Time-Outs are for Coaching

As I was filling out my bracket for this year’s March Madness, I was reminded of this post from last year, which has also been incorporated into a part of my ebook, Parenting with Positive Guidance.  (PS, my Aggies got the shaft this year.  Here’s hoping for an upset!)

I know it’s unbecoming to be a braggart, but there is one thing, about which I must boast.  I won the March Madness bracket competition in my husband’s family this year.  Now, I’m no bracketologist.  I tend to make my picks based on which state the team is from, or who has the cooler sounding name, and I like to pick the underdog as much as reason will allow.  I missed a lot of picks in my bracket, but the one pick that put me over was when I chose Duke.  That pick I made based on the fact that I knew who their coach was. 

Coach Mike Krzyzewski (that’s not a spelling error)  or Coach K as he’s referred to (for obvious reasons) is one remarkable man.  He’s the “winningest” active coach in the NCAA.  He’s coached Duke to 4 national championships and multiple final fours.   The team has become a fixture in the tournament.  He also coached a struggling United States basketball team to gold in 2008.  I knew Coach K was a transformative coach.

Great coaches can make all the difference.  We as parents and teachers act as coaches as we help children prepare for, and navigate, the social world.

Practice Makes Perfect  Permanent

Coaches don’t just show up at game time.  They must prepare their players.  They run their athletes through hours of drills and training so that the skills they need in those critical minutes of play will be a natural response.  Likewise, we as parents and teachers can help children practice social skills so that they can become habit.  Practice might come in the form of role-playing, practicing scripts for challenging situations, even playing games.  We can prepare children for situations before they arise by clearly explaining expectations.  (“We’re going to go to the library.  In the library you need to use a soft voice, and make sure your feet are walking.“)  

Whether it’s a sport or social skills, a big part of coaching takes place before the critical moments.  All great coaches know that preparation leads to success.

Game Time

The coach could hope to do such a wonderful job preparing his players that he can just sit back and enjoy the game.  However, coaches know that the actual game often presents challenges that are different from those they had prepared for, or that the players get caught up in the intensity and forget their basic skills.  Sometimes players need reminders from the sideline.  Sometimes, the team gets so off-course, the coach has to pause the game, and have a serious discussion.  So he calls a time-out.

Parents and teachers coach in much the same way.  Sometimes we give reminders from the sideline (“Remember to ask if you can have a turn when he’s done.“).  Sometimes we have to “call time-out” and have a more serious discussion. 


Imagine a coach like Coach K calling a time-out and saying, “You guys aren’t playing very well.”  Then he just sits all his players down on the bench while he leaves to make a phone call or clean up some spilled popcorn a few rows up.  Then, when the 30 seconds alloted for that  time-out have expired, he walks back to the team and says, “OK, you can go back out now.  I want you to play better, OK?”  Any spectator would say, “He’s not doing his job!” 

Too often, the traditional time-out looks much like the ridiculous scenario I just described.  We sit a child in “Time-Out” and somehow expect that the child’s behavior will change when she returns to play.  Without coaching, the child is returning to play with the exact same set of skills she had when she went into time-out.

When Coach K calls a time-out, he gives his players a chance to catch their breath and refocus.  He gives clear and concise directions and expectations.  Then he sends his players back out with a plan.

When we call for a coaching time-out with children, we do much the same.  We first give them a chance to step out of a charged situation, calm down, and refocus.  Then we need to teach.

We have to be specific and clear as we socially coach children.  If we don’t say what we need to see, children will have a difficult time making that conceptual leap on their own.  In general, I encourage people to verbalize the thought process they would hope the child would follow.   It sounds like a long process, and you will often feel like you are stating the obvious.  But obvious to an adult is not always obvious to a child.  Just like running basic drills, this coaching helps that internal process to become natural.

The skeleton of the social coaching process might look like this:

Describe what happened, and label feelings involved.  “Karen, I noticed you’re throwing that playdough.  I know you’re excited, but we can’t throw the playdough.”

Ask/Describe what would be a better choice. “When we throw the playdough, it gets smashed into the carpet and ruins the floor and the playdough.  Where do you think we should play with the playdough?  Yeah, the table is the best place to play with the playdough.”

If necessary, help the child make retribution.  “Ok Karen, let’s get this playdough picked up and back onto the table where it belongs.”

Remind again about that better choice.  “Remember to keep the playdough on the table this time.”

Return the child to play.  Believe she can succeed.  Be there to support.

Basketball coaches are given more than one time-out per game.  Similarly, when a child stumbles again socially you might need to call another time-out again and repeat the process.  Very young children usually need multiple learning opportunities to create independent skills.  However, just as a coach will eventually make adjustments to help his team run more smoothly, if problems continue you may need to redirect(“Karen, we’ve talked twice about keeping the playdough on the table and you are still choosing to throw it.  It looks like you’re going to need to find another area to play for a while.  Let’s go build something with the blocks.”)

Coach K says, “Discipline is doing what you are supposed to do in the best possible manner at the time you are supposed to do it.”  With time, coaching, and practice, we can hope to be transformative coaches as well, and instill that same discipline in the children that we love and teach.

For more on Positive Guidance, click here.

Whistle photo by juliaf.

Soccer photo by je1196.
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Weekend Reads 3.12.11

First off, congrats to Melissa Taylor!   She’s the winner of the Growing an In-Sync Child Giveaway!  Melissa, I’ll be emailing you soon so we can get that on the way!

Here are some great spots around the blogosphere to check out!

Make Your Own Window Clings {Make and Takes}

The Ghost on Peterson’s Farm {Irresistable Ideas for Play Based Learning}

Rhythms and Routines: The Flow of the Week {Simple Kids}

Help Your Child Stay Organized and Productive {Motherhood…Your Way}

Outdoor Classroom Inspiration {Child Central Station}

Math Related Children’s Books {NAEYC}

Kindergarten Math: Lucky Charms Graphing {Kiboomu}

Tissue Paper Forsythia {Pink and Green Mama}  (I was so excited to find this one by chance while I was browsing Pink and Green Mama’s fantastic site!  I had recently seen some cherry blossoms done with the same technique – with pink blossoms on black stems –  but was trying to decide exactly how they were done.  Mystery solved!  Now it’s time to bust out the supplies!)

Enjoy your weekend!

 Top photo by Joanne Kim.
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Let’s Build! Activities for a Preschool Tools and Construction Theme

Young children seem to be almost as intrigued by building and creating as they are by demolishing and dissecting.  That’s just part of why a tools and construction theme is so great for young kids!  And while they’re having a blast, they’re also learning some great concepts.  Here are just a few:

  • Tools and simple machines make work easier (Science)
  • There are shapes in architecture (Geometry)
  • You can measure using objects as units (Math)
  • Tools can be used in a variety of ways (Science, Inquiry, Motor Skills)

Here are just a few of my favorite activities to use within this theme (*’s mark those with details to come in future posts):

Dramatic Play:

Using large blocks (I made mine copying something like these…when I had just one toddler….who took long naps) build a creation against a wall and then outline the blocks using blue painter’s tape.  Ta-da!  You now have a full-scale blueprint!  Encourage children to follow the blueprint or create their own.  Other props in this theme might include hard hats, play tools, tool belts (Home Depot sells a tool apron for only $1), clip boards and pencils, real blueprints, phones/radios, orange cones, and caution tape.  You could also include a large appliance box and let your children use it to design and create their structure.

Working Tables (Small Motor):

Let children explore with nuts and bolts or doorknobs.  They’ll love taking them apart and putting them back together!  Push or pound golf tees into styrofoam.  Sort small nails and screws and count them out into numbered cups of a muffing tin.


Color on sandpaper for new tactile experience.

Build toothpick structures like these.

Paint with real paint rollers.

Drive toy construction vehicles through paint for cool tire track designs.

Do some “bulldozer painting” by pushing paint across paper with combs and flat edges.

Draw blueprints and create shoebox building models.

Sensory Bin:

Finally come to grips with the fact that you don’t need that old ghetto-blaster or VCR and let the kids Take it Apart!  (Keeping it in the bin helps to keep track of loose parts.)

Hide treasures in sawdust.

Drive small construction vehicles through sand.

Block Area:

Use a variety of building materials in addition to your standard unit blocks.  Kids love using pipes like these, or gutters like this.


Set up a woodworking area.  Find ways to let children saw, hammer, and sand!  If you don’t have a wood bench, just hammering nails into a stump will do.  Try using the pipes or gutters from the block area in the sandbox or on the lawn with water.  Set up some simple machines like ramps, pulleys, and levers.  (Of course use rope with supervision…..but do use rope.)

Large Group Activities:

Act out the Three Little Pigs (Props Here)

Sing Johnny Pounds with One Hammer 

Sort building and fixing tools (screwdrivers, hammers, etc.) from kitchen tools (whisks, spatulas, etc.).  (Emphasize that both groups are tools because they make our work easier.)  Use it as an opportunity to talk about some tools they may not be familiar with.

Measure using objects for units.*

Examine shapes in architecture.  (Check out Shapes, Shapes, Shapes and Cubes, Cones, Cylinders, and Spheres by Tana Hoban.)

Explore and experiment with simple machines.

Create a Word-Building Crane*

Book Activities:

Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming*

The Construction Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallota*

Jack’s House by Karen Magnuson Beil*

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton*

Construction Zone by Tana Hoban, or the same title by Cheryl Willis Hudson*

So….Let’s Get Building!

What are some of your favorite building-themed activities for young children?

Top photo by Lars Sundstrom.

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Growing an In-Sync Child (Giveaway!)

Growing an In-Sync Child

 Carol Kranowitz and Joye Newman had me interested before I even opened their new book, Growing an In-Sync Child.  I was already familiar with the Out-of-Sync Child books, written by Kranowitz as a toolbox for helping kids with Sensory Processing Disorder.  I had actually just picked up one of the resources to use with some of the consulting work I do when I was given a copy of this newer book.

The premise of the new book really struck me, and yet seemed so obvious.  The work that Carol and Joye had devoted more than 70 combined years to, has been life-changing  for children with SPD.  But children with SPD are not the only ones who become out-of-sync.  We all have our out-of-sync moments.  In fact, today’s pace and culture seems often to perpetuate this out-of-sync state.  As Joye and Carol question in their book, “Is it the child that is out of sync – or is it the world?”

The rough-and-tumble childhood that many of us enjoyed has been displaced in many corners by technology or litigated beyond recognition.  opportunities for movement and real life experience are often being traded for computer games and seat work in the name of academic progress.  But are we ignoring how children are naturally wired to develop, grow, and learn?

“Instant gratification may be possible when booting up a computer, but it is impossible when raising a child.  Times may change, but the time required for a child to grow and develop never will.  Human development permits no shortcuts.” (pg 5)

So Carol Kranowitz and Joye Newman applied their vast experience in the areas of education, human development, occupational therapy, and motor therapy to supply parents and caregivers with a very reader-friendly guide for giving ALL children playful opportunities to develop their bodies and minds. 

Their book explains the theory within the first fifty short but compelling pages.  It outlines the necessary components of development contributing to a state of being in-sync, falling into the three categories: sensory processing skills, perceptual motor skills, and visual processing skills.  They discuss, with great examples, how these skills that we often take for granted are developed through experience and why they are critical for any one of us just to get through the day.

Even seat work, they point out, relies upon skills gained through these playful experiences.  As they so poignantly write, it takes “years of moving to prepare the child to sit quietly at a desk.”

The bulk of the 200+ page book is devoted to playful application.  It’s an organized, user-friendly resource full of in-sync activities you can do with your child with just a few minutes and some everyday objects.  You’ll recognize some of the activities as fun games from your own childhood, but after reading the background, you’ll see them (and many other everyday activities) from a whole new perspective.

This book is a fantastic resource for parents, teachers, and caregivers and one of you will win a free copy this week!  Just hop onto Twitter and follow Carol and Joye (@InSyncChild) and me (@NotJustCute) and then leave a comment here letting us know you’re in!  I’ll select someone at random and let you know right here along with the Weekend Reads on Saturday morning.

So Get Moving!

Learn more at www.in-sync-child.com, www.joye&carol.com, Carol’s website www.out-of-sync-child.com, or Joye’s website www.kidsmovingco.com.

Both Joye and Carol will be appearing on The Coffee Klatch on Blog Talk Radio on Wednesday, April 20th!
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Talking to Young Children About Death

As much as we don’t really like to think about it, death is something that touches each of us at some point in our lives.  And often it touches not only our own lives, but the lives of the little ones we love and teach.

I received an email over the weekend from a supervisor at a children’s center that broke my heart.  Two little children at her center, twin girls, had recently lost their father.  Obviously, these girls and their family were grieving, but the tragedy also touched the larger community and left many of the parents and teachers wondering how to explain such an emotional and somewhat abstract concept to young children.  I replied to the email right away, and soon after realized that what I had written would not only benefit the children and families of that center, but might also be useful to others who may be struggling with the same dilemma.

Talking about death isn’t always sparked by a traumatic experience.  Some children may simply ask about it after hearing a story, or seeing an animal on the side of the road.  Children in a situation like the one I mentioned above, who are aware of the tragedy, but perhaps not really directly impacted by it are still going to try to make sense of it all.  Whatever the event, children will likely have some natural curiosities (What does it mean to die?  Can people come back to life?  What makes a person die?), some emotional insecurities (Will my dad die too?  Will I die?  Did I do something to make these grown-ups sad?), and a need for expression.  
Children need their questions to be answered directly and honestly.  Avoid abstract or symbolic terms.  Using terms like “went to sleep” or “went away on a trip” can cause children to be afraid of these things.  Likewise, if we oversimplify how the person died, they may be afraid that they may cause someone’s death or die themselves from simple things like being mean, getting sick, or having a hurt.  Sometimes the most direct explanation is that the person’s body stopped working and that it was something doctors couldn’t fix.  Talking in families is particularly important because it allows for personal and religious beliefs to be included in these discussions. 
When my husband’s sister died of cancer and our boys were very small, I explained to my oldest son (who was about three) that her body wouldn’t work anymore and that her spirit, the part that made her eyes look happy, and her face smile, and the part that loved him and that he loved was with God, but that her body that he could see was in a special kind of box called a casket that was put in the ground at the cemetery because her spirit didn’t need it.  That’s an explanation that’s in keeping with my family’s own beliefs.  (It’s important not to compare the casket to a bed because that again can cause fears of sleeping or beds.  If children show concern, it may also be important to clarify that the body in the ground can’t feel or hurt or get hungry or cold.)
Beyond the general curiosity, children want to be reassured that their loved ones or they themselves won’t die too.  This isn’t really possible to do, but when they ask, I explain to my boys that we do a lot of things to help make sure we can live as long as we can.  I know I can’t promise that death won’t happen, but they find security when I point out what we do to prevent that from happening the best we can.  Kids struggling with loss may need more time and attention from their parents or more consistency in their routines to help them feel secure.
Children may also feel worried about the adults they love who seem so sad.  It’s OK for them to see you sad and for you to talk about how you’re feeling and why.  It gives them permission to do the same.  Along with that, it’s good for them to see how you deal with those feelings in healthy ways.  Children may act silly or sweet to try to cheer up the people around them.  Others may act out as a way to work through their feelings or to check in and make sure that you’ll still attend to them.
When kids are given something new to process, they often need an outlet for that expression to help them organize their understanding and work through their experiences and feelings.  For some that means talking about death in general, drawing pictures, telling stories about death, or acting it out in their play scenarios.  This shouldn’t be discouraged, it’s how they make sense of the experience and one way they can control something that they can’t control in real life. 

As an example, when 9/11 occurred, I was teaching in a preschool where some of the children went through a period of building block structures and knocking them over with a block representing an airplane.  Observe children in these activities and watch to see what the salient aspects of the experience are for them.
Some children simply continue on as though nothing has changed.  They may not be as aware of what’s going on, they may have already come to grips with things, or they may simply find more comfort in keeping their regular routine as a way to combat the change around them. 

Know too, that some may seem uninterested and then bring up the experience months or even years later.  Address it as it comes.  Neither discourage or force a child to go through any of these processes.  Simply let them know through your responses that their questions will be answered honestly and their feelings will be validated and respected and they’ll continue to come to you when they need it.

How do you talk to young children about death?

Top photo by Peter Björknäs.
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Weekend Reads 3.5.11

The Importance of Roughhousing {Let the Children Play}

Block Off Time For Learning {NAEYC}  (Block Play)

 Siphon Magic and Tracks in the Paint {Irresistable Ideas for Play Based Learning}

Creativity in Your Homeschool {Simple Homeschool}

(Great tips for home, school, or homeschool!)

Buried Treasure- Magnet Activity {No Time for Flashcards}

Enjoy the weekend! 

 (I’m finally ditching the treadmill for a run OUTSIDE!)

Top photo by Michal Zacharzewski.

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It’s First Friday!

Well here it is!  There were so many great questions and so little time!  I’ve supplemented with some links below.  Please add your links and input in the comment section as well!

(By the way, on my computer the video seems a bit smoother over at YouTube for some reason.  It won’t hurt my feelings if you watch it there– just promise to come back and join in the discussion!)

On-Task Behavior and Developmentally Appropriate Practice (0:10)

As a parent, how do I know what is DAP in my child’s various classrooms? (1:27)

Resources for Developmentally Appropriate Practice:

Basics of Developmentally Appropriate Practice by Carol Copple and Sue Bredekamp

DAP Statements from NAEYC

DAP: What Does it Meant to Use Developmentally Appropriate Practice (From right here at NJC!)

Should food be used as sensory or art medium? (4:22)

Letter of the Week Dilemma (8:33)

Why Don’t You Teach Reading?  A Look at Emergent Literacy

A Culture of Literacy: Teaching Preschoolers the ABC’s and More  (More articles linked there.)

Preschool Tattle-Tells (10:23)

How do I stay consistent with my child’s behavior when I know it’s caused by physical factors? (11:50)

Parenting with Positive Guidance: Building Discipline from the Inside Out

Children and Nature  (14:01)

Why Our Children Need Nature

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv


Children & Nature Network

The Grass Stain Guru

Add your links and tips below as well!  And keep those First Friday Questions coming to notjustcute@hotmail.com, with Q&A in the subject line!
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