag Archives: children

A Director’s Calling: Decisions That Shape the Lives of Children

20150212_100358It Takes Quality

Without a doubt, the decisions an early childhood education director makes—from how much to spend on flowers to staffing changes—have a profound impact on the culture and life of a school and its students. Many of these decisions are invisible to a parent’s eye. They happen behind the scenes while the director is at home, riding to work on the train, or simply in conversation with his/her team. But these decisions matter. They impact children’s daily lives, their emotional experiences, and what they learn every day.

When you select a school or a childcare center for infants and toddlers, you are really choosing the director. In essence, the director becomes the parent when the parent is away. He ro she oversees the tone and content of the teachers’ language, the selection of classroom materials, and the composition of teams. Directors make sure a center is safe and clean, and most importantly that the children in their care enjoy lives filled with the challenges and joys they deserve.

It Takes Time

It takes time for a director to put down roots in a school and shape the culture. At first, depending on the institution, he or she may be faced with a smoothly functioning machine or the director may need to manage a team that has been functioning poorly for a very long time. He or she needs to work with a strong vision, a supportive team of administrators, and a have a constitution of steel. The best directors always make the job look easy—they walk through the center with an air of comfort and belonging, even when serious and difficult decisions are about to be made.

Here are some of the ways a center director may impact the life of your child:

Building a Teacher Community: The director selects who spends time with your child every day. Directors therefore are faced with the task of determining if each and every teacher is right for the school and their particular positions. Are they knowledgeable about the age group? Do they understand and share the values of the school? Are they patient and kind? Do they find the children fascinating? Are they aware enough of the whole classroom to keep all of the children safe? Selecting (and dismissing) great teachers is an art, and something directors learn over time.

Assessing Teacher Performance: There’s a lot of media debate on how best to assess teacher performance. Should it be accomplished through formal means like testing and portfolio reviews? Or perhaps through special tools developed by the school? No matter the approach, the director decides what excellence looks like. He/she also helps teachers become better at their jobs. Parents only see a small portion of a teacher’s abilities. The director is the only one who has a 360-degree vantage point to determine teacher effectiveness.

Managing A Budget: Directors with a strong visions make ongoing financial decisions that impact daily activities and ultimately the quality of a center. Will the children bake every week? Will musicians visit the school to play live music? Will each class have a pet, visit the apple orchard, or ride in a buggy throughout the neighborhood? Funding always shapes what the children do, who the teachers are, and what a center looks like. Directors control the purse strings.

Building a Beautiful Environment: Each director faces his/her own unique challenges when it comes to building a center’s environment. A director either inherits an environment they can adapt or, less often, he/she must build one from scratch. Either way, with support from a board or corporate office, the director makes many small and large decisions that impacts the creation of spaces for children. The environment can either infuse everyone with good feeling and a sense of order and belonging, or undermine a school purpose and sense of cohesion. Don’t underestimate the power of place in children’s lives—it lies at the heart of their learning.

Access to the Outdoors: We hear a lot about the importance of children getting outside. In effect, how contact with nature positively impacts their physical and mental health. Directors determine where and when children go outside. They answer questions such as: Will the school have its own outdoor play space? How often will each class go outside? Will there be a set schedule? Can teachers go out whenever they want? How far can the children walk to a playground? Will they go out in all kinds of weather?

Margie Carter and Deb Curtis have written extensively on what makes a “visionary director” (Carter and Curtis, 2009)—one who has all of the practical, personal, and educational tools to shape a center. They point out that it can take up to 18 months for a director to be truly rooted in a school’s culture and feel an organic sense of acceptance, faith, and control over the life of the center. Directors should be lifelong learners and model that stance for teachers and parents. By bringing all of us together—a community of children, teachers and parents—the director sets the magic in motion and masters the magic over time. When parents select a center, they choose that director’s particular brand of magic, which may be newborn or beautifully aged over time.

Renee Bock is a dedicated early childhood educator, who is currently the chief academic officer at Explore+Discover, a social learning center in Manhattan that is committed to setting the standard for infant and toddler care and education. Renee has more than a decade of experience in the field and holds a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College in New York. She has three sons, Ariel (16), Raffi (14), and Shaya (13).

The Impact of Technology and Social Media on Kids

little boy at expressive face using a digital tablet in bedChildren’s use of technology and social media has become a modern-day focus for parents. How do you make choices about how much screen time your child/children can have per day and about what programming they can access? How does use of technology impact children?

A general guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics has been that children and teens have no more than one to two hours of screen time per day. For toddlers, the recommendation for many has changed from none to more flexible thinking with interactive media, like Skype and FaceTime. Research on touch-screen apps isn’t clear yet. Limiting screen time is associated with a variety of health benefits, including lower rates of obesity, stronger language skills, and more opportunities to engage socially, face-to-face. Though difficult to implement in the short-term, there are longer-term benefits. Studies have shown that it may be harder for children to attend to satiety cues when they eat while watching TV, so they may eat larger portions. They also may eat less healthy foods while snacking and watching TV, which can also lead to obesity.

Parents often wonder why video games are so interesting, or seemingly “addictive” to their children. Well, they provide immediate feedback to success by distributing reinforcements and punishments. So, children get feedback right away about what they did right, and what they did wrong with the opportunity to try again right away. That can be very stimulating and engaging for many children. Video games also assist in learning at different rates, so children can practice, get better, and then gain mastery at their own pace. Repetition of information and practicing strengthens brain-cell connections, which is thought to underlie memorization and learning.

As a child psychologist, in addition to the time frame guidelines, I encourage parents to structure the use of technology as much as possible. This can mean a number of things. Since most children and teens are highly motivated by use of the iPad, cellphone, or computer, earning screen time can be a highly effective way to help children practice more behaviors their parents want to see—completing homework, chores, or morning and night routines. Since immediate rewards work best in helping children make behavior changes, awarding a child screen time daily or points towards weekend screen time can be motivating.

It can be difficult to manage older children’s and teens use of screen time when they use the computer for homework. Many students find themselves switching between researching for a paper and chatting with friends. There is ample research showing that multitasking actually leads to less effectiveness and efficiency because it reduces the brains opportunity to think deeply about one thing. Children and teens are likely to need help with planning out their homework schedules and building in breaks to surf or chat with peers.

Supervision with screens is critical in building trust that children and teens can be responsible and stay safe. When introducing more opportunities for screen time—like buying children their first phone or iPad—parents have the best results when children build up to earning more time and independence.

Though research on the effects of playing violent video games is mixed, dozens of studies indicate that playing violent games increases aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, in both the short term and the long term. Recent studies show that sensitivity for others can decrease the more violence one engages in through video games. The question of how much children or teens can become sensitized to aggression is a good one—and one parents should really consider.

Another area that parents ask a lot about is socialization and screen time. We know that if children and teens spend too much time with screens, they can lose opportunities for face-to-face social interactions. In these cases, children don’t have as many opportunities to read facial expressions and cues, or to practice responding verbally and immediately in conversation. Skype and FaceTime can actually help here. Good social skills are obviously critical for friendships, relationships, and skills like interviewing for schools and jobs. As with everything, there’s a balance and parents need to decide what is best for their child(ren), and children and teens can build life skills using technology—good decision making, estimating and managing time, rewarding oneself after work is complete, and connecting to the larger world.

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiKirsten Cullen Sharma, PsyD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center. She is also the Co-Director of Early Childhood Clinical Service and a Clinical Neuropsychologist at the Institute for Learning and Academic Achievement.

Dr. Cullen Sharma has expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy for children who have co-morbid learning or attention difficulties and emotional or behavioral difficulties, and parent-focused therapy. She emphasizes consistency in use of evidence-based interventions that help children succeed at home and at school.

Dr. Cullen Sharma is a member of the American Psychological Association. She has published in scholarly journals and presented at local, national, and international conferences. She frequently participates in media interviews; these have included The Wall Street Journal, TODAY, NY1, and NY Parenting Magazine.

8 Reasons to Read to Your Child Early On

mom readingAs Mayor De Blasio’s Pre-k initiative gets off the ground in New York City, the impact of early learning is becoming increasingly apparent. According to reading specialist Maryanne Wolf, “Learning to read begins the first time an infant is held and read a story.” She also adds that the more talking children hear and the more they are read to, the more words they experience and the more prepared they are for school learning. While many parents know that reading to their kids is important, they aren’t clued into its specific benefits. Here are eight important reasons to read to your child early on:

Expansion of world view. In books (and in conversations) children are exposed to new ideas—they visit far away places, see new things, feel new feelings, and go on cognitive and emotional adventures.

Object identification. Vision, perception, and language work together to connect an object with a word, and then children develop memories of what they’ve seen. Books increase their scopes of reference.

Everything has a name. It is easy for adults to forget that infants and toddlers don’t know a fork is called a fork, a tree is called a tree, and so on. When we talk to children we name their world and expand their universe of concepts. Books do an even better job of catapulting this process through image and story.

Connection between text and image. Beautiful images encourage focus, questioning, and the drive to know more; children begin to use pictures to prompt letter and word recognition, connections with characters, and sequencing skills.

The delight of literary language. The pairing of powerful images with evocative literary language helps to develop children’s minds. Growing up hearing older and/or more complex language allows children to develop an ever-expanding universe of words.

Phonological development. As children hear language they begin to identify different sounds, and learn to connect starting and ending sounds and make rhymes.

Book sense. Experience handling books teaches children the logic of how texts work physically, the direction in which the home language is read, and the rhythm of turning pages.

Letters make words and words make sentences. Children who are read to begin to understand the building blocks of the reading process. They recognize each letter as an object with a sound, each word as a small picture, and multiple words coming together as a sentence with meaning.

Beyond these eight important reasons, reading is just another way to bond with your child. So encourage more talk at home, in your kids’ classes, and in infant and toddler learning centers, so we can expand the minds of these early learners.