“Social skills will serve young children throughout life more effectively than having learned to add, read and spell before the age of 5-years old. It is an essential part of all education”- USA
If the All4MyChild team could get on their soapbox and shout to the world what they believe young kids need in school today, you wouldn’t hear them shouting about ABCs and 123s. “Collaboration is our biggest mission,” says Meghan Graham. “We believe in therapists, educators, parents and kids working together to improve education. And play. Collaborating through play and movement.”
For more than 10 years, Graham and her partners Jill Perry and Karen Samstad have been co-leading Social Adventures Groups at Children’s Therapy Associates in Boston, Massachusetts. “Many children struggle socially because they are not able to intuit the nuances that are so obvious to so many,” says Graham. “Over the years of working with children, we have tried to better understand the best ways to teach these subtleties in a manner which is most meaningful to the children.”
“Parents and teachers began to ask us if our Social Adventures Group curriculum was published anywhere,” says Graham. “So, in October, 2011, we published the Social Adventures app. Through this app we have been able to share a Sample 8-week Program for running social cognition groups to hundreds of parents, teachers and clinicians.” The three also share their therapeutic ideas and musings through their blog at all4mychild.com. Do they have any practical ideas for enhancing social skills in the classroom? “Anything that allows kids to experience a skill as a game,” says Samstad. “The brain that is enthusiastic and excited is a much more efficient learning brain. The more we can keep them excited about what they’re learning, the more they will retain.”
Here, the All4MyChild team gives us their perspective on why creative learning is an essential part of all education, and their vision for technology and gamification.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
Through sharing our philosophy and approach with others, we have hopefully raised awareness regarding the challenges kids face, while at the same time offering simple and accessible strategies for supporting them.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
A wider group of parents, educators, and therapists from various parts of the world have been able to access a framework for helping the children in their lives gain social interaction skills. We can’t place a value on the changes we have heard about such as: a child has made a friend; another has stopped being viewed as a “behavior problem”; a group of children carried on a meaningful conversation about someone else’s interest; or a child has shown the ability to take the perspective of another child.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
We have included a sample eight-week program for starting or adapting social interaction groups for children. Our web site and app provide numerous activities for involving kids in meaningful activities to address seven key areas of social interaction. Talking and collaborating with parents and professionals with various backgrounds and areas of expertise is invaluable.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
The clearest way we have applied technology is through development of our Social Adventures app as an eResource for parents, educators and other professionals. Our second app, The Bag Game, was developed based on a game we play with children in our group to help them develop question-asking skills and Theory of Mind. We specifically designed this simple game as an activity for two or more players. So many of the children we see who have social interaction deficits choose to play with technological devices alone. Our game requires social interaction but is still appealing because it is a piece of technology. We have utilized Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, newsletters and e-mail to get the word out about our app and web site. We have met so many fascinating people along the way who have added their wisdom to our process – we would never have known they existed outside of technology.
What is the state of education in your country?
We are fortunate to live in an area with many resources. Many students in the MetroWest Boston area of the United States go to school in some of the wealthiest school districts
in the country. But MetroWest Boston communities also have some of the highest expectations of their students. While these expectations and resources match up well for the most capable students, there are any number of students who are left behind, or struggle in any number of areas (academic, emotional, social).
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are
receiving a quality education?
Stating the biggest obstacle is difficult because there seem to be many. Because we work with young children primarily, one of our biggest obstacles is that kids are pushed along academically in the preschool and kindergarten years before foundational developmental skills have been mastered. Developing motor skills, play skills, and social skills seems to have taken a back seat to reading, writing, and math with 4, 5, and 6-year-olds. Since we look at kids from a developmental perspective, it can be painful to watch them struggle with academic skills when their basic neuromuscular system has not developed to the point of being able to handle it. Sometimes kids are treated as having a “learning problem” when it is actually the school and curriculum that is expecting more out of the kids at a
young age than their nervous system maturation has allowed.
What is your country doing right to support education?
There is more acknowledgement and willingness to address social pragmatics and play in school. Teachers and school therapists are addressing social pragmatics more as they recognize that kids can’t learn effectively when there is stress and anxiety in social situations. And of course, all of school is social!
Your Vision for the Future of Education
It would be our vision for preschools and early learning programs to provide more opportunities for creative learning. Rather than continuing to increase the focus upon learning ABC’s and 123’s at younger and younger ages, we would like to see children immersed in cooperative, social creative play. Young children learn best through doing. The social skills that can be nurtured through this kind of open-ended play are endless. And it is these skills (cooperating/collaborating with others, being flexible, trying new ideas, being imaginative, etc.) that will serve them throughout life more effectively than having learned to add, read and spell before the age of 5-years-old.
We also have a vision for more collaborative uses of technology. We are well aware that technology is here to stay and we welcome it with open arms. We are concerned, however, that for young children, most of the technology available seems to encourage them to play alone rather than with others. We see a future where the amazing opportunities afforded by technology are harnessed to bring children together in new and exciting ways.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
To offer more opportunities for children to collaborate with each other both in play and in learning, using both “old-fashioned” hands-on materials as well as the incredible tools available through technology.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Remember first and foremost that children (and all humans) are social beings, and that social development, just like all other areas of development, needs to be nurtured and challenged to reach its full potential.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
We have noticed a trend toward more cooperative/collaborative project-based learning, but often without the necessary support to make those opportunities flourish.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I would love to say a pencil would be the most helpful tool but I think at this point it would honestly be access to the Internet. When kids can access technology, a whole world can open up to them. Kids in oppressed countries can learn about independence and human rights; kids who lack proper schooling can even educate themselves via the Internet. There are more and more courses offered online. Kids can meet and learn from people all over the world. The possibilities are obviously endless!
Meghan Graham, Jill Perry, Karen Samstad Head
Speech, Language and Occupational Therapists, Boston, Massachusetts – USA
Meghan G. Graham: M.S. CCC-SLP -Speech Language Pathologist
Karen S. Head: M.S. CCC-SLP -Speech Language Pathologist
Jill Perry: MHS, M.S., OTR/L -Occupational Therapist
Meghan: Rochester, New York
Karen: Phoenix, Arizona
Jill: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Current residence: Boston, Massachusetts
Meghan: B.S. from Ithaca College, M.S from Boston University
Karen: B.S in Chemistry from Oklahoma State University and MS in SLP from Emerson College in Boston
Jill: B.S. in Special Education from Wittenberg University in Ohio, M.S. in OT from Boston
University, Masters in Health Administration from Suffolk University in Boston
Website I check every day:
Meghan: Huffington Post
Person who inspires me most:
Meghan: my parents. They always deal with difficulties in life with grace. They have taught me to be kind, to work hard, and appreciate what you have.
Jill: So many people in so many different areas. With regard to education, my paternal grandparents inspire me the most. My grandfather was a minister and missionary and
knew at least five languages fluently. While in his 90s he was still able to write letters to me about life and struggles while including poems that he memorized years ago. He never lectured or told me more than I asked but responded to my big philosophical questions with understanding and appreciation of my developmental level at the time. I should add that he lived in California and I lived on the East Coast. Most of our relationship
transpired through letters.
Karen: I had a few teachers early in life who remain with me in spirit everyday. My 7th
grade math teacher inspired me to assume that I could do anything that I put my mind to and my 10th grade Chemistry teacher taught me that the most important skill we can develop is to think critically.
Favorite childhood memory:
Jill: Playing outside until dark with all the neighborhood kids, doing things like climbing trees, playing hide-n-seek, and creating our own neighborhood newspaper.
Karen: Creating imaginary worlds in our yard as a child. The possibilities were endless and we had everything we needed right there. Everything around us had the potential
to be whatever we needed it to be.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure):
Meghan: pleasure: upstate New York – the Finger Lakes.
Jill: ME TOO! Vacation on the Finger Lakes this summer.
Karen: a national park with lots of outdoor activities
When was the last time you laughed? Why?
Meghan: daily- working with children makes that pretty easy to do.
Karen: last night my family was all staying in one hotel room and one of my kids started to giggle about something and pretty soon, we were all in stitches and we really didn’t know
what was so funny.
Jill: Daily also – children are the best laughter inducers!
Meghan: The Paper Bag Princess (kid), The Help (adult)
Jill: Favorite fiction: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving; Favorite non-fiction: Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
Karen: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Meghan: country (Zach Brown Band, Sugarland) and Adele
Jill: my son is studying jazz guitar in college and has become my new favorite.
Karen: alternative (Keane, Fray, Coldplay)
Your favorite quote or motto:
Meghan: “Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
Jill: “It is only when we believe that we are creating the soul that life has any meaning, but when we can believe it – and I do and always have – then there is nothing we do that is
without meaning and nothing that we suffer that does not hold the seed of creation in it.” May Sarton