Directors Message

~The Power of Good Guy Versus Bad Guy Play~

The kids in the 3-day class have been busy creating in the creation station. Last week many of the kids decided to make guns. I sat back and watched and thought about how I was going to handle this. I wondered if I should allow it. I do know that many schools have a zero tolerance policy for any type of super hero or gun play. Something else I know though is that “good guy versus bad guy play” benefits children in a few good ways.

  • It creates feelings of belonging and can lend itself to playing together to have a common goal.
  • Kids try out both sides, being a good guy and being a bad guy.
  • It helps develop problem solving skills.
  • It gives kids an opportunity for attaining power and control.
  • It allows them to use powerful and different vocabulary.

In a child’s social and moral development, “good guy versus bad guy” play is normal and important. We need to give kids opportunities to obtain power or they will seek other experiences to attain it. So, what I decided to do was to tell the kids that if we were going to have any kind of gun play at school that we needed rules. I asked them what some good rules would be so everyone felt safe and that the play did not get out of control. This is what they came up with:

  1. We do not play “shoot the girls.”
  2. Only shoot at things that are not living.
  3. If you want to play “getting shooted” you can play “getting shooted”.
  4. If you don’t want to get “shooted”, say, “don’t shoot me”, or “I don’t want to play that game.”
  5. Don’t shoot Buttercup.

I thought that these were very thoughtful and sensible rules, so I decided to allow the kids to make and play with the guns. We also talked about a consequence if the rules were broken. The kids decided that if anyone broke the rule that I would take their gun away and not give it back. We even had a discussion about real guns and pretend play.

I am happy to report that he kids seem to be following the rules. In fact now that we have discussed the rules and they know they have the power they do not seem to be playing it is much. Not today anyway!!!! If we had a zero tolerance policy at Serra then the above interaction would never have happened. The kids would have lost an opportunity to play what is important to them and to “self regulate” their behavior through the collective making of and following of the “rules”.

I know as parents we all have a little anxiety about this type of play especially when it seems to spiral out of control, or when our kids say things like “I’m going to kill you”. It can all feel very violent and leads us to wonder what is going on inside our kids’ head. I assure you that much of it is very normal and I think the key is finding ways to let the kids have the power and to share our concerns with them while enlisting them to come up with solutions so they can still play but in a way that feels right and safe to you.

I won’t say Happy Shooting, just Happy Playing!!!!!!

Mrs. Nowicki


Limit Setting Statements to Positive Interactions

I think its fair to say that at Serra Preschool one of our goals is to build a positive school community. We want our interactions with each other and the children to be playful, fun, rewarding and engaging. Most of the time it is, but then there are times when we have to set limits with the children. There may be one or two children who seem to require more limit setting than the rest. You know that kid whose name you hear over and over. It almost seems that he or she does things on purpose just to get attention.

What we can do to keep a limit-setting statement from becoming dominant is to follow up with at least 5 positive encouraging interactions. This can result in a reversal of any negative behavior patterns

For example, Sam is jumping up and down on the doll bed.

  • The adult might say. “Jumping up and down on the doll bed is not safe”. “I am worried it might break so I can’t let you jump on that.” That is the limit setting statement.
  • “Lets find something safe for you to jump on.” (1st positive interaction)
  • The adult then sits down and watches Sam jump up and down on a mat. (2nd positive interaction)
  • The adult comments on how high Sam is jumping and tries once herself. (3rd positive interaction)
  • Sam leaves the mat and goes to a table. The adult follows him and comments on his choice of choosing a puzzle. (4th positive interaction)
  • The adult then sits down and does a puzzle with Sam. (5th positive interaction)

This child has now experienced the replacement of negative attention getting behaviors with the fun of being a leader and engaging in positive interactions with an adult.

What we have to do when we set limits with a child is stick with him or her and turn the negative interaction into something positive, fun, and playful. This is really all about building connections and keeping them strong. Building connections is something you are already doing by being a part of this school.

I think it is something that can be done not only at school but at home as well. I am looking forward to discussing this with all of you at our end-of-the-day meetings and hearing your thoughts and ideas. Especially if you have tried taking limit setting one step further by adding on some positive interactions.

Happy interacting!
Love, Mrs. Nowicki


By Shael Polakow-Suransky & Nancy Nager October 21, 2014

WITH the introduction of universal pre-K in New York City, we have created a new entry point into our public school system. This raises a key question: What do we want our children’s first experiences in school to be? What does a good education look like for 4-year-olds?

This summer, Bank Street College of Education led training for 4,000 of New York’s pre-K teachers, including both veterans and hundreds of people who started teaching pre-K for the first time last month. Worried teachers talked about how the pressure to achieve good outcomes on the third-grade state exams has been trickling down to early childhood classrooms in the form of work sheets, skill drills and other developmentally inappropriate methods.

The problem is real, and it is not unique to New York City. Earlier this year, Daphna Bassok and Anna Rorem, educational policy researchers at the University of Virginia, found strong evidence that current kindergarten classrooms rely too heavily on teacher-directed instruction. Their study, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” revealed that the focus on narrow academic skills crowded out time for play, exploration and social interaction. In a 2009 report for the Alliance for Childhood, “Crisis in the Kindergarten,” Edward Miller and Joan Almon reported that kindergarten teachers felt that prescriptive curricular demands and pressure from principals led them to prioritize academic skill building over play.

This is a false choice. We do not need to pick between play and academic rigor.

While grown-ups recognize that pretending helps children find their way into the world, many adults think of play as separate from formal learning. The reality is quite different. As they play, children develop vital cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. They make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways. Play is also fun and interesting, which makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time. It is so deeply formative for children that it must be at the core of our early childhood curriculum.

What does purposeful play look like? When you step into an exemplary pre-K classroom, you see a room organized by a caring, responsive teacher who understands child development. Activity centers are stocked with materials that invite exploration, fire the imagination, require initiative and prompt collaboration. The room hums.

In the block area, two girls build a bridge, talking to each other about how to make sure it doesn’t collapse and taking care not to bump into the buildings of children next to them. In an area with materials for make-believe, children enact an elaborate family scenario after resolving who will be the mommy, who will be the grandpa and who will be the puppy. Another group peers through a magnifying glass to examine a collection of pinecones and acorns. On the rug, children lie on their stomachs turning the pages of books they have selected, while at the easel a boy dips his brush into red paint and swoops the paint mostly onto his paper.

The teacher observes and comments. She shifts from group to group, talking with children about their work (“I see that you made a big red circle.”); helping children resolve a conflict (“You both want to be the mommy. What should we do?”); posing an open-ended question to stimulate exploration and problem-solving (“What do you notice when you use the magnifying glass that is different from when you use your eyes?”); and guiding children to manage themselves (“When you finish your snack, what activity would you like to choose?”).

Barbara Biber, one of Bank Street’s early theorists, argued that play develops precisely the skills — and, just as important, the disposition — children need to be successful throughout their lives. The child “projects his own pattern of the world into the play,” she wrote, “and in so doing brings the real world closer to himself. He is building the feeling that the world is his to understand, to interpret, to puzzle about, to make over. For the future we need citizens in whom these attitudes are deeply ingrained.”

Earlier in the 20th century, the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky made the related argument that children’s thinking develops through activity-based learning and social interactions with adults and peers. When teachers base their curriculums on Dr. Vygotsky’s ideas, there are significant benefits for children’s capacity to think, to plan and to sustain their attention on difficult tasks.

Play has long-lasting benefits. What is referred to as self-regulation in preschool becomes resiliency in high school. The University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth has found that this trait, which she famously calls grit, can make or break students, especially lowincome students. Over the past three years, the New York City Department of Education developed a framework to support the core behavioral elements that drive college and career readiness. Many of them — persistence, planning, the ability to communicate and the capacity to collaborate — have their roots in early childhood.

Next fall, there will be more students in pre-K in New York City than there are in the entire school system of Atlanta or Seattle. To his credit, Mayor Bill de Blasio has not only pushed for expanding access but has also insisted on improving quality and put real money into training and materials. This is a strong start. But we still need to help parents, administrators and policy makers see what the children themselves know intuitively: Classrooms that pulse with meaningful play are our smartest investment.

Play with Me Mommy!

When my kids were small they wanted to play with me all the time. Now that they are all grown up I often think back to the days when they were young. I often ask myself these questions, “Did I give them enough of my time? Did they have the carefree, magical childhood that I wanted them to have?” I never wonder if they had enough after school activities or homework or soccer and piano lessons. Yes those things are important but playing with them and being with them is so much more important.

We know that children thrive when they are given our full attention. But giving full attention isn’t always easy. Parents often get so preoccupied with their tasks that they give only a partial encounter, if any at all.

When my kids were preschool age I tried a technique called “special time”. Each day I set aside 15 or 20 minutes for each child. During that time I gave my child my full, undivided attention. Nothing short of a fire or earthquake took me away from our play and we played whatever my kids wanted to play. I set a timer and let the kids know that we could play whatever they wanted until the timer went off. You can play anything for 15 minutes. Sometimes we would play longer until I was taken away by a task or phone call. I played with one kid while the baby was napping and when the baby got older we had our special time while the older one was doing homework.

Giving your child time each day allows for a “genuine encounter” which directly impacts your child’s self esteem and serves to strengthen the parent/child relationship that most hope will last a lifetime. Regular play times can unite you and your children, free you from stress, and enable you to truly love and appreciate each other.

Think about how you will feel when your kids are grown and gone. When you are wondering about the kind of time you did or did not spend with them. Everyone always told me that kids grow up so fast and its true they do. It happens in the blink of an eye.

So I encourage you to try and connect with your kids in a more meaningful way. You do not have to call it special time or even set a timer. Everyone will find his or her own way of playing and connecting. It’s a habit worthy of developing.

Happy Playing,
Fondly Mrs. Nowicki



School is Almost Here!


May 2014 | Your focus should not be preparing the child for
the next year, but how a child feels about their learning now!

That’s a tall order for today’s teacher. With all the pressure and worry about preparing kids for the future, the next grade level or even next week’s test, can make it very difficult to focus on what is happening right now. While it is important to be prepared for what comes next we must remember that it is equally, maybe even more important, especially in the early years to focus and pay attention on how a child feels about their learning, right now, today, this very moment in time. If what a child is learning is not real or relevant and not connected to an emotion then he or she is simply going to prune that information away.

I think about that all the time while developing the curriculum for the kids. At the beginning of the year, way back in September, I thanked you in advance for deciding to be a part of a co op preschool. I said that by participating you would become a meaningful person in the lives of the children, that your time would be a valuable gift. I meant that and I still feel that way. I hope you have come to realize how much your time and energy meant to the kids you have worked and played with all year.

Having a ratio of 5 children to 1 adult makes it possible for me as a teacher to:

  • Observe what children like doing
  • Provide materials that support what they like doing
  • Develop curriculum that is based on what children are interested in
  • Provide lots of hands on experiences
  • Expand on what children already know
  • Repeat experiences that children enjoy
  • Provide choices that are meaningful to them
  • Support their learning styles
  • Provide activities that focus on the process not the product
  • Provide opportunities that support success
  • Have fun!!!!!!

The kids at Serra have many opportunities each day to choose from a variety of activities that are meaningful or relevant to them. They have those choices because of your involvement. I want to sincerely thank you for all the hard work you did this year.

Thanks for:

  • Helping children solve problems
  • Monitoring incredibly messy projects
  • Reading stories
  • Setting up the yard in interesting ways
  • Raking sand
  • Offering suggestions or putting your own spin on a project
  • Doing your school job
  • Attending meetings
  • Cleaning and cleaning and more cleaning
  • Wiping running noses and putting on band aids
  • Making a child who is sad feel better
  • Learning how not to say “good job”
  • Participating in all the fundraisers
  • Listening to me sing way off pitch all year ( thats a big one)

And for all the other things I am failing to mention here. Thank you so much for your gift of time.

To those of you who are moving on to the big world of elementary school I will miss you. Don’t be a stranger, stop by and say hello. To those of you who are returning next year I am happy you will be back. Happy Summer everyone. Enjoy this time with your kids and family.

Mrs. Nowicki


March 2014 | Why Does My Child Tell Tall Tales?

The other day a parent came to me feeling a bit bewildered over the stories her child was telling
her. She knew they were not true and was wondering if she should talk to her child about lying.
If only I had a dollar for every time a parent asked me that question. I remember one time when I was
telling a story to the children and asked the kids this question. Who has a pet? Almost all the kids
raised their hands yelling “I do, I do, I do”. I knew that most of the kids who said they had a pet did not
have a pet. Many of the children described the kinds of pets they had, what the pets ate, the pets
names etc…Were they lying? I do not think so. They all wanted to be a part of the discussion and
creating “pretend” pets made that happen.

The act of lying doesn’t usually exist for young children. Lying requires that children be able to
distinguish between right and wrong and real and pretend. Cognitively that doesn’t happen until
around nine to 12 years of age.

Many young children invent stories that prevent them from receiving certain consequences. Adults
who ask a child, “Did you hit him?”, frequently would get a response of, “No”, even if the child did.
Avoid asking a child a question that you already know the answer to. They will create a story that best
fits their needs.

Here are some words that support the differences between “Real” and “Pretend”

• Use the words real and pretend when describing their play.
(example, “It’s fun to pretend to cook soup.”)
• Provide lots of opportunity for pretend play.
• Provide real tools for children to use.
(hammers, screw drivers, plungers, dishes pots and pans)
• Make statements about real vs pretend behaviors.
(“I drive my car home.”, “I am pretending to drive a car in this chair.”)
• Ask children questions that imply real and pretend responses.
(“Was that a real story or a pretend story?”)

Mrs. Nowicki


February 2014 | Kindergarten Readiness

I have a few thoughts on the kindergarten readiness and the movement to universal TK. Though much of the fervor to give our kids a solid start in school comes from the feeling that they must compete in a global world and perform well with high testing children of other countries, our practice of starting children early is completely the opposite of what they do in Finland whose children are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15 year old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world’s C students even as US educators piled on more homework, standards and rules, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. In Finland children are not taught to read until around the age of 7 years old, and through grades one through nine, after every 45 minute session or lesson they are let loose outside for 15 minutes or so, so they can burn off some steam. I know some of my most creative thoughts or ideas come to me when I am outside walking my dog, when my body is moving. One of the most important things you can do to foster early literacy is provide an atmosphere that’s fun, verbal and stimulating, not school like. Keep your child moving. Brain development and academic achievement in children is directly related to how much exercise and natural, undirected play they get, which means turn off the TV and computers and get them outside.

It also means leave them alone to devise their own play without your help or intervention. One very serious problem with kids these days is they are really losing their ability to create, they rely heavily on ready-made play situations. I see this more so in children from programs where the group has to be more structured for the sake of crowd control. These kids might be more compliant with the adults and know how to follow directions at age 3 or 4, but they are far less creative in their play and often at a loss when it comes to making independent choices. In 2000 the British House of Commons Select Committee issued a report stating that there was no conclusive evidence that children gained from being taught the three Rs before the age of six. Creative play and small class size were deemed essential in early childhood education. Their report went on to state: The current focus on targets for older children in reading and writing inevitably tend to limit the vision and confidence of early childhood educators. Such downward pressure risks undermining children’s motivation and their disposition to learn, thus lowering rather than raising levels of achievement in the long term. Inappropriate formalized assessment at an early age currently results in too many children being labeled as failures, when in fact the failure lies in the system. I have a saying ” just because they can does not mean they should.”

Mrs. Nowicki