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Thursday, August 23, 2012

What a Wonderful World

I'm going to be very honest and say that the all-day early childhood professional development day planned for today, though it is something I feel very strongly about, wasn't high on my list of want-to-do's for today.  School hasn't started yet but the last two weeks have been a whirlwind of getting the classroom prepared, teaching a summer program for incoming kindergarten students and ending today with this pd opportunity.  Next week starts district pd days and open houses and preparing my own children for returning to school.  Like I said, it wasn't high on my list of wants today.  But, I went anyway like a good little soldier and I was very happy to listen to an excellent presentation.  

Linda Jordan's presentation, Neuroscience and the Preschool Child, didn't grab my attention from the title, but as soon as she opened her mouth, I was hooked.  She is a dynamic speaker, knows her material and is able to share it in a way that made me want more, more, more.

Here are just a few snippets that tickled my ears today:

  • The muscles in our bodies have more memory capacity than our brains.
  • As a child, I learned things in order to do things.  Today's young children do things to learn.
  • Vocabulary should be taught by handling and seeing the actual objects, not by talking about them.  Not a new concept, but a good reminder.  She said she believes that each book should have a box of objects that accompany it in the classroom. 
  • Teachers are brain sculptors.  We impact our students' brain growth (dendrite growth) by teaching them and then providing at least 20 minutes of actually doing/working with the skill to commit it to memory.  We are responsible for providing a safe environment so that students can learn and grow dendrites, not shut down.
  • You can only talk to/teach a child for 6 minutes maximum before they need to move and you need to move, they need to talk about what they are hearing.  After that, you can begin another 6 minutes of teaching.  This includes read alouds!  Begin a story on one side of the meeting area, stop to talk and process thoughts, then continue reading on the other side of the meeting area.  Have students turn their bodies around to face you again to promote physically being in a different position and looking at different surroundings...good for the brain!

My personal favorite thought of the day: Our brains are not wired to read.  According to Jordan, reading is the single most difficult thing that our brains learn to do.  It is so difficult because we aren't wired to read. Our brains are instead wired to tell stories.  I couldn't help but connect this idea to Ruth Ayres.  I had the opportunity to see Ruth this summer at the All Write Institute and she presented about the importance of story.  Our story.  Sharing our stories with others.  Turns out, it isn't just something we think is important.  Now there is scientific proof!  Sharing our stories is good for our brains.  

Even the children who come from the worst situations at home can be positively impacted by us.  We can provide a safe environment and help them make connections in their brains while they are at school with us.  You may think that one teacher can't make enough of a difference to that child, but think about the impact of having good teachers who do this year after year in school.  That impact alone could be enough to get that child out of a bad situation.  If we teach children to think and problem solve, they will have the capability to make the kinds of choices that would remove themselves from the negative situations in their lives.

Linda ended her presentation with a photo slide presentation of kid-drawn pictures set to the song "What a Wonderful World."  Indeed it is and thank goodness we have people to teach us and remind us about what we can do for the children in our world.

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