To Be Or Not To Be….Labeled Smart

The start of the school year is an exciting time for all families. Whether you have a child entering kindergarten, the grades or even preschool, we want our children to enjoy school and feel success.  Often we offer our children words of encouragement when they are entering into these new school experiences. We want them to feel competent and confident, and so we shower them with phrases that we hope will build them up:  You are so smart! You are great! Great job! or You are better at this than your friend / brother / me!

Often we use phrases and praise that we heard as a child, or that we think would be most helpful for us to hear. However, the most current research on the subject is telling us that our efforts at building self esteem and a positive attitude may be backfiring for our kids.

For instance, imagine that you are dressed up for a formal event, and an acquaintance sees you in the street. If he exclaims “You always look so dressed up and beautiful!” you might enjoy the compliment.  But we all have that inner voice that also says immediately—“He doesn’t know that I usually wear sweat pants and a t-shirt in the evening, now if he sees me just on a regular day he will be surprised.”

Imagine your acquaintance instead said something like “You look like you have put a lot of thought into what you wore today. Your outfit is beautiful.”  You might think your friend has a strange way of complimenting people, but you would also feel good about the compliment, and your inner voice would agree with his statement–you did put a lot of thought into what you wore, and it did result in a pretty nice outfit.

Our children are looking to see their reflection in our eyes. They want to hear what we think, and they feel best when we recognize them for the effort they are making, and actually see what they are doing. They feel unsure of themselves if our reaction to their work / project / grade is more of a label about who they are than an examination of what they have done.

If we tell our children they are smart, their inner voice is going to work a lot like ours does. Something inside them might start to say “I did a great job on writing my name today, but now I can’t show my work on writing numbers because the mistakes I made there don’t show me looking smart.” Your child will come to see that you are most impressed when he is showing you he is smart.

If we say “good job” after each activity / project / grade / worksheet then our child will start to think that maybe you aren’t even looking at what he is showing you. If good job is all that is said, how can he be sure that you have even taken the time to look at it? In addition, if he is used to hearing good job–even in an absent-minded manner–then what happens on those days when you don’t say good job because you are more distracted? Does this mean you don’t like it or it isn’t good?

So now that current research is turning our praising behavior on it’s ear—what can we use to show our children how much we absolutely love their projects / admire their work / enjoy their fantastic activities? When we as parents take the time to really look with our child at what he has done, he has a sense that the work is satisfying to both parent and child—and ultimately we want our children to feel like the work they are doing is satisfying to them. If this happens, they are much more likely to work hard at something when it gets hard—and lots of school experiences are hard!

Notice what your child has done and describe it. Then offer a word to them that can describe their hard work—or a word that describes how it was helpful to you. For example:

  • I see that you drew a tree. That is a colorful piece of work.
  • Thank you for putting your lunch box away. That helps keep our kitchen organized.
  • I see you worked hard on your math worksheet. That is called persistence.
  • You look proud of the sculpture you made in school. Tell me about it.
  • Simply describe what you see and follow up with: that is the result of hard work / determination / concentration / real effort / really enjoying what you are doing.

These statements and those like it will result in your child feeling good about himself because of the effort he has made on his project. They don’t label your child holistically based on one piece of work. They show support without judgement. This leaves an opening for your child to come to you when things do get difficult and he has to say “I know I worked hard on this, and I am really trying, but I don’t get it yet—can you help me?”

Be A Partner To Our Program–PAC

Early childhood programming in the Hopkins school district is a partnership between parents, children and teachers. We come together and explore all the different ways we can help your child grow and learn. Once a week classes for ECFE, 1-2 day classes of Kaleidoscope preschool or the full day experience of Stepping Stones all provide ample opportunity for parent involvement and you are welcome to discuss ways you can volunteer in these programs. We want to work with you to create the best experience we can for your child in our classroom.

This is the approach we take in our leadership partnerships with the Parent Advisory Council (PAC) as well. Every school in our district–including Harley Hopkins Family Center–has an organization that keeps parents intimately connected with the particulars and processes of the running of the school.  In elementary schools this is the PTO; in early childhood it is PAC. Parents have always played an important role in helping to shape events, collaborate for improvements to our programs and keep our staff and programs in tune with the community’s needs and expectations through PAC.

We are preparing for a new year, and would love to have you join us to learn more about PAC.  Remember, the staff realizes that you are very busy with your family during these early childhood years. This is why we appreciate every individual who is able to volunteer at whatever level you feel comfortable. Some people are able to do one or two hours and participate in a few events. Some people are ready to take on a bit more of the planning. We would like to see everyone–we will fit your participation to what feels reasonable to you.  Just like when we are working on cleaning up a classroom: Many hands make light work.

There are lots of benefits to being involved in PAC.  Here are just a few:

  • Once a month planning meetings means a night out with grown-ups–and childcare is provided
  • One free special topics class each semester
  • Yummy snacks provided at each meeting–enjoy them with the new friends you meet who are also motivated to volunteer and share their time
  • Deepen your knowledge around early childhood issues and how your community is reinforcing their importance

Our program benefits so much from parent participation. Here are just some of the ways:

  • Your energy, ideas and involvement are the driving force behind our fun events
  • You are instrumental in helping us raise funds for our programs
  • Your informed and engaged voice rings out in our community and is a call for even more parents to become involved in ECFE

You have a place here at Harley. You are appreciated and valued. If you would like to learn more about how your presence can make a difference for your child and the many others who enjoy our programming call Christine Fehst, program coordinator, at 952-988-5000 to let us know you would like to be a partner in PAC.

Positive Discipline Workshops

For parents of 3-8 year olds – Tuesday, Oct 9, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Positive discipline is about teaching and guiding children rather than punishing them. Learn how structure, routine and appropriate consequences help your child to behave better.

For parents of children birth-3 years – Tuesday, Oct 23, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Explore ways to set limits which respect your child’s emerging independence. Discuss ways to provide necessary structure for safety and growth.

Location: Harley Hopkins Family Center, 125 Monroe Ave. S., Hopkins

Cost: $10/adult, $15/household. Child care for children birth through kindergarten available, $5 per child in Harley Room 35.

Register at or by calling 952-988-5000.

Young People’s Concert – free event.

October 30, 6 – 7:15 p.m.

Hopkins High School, 2400 Lindbergh Dr., Mtka., 55305

Kid-friendly music performed by Hopkins High School students. Wear your pajamas and bring your favorite stuffed toy! Face painting, “petting zoo” (try an instrument), balloon animals, and a bedtime snack.

Bring the family and enjoy a free concert together!

For more information, please call 952-988-5000.

Fall Family Fun!

Thursday, Sept. 27, 6:15 – 7:30 p.m.

Celebrate all things fall! Apple tasting – Painting – Nature collages – and much more!

For families with children ages 2-5 years.

Harley Hopkins Family Center, 125 Monroe Ave. S., Hopkins.

Cost: $5/family. Limited free sibling care for 6-24 months.

Register at or call 952-988-5000.

Early Childhood Fest: featuring the Splatter Sisters

Saturday, Oct. 6, 10:30 a.m. – Noon

Hopkins Library, 22 – 11th Ave. N., Hopkins

Explore the library and receive a free book for kids! Get creative with a fabulous musical adventure show at 11:00 a.m.

Are You A Champion for Childhood?

The new school year at Harley Hopkins Family Center is always filled with so much excitement.  Teachers and staff are eager to get their classrooms prepped and ready for the whirlwinds of activity that the children and parents bring.  We are truly proud of the work we do.

This year we all had an extra spring in our step because the Hopkins School District had welcomed the Minnesota Teacher of the Year (a HUGE honor bestowed on one spectacular teacher after an intensive assessment process) to speak at the first meeting for the entire district.  The Teacher of the Year for 2012 is Katy Smith, a parent educator for the ECFE program from Winona, Minnesota.  She also happens to be a proud graduate of Hopkins.

The early childhood staff in the audience that day were thrilled to see our programs and the work we do with the youngest students in the district honored. We also had the opportunity to meet with her as a smaller group–just the teachers who work with families and young children. Katy Smith was a marvel to listen to, and she had many points to share about how important it is to be a “Champion for Childhood”.

We thought her ideas and inspiring messages were so important, the parents in our district should also have access to them.  I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing much of what was said, and I am not nearly as funny as she is, but here is a brief review of what ECFE Parent Educator Katy Smith–Minnesota Teacher of the Year–has to say about how to help foster and preserve childhood:

  • “Champion for Childhood” is a term coined by Katy Smith.  She wants to remind parents how important it is to allow children to stay in the joyful world of childhood for as long as they can.  There is a truly dreamy quality around young children–we don’t need to break into that and insist that they “grow up” as early as we do. The environment we surround our children with will shape their childhood.
  • Play is an important and necessary part of childhood.  We as parents can see an element of danger in every element of fun. However, children need to have the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something hard. Allow your child to take age appropriate risks.  If they accomplish a task that was hard they have a sense of success.  If they don’t accomplish it, they are building resiliency.
  • Play that is open-ended and unstructured builds so many positive social and cognitive skills that it is impossible to list them all. Avoid always having your child involved in structured play, or organized play, or play that involves a “script”. (For example, playing a video game or a game that only allows you to follow one path in order to be playing it “right”) Open-ended play involves providing your child with toys that don’t have a fixed purpose or show a certain character. Toys like wooden blocks, dress up clothes, balls and toy cars and even a pile of natural items collected from your front yard are all open-ended.  The child has to work to create an imagined and made-up game. This fosters creativity, problem solving, cooperation, inquiry skills,   imagination, spatial skills….like I said the list could go on and on.
  • Katy Smith likens using screens and media to teach skills and entertain vs. using books and conversation to the difference between using a microwave and a slow-cooker. We need our youngest children to have slow-cooker experiences to build a foundation of understanding of the world. As children age, they are welcome to use the microwave version of things–in fact it makes sense to do so–but in early childhood the best learning experiences happen in the arms of a caregiver, with loving attention paid to the child, conversation about what is being experienced and concrete items in the hands of the child so he can explore using all of his senses.
  • Katy Smith is a strong believer in helping children learn to regulate themselves physically, emotionally and socially.  Self-regulation–for example the skill of waiting for a reward, talking about emotions rather than physically erupting because of them, cooperating with a friend rather than always wanting his own way–should not truly be expected of children until they are somewhere between four and six years of age. However, even toddlers can be asked to experience turn taking, or waiting for a parent to finish a task before playing with the child, or using words to describe an emotion rather than hitting or biting. Parents will be helping  their children succeed in the preschool years and beyond if they have appropriate expectations for self-regulation beginning early in their child’s life.
  • Katy Smith, like every early childhood educator, is a strong advocate of reading to your child. This “slow cooker” experience fills a child with the feeling of being cared for, begins him on the road to a life long love of reading, and helps him to build his ability to hold attention for longer and longer periods of time. His vocabulary will expand, and his sense of story will delight you for years to come. Remember that a young child is most looking forward to that sense of closeness when you sit down with him and a book. If you don’t read the words correctly, if you decide to just turn pages and point at pictures, if you use the same five books over and over, it will still be just splendid for your child. He loves repetition, he loves the sound of your voice, and he loves getting to sit close to you–these are what is important. Feel empowered to read at whatever level you are comfortable with, and if you get a chance start to use funny voices for different characters–this really cracks kids up!  Looking for a great book to read? Katy Smith read one of her new favorite books to us (it was really fun!) and it was titled: I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen

It was such a wonderful experience to see a teacher from Minnesota’s ECFE program be awarded the teacher of the year award.  It was a great reminder of all the wonderful work that happens at Hopkins Family Center every day by each one of our own early childhood staff.