My guest this week is Amanda Morgan, who holds a BA in both elementary and early childhood education and an MS in family and human development. Her past experience includes teaching in public, private, and migrant school settings as well as teaching preschoolers, grade-schoolers, college students, teachers, and parents. She writes, speaks, and trains on the topic of intentional, whole child development and is the creator of the blog, Not Just Cute. In her free time, she can usually be found exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four boys or procuring copious amounts of chocolate.
In this episode, Amanda and I discuss what developmentally appropriate practices are and how they are essential for our children’s individual learning and development process. Often children are faced with expectations in the classroom that are far from where they stand developmentally resulting in behavioral issues and developmental delays. These issues occur starting in pre-school and often carry into high school levels. Learn more as Amanda helps navigate and explain the why’s of our school system expectations and how parents and teachers can advocate for their children and students. To learn more about Amanda click here.
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Developmentally Appropriate Practice
- Taking what we know about how children grow and learn and ensuring those principals and understandings are being applied within the home and school environments
- Respecting childhood in and of itself and for each individual learner
Results of Shift in School Expectations
- Behavior issues become an immediate problem when school expectations do not “match” where they are developmentally
- This simply relates to the fact that these children are not the actual age they are expecting to be at
- Expecting a 3-yr to act like a 6-yr old only ends in frustration for both involved
- Inappropriate academic expectations usually take the place of play and social skills and interactions
- Academic struggle results from this as children miss the hands-on play experiences before jumping to performance-based tasks like worksheets etc.
How Did We End Up Here?
- When we start to work from fear, competition, and comparison we realize how we are poorly focused only on performance and testing
What Can We Do To Address This?
- As parents: where can we slow down in our home and offer outlets for more movement or sensory interactions? Looking to address whatever it is they need more or less of
- Do not understand your voice as a parent for your child and their peers to administration, never stop advocating
- As teachers: Use your knowledge on developmentally-appropriate practices and get creative with the “homework” that is required instead of the routine textbook worksheets
- Amanda’s example: former 2nd-grade teacher of her son gave assignments on a point system of completion with activities to do while at home such as; help your family make dinner, take care of your animal, play outside, help a neighbor
Where to learn more about Amanda Morgan…
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Developmentally Appropriate Practice … 00:06:40
Results of Shift in School Expectations… 00:11:30
How Did We End Up Here? … 00:23:00
What Can We Do To Address This? … 00:28:50
Episode Wrap Up … 00:30:19
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show. I am Dr. Nicole and on today’s episode, we’re talking about the importance of children being in developmentally-appropriate school environments. I’ve noticed for many years now, that as the early grades in school have become more academically-focused, children are struggling more and being diagnosed with things like ADHD and behavioral disorders at much higher rates. In fact, the research shows us that this is true. Children who are younger in their classes, particularly boys, are diagnosed at much higher rates with things like ADHD than other children. This means that matching curriculum and expectations in the school environment to the developmental level of children matters greatly and it’s something that I don’t think we talk enough about. So my guest today is Amanda Morgan and I’ve been following her writings about this topic for a while now and I’m really excited to have her on the sho to share her insights and observations on how the mismatch between child development levels and school expectations can be so problematic for kids.
Let me tell you a little bit more about Amanda. She holds a bachelor’s degree in both elementary and early childhood education and a master’s in family and human development. Her past experience includes teaching in public, private and migrant school settings, as well as teaching preschoolers, grade schoolers, college students, teachers and parents. She writes, speaks and trains on the topic of intentional, whole child development, and is the creator of the blog “Not Just Cute”. In her free time, she can usually be found exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four boys — power to those of us with four kids, yay! Amanda, great to have you here, welcome the show.
Thank you so much, I’m excited to be speaking with you today!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So I like to have my guests start out by just giving us a little idea of the journey that your career has taken. How did you get interested in doing the work that you’re doing, how did your career take you to the point where you’re at today?
It’s kind of interesting — I think we all, when we get to a point and look back where we came from, we think, “Yeah, how did I get here?” So I’ve been passionate about childhood and young children and what makes them tick and how they learn, really, since I was a child, even. And so I went to school, as you mentioned, studied education and child development and then later on as I was teaching preschool, I had a friend whose daughter was in my class and we would run together. And one day, I was talking about what we were doing in class, and one day, she said to me — “You know? You take for granted that everybody else knows these things that you know, and they don’t.” And it was when blogs were kind of this new thing and she said, “You really should start writing a blog. She kind of represented a lot of who my readers are, they’re really well-educated and really invested in their children. So I have a lot of teachers and directors, but then the parents segment, they tend to follow this, well they’re really well-educated and they’re really invested in their children but their background is not in education or child development. And so, for her to say — I know a lot of things, but I don’t really know child development and education and I really would like for you to share that. So I started writing and then it just kind of kept evolving into what it is now where I get to speak and train and work with schools and conferences and parent groups. And I really enjoyed being able to do something I’m so passionate about and share these messages that I think are so important and to be able to interact with people who are equally passionate about that.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love that, and I’d love for you to share, because I read — I don’t remember if it was on your website or where I saw it, about how you came upon the blog name “Not Just Cute”, because that stood out to me when I first saw it online and I don’t even remember how I first came across your work, and I was like — Yes! That, exactly. But there’s a story about that, right? Can you share that?
Yes. So when I was working on my Master’s degree, I had a teaching assistantship where I worked in the child development lab there and so I was a head teacher over the student teachers that would come in at different levels of their practicum to work in the preschool there at the university, and a friend of mine, we shared an office, we ran different wings of the lab and in our job, we would meet with these student teachers and go over their lesson plans and work through what they had planned and what they were working on. And so often, what we would hear them say is, “Here is our activity, here’s what we’re going to do and it’s going to be so cute.” This word, “Cute”, kept coming up over and over and so it was something we would commiserate about — cute is not a developmental objective. It can be this and cute, but it can’t just be cute, that’s not what we’re doing here. And just ever since then, it’s something that I think is a great misconception about these early years. I think sometimes it’s tempting to be overly fixated on the aesthetics of it, but it’s so much more than that. It’s so powerful and some of the things that aren’t very cute at all are really rich in experience for children — getting dirty and playing in the sand, in the mud or making these art projects that don’t look like a great crafty, pinterest-perfect kind of a thing, but it was a great experience for them to do and so just kind of shifting away from trying to make everything cute and focusing more on what’s the purpose, what’s the why behind what we do so we can give it more intention and more power by doing so.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So important, and I think there is just this misconception or this lack of understanding of how powerful those early developmental years are. It’s not just about doing cute projects or kids being in school and playing with some things and doing some things. These are critical, critical times where there is profound growth and change happening in the brain, and I think that often, we really undervalue the power of those years and the power of interventions and education and things that we’re doing during those years. It’s not just, “Oh, we’re buying time until they get to real school”, right? Like, “When they get to real school, real learning, that’s kindergarten, first grade.” No! These are really times of critical development in all areas. So let’s dive into that a bit and I’d love to start by having you really define for us or talk about what do we mean when we say “developmentally-appropriate practice”?
Yeah, that term can really be a mouthful and I’ll often tell people — there have been people that have written entire books on this and it’s great stuff, but when I’m trying to simplify it for people, there are two ways that I’ll define it. One is that it’s essentially taking what we know about how children grow and learn and making sure that those principals, those understandings are being applied in their home and school environments, so that’s developmentally-appropriate practice, and it sounds like common sense, but it’s unfortunately not practiced. It’s not common practice in a lot of instances. The other way that I’ll define it for people is, really, if we want to boil it down to one word, it’s “respect”. So it’s respecting childhood in and of itself that it has a purpose in and of itself, it’s not something just to get through, it’s respect for the individual learner that they all come at us at different points. So if you have a group of 3 year olds, there’s going to be kind of a general developmental level, but they are each going to be a little bit different, and so we have respect for where they each are, individually and just respecting that developmental process and recognizing, again, that it’s not this thing we race through but that there is a process to it. There is a purpose, there is an order to it that we can’t circumnavigate or jump over without paying some pretty serious repercussions.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
When I think that idea about kids being in different places on that developmental continuum at different ages is so important and can become really problematic, particularly a lot of the listeners for this show have children with various types of neurodevelopmental, mental health issues, may not be tracking like the typical kid in terms of where they are developmentally and their age, and what you’re saying is really important about looking at that as a continuum and that not every kiddo is going to be in the same place in 3 year-old preschool or 4 year-old preschool or developmental kindergarten and that respect for where they are, which I love hearing you talk about it in that way, because that really is what it’s about is respecting where they’re at, isn’t it?
Yeah, the metaphor that I’ll often use, if you think of a bush or a plant, how it grows — it grows in a predictable sequence. You’re going to have roots first and then stems and then branches and then weaves and then buds and then flowers, and that’s a predictable sequence and predictable season. Child development is similar in that it generally follows a predictable order and somewhat predictable seasons, those seasons are windows, they’re not precise dates, but at the same time, you never walk out and see a bush where the blooms have all exploded all at once. They don’t all open on the exact same day, and I share with them that as a child — I think a lot of people can relate to that, as a child, I would often find a bush like that with big blooms and these tight buds on the same bush and I would take one of those buds and just peel it open, one petal at a time so that I could see that same flower that was right next to it on the bush, so I wanted to see it, it must be in there somewhere, and I would peel it open and my grandmother, who was a great gardener, would point out to me that that will now never be the flower you are trying to find because you forced it open, you stopped it from doing what it needed to do, in the season where it needed to do that.
I think there are so many parallels we can draw with that with our children that there is that predictable sequence and they’re going to have these predictable seasons but those seasons can be really, really wide. It’s not all one day. Sometimes in legislation and things, we like to pick these deadlines and these dates and those are well-intentioned and there is some reasoning behind those, but that’s not exactly how child development works. We can’t give these deadlines and stamp dates on things. And so when we try to force children, whether it’s that they have — they’re not neurotypical or just that they’re not syncratic in their development or just that they’re individuals, they’re each an individual. When we try to get them to be what we want them to be, rather than giving them what they need when they need it, we have completely different outcomes and when we try to force that bud open, we can cause more damage. But if we protect it and help it and nourish it, then it will open. We just need to give it what it needs in that season.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That is such a powerful and hopeful visual metaphor for being able to think about that and that segues really well into what I was going to ask next about the shift that there has been in academic or just school-based expectations in general, as it connects to that idea of children needing the right kinds of support and activities and just environment, to be able to bloom and meet those milestones at the time that’s right for them, and yet, we’ve come to this place, I think, where we’re well-intentioned, I’m sure, but we’ve had a real shift in what the expectations are for kids in preschool, in kindergarten. First of all, I think back to 25 years ago, when I was in my teacher training program, and the way that we were taught to teach kindergarten, first grade, second grade — and I think about what they’re doing now and it is really just night and day difference. So I’d like you to comment on that shift, and really, the impact that that’s having on kids.
Yeah, there really has been a dramatic shift. I think many people can see it, if you walk into a classroom — I know it’s similar to you, as I went through my own training and I taught in a first grade classroom, and then I stepped away from the classroom as I started having my family, and I came back in to volunteer in a kindergarten classroom as my oldest started school, and I realized, they’re now, in just that short amount of time, they were already doing in kindergarten what I had been teaching in first grade. You could see this trickle down. That’s not just something — a lot of us see it or feel that that’s going on, there was actually a study done a few years back called, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?”, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this one — the researcher said, “We expected to see that there had been a shift and they even titled it with that phrase that so many people are saying “Kindergarten is the new first grade.” So they thought, well, let’s look at it and see — even they said that they were surprised by how drastic the change was. So they were looking at existing data that had been collected from kindergarten teachers, and I believe it was 1996-2002, or maybe it was 2010 — I have to go back and look at it, but there was this shift where they asked — one of the places in particular that caught my eye was they asked, “Is kindergarten when children should learn how to read? Should they be reading?”, which is a whole rabbit hole you can go down defining what it means to be reading or learning how to read, and there are a lot of different takes on that. But in 96, there were about 30%, if you put together the groups that felt that they should or strongly felt — put those together, there are about 30% that said yeah, kindergarten is the place for this.
When you fast forward, I believe it was 2010 that you put together those that mildly or strongly agree that this is when they should be reading and it jumps all the way to 80%!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Oh my gosh! Wow!
This huge shift! And all the while, child development hasn’t changed. It’s just our perception in what we expect has shifted, and it’s not just in reading. When I meet with teachers and parents and I’ll ask, what are some other areas? They’re saying we feel it was sports, it has completely changed. Expectations for how long children sit still have completely changed, the use of worksheets, that’s another one that was actually in that study, they see that shift as well that worksheets are being used more, and things like dramatic play and sensory play are being used less. So all of these shifts that we see and we feel, but they’ve also been documented and studied, so it really is happening. So you asked, what are some of the effects of that and I think it really runs the gamut, there are so many. I think some of the most notable — one of the first that comes to mind would be behavior issues, and like you mentioned, that convince — span out to a lot of different things, whether it’s just behavior — sometimes what we see as inappropriate behavior is actually a reflection of our inappropriate expectations, right? So If I’m expecting a three year-old to act like a six year-old, I’m going to be disappointed, but that’s my fault, not theirs, right?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Love that, yes!
A three year old is going to act like a three year old. So there are these issues. There is also, as you’ve mentioned with ADHD on the rise, it’s interesting because at least the last time that I was involved in doing kind of feedback on a student that was being evaluated — it’s very much a norm-referenced diagnosis in a portion of it. So if we are referencing, compared to other children, how does this child perform in these areas — then sometimes it kind of runs up against our expectations again, so you can end up with what you expect a child to be doing, and we can find this deficit based on our expectations rather than on a reality, right? Or, again, if they’re the youngest in their class and we’re comparing a child who is barely four to a child who is almost five, that kind of norm-referencing can be really tricky. So we have behavior issues when we have expectations that don’t match with where they are, developmentally, because their age is simply not equipped developmentally, but also, B., they’re going to become frustrated more quickly and that tends to lead to those kinds of behavior issues.
In addition to that, I feel like when we have these expectations, often times what I see as missing is we’re starting to push in this academic content, and I really hesitate to use the word academic, because in play-based preschools, there is so much academic knowledge being garnered, right? But when we push in, I would say inappropriate academic expectations, we have to push something else out, right? we can’t just keep cramming things in. When we push down, we also push out. And often, what is being pushed out in these early childhood years are things like play and things that build a lot of social interactions, a lot of social skills and social practice. And sometimes, people see that it’s pushed out, the play and the social interaction because of two perceptions: One, is that it’s not academic, it’s wasteful use of time. The other is that they feel like there are these problems that kids — you have to help them figure out how to share, you have to help them figure out how to get along, and if we just don’t let them interact, we don’t have to work with those problems, right? But the problem is that I feel like so much of the data and the research points us to the fact that this is exactly when they need to use those skills, that they need to build and practice them.
We have a lot of data that shows, over the long term, even into their early 20s that it’s the social skills that make the difference for long term outcomes. When we’re talking about the early childhood years, when they do studies and they look at different academic markers, it still has been kind of weak based on whether they learn to read at three, four, five, six vs. seven, eight, nine, and then long term outcomes, or different academic markers that they want to measure, but over and over again, we find that these social skills, learning how to play with others, get along with others, share ideas, share materials — those skills have been mapped out, like I said, into their early 20s to show them more successful educationally, professionally, socially, as far as measured by continuing through school, getting jobs, staying out of trouble, staying out of jail, those kinds of big things that we want for our children — those are based on social skills, is what we’re finding, and the data is more consistent. So when I look at those things, I feel like in their early childhood years, the most powerful things that we’re teaching them have to do with social skills, so when we push that out because we don’t have time, we’d rather have them sit still at a desk, doing worksheets so that we can crank out this performance of academic tests to make ourselves feel good, I just have to worry that in the long run, we’re missing out on what they actually need to be successful, because again, back to that metaphor, instead of giving them what they needed when they needed it, these social skills, these play experiences, we tried to force what we wanted to see, and we end up in the long term with kids who aren’t well-prepared, kids who struggle, again, academically. That would be the third one. They also will struggle academically because we don’t build this foundation of early education skills, we try to just jump to these performance tasks often, so they don’t have the concepts behind it with the hands on play, the hands-on experience that they need to draw from to do abstract tests on worksheets, on what we see as “academics/real school work”, right? So when they don’t have these play experiences to draw from, they can do those performances for a time, but eventually start to see those cracks where those early skills were just skipped over for a performance that we would rather see.
So those are the three areas that I see with behavior, the lack of social skills and then the foundational academic skills that eventually cause problems as well.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And that really mirrors what I see in practice with kids where they are missing out on these opportunities to develop foundations for higher level skills. So whether that is foundations for higher level cognitive and academic kinds of tasks, which are rooted — the foundations of that are social interaction, play, hands-on activities. People who aren’t familiar with child development, they don’t get that, but those of use who understand that, when a family comes in and they’re like, “My kid is now in third grade and completely falling apart academically”, and we do some testing or even some informal assessment, and we look at it, we’re like, “Okay, there is a developmental pyramid here of foundational skills that form the foundation for these higher level things like reading comprehension, abstract math concepts, even things like handwriting and that kind of stuff. Your kid’s got all these gaps in those foundations because they didn’t receive the kinds of opportunities for growth and some of these foundational things. So I see that in the foundations for self-regulation, just that behavior piece, right? The ability to manage my emotions, think about my behaviors and my reactions, this social pieve, all of that. So we’re seeing so many more kids get to second grade, third grade, even beyond, and really struggling and it is because we’ve got these gaps in those foundations, and so I think that that cannot be overstated, what a problem that is. I’m just curious. I have my opinions about this, but I’m curious, your thoughts on how we’ve gotten there. And you said 1996 to 2010, which really mirrors the progression of my career, I started teaching in 1996 and I think about what the early grades where then, and even when I was a kid, kindergarten man, we went for a half day, we had rest time, we played outside, cooked in the cooking area, we did crafts, all of that good stuff, and even when I started teaching younger kids with developmental disabilities and I was in inclusion classrooms at those early grades, the kindergarten classrooms and even the first grade classrooms still had play stations and we did sensory centers and all of those things, and when I go and consult in early childhood classrooms now, that stuff is not happening. So I’m curious what your thoughts are on how we’ve gotten there.
I think there are a lot of factors that come together. I think one of the big ones that pops out and I think that’s part of why they put that study between 1996 and 2010, one of the big things that happen between there was “No Child Left Behind” and that started to introduce a lot more regulations and standard and things, which, standards are not a bad thing, it’s just that sometimes they don’t align, like you said, it goes back to developmentally-appropriate practice, they don’t always align with what we actually know about how children grow and learn. So I think there are a lot of well-intended things that try to increase the quality, but maybe are not well-informed. It hasn’t just been that. There have been several other that have come since then and before that, and often when I talk about it, I think one of the first places we can go is clear back to the Sputnik, the space race — when Russia is first and we have this collective panic attack that is based on fear and comparison and competition and so we started to change some of our school systems and it’s that pattern over and over again that we begin to make these decisions, well-intended but based on fear and competition and comparison, rather than basing them on facts and science and research and looking at really how children grow and learn. And when there are those mismatches, then we start to make some of these decisions that are made without the best information. That happens within the school systems and legislation, but it also happens with us as parents. Even myself, I study this and I talk about this and I teach this, but I’m also a mom, and there is this part of my mom brain that still will panic about, how do my kids match up? It’s just so wired in us, we want to give our children the best we possibly can, but when that fear creeps in, when competition and comparison, when those things are what guide our decisions, even though they come from the best place, it gets muddied and we tend to make decisions that really aren’t the best for our kids. Again, whether it’s personally, as a family or whether it’s systemically, as we make decisions for our school system.
So I think it’s a long series of many different decisions that have been made with the best of intentions but not with the best of information. When we make those decisions, like I said, based on fear and competition and comparison, rather than looking at the children right in front of us and looking at the research that tells us about how children grow and learn, we’re just going to make those missteps. So we just have to step away for a second and look at the data, look at our children and realize what it is that they actually need and how we can give that to them.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Well, in fact, there is good evidence, I mean there is lots of data but even when we compare to countries like Finland and some of the European countries, they are often used as a comparison, they do things quite differently and in a much more developmentally-appropriate, research-based way for what kids need and what’s appropriate for development. When we look at all the measures of outcomes for kids, they actually come out ahead, even when we look at the academic outcomes for math and science achievements at the high school level. So I think it’s important to mention that, because sometimes people think — “Oh, that’s so nice, you’re talking about that, but that’s not really —“, it’s like no, actually we have things really backwards right now in the way that we think about what it means to educate kids and what’s really important at those early years.
Yeah, often times, I think we’re also making decisions — we start at high school and work backwards, which I can see why we would think that, but development doesn’t start at high school and work backwards, development starts with the children and as they grow, so I feel like we need to start there and move forward, rather than — I feel like sometimes that’s also what happens is we’re trying to reverse engineer, and it’s kind of like, “Well, to get here, we’ve got to work backwards”, which makes sense for a lot of things, but children are not a lot of things, right? So we reverse engineer and it’s just kind of like — so here is where we have to be at kindergarten, so go, instead of looking at where they are right now, and let’s move forward and work that way, and I feel like Finland is one example of that, where they say, okay, how do they learn and grow right now and let’s take that and move forward, working from there. I think Finland and there are several other countries that mirror that as well.
We have this argument that we have to keep up, and again, fueled by fear and competition and comparison, but that whole argument breaks down when you start to look at some of these other countries, Finland, even Singapore has shifted their statement on early childhood education from their ministry of education, it has completely shifted and changed because they started to realize they were so focused on performance and testing, that they then had these adults that would come into the workforce who couldn’t create, they couldn’t innovate, and that’s what they needed them to do, they realized — well they way we taught them didn’t match that, and so they backed up and they started over and they’ve been changing that and showing again, those early childhood practices being more in line with how children grown and learn and develop and focusing on more of that whole child approach to education, and again, there are often times, if you look at many of these countries, that you have to wonder, why are we running in the opposite direction and trying to get the results that they have? So we really have to — we just have to back up and look at how children learn and grow and then match our approaches to that and it just feels like there are some, again, well-intended things in place that get in the way of that.
For a lot of the teachers that I talk to as well, that know, like you have said — I have the training and I know the why and I know how to do it, but there are all these hurdles in my way that we just have to have some hard conversations and figure out how to clear that up so that the teaching is in line with the research and the development.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s just a really counter-intuitive process, I think of slowing down to speed up, which is really hard for people to grasp, right? The idea that we slow down and focus on developmentally-appropriate things now so that kids can speed up and it enhances their ability to learn and grow in these other areas as they go. So let’s talk a bit about what parents and even educators who are listening because a lot of our audiences are parents, but we also do have professionals in the field of education who are our listeners. What can we do to address this? Because obviously, in the United States, “No Child Left Behind”, the curriculum things, these things aren’t changing tomorrow, so for parents or even teachers who are concerned about this and parents who are listening, “Going yeah, this is a huge problem for my kid in school! He is capable, I know he’s smart but man, he’s just getting stuck and having all these problems” because the expectations are mismatched. What are some suggestions of things that people can do to either support their children or supports their school system or the teacher or whatever?
I think one of the first things we can do as parents is to firstly get the things that we can control. So the time that they are not at school, what are the things that we are doing? So where can we maybe slow down in our home? Where could we offer some of these outlets that they may need for more movement or for more sensory interactions or whatever it may be that we feel like maybe they need more of or less of, is there a way that we can do that in our sphere when they’re just at home with us? And then I think it’s also important for parents not to underestimate how much influence they have in the school realm. So like you said, we’re not going to change these federal mandates tomorrow, but I do think that the voice of parents can affect change, whether that’s within a class room or within a school or within a district, that when parents come forward and say that “We need more of this” or “Here is some research that I’ve read”, and when they bring that to administrators, they are heard, and it’s going to vary from district to district, and different experiences, but I would just encourage parents to keep advocating for what they know children need, whether that, again, is going to teachers or administrators or writing to your legislators, I think it’s interesting to me when I work with teachers and directors, like directors of preschool — sometimes they feel they are doing things because they are getting pressure from parents to do certain things, and then you talk to parents and they feel like they are getting pressure from schools, and I feel like if they just create more of a conversation with each other — and part of that is because it differs, people are at different places, schools are at different places, so which direction that conversation is coming from is going to differ.
But if if we make more of an effort to say, “Here is what I would like to see more of”, when administrators know that parents are in favor of play and play-based and they share the research, then maybe an administrator who is already feeling that way but thought they might be swimming upstream to try to push for that, feels some of that support. So I think it’s important that we make our voices heard — that we mentioned too. When I’ve been in classrooms with my own children and I’ve seen teachers using play, I make sure that I say “Thank you so much for doing this and I know how important it is,” because you don’t know how many other parents maybe said, “Why are you wasting our time? What are you doing this?” Or administrators that are giving them pressure — so always offer that support and thank teachers who are doing it and try to come in as an advocate to share your perspective when you’re seeing a mismatch, and ask some of those hard questions and offer support for a different way because there really is a lot of power in parent voices, and especially when these voices get together. So if there are several parents who are seeing a pattern that is concerning, if they can come together and bring their concerns in a calm and in a researched way and present that, they will be heard and it’s amazing the changes that happen when good information and good people get together with those good intentions and then it finally all starts working.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, that communication, I have found is so important as well, and I think it’s so true having been on different sides of it as a parent myself, as somebody working in the school system, as a consultant outsides the school system, it’s kind of true. Everybody assumes that there are all these pressures that are there and I think it is true that when we can all have some open communication — homework is one particular area that comes to mind — a lot of times when I talk with educators or principals privately, they’re like, “Look, I know it’s not developmentally-appropriate for these ages, I don’t want to be doing it, but we feel like we are going to get all this pushback and yet, I hear parents all the time saying — “This is a total struggle, I don’t want to be doing this”, and it’s like — actually, you guys are not on different pages at all, you just need to talk to each other. So I really appreciate you raising the piece about communication. And I would say too for those of you who are listening, if your child has a documented disability and has an individualized education plan, that is a good opportunity as well to raise some of these concerns and to actually have some individualized changes for your child that are more developmentally appropriate, certainly more of a struggle to get that enacted sometimes when your child is in general education, but those of you who have a child in special education, that is an opportunity to focus on what is developmentally appropriate for your child and to have that written into various parts of the plan, would you agree with that, Amanda?
Oh, definitely, and I think you make a really good point there — I think sometimes when we use this term “developmentally-appropriate”, sometimes it gets used as this blanket statement, but when we really listen to it and especially as you’re talking about in the context of children with special needs, developmentally-appropriate doesn’t mean developmentally-appropriate for this entire class. This means developmentally-appropriate for this child’s developmental level. So we have to remember that inherent in that term “developmentally-appropriate” is the concept of individuation and responding to those individual needs that children have. And so I would definitely say advocate for your children, everyone, but especially if there is an IEP, make sure that that’s a part of it, that they are recognizing where that specific child is developmentally and how this experience matches up with those needs.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
But sometimes, I’ll have the experience of getting called in for consultations on really significant behavior challenges and when I look at the situation, we unpack what’s really going on at the root of all of the behavior issues is the fact that there is such a mismatch between what is being expected of that child in the school setting and what is developmentally appropriate for where they are in one or more areas of their development. It’s like the number of hours that can be saved with writing in-depth behavior plans and all of these things, if we just try to look at where this kiddo is, which may or may not be at all close to their chronological age, depending on the nature of the condition or the issue they have, but I just find that when we provide developmentally-appropriate environments and learning opportunities and curriculum expectations for kids, boy, do the majority of those behavior issues just fall away in the school setting.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So that communication piece is big. Anything else that you would encourage our listeners to think about or be aware of for their own children or just their school system in general?
Just as we talked about recognizing, as a parent, that sometimes whether you have an IEP or not, there are also times that you can also say that as a parental, I am giving this a parental veto, right? So you have to be careful with where you choose to use that, but one of my boys was in a class and there were times, I think it was kindergarten or first grade where I’m like, they are not going to hold you back, and I don’t think that this packet of worksheets is really what you need to be doing when you get home from school. So I’m giving you the parental veto and we’re not going to do that. So it’s always best if you come and discuss that with the teacher, rather than just — if you come at it as an advocate rather than as an adversary, but there are times where you can come in and say, whether you have an IEP or not, just saying “I don’t feel like this is the right fit for my child. I respect you and what you’re doing and I realize that other children may need this, and I’m wondering if there is something that we can work out. I’d rather that we read, or that we do something else, and would you be okay with that if we could do that instead?”
The other thing that I have seen, that I absolutely love, for educators that are listening particularly, or parents who maybe have a way of suggesting things very well — one of my boys had a teacher as well who in second grade would assign homework, you had to get a certain number of points, I think it was, but the activities on the sheet were all what research tells us children need to be doing after school. So it was just a list of activities that was like, “Play outside, help your family make dinner, take care of your animal, help a neighbor”, all these different activities that again, if you look at the research and they’ve looked at homework in the younger grades, and they found there are these other activities that are much more valuable for their emotional health, for their academic growth, even. To just read books, to have conversations with their family, to have experiences outside. So this teacher had written up this list of these types of activities and really challenged and encouraged her children to do their homework, right? To make sure they came back with enough points, and I just loved it because my son would head outside like, “I’ve got to go do my homework!” And he’d just go climb a tree or something!” So for teachers who are out there saying, “I feel this pressure to do homework, but I also know what’s developmentally-appropriate.” Think outside of the box and think of creating something like that and challenging kids to earn points and you can even share some of that research with parents. I think again, going that direction as well — sharing research with parents, really, all they want and all teachers want is the best for our kids, so again it all comes back to that communication. We share the information, we get the good information with the good intentions, it really becomes a powerful thing.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Speaking my language. I love it and I love the parent veto, and I talk with parents at the clinic too, done in a sensitive and communicative way that is completely appropriate and we know our kids best and sometimes, that’s the right approach, and on the flip side of that, love what you’re offering in terms of ideas for teachers who want more developmentally-appropriate homework practices, because as I talk about a lot on the show and at the clinic, there is no research to support that homework is an appropriate intervention or educational tool for kids, particularly at those early ages, but the work of children is playing, is helping their families, is being exposed to reading and music and all of that, so love that as a developmentally appropriate homework practice, that’s fantastic. Amanda, this has been so great. I’m realizing we need to wrap up here, but I want to make sure that people know where they can find out more about you and just take advantage of the amazing resources that you have online.
Right, so they can find me at notjustcute.com. One of my most helpful resources there, I think is this new set of letters that explain why it’s so important that we play, and they’re designed specifically for teachers to share but it can also — I’ve had at least one person report to me that as a parent, she has purchased them to try to advocate for play as well. So that’s at notjustcute.com/whyweplay, but most of the resources you can find right there at that hub of Not Just Cute.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Such great information and resources you have there and I really hope that all of you listening will take advantage of that, we’ll make sure all those links are in the show notes. Amanda, I really hope that all of you listening will take advantage of that, we’ll make sure all of those links are in the show notes. Amanda, I really enjoyed having this conversation with you today, thanks so much for being here.
Thanks so much for having me.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And thanks to all of you for listening, we’ll see you next time for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show!