Early Learning at Babies to Three

When we think of a child’s intellectual, emotional and social development, we rightly spend a good deal of time trying to ensure that they get places at the best available schools in the area.  And yet, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the latest evidence on brain development places a great deal of emphasis upon what happens in the very first three years of a child’s life and even while they are still in utero.

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At Babies To Three, both in our pregnancy class on Mondays and our parenting group on Thursdays, we have been learning how the brain of the youngest baby can be helped along in the most positive way.

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From early secure attachment, which can begin before birth, to understanding how a fetal brain develops during the third trimester we have been learning how parents can influence and optimize their Childs emotional, physical and cognitive health from the very beginning.

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So, when it comes to our children, they are never too young to learn… and even though we may be tempted to think that playing with a newborn, or providing them with stimulating environments is more about entertaining them as opposed to educating them, we will in fact be playing a crucial role in brain development.


Pumpkins, Scarecrows & Silly Hats!

October was a fun-filled month for our preschool students! From science experiments to special snacks, we have taken full advantage of the beauty and fun that the fall season brings. Here are some of our favorite highlights…

We were invited to a Harvest Party, hosted by the House on Beekman After-School Program. Face-painting, doughnut-eating, apple-tossing and many other fun activities were enjoyed by all of our students!

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Our kids love sensory play, so our version of a mini pumpkin-patch was a huge hit! Using coffee grounds as “dirt,” the children were able to play with pumpkins, farm animals, pinecones and fall leaves as they shoveled and scooped to their heart’s content.

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We enjoyed several special fall-themed snacks, from a fruit version of a candy corn (mandarin oranges, pineapples and whipped cream layered in a cup) to a mini pumpkin made from an orange and a celery stick. Who knew that healthy snacks could be so tasty and fun?

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Orange was our color of the week, in honor of Halloween, and the kids loved using orange sidewalk chalk during outside play time. Jalice was especially proud of the pumpkin she learned to draw!

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We opted for treats instead of tricks on Halloween! During small group time, we did an experiment called “Pumpkin-cano” to show the kids how exciting it can be to see what happens when you mix different substances. After scooping out a pumpkin, each group added orange-tinted water, dish soap and baking soda. The big finish happened when vinegar was poured on top of it all…take a look!

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Living in the city means pumpkin patches are hard to come by, but we created our own across the street in St. Mary’s Park. Each child chose a pumpkin and decorated it.
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The finale of Halloween Day was much anticipated…our Silly Hat Parade! The children’s hats ranged from witches to sharks to rabbits. Some creative moms even helped their kids create their own at home!

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We paraded around the sidewalks, then ended at the bodega right down the block. Our beloved Mr. Hector had arranged to begin the candy-giving early…and he filled each silly hat full!

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What a wonderful time of year it is, and seeing the joy of our children makes it even more special. We are thankful for all of our blessings, and thankful for your prayers and support for A House on Beekman!


Finding the FUN in Reading!

For many of the kids at after-school, reading can be a source of frustration and shame.  By the third grade, most of the kids are well aware of their “reading level” and usually their school classmates are as well, since the books they read are often labeled quite clearly for the purpose of matching kids with a book that won’t be too hard or too easy.  It’s a logical system, but can make for an embarrassing classroom reading experience for those who are falling behind.

Early in the after-school year, we often heard kids say things like “I’m not a good reader,” “I’m just a level K,” or “I can’t read.”  Reading was a chore–to be avoided at all cost.  At after-school, one of our dearest hopes has been to help kids find the fun in learning–even in the areas which challenge them most.  In recent weeks,  we’ve begun to see little glimpses of reading being transformed.  Last week, a group of “senior” boys (3rd, 4th and 5th graders) got excited to read using our new listening center.  They took turns choosing and holding the books, managing the cassette player.  And all of this happened by choice during their free time–before work time had even begun!

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A few days later, Mariah, a second-grader who struggles with reading, worked hard to make her way through a book about unusual spiders.  She was shocked to discover that there is such a thing as a “wolf spider”–named for his furry gray coat.  After persevering through each page, sound by sound, I thought she would surely want to hurry off to play-time the minute she had finished.  But, Mariah’s first question was, “Can I go read this to my mommy?”  Her mom and dad had arrived early that day and were waiting for dismissal time.  Mariah rushed over, crawled into mom’s lap and re-read the entire book for the sheer pleasure of sharing it with her mother.

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It’s such an encouragement to see the kids finding joy in reading–whether from the satisfaction of conquering a difficult word or the fun of reading with friends.  Please pray that the kids would continue to discover and enjoy all that reading has to offer them.


Babies to Three to Barretto Park!

At Babies to Three we are unashamed about using every resource available to us: our refurbished space on Jackson Avenue; our selfless volunteers; our parents who come and share their experience.

And, on a brisk and bright October morning, we decided to take advantage of another great local resource: Barretto Point Park in the South Bronx.

Gathering together in our kitchen space, at 9.30am, parents, children and volunteers put together nutritious lunches and then made our way to this unheralded park, which sits on the East River, south of Hunts Point. After a short journey by train and bus, we were greeted by some beautiful Fall colors, all radiant in the bright sunshine.

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Unknown to some of our families, and never before visited by this staff member, Barretto Point Park has wonderful views across the East River, an interesting history, and plenty of purpose-built play areas for children to slide and swing. And like kids to candy (only much healthier!), our children rushed onto the climbing frames and across the soft play surfaces.

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The children initially explored these areas and then took the plunge – building their confidence by repeatedly climbing steps, walking across wooden crossing pathways, and burning energy in the best way possible by enjoying an outdoors experience that was fun and safe.

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For the parents, carers and volunteers alike – lunch would prove to be a much-needed respite! This was also an opportunity for us to get to know one another better – whether traveling together, playing with the children or sharing a sandwich

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By the time we started to make our way home, all of us had a sense of contented tiredness. Adults and children had engaged in a trip that involved exploration and interaction… We’d travelled and talked… maybe even learned something new. All the time, the bonds of friendship are growing – and all thanks to a lovely park in the South Bronx.

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We Solved the Problem!

One of the most exciting parts of our curriculum is a process of conflict resolution that we use on a daily basis. When children encounter problems with other children or adults, they are trained to work through steps that help them to express their feelings and find a solution to the problem together.

We have been amazed at the growth we’ve seen in this area. Sometimes the children decide, “We can share!” Other times a child’s empathy comes through. “He can have my toy.” And some of the negotiations are quite complex. “I will use the blue fish and you can use the blue boat. Then we’ll both have blue.”

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Mahogany and Jalice solve a problem by deciding to share the dolls.

We decided to try using our steps to solve large group problems that involve all of the children. Together, they suggest solutions that might work. The picture below shows our problem on the left, where the teacher and some children are feeling sad because other children are shouting out while a book is being read. “How can we solve this problem?” we asked the students.

Skyla held up her hand and said, “Stop!” When we asked her what needed to stop, she said, “Yelling!” So our first solution shows a hand and a “no yelling” sign.

“What if someone really wants to say something while the book is being read? Is there a way to show you have something to say without shouting out?”

The solution that was agreed upon was to put your hand on your head if you really want to speak. So we added the solution with a picture of a hand on a head. Now, when children shout out we point to the solutions to remind them what we decided together.FullSizeRender-3The next problem we brought to the group involved messy centers. When children went to a new area to explore, they often found toys and supplies left everywhere. When asked how we could solve this, several children stated, “We can clean up!”

“When should we clean up? Should we run to a new center first and clean up at the end?”

Kwali shouted, “No! We should clean up first before we leave!”

The kids noticed how happy the boy looked as the solution was drawn. “You solved the problem together! Let’s practice this during our center time!”

FullSizeRender-2It’s empowering to be part of finding a solution. The satisfaction of hearing, “You solved the problem!” is second to none. We are proud of our little problem-solvers, and pray that these skills will follow them throughout their school careers!