From a Baby's Point of View
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Learning Gap Still Too Large

February 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Terrie Rose in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

Learning Gap Still Too Large a recent front-page headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The now familiar, seemingly intractable differences in academic performance between white students and students of color in Minnesota remain. It isn’t because white students have gotten smarter; it’s because students coming from communities of historic poverty and trauma are doing that much worse.pencil_blog

Almost every article on the topic talks about schools’ lack of progress in addressing this issue. As the CEO of an elementary school serving these very children, I struggle with how to address reading and math performance. Our strategies include higher-than-average teacher to student ratios (1 to 8); before, after, and during school tutoring; and high parent engagement. Our students who perform best are those who have been with us since birth, whose learning has been nurtured and supported by consistent, reliable, and sensitive adults in a stable environment. And, significantly, those whose parents have been supported through job changes, neighborhood shootings, and family tragedies.

Solving the achievement gap requires us to start from the very beginning of a child’s development:

  • Before birth, the genetic blueprint that specifies the location and function of cells, organs, and other physical structures directs development. The health of the mother and her experiences influence the expression of that genetic blueprint.
  • Once a baby is born, development is transformed into boundless interactive processes between the baby and her environment. Critical is the presence of at least one consistent, sensitive and protective relationship to help navigate the things she is too young to manage on her own and to help her build her own sense of confidence and esteem.

School success isn’t about the outcome – being able to read. School success is being emotionally ready and able get along with others, manage feelings, direct attention and enjoy learning.  These foundational skills happen in the everyday moments of singing songs, playing peek-a-boo, and having a snack in the presence of consistent and sensitive caregivers. It is through stable relationships within an enriched learning environment –at both home or at childcare – that infants, toddlers and preschoolers become school ready.

Parenting with Electronics

February 6th, 2014 | Posted by Terrie Rose in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

On New Year’s Eve, our family gathered at a nearby restaurant to celebrate. It was a beautiful, old-style restaurant, the kind that doesn’t allow electronics to be used while dining. With our adult children gathered at the table, I remembered our numerous child-oriented celebrations. As we debated the value of setting New Year’s resolutions, I noticed a nearby table at which a mother, father and daughter sat, dad on his laptop, mom looking at her phone, and the daughter playing a game on a tablet. They set down their electronics during the 10 minutes while eating dinner. Their conversation was minimal and they returned to their electronics as soon as the meal was consumed.

A couple of days ago at the coffee shop, a mom sat with her three elementary children. School was out for the second day in a row because of cold weather. Mom drank her coffee while all of her children were deeply engaged in their handheld devices. She was literally talking to the tops of their heads, getting only an occasional shoulder shrug in response.

Parenting with electronics was not a challenge I had to face. In fact, I have marveled at parents of a toddler who can finish a meal by letting their 2-year-old watch an educational program on an electronic tablet. With three children in three years, it was rare that my husband and I were at the table at the same time if we tried to go to a restaurant as a family. There was always a baby to be soothed or a toddler too antsy to sit for longer than 10 minutes.

With the advent of Google Glass© and the convenience of handheld devices, parenting with electronics is part of the fabric of families’ lives. Parents of infants and toddlers will have more choices and examples of what can go wrong—information unavailable to parents of today’s teens and tweens. It is not just about the amount of screen time. In the recently released movie Her, director Spike Jonze helps us ponder what our relationships with electronics could—and should—be.

 

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It begins with the baby. What will the role of electronics be in her life?

From the Baby’s Point of View

At 18 months old, Tamaraconcentrates as she picks up the circular-shaped cereal piece her mother placed on the tray in front of her. Pausing while chewing, Tamara is intrigued by the bright lights and sounds of the restaurant. Soon, a woman appears with a plate of food. Tamara watches as her mom cuts up the chicken and potatoes and places a few pieces on her tray. Her mom and dad smile at her when she tries the pieces of food.It’s been 20 minutes since the family arrived at the restaurant and Tamara’s tummy is now full. The bright lights and interesting décor in the restaurant are competing for her attention. The woman appears again with bigger plates of food for her mom and dad. Tamara begins to squirm, trying to get out of the highchair.

Twenty-minutes is a pretty long time for a toddler to sit.

With a tablet in the purse, the mom and dad’s can respond by: taking turns eating alone while the other parent walks Tamara around the restaurant; or turning on a learning program on the tablet and eating together. Toddler restaurant behavior will change but electronics interrupting family meals – maybe not?

Baby’s Space: What is in a name?

January 31st, 2014 | Posted by Terrie Rose in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

ImageI received a suggestion from a supporter to reconsider the name of the organization I founded. Rebranding and renaming is fairly common in the not-for-profit sector. Many of my friends’ organizations have changed names to best reflect their mission or because of confusion with other efforts. So, now that our organization has grown from an infant/toddler/family center to a full-service birth-through-third-grade educational organization, should we rename Baby’s Space?

Last week, Jim Nicholie published an article, The only way to be successful in addressing the achievement gap  He points out the educational and legislative support for 3- and 4-year-old children and the virtual neglect of infants and toddlers. In contrast, he lists the research that highlights the importance of brain development (I would add relationship development) that occurs in the first three years of life. He makes a rallying cry for all of us not to forget, underestimate, or miscalculate the value of the pathway necessary for later learning and lifelong success that is laid during this period of child development

I think he’s right on target. In fact, in presentations, training, and writing, I find myself drawn back to the fundamentals of infant-parent attachment and brain development. No matter the topic — health, development, mental health, parent education, or staff development — the stage that is set by the presence (or absence) of secure, stable, protective, and sensitive relationships in the first three years of life is the starting point.

Your chances of having heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments as an adult are predicted by your exposure to stressful life events and the presence of at least one protective caregiver when you were a baby.

Baby’s Space is based on the principles of secure attachment relationships. We focus on how the baby experiences each relationship with teachers and parents. We pay attention to the toddler’s everyday moments at school and at home. The child’s point of view guides our efforts and informs our practice. We value the elementary student’s experience as unique and informative.

Baby’s Space is the place where babies, toddlers, and young children are protected and their relationships with their parents and teachers are central. It is a space where the baby is nurtured and children become successful learners.

From the Baby’s Point of View

 Tamara walks into her classroom holding her mom’s hand. A big smile crosses her face when her teacher says her name and greets her and her mom. Not quite ready for mom to leave, Tamara heads to the book corner and returns to her mom with a book in her hands. Tugging on her mom’s pants leg, Tamara holds up the book. She feels her mom’s body lower, sees her mom open the book, and hears the words of the story.

After finishing the book, she hears her mom say that she is going to leave. She sees her mom’s lip form a pucker for a kiss and feels her mom’s caress on her back. She also hears reassuring words from her teacher. Tamara leans forward meeting her mom’s lips. She then turns towards her teacher, holding her arms in the air. From the reassuring perch of her teacher’s arms, Tamara watches her mom leave the room and begins to look around for her first play item of the day. 

Misbehaving in the Coffee Shop?

September 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Terrie Rose in Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

I find coffee shops a great place to work. Responding to emails, writing a blog post, or creating a presentation seem enhanced by the buzz of the coffee grinder and the murmur of conversations. One of my favorite urban spots has an 8-by-8-foot play area for toddlers and preschoolers, many of whom have arrived in strollers pushed by their parents.

Today, as I was adding cream to my coffee at the kiosk next to the play area, I overheard a mother say, “If we can’t have proper behavior, we have to leave.” I watched as she carried the toddler and marched the 4-year-old out of the coffee shop.

Nothing about this scenario was unusual. Chants of “we are leaving because of your behavior” often arise in this corner of the shop. I remember watching a dad whose sons, ages 4 and 2, played with blocks as he worked on his computer at a nearby table. The 2-year-old interrupted his dad frequently despite the 4-year-old’s attempts to follow dad’s instructions: “Play with your brother.” After 30 minutes, four doughnuts, and frequent interruptions, the frustrated dad closed his computer and announced that the trio would go home because of the children’s poor behavior.  The toddler looked happy.

From The Child’s Perspectivetoddler playing

Scattered Duplo® blocks, a small table, small cars and trucks, and a wire bead maze may seem to be enough materials for play, but for very young children, play is still about people. In the same way that adults love coffee shops as places to meet friends or send email—in other words, to connect with people—children love toys and play areas when they can share their experiences with caring adults. Playing alone with cars or blocks is a time-limited activity, no more than about 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the age of the child. A toddler needs adults to extend the activity and assist in creating play themes. A preschool-age child can easily get bored without a playmate. From the child’s perspective, leaving the coffee shop may be more of a relief than a negative consequence.

The coffee shop is an adult oasis. A doughnut and play area doesn’t provide the same level of satisfaction and appreciation for children. Children want and need engaged adults whether they are on the playground or at the coffee shop.

 

“Mom, are you mad at us again?”

August 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Terrie Rose in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

In front of me in the check out line at the Dollar Store was a mom with a toddler on her hip, a preschool age boy at her side and a six-year-old girl carrying the items to be purchased. All four seemed quiet and cooperative to me, but my view was not the same as the mom’s.

“I’ve had it,” she said firmly.

“Had what?” the six-year-old asked in an inquisitive and caring tone. After a few minutes without a reply from her mother, she said, “Mom, are you mad at us again?”

It was now their turn at the cashier. After paying, mom asked her daughter, “If we bought four items at a dollar and our bill is $4.26, how much tax did we pay?”

I recognized the mom’s strategy, trying to distract herself and her children, perhaps from her own personal struggle. In my book, I talk about the day I made my children call me “Sam” because I just couldn’t hear the word “mom” one more time. We all experience the overwhelming monotony of parenting, the struggles to entertain young children on a limited budget, or perhaps our own feelings of helplessness or rage.

tired woman

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From The Six-Year-Old’s Perspective 

The capacity to identify the experiences and feelings of others is an important skill in the development of empathy and strong social connections. Infants and toddlers learn empathy from how others, particularly their parents, respond to them. We see the beginning skills of empathy when a toddler gets a mother a tissue or pats her leg when she is crying. A preschooler might ask, “Did you get hurt?”

This six-year-old is clearly working to understand her mother’s experience. “Had what?” and “Are you mad?” are indicators of her budding capacity to understand that her mother’s experience may be different from her own. But as she tries to understand both the spoken and unspoken emotional experience of her mother, she is limited by her own developmental egocentricity, “Are you mad at us?

Our children can only interpret our emotional experiences from their own perspectives. They don’t understand the impact of financial strain, parenting demands, struggles with mental health, or work-related stress. They assume that they caused all of the problems.

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In those moments when the children are the source of our negative feelings, direct feedback can help children be more cooperative partners. “My ears hurt when all I hear is whining. I need you to use your regular voice so I can be a better listener.” In this way, children gain perspective of how their behaviors impact others, as well as how they can fix the parts for which they are responsible.

When our emotional experiences get the most of our capacities to manage, it is important to acknowledge our emotional responses and reassure our children that they are neither responsible for the problem nor for fixing it. “You are right, I am frustrated. But you didn’t cause it and Daddy and I will figure out how to make it better.”  By ackowledging your emotional experience, you reinforce your child’s development of empathy and perspective-taking while buffering her from the burden of fixing issues beyond her control.  And, as an added bonus, you hear yourself affirm your own abilities as a problem solver.

Why the 2-Year-Old Said “No!” to Ice Cream

July 19th, 2013 | Posted by Terrie Rose in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

On a hot summer day, the creaminess and coolness of ice cream is a welcome treat.  Or so thought 2-year-old Janie’s parents until she, rather than the ice cream, melted down on the floor.

The trip to the neighborhood ice cream parlor began with excitement but, once inside with an array of 36 flavors in front of her, Janie headed for the crayons and coloring books on the children’s table in the corner of the store.  “Do you want ice cream?” mom asked.  “No,” stated Janie firmly.  Mom asked again—and got the same response from Janie.

“Okay” said mom.  “But we are getting ice cream. Are you sure you don’t want ice cream?”

Janie ignored her mother’s question and opened the coloring book.

When she saw mom and dad sitting with their ice cream at a nearby table, Janie went to them saying, “Me cream!”

“But you said you didn’t want any,” dad responded.

It wasn’t not long before her parents were peeling a screaming Janie off the floor and out of the store.

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From The Toddler’s Perspective

As parents of toddlers know, the favorite word, “no,” can dominate conversations. Even to questions of delight like, “Do you want ice cream?” the response may be, “No!” What seems like an irrational response is actually an indicator of great neurological growth—the emergence of self. The toddler is now capable of making an independent decision. Toddlers are in a remarkable period of development. They are beginning to realize that they are separate people—different from their parents, siblings, teachers, and the other children around them.  “No” is code for “I choose.”  It also can indicate, as with Janie, that there are too many choices. With too many flavors of ice cream, she chose coloring. 

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Toddlers do best when presented with an either/or rather than a yes/no question.  Of course, she wants ice cream.  An easier to manage question is, “Do you want chocolate or vanilla?”  She gets to make a choice and her parents get to enjoy the family outing.

Why The Baby Didn’t Like the Bubble Shooter

July 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Terrie Rose in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

While walking my dogs in our neighborhood, I watched as a mom carried 15-month-old Brianna out of the house and onto the porch. Dad followed, holding the brightly colored bubble gun they had just removed from its packaging. Mom, dad and Brianna all had big smiles on their faces.

Dad pushed the “on” switch and a small humming noise came from the gun, along with a steady stream of bubbles. Brianna’s face immediately changed from a smile to a worried expression. She nuzzled closer to mom. With some encouragement, Brianna began to notice the floating bubbles. Her eyebrows arched and her eyes widened as she showed interest in one of her favorite things—bubbles! A smile re-emerged as she reached out to touch one.

After a couple of turns with the bubble shooter, dad brought it, still making the humming noise, closer to Brianna. Instantly, she turned into her mom’s shoulder, looking away from her dad’s outstretched arm and what it was holding. Dad encouraged Brianna to hold the bubble machine, but she responded by turning towards her mom with greater intensity. Dad stepped back and again made bubbles. “Look! Bubbles!” Brianna turned toward the bubbles and smiled at him.

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From the Baby’s Point of View

Brianna loves bubbles. She gets excited when her mom and dad blow bubbles with the wand. She watches them dip the wand into the cup over and over again. She waits for the next bubble and sometimes toddles over to the bubbles that land on the ground. She is learning about cause and effect, about the steps of a process and about how her parents can play.

As an older toddler, Brianna may love mechanical bubble blowers, but right now she doesn’t have the cognitive ability to understand the “cause”—push the switch—or the “effect”—bubbles blow. All she knows is that her dad is holding a noisy thing—and there are bubbles in the air. 

She is happy to play with the bubbles. And would prefer if they appeared without the noise! 

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The bubble gun activity lasted only a few minutes. About as long as it took for my dogs to smell their way around the bushes. My guess is that Brianna greeted the new toy with much less enthusiasm than envisioned by dad and mom when they purchased it. In fact, as soon as dad set the gun down, she wiggled out of her mom’s arms, picked up a beach ball lying on the ground and tossed it towards dad with a big smile.

Some parents might have thought Brianna was being cheeky or unappreciative. Others may have been more persistent in trying to get her to play with the new toy. Some might have worried that she would always be afraid of new things, perhaps forcing her to hold it.

By following Brianna’s lead, her parents supported her competence. They listened to her signals and followed her lead. By doing so, they showed they understood—she just wasn’t ready. At 15 months of age, play is all about engagement with caring adults. The important ingredient when kicking a ball, dropping a clothespin in a bucket or watching a single bubble float to the ground is the presence of a caring adult who smiles and notices. The noisy bubble machine interrupted the most important part of the play—the interaction between Brianna and her adoring parents. Sometimes, simpler is better.

In a few months, the bubble shooter may be a favorite activity—most likely coupled with the phrase: “Me do it!”

The Role of Caring Adults

June 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Terrie Rose in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

Donald Winnicott mid-century child development scholar stated, “There is no such thing as a baby.” While this proclamation might seem unusual, Winnicott helps us understand the essential role of caring adults in the lives of babies. Infants need adults. Parents, grandparents, and teachers not only attend to the physical needs of babies, they provide everything that babies know about themselves.baby_blog

Emotional Readiness

June 21st, 2013 | Posted by Terrie Rose in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

Emotional readiness comes from interacting with a consistent, sensitive, and responsive caregiver. In the best scenario, each baby would have one person, maybe more – mom, dad and a childcare provider – who lovingly cherish and nurture her, helping to gather the tools that she will need for success in school and in life.