Posts Tagged ‘Preschool’

Riddle

February 4, 2008

Here’s a riddle for you:  How does a preschool child handle a bully?

He doesn’t. 

A preschool child doesn’t know what a bully is. 

Case in point is the story out of Fargo about the Frohliche Kinder Preschool, “Troupe busts up school bullying”.  Children in the article suggested ways to counter bullies:  “Don’t let the bullies hit” suggested one.  Or as my son has learned in preschool:  “Gentle touches.” 

The story discusses one way to address bullying in schools, and that’s educating children early through drama (or in this case a puppet show). 

The script has one puppet warding off his bullies with pillow and helmet according to author Mila Koumpilova, and his puppet friends suggest telling an authority figure instead.  The show is followed by discussion between actors and students about ways to handle bullies, and sharing information with an adult is urged.  As I’ve indicated before though, getting any information, let alone accurate, out of a child about his day at preschool can be daunting:  “‘At this age, you can’t just sit and talk to the kids,’ says Kimberly Larson, owner of Brighter Beginnings Preschool in Fargo, where the ‘Safe at School’ group performed to riveted crowds in January. ‘When you have the puppets and the music, they can comprehend it a bit more easily.'”   

But preschool bullies are a problem according to the article, so I’m not necessarily overreacting.  “Wendy Troop-Gordon, a North Dakota State University child development professor and expert on bullying, says full-blown bullies occasionally crop up as early as preschool. Generally, though, kids at that age act out as a way to communicate or test the limits of appropriate behavior, not to intimidate and terrorize. Still, she thinks, preschool would be a great time to start an age-appropriate discussion.”

 Children this age tend to assume bullies all use physical violence, according to the article, but what happens when a young child threatens physical violence, and how does the other young child tell the difference?

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Are the candidates listening?

January 31, 2008

I am a dad.  I am a student.  I also teach high school.  As such, while I can imagine what it’s like to have three children five years of age and under to be vying for your attention, and I can imagine what it’s like to seek the attention of a teacher, and I can imagine what it’s like to monitor and administer to the needs of 32 adolescents, I cannot imagine the patience I would need to occupy, teach and protect five to ten little ones in a pre-school setting. 

With the problems my son has faced in pre-school with what I suspect to be bullying, and the possibility that his bully may be expelled, I’ve dedicated much of my coursework this semester to looking for solutions.  How can I help my son deal with aggressive peers so he does not become a bully.  So he does not perpetuate his own victimhood.  How can I help the bullies in pre-school get the education they need and deserve just as much as my son?  How can I help parents of both victim and bully to become greater advocates for their children? 

USA Today published an opinion yesterday, and I’ve written about this before, that a study was released earlier this year indicating pre-schools with too few teachers and too many students witness higher numbers of expulsion rates.  Is universal pre-school the answer?  Oklahoma seems to think so.  “Oklahoma offers ‘universal’ preschool which means that parents of all incomes have the option of sending their 4-year-olds to a state-sponsored preschool, transportation included. The state also insists that all preschool teachers hold bachelor’s degrees, and they are paid the same as regular school teachers.”  My home state has yet to make kindergarten mandatory, so we lag a bit behind such an offering. 

Oklahoma’s policy is not mandated, it is an option, and I think its being optional is a positive, but what I like best about Oklahoma’s policy is the bachelor’s degree requirement and pay.  I’m curious though as to class size, and the article indicates there are dangers in states seeking to replicate Oklahoma’s success, and Florida is one example of how not to build a universal preschool program:  “Florida rushed its preschool system out the door with seemingly little attention to setting standards. Florida cosmetologists face stiffer licensing than preschool teachers, and preschool operators there are free to pursue a choose-your-own-curriculum policy.”

With early childhood education funding part of the current presidential debate, like my colleague Jeanette’s concerns with health care, where would the money come from?  More importantly, will it be done right? 

Cause for Concern

January 30, 2008

What is the problem?

How do you gather evidence that a three and a half year old is being bullied at pre-school?  It’s not like his memories are clear.  Getting accurate information from one that age is difficult.  Any reference on any particular day could be a reference to an event that actually happened that day, or the kid could be reliving the same event over and over again in his mind.  He threw a rock in the lake and it made a big splash on one day, and when you ask him six months later what he did today, he threw a rock in the lake and it made a big splash.   

 

But after this past New Year’s, when Boy returned to school from winter break on a Monday just fine, yet on Tuesday was so upset his mom had to take him home, I started to get concerned again.  A three and a half year old should not be afraid to go to school, but was he afraid?  Maybe he just had a great time at home on vacation.  Heck, it’s not like I was chomping at the bit to get back to work.  When mom picked him up on Wednesday, she found out Boy had nearly pulled a bookcase over on top of himself (where was the teacher, and what was Boy doing yanking on a bookcase), and then on Thursday it all hit the wall.  The ouch report indicated the kids were walking down the hall, holding on to their loops and O___ bit Boy on the hand.  There were no toys involved, so it was not a sharing issue. Admittedly, Boy has the power to annoy, but the kid bit him hard enough for me to see it six hours later when I got home from work.

 

Some folks we spoke with said, “Get him outta there.”  But why should my kid be the one who has to leave?  I want him to be able to learn how to deal with these kinds of problems.  I want him to be able to assert himself.  I also don’t want him to bite, punch, kick or “hurt him’s bones.”  At the same time, no child should be afraid to go to school.  If at three a child no longer wants to go to school, that’s an ugly looking 15 years on the educational road ahead. 

 

Is there a solution?

The next day my wife talked to the director of the preschool center.  They offered to move Boy to another class away from Biter.  He was in the 3-4 group, and they could move him to the 2-3.  Well, that’s something, I thought.  The director also indicated she’d meet with the other child’s parents.  Again.  Last time it seems there was a discussion about violent video games. 

 

The father said to the director, “Oh, you’re one of those people.” 

 

My wife got the impression that they would probably expel the other child.  What do those 15 years on the educational road ahead look like for a kid who gets expelled from pre-school?

 

What are you prepared to do?

When m – – – – r f – – – – r is spewed from the mouth of a child in a 3-4 year old classroom, there’s a problem.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said those words, and I’ve said them in front of my kids, but not as a part of my everyday vocabulary.  We have no video games at home.  But is that the solution?  Yeah, there aren’t any video games, but the kids have way more time in front of the television than I did as a kid.  I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I admit I’m not a perfect parent, and I don’t want to tell another parent how to raise their kid, and I don’t think the schools, county, state or feds should raise their kid either, but when your kid bites my kid and there’s clearly a problem, I want you to be willing to find a solution beyond criticizing the director of the center for hating on you because your kid at three or four enjoys shoot ‘em up video games. 

 

Were I the parent of a biter, and evidently an habitual one, I know I’d want to find out what’s going on.  In fact, that’s what I’m trying to do, and I’m taking steps to make the situation a little better for my kid.  What are you doing? 

 

It’s not like there aren’t options, though in early education some of those options are limited.  Look at it this way, if the other kid is at preschool as long as my kid, there’s 2 and a half hours of contact time for the teacher to have with the kid.  That’s not a long time to observe what’s going on.  Plus, when you’re lead teacher for 3-4 year olds, how do you watch a single kid for suspected behavioral issues when you’ve got 5-10 other kids working with permanent colors, glue and simultaneously wetting their pants. 

 

The reason I ask is this: 

MSNBC did a story yesterday morning showing correlations between bullies, victims and ADHD.  As an adult who didn’t know anybody with ADHD growing up, but as a teacher after the diagnostic boom in the early 1990’s I’ve been suspect of some diagnoses in the past, but I must say it’s an issue that holds more water for me.   Regardless, early behavior problems need to be monitored by the school and the parents because the earlier you can catch a problem a kid’s dealing with, the earlier you can help that kid and maybe make her life a little easier. 

 

See, according to the article, kids with ADHD symptoms are “four times as likely as others to be bullies.”  But it gets worse.  “[C]hildren with ADHD symptoms were almost 10 times as likely as others to have been regular targets of bullies prior to the onset of those symptoms, according to the report in the February issue of the journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.”  These aren’t American kids they studied either.  The study was done in Sweden, and I’ve got a hunch the problem is bigger in America than in Sweden.   

 

What does the study mean?  There’re a couple possibilities:  The ADHD kid may just be a jerk, or “it might turn out that the attention problems they’re exhibiting could be related to the stress of being bullied.” 

 

Linda Carroll interviewed Harvard professor William Pollack for the story, and while he doesn’t necessarily contribute anything a rational adult couldn’t figure out for him or herself, he does point to the urgency of the problem.  First, you have a hard time learning when you’re afraid.  I tell you, after some creep spit on me in middle school it got real hard for a long time for me to want to go to school.  Second, Pollack reminds us that bullied kids often turn into bullies.   

 

So what do we do?  Medication for ADHD, the story reminds us, doesn’t treat aggression.  It helps a person focus, it doesn’t deal with depression or anger.   

 

What am I prepared to do?

More than anything, the story starts to look like every other piece of parenting advice out there.  You’ve got to look for signs.  You have to communicate with your kid (and at three that’s a tall order).  You’ve got to look to the school for help and advice when they let you know your child is a problem, and if they won’t help you, maybe you need to find a new setting for your child. 

 

Suspicions

January 29, 2008

As indicated in my entry “Nature vs. Nurture,” we have a three-year-old boy. When his older sister was born, my wife and I were both working, and my wife returned to work after seven months maternity leave. A local university housed a daycare and preschool for infants through kindergarten, and after touring the facilities, we settled on their location as it was convenient for my wife to pick up and drop off on the way to and from school, it was diverse in its population and faculty, and we just liked it. Why does anyone ultimately settle on their childcare location of choice?

As with any young child in daycare, our daughter was frequently sick. It’s the nature of the beast. By exposing your young child to other children, she’s going to get sick. But when we learned we were expecting Boy coincided with our daughter being hospitalized for pneumonia, and four months later she required nebulizer breathing treatments at home, so we decided it would be a good idea to keep both children home for as long as we could after Boy was born. Dad got to stay home that time. What a delightful year it was, and if you can afford it and your job will permit it, I recommend that dads have the same experience I did.

After my year was up, we returned to the university daycare/preschool. We never really considered anything else. They had proven reliable. If there was an ouch report we got it immediately, and the teacher explained what happened. If there was a fever, we were called to pick up one or the other or both. Big Sister adapted quickly as she’d been there before. Boy had a harder time, but he eventually developed a routine, and he loved the stuffed babies. Our greatest concern occurred when he was about 16 months, and another child scratched his face and drew blood. At three and a half, Boy still has a scar on each cheek. Unfortunate, but either the other kid had huge claws and moved fast, or Boy was too slow, or a teacher wasn’t paying attention (which can easily happen in a room of 10 toddlers moiling around like puppies).

Boy and Big Sister stayed with the program at the university for a year and a half. We ultimately pulled them when my wife gave birth to our youngest daughter in the middle of the school year. After ample recovery from the birth process, our three stayed at home with Mommy, and once Mommy was fully functioning and negotiating getting all three out and about, she was able to enroll Big Sister in our school district’s sponsored preschool program, for by this time she was four and kindergarten eligible come fall.

Our kindergarten program is only half day, and it was important for my wife and I that someone be home to meet and greet the bus both coming and going. We tightened our belts, and she’s been at home full time since the fall of 2007. With Big Sister going to school, and at the time Little Sister still working on sitting up and rolling over, we wanted Boy to have some socialization experience combined with learning. We found an affordable storefront daycare/preschool center, and we enrolled Boy in 2 ½ hours of preschool M-F. My wife’s reasoning was that he’d had a year and a half of socialization in daycare, and we didn’t want him regressing. Our understanding is that boys sometimes need a little more, and we wanted to provide him the tools he would need to succeed in our community’s school system as he is eligible for the community sponsored preschool this coming fall.

I don’t know exactly when it started, but my wife would describe a couple boys that were a real handful for the teacher that happened to be in the same 3-4 class as my son. She explained it appeared this pair took all the teacher’s attention sometimes. We shrugged it off, knowing other children who can be difficult, and our children aren’t necessarily always angels, I mean have you seen me in the grocery store with the older two?

Then, new vocabulary entered our house. Boy talked about “gentle touches.”

“No hits. Gentle touches,” he’d say dragging out the words gentle touches as he’d softly stroke your arm or face with his hand.

“Right, we don’t hit.”

“No, g e n t l e t o u c h e s.”

Boy seemed to be enjoying himself, and then we received the first injury reports. Boy reached for another toy as another boy did and the other grabbed our boy.

“What happened son?”

“O____ hurt my bones.”

“He hurt his bones?” I asked my wife. “When did bones enter his lexicon of things to be injured?”

Then things became more suspect. My wife told me she overheard the following dialogue as she and Boy hung up his coat:

“You shut up.”

“No you shut up.”

“No you shut up.”

“That’s weird,” I said.

“It gets better,” said my wife. “Then it escalated.”

“No you shut up m- – – – r f – – – – r.”

“No you shut up m – – – – r f – – – – r.”

“What? Was anybody around?”

“The teacher was on the other side of the room, but she’s got double hearing aids.”

“What’d you do?”

“I told them to stop. ‘Those aren’t nice words, and I don’t want my son to learn those words.’”

“Did they stop?”

“They seemed surprised that I said anything, but they stopped.”

That night, after I read Boy and Big Sister a story, I turned off the light, and Boy asked, “Mama’s bones hurt?”

“No, mama’s bones don’t hurt, why?”

“My bones hurt.”

That’s when I started to suspect that my son was being bullied at preschool.

Nature vs. Nurture

January 24, 2008

There are any number of topics I care about that are urgent for me, and which have a certain urgency for various communities.  I’ve become particularly passionate about politics for instance, and with the primaries spread from January until May, there are and will be plenty of issues to discuss both for my class, and for the benefit of discussion.  For one, my frustration as a resident of Michigan and its treatment by the national Democratic party because of the arrogance, ignorance or ineptitude of the state’s Democratic party.  How one of the most suffering states in the nation in regards to unemployment (and I could go on) that happens to be a swing state with a large number of juicy electoral college votes could have been ignored by the party and two of its candidates makes one wonder why the state should go “blue” in the November election. 

I am also a public school teacher, and increasingly over the years both in my occupation and in my daily life as a consumer, I have noticed a culture of entitlement that is disturbing at best and epidemic at worst. 

Perhaps because of the culture and my habit of overanalyzing everything, I feel threatened as a parent by this culture that seems to be out to get my children.  I’m not stupid; I know the culture of America is about creating little consumers, but there are other cultural concerns I have regarding how best to raise my children.  As mentioned above, I am also a teacher, and my classes have just finished Fahrenheit 451 and Frankenstein, and both texts explore the cultural issues that concern me and parenting, respectively. 

I have mostly settled on exploring bullies.  Dealing with bullies and what makes them are issues with roots in both the culture and parenting.  I am a father of three young children.  Two daughters and a son sandwiched in the middle.  The oldest started kindergarten this year, and on the school bus before winter holidays, an older student expressed disbelief in the man in red with the beard.  This is not quite the bullying I intend to explore, as the aforementioned issue is one that has to be dealt with eventually by any parent whose child experiences life outside the confines of the homestead.  Such a discussion gets into issues of faith and hope and love which are good discussions to have with a child at any age. 

The youngest just turned one, and the only bullying she’s experienced is her own low grunting growl she’s developed when someone removes a toy from her reach or somebody pays too much attention to Mommy at home. 

It’s the boy that I intend to discuss.  Now three and a half, I’m coming to realize he is at a key point in his life.  Not to say that the others aren’t and I’m not worried about them too, but as a former boy myself, there are experiences I had that I don’t want him to have to know as directly as I did.  I have lots of questions, and I don’t know that I will have answers, but I invite you to join the discussion as it progresses.

Researching “Boys will be boys”

January 23, 2008

As a graduate student in Liberal Studies, one of my tasks this semester is to blog about our coursework.  See my About page for more information. 

There will be weekly blog assignments that a public intellectual can use and cite (the last entry for one on storytelling is an important tool to the effective blogger), but from what I understand there will also be a longer series of blogs about a topic of my choosing that is of importance to a community.  The size of this community depends in part on you and how effectively I create tags and searches and links. 

Currently, I subscribe to Yahoo news feeds and Google news feeds and Google blog feeds and Technorati feeds on the following three tags:  preschool bullies, preschool expulsion and raising boys. 

Right now, the information coming in is thin.  Maybe I’m not searching right, maybe I’m too prejudicial about what kind of information I want and what kind of information I don’t want, maybe it’s just too early or maybe there aren’t many people talking about my concern.  I notice there are lots of moms dealing with this problem in forums, educators dealing with this problem in forums, and the media is starting to pay attention, but there aren’t many dads.  Where are you dads?  How are you raising your boys to be decent yet able to stand up for themselves and others?  How do you teach a three year old those values?  

Despite my data collection concerns however, in the local newspaper last week there was an article that caught my eye (“Preschool expulsions examined” by Lori Higgins for the Detroit Free Press), and in light of the problems my son has faced in preschool, I have decided dealing with preschool bullies is an issue of urgency and a discussion worth having.  If you have suggestions for me, I welcome your comments, and if you want to participate in the discussion, please join in.