Episode 225 – The global pandemic has changed the way childcares can operate. In this episode, we chat with Chazz Lewis (aka Mr. Chazz) about how to bring authenticity to the early learning process by turning teaching into fun experiences, whether it’s virtually or at home. Whether you’re an educator or a parent, this is a fun one to get back to the basics and make learning fun again!
For them to learn to eventually be able to sit for prolonged periods of time and have the balance and focus for that, they need to be up and moving now and exploring now and getting their hands in dirt and sensory now.
Chazz, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you, thank you for inviting me. I’m excited to be here!
We’re delighted to have you! Everyone, we have with us today, Chazz Lewis, also known as Mr. Chazz. He’s an educational specialist who is very passionate about early-childhood education and also supporting others – other educators and other parents – to help grow the next generation of humans that are going to make the world a better place, something we’re all very passionate about.
Mr. Chazz, great to have you. Let’s start off learning a bit about you. What’s your background? Why have you become so passionate about what you’re doing?
That’s a big question but I’m going to try my very best to be concise, which can sometimes be a challenge for me. But let’s take a crack at it. So, I am an educational specialist. I really started off in the field about eight, nine years ago. And I really just had no idea what I wanted to do. Truthfully, honestly, I just needed a job at the time. But I also understood the gravity of what early-childhood educators were doing, and what I was doing, of growing the next generation of humans.
In the beginning was really hard for me because, like I said, I did not have training other than the three-day training they give you and then they throw you into the room. And I was in a Montessori classroom of three-to-five-year-olds and there were about 30 children in that class. So, there were a lot of challenges. Anyone who’s been in a room with even just 10 children can imagine what 20, 30 children look like in classroom.
And me being completely new, I honestly really had a very hard time at first. And honestly – I try to be transparent about it – I remember going on break and then literally not wanting to come back. The stress and my body was just keeping me in the car. But I put one foot in front of the other and got back in the classroom.
And over time I went to more trainings, I did a lot of reflecting every single day, reading books, listening to podcasts, just getting more and more information, putting theory to practice, adjusting, learning, learning, learning constantly. And I went from an assistant teacher to a lead teacher, to a supervisor, to an educational specialist, which is what I do now.
Pretty much what I do is, I teach teachers to teach. And so I do training for the teachers in my district. And I work for a chain of private schools. And so I support nine different schools, which is a challenge in itself because you imagine each school has about 20, 25 teachers and some schools are larger than others.
It does take a lot to continuously do the training and make sure everyone is up-to-date on the program and also just know the basics, the groundwork. Because as most people know, our field – early education – has a lot of turnover. So, I do find myself especially gravitating towards the newer teachers because I remember what it felt like: shrunken, really not knowing what to do. I felt like I didn’t know if I was helping the kids or hurting the kids by going in and trying to help them with conflict resolution.
And I remember being in a car on my break crying because it was so hard for me. And so I’m really passionate about helping people who are new to children. Whether you’re a new teacher, whether you’re a parent and is just in a new stage of development, I’m really passionate about helping teachers and parents with their kids [to] understand their children and guide their children. So, that’s kind of me and a little bit of a nutshell.
Awesome, I appreciate you sharing that and especially the honesty and the humility of the challenges you dealt with because I’m sure a lot of our listeners can relate to that. For me, 20 to 30 three-to-five-year-olds just sounds like a walk in the park! *laughter*
A lot of folks who are spending time in the classroom with children I’m sure have experienced some of that anxiety. And what I love about it, though, is because that’s really what we’re trying to do with the Podcast, is have that growth mindset that we can use theory and apply it to figure things out over time.
So, I guess let’s start with another broad question: Since that time, when you were stressed and really trying to figure things out and weren’t quite there yet, what are some of the big learnings that you’ve had since then and have been able to apply to be a better early-childhood educator?
Yeah, lots of lessons! One big lesson, too. And there’s a lot of ways to kind of think about what we do and who children are and really seeing them and guiding them one.
One big lesson through observation and really seeing children experience that: children – especially young children – everything they’re doing are things that they need to be doing, that they should be doing, that are important for the development, that is good for brain development. And children intuitively know already, without our help, the things that they need to do to grow and to learn and for the brain to grow.
But where they struggle is knowing how to do it. So, for example: that toddler, that two-year-old who’s climbing all over your table, climbing all over X, Y and Z, toddlers and two-year-olds need to climb. It’s important for them to climb. It is crucial for their development. But we don’t want to say, ”No, stop, don’t climb.” We want to create space and show them what it’s okay to climb on. And we want to focus on that.
The other thing is, what I kind of just snuck in there – the “No, stop, don’t” – that our initial reaction is to say, “Don’t run around. Stop climbing on the tables.” But when we say, “No, stop, don’t,” that we’re putting the focus on the thing that we don’t want them to do. And that means that they’re going to focus on it, too.
So, it doesn’t matter that you said, “No, don’t run.” They’re still thinking about running because you’re focusing on running. You’re focusing on the running, so they’re going to focus on the running.
Instead, there’s Level One, there’s Level Two. Level One is to say – which most teachers pretty much already know – “Use your walking feet. Walk, walk, walk.” Now, that can work sometimes but it’s not going to work all the time. And it’s not going to work especially for your spirited children. And the reason why it won’t work is because they still have that internal need to move around and to run, to exercise, physical activities.
There are internal needs that children – especially young children – have. And so instead of saying, “Walk,” maybe we can have a dance party; maybe there’s a certain space where they can run safely. And we want to tell them to do it. And if we tell them that, if we can redirect them with something that still meets their needs that is in a safer way, then that’s going to be way more effective.
And to those who are out there listening right now: I’ll tell you, when I figured that out, that was one of the game changers of this. So, if you’re not already doing that and you’re saying “Walking feet, walking feet,” and you’re wondering why they’re not walking, it’s because you haven’t met the need. They still have the need to run and to move around throughout the day, especially children [age] five and younger.
The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommends children throughout their day have physical activity. And when we’re doing things like virtual learning, we’re doing things like having young children sit at desks and then we’re confused as why they’re not sitting at the desk and we get frustrated.
And then we try to push them more into sitting and doing the things that are completely unnatural and we ask them to disobey their needs, then we both get frustrated and no one wins. We get upset, they get upset and no one’s learning. The thing that we’re likely trying to get them to do is all for naught because we are not paying attention to their needs, that we don’t see their needs or we don’t understand their needs.
So, those are just a few of the game changers that I learned kind of on my journey and I really think will help a lot of those out there who may not know that or really understand that yet.
Awesome. And let’s stay on that topic. So, you mentioned about spending time in front of the screen and maybe doing some home learning during the global pandemic. What are your thoughts on trying to apply some of the things you just talked about when we’re in a situation where you’re maybe not with the child five days a week in the classroom, which you normally would be? How are you working with parents to figure that out?
How are working with parents to do, like, distance learning with preschoolers?
And in particular in a situation where the parents don’t have the education and experience that you have of working with so many children and understanding the theories and being able to apply them.
So, if it’s just the parents and they’re not trying to go along or having to go along and abide by virtual learning and sitting at the screen, I’d say, go outside, give them materials, follow their lead, let them… like I said, children, we have this idea that children – and it’s sad because we have this idea that young children of [age] two, three, four, that their learning needs to look like middle school, elementary school, high school, but we just need to bring it down to their level.
So, we end up giving them things like worksheets and having them spend time in front of the screen and sit down. But children need to move, they need to get up. And that’s the way that children learn. And every child, every person, everyone has their own learning style.
Especially if you don’t have experience or knowledge of what you should be doing, it is just really about taking them outside – or even inside – giving them materials, allowing them to explore, allowing them to manipulate materials, allow them to climb, allow them to paint, allow them to make a mess, allow them to have experiences.
A lot of times – and this is a good way to think about it – instead of thinking about activities you need to do or get your child to do, think more about experiences you want them to have and experiences that you want to immerse them in.
We don’t need to have children sitting at a desk or at a table for long periods of time to teach them. Children are natural learners. And that takes the stress off of you, too, as a parent. It takes the stress off of everyone. And it’s actually more beneficial for them because it helps their body integrate. We think that this mind and body are separate, but they are together.
For them to learn to eventually be able to sit for prolonged periods of time, to have the balance and focus for that, they need to be up and moving now and exploring now and getting their hands in dirt in sensory now. So, that’s what I would say.
What role would a parent play in that? Because sort of on one extreme, you, as a parent, could really push them towards the outcome and not focus so much on the experience of the journey, which is what you’re saying. We want to avoid that; we want to let the children sort of lead things. But we also don’t want to just sort of like say, “Here’s the materials,” and walk away. I’m assuming there’s sort of something in between. So, how do we… any advice there for folks – including parents who aren’t early-childhood educators – on how they can best work with the children in that situation?
So, you use their interests. So, let’s say I’m thinking, “Alright, we want to prepare the child for kindergarten,” which is a whole other rant I can go on because we’re constantly preparing children, preparing children instead of meeting them where they’re at and what they really need to be doing right then and there.
But let’s say we want to get them ready for kindergarten. We would want to really first get onto truly seeing and hearing the child and their interests. So, let’s say you have a four-year-old and you want to work on identifying letters. You can do it in a very natural or in an organic way.
I was just coaching a parent the other day and I said, “He’s really into tools and exploring. And so, you know what would be a really good idea? Use one of those letters that you showed me, one of those plastic letters, put it in a bucket of water, freeze it overnight, get the hammer. And talk it up, tell him what he’s going to do. He’s going to find the secret letter, the secret letter C. And then take out the hammer, give it to him. Allow him to break the ice – what a great, amazing experience for a four-year-old – and pull out the letter C.”
And he loved it. And and I expect that if I asked him today – and this was maybe a few days ago when he did it – I expect if I asked him today what that letter is, he’s got to remember what that letter is because it was such a great experience for him, of just doing something different and exploring the cold, using the tool that he usually sees Daddy use and then hammering it to find the letter C.
Another thing that I used to do my classroom and also recommend parents to do and just find an organic way to do it is just cut out some cardboard letters. Cardboard is free – everyone gets [mail order] packages. And if you don’t get [mail order] packages, I promise you, you know someone who gets [mail order] packages. Be smarter than I was when I first did this and instead of using scissors, use a box cutter.
And cut out some letters. And then just hold the letter. “That letter B is going to be your bu-bu-buddy for the rest of the day. You’re going on a walk and you’re looking at the bu-bu-bee’s, you’re looking at the bu-bu-birds.” And you can even really be silly with it because three- and four-year-olds are all into potty humor. And you could say, “Oh, it’s B for bu-bu-bottom and bu-bu-butt!” And they’ll laugh and it’s silly and they’ll make jokes.
And you can hand them the letter B, you can hide the letter B, they can take the letter B, you can throw the letter B, “Oh, catch the letter B!” And they catch it and they’re looking at that letter B. It’s a wonderful experience. It’s very organic; it’s not stressful. They’re loving the process of it.
And they’re learning. The goal should be to create these lifelong learners who enjoy learning. And it’s really sad to see – because I see it all the time – and even children that I taught who really loved school when they were in my class or even in other people’s classrooms when they were three and four.
And kindergarten hits and it’s like, “Okay, maybe they like it, maybe they don’t.” But by first grade the kids are coming off the bus and they’re like, “I don’t like school.” And they really look at school… and that continues throughout most people’s lives. And I can really empathize with that, too, because I didn’t have the greatest learning experience all the time with a lot of teachers, I would say, because I learned differently. I’m a kinesthetic learner. I ask a lot of questions. I like to move around.
Instead of us expecting children to adapt the way they learn to the way that we teach, we should adapt the way that we teach to the way that children learn. And that’s one of the few great things about the pandemic, that it does provide a little bit of opportunity for individuality. But I know not everyone is… some people are working and not everyone’s situation is the same. But that’s kind of what it looks like. Make it organic; make it fun; make it an experience.
Yeah, that’s great. I’m going to try that this weekend, actually, that tip about using some paper boxes to cut out a letter and make everything about that letter, all day. And in fact, I’ve seen that work with my child before with the letter W because he’s very into animals. And so W was for wildebeest because he’s very into African animals. So, I like that story.
And the reason why his learning probably picked up quickly without even probably a lot of intervention on your part is because he’s interested in that already. And so just incorporating his interests into something that you already want him to learn is going to make life so much better for everyone. And not even just long term [but also] long term.
Exactly, because I’ve had the experience on the other side. I tried to do ABC in the more, like, “official” learning way. And it was exactly like you said: he just started running around and had no time for it at all.
And so this is if things are going well. But I think we’ve all experienced the opposite end of the spectrum – especially with three-year-olds – where we’re seeing tantrums or outbursts. Any techniques you would recommend for dealing with that situation and bringing things back to a more manageable state?
The first thing, too, is really identifying what the tantrum is about. More times than not, children are not giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time. They’re emotionally dis-regulated.
Sometimes there’s the tantrum where it’s, “I am throwing this tantrum because I am trying to get something out of it that I’ve been told that I can’t have – and for very good reason I can’t have. So, I’m going to try to will my way to get this thing that I want.” And that usually happens more when we do kind of give in. And that is often when we’re like, “Okay, you threw enough of a tantrum that I am just going to give it to you because I’m worn out.”
That’s not the way we want to approach it but we more and more importantly, most tantrums – and most of the time children are literally, and even with the No’s, they’re having a hard time with the No.
And you want to identify exactly why the tantrum is happening first in the very beginning. Is it because they are hungry? Is it because they are lonely? Is it because they’re tired? Is it because they haven’t had enough outside time and they’ve been running around and now we’re asking them to stop time and they’re having a hard time because we’re suppressing passing the things they need to do?
We have to identify why it’s happening first. And if it’s one of those times where they are emotionally overwhelmed, then we want to connect. They’re in their emotional brains. And they’re stuck in their emotional brains.
And with us, [what] adults try to do, we try to, when children are emotional, we try to talk to them with logic. But that – and especially young children, they haven’t developed. You’re still developing that part of their brain. And when they’re stuck in their emotional brain, using logic isn’t going to help. They can’t hear logic at that time.
Now, what will help them kind of move over to the logic part of their brain where they do start to hear logic is really validating them, really helping them feel heard and seen – truly heard and seen. And what that looks like – or I’ll give you the framework and then I’ll tell you what it sounds like.
You feel (blank) emotion, you feel emotion, whatever that emotion is – mad, sad, hungry, tired, X, Y, Z, whatever it is – you feel emotion because of the source of the emotion. You feel mad because you wanted the toy and someone else was playing with it. You feel overwhelmed or frustrated because you can’t sit still and watch, you can’t do virtual learning or it’s hard for you to do virtual learning.
And just making them feel really heard and really understood. And then once they feel understood, you even start to see their facial expressions start to change. And you have to be genuine with it, too.
And so I actually had to do it today because a child was having a hard time. And it was a five-year-old who was expected to do virtual learning. And I can tell just from the very little observing him, he is a kinesthetic learner. He is the kind of child that needs to move around a lot. And he can’t get that with the virtual learning.
So, one thing I did to mitigate it was, “Okay, you can keep doing it because I still want to keep up with the expectations, whether or not they’re reasonable. I kind of still have a job to do. So, I’m trying to, alright, let’s see if we can meet in the middle. You can stand up and jump up and down while you’re on your Zoom call.” And he did very well with that.
But at a certain period of time, it was hard. He physically needed to move. And I would ask him to go back. And then he kind of broke down. And he wasn’t trying to give me a hard time – he was literally having a hard time trying to complete the expectations of the virtual learning. And I said to him… empathetic facial expression [as step one], [step] two, sometimes a hand on the back can kind of help regulate emotions, too.
And I said, “You don’t want to go back to doing your distance learning. You don’t want to go back to the computer. You want to play.” He nodded his head started to actually put his head up and nodded. I said, “You want to keep on playing and you don’t want to have to go back. You want to play all day anyway.” And he said, “Yeah, I do.” I said, “Yeah, sometimes it is really hard.”
And then I started to see his facial expression change. He’s looking at me; he’s nodding. And this is a signal to me that he’s starting to move over to the logic part of his brain. And so then I start to employ logic: “Sometimes we do have to do hard things. And I don’t always like going to school or coming to work either,” validating a little bit there, too.
“But sometimes we do have to do hard things and then we get to do the fun things. Remember, we just went outside and we just played. And we played tag during our break. And we’re going to get to do that again, too. But let’s finish this hard thing and then we can do the fun thing again.”
And then he got himself up and he was like, “Okay.” Actually, when I say, “Cool”, they say, “Beans”. I said, “Cool,” he said, “Beans.” And then he got up, he took my hand and we walked over and did the virtual learning.
And yeah, that takes time. But one, it’s a lot more effective. Two, you build such a stronger relationship and bond with them. Three, it cuts out so much other behaviors that we see when children actually feel heard and feel seen.
Unfortunately, us as adults in this society, we really dismiss children way too much. And I really am not a fan of the way that we see and treat children in our society. And sometimes we are the cause of their behavior because we don’t treat them as empathetically – genuinely empathetically – as we would treat an adult or someone else who we’re close to. It makes a lot of sense to validate the emotions of a spouse.
But we have such a hard time validating the emotions of a child. And that doesn’t mean you always permit the behavior. That doesn’t mean the behavior is always okay. We’re just letting them know that, “I see. I hear you. You’re right, this is really hard for you.”
Even if it looks really small to us, because us in our brains, we’re using logic like, “Ugh, you play with this every day. The ball went over the fence and we’re going to go get it, it’s not a big deal.” Yeah, it’s not a big deal to us. But it’s as big of a deal to them as things that you care about are a big deal to you, as that appointment you have to make, as whether you’re hanging out with your friend, whether it’s getting dinner done on time. These things are important to them and we should treat them as such.
I know that was a long answer but I get really passionate about this. And there is even more I can say but I’m going to leave it right there.
Well, I really like it just because it’s very simple to understand and it makes so much sense. I’ve definitely tried to use logic when my three-year-old was in an emotional state. So, I can definitely speak from experience that that is not effective. But just the idea of if they’re in an emotional state, you need to first manage that part and then you can have the logical conversation. I really, really like that model, simple to understand.
Yeah, and I look at it as connecting our emotional brain to their emotional brain. And then is when we are able to move it as opposed to managing it. I know it’s a simple change of language, but “management” has a sense of control.
And we’re not trying to control their emotions – their emotions are okay. It’s just connecting with their emotional brain through empathetic facial expressions, especially if they’re younger, hand on the back, especially if they’re younger because using non-verbal ways will also validate the needs of emotions. You feel emotion, which validates their emotion.
Which goes in line with the language you are using – which I like, too – which is, hearing and seeing them and saying, “You feel whatever (blank) emotion because [of reasons] X, Y, Z,” is really great.[We are] quickly running out of time, Mr. Chazz, so, we’re going to have to call it to an end. Before we do, [you have offered] some amazing advice here that I know I’ve learned a lot from – hopefully our listeners have, too. If our listeners want to get in touch with you for more advice or coaching or to have a conversation, where can they go to get more information or to get in touch with you?
I coach parents and teachers. So, sometimes with teachers – I know your audience is more teachers and early educators – those early educators will go to my Patreon, which is sort of like a creator’s site: www.Patreon.com/MrChazz. And they will sign up for the service, which is right now crazy low [cost] but because I’m so passionate and I want it to be accessible to as many people as possible, and especially my early educators. I know we do not get paid a lot.
So, you go to that site, you can schedule Zoom calls with me, too. And we can talk about your classroom and what you’re struggling with. And I can talk to you about some things to look for and different things you can do to help lead the classroom. That is what I do for a living. I think I’m pretty good at what I do and I think there are quite a few people who would agree.
Now, I also have a TikTok [video-based social media account]. I have over 100k followers on TikTok because I make videos to help adults with children almost daily. And my TikTok [account name] is @TickTeachTok. I also have an Instagram [social media account]: @MrChazz. And I also have a Facebook [social media account]: MrChazz MrChazz. And those are the places that you can find me.
I also have a podcast myself. There’s two ways you can find it: I have an interactive podcast and I’m on [at] 7:00PM EST every Monday. And I bring on other early-childhood experts and other people and we talk shop. And because it’s interactive, people can jump on and ask questions or comment through video or through our chat on the side. So, that’s a really cool platform. That’s on GetVocal, the website for that is that www.GetVokl.com/Chazz.
You can also find me on Spotify, Apple, I think every other place you can find podcasts with Mr. Chazz’s Parenting and Leardership Podcast. So, those are the places you can find me.
You’re all over the place, Mr. Chazz! Or you could also go to Google and [web search for] Mr. Chazz and you will find him in all these places.
I actually haven’t [web searched for] myself! I should try that later.
You should! We really appreciate your openness, your advice that you’ve shared with our listeners. And your passion for what you do really comes through. And it’s been a real pleasure having you on this show.
And I can take away from our conversation today that there’s probably some great information and a great resource in Mr. Chazz, if you want to do one-on-one sessions with him. So, please reach out if you’re struggling at all. And Mr. Chazz, thanks again for joining us on the Preschool Podcast!
Yes, no problem. Everyone out there, whether you are – bless your heart – a parent, a teacher, a nanny, anything and you interact with children, it doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be miserable. It can be enjoyable; it can be fun. And I can help you find the fun. I can help you see your children; I can help you guide your children and then trust us as a result. And I know trust helps because I know what it feels like to feel like I’m ruining the kids because I don’t know what to do. So, I’m here for you guys. Let me know – let’s change the world.
Awesome. Thanks, Mr. Chazz!
Alright, you have a good day!