Is Your Child a Problem-Solver?

Obstacles are a part of life, a fact which is especially true during the first few years. Small kids encounter problems on a daily basis that they can’t immediately solve, from the many frustrations of potty training to the intricate social dynamics of a playgroup.

As parents and educators, we cannot spare our children from these tough challenges. But why would we want to? The step-by-step process of analyzing, understanding and mastering new skills is the reward that drives little minds to learn and create. Problem-solving is a bedrock of early childhood education, and one of the most important life skills that any young person can develop.

All of which brings me to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a terrific source for discussion and ideas. Recently I sent out one of their “Message in a Backpack” posters to our Culver City preschool parents. As they put it:

Preschoolers who can solve their own problems feel confident and enjoy learning.  They are willing to make mistakes and learn from them and keep trying until they succeed.

Amen. Several tips on how to encourage and nurture problem-solving skills are in the piece, including reminding your kid about skills that once were hard and now are easy; expressing to your child that you believe in her; and talking about some times when you struggled with a similar issue.

I recommend checking out the full piece. It’s a great thumbnail guide on an important topic, and a nice reminder that pretty much every skill worth learning flows from patience and persistence.

How to Choose the Right Culver City Preschool

Many parents in Culver City come into the preschool applications process with something like dread. Horror stories abound about five-year waiting lists and brutal interviews, but the truth is far gentler: many of the best preschools in Los Angeles come with reasonable waiting lists and genuinely delightful people at the helm. Because I field so many questions from parents about the best way to navigate this process, I thought I’d put together a quick checklist: seven things to consider when picking a preschool. Clip and save!

1. Location, location, location

It is a well-known fact that parents will drive just about any distance in the continental U.S. to get their kids into the right school, but it’s always wise to look close to home first. Culver City offers good options for nearly every schedule and commute, including a few that are easily accessible by public transit. The advantage of a short commute goes far beyond convenience – less time stuck in traffic means more time to relax and be a kid, not to mention a few extra years added to your life without all that stress.

2. Philosophy

I can’t tell you how many parents have toured my own preschool, listened to me speak at length about the value of learning social skills and sensitivity, only to admit that they don’t believe in sharing, and do we offer an exemption for that? Luckily every preschool comes with its own mandate and mission: no two are exactly alike. Preschool websites are a great place to start your research, but even before that I recommend sitting down and listing a few priorities. Are you hoping for that early third-grade placement, or would you prefer an unstructured space where your kids can play? Sometimes just talking it out can help crystallize what is most important to you, and why.

3. Educational approach

What do they teach? How does it work? What sort of preparation will your child receive, and how do those students typically track as they enter kindergarten and beyond? There is some debate about the place of hard academics in a preschool setting, but nobody doubts the value of learning how to learn. At Butterfly Garden, we offer a mix of creative play, child-directed exploration and Montessori instruction, but every Culver City preschool has its own approach to pedagogy. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions, and be sure to avoid any school that claims to have discovered a one-size-fits-all approach to education. There’s no such thing.

4. Budget

Well, sure. Preschool tuition throughout L.A. tends to vary widely, depending on the various details of size, facility, faculty and reputation. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t have to break the bank to get your kids into a worthwhile preschool; save that money for college. (Harvard, right?) The same advice applies here as I said about philosophy: the more detailed you can be before you start looking, the more likely you are to choose a place you can comfortably afford. Start with your needs, and stay within reason.

5. Recommendations

Nobody knows more about the top preschools in Los Angeles than the parents who watch their kids develop within those walls, and nobody knows your children better than your own friends and family. Keep an ear out open for great experiences and glowing recommendations; these could prove more valuable than a hundred online reviews. At Butterfly Garden we draw a great many students every semester through word of mouth alone. The reason is simple: parents who share playdates and plans often share similar values and priorities. Listen to your friends; they’ve been there.

6. Faculty

I can’t stress this one enough. You could have preschool in a castle with every possible amenity and teaching tool close at hand, but it won’t add up to anything without a stellar faculty. In a sense, preschools are their teachers; these gentle caretakers act as surrogate parents, instructors, guides and models for as long as your children are there. Look for attentive adults with a genuine love of children and an abiding interest in early childhood education. Err on the side of great teaching credentials and experience. And listen to your gut. When it comes to preschool teaching, there is no substitute for warmth, talent and energy. Being funny never hurts either.

7. The X Factor

Finally we come to that intangible something: let’s call it the X Factor. Have you ever toured a preschool in Culver City or elsewhere, loved every inch of it on paper, but somehow come away feeling less than enchanted? Maybe it was a throwaway comment made by your tour guide, maybe something less than joyful on the face of the kids, or maybe it was just all that wood paneling. Ultimately the decision to entrust your children to someone’s care must come down to your comfort level, period. Trust yourself on this; you know what you’re doing.

At the end of the day, choosing the perfect Culver City preschool is more art than science. Stick with a few basic questions and soak up all that info like a sponge, and you should be able to zero in on a great choice in a matter of weeks. Then it’s finally time to relax, kick back, and start thinking about elementary school.

The Timeout Stool: Hilarious or Nefarious?

We’ve all been there – the moment of pure rebellion. We love our kids, cherish their growth, even applaud their moves toward autonomy, but when things turn extra dark in an instant and the kiddos go nuclear, it can be hard to know what to do. Do you stay calm? Yell something? Cede the floor to a spouse? Or is it time to invoke the dreaded Timeout?

If you answered D, there’s a new product just for you. Of course modern enterprise has an answer for every possible parenting whim, from sleepy time sea turtles to playthings that are 95% tag. But the bar has been raised with the arrival of a genuinely hilarious product: the Timeout Timer Stool. Part sitting surface, part archaic timepiece, this clever punitive perch adds some gentle humor to the moment – and frees you from the burden of watching the clock with ever mounting guilt.

Leave aside the various debates over whether time-outs have any merit; they remain a staple of modern parenting, and often represent the surest way for everyone to take a breath and regain some perspective. So the next time your baby goes ballistic, you might want to consider the soothing ebb and flow of sands through the hourglass. Just don’t try to go for ten minutes while someone’s sitting there.

Is Multitasking Good for Kids?

I’d like to start this blog with a quick discussion of a subject that comes up often in my conversations with parents: multitasking. Specifically, whether letting kids do a million things at once teaches them flexibility, or destroys their ability to focus.

The arguments line up about as you might expect. In one camp, the flexibility crowd offers a pretty good reason why they keep all those blinking devices around: the world is a frenetic place, media are everywhere, and we might as well let our children get used to the reality of this “always-on” moment in history.

In the other camp are educational psychologists such as Jane Healy, who makes a fairly compelling case for pulling the plug:

Attention deficit disorder is a new “epidemic” of psychiatric diagnoses in our young people. Fundamentally, it means having a mind at the mercy of changing stimuli. Multitasking may be “cool”, but if it means losing the ability to reflect, imagine, plan, execute, and evaluate one task at a time, we should all start paying attention.

I must admit that I am somewhat sympathetic to the Healy camp, if for no other reason than I have seen the singular benefits of unbroken focus in my own teaching. Children who are presented with a dozen stimuli at once learn to juggle and delegate, to be sure. But children who are allowed some space and quiet learn to deepen their ideas and enhance their creativity in startling new ways.

Of course every parent knows their own child best, and there is no question that balance is often necessary to preserve the sanity of all parties. But if all is well at home and you are presented with a choice between an iPad and a sketchpad, I heartily recommend the wonders of a magic marker.

Welcome to the Culver City preschool blog!

Welcome to the Culver City Preschool blog! I started this blog because I get asked a lot of questions about early childhood education, specifically how best to support, understand and harness the incredible curiosity of little minds. Even though I always take the time to answer our parents’ questions at the preschool, I thought it might be useful to create a separate space where we can explore and discuss some of the most timely issues in education and child development. I plan to continue adding plenty of great links and info to this section over time.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Butterfly Garden, here’s a quick introduction. We are an eclectic, home-based preschool just outside Culver City that emphasizes healthy, creative, child-directed learning for children ages 2½ -5. Our passion is helping children grow in every important way: learning to share, to collaborate, to manage and understand their feelings, and to appreciate the lifelong thrill that comes with acquiring new skills and knowledge. We believe children thrive when they are allowed to discover new challenges at their own pace, supported by outstanding teachers and the built-in companionship of working side by side with kids of different ages. Butterfly Garden is a small and loving school that feels like a family.

On to me: I am the proprietor and owner. I have a Master’s Degree in special education and a teaching credential here in California, as well as more than 15 years of experience in education. I’ve been an elementary school teacher and an educational therapist for middle and high school kids, and have attended numerous conferences and workshops, including a wonderful week at Project Zero. I am a member of National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the California Association for Family Child Care (CAFCC).

So now that we have all those intros out of the way, let’s get to it! This blog is designed as a forum where anyone can join a great conversation about the best approaches and the most fascinating stories in the field of childhood education. I look forward to your feedback, and can’t wait to begin sharing some of the ideas I have lived and learned as an educator. Please check back often, and welcome aboard!