Archive for the ‘Preschool’ Category

Playing’s the Thing

March 2, 2011

When kids first start to play, say around one to two years old, if they are playing “with” another child they are really not playing together so much as playing next to each other.  They may watch what each other does, and they may imitate, but they don’t mingle their play.  Psychologists call this “parallel play.”

When kids get a little older, provided they are secure and wired up for it, they start to play with each other.  Your kid’s doll or truck starts to interact with the other kid’s toy.  Voila:  the birth of cooperative play.

In this three to five time of life, kids start to build cooperative play in their imaginations.  The toys may be props, but the play’s the thing.  Group play emerges.  Kids playing house, or dinosaurs, or doctor are creating a fragile world that hovers between them—just like grown-ups on a stage or doing improvisational comedy: it is a world of “yes and.”

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Can back-to-school blues hit on the first day… of preschool?

September 8, 2010

A recent New York Times article by Pamela Paul, “Can Preschoolers Be Depressed?,” raised a number of points relevant to parenting across the span of our children’s development.

While identifying depression in preschool age children is presented as something newly emerging, Harry Harlow identified failure to thrive in monkeys, and later observed it in human babies—which looks an awful lot like depression, at least to me.

Nevertheless, some of the key issues that Paul’s article highlights have to do with our increasing understanding about the brain’s plasticity, especially at very young ages.  The same open-brainness that makes early intervention with autistic kids an optimal treatment approach leads researchers to hypothesize that early intervention with depressed kids may prove equally important.

Although a negative environment can contribute to kids getting depressed, many kids of depressed, or otherwise limited, parents do not themselves get depressed (in other words, parents can mess us up, but depression is far from always their fault, at least not counting genes).  Guilt rarely helps anyway but, unfortunately, there are many cases of perfectly nurturing parents providing loving environments in which even very young children sometimes become rather melancholy and lacking in exuberance.

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Sweet still at sixteen

June 3, 2010

Andy and I were talking and she suggested that it might be nice to post something on how kids, even at they continue to grow (and despite being intermittently mouthy, rude, entitled and impossible) actually remain cute and sweet to us parents.

When our little crawlers were still in car-seats, the big boys and girls kicking up sand at the park and racing up and down the slide represented a stark contrast between our kids (cute and adorable) and those other kids (brutal and rather advanced, maybe even talking in sentences, not always kind sentences).

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Executive Function and SEL

April 26, 2010

While I think that there is a Mercedes SEL, and I imagine some “top executives” might drive them, a big topic in psychology and kids these days is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and “executive function” (related to decision-making).

A number of programs have been developed to target and teach young kids how to regulate emotions, solve problems constructively and work well with others, and the research is coming in to support the value of this sort of focus.  The results suggest that kids who get this sort of teaching early on show an average of ten points higher on later tests of academic achievement, a needle that proves very hard to move (even if it is the over-focus of much misguided education these days).

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Running away… at four

April 13, 2010

“This is my house and if you don’t like the rules you can leave!” my dad said tersely through clenched teeth, as if he were in a board meeting with some rivalrous upstart challenging his supreme authority.  I was four.

But from the start I always had some sort of fire in my gut; maybe it was pride, maybe it was a touch of x-ray vision for other people’s B.S., or some father-transmitted issue with authority figures already coming back to bite my dad in the rear, some perhaps a touch of Cool Hand Luke go-ahead-and-hit-me, but I will get back up streak of oppositionality, but I calmly took my preschool lunch pail off the kitchen counter and walked to the big front door.  I slammed it hard and loud on the way out, and stepped free into the brilliance of a fine late spring morning.

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The Long arm of the law

March 19, 2010

When my older son, Nate, was about three we still lived in a crumbling duplex in which the ’94 earthquake had loosened every last thing in the place.  As a result, the old-school heating vents were no longer firmly attached to the walls and could be slid away like the old incinerator shoots we used back in New York.

We loved all going to the local library, hanging out in the kids’ section and coming back home with armloads of picture and storybooks.  Andy and I always took the responsibility to return library books and avoid fines seriously, bred into us out of respect for the hush of the archetypal library and the fact that although we probably bought (and still buy) more books than anything else, we didn’t always buy books because books can get expensive—and so paying extra money in fines during lean times seemed highly ill-advised.

And so it was that we were getting ready to head out to the library to return one week’s books and get the next batch when Nate informed me, proudly, that he had already returned the books.  When you’re a kid, even “getting” to put the books in the return slot can be fun and exciting, and so why wouldn’t a heating vent that pulls away from the wall be a fun and useful place to return all the library books?

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Brutus the Cat

March 15, 2010

Happy Ides of March.  In honor of this day I though I would share a story that I made up  long ago when my boys were little, in the off chance that some readers might have kids in the three to five or six range to run it by and see if they like it too.  It might not be much of a story, but little kids seem to really love it if we bother to make up stories… and although I made up a lot of them when my guys were small, I know it can get exhausting and so it can be good to have an extra one lying around when we can’t think about anything but our pillow and how it calls to us.


Brutus the Cat

Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, in Ancient Rome, lived a cat named Brutus.

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Red Flags

February 25, 2010

Years ago, when Andy and I had a meeting with our child’s preschool teachers, I remember sitting around the little table meant for Playdough and snack-time and the preschool director saying something about certain behaviors being “red flags.”

I had walked in expecting to hear something like, “his crayon scribbles are really creative” or “he really likes hanging on the climbing structure.”  To be honest, to this day I can’t really recall what the “red flag” was a “red flag” for, just that there was a “red flag,” and that this made me feel woozy, and sad, and worried, and inadequate.

A red flag that made my inner Ferdinand just want to sit and smell the flowers; a red flag that made me swoon with fears about having already messed up my kid, maybe by being a therapist, maybe by giving bad genes.  I’ve worked with so many parents by now that I’m more calm to know that we almost ALL seem to have these worries to some degree or other.

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Barfing at Bright Child

February 9, 2010

Just as parenting can bring some of our highest highs, it inevitably also brings some of the lowest lows.  It’s funny how years go by and then suddenly you remember some moment that just lives on in your mind… maybe some sort of traumatic or embarrassing moment.  I know we all have ours, parenting and personal… like that elementary school moment of tripping while holding my lunch tray—feeling like I took flight as every kid in the school watched the slow-motion debacle, followed by the customary rousing applause of shame.

Filed in the same general drawer of my brain is a trip to a now-vanished kid-play-space that was very popular back when I had preschoolers; it was called “Bright Child” and it was a place filled with indoor climbing structures, pits filled with balls and the notorious black curly slide.  The labyrinthine tubes, chutes and bridges were just intimidating enough for three-year-olds so that we thirty-something dads and moms found ourselves spelunking through them, wondering how much it would cost us later at the chiropractor.  But the kids adored the place.

And so it was that one bleak and blustery winter’s day, New Years Eve day it was, I volunteered to take the kids solo so my wife could have some repose.  Bright Child was teeming that day, more packed than ever as we paid, got our wrist bracelets and checked our shoes at the door amid throngs of the coming, the going and the birthday celebrating.  Maybe it was everyone hoping to run the kids to the edge of ragged sleep in prep for New Years’ revelry, or maybe, like us, they had no plans whatsoever for New Years and were manically digging parenting as a substitute for the lives we had used to lead.

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aggression within overprotection

January 19, 2010

I have an image of myself as a three-year-old: it’s summer and we’re at “Sleepy Hollow,” a vaguely depressing summer vacation place of cottages and “the dome”—where more socially adjusted kids happily participated in activities; I’m ready for my morning swim, wearing a life-preserver, water-wings and non-slip shoes of some dimly remembered rubber; I’m being placed in the kiddie pool where the water is barely past my knees; I don’t think I’m wearing a diving mask, but I feel like I see my mom’s over-concerned face, radiating the message, “This is very, very dangerous and you might drown at any second.”

I’m not sure what my first word was, but I feel like it might have been, “Careful!” since that’s the word I remember my parents blurting out most frequently toward me.  And still I was accident prone and despite many swimming lessons, still nearly drowned at summer camp when I was nine.

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