Category Archives: Early Childhood Development

School Success Rx

 

Guest Blog by Calgary’s Child — original link here

With Preschool and Kindergarten Registration starting now, Calgary’s Child share their prescription for school success:

Read, read, read to your child

“Being read to is the single most consistent and reliable predictor of academic success later in life,” says Kurumada Chuang. She recommends reading to your preschooler for 20 minutes every night at bedtime. While you’re at it, stop every so often and ask your child a question about the story before turning the page, such as: “Gosh, why do you think she was sad?” Or, “What do you think is going to happen next?” Making reading more interactive makes it more fun and helps build your child’s comprehension skills.

Help your child learn to follow directions

To help your preschooler get the hang of following directions, practice at home by giving simple commands, such as: “Please help me pick up your toys and put them in the
toy box.” Then, encourage your child to follow through by offering an incentive to do whatever it is you’re asking. Tell your child they can play outside, for example, once they’ve finished putting away their toys. An incentive helps your child understand that following directions makes other fun activities possible. If they don’t follow your directions and, for example, don’t put their toys away, calmly explain that they won’t be able to play with those toys for the rest of the day or go, for example, to the park. Keep it positive by focusing on how clean the playroom will look when you’re done. Then praise your child when they’re successful. “You followed my directions so well. Thank you for helping me put your toys in the toy box like I asked you to! That was so helpful.”

Help your child master sharing and turn-taking

From age 3 to 5, children tend to hoard coveted toys and objects. They’re not really ready to grasp the concept of sharing yet. But you can help your youngster practice by having them ‘take turns’ with toys and catching your child when they share on their own. To help them develop the empathy that true sharing requires, state what they did and how it makes others feel, such as: “Thank you for sharing. It makes your sister feel good when you share the ball.” Your child should be able to ‘own’ special or new toys, though, so keep them out of sight on playdates or in their room, away from siblings. By Kindergarten, children are capable of sharing well and taking turns. If your child isn’t there yet, help them get the hang of it by inviting a friend over for a cooperative task such as baking cookies. If things aren’t going well, calmly ask your child to sit out. Pretty soon, they’ll get the idea and want to join in on the fun again. You can also read your child books about sharing and discuss them. In the classic tale, Stone Soup, retold by Heather Forest, two hungry travelers make soup from ingredients everyone in the town contributes. What makes the soup extra delicious is the sharing it took to make it.

Help your child make friends

If you get the sense your toddler or preschooler needs a little help in the social department, try hosting playdates with others your child likes or with whom they have common interests. Playdates offer an opportunity to break away from the group and foster individual friendships. You might begin by asking your preschooler: “How about a playdate with Grace? I notice that she likes to draw too.” If you’re not sure whom to invite over first, ask your child’s preschool teacher if there’s anyone in the classroom who might be a good match for your child. Then feel free to go from there and make the rounds so your child gets the chance to know several children better. To help your child play host(ess), let them pick the snack and ask them beforehand what games and activities s/he and their friend might like to do. On the playdate, feel free to play along and stay close by to make sure everyone stays safe. But give your child and their friend the chance to play on their own too. To help things go smoothly, keep playdates to two hours; children start to get tired after that. And keep it simple by inviting just one child over at a time.

Practice sharing

From age 3 to 5, kids aren’t yet capable of grasping the concept of sharing, but you can help your preschooler get the hang of it by having them ‘take turns’ with toys and catching them when they share on their own. “Stating what she did and how it makes others feel, such as: ‘Thank you for sharing. It makes your sister feel good when you share your toast,’ helps her develop the empathy that true sharing requires,” says Marcy Guddemi, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Gesell Institute of Human Development. You can also read your child books about sharing and discuss them together. Hone your child’s listening skills. At the dinner table and during car rides, help your preschooler hone their listening skills by asking them to wait to speak until their brother (or vice versa) has finished his sentence. When it’s her turn, remind her, “Now it’s your turn to talk. Thank you for being patient and for being such a good listener while your brother was talking.” Explain that being a good listener shows respect for the speaker, whether it’s her brother or her teacher and the other students at school who are trying to hear what the teacher has to say. Mention that it’s a two-way street: When she’s a good listener, she’s showing the same kind of respect that she gets when others listen to her. If she continues to interrupt, keep reminding her that she’ll get the chance to talk. Becoming a good listener, like many things, can take lots of practice.

National Child Day 2016 — Celebrating Every Child’s Right to BELONG

Sunday November 20th marks “National Child Day”, the day we recognize Canada’s commitment to the United Nations’ Declaration of, and Convention on, the Rights of the Child.

On this day we celebrate every child’s right to dignity and respect, and their abilities to be active participants in their own lives and communities!

national-child-day-logo#WeBelong Sign

This year, we asked children of all ages to create images that show ‘what belonging looks like’. We also asked the people that work with these children, adults from all different disciplines and domains, to describe what ‘belonging’ means to them, to create a collaborative art exhibit.

We love what resulted — an explosion of colours and connectivity that helps us remember our own early understandings of belonging, how far we’ve come, and the ways that we still have to grow!

Thank you to all of our families for participating in the early art invocation, and to our colleagues across Calgary for their insight and honesty into this topic.

at-the-fence

at-the-table

a-house

flowers-in-their-hair

giving-hooray

hugs

i-belong

tree

loving-picture

part-of-everything

There are some amazing activities happening in Calgary this weekend to celebrate National Child Day! We recommend that you check at least one of them out, to help your child live out their ‘Right to Belong’!

Multilingualism in the Early Years

Despite years of research to the contrary, the idea often still persists that using more than one language  to speak to very young children somehow delays or confuses their language acquisition…

But children’s brains are HARDWIRED to learn language — as much and as many language[s] as they possibly can — and it is actually hugely adaptive and beneficial for them to do so!

We’ve gathered some of our favourite external resources in one place to help spread this message! Let us know if you love one that we’ve missed!

Patricia Kuhl “The Linguistic Genius of Babies”(available with subtitles and transcripts here)

 

Mia Nacamulli “The Benefits of a Bilingual Brain”

 

 

Articles:

“BILINGUALISM FINE-TUNES HEARING, ENHANCES ATTENTION: Dual language speakers better able to encode basic language sounds and patterns” (April 30, 2012 | Northwestern University | by Wendy Leopold)
“Why Bilinguals Are Smarter”  (March 17, 2012 | The New York Times | by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee)
“The Benefits of Multilingualism” (May 1, 2010 | Institute of Applied Linguistics, University of Warsaw  | Michał B. Paradowski)

“The Pros and Cons of Raising a Multilingual Child” (2004 | Multilingual Children’s Association)
“Preserve rare languages to spread benefits of multilingualism, says expert” (February 15, 2016 | The Guardian | Press Association)

bubble talk watercolor abstract background. hand drawn illustration. language and speech

It is important to remember that multiple languages are best learned from people who can speak confidently and fluently using them! Our models for language-learning can be found easily in a culturally diverse city like Calgary! Make new friends that can speak languages you can’t! Encourage family and friends to speak in their first languages around your children! Join a fun bilingual program! Open your lives up to the sounds of multiple languages and you’ll also open up to some amazing benefits and experiences!

What Does It All Mean? (Nursery Rhymes, that is)

Sometimes an egg is just an egg. And sometimes it’s a cannon.

I am currently in love with this fantastic book about the meaning of nursery rhymes: Half for You and Half for Me by Katherine Govier.HalfForYou

As a children’s librarian, I love all things to do with children’s literature. Nursery rhymes hold a special place in my heart, though, from the many recitations by my mother at bedtime; the impromptu plays my siblings and I would concoct based on the rhymes found in our dog-eared and much loved Real Mother Goose anthology; and the hours now spent repeatedly singing these rhymes with my two-year-old son.

So when I came across this book, I was immediately besotted. A nursery rhyme book that divulges its secrets and that is both beautifully illustrated and Canadian (Albertan!) to boot! Yes, please!

Back to the egg. We are all familiar with Humpty Dumpty. But did you know that while some think Humpty Dumpty is a riddle rhyme, with the answer being ‘Humpty is an egg’, others believe Humpty actually refers to a cannon on a castle wall used to protect the royalists during sieges?

Or that Rock-a-Bye Baby has sometimes been credited as the first poem produced in North America? (Apparently, one of the pilgrims arriving on the Mayflower saw Aboriginals suspending their babies in birch bark cradles in the trees to be rocked by the wind. Ingenious!)

But this next one blew my mind. Many people have often said that Ring Around the Rosie is actually a rather depressing rhyme about the plague. But Govier sets us straight, explaining that the rhyme is probably not old enough to be able to reference the Great Plague we thought it was describing. This rhyme doesn’t appear in history until the late nineteenth century – a full two centuries after the 17th century plague it supposedly describes. Rather than falling dead in the line ‘we all fall down’, it is believed the children are really just curtsying. Isn’t that a much nicer way of imagining this rhyme as we sing it with our children?

I love reading about the multitude of theories surrounding the origins of nursery rhymes. Is there one that you’ve always wondered about? Send us a message and we’ll see if we can find some answers for you!

Prepping for Preschool: Five Tips for Success

The wait-lists are long, sometimes years at a time. The philosophies are broad; Montessori, Reggio Emelia, Waldorf, TLC, Community, Classic Play?! Advice abounds, and with constant conflicts.

No… it’s not the road to your child’s Post-Secondary Education — it’s just the first step on their educational journey, into the wonderful world of preschool.

The early years of life are a critical period of opportunity and skills-building. The things we learn in the first five years of childhood lay the foundation for our successes for the rest of our lives. This is why preschool registration is as intense as it is — finding the right fit for your family is hugely important. Regardless of what route you end up taking, here are some tips to help make sure the transition is as smooth as possible:

  1. Read about it

There are a lot of great books with themes revolving around the start of preschool — many of them involve characters that your child already knows and loves (keeping familiar things close is very comforting during times of big change). Snuggle up together and share a story: you’ll be increasing your child’s feel-good sensations around learning, and practicing one of the most valuable preschool activities, storytime.

  1. Plan a Visit

Most preschools are going to have open houses and parent education nights, but if you miss these, call ahead to see if you can arrange a quick tour through your child’s new school space. Familiarizing ourselves with new settings gives us a chance to manage our expectations. Start frequenting the school’s playground or another in the neighbourhood, so that the adjustment in September doesn’t also have to require an orientation to place!

  1. Practice makes Permanent

Start implementing a more tangible routine at home and practice skills that your child will need to do on their own (like self-care tasks around washing hands, taking off and hanging up jackets, putting on and filling backpacks, etc).

Incorporate imaginative play into your day! Make believe that you’re at preschool with your child and take turns being the teacher and the student!

If you’re worried about aspects of school like sustaining attention or pro-socialization, sign up for a session of early education classes; we cover all sorts of topics around early development, and your child can practice sitting quietly in a circle time, group sharing and conversations, and exploring personal needs, identities, and behaviours. We promise they’re also just a lot of fun!

  1. Validate Feelings

Try not to diminish or deny the feelings your child has around starting school. Avoid saying things like “don’t be nervous” or “there’s nothing to worry about!”. Instead reassure your child, saying “I understand that you’re feeling nervous about school — it’s such a different and exciting experience!” and then brainstorm ideas on ways your child can comfort and calm themselves.

Putting a label to our emotions, allowing ourselves to feel them, and building strategies before the meltdown allows us to move towards action instead of being overwhelmed by feelings. Having a strong emotional vocabulary and sense of resilience is an important pre-school skill to work on, and one even adults need help with sometimes… which reminds us:

  1. Brace Yourself

You are excited for your child’s new adventure, looking forward to regaining some of your alone time, sad to say goodbye to those awesome early years, and worried about your child’s future success. You’re probably feeling a million other conflicting emotions on top of these! Starting preschool can be as difficult for you as it is for your child. Help manage some of those feelings by following your own advice — don’t deny or diminish them; acknowledge them and build in some strategies!
Plan a first-day coffee date with other parents who have school starters this year.
Organize a special event with other family members who are home with you during the school day (they’ll be missing your little one too).
Go ‘back-to-school’ yourself and pick up a new hobby or activity that you’ve always wanted to develop!

This is a time of big change for everyone, but it’s a positive and exciting one. With a little bit of planning and some solid strategies, it’s going to be a good first year of school!

 

How to Play: Developing the skills of sharing

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you partake in social media. If that’s the case, then you have probably seen many an article written by both professionals and parents on the topic of sharing. Some say it is absolutely paramount to our children’s success and to our human culture that we learn to share, while others tout that sharing is completely unreasonable and undermines our children’s independence and right to say ‘no’.

So after all this back and forth, what’s the ultimate verdict? Well, you can probably guess that there really isn’t one. There are many studies and theories and best-practice articles out there on the topic; but like many parenting philosophies, this one has lots of room for interpretation and application of your own family and cultural values.

And that is exactly the crux of issue:  what you teach your child regarding sharing is based on YOUR OWN family and cultural values. Personally, I find it helpful to read a variety of opinions on the subject (however crazy I think some of them may be). But when it comes right down to it, I’m going to decide what I teach my son about sharing.

Whatever YOU’VE decided you want to teach your child, one thing that we can all do is begin teaching these values to our children early. Don’t wait until they are in the midst of the terrible twos and you’re faced with several screaming toddlers. Start early. After all, kids aren’t born knowing all of our social conventions and expectations; it is our responsibility to teach them.

Play give-and-take with your baby. “Now it’s mommy’s turn to hold the toy. Now it’s baby’s turn!”

Model good manners while playing. “May I please see the truck? Thank-you for handing it to me. Okay, I’m all done. Here you go…you’re welcome!”

Impart appropriate social skills. “No, you may not just grab the book out of my hands. You need to ask if you can have it first and wait for mommy to say yes.”

Be transparent. If you expect your child to share something, tell them right from the get-go. “Here is a bowl of crackers. I’d like you to share them with your cousins too, please.”

Provide the vocabulary. “This is Daddy’s. We won’t touch it until he tells us that’s okay, and if he says it’s not okay, we respect that”.

At first, you may feel a little silly having a one-way conversation. Just remember though that by starting early, you’re making it just that little bit easier on your future self. And you will thank yourself for it, even if you’re child doesn’t [yet]!


 

Want to read to read more into the research and professional side of things:

Infancy Journal: “To Share or Not to Share: When do toddlers respond to another’s needs?”

Child Development Journal: “Mine or Yours: Development of sharing in toddlers in relation to Ownership Understanding”

Pyschology Today: “Children can adopt Sharing Mindsets”, “To Share or Not to Share? Depends…”

Don’t Be Scared By The Name: What Music Therapy Can Do For Your Typically-Developing Child

Guest Blog by:

Hilary MacAulay, BMT, MT-BC, MTA

MasterworX Music Therapy

We all get a little nervous around the word ‘therapy’. Misconceptions about the type of people who require therapy, and the perceived social ramifications associated with the term make us hesitant to get involved in any program with that word in the title. But according to Webster’s Dictionary, something therapeutic is simply defined as ‘producing good effects on the body and mind’. This is the way I like to define music therapy. I like to think of it as using music to produce good effects on the body and mind, with a particular emphasis on the specific needs of the person or people involved. It sounds much less scary now, does it not?

Group Of Children Playing In School Orchestra Together

Music therapists are accredited through the Canadian Association for Music Therapy, and use a variety of music and musical interventions, such as songwriting, listening, or drumming, to work on their client’s individual goals. They work in a wide variety of healthcare, educational, and community programs, as well as in the client’s own home. But you would probably be surprised at how often you will come across music therapists in early childhood settings. We run the music program at the local daycares, and classes with the preschool down the road. We host mom-and-baby classes, or teach instrument lessons. We may even be the performer at a holiday party.

Usually when we speak of music therapy and early childhood, we are talking about kids with special needs. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of using music therapy with children with autism to work on communication and social skills 1, those with physical disabilities to work on strength or range of motion 2, and in special education settings 3. But the benefit of goal-oriented music reaches beyond just special needs.

Many of the skills that need to be acquired in early childhood, such as literacy, physical coordination, social, and mathematical skills, can be worked on using music. Songs lyrics that use wordplay can help to work on early literacy skills, while songs that use counting and numbers can help to improve early mathematical skills. Playing and sharing instruments is a great way to practice social skills and self-expression, as well as encourage curiosity and experimentation. But it gets better, because none of this work actually feels like work. Music groups or individual sessions look and feel just like playing, and children often do not even realize that they are learning to wait their turn and count higher than ever while they are singing, dancing, and jamming.

Group Of Elementary Age Schoolchildren In Music Class With Instruments
Music therapy can also be beneficial when times get tough for your child. Events such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, or a parents losing their job can be hard on young children, who may not have developed the words they need to express what they are feeling. A music therapist can help the child to express those difficult emotions through playing instruments, movement, or a number of other expressive forms to help alleviate the stress that the child is experiencing. The music therapist can also help the child to develop some personal coping skills, to be used when those feelings appear again in the future.

These sessions do not just benefit your children either! Singing, dancing, and creating music with your child can strengthen your bond. Studies have shown that singing with another person actually releases oxytocin (you may have heard it referred to as the ‘cuddle hormone’ or the ‘love hormone’) in your brain, making you feel more connected with your little one 4. It may also help you feel less stressed and more energized, ready to tackle whatever else is headed your way for that day. And who knows! You might even find that you become a better singer, drummer, or car-dancer in the process!

There are numerous early childhood music programs out there, and they are all fantastic in their own way. What makes music therapy different is that the entire program is designed to best suit your child, family, or group. You can decide what your child or group needs, and the music therapist will work with you to ensure you are getting what you want. It can supplement other music programs or lessons your child participates in, help to practice physical skills such as balance and hand-eye coordination, provide the opportunity to practice social skills in a fun, engaging environment, or address any other goals or interests you may have.



 

MasterworX Music Therapy
If you would like more information on music therapy, check out the links below, or contact Hilary at MasterworX Music Therapy by email at masterworxmt@gmail.com or by phone at 403-999-1497.

Canadian Association for Music Therapy: http://www.musictherapy.ca/en/

Music Therapy Association for Alberta: http://www.mtaa.ca

American Music Therapy Association: http://www.musictherapy.org



 

1 Alvin, J. (1978). Musical and Autistic Behaviour. In Music therapy for the autistic child (2nd ed., p. 12). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2 Davis, W., & Gfeller, K. (1999). Music Therapy for Children and Adults with Physical Disabilities. In An introduction to music therapy: Theory and practice (2nd ed., pp. 154-155). Boston, Mass:

3 Davis, W., & Gfeller, K. (1999). Music Therapy for Children and Adults with Physical Disabilities. In An introduction to music therapy: Theory and practice (2nd ed., pp. 413-416). Boston, Mass:

4 Grape, C., Sandgren, M., Hansson, L., Ericson, M., & Theorell, T. (2003). Does singing promote well-being?: An empirical study of professional and amateur singers during a singing lesson. Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science, 65-74. Retrieved December 30, 2015.

NOOOO! (a.k.a. tantrums and how to deal)

We always discuss in our classes that tantrums often occur when we are transitioning from one activity to another and the child resists or isn’t prepared for the change. To (try to) prevent this, we recommend using songs to ease the transition from one activity to the next. Well! I recently got the chance to try it out for myself. About two weeks ago, my normally good-natured son turned into a tantrum-throwing monster, seemingly overnight. SO. MUCH. FUN.

My initial response to these tantrums was probably like most. This was my 3-step plan:

  1. Clench fists
  2. Scream
  3. Pour wine (once said tantrum-throwing monster was safely in crib, of course)

But then I remembered our class teachings and thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to practice what I preach. (I make this sound so fluid, but in actuality I spent about a week responding to the tantrums with above 3-step plan).

The first step of my new 3-step plan was to figure out the times that were most often causing his tantrums:

  • Getting dressed/undressed
  • Getting out of the bath
  • Leaving the park (the popular out-in-public tantrum…though at least at the park you are likely surrounded by other moms, as opposed to the grocery store which is filled with judgemental college kids)
  • Bedtime

So far so good. The second step of my new plan was to assign a specific song to each activity. This would signal to my son that we were now transitioning to a new activity while also providing an enjoyable distraction during this transition time. Therefore:

  • Getting dressed/undressed – we now sing:
    Baby put your pants on, pants on, pants on
    Baby put your pants on, 1-2-3.
    Baby put your shirt on, shirt on, shirt on

    Baby put your shirt on, 1-2-3.
    …etc.
  • Getting out of the bath – we now sing:
    Fishies in the water, fishies in the sea,
    We all stand up on the count of three!
    1-2-3.
  • Leaving the park – we now sing:
    The ponies are walking, they’re walking along
    Walking along, walking along.
    The ponies are walking, they’re walking along
    Woah! Woah! Woah!
  • Bedtime – a lullaby of course! However here’s where the plan breaks down and exemplifies why we say that transition songs will often work (but not always): lately when I try to sing a lullaby to my son he responds by screaming NOOOO in my face, over and over and over. So there you have it…even the teacher’s son can be a little jerk sometimes, despite my best efforts.

Which brings us to step 3 of my new 3-step plan: pour wine.

So the moral of the story is to try out the transition songs. Maybe they will work! Maybe they won’t! But hopefully they will work at least part of the time and that makes your life partly better. Right? And when it doesn’t? Go directly to step 3!!

Pregnancy and Alcohol Don’t Mix

Pregnancy and Alcohol don’t Mix

Guest Blog Submitted by The Calgary Fetal Alcohol Network

Alcohol and pregnancy – it’s a bit of a touchy subject, conversations about which can be filled with misinformation and maybe a hint of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality. With all kinds of conflicting information just a mouse-click away, it may not be a surprise that more than 10 per cent of women surveyed by the Public Health Agency of Canada reported using alcohol during their last pregnancy and that a growing number of women believe it’s okay to consume moderate amounts of alcohol while pregnant.

Yet, international medical consensus remains unchanged: No alcohol is safest during pregnancy. There simply are no low-risk thresholds for alcohol intake by expectant mothers.

A number of risks are associated with drinking during pregnancy, the best-known of which is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) which refers to a range of brain injuries resulting from prenatal exposure to alcohol, including developmental, physical, learning and behavioural disabilities.

The most common developmental disability in North America, FASD affects at least nine out of every 1,000 babies born in Canada. Symptoms are life-long and can include learning and memory difficulties, speech and language problems, impulsive behaviour, social difficulties, sensory difficulties and, in some cases, physical problems.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?
FASD is 100% preventable through abstinence from alcohol, but it’s not always that straightforward. Prenatal alcohol exposure happens for a variety of reasons, including unplanned pregnancy (up to 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned) lack of information, mental health concerns and addiction.

In all cases, knowledge, education and healthy support systems are key to successful prevention efforts. Caring partners, friends and trusted service providers, like doctors or even hair dressers, are perfectly situated to support the women in their lives to have the healthiest pregnancies possible.

Here are some ways that partners/friends can support an expectant mom:

  • Talk openly about how to achieve a healthy pregnancy, including abstinence from alcohol
  • Show solidarity by reducing or eliminating your own alcohol intake during her pregnancy
  • Take the initiative to plan social events and activities that don’t involve alcohol. So much of our social lives involve alcohol, and moms-to-be can easily feel left out from the fun.
  • Know where to find help if your partner/friend is struggling with giving up alcohol or making other important lifestyle changes during her pregnancy.

 

CFAN-Logo-300x277

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Need more information on alcohol and pregnancy, FASD, supports and other resources? The Calgary Fetal Alcohol Network is a non-profit society that engages and mobilizes the community toward a healthy response to the issue of FASD. Visit www.calgaryfetalalcoholnetwork.com to learn more about the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, FASD, diagnosis, supports for individuals, families, professionals and more.