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Rules of the School - 2013-14

Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.
-Chinese Proverb

Before I came to CHP, I worked at the Mary McDowell School for a number of years. I took over a class in an established classroom where I found a factory-produced poster on the wall which said, RULES FOR FIGHTING FAIR.  The rules were appropriate and sensible, yet it struck me, why weren’t these rules written by the children in the class?  What a missed opportunity! 

The first fall when I started working at CHP, I introduced the project and the children dictated the rules which were posted front and center in the classroom. 

When the time came that I needed to step down as head teacher/director to wear only my director’s hat, I passed the job on to Nicole.  She asked if the children could illustrate the rules (what a grand idea!) which they did and then the rules were posted on a bulletin board in the classroom.  The illustrations and text were so wonderful that we decided to publish a book to share with every child who attends CHP.

This year’s version is called KINDNESS AND SAFETY RULES AT CHP. This project works in many ways: It allows children to use fine motor skills, number concepts, communication skills and more. Even if your child is too young to actively participate in the process, you can read and share what makes CHP a fun and safe school at home.  The activity strengthens the home/school connection while you sit with your child and read the rules at home.

A Place to Create

Steps for Creating an Art-Friendly Environment at Home. 

I think, like many of the children at CHP, I am creating a pattern—the pattern is most of my blog entries contain a bit of history.  I was CHP’s first art teacher, but what you may not know is that long before that, I spent a few years teaching art for the “Studio-in-the-School” program at P.S. 58.  During that time, I also ran “Creativity at Home” workshops for parents. 

I understand CHP attracts parents to our program because, among other things, they want their children exposed to the creative arts.  I was recently approached by parents who asked me how to continue the creative arts at home.  I write this pre-holiday blog in the hopes that parents find time to implement some of my ideas during our two-week vacation! 

The following suggestions allow children to create and explore at home WITHOUT spending hours of time cleaning the mess after the activity!  I know this works because I did it with my children when they were young!

Top Five List—

  1. Find a place in your home to designate for art activies. 

For a Smaller Space:  When my daughter was a preschooler, I had three children in a tiny two bedroom apartment - finding a place for artwork was challenging, so I designated a place at our kitchen table as her work space.  

For a Larger Space: When my son got bigger, we moved into a larger apartment and I had enough space for an artwork table - I purchased a small Childcraft table (that same table is now in front of the donor wall at CHP) which became my children’s designated artspace.

  1. Set up an art box or art supply cabinet.  You want your child to be as “hands-on” as possible with a creative project so he or she can work independently.  Make sure the box is within reach and easy to open.

For a Smaller Space:  My daughter had her “art box” wedged between the kitchen table and wall.  I used a wooden Bolla wine box large enough hold supplies - any box that is accessible and easy to open will do.

For a Larger Space:  Next to your art table, place a little plastic set of drawers.  Next time you are at CHP, look at the drawers next to the writing table.  They are labeled with photos and words of what is inside each drawer.

  1. Get your art supplies together: Here are just some of the supplies to include in your child’s art box: assorted paper, markers, a watercolor set (I recommend Crayola), Craypas, white glue, glue sticks, glue/glitter pens, tape, Q-tips, stickers, varied sized paint brushes, junk mail, found objects for collage, stampers and stamp pad and a good child’s scissor (I recommend Fiskers).

Try to remember to keep items in the box fresh - it’s fun and exciting for children to find new things in the art box and sparks new ideas!

  1. Tame the mess: One of the things that sabotage efforts to allow your child to work freely is a huge clean-up!  From the moment I set up the art area in my home, I set the project up for success. 

All activities should be contained in the designated artspace - when you introduce the art area to your child, make sure you set the parameters.  You may need to hover a bit for the first few visits to your new art area,  to ensure your child is working only in that area and they work on their own COOKIE SHEET.*

*HERE’S THE TRICK:  Purchase a large professional baker’s cookie sheet.  All your child’s independent artwork must be performed on the sheet.  No matter how much paint is used or glue is squeezed; the mess is confined to one easy to clean-up place.  Once your child decides that the creative time is over, he or she can clean-up their art supplies and put everything back in the box. If a piece of artwork needs to dry, it can dry on the cookie sheet. It is much easier to clean-up a cookie sheet than an entire room!

  1. Have fun! Try new things!  Consider art supplies as educational tools.  If you see new art supplies for children, buy it - items like watercolor crayons, stickers, bingo markers, and new stampers. The next time your child opens their box, they will find a surprise and this can jump start their creative process.

If you have a spare moment, join your child at your new art area.  Work TOGETHER, you can model the way to use glue, watercolors or scissors.    You can make cards for Grandma’s birthday, decorations for the holidays, or just make yourselves some crowns and be royalty for the day!

Here’s a bonus crafty idea for your child’s vacation from CHP: Make some SALT DOUGH!

This is SOOO simple and fun.  My children and I would make salt dough on rainy Saturdays, sick days or even sleep-overs.  You can make holiday ornaments with it too!

All you need:   Water, Salt, and Flour.  Don’t forget about that baking sheet!  To keep the mess at a minimum, have your child work their dough on their art-area baking sheet.

Directions:  Take 1 cup salt and dissolve it in 1 ½ cups water (or a little more if needed). Stir in 3 cups of flour (one cup at a time), until it's a nice soft dough.

While your children works with the dough, it’s fun to keep dusting the dough with extra flour—this really makes kids feel like little bakers!  You can provide a little dish with extra flour for dusting.  Shape or cut it out with cookie cutters. You can also let it harden or bake it at 200 degrees until hard. 

If your children love this activity, you might want to check out these two books for serious salt dough maker: 

How Do I Get My Kid Into Harvard

I recently attended a conference where the keynote speaker was Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, research consultant, author of Brain Rules and his newest book, Brain Rules for Baby.   What does the latest brain science say about the best way to raise a smart and happy child?  Dr. Medina began his lecture by sharing one of the most often questions asked of him, “How do I get my kid into Harvard?”  As my children are both currently in college (NOT Harvard), this intrigued me. I listened to the lecture and found it fascinating—fascinating enough to find myself  a few days later in a Barnes and Noble , thumbing through Brain Rules for Baby .  I stood there reading the books introduction, where I read the following:

Myth:  To boost their brain power, children need French lessons by age 3 and a room piled with “brain-friendly” toys and a library of educational DVDs.

Truth:  The greatest pediatric brain-boosting technology in the world is a plain cardboard box, a fresh box of crayons, and two hours.  The worst is probably your new flat-screen TV.

I was sold!  I bought the book and found Brain Rules for Baby to be a very gentle read.   It confirmed some of the research I already knew about the developing brain and offered some theories that were new to me.  I always knew that infants were born with brains that were still developing, but I never understood why.  In order to come into the world, the brain must be small enough to pass through the birth canal.  Makes sense huh?  An infant begins his or her life with “a work in progress” brain.  I was very happy to find many confirmations sited within the text of our developmentally appropriate educational approach…things like, the importance of play, problem solving, creative opportunities, and lots of pretending. All good things.

My husband and I parented our children earnestly and with all good intensions.   I do not know if adopting some of the principals Dr. Medina described necessarily would have resulted in my paying two Harvard tuitions right now, but if my children were under the age of five, I might have done things a little differently.  I could have:

  • Praised my children for their effort, not their intelligence.  I would have used phrases like, “I am so proud of you because you worked really hard!” instead of, “You did so well because you are SOOO smart!”
  • Worked a little harder on my marriage and tried not to argue in front of my children.  The brain is fixated on safety, and arguing allows to brain to concentrate on nothing but the source of the threat.
  • Reconciled arguments with my husband in front of children.  By doing this, I would have modeled how to fight fair and make up—the brain needs this environment of safety to perform well.
  • Made a greater effort to equalize the work load between my husband and me.  This really would have helped to cut down on the arguing!  Imagine that, equalizing the work load between you and your spouse makes for a smarter child!

Dr. Medina also makes a compelling argument that impulse control is the best predictor of academic performance, not  I.Q.  Whether you agree with him or not, I think this book is well worth the read.  I will have a copy of the book in the school’s waiting area, if anyone wants to thumb through it.  You can also visit Dr. Medina’s very informative web site, www.brainrules.net, which offers a lot of information on brain development in children from pregnancy to age five.  The site includes some entertaining lectures by Dr. Medina, and even a quiz for parents.  Brain Rules for Baby.