When my youngest daughter was preschool age a very good friend of mine asked me if I would like to be her assistant in her preschool class in a Waldorf school in NY State so that my daughter could attend. I was very excited because this would be a real learning experience for me. I had previously taught for 9 years in a public high school teaching academics in a special needs program. Many of my students were inner city students and it was a wonderful experience. I learned how to dance and “boogie” (as my students told me) and I also learned about their social and home life, which was nothing I had ever experienced. I then became a full time mom for my 3 children and had become very interested in learning about alternative private schools for children, so I eagerly agreed to become an assistant in the private school and learn new things.
I learned so much in those 2 years that I worked in the school my daughter attended, things I never learned in college! I learned that through art and music any lesson becomes more real and speaks to a student’s imagination.... and that it works with any age! I also learned that nature and real life experiences make the most interesting learning experience and that all children love food and the more they play with it, taste it, touch it and learn how to prepare it, the better it is! I watched my daughter learn how to wash and dry dishes; mop floors and hand wash cloth napkins in preschool! I saw her cut, stir and knead dough and help prepare snack every day! She was so comfortable doing these things in school that it carried over into home and she was eager to be involved in meal preparation and cleaning. She was never bored; she always was doing some sort of project at home and we had all kinds of art materials for her to experiment with. This is when I learned that young children don't need TV or electronics around them all the time. I learned that there was a totally different way of teaching and learning!
I decided then that it would be hard for me to teach in a public school again and even though my children did attend public school I always tried to keep things creative at home. I took a job in a health and wellness center (natural health is another passion of mine) for a few years until a young woman walked in to ask me about the services offered at the center. We started talking and she told me she was a music therapist and I told her my background and interest in alternative education. She told me about a school she knew of that was something I might want to look into... it was called Celebrate the Children and at the time it was in the next town over from me in Byram, NJ. I went on the website and it sounded like something I would be really interested in! I filled out an application and in August got a phone call to come in and do a lesson.
Okay, now I wanted to bring in some of the wonderful things I had learned! I didn't know about the DIR® levels but I was willing to give it a try. I prepared a lesson on adjectives using food. I brought in sliced apples to show the star. I told a short story about the star in the apple and then had the students prepare, following a recipe, a yogurt dip for apples. The students came up and measured and mixed and then tasted the dip. Some liked it, some didn't. I asked them to tell me how the apples felt, looked and tasted. I asked the students how the dip felt, looked and tasted. I listed all their answers on the whiteboard and said they all described the food and that was called an adjective. Following our discussion, we read a book called "How Are You Peeling?" which was a book of fruits and vegetables, all showing different emotions. We talked about feelings and emotions and how the pictures looked... happy, sad, scared, bored, etc. I left feeling unsure of the lesson because it really wasn't what many schools would like but within a week I got a call offering me the job! I took it and am still here today!
I found a place where I can incorporate art projects, music and food that can help me teach concepts and themes as well as motor planning, sensory skills and life skills. I have seen students learn what mud is in the spring by bringing in a bowl of mud and letting them finger-paint with it. I have had students try new foods by preparing quesadillas on Cinco de Mayo or cutting a fruit salad to make a rainbow parfait. I love hearing parents tell me their children wanted to keep eating it at home! I have used songs to help a student remember what comes next or what an object is or what a name of a baby animal is. I have found a school that lets me teach in a different way, incorporate all the different teaching experiences I had, and continue to learn through school wide trainings. Paula Paglione, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
I can remember not long ago when my daughters would consume my every waking moment and I didn’t have a second to myself. As I longed for that Calgon moment where I could be alone and lost in myself, I was never prepared for what was to come in the teenage years.
As my girls started reaching past 13 I noticed them maturing not only physically, but emotionally too. They no longer wanted me to drop them off in front of the school, or kiss me goodbye in public, let alone hold their hand crossing the street.
My friends with older children assured me this was all part of growing up and maturity. I remember being worried about them as babies not sleeping through the night or having a cold I thought would turn into pneumonia, my friends would say, “If you think this is hard, just wait until she’s a teen.” Now as my daughter comes home from school, with a quick hello, she heads to her room and shuts the door, not to surface until dinner. I always heard this is how teens behave, but I swore that would never be us.
As personal as this may feel, this behavior has absolutely nothing to do with you. In fact, our teens are not trying to push us away at all. Rather, they are trying to push themselves away. They are working to get away from the familiar, from the safety of their home and family to a wider social world where they can show off their own personality and begin to develop their sense of self.
So that leaves us with, how can we keep our family connection strong? Always keep a line of communication open with your teens, let them know you are there with listening ears, rather than a lecturing tone. Keep them involved in family chores, such as cleaning, raking leaves and then jumping in them, shoveling snow and starting a snowball fight, these things and many more can all turn into a time of family fun and memories. All along you are working together as a team to get the job done, which in turn strengthens the family bond. Limit social media time and phones from interrupting dinnertime. Remember we are their role models so this goes for parents too. Involve your teens in extended family outings; keep them close to aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. It will take everyone to raise your teen into a caring, involved, mature, adult.
Therefore, empower your teen to find themselves by providing them with love, support and a sense of independence; it is possible for your child to push away and yet remain a close and connected teen. Empower them to be themselves by providing them with the tools they need to be confident, mature, independent, and communicative young adults. Therefore, remember the motto of many parents with teens: we are going through this together, and we’ll come out of it…together! Antoinette Price, Paraprofessional, Celebrate the Children
It amazes me how interconnected everything is in this world. It is more amazing how you can find some extremely reinforcing information in the oddest of locations. I would have never thought that a book on tracking animals would give me the same lessons that one would get from a clinical book on experience based learning and our sensory systems.
I found a book on tracking by a fellow named Tom Brown Jr. Though I wasn't particularly interested in hunting, I was intrigued by a particular concept. The book stated that in order to know your surroundings, you must completely immerse yourself into those surroundings first. For this to happen, one must be more in tune to their senses and how to use them appropriately to fully experience the world extensively. These words of advise parallels notions of coaxing students to pull out of their self absorbed world and to dare to experience the world around them. Everything in this chapter was about first hand experiences being the best learning tool learn from the world. He talks of going out into the wild and allowing your experiences be your teacher and that knowing something by experiencing it personally trumps any information that you can find in a book or lecture. The chapter encourages the learner to sit in swamps to know the cold wet mud, and to let the mosquito bite you, because it is just as much a part of the experience as any. To walk barefoot and with minimal clothing so there is as little as possible between you and your surroundings. And best of all to just sit, relax, and observe... you would be amazed at what happens in the forest when people stop moving and making noise.
So here I am, walking through the woods as slowly and as quietly as possible, seeing with only my peripherals, trying my darnedest to “see” with my feet, and the suggestion ringing in my head stating to see, hear, smell, and feel everything I could possibly muster. I felt I had a good idea what the outdoors was like by hiking and camping and bounding about. It wasn't until it was suggested that experiencing the outdoors, above all else, is a sensory experience. It was at this point that I realized I had a whole lot of learning ahead of me.
Ron Burd, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
As the leaves begin to turn, football games dominate TV airtime and pumpkin flavor items can be found all throughout the grocery store, fall is in the air. It is also a time to celebrate National Physical Therapy Month.
As you sit on your computer to read this blog excerpt, let’s pause and take a second to think about your health and well-being. One area that you can make a difference in right now is computer ergonomics (adjusting the way your computer work environment is set up). Did you just notice that you sat up and put both feel flat on the floor as I mentioned that? Don’t worry…you are not alone! People are now sitting in front of a computer for more and more hours a day without thinking about how it impacts the body. The United States Department of Labor and Occupational Safety & Health Administration outline simple and inexpensive tips to improve your computer workstation. Here are a few quick tips to look at right now:
· Adjust the monitor height to have the top of the monitor at or just below eye level
· Position the monitor an arm’s length away
· Adjust the screen position to eliminate glare
· Position elbows at a 90 degree angle, with elbows close to the body and forearms parallel to the floor. Keep wrists straight and supported by a foam pad or chair armrest
· Keep the mouse close to the keyboard, at or below elbow height
· Choose a chair that supports the lower back and keep the shoulders relaxed
· Position your chair so that your knees are at or below hip height and thighs are parallel to the floor
· Position feet flat on the floor
And most importantly, take breaks! Physical Therapy Department, Celebrate the Children
The transition back to work after having a child was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life. After years in school working towards being a teacher, could I really consider staying home? As the months came to an end on my maternity leave, I found myself having a very hard time leaving the little bundle of joy that I had brought into the world. Ultimately, I had no choice but to return.
Driving to work that first day after my maternity leave ended was probably the hardest drive of my life. Tears were in my eyes the entire ride and I spent the majority of the ride on the phone with my mother who was taking care of my son. Upon pulling into the driveway, I took a few deep breaths, pulled myself together and prepared myself to return to work.
Unbeknownst to me, this was not only one of the hardest decisions of my life, but also one of the best decisions I have ever had to make. Setting foot in the classroom again after having many months off reminded me why I went to school for special education in the first place. The immediate love and support I felt from my CTC family pulled me out of my slump.
Each and everyday I am reminded by my students as to why this is the field I chose to pursue. Just today, as I am writing this blog, one of my students returned from an activity outside of the classroom and placed a paper clip bracelet on my wrist. A simple gesture that completely made my day.
I will admit, that not every day is as easy. Somedays it breaks my heart to leave my little boy, but the special children that I work with on a daily basis definitely help make the transition into working mom just a little bit easier. Lauren Babcock, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
Contributions to this blog are made by Celebrate the Children's highly talented, interdisciplinary team and wonderful families.