Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Books to help children find hope and strength in stressful times: A librarian’s list

By Karen MacPherson

As an inveterate bibliophile, I naturally turn to books in times of stress, and because I’m a children’s librarian, those books tend to be ones written for kids. Children, too, are seeking guidance as they navigate these challenging and sometimes confusing times. Books can help.
Here’s a list of titles to nurture hope in kids and adults, while also inspiring them into activism to make that hopeful world a reality. My idea was to choose books for younger readers that focus on kindness, peace and feeling good — and proud — about who you are. For older readers, I looked for books about diverse people, including kids who have overcome sometimes overwhelming odds to make a difference in the world. My choices draw heavily on “Unity.Kindness.Peace.,” a list published a few days after the November election by the Association for Library Service to Children. Given time and space constraints, I’ve had to leave out many wonderful books, so head to your local public library and seek out children’s librarians, experts eager to help you find just the right title.

YOUNGER READERS (Ages 3 to 7):

“Because Amelia Smiled,” by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick)
Because Amelia Smiled, by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick): One smile has international consequences in a book that celebrates the power of love and hope.
Can I Play Too? , by Mo Willems (Disney/Hyperion): Elephant and Piggy must wrestle with the question of what to do — and how they should act — when Snake, who has no arms or legs, asks to play catch.
Counting on Community , by Innosanto Nagara (Triangle Square): In this counting book, readers learn many ways that community is important, such as working together in a community garden and protesting injustice.

“If You Plant a Seed,” by Kadir Nelson (Balzer + Bray)
If You Plant a Seed , by Kadir Nelson (Balzer+Bray): A food fight breaks out when a rabbit and a mouse refuse to share the bounty of their vegetable harvest with a flock of birds. Things look grave until the mouse realizes that sharing just might be a better solution.
Last Stop on Market Street , by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Putnam): During a bus ride, a young boy in the inner city learns to appreciate his Nana’s ability to find — and celebrate — beauty anywhere. The picture book won the 2016 Newbery Medal and for its illustrations, a 2016 Caldecott Honor.
“The Lion & the Mouse,” by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
The Lion and the Mouse , by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown): Setting Aesop’s beloved fable in the African Serengeti, Pinkney’s illustrations — and nearly wordless text — give this classic a powerful new twist. This book won the 2010 Caldecott Medal.
The Peace Book , by Todd Parr (Little, Brown): In his cheerful style, Parr defines the meaning of peace for very young children, from “offering a hug to a friend” to “keeping the streets clean” to the concluding message that “peace is being who you are.”
“The Story of Ferdinand,” by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson (Grosset & Dunlap)

The Story of Ferdinand , by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson (Grosset & Dunlap): This classic tells the story of a peace-loving bull who is mistakenly thought to be a tough, violent animal but proves otherwise when he’s put to the test in the bull ring.

OLDER READERS (Ages 5 to 12)

A Is for Activist , by Innosanto Nagara (Triangle Square): This unusual, beautifully illustrated book offers ways to identify and promote activism through each letter of the alphabet.
Drum Dream Girl , by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López (HMH): Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban musician, won international acclaim for her drumming, but only after overcoming Cuba’s ban on women drummers.

“Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah,” by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls (Schwartz & Wade)
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah , by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Schwartz & Wade): Born with a deformed leg, the determined Yeboah became a renowned athlete, winning fame for a 400-mile journey in his native Ghana to campaign for equal rights for the physically disabled.
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez , by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (HMH): Krull tells Chavez’s compelling story with emotion and compassion, as she details what led him to push for the creation of the National Farm Workers Association.

“I Am Jazz,” by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings and Shelagh McNicholas (Dial )
I Am Jazz , by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas (Dial). Jazz Jennings, who knew from age 2 that she was really a girl in a boy’s body, has become a young spokesperson for the transgender community.
Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal: A Brave Boy From Pakistan , by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane): The stories of two brave Pakistani children who refused to accept the limitations set by the Taliban. Both were attacked for their outspokenness; one died and the other lived.

“Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story,” by Ruby Bridges (Cartwheel)
Ruby Bridges Goes to School , by Ruby Bridges (Scholastic): In 1960, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges was thrust into the national spotlight when she became the face of school desegregation efforts in New Orleans.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation , by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams): The Mendez family led a successful fight to desegregate the California schools nearly a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregated schools.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down , by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Little, Brown): On Feb. 1, 1960, four young African American men took a seat at a “whites only” Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., inspiring others to do the same throughout the South.
The Storyteller’s Candle , by Lucia Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (Lee & Low): A Puerto Rican family newly arrived in the United States finds refuge at their nearby public library, where the children’s room was presided over by Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York’s public library system.

“Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement,” by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes (Candlewick )
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement , by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick): In emotionally searing poems, Weatherford takes readers through the momentous life of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. The book won a 2016 Caldecott Honor.

Karen MacPherson is the children’s and teen services coordinator for the Takoma Park, Md., library, the only independent community public library in the state.

          Published December 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Teaching Children to be of Service

Colette B. Cross

Today I proudly watched our Kindergarten students bring holiday song, cheer and handmade gifts to the seniors at our local senior residential home.  This is an annual tradition at our school for our oldest students who, as leaders in our school, have earned this great privilege.  Observing this interaction never fails to bring every adult watching to tears.  The mix of multi ages all experiencing smiles, innocence, joy, and with kindness abounding warms every heart present.   It is true that it is never too early to help children be of service to others.

Every year, and throughout the year, our school supports our local food pantry. Each class takes a turn to bring in needed items on a monthly basis.  It is difficult sometimes to understand that there are hungry people right in our back yard, but there are.  It is an easy lesson to teach our young children: how can we help people who are hungry and make a difference?  Children can choose a can, or packet, or food item from their own pantry at home, or from the store shelf whilst shopping with mom or dad, and then bring it to school and place it in our special container.  Because our parents are so generous the bags are often heavy and the children watch as their parents deliver the items and then assist in the unpacking.  This real and visual experience can make a huge impact, and can develop a great sense of lasting empathy and kindness.

At this time of year and during the holidays many opportunities to help others present themselves, from toy drives, clothing drives, soup kitchen support, adopt a family plans, and various food drives.  Many families participate in their own way, in their own communities. What a wonderful example for children.   However, in order to develop the life skill of helping others, it is important to role model kindness and giving every day.  Allow and expect children to help out at home regularly, assign chores and responsibilities, and talk to them about giving and kindness to others as part of their daily lives.

Research shows that showing kindness brings greater happiness and greater friendships to the giver.  It is definitely nice to receive but infinitely more rewarding to give.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

An Hour of Code

The Westmont Montessori Kindergarten class participated this year in the Hour of Code. They were led by Maria Fehling, a Westmont parent from the company Accenture who encourages their employees to volunteer at schools to teach computer coding. In the case of our Kindergarten class, they learned that computers have a special language that people called programmers use to tell the computers what to do. They discussed the kinds of computers around us and the children named quite a few items in their own houses that were programmed.

Next, the children participated in an activity in coding. Some of them were “programmers” and some of them were “computers”. They were told that the code they were going to use was arrows and the task that the computers were to accomplish was to build a structure using cups. The programmers then worked to write their code of arrows; an arrow pointing up meant to pick up a cup, an arrow pointing right or left meant to move the cup that many spaces on a grid, a circular arrow meant to turn the cup 180 degrees, and an arrow pointing down meant to put the cup down.

Once the children had a few practice runs all together, they split into groups and started their work. It was a great experience for them in collaboration, cooperation, and coding!

Thank you to Mrs. Fehling and Accenture for the opportunity to participate in this fantastic lesson!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Student

Children in a Montessori Early Childhood classroom (ages 3-6) experience a different preschool experience than what is traditionally offered. The Montessori classroom is an environment filled with exploration, order, and a community of multi-aged learners that inspire and lead one another.

The key to this peaceful and busy classroom is the carefully prepared environment filled with materials that can be adapted to meet the needs and interests of the children. The classroom is divided into interest areas that include, math, language, practical life, sensorial, geography, science, and art, with work that frequently changes  to grow with the children and pique their interests. Children are free to work in all areas of the classroom and receive new one-on-one lessons with the teacher throughout the day.
Learning Areas in the Early Childhood Classroom
The work of a preschooler, and what brings that child the greatest joy, is learning to do things for himself. Whether the task is putting on his own shoes, pouring a glass of milk, setting the table, or reading a book, the confidence and joy that comes from a child who is encouraged to help himself, is what Montessori is all about. Our curriculum focuses not just on the traditional academic subjects, but on the development of the whole child.
Care of Self:  Children learn to care for themselves, including dressing independently, organizing their work space, completing work in a timely fashion, washing hands, bathroom independence, cleaning up after oneself, being respectful, and patiently waiting for a turn. With this independence, children grow confident of their abilities and take initiative in all tasks, rather than waiting for an adult to direct them to tasks.
Motor Development:  Motor development involves learning to control the whole body: walking up and down steps with ease, carrying large items, and having coordination while playing outside. It also focuses on the small muscles of the hand, enabling the child to scoop and pour, use utensils, and develop the muscle strength and memory required for writing.
Social Development: The multi-age classroom provides for opportunities to interact with peers in different ways. The community of learners develop a love for helping each other and find joy in the successes of others, as well as their own.

Through lessons about geography, cultures, science, and nature, children develop knowledge and understanding of the world around them and learn to appreciate diversity in the world.
Speech and Language: As vocabulary grows, our classroom provides countless opportunities for practice with language.Our curriculum also focuses on sentence use, answering verbal questions, expressing feelings, and following directions. Children are introduced to the sounds that letters make as soon as they show interest in them. By teaching the sounds instead of the letter names, children can begin sounding out words as their language skills develop, and by the end of their three years in the classroom children have become enthusiastic readers.
Cognitive and Mathematical Development:   Development of processing, perception, reasoning, and memory takes place at an early age.  Children are introduced to the concepts of order, matching, and sorting, which serve as the foundation for mathematical concepts.  Children learn numbers, shapes, and colors not simply by memorizing their names, but by experiencing them with hands-on materials that engage the whole body and mind, while developing concentration and focus. The hands-on mathematics materials help to develop a true sense of number quantity, quantity-symbol relationships, and an understanding of mathematical operations for numbers into the thousands.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Teach Gratitude not only on Thanksgiving.

At this time of year we are always more aware of giving thanks for what we have as we gather with friend and family to celebrate Thanksgiving and all that it brings.
At our school our children delight in preparing for a special “feast” or celebration with friends where they express their thanks for what they hold dear, their mom, their dad, their baby, their pet, their teacher, their home, their bed…the list goes on and on and is heartwarming to see their faces when they speak. 
Luckily our Montessori curriculum includes a Grace and Courtesy component, and on a daily basis we model and teach and model grace and courtesy.  We expect our students to say thank you to a friend who holds the door, or helps them clean up, to a teacher who helps with laces or zippers, or a parent who comes to read a book or do a craft.
“Thank you” - two very small and simple words that are big and important to both the user and the receiver.  Showing and receiving gratitude makes a person feel good and sets them up for positive interactions and relationships. Gratitude is a skill that will help children grow into healthy adults, therefore it is really important that we help our children focus on what they can and should be thankful for apart from material things.
Dr. Monisha Vasa in an article on  recommends the following to encourage attitudes of gratitude in children:

·         Have them engage in random acts of kindness
·         Spend time in nature and learn to appreciate its beauty
·         Create a daily reflection ritual on the highs and lows, joys and challenges of the day
·         Practice mindfulness at meals, exclude toys and electronics to allow appreciation for the meal
·         Help children volunteer in age appropriate ways

We all know the importance of role modeling, if we can make gratitude part of our daily lives our children will too.

Colette B. Cross

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Importance of Parent-Teacher Conferences

This time of year is a great time to get together with your child's teacher to discuss goals for his growth and development. Conferences are an opportunity to collaborate on your child's strengths and come together to set goals and a game-plan for his success. 

In Montessori schools, progress is measured individually and through mastery of objectives, as opposed to a grade-based system that compares your child with other children. So, at conference time you should expect to hear about the skills your child has obtained and the future path of development planned for your child. Since lesson planning is done individually, don't be surprised to hear that your child may prefer one area of the room to the other and that the teacher is not concerned about broadening her lessons for now. Often children will focus on one task or subject for an extended amount of time until they have mastered the skill, at which time they will move to another task to master. This ability to follow the interests of each child is one of the amazing gifts of Montessori Education that promotes a true love for learning.

Since Montessori schools focus on the whole child and not just academic subjects, teachers will share information about social and emotional growth, fine and gross motor skill development, and your child's acquisition of practical life skills such as caring for himself. Strength in these skills helps to encourage the development of academic skills and build concentration. 

Overall, parent-teacher conferences are an opportunity to work together to share insights with each other so that the partnership between parents and teachers can be strengthened to best meet the needs of your child.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Boo Hoo – the End of Daylight Savings    ---      FALL BACK ONE HOUR
November 6, 2015

In the fall, the clocks ‘fall’ back an hour. What used to be 7:00pm is now 6:00pm and baby/child is tired and ready to sleep earlier than ‘normal’. While you may not be successful in helping your child make it to bedtime, the real problem comes in the morning because most children will wake early. Their normal 7:00am wake-up time now becomes 6:00am. Prepare to nap them a little earlier and allow them to ‘chill’ in the crib after waking from naps a bit longer.
Your best approach is to not worry about the plan and just go with what the clock is saying. If your child’s bedtime has been 7:00pm prior to turning your clocks back, still put your child down to sleep at the new clock time of 7:00pm. The reason you can ignore the time change is because a lot of our social cues like meals, bathing, leaving and returning from work and school, are all adjusted with the time change. Social cues help regulate a child’s sleep schedule. It is entirely possible that your baby will be tired before the 7:00 pm bedtime and you should absolutely read baby’s cues and put him down a little earlier if very fussy or obviously very tired. Remain strict adhering to usual bedtimes, wake times and nap times. This approach works best for good sleepers or those who have mellow personalities. What I would suggest, however, is that a little catnap for about 30 minutes offered anywhere between 4pm and 5pm may help take the ‘edge’ off before the normal bedtime.
Some parents find it is best to try to make gradual adjustments by making a slow transition starting on Thursday night (November 3) before the time change, moving your child's bedtime earlier by 15 minutes each night. By Sunday night you will be right back on schedule.
1.    Starting Thursday, November 3, move your baby/ toddler bedtime back 15 minutes each night. Your baby’s whole daily schedule moves back those 15 minutes the day after. This way, you will have shifted your baby’s schedule ahead by one hour by the time you have to move your clock back one hour. Therefore, your baby would be going to sleep at his usual time right away, based on the Standard Time.
2.    See the chart below for guidance. Note that this chart assumes baby’s current bedtime is 7pm and waking time is 7am.
3.    For an even smoother transition, you can start moving your baby’s bedtime back 10 minutes on Tuesday, November 1, 2014.
Adults as well as babies and children can take a few days to a week or even longer to adjust to the time change. And, this is perfectly normal. Be patient with yourself and your children until your biological rhythms catch up with the clock. Being diligent with your schedule will help your child, and you, to make that adjustment more quickly. If you find the adjustment challenging, consider the following suggestion: the day after the daylight savings time ends, Monday, November 7, 2016, your baby may wake up one hour earlier than usual (based on the clock). If this is the case, you will want to make your child’s naptime and bedtime 45 minutes earlier than his regular schedule the first day; 30 minutes earlier the second day; and 15 minutes earlier the third day.

The whole daily schedule adjusts to those changes accordingly. By doing this, your baby would be going to sleep and waking up at his regular times, based on the Standard Time, by Friday November 11th. 
Pam "Mimi" Small
Newborn/Infant Care Consultant
Sleep Consultant 0-5 Years    

Transition Steps
Current Time (Daylight Savings Time)
New Time
(Standard Time)

Thursday, November 3
Move back your baby's 7pm bedtime to 7:15pm
Friday, November 4
Move back your baby’s daily schedule, starting at wake-up time 7:15am
Move back your baby’s bedtime to 7:30pm
Saturday, November 5
Move back your baby’s daily schedule, starting at wake-up time 7:30am
Move back your baby’s bedtime to 7:45pm
Sunday, November 6 (Fall Back Night)
Move back your baby’s daily schedule, starting at wake-up time 7:45am
Move back your baby’s bedtime to 8:00pm
Monday, November 7 (Standard Time in Place
Regular waking time 7:00am
8:00am(Doesn’t apply!)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Make Time for Books

Colette B. Cross

Read for the Record Day this year is October 27.  On this day over a 24 hour period, many many adults and children take part in a shared reading experience.  This program is facilitated by Jumpstart, a national early education organization, whose goal is to support more adults reading to children, and put more books in the hands of children.   Westmont has been a participating school for a number of years in this now 10-year initiative. 

Teachers, parents, grandparents, alumni students, siblings, and classmates provide reading experiences in our classrooms on an ongoing basis.  We see books in the hands of our students every day, from our youngest “Little Steppers” to our oldest Kindergarteners in their cozy dedicated reading spots.  We also welcome any opportunity to read to our students and enjoy a school-wide appreciation of a new shared book.  Each class received a copy of the book for its library.

Today, I had the pleasure of being the guest reader and read this year’s book selection The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach to all of our Early Childhood and Kindergarten students.  The animated faces, thoughtful observations, and creative responses to questions showed engaged listeners and provided fun interactions for all.  I do not have daily opportunities of reading to a large number of students and enjoyed the experience as much as the children.  I do, however, recognize the importance of giving a child the lifelong gift of enjoying a good book.

Research shows that children, who are read to from an early age develop larger vocabularies, become better readers, and experience greater success in school.  Providing literacy-rich environments will ensure that children receive the support necessary to develop pre-reading and appropriate cognitive skills, for school and for life.   We can do it together; remember to keep books in your car,  in your home, and read to your child daily.  Add a book to the birthday and holiday gift list, take trips to your local library and bookstore.  Make books visible and accessible, and take time to enjoy a good book yourself. 

If you click on the link below you can read or download this year’s Jumpstart book selection.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Want your kids to tell you about their day? Instead of asking questions, try this.

By Sara Ackerman, Washington Post 

The recently begun school year brought with it the smell of fresh pencil shavings, the squeak of shoes on newly waxed linoleum and a new round of stonewalling to the question, “What did you do at school today?”
For generations, the most common answer to this question has been “Nothing,” followed closely by “I don’t know” and its cousin, “I don’t remember.”
When my daughter started preschool, I was desperate to know what she did all morning, but I couldn’t get any information out of her. Some experts recommend giving kids space and time to decompress before launching into questions. I tried that, but she still wasn’t forthcoming. Others advised me to make questions more specific, yet still open-ended. The Internet abounds with lists of quirky alternatives to “How was your day?” But when I asked my daughter who made her laugh or what games she played outside, I was met with sighs of irritation and emphatic replies of, “Stop asking me those fings!”
When school began this year, I tried a new approach at the dinner table. “Do you want to hear about my day?” I asked my daughter.
And on that day and every day since, she has never said “no.” So I tell her about meetings and photocopying, the jammed printer and how I lost and found my keys. I tell her about the games on the playground, the lessons I taught and how many kids asked to go to the nurse. I start with taking attendance in the morning and I end at dismissal. I am a teacher — at her school — although her class is on a separate campus.
Then, like she’s taking her turn in a game of Go Fish, my daughter tells me about her day. I learn what book she listened to at the library, that she changed from her rain boots to her sneakers by herself, and the cause of her brief venture into timeout. She tells me who was classroom helper and who she sat next to at snack time. She sings “Itsy Bitsy Spider” for me, crawling her fingers up the invisible water spout above her head. She leans in close. “Did you make letters in sand today?” she whispers. “I did that!”
Although being a teacher may make my days relatable to a child attending school, I think my daughter is most interested in unveiling the mystery of what I do when I’m not with her. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a software developer, a cashier, a blogger, a doctor, a bus driver or a stay-at-home parent, because it’s not about the minutiae of the work. It’s about sharing what makes us laugh and what bores us, the mistakes we make and what is hard for us, the interesting people we meet. When I model this for my daughter, she is more willing to share the same with me.
Work is usually the last thing I want to talk about when I get home. I often think that a rundown of my day would be a bore to anyone, including me. Maybe my daughter finds listing all her cutting and pasting and cleaning up blocks equally tedious. But I delight in hearing the details of her day, just as she delights in mine.
Tonight at the dinner table, as my daughter inexpertly wielded her knife and fork and I started talking about tomorrow’s plans, she interrupted.
“Mom? Aren’t you going to tell me about your day?”

Sara Ackerman is a writer and a teacher.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Screen Time Dilemma

Colette B. Cross

How much screen time is too much?  In this day and age when screens are front and center in the day-to-day life of parents, children, schools, and communities in general, the question remains.  There is a field of thought that in order to keep up with the times, it is important for children to have access to all and everything there is to offer.   There is no doubt that young children are exposed to far more electronics/screens/video games, eBooks, etc., than ever before.  Parents know the magnetic draw and look to experts for advice.  The good thing is there are many articles and suggestions to support parents setting guidelines on this topic.  Paying attention to current research and setting family limits will help navigate this challenge.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), always vocal on its guidelines for our youngest ages, has recently changed its position on its recommendations for screen time for children. The Academy understands and recognizes the challenges that parents face with screens now appearing at every turn; the constant barrage adds to the dilemma. To read about the AAP’s current position on screen time, click on the link below to read an article published in the NY Times:

A Reconsideration completely of Children and Screen Time - The New York Times

In short keep in mind:


-  Media is just another environment

-  Role modeling is critical

-  We learn from each other

-  Content matters

-  Be mindful of “Educational Apps” - do your own research

 Co-engagement with your children counts

- Playtime is important

 Set limits and follow through with them.

For further reading, Google Lisa Guernsey, author of Screen Time and writer for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), who gives feedback on her recent findings on how electronic media affects young children.