Talking Death and Dying with Children – Part 1

“Jennie, come quick!  You need to come right now!”

Vivian was wide-eyed and worried.  I knew this was serious.  I sprinted with her over to the bushes and around to the backside.  There lay a bunny.  It looked to be sleeping and very peaceful.

“What’s wrong?  Why isn’t the bunny moving?”, asked Vivian

I said, “The bunny isn’t alive.  It’s dead.”

Vivian didn’t know what to say.  By now, other children were curious and coming over to see.  Another teacher thought I should take the children away from the scene.  After all, it was a dead animal.

I did just the opposite.

I called all the children over to see.  It’s okay to see death.  Children needed to see, to ask questions, and to be there.  It was up to me to guide the situation and open a discussion. First we looked at the fur and talked about how lucky we were to be up close and see how truly beautiful bunnies are.

“How many different colors do you see?  Did you know a bunny’s tummy is white?  Look at the white under his neck.”

And then the real questions began:

“Is he dead?”
“Yes, the bunny is dead.”

 “Can he come back alive?
“No, He cannot.”

“Why did the bunny die?”
“The bunny was probably old.  He doesn’t look like a baby bunny, does he?”

That was the beginning of the real discussion.  We talked about old, and people dying when they’re old.  We talked about what happens when we die, that we cannot come back again.  Children talked about grandparents and great-grandparents, some of whom are sick.  We talked about our dogs who died, Bailey, Finn, and Harry.  Each had an important story that needed to be told, because children need to talk about death- the dreaded “D” word that many parents and teachers don’t want to face.  Other children needed to listen.

The bunny was close to our Memory Garden, so we walked over and read the names of class pets who had died, painted on rocks by the children.

It doesn’t take a dead bunny on the playground to talk about death and dying. It can happen with a really good book.  I know, because a few months later, I discovered The Rough Patch by Brian Lies.  While there have been many children’s books over the years to address this subject, few have hit the heart with a golden arrow.  The Rough Patch does just that.  The book just received the Caldecott Honor Award.  Yes, it’s that good.

Evan’s best friend and beloved dog dies.  In the most poignant writing when the dog dies, the author writes, “But one day, the unthinkable happened.”  When I read those words to the children, they were silent and wide-eyed.  Their faces showed worry.  They needed to talk.  And we did.  We talked about our pets who died, and our grandparents who died – like we did when the bunny died.  We talked about how that makes us feel, because Evan was angry.  Children get angry, they get sad, too.  They need to know it’s okay to feel that way.  They need to talk.

And that’s what we do with a good book.

In The Rough Patch, the rich, brilliant illustrations complement the text (no wonder it won a Caldecott).  There is a page in the book, perfectally illustrated, when Evan suddenly realizes what he has done to his garden after being angry.  He has hacked it down, the one thing he and his dog enjoyed together.  Evan’s eyes in the illustration speak many words.  They seem to find a pathway to the heart, and open the door for children to speak, and ask questions, or get a hug.

Death can make a child feel angry.  Go and grab this book.  It is a warm blanket.

Stay tuned for Part 2

 Jennie

Posted in behavior, Death and dying, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Nature, preschool, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , | 90 Comments

Nature Indoors and Outdoors

Our creeping lily classroom plant rarely blooms. When it does, the blossom only lasts one day. Today we discovered three blossoms.

Outdoors was a winter wonderland of ice on the trees. It shimmered and glistened. We felt like we were in a fairyland.

“The most beautiful gift of nature is that it gives one pleasure to look around and try to comprehend what we see.” -Albert Einstein-

Jennie

Posted in Early Education, Einstein, joy, Mindfulness, Mother Nature, Nature, preschool, Quotes, wonder | Tagged , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Gloria at the Super Bowl Parade

Families understand Gloria and include her in their lives.

She went to the big Patriots Super Bowl parade in downtown Boston!

Gloria makes a difference outside of the walls of the classroom, too.

Thank you, Gloria.

Jennie

Posted in behavior, Diversity, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Family, Gloria, Kindness, Love, young children | Tagged , , , , | 44 Comments

The Mentor – From Classroom, to Blogging, and To Gloria

Many years ago an outstanding consultant, Marcia Hebert, came into school to help teachers with their classrooms and environment.  We were all so focused on the children that the classroom itself was often overlooked.  Teachers weren’t seeing  their rooms through the eyes of a child.  Certainly I wasn’t.

After she looked at classrooms, we met as a group.  Marcia’s first question was, “Who has the orange pictures on all the walls?”

That was me!  It was our jack-o-lanterns.

My eyes opened, and since then my classroom is neutral instead of a carnival of colors.  In that way, children feel welcomed and calm, and can focus on the task and activity at hand.

Marcia noticed Gloria.  She had Sophia, the same puppet.  Of course Gloria invited Sophia for a playdate and a sleepover.  It was wonderful!

Marcia has been one of my favorite bloggers for a long time.  When I was ready to take the plunge and start a blog, she was the one who told me about WordPress and helped me.  She recently took a long break to write her book.

Low and behold, Marcia posted on her blog a few days ago.  After her hiatus, guess who she wrote about?  Yup, Gloria.  Marcia remembers, and writes about how important Gloria is to children.  Thank you, Marcia!  Please enjoy reading her perspective.  I highly recommend her blog.  It is full of wisdom.  Happy reading!

A Look Back …

dreamstime_s_112800467These past eight years I have had the privilege of working with numerous directors of early childhood programs, as well as their teams of teachers. And I have lots to share!

I presented training that ranged from building effective teams, to creating warmer, homelike environments; from finding and using unique materials and activities for children, to building collaborative relationships with parents; from learning how to set goals and then move toward meeting them, to de-cluttering spaces for children and de-stressing everyone in the process, and much more. 

I coached and mentored aspiring, new, and experienced directors alike—at their schools, over the phone, and via email—troubleshooting, and finding solutions to staffing, space, organization, the rhythm of the day, transition, parent, and child situations. I observed both teachers and children—as another set of eyes and ears for the director—helping to make changes as needed. And, I consulted and strategized with directors who were opening new programs; directors who were expanding their programs; and directors who were closing their schools. 

I have been pleased to experience, time and time again, the level of commitment, dedication, passion, and enthusiasm of these directors and teachers. They are reaching for quality. And, it has warmed my heart, because I know that the children reap the benefit by having wonderful early childhood experiences—and I have had the best moments!

One day, I returned to a program to retrieve my Sophia. Sophia is a puppet with spiky gray hair, wrinkles, and a long, black dress. To children, Sophia is real. 

Let me back up a bit. I was consulting with an early childhood program, and when I walked into one of the preschool classrooms, there was their puppet, Gloria, sitting on the sofa. Gloria is an identical twin to my Sophia! Can you believe it! Anyway, an animated conversation took place between the teacher and the children. And, I agreed to bring my Sophia to this busy room of preschoolers for a play date and an overnight. Well, apparently, the two puppets and the children had a wonderful time together, because, when I arrived at the school to retrieve my Sophia, I was greeted with stories, pictures, and a play-by-play of the Sophia/Gloria adventure:

“They had slept on the sofa under the peace quilt.” (that’s a story for another time)    “They weren’t afraid of the dark—they had a night light.” 

“Gloria gave Sophia her necklace.” (a beaded one that the children made)
“Gloria and Sophia are going to be pen pals.”
“Could Sophia come back for another play date?”

And just before Sophia and I left, the entire classroom serenaded us with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”—Gloria’s screeching voice heard above all others! Sophia and I blew kisses as we left the children and teachers. Pure magic!

Gloria is a treasured part of this classroom. She is real. The children talk with her, care for her, worry about her, include her in everything. She listens, and whispers her thoughts. She is the voice for many of the “unspoken” things young preschoolers think about. And she is their friend.  

The teacher who added this puppet experience to the classroom is a masterful teacher of young children. She added another dimension to an already rich program. In fact, a gift to everyone in the school—for Gloria is known and loved by all of the teachers, parents, and children! 

Isn’t this what working with young children is all about!

I observed many magical moments these past eight years, as I moved from program to program and built relationships with the directors, teachers, and children. What a privilege to observe so many wonderful things happening for so many.

Our early childhood colleagues (directors and teachers alike) are doing extraordinary work with the young children in their care. They love what they do. And, there is the desire to want to do it better.

I saw the passion in their eyes; heard the enthusiasm in their voices; and noted the strong commitment to quality in their words and actions. 

We are fortunate to have such people in our programs. As we know, it begins with a few, and then ripples throughout the organization. And, as we also know, it begins at the top. 

As a Director, are you creating a climate for magic?

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Training for Early Childhood Directors | 1 Comment
Posted in Diversity, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Gloria, Imagination, Inspiration, Kindness, preschool, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , | 50 Comments

A Day With Gloria

Gloria had quite the day today.  Sometimes life can start out just terrible, and take many turns along the way.  After today, Gloria knows that all too well.

Children were in the Big Room doing music and movement.  I was in the classroom setting up for the day.  I noticed Gloria was not on the couch.  Perhaps she had gone home with a child the night before.  That often happens.  Nope.  I checked everywhere in the classroom.  No Gloria.  Then I had to stop my search and set up.  I needed some “brass” vessels for our open air Indian market, so I opened the door to the pretend kitchen in our dramatic play area.

There was Gloria – face down on a cookie sheet.  Who would do such a thing?

I left the kitchen door open.  When children returned to the classroom, they saw my face.  Shock was written all over.  I told them that something terrible had happened to Gloria, and they needed to go and find her – and fix it.

They scrambled.  They found her.  They hugged her, told her how sorry they were, got her an ice pack, and brought her to Morning Meeting.  Someone suggested Gloria should be Helper of the Day.  That means leading the group in singing the days of the week, recognizing calendar  numbers, and identifying the weather, among many other jobs.

Now, that was a great suggestion!

But Gloria was not thrilled.  She was hesitant.  We kept asking her why, and she told us:

“I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know the numbers because I can’t see from the couch, and…. you don’t invite me to Morning Meeting.”

Oh, boy!

Could things be any worse?  A wise person once said, “Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.”

We rallied behind Gloria.  Everyone helped her with numbers, reading the days of the week, and singing.  She was slow to respond, but she accepted the children’s help.  The children were saying in the best way they could, “We’re sorry, Gloria.”, and  “We love you, Gloria.”, and “How can we make it better, Gloria?”

Someone asked about Gloria’s journal.  We hadn’t read it in a while.  So, we decided to read the journal along with Gloria.

I had no idea that Gloria wore a snowsuit and went sledding!  Wait…she played the piano?  And she ‘camped out’ at bedtime?

And she had a pancake breakfast?  And rode in the cart at the grocery store? And went to ski lessons?

We read page after page of Gloria’s journal.  Together.  Memories and stories can heal wounds.  Gloria felt good.  The children felt even better.

The rest of the day was busy, and Gloria was included.  Later in the afternoon we had a visit from a baby bunny.  Everyone was eager to see the bunny. Children made sure Gloria got to see, too.

Jennie

Posted in behavior, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Gloria, Kindness, Love, preschool, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 51 Comments

Superheroes

Superheroes showed up at school today.

Captain America and Wonder Woman.  And a Ninja.  But the children told me a Ninja isn’t really a Superhero.  Aren’t they smart!

Superheroes are far more than heroes with super powers.  They give children an “I Can” attitude, a stronger sense of self.  They make children feel good and see the good.  After all, it’s goodness that we strive for, along with knowledge.  John Phillips said it well in the 1700’s:

“Goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and both united form the noblest character and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.”

Superheroes give children and teachers an opportunity to impart goodness and knowledge, an “I can do it” attitude, and the will to keep trying.  It’s the power of ‘yet’.  Thank you, Superheroes!

Posted in behavior, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, Kindness, Love, preschool, Teaching young children, young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 51 Comments

sunflower

The perfect picture! Thank you, Paul Militaru.

Paul Militaru

sunflower

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Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments