Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ideas for communicating with families about children's developmental stages

What are your goals in sharing knowledge about child development with students’ families, and how do you go about it?

We can communicate children's development within the context of school work and classroom happenings. Schools can bring in the topic to parents while they’re talking about assignments, school activities, and lessons .
According to the Responsive Classroom Newsletter released in February 2004, help parents understand our teaching and assessment approaches. For example, if families know that it’s developmentally normal for seven-year-olds to begin writing smaller and faster than before, they’re more likely to understand why their child’s writing may suddenly look messier than in first grade. It’s important to communicate that we focus more on the content of children’s writing than the look of their handwriting.

We invite families to participate in activities like, read to children in the classroom, and help on projects or field trips. This allows them to see children’s abilities within the context of a classroom setting. For example,When children do an activity involving planting seeds.which can create a big mess, where parent volunteers might need to offere to stay after and clean up. Teachers can let the kids clean up. Explain parents that one common developmental trait of seven-year-olds is that they love to clean. When they’re taught how to clean and are given the responsibility (and their own personal sponges), they rise to the occasion.

Pat Fekete, teaches fifth grade at Hawken Lower School in Cleveland, Ohio. She has twenty years of experience teaching fifth through eighth grade language arts and has a passion for teaching writing. Pat is a Responsive Classroom certified consulting teacher. She has several goals in sharing information about child development with families:

  • to reduce families’ anxiety about their children’s learning and behavior
  • to help families understand that all children develop at different rates, and that the rate may be influenced by personality, culture, and environment
  • to help families see how children’s developmental characteristics affect what we can expect of them in school

Patty Lawrence, teaches second grade at Hunnewell School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, job sharing with her teaching partner Amy Clouter. Patty is a Responsive Classroom certified consulting teacher and a former professor at Wheelock College Graduate School in Boston, Massachusetts, states the students she now teach are ten going on eleven, moving from childhood into adolescence. Their families tend to have a lot of concerns about the often astounding changes their children go through during this time. One of her main goals, is to help families understand this stage of development so they can best support their children.

Early in the year,she prepared a two-sided handout for families, drawing on the book Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4–14. One side of the handout shows the typical developmental characteristics of ten-year-olds; the other side shows those of eleven-year-olds. She suggest that families keep the charts handy—on the refrigerator, in an often-used drawer, etc.

In casual conversations throughout the year, she tries to remind families to look at the charts, just so they develop a baseline awareness of developmental issues. Then, whenever a parent or guardian specifically expresses some concern about a child’s new “strange” or “outrageous” behaviors, she again refers to the charts.

For example, a parent recently told her at a February conference, “I can’t believe my child’s behavior. She used to be so quiet and sweet. Now she’s challenging everything, saying things aren’t fair. And she’s so into herself!”

“Remember those developmental charts?” Patty Lawrence said. She took out the copy that she kept close at hand. She flipped it over to the eleven-year-old side. “Your child recently turned eleven. Let’s see what this says about elevens.” There on the chart was listed, “Moody; sensitive. Oppositional; tests limits. Loves to argue. Self-absorbed.”

Of course, even though these traits are normal, adults still need to intervene with guidance and redirection. But knowing that the traits are normal helps families feel that the situation is manageable. Often, that feeling clears the way for them to know what to do to help their child.

The more we educate and remind families—and ourselves—of children’s developmental stages, the more we can respect our students’ needs at each age and offer the academic and social curriculum that will benefit them the most.

Gail Zimmerman is a literacy specialist at Jackson Mann Elementary School in Boston, Massachusetts. She has taught in the Boston public schools for over thirty years and has been a Responsive Classroom certified consulting teacher for nine years. As a counselor, she gets calls from families with concerns not just about their children’s school behavior, but also home behavior. One of her roles is to help families understand what’s normal behavior for children at various ages and help families learn parenting strategies that support healthy development.

She finds that using careful, empathic language when talking with families is key. She always begin by validating the family’s concern. The parents of a young six-year-old recently complained that their child seemed very oppositional lately. “Even when we tell her many times not to do something, she continues to do it.” After further listening, it became clear to her that the child’s behavior was not so much defiance, but a kind of impulsiveness.

“That kind of behavior can be hard to live with. No wonder you feel concerned,” She said. Although impulsiveness is quite normal for six-year-olds, it was important to show empathy for the parents’ feelings before offering further comments or advice.

Next,she help families see the difference between socially unacceptable and developmentally abnormal. “While that behavior may try your patience and may not be socially acceptable, it’s normal for her age,” she might say. She then shares some supportive, calm ways that teachers might work with a child in that situation. This often gives families ideas to try at home.

Using empathic, clear language as well as providing supportive strategies helps families see this and leave the conversation more assured.

Source from: Responsive Classroom Newsletter: February 2004, Q&A with Pat Fekete, Patty Lawrence, Amy Wade, and Gail Zimmerman

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