Thursday, January 5, 2012

What Kids Need to Be Able to Learn

We prepare to teach--the bulletin board is up with cheerful posters and encouraging signs; desks set in kid-friendly teams; and the crucial No. 2 pencils stand at attention, sharpened in the new super-duper Xacto 1900 Pencil Sharpener. But what really comes first for kids to be able to learn?

This statement may seem way too simple--but our basic needs must be met before we can struggle with new information, concepts, or skills. We cannot even ask a question if having our most important needs met is the big question.

Psychologist Abraham Maslov created a neat graphic organizer with his Hierarchy of Human Needs pyramid  The first level is physiological (hungry? ill? enough rest?) The second level involves security (safety at home and neighborhood? money for basic needs?) The third level involves social needs (no feelings of belonging? enduring abuse?) The two remaining levels involve self-esteem enhancement and self-actualization, which are past the basic need levels. I bring this up because kids can be distracted from learning because they aren't feeling well, are hungry, or are facing emotional turmoil at home or school. So what's a teacher to do?

Young children, primary grades and below, frequently blurt out what's bothering them. Upper elementary and secondary students may require some interaction for teacher to recognize why learning isn't happening. That's where the teacher, even if the teacher is family, must play the nurse, the counselor, the social worker. Low test scores, uncompleted assignments, lethargy, defiance--why is this happening? Identify the basic need that requires filling and learning can start.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How Little Kids Learn

Those tiny bundles of cooing, screaming, and sleep--our babies--are actually learning titans, massive geniuses with thousands of synapses firing in their sophisticated little brains every second. Experts galore are telling teachers and families how to input our information into them. And how to get the little tyrants to do what we want/need. One of the easiest experts to access is T. Berry Brazelton,  This website and his books are a gold mine for families and professionals concerning kids' earliest years. He was the resident expert consultant for Public Television's Mr. Rogers, who I consider my master teacher for pre-schoolers, having watched "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" daily with my own kids. If you enjoy Facebook, Dr. Brazleton's people are at

Jean Piaget, developmental theorist (1896-1980)
concluded that babies, toddlers, and children have developmental stages and cannot learn information any more sophisticated than the stage to which they have developed. He believed interaction with their world (like little scientists testing their hypothses) enhanced their development. There is some current disagreement with Piaget's work, but one principle still almost universally accepted is the concept of 'the teachable moment."­Behavioral-­Expectations-­To-­Young-­Childrens-­Cognitive-­Abilities&id=1300261>.  Almost anyone who has communicated with young children realizes that when you have her interest and attention, the child will cooperate in the activity, recall the information, be able to perform and even repeat the task. The experienced teacher will integrate a learning experience with the power of 'teachable moments,' so even the topics that are not routinely compelling for a child can be learning effective. Since little children are enormously curious--can we even count the number of consecutive questions a four-year-old can ask?--our bank of teachable moments is always full.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Relax and Teach: First Steps

The second grader got started reading the sentence aloud to the tutor, and the letters flowed into words one after another. He had read his first sentence aloud! His heart was beating hard and his smile radiantly communicated his success. He was reading! Two happy people:  learner and tutor!

I remember that day and that little boy. I was a new teacher and beginning to know that teaching means preparation, relentless application, and the joy of success for learner and teacher. This blog hopes to lay out simple concepts of teaching, and at times, specific information that may help a fellow teacher create a learning success, especially recognizing each learner is unique, and one-size-fits-all instruction won't always work.

First learning takes place at home. Families, being the first teachers, model for children how to acquire skills and information. Literacy curiosity leads to literacy. Is the child watching a member of the family reading a recipe?  A family member is at the computer looking at script. What does that mean?  Does big brother or sister learn the video game by reading instructions? Best of all, does a family member read a story to the child, in a climate of comradery and  interest?  Here are the first seeds of literacy, and curiosity about literacy.

A child learns letters mean her name. Letters can label, order and identify her world. Letters can say, 'Happy Birthday!' on a cake,  or 'Stay out!' --probably a sign on older sibling's door. A first start toward literacy can be labeling common household items. As a toddler approaches early childhood, learning the alphabet in song and identifying the letters is a start to understanding the power of those letters for forming words, and her ideas! And then there is writing her ideas! 

My next post will include suggestions for early childhood books for the family to read to the younger child; and insightful links to help understand that little one's learning patterns.