Cindy Terebush talks about the common mistakes of preschool programs. She also shares awesome success stories and tips for helping your preschool be the best in today’s era. She shares the challenges of teaching things at a younger age and why standards may not be a problem while implementation can be.
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Teach the Whole Preschooler: Nurturing Developing Minds
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e254
Date: February 15, 2018
Vicki: How should we be teaching preschoolers?
Cindy Terebush @earlychildhood7 is an expert, and she’s author of Teach the Whole Preschooler: Strategies for Nurturing Developing Minds.
So, Cindy, as you started to look at preschool today, what do you think the biggest issues are for where we’re going wrong?
Cindy: I think that there are a couple of issues, actually.
I think that we’re living in a very high pressure world right now, in a very immediate gratification world. So what’s happened is that we’ve gotten away from respecting the process of early childhood learning.
Respect the process of early childhood learning
You know, it is a process. And those of us who are adults, we’ve gone through that process. We know it. We know that there are certain skills that children have to obtain before we can realistically ask them to do some of the more academic things that adults want them to do. But I think we’re just so used to having everything at our fingertips that we’ve lost patience with that.
I also think that the demands that are going on right now in our schools have dropped the curriculum. So what used to be taught in second grade is either being taught in first or kindergarten, depending on where you are. And what used to be first grade is now being taught in kindergarten or preschool, depending on where you are.
Our schools have dropped the curriculum from kindergarten into preschool
It used to be that I would speak in front of a group of kindergarten teachers, and I would say — maybe 5 years ago — “What grade level are you teaching? Where was that learning 5 years ago?”
They would say, “It was in first grade.”
And now when I stand in front of a lot of kindergarten teachers, they tell me they’re teaching second grade work.
And so it has also fallen down to preschool. So the preschool teachers are scared.
Vicki: So a lack of patience, and — it’s not that the standards are too high, but the standards are not age-appropriate — is what some have told me.
Is that what you’re thinking? Do think that we’re pushing them to do too much, too fast, too early?
Cindy: You know, I don’t know.
I’ve read the standards. And I don’t know that they are so inappropriate if they are implemented correctly. And I think that’s the problem.
I think, when I look at preschool standards, for example? They say, “Children should be exposed to (or have demonstrated) an interest in…”
None of it says “Mastered”… Mastery of things having to do with letters, and sounds and reading and math are part of the kindergarten standards, not preschool.
The problem is not the standards, but the implementation of them
So, you know, when we look at preschools — what they’re doing is, instead of taking the children where they are today, looking at the children and saying “Where are you today? How can I lift you a little bit? How can I add to your knowledge?”
What they’re doing is they’re looking ahead. Our preschools have definitely become a feeding ground for preparing for the future versus nurturing today. And it really comes from fear.
The standards themselves are not so inappropriate. It’s the implementation of the standards, that I think are very challenging. I think that the standards for kindergarten are the ones that say, “Children need to have mastered certain skills,” not preschool. Preschool is all about exposure and experience and exploration.
Preschool is all about exposure, experience and exploration, not mastery
Vicki: So do you think that how we’re doing these standards-based report cards — where we have the “M” for mastered, or whatever — Is that where we’re falling short, by actually grading them on mastery, instead of just exposing them?
Cindy: Yeah. And I think mastered for one child is different than mastered for another. These are individuals.
Our school systems were really designed on the factory model, when we think about it, sort of like the Ford assembly line. You know, we’re going to take them children, and we’re going to teach them. Then we’re going to move them ahead and teach them this here. Then we’re going to move them ahead and we’re going to teach them this here. And move them ahead and teach them this there.
The industrial age model doesn’t work — especially for preschool
But the problem with that is that we’re dealing with individuals, with different levels of experience, development, and ability.
So I think to kind of “blanketly” say, “Well, you’ve mastered this, that’s great. But the person next to you has not.” At the age of three, four, and five? This makes it very challenging for the teachers.
Vicki: OK, so we’ve talked about some problems. Is there anything we’re doing right, that’s kind of new, that you think we’ve got right?
Cindy: I do think that it’s great that I’m noticing that the pendulum is swinging back to understanding the importance of play in the early childhood years.
The pendulum is swinging back
There are a couple of states that have taken the core standards and put a statement in front of them saying, “We need to be sure we’re emphasizing play.” I think that’s great.
I do think that it’s going a little bit back to people understanding the importance of experiential learning. So the pendulum swings slowly, though. That’s the problem. That pendulum swings really slowly.
And we need to — as early childhood professionals — be looking at the world which these children are entering, which is very different than the world you and I entered after our early childhood experience.
Looking at the knowledge that we have about how young children learn, and saying, “What do they need for the world they will go to?” which is frankly, something you and I probably can’t even picture at this point, with the speed of technology.
The world they will enter is very different from what ours was
And with smart machines coming… I mean, I’m reading a book. The title is Humility, and it’s about how it’s important in the smart machine age — things like creativity and innovation. People skills are so important. We’re spending so much time focusing on some rote knowledge, at some points.
Cindy: We really are. And you know what? If you look at the standards, too, social-emotional is in there, and it can’t be ignored. It should be the first standard, because it’s really what these children are going to need so much. Information at their fingertips.
I was in a classroom with 2-year-olds. One of them asked me a question, and I said, “Oh, I don’t know… I’ll find out.” She said, “Where’s your Google?” She’s two! (laughs)
Cindy: She knows to look in Google. (laughs)
They’re growing up with that. They don’t need to sit and rote memorize as much as we did, but they certainly need their critical thinking skills, so that when they’re looking at that information online, they can think critically about it.
(They can) try to determine if it’s true or not true. They’ll know the right questions to even ask. You know these are the things they’re going to need to know– how to analyze things through, to get the information out.
Vicki: So Cindy, you travel the country, and you take a look at a lot of preschools.
Can you tell me an exciting story — and you don’t have to names names but you could. Tell me a story of “preschool done amazingly right.”
Preschool done amazingly right
Cindy: “Preschool done amazingly right”… There are a number of schools that I walk into now, that have stopped doing weekly themes (which we all did), have stopped doing “letter of the week” (which we all did)…
Cindy: And they now realize that sort of thing is not deeper learning.
I love it when I walk into schools (like) one last week where they were doing more like “study topics,” where the children are investigating a particular topic for maybe a month or two months.
They’re really digging deep, and children were being observed by the adults as the adults kind of figured out by watching them, “What do you know? What don’t you know? How can I add to your learning?”
There were lots of hands on and experiments.
One of the soap boxes that I’m on right now has to do with — when I walk into schools, and everything will be great, and they’ll be doing all this experiential learning, but I still see them doing letter of the week.
We should know better now. That’s not really how children learn alphabet best. That also needs to be individualized and based on each student.
So there are some schools I walk into where the children are learning letters in the order of what’s important to them, like their name, and then maybe their parents’ names, and their street name. That’s wonderful! That’s really doing it right.
Vicki: Oh, but isn’t it so hard to have every child learning different letters in a different order?
Cindy: You know, it is, but it’s all about your classroom management. Sometimes teachers will say to me, “How am I supposed to do that? I’ve got 15 kids in here!”
So how you do that is you divide and conquer.
Classroom management: divide and conquer
Instead of doing it all together as a large class, you sit them down in small groups and work with them, maybe four at a time. Generally speaking, early childhood classrooms have ratios so that there’s more than one adult in the room.
That’s how you do it. You divide and conquer.
Teachers have to remember that the large group time, when everyone is gathered or listening to you is not actually the optimal learning time. It’s when they’re sitting with you one-on-one or with a small group.
Vicki: Wow. But then the teacher says, “How can I have one-on-one time with everybody to teach everything?” That would be ideal.
Cindy: (laughs) You can’t.
It would! It would! You can’t have one-on-one time with everybody everyday, that’s for sure.
Cindy: You can have some small group time, like one-to-four or one-to-five almost every day.
Each day, maybe you pick another child or a couple of children where you think, “I’m going to do some work with these children today, and these other children tomorrow, and these other children the next day.”
I think we do have this very adult need to do everything with everyone at the same time. And it’s just not how they absorb information the best.
Vicki: Cindy, give us a 30-second pep talk for preschool teachers about going out there and really bringing it for their preschoolers this week.
Cindy: OK, so my 30-minute elevator speech about the importance of bringing it for preschoolers.
The importance of bringing it for preschoolers
When we work with preschoolers, we’re touching the future.
When I ask adults, “How would you like the world to be?” they tell me, “I would like the world to be kind and compassionate. I would like it to be respectful. I would like there to be a respect for intelligence and knowledge.”
That’s what we do in early childhood education. What you want the world to be, it’s what you’re creating. So I think we have to remember that when we’re sitting and speaking with early childhood learners and when we’re interacting with them.
Vicki: Well, preschool teachers, you’re so important. It is so refreshing to see that we are swinging back toward some things that make a little more sense.
But we do have to remember that these are precious, beautiful children. We can get so caught up in numbers and standards that we can forget that they are children. I know that you great preschool teachers out there — you keep that front and center, and that’s part of your job, is to advocate for those kids.
So get out there, and thank you so much for what you do.
Contact us about the show: https://www.coolcatteacher.com/contact/
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]
Cindy Terebush – Bio as submitted
Cindy Terebush, author of “Teach the Whole Preschooler: Strategies for Nurturing Developing Minds” (WW Norton – publisher), has worked with young children for 20 years. She has experience teaching and directing in daycare, preschool and school age programs. Cindy is a sought-after workshop facilitator, keynote speaker and professional development provider for early childhood professionals and parent groups.
Cindy writes about issues related to both teaching and parenting young children for a variety of venues. She is the author of the popular blog “Helping Kids Achieve with Cindy Terebush.” She was an online reporter for “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink.” She has been a guest writer and interviewed expert for print publications, podcasts and other media. Cindy has appeared as both a panel guest and on an interview Up Close segment on the PBS show “Caucus: New Jersey with Steve Adubato.”
Cindy is a Child Development Associate (CDA) Professional Development Specialist and class instructor. She is an approved New Jersey Workforce Registry Instructor and is a trainer for the Grow NJ Kids Quality Rating Initiative System.
Cindy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree and teaching certification from Kean University (formerly Kean College) with graduate work from Walden University. Cindy also completed the State of New Jersey Director’s Academy for Early Care and Education. Cindy has earned a certificate of training completion in Healthy Lifestyles for Preschool Families from Rutgers University, The University of Arizona and Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey. Cindy earned her Certified Professional Coach & Certified Youth, Parent, Family Coach credentials from the World Coach Institute.
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