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January 24, 2011
Whether you are a teacher, a parent or a child care provider, your simple, every-day interactions with children are powerful. The way you say “good morning”, the way you show your support, the simple questions you ask or comments you make can build confidence, self-respect, inspire learning, provide motivation and build a stronger relationship between you and your children.
These “powerful interactions” don’t have to be complicated. Simple moments like these can do wonders for a child’s self-image and interpersonal relationships:
Say good morning with full eye-contact and your full attention. A hug is great too!
Sit quietly next to a child while the are absorbed in a task or project and watch with your full attention. You don’t even have to say anything. A simple smile of awareness or appreciation for their efforts lets them know you’ve noticed them and value their abilities.
Catch a child being good and thank them for their actions.
Ask permission before joining in a child’s activity.
Acknowledge children’s emotions- you don’t have to agree with their behavior, but let them know you understand or are aware of their feelings.
These simple actions can help you to make a difference in a child’s life every day. Do you have a favorite simple moment to share?
January 19, 2011
Whether you are a teacher or a parent, nothing is more frustrating than trying to manage a child who struggles with self-control. To be successful with friends, in school and in life, children need to learn how to control their bodies and manage their impulses. For some children this comes naturally, but for many others, it takes work. Here are some strategies for parents and teachers:
Make sure your home or classroom is safe– close off areas of the room that you don’t want children to access. Put away objects that you don’t want children to touch. If some things can’t be removed from your space, teach children how to handle things carefully and praise them when they do.
Be reassuring and supportive– no matter how independent or “tough” a child may seem, all young children need to feel confident in the love of the adults in their lives. Be aware of the subtle (or not so subtle) signals that your child sends you to let you know they need your support. Take the time to snuggle often and don’t make fun of them for needing a hug. Lots of love when they are young will help them develop a stronger sense of self and confidence.
Show confidence in your child’s abilities– “I can do it myself!” is a phrase young children say often. Take them at their word and set up the experience to be successful. This might mean having non-breakable cups and small pitchers on hand so that children can pour their own drinks, or setting aside more time to leave the house so that children can put on their coats and hats by themselves. If they make a mistake, help them to fix it without judgment. Offer a sponge to clean up spills. Don’t chastise the child for spilling. We all need to practice new things.
Offer choices that match a child’s ability– If your toddler doesn’t want to get ready for bed, offer a choice of 2 pajamas to put on. Invite your preschooler to pull a wagon or ride a tricycle when you go for a walk. Giving children the power to make choices shows them that you are confident in their abilities. Even discipline can be accomplished through choices. “Would you like to use a quieter voice and stay here with us, or would you like to leave? Your job is to set up appropriate choices and follow through. Start with just 2 for toddlers and more for older children.
Children are a lot like adults. When we feel we have no control over our situations we get frustrated. Children often act out just to have a voice. With these tips we can let them know we hear them, we love them, we trust them and we can give them the opportunity to be successful with some appropriate responsibilities.
January 11, 2011
We’ve all been told to speak to our babies to encourage their language development, but how much does an infant really understand? New evidence shows that they understand quite a bit!
A recent study out of the University of California, San Diego shows that baby brains process words just as adult brains do. This flies in the face of the idea that baby learning is more primitive and with time the brain processes information in a more sophisticated way. You can learn more about this study in this article in PsychCentral.
So, talk to your baby. Use real words. Read with your infant. Create an environment full of wonderful language and know that every word is soaking in.
As for future implications of a study like this, I worry it may be used to support the idea that even infants should be placed in a “school setting” similar to that of older children. I hope it will help people to see that even older children would benefit from the more holistic, integrated natural learning environments that help babies to thrive.
December 20, 2010
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This video is worth so much more! Through the voices of 4 children (an infant – 4 years old) we hear and see the effects of poverty and a lack of a positive environment in the early years. The video clip is targeted to New Mexico legislators, but the facts and statistics presented apply to every community across the country. We can invest in children and save money. It’s a win-win!
Filed under: Governement in Child Care, Importance of Play, Preschool | Tagged: Child Care, Early Childhood, early literacy, Family, Importance of Play, infants, kindergarten, Preschool, Research, toddlers | 1 Comment »
December 9, 2010
Today, kindergarten looks a lot like any other elementary school classroom. Dramatic play and block building have been replaced by desks and writing assignments. Supporters of this academic focus in kindergarten say that today’s kindergarteners are smarter then previous generations of 5 and 6 year olds. They are ready for these challenges and we need to prepare them to be competitive in first grade.
A recent study put out by the Gisselle Institute at Yale University challenges this idea. Researchers looked at the developmental and cognitive abilities of over 1,200 children ages 3-6 in 56 public and private schools across the country. They found that children have not gotten smarter. A child today follows the same path of learning and development as their parents and grandparents did. Developmental milestones continue to be reached at roughly the same time.
So why do today’s young children seem so smart? It may be a question of training vs. learning. A three year old can be trained to write her name, but it is unlikely that she understands the sounds that the letters make and how these sounds blend together to form words. Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gisselle Institute provides this example:
children must be able to see and understand the oblique line in a triangle to recognize some letters in the alphabet. Until children can draw a triangle they cannot perceive angled lines in, say, the letter “K,” nor can they write it, or recognize it when printed in different fonts.
Drawing a triangle is a developmental milestone usually attained by children around age 5 and a half. Just like you can’t make an infant walk before he is ready, you can’t make a child read, understand numbers or add before she is ready. The result is a frustrated teacher and a child with a lessened sense of self-worth.
What children need is time. Time to manipulate objects to further their understanding of numbers and shapes, time to engage in meaningful conversations that expand their awareness of language. And because every child develops at his or her own pace, they need time to explore concepts at their level of development. Schools need to be well-versed in healthy child development, support children at their unique level and communicate this information to parents.
This study is a wonderful resource for those looking for data to support a more play-based kindergarten curriculum. Learn more about it, and the insights of others in the field, in this article from the Harvard Education Letter.
November 30, 2010
Routines and rituals are important. They help to guide children through transitions (cleaning up, starting the day at school, getting ready for bath or bed, etc.). They connect us to our past, our cultures, our communities. Songs can be an important element of any routine or ritual, and by singing with our children, not only are our voices connecting, but our hearts are as well.
At a recent event for Gryphon House authors I had the opportunity to meet Jackie Silberg, a very kind person, wonderful musician and prolific author. She is a wealth of information about music and young children. In her blog she promotes music as a family experience and provides several example of how music can bring families closer together. She begins with infants, and goes on to give family music tips for all ages.
When you hold a baby and sing to him, all of his senses are stimulated. He hears your voice, he sees your face, he smells your body and feels your vibrations as you sing.
Through song we can be present with children, even if we are not right next to them. We can guide their actions through gentle words and music. Songs can teach children about seasonal changes or prepare them for big events. Traditional songs also help children connect to the past and to their greater community.
Teachers and families can learn from one another when it comes to music. Parents who struggle with transition time issues can use music to prepare children for a change of activity or place. Learn or make up clean up songs, bath or bedtime songs, travel songs, etc.
Teachers can move beyond typical transition or large group songs and explore sharing a song with an individual child or small group. Get silly with a child or two and make up songs together.
The holiday season is an especially wonderful time to make the effort to bring positive musical experiences into your home or classroom. With all that is going on families and teachers are stressed. Kids feel this and it effects them. Music is a great stress reliever. Just by sharing a song we can build and reinforce positive relationships with our children.
November 18, 2010
Zero to Three, an organization promoting the healthy development of infants and toddlers, has a wonderful section of its website called the “Baby Brain Map.” Here parents and caregivers can learn about the specific areas of the brain that are especially active or developing during different age spans.
To use this tool, chose an age-range to focus on from a drop-down menu. You’ll see an image of the brain and depending on the age you have chosen, different developmental areas (language, gross motor, etc.) will be marked on the brain image. Then, you can click on an area you are especially interested in, say, “Language”, and all kinds of tips and information about promoting language development in a child of this age will appear. Pretty cool!
November 9, 2010
One thing I see that really upsets me every time I visit an early childhood center is parents on cell phones when they pick up their children. This happens at every center I’ve ever been to. It doesn’t matter how old a child is, or how communicative. Every child deserves to have the full attention of their parent or other primary caregiver, especially after spending a long day apart.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children has a resource series called “Message in a Backpack”. These are great little fliers that help early childhood educators communicate important issues to families. Here is a link to a Message in a Backpack titled, “Listen, Talk, Answer- Support Your Child’s Learning”. This one page handout encourages parents to slow down and really talk with their children, and while it doesn’t specifically address my pet-peeve of cell phones at pick up (and drop off), it does give families some concrete strategies to begin a conversation.
November 5, 2010
Teaching social skills is a big part of the preschool experience. Usually this instruction is woven into our daily interactions with children. We model the behavior we want to see and most children pick up on it and begin to act as they see us acting. Unfortunately, for many children with special needs, this natural, hands-off approach to teaching social skills just doesn’t work.
Children with developmental delays, sensory integration issues, autism spectrum disorders and other challenges don’t pick up on social cues just by watching others. They need to be taught in a hands-on way and they need a lot of direct practice. Here are some ideas to try:
Be consistent with the phrases you use– when you teach a child a phrase to use in a particular social situation (“hello” as a greeting, “see you tomorrow” at the end of the day, “Can I have a turn?” to initiate sharing, etc.) make sure you always use that same phrase in that same situation. Teach other adults in your program and even the other children to use the same phrase as well.
Don’t be afraid of using direct instruction to teach social skills– consider using circle time to talk about the idea of sharing. Allow the child with special needs to practice sharing by giving him a toy and then asking for it back. Have the child go around the circle giving the toy to each friend and then getting it back.
Teach a new social skill using all of the children in your group– many children with special needs have a hard time generalizing a new skill. When you teach a child a new skill, encourage her to practice it with as many peers as possible.
Embed opportunities for direct social interactions into your daily routine– For example, when circle time is over, dismiss children in pairs. Call on one child to be dismissed and then ask that child to invite a friend to leave the circle with him. Do the same when going to the table for snack or going outside.
Teach kindness and patience to all children– be direct in explaining that we are all friends and we are all different. Everyone is good at something and no one is good at everything. We all need different kinds of help and we should always try to help each other.
Teach persistence– We can all get frustrated when we are working on something that is hard to do. Children with special needs are just more likely to be quick to show their frustration. Help them to learn persistence by breaking things down into smaller parts and by giving a lot of positive reinforcement.
Teaching social skills can be challenging, but when you invest the time to build a spirit of community in your classroom you will be well rewarded with fewer behavior issues and more time for fun!
November 4, 2010
At the NAEYC Annual Conference in Anaheim I had the pleasure of watching a showing of the documentary Autistic-Like by filmmaker and father, Erik Linthorst. The film chronicles the journey of a family as they come to the realization that their beautiful toddler is not developing as children typically do and follows them through the maze of doctors, testing, therapies and emotional highs and lows that follow.
As early childhood educators, we are often present in the lives of families when the process of diagnosis of autism begins. And while we may be aware that going through this is difficult for parents, it is eye-opening to see the parent perspective presented in such an honest and intelligent way.
What really caught my attention was the exploration of sensory processing disorders as another possible reason for autistic-like behaviors in children. Everything in a child’s environment is filtered through the senses, and when the senses are not coordinating well, children can become overwhelmed or feel a sense of detachment. This can lead to self-soothing and repetitive behaviors that look an awful lot like autism.
In the documentary, this family discovers that their son may have sensory processing problems, and may not be autistic after all. They explore “floor time” a therapy outlined by Dr. Stanley Greenspan and eventually decide to pursue a DIR (Developmental, Individual and Relationship-based) course of therapy that yields impressive results. It made me realize that the behaviors typically associated with autism are simply behaviors and when we see those behaviors, we need to take the time to figure out the reason behind the behavior before jumping to the conclusion of autism.
For parents interested in exploring more about sensory processing issues, there is an online parent network at www.sensoryplanet.com.
October 26, 2010
I love doing workshops on Multiple Intelligence Theory for early childhood educators. Teachers of young children instinctively “get it”. More often than not, they’ve noticed that different children have skills and natural abilities in different areas, and learning about MI Theory helps give words to their own understanding of the strengths and abilities of individual children.
At a recent workshop one teacher (who has been using Multiple Intelligence Theory in her classroom for years) mentioned that people always comment on what a peaceful classroom she has. Year after year, her classes of around 20 preschoolers are always busy learning through meaningful play experiences that speak to individual children’s intelligences. She is convinced that understanding her children’s different intelligences and creating learning experiences that put those intelligences to use is the reason that her classroom exhibits fewer behavior issues.
Children who feel smart have better self-esteem- Children with better self-esteem act out less
Children see that everyone has different skills and abilities- When differences are valued and respected by the teacher, children respect one another more
Children are more likely to become engrossed in an activity that speaks to their intelligence strengths- When children are excited by and engaged in an activity, they are more focused and less likely to cause trouble
Yes, planning a variety of activities to accommodate different intelligences is more work that having everyone do the same activity. But it is time well spent. At activity time, you’ll be re-directing children less, correcting children less, negotiating less and managing disputes less. You’ll get to spend more time doing what you probably like best- watching children learn and grow!
October 21, 2010
We all k
now that family dinners are important. They give children the opportunity to develop important skills like manners and communication. They encourage healthy eating habits. They help family members connect with one another. And did you know that research shows family meal time is one of the best ways to help children avoid drug abuse?
The trouble is that with our hectic family schedules, and our children’s eating preferences, regular family dinners are often rushed and/or stressful. We begin to dread the idea of dinner time and often scrap the “sit down” idea all together. And then the guilt sets in…
This article from the Goddard School website gives families great ideas for making mealtime more fun and successful.
Cut yourself (and your children) some slack– adjust your idea of what “sit-down” means when you are eating with young children. Encourage and talk about manners, but respect young children’s need to be active and to touch their food. For them eating is a complete sensory experience.
Make it fun– throw in something unexpected, like purple potatoes, broccoli standing like trees, food arranged into a picture or shape on the plate. Serve milk in little goblets. Get kids excited to see what you will bring to the table.
Get everyone involved– ask Dad to make the salad, invite the kids to wash the vegetables. Set the table together and incorporate some of the kids ideas about how to set out the napkins or which plates to use.
Explore other eating together options– when time is short, set out healthy appetizers like veggies and hummus, cheese and crackers or other quick finger foods and have a family “happy hour” together. When you know evenings will be busy, plan a family breakfast or lunch.
Family time is important, and when we take the time to be together around a meal, we are also teaching our children the importance of eating right. And while it is nice to slow down, gather everyone around the table and enjoy food and conversation together, don’t let that ideal feel like your only option. The goal is to connect with one another and teach healthy eating habits. The way you can accomplish this can be as unique as your family!
October 15, 2010
It has now been a year since the professionally installed playground became open to the children at this child care center. It has changed very little since it was first installed. An outdoor water fountain was removed. One teacher told me it was a hazard, the way it stuck out in the middle of an area that got a lot of kid traffic. Another said it was removed because a pipe burst (New Hampshire winters do that to pipes!). Other small changes include, more rungs added to a steep wooden ramp heading up a small hill, and flat rocks embedded into a high-traffic section of another hill where the grass was quickly warn away.
The teachers and children are as enthusiastic about their natural playground today as they were a year ago. One preschool teacher described it as “a nice, peaceful place to be.” I have visited a lot of school playgrounds, and I haven’t heard many teachers describe the playground experience in that way! Here are some of the reasons these teachers love their playground:
Fewer child conflicts- it is easier to redirect children and children are more likely to walk away and find a space of their own in the varied terrain of this playground
More outdoor time- because it is so easy to link the curriculum to the playground (reenacting stories, science exploration, math activities with natural materials) teachers take the children outdoors more often. One teacher said, “we used to go for walks to find things in nature, now we don’t even have to leave the playground.”
Children use their imaginations more- the uneven, exciting terrain of the playground with its caves, hills, tunnels, dips, rocks, ridges, and trees encourage all kinds of imaginative and cooperative play with children.
While the teachers didn’t mention this, I can’t help but think that this playground has also enhanced their teaching. Research shows that when children can get out and experience math and science concepts, or act out stories, they are learning content in a variety of ways, learning it faster and learning it better.
More of the Natural Playground series:
Filed under: Importance of Play, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool | Tagged: Child Care, Curriculum, Early Childhood, early literacy, Importance of Play, learning styles, Multiple Intelligences, Natural Playground, Preschool | Leave a comment »
October 11, 2010
Today, as I was searching the internet for information on effective nap time routines, I came across an older article from the Washington Post, “Preschools Break From Nap Time“. Apparently Superintendents of public schools in Virginia and Maryland eliminated nap time from their preschool day because it is precious academic time that is wasted.
Nap time needs to go away,” Prince George’s County, Md., schools chief Andri J. Hornsby said recently. “We need to get rid of all the baby school stuff they used to do.
After reading the article, I am dumbfounded! Yes, preschool and child care programs should provide opportunities for children to grow and learn, to partake in enriching and challenging experiences. Research shows that children who have these enriching early experiences are more successful in school.
Research also shows that elementary school children in classrooms where teachers group children into collaborative teams to explore concepts, topics or complex problems that are interesting and meaningful to the children perform better on standardized tests and have fewer behavior issues in school than their peers in traditional classroom environments.
The academic terms for these teaching practices include Complex Instruction, Inquiry Based Learning, Multiple Intelligence Theory, Collaborative Peer Grouping. These terms sound intimidating and complicated, but when you really take a look at the concepts, it is all about doing what most quality preschool programs do already. The teacher serves as a guide to help children learn more about the things they are curious about (brings a magnifying glass to a child looking at a bug on the playground) and invites them to try and explore new ideas (later shows the child a book on different bugs and their habitats). Teachers set up experiences so that children can learn in different ways (sing ABCs, read an ABC book, point out letters in signs). Kids work together to solve problems (how to build a really tall castle with the blocks).
It turns out that when elementary schools take these preschool teaching methods and tweak them to fit the learning goals of their students, the kids actually like learning! Instead of Superintendents trying to push outdated elementary school teaching practices to the preschool level, maybe the preschool teachers should be sharing some of their magic with the elementary schools.
Filed under: Education Industry, Preschool, School | Tagged: Curriculum, Early Childhood, Education Industry, Importance of Play, kindergarten, learning styles, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, Research, School, Teaching | Leave a comment »
October 6, 2010
Last week, NBC took a look at the state of education in our country through a widely-promoted multi-media series they called “Education Nation”. I don’t often get a chance to watch TV, so I missed most of the week’s coverage, but I’d been hearing great reviews about the issues they were presenting, so I thought I’d catch up on everything online. I was very disappointed to find no coverage of preschool or infant/toddler care. In my opinion, this is a major oversight!
I did find one article on kindergarten. Specifically on the true value of a good kindergarten teacher. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to think about the findings as applying to early childhood educators in general. The NBC article’s roots are in a New York Times article from this past July, touting the findings of a recent study that looked at 12,000 kindergarten children in Tennessee who are now in their 30s. This study shows that children who have a good kindergarten teacher (the classes performed better than average on a standardized test):
were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.
When all of this is factored in, one economist on the study team estimates that a good kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000. Wouldn’t it be nice if the pay of early childhood educators came close to even a tenth of that value?
September 28, 2010
We all want our children to be happy, but what does that mean? All too often it means finding a quick fix that will result in a smile instead of a tantrum. If we’re lucky, maybe that smile will also come with a hug. But is this really happiness? Finally getting a coveted toy, a piece of candy, a trip to Disneyland all make our children smile, but do these things make them happier people? How long does that happiness last? In my experience it’s pretty fleeting, and then more unfulfilled desires take hold.
I recently attended an early childhood conference where the keynote speaker gave a talk about happiness. I was expecting a feel-good, energy-pumping, pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-dedicating-your-lives-to-children speech that is not uncommon at these conferences in a profession that is often under-appreciated by society. Instead I learned a lot about the amazing things researchers are discovering about happiness and how we can help foster that in the children that we care for.
But aren’t children naturally happy?
No. The website Childhooddpression.com has some alarming statistics on children and depression including:
Preschool-age children are the fastest growing group being prescribed anti-depressants
1 in 33 children and 1 in 8 adolescents suffer from depression
So what can we do? What can help make our children genuinely happy people? It turns out there are two important elements to real happiness, a sense of gratitude and the ability to experience “flow“.
When children learn how to be thankful for what they have, they are better able to cope with the disappointments in life. Everyone has bad days and bad experiences, but those who are able to accept the bad, but then reflect on all that is good are going to be happier people. A few people might come naturally to gratitude, but for most of us, it is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced. Take the time to show children how thankful you are for all that you have. Model this positive attitude and encourage children to think and talk about the people, experiences and things in their lives that they are thankful for.
Flow is the state of mind one experiences when one is truly immersed in the process of an activity, when one looses all sense of time and is completely focused. An activity that induces flow usually requires a certain amount of concentration and effort, but is pleasurable because it uses our skills and makes us feel good about ourselves. It is an activity that we look forward to, that we hate to see end and that renews our spirit every time we recall it. Some people find their flow in running, others in completing puzzles. Everyone is different. Children might find their flow in block play, dramatic play or in exploring nature.
Here are some tips to help children find flow:
Make time for play– de-clutter children’s schedules so that they can have the time they need to truly loose themselves in an activity of their own choosing.
Reduce “screen time”– when the TV or computer is providing an experience for children, they don’t have the opportunity to discover and use their own skills and imagination.
Have a “Keeping Space”– if a child has lost themselves in the construction of a block tower, Lego city, fairy house or mega-puzzle, don’t make them destroy it to clean up right away. Find a way to keep that item out and available for the next play opportunity.
For more information about helping children find flow, check out this short article at education.com.
September 24, 2010
Did you know that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), or federal stimulus package, includes a decent amount of funding for improving early childhood education? And if our legislators have done any reading on current economic research, they will realize that funding early childhood programs is a great use of federal money.
The return on investment is unheard of in financial circles (close to 16%). Studies show that when states help all children go to preschool, they spend less on costly special education services as children enter elementary school, families have more disposable income which they spend in the economy, crime rates go down as these children get older, states spend less on expensive social support services… the list of positive, money-saving and economy-boosting impacts goes on and on!
PreKnow.org has devoted a page on their website to helping early childhood programs learn about state programs and initiatives that are backed by ARRA money. Take a look at what your state is doing and check out the other resources PreK Now has available to help you navigate the funding possibilities available to you as a result of this stimulus package. You could find funds for everything from teacher training to curriculum materials. It’s worth a look!
September 16, 2010
Response to Intervention (RTI) is a term that is being used a lot in schools across the country. Basically, it is an effort to give children a more customized educational experience. Over the past decade schools have found that an increasing number of their students need special education services. This is costly for schools, and because the special education referral process can take a lot of time, it is also costly to the children who have to wait to receive the support they need to succeed in school.
As a response to this issue, many states and school districts have begun exploring teaching techniques that can be used in elementary classrooms, with all of the children. The hope is that this effort to meet children’s individual needs early will help prevent the need for intervention services down the road. Because many children are referred to Special Ed for reading or or behavior issues, many schools’ RTI initiatives revolve around support in these areas.
While much of the RTI efforts across the country are in elementary schools, the approach can also be very successful in preschools. The earlier we can catch issues that may cause a child some difficulties in school, the easier it is to address those needs and keep that child learning at the same level as his peers.
According to the Center for Response to Intervention in Early Childhood, the hope is that RTI in preschool will provide:
General Pre-K instruction that is more individualized, more responsive to children’s needs, and that can be implemented without long delays
An increase in the percentage of children ready for Kindergarten
A reduction in children that need special education services
A coordinated system of care and education that finds children, and brings services to them at appropriate speed
There are some challenges that come with bringing the RTI model into preschools. For example:
RTI assumes coordinated teamwork between general and special education to carry out screening, progress monitoring and to implement tiers of intervention. Many preschools do not have special educators on staff.
RTI models assume a high level of expertise to carry out interventions in three tiers. Again, finding teachers with that expertise at the preschool level is not easy.
Few evidence-based curricula and interventions are available and widely implemented, especially at Tier 1
I have been involved with a team implementing RTI at a local preschool and going through the process of meeting our state’s desired preschool outcomes has been very beneficial for the staff and the children. It has created a better program. I am also happy to say that the WoW Kit curriculum was used to help meet tier 1 and tier 2 learning goals and we met that challenge with great success!
September 14, 2010
It wasn’t very long ago that the idea of “time out” took hold in classrooms and households across the country. It was thought of as a more effective alternative to spanking or other forms of physical punishment for disciplining children. But it seems like times are changing again and “time out” is now making the list of discipline techniques not to use. Why? What’s wrong with “time out”?
What it comes down to is understanding why we discipline children at all. I think most parents and teachers would agree that we do it to teach our children. We want to teach them how to behave in various social situations. We want to teach them our values. We want to teach them better ways to express their feelings. We want to teach them to keep safe. Our goal is for our children to learn these behaviors or expectations and internalize them, so that they will become the wonderful people we hope they will be.
Now think about the way you use time-out. Does it accomplish those teaching goals mentioned above? If you use “time out” as a threat or end consequence for negative behavior, then chances are it is not. Instead of teaching it is isolating, shaming, frustrating and/or demeaning your child. It is little more than an “in-your-face” reminder to the child that you have control over them.
So what should you do? If teaching is the purpose of discipline, then we should focus on instructive practices. We need to become behavior guides. Here are some basic steps for moving from “punisher” to “guide”.
Get to know each child. Now, if you are the parent, this isn’t an issue, but teachers really need to take the time to understand life from the child’s perspective. What goes on at home has a big impact on a child’s self-image, sense of security and behavior. A little one-on-one time can go a long way to prevent negative behaviors, and when they do arise, you will have a better perspective on what the root of the problem might be.
Pick your battles. Not every negative behavior requires your intervention. You might want to give a reminder of a more appropriate behavior choice, “make sure you give her a turn,” or “you will be hungry if you don’t eat your lunch.” But in the end, it is the choice your child makes (to share or not, to eat or not) that will create a “teachable moment” (a positive or negative play experience, hunger or a full belly).
Keep your emotions in check. Stay calm and keep your voice low and even. Remember that you always want to model the behavior you want to see in children. If you yell, they will yell.
Teach calming techniques. It’s hard to think straight when you are upset. This goes for children too. Before we can really address a behavior issue, we first we need to help children stabilize their emotions. Deep breaths, taking a walk, clenching a ball, and drawing are all great calming techniques. Different things will work for different children.
Teach children how to express their feelings. Once a child is calm, encourage them to talk about what happened. Focus less on events and more on feelings. Help children build their emotional vocabulary.
Teach children alternative ways to handle the situation. Talk about different ways the issue might have been handled and the possible, more positive end results.
Encourage communication. Turn the negative into a positive by talking about it. Maybe not right away, but when all those involved have calmed down and moved on, revisit the situation through a simple, positive conversation. If it’s an issue that affects many in your group, consider a class conversation. The point is to help the offending child to see the impact his/her behavior has on others in a way that is inclusive.
Teaching Young Children Magazine has an interesting article on the topic, titled “Replacing Time Out“. It really goes into detail about why time-outs can have a negative impact on young children and information on creating an encouraging classroom environment.
September 9, 2010
Whether you are working with toddlers, preschoolers or young elementary school children, the most challenging parts of the day tend to be those moments when everyone must stop what they are doing and transition to starting the next activity. A recent article in Child Care Information Exchange, “Eliminating Transitions“, tackles this issue head-on and asks, why do we have so many moments of transition anyway?
How are transition times working in your classroom? Change causes stress, especially if children are really involved in play or some other project. Chances are it is during transition times when most behavior issues arise. We choose to be early childhood educators because we love to nurture and support children, but during transition times, we often become more like drill sergeants! Even for teachers transition times are stressful.
Here are some of the questions the authors encourage teachers to explore as you evaluate their own schedule:
How often do children go through transition times? Count the number of transitions that occur throughout the day. Aim for 6 or fewer for half-day programs and 8 or fewer for full-day. How many of these transitions involve the entire group?
Time each transition from beginning to end. What percentage of your day is actually spent in transition?
Are some transitions more difficult than others?
What are the children doing during each transition time? Note instances of challenging behaviors. Notice if many children are spending a lot of time waiting for others. What are they doing while they wait?
What are the adults doing during the transitions?
Once you’ve gathered this information, really think about how your schedule is working for you and your children. Can you redesign some transitions to involve small groups of children at staggered intervals? Can you eliminate some transitions all together?
The article goes on to describe the many benefits of lengthening blocks of play time and reducing the number of transitions children experience each day, including:
more opportunities for teachers to interact with children
more opportunities for children to interact with one another and develop social skills
more elaborate play and increased levels of problem-solving by children as they get more involved in dramatic play or self-created projects
less stress on teachers and children
more opportunities for meaningful observation by teachers
In short, reducing the number of transition times can create a better learning environment.
September 7, 2010
Just a few days before the new school year began, my son’s preschool held a parent orientation social. For the school is was part of a new initiative to be more open to families, though it was presented as an opportunity to meet fellow parents and the school staff and also to learn of some of the changes parents might notice in the upcoming school year. My older daughter had also attended the same school previously but this was my first invitation to such an event.
Even though I was very familiar with the school, the idea of “important new changes” made it an event I didn’t want to miss. We learned about the new school calendar, listened to various speakers, enjoyed food and drink and socialized. But the benefits for me went way beyond schedule updates. I met many new parents and renewed connections with returning parents. Most importantly, I left the event with a better understanding of the motivation for and the philosophy behind a lot of the school’s rules and quirks and gained a renewed appreciation for the dedication of the entire staff.
Whether you work with young children in a public school, private school or child care environment, parents have a huge impact on a child’s success. Why not bring them on board with your program from day one? A parent orientation night is a great way to begin building the home/school connection. Here are a few tips:
Make it a relaxed experience- the more informal the better. Have it outdoors if you can (be sure to invite parents to explore the classroom!), keep lecture-style sessions short and sweet.
Review basic expectations- A parent handbook is great, but is only informative if a parent reads it! Review some of the more important expectations of your program, but try to frame it by talking about the best interest of the child. For example, “school starts at 8:30am. If your child arrives late they miss out on an important adjustment period and the opportunity to socialize. They will have a harder time adjusting. Please try to be on time.” A parent is more likely to respect an expectation if they understand the potential impact on their child.
Offer your experience- Yes, rules of the school are important, but equally important are tips or insights that will reduce a parent’s anxieties. What is the best way to say good bye? What can I do to prepare my child for school? How can I expect my child to react the first few days?
Make it a fun- give parents lots of breaks between information sessions to socialize
Later in the week I thanked the director for hosting the event and in our conversation I learned that the school experienced an equally positive and unexpected outcome.
fewer issues with separation anxiety
children adjusted to the classroom more quickly
Thanks to the information parents received at that orientation meeting, children were better prepared for the school day and parents were better prepared to say “good-bye” at drop-off in a healthy, positive way. The director commented that while the start of a new school year is always exciting, this year there seemed to be a lot more positive energy coming from the staff and parents.
Early childhood teachers have a unique opportunity to get parents on the path of school involvement, a habit that, once they pick up, they’ll likely continue into grade school and beyond. Getting parents involved isn’t easy. Capitalize on those “first day jitters” by hosting a parent event. When parents are involved the child benefits and the school benefits.
August 13, 2010
It’s that time of year again and parents everywhere are preparing to send their kids off to begin a new school year. While some kids (and parents) are thrilled with the idea, for many the upcoming changes can be a source of anxiety.
These simple tips posted on a Baltimore, MD, ABC affiliate’s web page will help calm those anxieties and ease the transition to a new school year.
Don’t ignore the worries. Help children to understand that being a little nervous is normal.
Prepare your child. Talk about what they might do in their new classroom. Visit the school or program ahead of time. Meet the teacher. Read books about going to school
Be understanding. Children who are feeling stress might start having accidents, not sleep well, have a hard time eating, etc. Take notice of these signs, and don’t add to the stress by punishing your child.
Focus on the good. Ask your child what they are excited to do, see or try at their new school.
Play it cool. While you want your child to be prepared for the upcoming changes, you don’t want to talk about it so much that you create new anxieties.
August 2, 2010
Anyone who has given a child a gift and has experienced the box being more interesting than the toy knows what fertile ground a child’s mind can be with the blank slate of a very plain object. A box can be a house, a bed, a hat, a parking garage… the possibilities are endless! This is the thinking behind the concept of “loose parts”. Loose parts are any loose, movable objects that children can use in many different ways during imaginative play.
Natural playground advocates see all of the sticks, rocks, sand, leaves and other natural items available on a natural playground as wonderful loose parts. And they are right! But can loose parts be made available in a traditional playground, which are often stripped of trees, rocks and any other items which might cause injury?
One playground designer I spoke with lamented the fact that most of the schools and town rec departments he deals with don’t want to have anything to do with any “playground equipment” that can’t be bolted down. Teachers don’t want to have to deal with lugging materials out and then storing them away again, and administrators don’t want to spend money on materials that they feel will quickly disappear. Understandable, but disappointing…
Now it looks like there is a new concept in playground equipment that is completely structured around the concept of loose parts.
Imagination Playground's Loose Parts
A recent article in the New Yorker Magazine entitle “The State of Play” turned me on to Imagination Playground and the work they are doing in bringing the concept of loose parts to playgrounds all over the country. These gigantic blue foam blocks and tubes can be used in any playground or open space, even in water! They are the keystone feature in many new playgrounds, but can also be purchased as a “kit” to add to your local playground. Loose parts that are very unlikely to walk away! Check out their website for more information about their mission and all kinds of photos and videos.
Filed under: Importance of Play, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, School | Tagged: Early Childhood, Importance of Play, kindergarten, learning styles, Multiple Intelligences, Natural Playground, parenting, Preschool, School, sensory experiences | Leave a comment »
July 29, 2010
Quality early childhood programs are devoted to seeing all children grow, develop and thrive. While most would agree that this statement includes children with special needs, creating an environment where ALL children can be successful takes more than open hearts and minds. It takes thought, planning, preparation.
Beyond the Journal, an online publication from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a wonderful article on the topic, “Including Children with Special Needs: Are You and Your Program Ready?” Here you’ll find a checklist for preschool and kindergarten programs that will give you a sense of your strengths and weaknesses as you build a truly inclusive environment.
The checklist encompasses:
Supporting positive behavior
Assessment and curriculum
Supporting social skills
Issues related to specific disabilities including: physical disabilities, vision or hearing impairments, communication and language disorders, intellectual disabilities, sensory integration concerns
Considerations for outdoor space
Many programs serving children with special needs have found the WoWKits curriculum to be a very effective teaching tool. For more information see WoWKits and Children with Special Needs
July 20, 2010
The ability to think through problems, anticipate the results of your actions and reflect on what you have done are all critical thinking skills. While these don’t fit neatly into the categories of reading, writing and arithmetic, they are definitely important skills for success in school and in life.
The brains of toddlers and many preschoolers aren’t ready to organize their thoughts and move through this kind of high-order thinking. Cause and effect experiences are a great start for this age group. Some age-appropriate activities that often create cause/effect experiences for toddlers include:
playing with blocks
digging and playing with sand (especially at a beach near a body of water)
exploring outdoors and interacting with nature
Preschoolers can also develop these skills through the activities mentioned above. Help them add more thinking to their play by creating challenges:
Can you build a block wall strong enough to stand up to a rolling tennis ball?
How do you make a sand castle?
Can you figure out a way to make a boat that will float from these recycled materials?
If we wanted to find bugs or other creatures in the yard, where should we look?
Encourage older preschoolers and young school-age children to use their past experiences and knowledge about the world to think through a problem or challenge step by step, or predict what will happen when you lay out the steps for an experiment. Help to encourage problem-solving and critical thinking skills following these simple steps:
Go to your local library and check out books on science experiments or cookbooks for children.
Invite your child to choose an experiment or recipe that looks interesting.
Encourage your child to write down their prediction for what will happen during this experiment.
Help your child follow the steps outlined for the experiment or recipe.
Invite your child to draw a picture of the end result. Talk about it. Was the prediction correct? Why or why not? Encourage your child to verbalize the steps of the experiment.
Following a step-by-step format and encouraging your child to make predictions and then reflect on the process step-by-step is a great way to help children to slow down, think about what they are doing and learn to organize their thoughts. Doing this through science or cooking experiments makes it fun and exciting for your child.
For more great activity ideas, check out World of Wonder’s Terrific Topics for ages 3-6.
Filed under: Activities for Kids, Family, Importance of Play, Preschool, School | Tagged: Activities for Kids, Child Development, Early Childhood, Family, Importance of Play, kids, kindergarten, parenting, Preschool, Science, Summer, Teaching, toddlers | 1 Comment »
July 10, 2010
As the world becomes more and more connected, the benefits of celebrating diversity are clear. Children who are exposed to different cultures, different experiences and different languages will be better prepared for whatever lies ahead. Whether or not a parent (or parents) come from another country, it is this line of thought that is leading more and more parents to become interested in raising bilingual children.
Today, parents who are native speakers of another language, often choose to maintain that language at home. They promote English language learning through school and other outside experiences. In addition, many native English speakers here in the US are choosing to send their children to bilingual schools or hire a bilingual caregiver that can provide an environment of immersion for their children in a second language.
Either approach can be very successful. They key is to be consistent. Young children are sponges for language and will have no problem navigating two (or more!) languages, as long as they have clear expectations of when, where and with whom they will be speaking each language.
According to an article by Christina Bosemark, founder of the Multilingual Children’s Association, the two most popular methods for dual language learning are:
One person, one language- one parent might speak only English to a child, the other only Spanish (or French, Dutch, etc.). In the home both languages are spoken, but the child knows which language to expect from which parent and that remains consistent.
Minority Language at Home- in this situation, English is not spoken at home, the entire family speaks only French (or Japanese, Spanish, etc.). Children learn English through interactions and experiences in the community, including attending preschool or other care environments outside the home.
This article stresses that while these are the most popular methods for raising bilingual children, the are not the only methods. Every family needs to find the right fit for them.
People working to raise bilingual children see the advantages of knowing more than one language or culture, but often struggle against the concerns of others. According to Bosemark:
When your child isn’t speaking the community language on the same level as his or her monolingual peers (generally the ML@H child doesn’t reach parity with them until around 5 years of age), it’s difficult not to worry…Some parents fear that he will never learn the primary language, even though this really only occurs when children are isolated from the primary language within a minority speaking community.
Child care providers and parents can work together to ensure strong language development in both languages.
Tips for child care providers/teachers:
Help break the ice by encouraging social interactions between English speaking and non-English speaking children. Block play, water play group games and other similar joint experiences can build relationships in a way that doesn’t rely on spoken communication.
Build English language skills through songs with finger plays, repetitive text books and a lot of conversation (even if it’s very one-sided at first!)
Promote self-esteem by celebrating the child’s native language skills and culture.
Parents can help by:
Supporting a child’s efforts to build relationships. Arrange play dates with classmates or other experiences outside the home to encourage English language development.
Find books in the home/minority language or engage your child in conversations about the topics that are introduced at school. For example, if your child’s class is starting a unit on Dinosaurs, look for dinosaur books in Spanish (or whatever the home language might be). Talk about the materials or activities your child encounters at school so that the home language vocabulary continues to grow and flourish through the school experiences.
Most importantly, whichever path you choose, be consistent so that your child will know when, where and with whom to speak each language.
Filed under: Family, Parent/Teacher Communication, Preschool, School, Special Needs | Tagged: Child Care, Child Development, community, Early Childhood, Family, language, parenting, Preschool, Special Needs, toddlers | Leave a comment »
July 8, 2010
Whether spending time at home with siblings, in a family child care setting, or in an early childhood program where lower enrollment allows for mixed age groupings, summer often provides a unique opportunity for kids of different ages to play and spend time together.
This can be a great experience. Younger children watch and learn from older children. They are motivated to try new and challenging things as they imitate the activities they see. Older children have the opportunity to develop nurturing relationships and develop the positive self-esteem that comes with being a role model for others. Everyone benefits.
But along with these benefits come challenges. Differences in developmental stages and abilities can cause conflicts and misunderstandings. Scheduling issues can arise when infants or younger children need to be fed or nap while older children want attention. Taking the time to promote positive relationships among the children in your care will create an environment of cooperation that is well worth the effort.
Here are a few tips for promoting positive relationships between children of different ages:
Praise children for being helpful or kind to one another.
Be understanding of a child’s developmental stage.
Avoid punishing toddlers or older children for disturbing younger children. Instead make it a teachable moment. Explain the possible consequences of their actions and redirect the behavior.
Involve older children in the care of younger children.
Take pictures of children engaged in cooperative play, then talk about how wonderful the experience was as you look at the pictures later.
Give all children the opportunity to take on a chore or task to develop a sense of importance. Even toddlers can water a plant or put napkins on the table.
June 13, 2010
PreK Now, a national organization advocating to make preschool accessible to all children, has released their annual report detailing the preschool funding proposals outlined by the governors of every state in the union. This report is helpful for understanding the value our elected officials place on quality learning environments for our youngest children.
On the bright side, there are more states are finding ways to increase funding for preschool programs than states cutting back funding. Considering the financial situation of most states, this shows a real commitment to the importance of early learning. Unfortunately, twelve states are cutting back on funding and 1o states (including New Hampshire) continue to offer no funding at all.
On the federal level, the Obama administration has done a lot of talking about the importance of preschool, but the talk has been followed up by very little action.
I agree completely with the statement at the end of the report’s overview section:
Across the country, policy makers are working to balance declining budgets with growing demands for quality education systems that prepare children to become the workforce of tomorrow and generate positive returns on taxpayer investments. Nationwide, at both the state and federal levels, prioritizing pre-k as the essential starting point for successful education reform is urgently needed. Nothing less than the future of our children, our schools and our national economic competitiveness is at stake.
Evidence seems to be coming in from all sides (financial, academic, social) supporting the importance of preschool. Isn’t it time to follow the evidence and make a real commitment to offer every child the benefits of early learning experiences?
June 2, 2010
Whether you are a parent looking for activities that will prepare your child for school in the fall, or a teacher looking to try something new and different, summer is a great time to practice emerging skills in fun, new ways. Throughout the month I will give tips and activity ideas that will help children develop some of the important skills necessary for the upcoming school year.
Fine motor skills describe those small muscle movements necessary for holding a pencil, writing, tying your shoe, etc. It is very common for preschoolers to have trouble with fine motor skills, and even toddlers can begin working on them. Here are some ideas:
For toddlers and young preschoolers:
Place a couple of small cups and a small pitcher of water on a tray for your child. Encourage her to pour the water into the cups. You’ll be amazed at how absorbed your child will be! Tip: Use a tray with sides to keep the water contained if doing this indoors. Provide a sponge cut in half to encourage your child to clean up the spilled water.
Place two shallow dishes on a tray. Fill one with water. Give your child a damp sponge cut in half and encourage him to move the water from one dish to the other by putting the sponge in the dish with water, then squeezing it out over the empty dish. Tip: Use a tray with sides to keep the water contained if doing this indoors.
Place a variety of rocks, golf balls, or other small objects in a plastic bucket. Give your child a pair of kitchen tongs. Challenge her to remove the objects from the bucket using the tongs.
For older preschoolers and kindergartners:
Give children a white ice cube tray, a cup of water and an eye dropper or pipette. Add water to three of the compartments of the tray and add a drop of red food coloring to one, blue to another and green to the third. Encourage your child to move the colored water and add new water by using only the eye dropper. Can he make new colors in other compartments? Can he make a color lighter or darker?
In a shallow dish, set out a variety of different seeds (sunflower, bean, etc.), beads or other very small objects. Give your child a pair of tweezers and encourage her to sort the seeds using only the tweezers.
Slow down and encourage your child to zip, lace, string and even attempt to tie things as at every opportunity. It will take longer, but zipping jackets, lacing shoes, threading string through grommets are all great practice and give your child a sense of importance and helpfulness.
Filed under: Activities for Kids, Family, Preschool | Tagged: Activities for Kids, Child Development, Early Childhood, kindergarten, parenting, Preschool, Summer, Teaching, toddlers | Leave a comment »
June 1, 2010
In general, I’m not a fan of competitive games for young children. Research shows these games often lead to more aggressive behaviors in free play situations. But playing “everybody wins” games all the time may not be the solution either. Some children do need an opportunity to let their competitive spirit shine and for many, learning to lose gracefully is an acquired skill.
A recent game of musical chairs in a local preschool classroom had 3 children crying because they didn’t get to a chair in time and several instances of kids getting knocked out of the chair they had started to sit in as a bigger or more aggressive child jumped to claim it. My first reaction was that perhaps the game should be changed to an “everybody wins” format, but a game like musical chairs can provide a great “teachable moment” for important social skills. Skills children will need as they enter elementary school.
Here are some tips:
Give children the opportunity to participate in or opt out of the game. Make sure that those who opt out can engage in an activity they enjoy (coloring, dancing to the music, watching the game, etc.)
Make sure all of those who want to participate understand that losing is a part of the game. If you are not willing to sit out when it is your turn to do so, then you should choose a different activity. Ask for a verbal agreement from each child.
Review the rules of the game.
Give children clear guidelines about what they should do with their bodies. For example, keep your hands off of others, keep your body off of others, walking feet, etc.
Have a specific place or activity for children while they are “out” of the game. This could be a line of tape to stand on, a chair to sit in while they watch the rest of the game, or another quiet activity to engage in.
When the game is finished, gather everyone together and talk about the experience. What did you like about the game? What didn’t you like? What could we each do to make the experience even better next time?
If you’d rather avoid the competitive games all together, check out the ideas in this previous blog entry: Everybody Wins: A Fresh Take on Preschool Games
May 3, 2010
No matter where you live, chances are you see birds every day. The tall buildings of the city, parks large and small, suburban neighborhoods and rural areas all provide habitat for different kinds of birds. Give kids an opportunity to notice and watch the birds around you and you may be opening the door to new discoveries, a wealth of learning opportunities and maybe even a life-long appreciation of nature.
Here are some ideas for young birdwatchers:
Hang a bird feeder near a window (natural intelligence)
Create a bird-friendly habitat, even in an urban area, by setting out potted shrubs or other greenery and a bird bath (natural intelligence)
Get a book that identifies birds in your area (or look them up online) and help kids identify the birds they see (linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial intelligences)
Encourage older kids to keep a bird journal where they can jot down or draw pictures of their observations (linguistic, spatial, natural intelligences)
Look for bird nests, try out binoculars (spatial, natural intelligences)
Look at bird feathers with a magnifying lens (spatial)
Act out the bird behaviors you see (natural, kinesthetic, intrapersonal intelligences)
Go for nature walks and talk about where you see birds and what they are doing (natural, kinesthetic, linguistic, interpersonal intelligences)
For even more great ideas and information on the wonderful benefits and discoveries children can enjoy just by taking notice of the birds around them, check out this article in Teaching Young Children Magazine.
Filed under: Activities for Kids, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, Themes | Tagged: Activities for Kids, Early Childhood, kindergarten, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, Science, Teaching, Themes | Leave a comment »
April 26, 2010
Young children often have a hard time controlling and expressing their emotions. Feelings of anger, helplessness, frustration or stress can cause tantrums, biting, kicking and hitting. The concept of “socially unacceptable” just doesn’t hold meaning for them.
Some kids have a harder time with these issues than others, and when a child with behavioral issues joins a class of preschoolers, teachers have an obligation to think of the safety of the other children present. As a result, it is not at all uncommon for children to be expelled from preschool.
Many of these kids then end up moving from preschool to preschool with parents who grow more frustrated with their behaviors. Meanwhile the behaviors worsen because of the stresses on the child. Eventually these kids are socially and academically behind their peers and end up in costly special education services in the public schools.
A recent article in the Boston Globe explores this phenomenon and looks at the positive effect that family counseling and mental health services can have on the very young.
In 2001, the year before the Worcester Y started mental health counseling, seven children there were expelled from the two programs serving 114 children, and teacher turnover was close to 40 percent. In the years since, as mental health counseling was made available to kids who needed it, teacher turnover has dropped to 9 percent, she says, and the expulsion rate has fallen to zero. Cavaioli attributes the improvement in both areas directly to counseling, and she says that a third of the children – the same ratio as before – come in with behavioral problems.
When parents and early childhood educators have the benefit of mental health counseling or behavior training for their toddler or preschooler, the root of the behavior issues is addressed, the behaviors diminish and the child is able to learn and develop unencumbered.
If supporting a family with this kind of service in preschool means that a child who might have been put in a costly special ed program in kindergarten is able to thrive in the regular classroom, wouldn’t it make financial sense to put more of our resources into dealing with these issues at the preschool level? It’s better for children, for families, for teachers and for our wallets.
Filed under: Education Industry, Governement in Child Care, Preschool, School, Special Needs, Uncategorized | Tagged: Child Care, Child Development, Early Childhood, Family, Preschool, Research, School, Special Needs, toddlers | Leave a comment »
April 13, 2010
Obesity is a major public health issue in the United States. Even among very young children, obesity rates are alarmingly high. While preschool teachers and caregivers have little control over family health habits, you have a lot of control over the amount of physical activity your children participate in throughout the day.
A recent study called the Children’s Activity and Movement in Preschools Study (CHAMPS) looked at 24 preschools in South Carolina and found that children engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity for only 3.4 percent of the school day. Preschoolers are known for having boundless energy. Why are they so inactive in preschool?
Researchers found that children were quite active during the part fo the school day that they spent outdoors. Open spaces and equipment like balls, wheeled vehicles and climbers encouraged this activity. Unfortunately, the amount of outdoor time was very limited compared to indoor time. When indoors, children spent most their time in large group activities, transitioning, snacking, napping or working with manipulatives, all activities that require very little physical movement.
What can preschools and child care programs do?
Spend more time outdoors
Think about the arrangement of our indoor spaces (more open spaces, indoor climbers, balls or other equipment to encourage activity)
Plan more music and movement activities during large group time
Get creative with learning activities that encourage whole body movement
And, of course, all of World of Wonder‘s early childhood curriculum materials include fun learning activities that get young children moving!
March 30, 2010
A panicked shriek from my 3 year old son sends me running to the next room. His face is red and contorted. He’s hyperventilating and screaming, jumping up and down and trembling. As I scoop him up and hold him close he points to the floor nearby where a tuft of fluffy hair from our dog sits, innocuously. I pick it up and throw it away. Slowly, he recovers and goes back to playing.
This is a common scene at our house. Now that Babe has turned three it seems new fears crop up every week. Hair balls, dust bunnies, shadows, his bed a night, all solicit a fear response. It turns out that it’s all perfectly age-appropriate and normal.
On his web site, well-known pediatrician, Dr. Sears writes:
The ability to imagine monsters without the ability to reason them away as imaginary creatures results in a developmental stage where little persons are likely to have big fears.
The good news is that it’s a sign that your young child’s brain is growing and developing. Her imagination and her ability to think ahead to possible scenarios is growing. According to Dr. Spock, another famous pediatrician, a child’s general sense of anxiety and tension make matters worse. These tensions can come from a variety of sources.
…battles over such matters as feeding and toilet training, children whose imaginations have been overstimulated by scary stories or movies, or by too many warnings…Children who haven’t had enough chance to develop their independence and outgoingness, or whose parents are too protective, are also often tense.
This doesn’t mean that if your child has fears, you are doing something wrong as a parent or caregiver. This fearful stage is normal in all children.
So what can we do?
Dr. Sears outlines a few basic steps:
Understand why children are afraid
Give a fearless message- acknowledge the fear and empathize, strike a balance, be reassuring, without getting overly involved
Model being unfearful- when you see an opportunity for a fear attack to strike, be pro-active and show your child how completely not scary the situation is
Always take a fear of caregivers seriously. You cannot know what goes on when you are not around. This is different from separation anxiety. Never simply dismiss this fear.
For more info from Dr. Sears on how to manage specific fears, visit his web site:
March 11, 2010
A recent study out of the University of North Carolina surveyed 30,000 kids and found that, on average, children snack 3 times a day. Chips, candy and other junk foods now account for 27% of the average child’s daily caloric intake.
More snacking means less appetite at meal times, and while many believe that eating many small meals is healthier than 3 large meals, this is only true if your snack food is as nutritious as your meal-time food. Children today are filling up on unhealthy snacks and then don’t have the appetite to eat their more nutritious meals.
Surprisingly, children between the ages of 2 and 6 showed the biggest increase in snacking. At this age, parents and care givers have a huge influence on the snacks children eat. We are the ones who provide their snack choices.
Here are a few healthy snack ideas:
dried fruit and/or nuts (raisins, dried cherries, dried mango slices, etc.)
yogurt (add granola, dried coconut, berries or other fruit)
baby carrots, sugar snap peas
banana wheels or apple wedges with a dab of peanut butter
cut fruit or cheese with toothpicks (it’s amazing what kids will eat if they can jab it with a toothpick!)
We are role models for our children. But even if we don’t have the healthiest eating habits, we can always help our kids to do better. Encourage better habits and hope they stick.
For more info on this study and other snack ideas, click here.
March 9, 2010
It seems all children can get lost in playdough play, no matter what their age or ability. Here’s a quick and easy recipe to make your own playdough. This home made version works great and you don’t have to worry about toxic chemicals.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 tsp cream of tartar (keeps dough from getting gummy)
1 cup water
1 Tbs cooking oil
Mix all dry ingredients in a saucepan.
In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine the water, oil and food coloring.
Stir the wet into the dry and put the saucepan on the stove at a medium heat. Continue stirring until the dough forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pan.
Remove from heat and let cool until you can knead it without burning your fingers. Knead 8-10 times to spread the moisture evenly.
Store in an airtight container.
Kids love to experiment with new and different ways to use their playdough. The more options you lay out for them, the more opportunities they have to let their innate gifts or intelligences shine.
Linguistic intelligence– these children might verbally talk through their playdough play or talk out scenes with the creatures they create. Add alphabet stamps, or encourage children to form letters or write their name in the playdough.
Logical/Mathematical– children might count or sort the creatures/objects they make. You might also see them do some logical problem-solving if they are having trouble making an idea come to life.
Spatial– these children probably enjoy fitting cookie cutters into the rolled out dough. They’ll explore the shape of the cut out as well as the empty space it leaves behind. They enjoy the challenge of building more complex figures, or identifying and creating shapes.
Kinesthetic– rolling, pounding, slapping, moving. These kids are active playdough explorers.
Musical– while not directly related to playdough play, some interesting background music can have a big effect on the experience/engagement of these children.
Interpersonal– these children may coordinate an imaginary “group snack” and assign roles to others as they plan their playdough play. Play tea sets, plates, pots or platters can add to the experience.
Intrapersonal– children who loose themselves in the feel and manipulation of the dough may be focusing on how working the playdough makes them feel. Encourage them to talk about their thoughts. Telling them what you see them doing can help to start the conversation.
Natural– children who go beyond making one animal, and think more about making a network of creatures with different roles and responsibilities are using their natural intelligence. These children may also enjoy making imprints of natural objects or otherwise incorporating nature into their playdough creation.
Remember, when it comes to Multiple Intelligences, no child is all or nothing. Children will bring a variety of their strengths and interests into their playdough play. Be a careful observers and learn about them by watching what they do and how. When you can meet a child at their level, giving them a boost to a new level of understanding on any topic becomes much easier and more fun!
Filed under: Activities for Kids, Importance of Play, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool | Tagged: Activities for Kids, Child Care, Curriculum, Early Childhood, Family, Importance of Play, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, sensory experiences, Teaching | Leave a comment »
February 8, 2010
Whether a preschool teacher, center-based caregiver or family child care provider, as an early learning professional you make it your business to know kids. You know that every child is different, they all develop at their own pace. And you know when something isn’t quite right with a child.
No doubt you’ve observed the child carefully, tried a variety of approaches to develop new skills or bring out the best in him/her. You’ve probably talked with others in the field and done some research. You know the next step is talking to the parents, but that is not an easy step to take.
No parent wants to hear that there may be concerns about their child’s development. Visions of scary worst-case scenarios instantly come to mind. But this conversation can be the crucial first step towards early intervention opportunities. It is important to broach the subject and to do it with great care and thought.
Here are some tips for a successful conversation:
Begin by listening. Ask gentle but probing questions of a parent’s experiences with their child or share your own anecdotes in an informal way. Listen to the parent. Their answers, comments or reactions can help you to see how they view the situation with the child. Perhaps they sense a problem but aren’t sure how to articulate it.
Be thoughtful about when and where you decide to engage a parent in this conversation. This can be a very emotionally charged topic. Time and space are important. Choose a private setting and make sure you have the time to fully address a parent’s questions or concerns without interruptions.
Be positive and supportive. Consider beginning the conversation by talking about the child’s strengths. Make sure you acknowledge the parent’s dedication, skills and love for their child. Emphasize the wonderful opportunity that early interventions can provide or that you just want to make sure more serious issues can be “ruled out”.
Provide informational resources to parents such as books, well-respected web sites and even a simple developmental milestones chart for parents to take home and review in their own time. These resources provide concrete, impartial information and may describe symptoms, behaviors or issues that may resonate with parents.
Your approach is the key to a successful conversation. If you are respectful, supportive and informed about issue-specific resources parents are more likely to listen, trust and follow up on your concerns.
Filed under: Infant/Toddler, Parent/Teacher Communication, Preschool, Special Needs | Tagged: Child Care, Child Development, Early Childhood, family child care, Preschool, Special Needs | Leave a comment »
February 1, 2010
Many early childhood educators lament the trends towards a more academic focus in preschool and kindergarten. Intuitively, we know and appreciate the value of children’s imaginative play. A recent book by Vivian Gussin Paley titled, Honoring the Process of Play a Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play, recently received a great review from the National Institute for Early Education Research for the way it advocates for the importance of play.
Paley views fantasy play as the “glue that binds together all other pursuits, including the early teaching of reading and writing skills” (p. 8). She shares Vygotsky’s view of play, which is that children rise above themselves as they play, becoming more than their average selves… When children are allowed to imagine freely, their minds are primed to engage new ideas. This is where the value of the process lies. Paley understands the importance of process while solving a math problem or conducting a scientific experiment, but wonders why the same value is not placed on the process of play.
The early years are a time when process should be valued above all else, whether that be the process of reading, exploring language, understanding mathematical concepts, scientific exploration and especially creative thinking and problem solving. When these processes become second nature, there is no limit to where children can take them. All play, including fantasy play, allow children to explore all of these processes. How far can kids get with facts alone?
January 25, 2010
“Keeping Kids Curious,” that’s our tagline at World of Wonder and hopefully the goal of every parent and teacher. While browsing Scholastic’s Early Childhood Today online magazine I came across a great article about the importance of curiosity in children.
It boils down to this simple cycle of learning:
Curiosity results in ExplorationExploration results in DiscoveryDiscovery results in PleasurePleasure results in RepetitionRepetition results in MasteryMastery results in New SkillsNew Skills result in ConfidenceConfidence results in Self esteemSelf esteem results in Sense of SecuritySecurity results in More Exploration
So the next time your toddler makes you crazy flipping the light switch on and off or your preschooler sneaks off to the sink for a little “water time”, remember that this often repetitive and sometimes messy need to satisfy curiosity is helping your child to learn, grow, develop and gain confidence. Instead of making them stop, sit back and watch their minds grow!
For all kinds of fun activities that your infants, toddlers and preschoolers will want to do over and over again, visit www.wowkits.com.
January 19, 2010
Preschool children are filled with wonder and curiosity about the world around them. They want to know how things work, why, and what they can do to influence things. They want to see what happens if they do this or touch that. They are natural scientists.
Unfortunately, most preschool programs don’t tap into this interest and according to a study by a University of Miami researcher,
science is one of the areas in which children show the least learning growth during their preschool years.
A recent article posted in Education Week explores science in the preschool classroom, and encourages teachers to go beyond the typical preschool “science center” which usually consists of a few shells, a magnifying lens, some magnets and perhaps a book on animal camouflage. Children need an opportunity to explore, test ideas and see how things work. The process of scientific inquiry or discovery is what can really have an impact on children’s future learning.
Play advocates may be concerned about packing too much “academics” into preschool. Preschoolers need free play. According to one expert quoted in the article,
efforts to expand preschool science teaching need not necessarily conflict with young children’s need for playtime. Science can be taught in the context of play… the evidence is pretty clear that you don’t just need to have free play for children. There’s free play, and there’s guided play. You just have to be careful,” she added, “because sometimes adults can become too intrusive and the play just stops.
An added benefit of allowing children to engage in real scientific exploration is that it helps boost their language skills. It’s amazing how much children will talk, and how their vocabulary will expand, when you give them something exciting to talk about.
Here are some ideas of science topics to explore with preschoolers:
Water– use funnels, tubes, pumps, basters, water wheels to explore how it moves, flows, fills space, interacts with objects and air.
Worms– how they dig, move, where they live, how they react to different surfaces or water.
Plants– how they grow and change over time, how animals/insects interact with them, what they need to live, parts of the plant and it’s function
Blocks– try mixing different textures, shapes, density and explore concepts of balance, size, gravity, structure
For all kinds of ideas for scientific exploration, check out World of Wonder’s preschool themes. Each month-long unit contains an entire section full of hands-on science ideas.
Filed under: Activities for Kids, Importance of Play, Preschool, Themes | Tagged: Activities for Kids, Curriculum, Early Childhood, Importance of Play, language, Preschool, Research, Teaching | Leave a comment »
January 5, 2010
Do you have an answer to these questions? Think about what goes on in your child care program. How do you rate?
Should a 1-year old watch any TV?
Should a 4 year old watch more than 2 hours?
Should a 3 year old spend most of the day doing quiet, sit-down activities?
If a child is misbehaving do you cut back their outdoor play time?
Is juice the best beverage choice for a young child?
If you answered “no” to all of the above questions, give yourself 5 stars and a pat on the back. You’ve got the elements in place to create a healthy environment for young children.
According to an article at UPI.com, researchers at Oregon State University found that of 300 family child care providers surveyed, most didn’t rate so well.
two-thirds of those caring for children under age 5 have the TV on most of the day…78 percent of the children ages 2 to 5 were not getting enough physical activity and 63 percent had active play or exercise restricted as a punishment.
To me, this is a shame. Family child care homes have the potential to offer some of the best child care environments for young children. The home setting, the small groups, the mixed ages, the care and attention that children receive in these wonderful care environments can often be preferable to the larger, rather industrial style settings of larger child care centers.
It is important that care providers are not only aware of the basic health recommendations for young children, but that they follow those recommendations in the environments that they provide.
Here are some basic recommendations and links to articles with more information:
TV Viewing: Children under age 2 should not watch any TV, children between 2 and 5 years old should watch a maximum of 2 hours a day (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Physical Activity: Children ages 2-5 should get at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity (adult-led activity), at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity (free play) and should not be inactive for more than 1 hour at a time, unless sleeping (National Association of Sports and Physical Education)
Juice: juice should be 100% pasteurized fruit juice and not fruit drinks, infants under 6 months of age should not be given juice, children aged 1 to 6 years should have only 4 to 6 ounces of juice a day (American Academy of Pediatrics)
For fun activity ideas that will help you turn off the TV and grow young bodies and minds, check out the activity binders at wowkits.com!
Filed under: Health, Infant/Toddler, Preschool | Tagged: Activities for Kids, Child Care, Child Development, Early Childhood, family child care, Infant/Toddler, nutrition, Preschool, Research | Leave a comment »
November 30, 2009
The vast majority of states (40 out of 50) currently put money towards some kind of preschool program. Many financial analysts see this as an investment that has the potential to bring back high returns.
There are a lot of statistics showing the effectiveness of a quality preschool program on young children, but the concept of a state-funded preschool program is still relatively new and the actual impact on a state-level has only been speculative, until now.
Started in 2005, New Mexico has one of the newest state funded pre-k programs. Recently the National Institute for Early Education Research completed a three year study on this preschool program. The results are very positive and include these key findings:
New Mexico PreK produces meaningful impacts on young children’s language, literacy, and math development
Overall classroom quality is good, but some improvements are needed, particularly in classroom support for early mathematics
Impacts of PreK and classroom quality are similar for PreK program sites administered by the state Public Education Department and the state Children, Youth and Families Department
An estimated $5 in benefits is generated in New Mexico for every dollar invested in New Mexico PreK
It is the last of these findings that has me most intrigued. According to the report, the dollar benefits are calculated by looking at
the reduction of the number of children retained in grade
the decrease in the number of children needing special education services
an assumed increase in graduation rates
Even more suprisingly, the report estimates that
The benefit to U.S. society is estimated at $6.17 for every dollar invested in New Mexico [because] participants will have better educational outcomes that produce higher earnings. They will be less likely to engage in criminal behavior, to be victims of abuse and neglect, and to use welfare services.
This puts the rate of return of New Mexico’s state‐funded pre-k program at an estimated 18.1 percent for New Mexico and an estimated 22.3 percent to the country as a whole. Wow!
To view the complete report, click here.
November 12, 2009
Earlier this week I spent some time at the newly openned, professionally designed natural playground. Kids have been exploring and enjoying it for about two weeks now. While I was there, a group of toddlers and their teachers were enjoying an unusually mild November day.
Several kids were huddled together in a large tunnel which makes the hill it is carved into look more like an earth bridge. Woodchips cover the ground and the kids were sitting and lying down very close together, giggling and peering out at their teacher who was watching and waving to them from across the yard.
One little boy was completely focused on crossing a small wooden bridge, going back and forth, stomping and smiling along the way. When I got close to him he pointed under the bridge and said “troll!” I later learned that the group has been reading the story Three Billy Goats Gruff.
Another small group of three kids were rolling down a small hillside. Their teacher stood nearby occassionally making sure the children didn’t pile up on one another or helping to straighten out a crooked roller.
Soon a group of preschoolers came out. Among them were two with developmental delays, one who has very weak muscle tone and and motor control. He slowly made his way up a section of hill with only a slight incline and made his way to the plastic slide built in to a steeper section of the same hill. With little effort and a big smile, he launched himself down the slide.
One preschooler in particular roamed the playround’s peastone pathways, kicking and shuffling through the pebbles. Every teacher she came near asked her not to kick the stones, but she continued. Children were also continually being reminded to keep the trikes on the cement path. Obviously, rules are important on any playground, but I wonder if slight changes in the design might reduce the need for continual “policing” by teachers.
I had a chance to talk with some of the teachers about their new playground. In general, they loved it. One commented that the grass turf was wearing out faster than expected in some sections of the hillside, but most of the comments were very positive, including seeing less bickering between children over playground equipment and more imaginative play.
I’m curious to see if elements of the playground end up being changed over time.
To read the previous entry on “Watching 2 Natural Playgrounds Develop” click here.
Or click here to continue following these playgrounds:
October 17, 2009
One day on the way home from preschool my daughter declared, “I hate musical chairs!” I was surprised at the force behind her statement, but not so surprised by her feelings.
My daughter is not exactly a speedy child. She moves at her own pace and in her own good time in spite all of my coaxing and demanding. I try to remind myself that it’s developmentally appropriate, preschoolers generally don’t have much of a concept of time, at least not the way adults do!
Then I came across this article in YC Magazine. In it the author, Rae Pica, reminds us that as early childhood educators, we need to be aware of what children might learn from the activities we plan, including games.
Children learn from all of their experiences. What will children learn from the games we offer—self-confidence,problem solving, cooperation, trust, and improved motor skills? Or “rejection, competition, failure, and humiliation” (Staley & Portman 2000, 67)? It’s up to us to decide.
The article goes on to give the reader new ideas for modifying traditional games like Musical Chairs, Simon Says and Duck, Duck, Goose to better fit the emotional, physical and cognitive needs of young children.
Preschoolers are just discovering the joys of playing group games. They are fun, social, active and can offer a lot of learning opportunities. No game is right for every group of children, and very few games are always wrong. It is up to us to really think about the games we choose to introduce. What lessons will the children learn? How will this game foster their development? Then we can modify the rules as necessary to ensure that all children benefit from the games we teach them.
October 3, 2009
Right now, two of the local preschools I work with are in the process of installing natural playgrounds and they are taking two very different approaches. One school hired a well-known company to plan and build the playground. The other is taking more of a grass roots approach. Teachers are planing the landscape and parents are providing much of the labor.
Professionally designed and installed natural playground
The first program is a nonprofit that recently moved into a new building. Rather than installing a traditional playground, they chose to install a natural playground. When the workmen finish their job, the children will have a complete, professionally designed natural playground with new sod, shrubbery, and custom-designed play elements. The project broke ground in early September and it’s nearly complete. Watching the men at work has been fun for the kids, though I’m sure they miss having access to the playground. The space looks beautiful and very inviting.
Expanded view of home-made playground
Teacher and kid made natural playground slide
The second program is a small private preschool and kindergarten that has a good sized outdoor play area set up with traditional playground equipment near the school building and then flat, wooded grounds that extend further back. Slowly, guided by the vision of the directress and the labor of teachers and parent volunteers, this traditional set up is morphing into a natural playground. Some of the old, traditional playground equipment has been moved and transformed. The swing set has been broken up and individual swings hang from tree branches. Dirt was piled up in one area to create a small hill and the old slide sits on top. The donation of a large plastic conduit of some sort enabled the teachers to create a tunnel that now goes through that hill. The project began last May and still has a long way to go, but the children are clearly enjoying the new space and it has already changed the way they use the playground.
The first approach is obviously well planned, while the second is continually evolving, shaped by donations and the input of the children as they use the new space. I’m curious to see how the children and staff will use each over time.
I love the idea of a playground conceived by the imagination of the teachers, built by hands of the community and further shaped by the children in the way that they use it. But one playground designer I spoke with commented to me that in his experience, programs who hire someone to create the design, but plan to do the work themselves rarely complete the project, and more often than not, don’t get far beyond creating a traditional playground.
Do you have experience with natural playgrounds? How did yours come to be? I’m curious to hear the experiences of others.
Follow the development of these playgrounds here:
September 24, 2009
Recently I’ve been working with a local preschool as they explore ways to measure student achievement throughout the year. The teachers are particularly interested in child portfolios. Personally, I love this method. It is easy to integrate into the current program, it creates a clear picture of a child’s development over time, and it is fun for parents and children to look through, making it a great tool for parent conferences and children’s self-evaluations.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide for how I like to create a child portfolio. Use it as a starting point, and feel free to make changes to suite your specific situation:
Materials- Have available a three-ring binder for every child and lots of clear vinyl sheet protectors to insert into the binder. This is where you will place the student’s work or other documentation. Label each binder with a child’s name.
Early in the school year, plan an activity that you plan to use as your initial assessment. Maybe you want children to draw a picture of themselves or their family and talk about it. Write down all a child says about his picture right there on the page and date it.
I like to also include a small strip of paper describing the activity, who collected the work sample and any other comments about the child’s behavior, etc. that might be good to note but may not come through on the work itself.
Slide the actual work of the child along and the strip of paper into a sheet protector and put it in the child’s three-ring binder.
You now have the first entry in that child’s portfolio!
Continuing Throughout the Year– Now that you’ve got the first piece of work collected, consider collecting additional samples as the year goes on. Some ideas of items to collect include:
examples of firsts– first writing, first figure drawing, first successful block structure, first example of leadership, etc. Other break-through moments can also be included.
other planned activities spaced across the year– just like the initial work you collected, consider planning others for assessment purposes. These should be activities that the whole group engages in (not necessarily all at once, but within a similar time frame) and included in the portfolio of each child.
moments of glory– pictures, creations, experiments or actions that the child is particularly proud of.
Types of documentation to include- Don’t feel confined to only included actual samples of a child’s work. Other equally valuable portfolio entries include:
Teacher’s notes or observations, either during a specific activity or during free play.
Photos of children at work, structures they have built, creations they have made, field trips. Be sure to include information about the “whats” “wheres” and “whys” behind the photos you have included.
Awards children have received or notes and “gift drawings” dedicated to a child from other children. Include pertinent information.
Reviewing the Portfolio-a portfolio is only useful if you take the time to look through it periodically. As you flip through the pages from beginning to end you should be able to see a child’s development across many different learning areas. Look for “holes” or areas where you might need to gather more information. Then look for opportunities to do so.
Here are some great uses for a portfolio review:
For the teacher– to see how a child has progress during the year and identify areas you need to focus on to further improve the child’s development. Make notes on areas where individual children need more support, then look at your overall group. If you notice a trend of children needing more support or documentation in one area, this may mean your program could use some more work in that area.
For the parent– portfolios are a wonderful, concrete way to show parents how much their children have grown and developed. Use it for parent conferences or to support your thoughts when addressing an issue or concern about a child.
For the child– when children look through their own portfolios they have an opportunity to recognize their own progress. This is great for self-awareness and self-esteem.
If you are considering using portfolios, give them a try. I am confident that you will find them to be well worth the effort!
August 31, 2009
A recent study out of the University of Chicago shows that child care centers offer more than just child care to families, they offer an opportunity to meet other parents and build “social capital”. This can have a profound effect on the health and well-being of parents and children.
Media-Newswire.com had recent article on the work of Mario Small, Professor in Sociology at the University of Chicago and author of Unanticipated Gains: Origins of Network Inequality in Everyday Life, states:
Mothers particularly build up their network, or social capital, in a variety of ways. By working together on fundraising activities or taking field trips, they meet others who can provide helpful advice about a child’s health, or help care for a child when parents have an emergency.
According to the study, child care centers with strict drop-off and pick-up times do an even better job of connecting parents because they are more likely to congregate and chat at those times.
Centers also do a great job of helping parents navegate difficult issues in child-rearing, connecting parents with appropriate local agencies, current information and other resources.
What can your program do to help parents connect with one another?
Invite parents to participate in special events, field trips, etc.
Host a parent social, an evening event designed to welcome families and help parents meet one another.
Have a community events board where parents and other local organizations can post information and upcomming family events.
Introduce the parents of children who enjoy one another’s company.
Provide a contact sheet for parents in your program. Include children’s names, the name of their parent(s) and contact information. Make sure you get permission to give out personal information like phone numbers and mailing addresses.
August 20, 2009
When children enter a new school or care environment emotions run high. It doesn’t matter whether the child is returning to a familiar school or starting someplace new. They will be meeting new people, changing their daily routine, and discovering new ideas, skills or concepts. The unknown is always a little scary.
Children have a hard time controlling their response to a new situation. As adults, we have the ability to meet children where they are emotionally to ensure that the transition to a new situation is as smooth as possible. While every child is different and will exhibit their own, unique personality, understanding how children in general develop emotionally can help us make informed choices regarding how we react to a child’s behavior.
Here’s a great article from Early Childhood Today Magazine that explores the important ages and stages of emotional development and describes the behaviors you might see in children from infants to kindergarten.
August 15, 2009
Children today benefit from a wealth of new research and long explored ideas of teaching and learning. No doubt there is a learning philosophy just right for just about any child and family. And while the details of each are too much to explore in a blog, here’s a quick overview of some of the more popular teaching methods found today:
Montessori- a unique method of observing and supporting a child’s natural curiosity and development developed by Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. In a Montessori school children usually work individually in a mixed-age setting, with guidance from an older student or teacher. The materials available are often uniquely designed to allow a child to explore a specific concept or skill independently.
According to the International Montessori Index:
The basis of Montessori practice in the classroom is respected individual choice of research and work, and uninterrupted concentration rather than group lessons led by an adult.
When exploring Montessori schools, keep in mind that the name Montessori is not a brand or trademark. A school does not necessarily have to follow Montessori principles to call itself a Montessori school. For more information about the Montessori approach, try Montessori.org.
Waldorf– Another methodology developed in the first half of the 1900s, Waldorf schools use the arts as a vehicle for teaching and learning and often great care is put into the beauty of the school building itself. During the preschool years, imagination and free play are emphasized, as are domestic and practical activities (baking, gardening, etc.) Toys and manipulatives are made of all natural materials and designed to be a vehicle for creativity. Oral language is emphasized. Reading and writing are usually not introduced until first grade.
According to the website of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America,
Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head.
Reggio Emilia– Developed in Italy in the mid-late 1900s, this approach to teaching is child-directed and project-based. Using children’s interests as a guide, teachers encourage children to explore a particular theme or topic in-depth, usually culminating in a large-scale group project. Photo documentation is used extensively by teachers as a teaching tool, an assessment tool and to aid in directing children’s explorations. Children are also encouraged to explore concepts using a variety of symbolic representations including the visual arts, dramatic play, music and storytelling. One comprehensive online article on this approach states:
In a nutshell, Reggio approach articulates children to acquire skills of critical thinking and collaboration.
Creative Curriculum– A popular teaching approach among a variety of private preschools and Head Start programs, it was developed in the late 1980s by an academic (who later formed the company Teaching Strategies) and is based on current information on how children develop and learn. Emphasis is placed on 4 developmental areas; social/emotional, cognitive, physical and language. Teachers are encouraged to arrange the classroom and select materials to create a child-centered learning environment. Teachers observe children’s interactions with their learning environment to assess skills, interests and abilities and come up with activities or learning experiences that encourage social, emotional and new skill development.
According to the Teaching Strategies web site:
children learn best when they are actively involved with materials and with others. That’s why our resources for preschool programs place so much emphasis on setting up the proper learning environment and building positive, meaningful relationships with children and their families.
HighScope– Developed in the 1960s, this is one of the most studied and documented teaching approaches for preschool and is used in a variety of programs including Head Start. Much like the Creative Curriculum, High/Scope emphasizes the importance of the learning environment and encourages a child-centered approach where teachers are “partners” rather than “directors” of learning. One element unique to this model is the emphasis on routine. The daily routine is consistent and includes the pattern of “plan-do-review” where children plan their activity choice, do the activity and then reflect on the experience.
The HighScope web site states:
Active learning — whether planned by adults or initiated by children — is the central element of the HighScope Preschool Curriculum.
In my opinion, all of these learning models have very positive attributes. When choosing a setting for your child, think about your child’s personality and interests. Look for a program that will be a good match. At this stage, you want your child to love the idea of school and learning, so that attitude can carry forward.
So how does our curriculum compare?
World of Wonder’s theme-based curriculum draws from the many positive aspects of all of these models (experiential, child-centered, using a variety of venues for exploring skills including the arts and dramatic play, the importance of social and emotional development, the teacher as a partner in learning) and then uses the idea of a theme to bring together and give a real-world context to the many skills that children will be introduced to and practice during their preschool years.
Our preschool activity binders can be used as a supplemental resource with any of the above mentioned approaches. When used all together, they create a complete, comprehensive theme-based curriculum.
If you would like to share your experiences with these or other early learning models or approaches, we’d love to read your comments!
July 13, 2009
In a recent article in YC Magazine, Dr. Mary McMullen of Indiana University discovers that 21st century babies are much more social than child development researchers had previously thought possible.
According to the article, half of all babies in the US under 9 months spend a portion of their day in a group care setting. Such abundant social interaction, when supported by caring and attentive adults, has a positive impact on an infant’s over all social development.
A baby becomes confident through close, supportive relationships and having plenty of opportunities to explore and try new things. Babies need opportunities to make things move and spin and rattle and make noise, and they are so pleased when they can do things by themselves or with minimal support or intervention. Most of all, however, they want the people they care about to notice what they do and to respond.
The types of social behaviors the author describes seeing in infants is impressive including:
caring for others
respect (towards self, others and objects)
It is the tone and emotional environment of a group care setting that makes all the difference. Teachers that show respect for their colleagues, the infants in their care and their families are most likely to bring out more positive social behaviors in children.
The article also states:
Research connects strong, secure, relationship-based early practices with young children to positive long-term cognitive, social, and mental health outcomes in older children and adults.
If half of the country’s infants are in group care settings, and a large percentage of these facilities strive to offer the kind of care climate described in this article, then I have great hope for the future of this country!
June 17, 2009
Bullying is a big issue in schools. We typically think of it as a problem that begins in the upper elementary grades, but a recent article in Preschool Matters, a publication of the National Institute for Early Education and Research (NIEER) shows that the behavior patterns that make a child more likely to become a victim of chronic bullying begin in early childhood.
The study finds that the biggest predictors of a child’s likelihood of being a victim of bullying are:
displaying aggression as early as 17 months of age
harsh, reactive parenting
insufficient parental income
Harsh, reactive parenting seemed to be present in children who experienced a high level of chronic bullying. Aggressive children were more likely to be experiencing moderate and high levels of bullying. And parental income issues were present in all levels of bullying (low, moderate and high).
The article states:
…harsh parenting may provide a training ground for children to further develop aggressive patterns with peers, ultimately resulting in rejection from the group. Whatever the case, the findings in this study suggest intervening early with parents and children could help prevent a lifetime of victimization and disappointment.
Most anti-bullying programs target potential bullies in elementary and secondary schools. Perhaps programs targeting parents (communication skills, parenting skills, play groups, etc.) of infants and toddlers would be more effective.
June 2, 2009
In the words of author Carl Honore, too often parenting feels like “a cross between a competitive sport and product development”. A child is born and we see her potential. We imagine her perfect future and we work hard to make it happen. Unfortunately, we often forget to pay attention to the quirks, traits and rhythm of being that she was born with.
We work so hard to keep our kids safe and help them to achieve their full potential in every way, we forget to teach them to stand on their own two feet, problem solve and create their own path in the world. As parents we feel pressure to mold the perfect child, to help our children keep up with the rest, to give them an edge. We become chauffeurs, shuttling our children to their various obligations, or travel agents, arranging their daily transportation needs. It’s hard to find time for joy.
A recent interview with author Carl Honore on New Hampshire Public Radio’s program, The Exchange, really got to the heart of this issue. In his new book, Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting, Honore reflects upon this parental pressure, discovers that it is being felt around the world, and gives us all the opportunity to step back from the race, breathe a sigh of relief, and enjoy our children and their childhood for what it is- a wonderful and magical time in life that is uniquely theirs.
May 28, 2009
While some economists are talking about a light at the end of the currently gloomy economic tunnel, many families aren’t feeling much relief yet. Family incomes are dropping along with state support of important services including child care subsidies. Add to that the fact that summer vacation is fast approaching (already started in some areas). Families are stressed out and children are suffering.
Here are some recent articles that illustrate issues felt by families across the country:
Chicago- Recession Threatens US Progress in Child Wellbeing, Reuters:
“Our projections show that virtually all the progress made in family economic well-being since 1975 will be wiped out,” Ken Land of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and colleagues wrote in 2009 Child Well-Being Index and Special Focus Report.
El Paso- Families Struggle to Pay for Childcare During the Summer Months, ABC-7 KVIA:
“You have to work 40 to 45 hours a week to make ends meet and then worrying about where your children are going to be when’s school out,” said Kristen Daugherty.The bill for summer child care isn’t any easier to deal with when economic times are tough.
Boston- In Tight Times, Child Care Goes, Metro:
When Ben Molloy’s employer asked him to shorten his work week from five days to four because of a drop in business, the young father immediately cut his daughter’s day care hours to save money.When Meg Bowhers’ husband Mike lost his job, the first thing they considered was whether or not to take their son out of day care until he found employment.
Parents and child care providers are painfully aware of the negative these difficult economic times are having on our children.
I hope that our legislators will take into consideration how important child care is to a family’s ability to earn an income and recognize the long term financial gains that state and local governments are sure to reap from ensuring that their youngest residents have access to quality care before further cutting budgets or legislating against early childhood education and care.
May 14, 2009
Economists are now the latest champions of early childhood education. Minneapolis Federal Reserve Economist, Art Rolnick, and colleague, Rob Grunweals, recently co-authored a paper that found that government money spent on early childhood development yielded an extraordinary return. In it they argue that preschool is a smart investment of public funds.
One of the most productive investments that is rarely viewed as economic development is early childhood development (ECD). Several longitudinal ECD studies … demonstrate that the potential return is extraordinary. In a previous essay we found that, based on these studies, the potential annual return from focused, high-quality ECD programs might be as high as 16 percent (inflation adjusted), of which the annual public return is 12 percent (inflation adjusted).
The paper goes on to point out that all levels of government have a history of subsidizing various businesses in the name of economic development, and that a long-term look at those investments almost always results in little or no measurable returns.
These economists are convinced that our local, state and federal governments would get a lot more for their money if they invested in early childhood development programs.
You can read more of their papers and see all that the Minneapolis Federal Reserve is doing to promote this smart investment practice at minneapolisfed.org.
Help spread the word by emailing these links to your local or state officials.
April 21, 2009
Police cheifs across the country are noticing that when children in a community have access to quality preschool programs, they are less likely to get into trouble as young adults.
By age 27, the study claims, those left out (of a preschool program) were five times more likely to have been arrested for drug felonies and twice as likely to have been arrested for violent crimes. A similar study conducted by the publicly funded Child-Parent Centers in Chicago found that children left out of the program were 70 percent more likely to have been arrested by age 18 than those who participated.
The Police cheifs in this Illinois county are urging their legislators to invest in preschool. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids has 10 state offices across the country and all kinds of information about how early childhood programs reduce crime rates. Clearly, tax payer investment in early childhood is good for everyone.
March 22, 2009
If you are looking for a way to get some insight into your child’s (or children’s) multiple intelligences, look no further than their dramatic play. Here children take on roles, act out situations and recreate past experiences that have captured their imagination and interest. In dramatic play, the possibilities are endless, especially if you have provided a variety of props, tools and venues through which children can express themselves.
Here are some things to look for:
linguistic intelligence– talking through or describing situations, actions and reactions; incorporating writing or sign making
logical/mathematical– sorting, organizing or lining up figures or other materials; analyzing or critiquing dramatic play scenarios for their believability
spatial– using block building or creating other structures; focus on the look of a costume or prop
kinesthetic– very physical or active, incorporates a lot of movement
interpersonal– prefers to include others in dramatic play, negotiates play situations with others
musical– enjoys acting out songs; background music strongly influences dramatic play; may incorporate singing/music making into play
intrapersonal– recreates personal or imagined situations that involve emotions or have personal meaning; may prefer to play alone and may not need to speak to have meaningful and involved dramatic play experiences
natural– enjoys acting out the lives of animals, or imagines self interacting with nature especially enjoys dramatic play outdoors in a natural setting
Young children love dramatic play. It gives them an opportunity to be creative, express themselves, try out roles or situations they’ve seen or experienced and make sense of the world around them. Once you understand how your children approach dramatic play and why, you can take full advantage of it as a powerful learning tool.
Filed under: Importance of Play, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool | Tagged: Activities for Kids, Curriculum, Early Childhood, Importance of Play, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, Teaching | Leave a comment »
March 12, 2009
Today plans were finalized to create an “Early Childhood Extravaganza” event in our local community. World of Wonder spearheaded the organization of the event, but it is taking place because a variety of organizations serving young children and there families saw this as a great opportunity to come together.
The extravaganza is a one-day event where any organization, school or business serving young children (birth-8yrs) can show the community what they have to offer. Families can learn about various schools, summer camps, enrichment programs and local services.
Key components to the event include:
Free for everyone thanks to the sponsorship of our local resource and referral agency
Exposure to the community- great for programs looking to advertise cheaply in this down economy
Open format- creates a great networking opportunity for all
Fun- in exchange for the free marketing opportunity, participating organization must come up with a fun activity for children. Ideally this activity will showcase the organization’s strengths. Some preschools are planning activities that show how important play is to learning. The local library will have an activity around reading to young children.
Strengthens community- through increased understanding of local resources and increased awareness of the importance of early childhood.
I’m proud to be a part of this event and urge other early childhood organizations in other communities to think about working together for the benefit of all.
January 22, 2009
How are you involved with young children's learning?
As a parent
As a teacher
As a student of early childhood
As an academic/adult educator
January 13, 2009
As more and more parents and state agencies push for academics in preschool, many programs are turning to worksheets. It’s a simple and cheap solution.
To parents, worksheets look like school work. Even if their child only scribbles across a worksheet, it makes parents feel like he is being exposed to an academic program. For teachers, worksheets are a simple and cheap way to keep children busy and parents happy. Some even say that worksheets facilitate parent/teacher communication by enabling parents to see their child’s progress. What’s wrong with that?
The short answer is that worksheets are not developmentally appropriate for preschool-age children.
Worksheets are an abstract way to present a concept. Young children learn best through concrete, hands-on experiences. In fact, abstract ideas make no sense to children unless they have had related concrete experiences to think about and draw upon.
Worksheets don’t engage the whole child. Instead they limit children to visual stimulation and fine motor practice. This is stifling for children, but more importantly, it represents a lost opportunity to encourage a child’s development in a host of other important areas simultaneously (large muscle movements, language, musical, social, emotional, creativity, problem solving, etc.)
When a child is required to do worksheets, programs run the risk of creating self-esteem and behavior issues. This narrow approach to teaching goes against what we know about how children learn and does not suit the temperament of most preschool children.
When worksheets are presented as a choice, programs run the risk of enabling children to be passive learners, taking the easy way out. After all, the children most likely to choose worksheets are those who find the narrow task comforting.
So how can programs provide the pre-academic learning that parents want?
Begin with this great brochure created by the Associate for Childhood Education International about the use of worksheets in preschool. It’s easy-to-read question and answer format is full of great information for parents and teachers. Here is an excerpt:
Worksheets only permit children to copy or match numerals or letters, often out of context. Furthermore, it is more meaningful for children to see letters in their natural surroundings, such as in the “EXIT” sign by the door. Introduce sounds by reading and discussing well-illustrated, exciting, thematic alphabet books.
What are other ways to communicate to parents all that their child is learning?
Send home some work samples and collect others in a portfolio for each child that you can periodically review with parents
Have a checklist of skills for each child and have it accessible to teachers throughout the day
Have regular parent conferences or invite parents to come and observe, then talk with them about what they saw and all the learning that took place
Send home a monthly newsletter for parents outlining concepts or themes your group is working on
Send home ideas for hands-on learning activities that parents and children can do at home together. In addition to explaining the activity, be sure to outline all that a child might learn by doing the activity. World of Wonder activity binders are a great resource for this. Even if parents don’t do the activities, the act of reading them over can help to educate parents about hands-on learning.
January 8, 2009
Finding the right child care situation for our precious little ones is no easy task. Many places start fall enrollment in early spring, so if you want to find the perfect match for your child, you might want to start looking now.
The Chicago Sun Times is running a series of articles on this topic entitled Watching Your Children. Here’s a link to Part I.
Deciding on a child care center is like auditioning actors. Do they fit the description? Are they convincing? Do they have that je ne sais quoi that makes them irresistible? Do they keep the crowds coming back for more?
There are a lot of different options out there, and it’s up to parents to educate ourselves about the different programs and care situations available in your area. Here are some basics about the two types of care generally available-
Family Child Care– child care providers who open their homes to children. Most states have licensing programs for family child care providers, though not all people watching children in their homes are necessarily licensed. Family Child Care programs are usually run by 1 person and possibly an assistant. The children here are usually of a variety of ages and the home-like setting can be great for young children. Often times family child care programs are informal and offer more flexible hours and schedules than center-based programs. Remember, informal does not mean of lower quality.
Child Care Centers or Center-Based Programs– Private or non-profit programs housed in a public building, not a private home. A center-based program usually has a director/administrator in addition to teaching staff and is licensed and regulated by the state. Some are franchises and many are independent. Children in child care centers are usually grouped by age. Child care centers usually have fixed drop-off and pick up schedules.
Within the two categories mentioned above, there is a lot of variety. Choosing the right fit for your family, your schedule and your child is not easy.
One good place to start is at your local Resource and Referral Agency. Most states and counties have them and they exist to help parent find child care placements, among other things. To find your local R&R visit www.naccrra.org. In the upper-right corner you’ll find a map where you can enter your zip code and get search results.
Another good resource is Pre-K Now, a public education and advocacy campaign devoted to raising public awareness about the need for pre-k for all children. On their web site you’ll find a checklist that you can download and refer to in your search for quality care.
Child care programs can also learn from this check list and from talking to parents looking for care. It is here that communication begins. Only through a strong parent/provider relationship can we best meet the needs of our young children.
January 5, 2009
Both parents and early childhood teachers have the same goal- to create the best learning environment possible for their young children. The trouble is that our visions of what a great learning program should look like are often very different.
Recently, a great article appeared in the NAEYC Journal Young Children. It talks about what a good academic preschool program should look like.
Good preschools and kindergartens know that three-, four- and five-year-olds are wigglers and doers. To help children stay with tasks and learn important concepts and skills, teachers work with, instead of against, their individual developmental styles. A good teacher watches as a child explores materials. He asks open-ended questions that stimulate the child’s thinking: “What do you think would happen if you tried…?” She helps develop vocabulary by describing what the child in doing: “I see you used lots of colors – red, green, blue and brown.
To many parents, a room full of children doing their own thing, playing, is bordering on chaos. Our experience of school and learning is orderly rows of desks, or at least children sitting a tables. Math and Language Arts should be learned through worksheets. This is what we expect.
It is up to teachers to help us to change our expectations. Parents need early childhood professionals to open our eyes to all of the learning that takes place in a play environment. Our children need teachers and directors to be strong and stay true to what is developmentally appropriate, rather than crumble under parental pressure and confine young children to worksheets. As the author states:
In high-quality preschools and kindergartens, academic learning is playful and exploratory. Children contribute their own ideas, use their own problem-solving strategies, and pursue their own interests. Teachers skillfully weave in academic goals and objectives as they build on what children can do, and challenge them to try new things. Children are not left to their own devices, nor is their development left to chance.
A quality program may look like nothing more than a group of children playing as teachers flit about from group to group, but a skillful teacher can open up a world of wonder and understanding by being a thoughtful “guide on the side”. This takes hard work and careful planning. Share this work and planning with the parents in your program and help them to see the beauty in how young children learn.
December 18, 2008
On Tuesday president-elect Barack Obama announced his pick for Secretary of Education and shouts of joy were heard across the early childhood community. He made the announcement at a Chicago elementary school and the man he chose, Arne Duncan, is a strong advocate of early education and care. Both the location and the selection are signs of the importance Obama places on early education. The official website of the office of the president-elect, change.gov, outlines the following plan:
Zero to Five Plan: The Obama-Biden comprehensive “Zero to Five” plan will provide critical support to young children and their parents. Unlike other early childhood education plans, the Obama-Biden plan places key emphasis at early care and education for infants, which is essential for children to be ready to enter kindergarten. Obama and Biden will create Early Learning Challenge Grants to promote state Zero to Five efforts and help states move toward voluntary, universal pre-school.
Expand Early Head Start and Head Start: Obama and Biden will quadruple Early Head Start, increase Head Start funding, and improve quality for both.
Provide affordable, High-Quality Child Care: Obama and Biden will also increase access to affordable and high-quality child care to ease the burden on working families.
Times are tough, and the new administration may not be able to follow through with the full $10 billion plan, but it is clear that Obama understands the importance of this issue and has been committed to it for a very long time. In fact, I would argue that now more than ever, a financial commitment from the federal government to early care and education is crucial. Consider this:
The cost of early care takes a bigger bite out of the wallets of all working parents with young children than either housing or fuel costs. A recent Massachusetts study shows that families at most income levels spend more than half of their income on child care.
The lack of quality early care today costs taxpayers a bundle in remedial education services and social services as these children get older. Quality infant, toddler and preschool programs save taxpayer money in the long run. See FirstFiveYearsFund.org for more info.
Most of the public funding for early care programs is picked up by the states. With many states in financial crisis, this model is in jeopardy.
Clearly, we need strong leadership backed by financial resources at the national level, and it looks like the new administration understands this.
A recent NY Times article describes the excitement in the early childhood community well:
After years of what they call backhanded treatment by the Bush administration, whose focus has been on the testing of older children, many advocates are atremble with anticipation over Mr. Obama’s espousal of early childhood education.
December 9, 2008
Over the weekend I attended a conference on infants and toddlers. Understanding the importance of sensory stimulation in these young children was a big topic. Current research tells us again and again that all children learn through their senses, but for infants and toddlers, absolutely everything they learn (and they are learning a lot every minute of every day!) is coming directly through their senses. Before they can understand all of the information that their senses are feeding them, they must first learn how to use and process sensory information.
Given the importance of giving infants and toddlers a variety of sensory experiences, I was shocked by a conversation I had with an infant teacher. She was asking for ideas of things to put in the sensory table at her program, and she was desperate because her program’s administrators have banned the use of:
food (they want to be sensitive about being wasteful when so many don’t have enough)
leaves and other natural items (fear of pesticides)
anything that an infant may ingest including shaving cream, tissue paper, etc. (fear of a health hazard)
This left her with nothing but water and fabric scraps at the sensory table. I had heard of a trend discouraging the use of food for play purposes in child care settings, and I can appreciate concerns about safety, but I had never heard of so many absolute restrictions!
This got me thinking about the reasoning behind the “no food” policy. If the concern is wastefulness, why is it OK to waste water? It is a scarce and vital resource in much of the world. What about home-made play dough? It contains fewer chemicals, and so is better for kids, but it is made from flour and salt, both food items. Where does a program banning food as a play item draw the line?
I did a little online research to find more about this “no food” trend, but I came up empty. As far as I know, NAEYC has no position statement on the topic, nor have any of the major early childhood publications written on the subject. If anyone knows anything about where this idea came from or details on the reasoning behind it, I’d love to hear from you.
The population of infants and toddlers who spend their days in early care environments is huge. If these children were home, chances are they would have rich sensory experiences every time they got into the pantry and dumped a box of pasta on the floor, or played with their food in the high chair while mom finished making her own lunch. These every day home experiences that have been engaging infants and toddlers for generations are what children in these food-banning programs are missing out on. Why?
As far as I can tell it is little more than a misguided effort to be “politically correct” that is depriving children of opportunities to have the sorts of meaningful sensory experiences that they would be having if they were spending their days at home. And if these children’s homes can’t provide these experiences because of a lack of resources, aren’t we even more obligated to offer them while they are in our care?
The sensory experiences that food offers are also valuable for older children too. Older children can participate in growing, composting, and learning about foods eaten at home and around the world. For great information on how cooking can build skills and enhance learning across the curriculum check out this Parent and Child Magazine article.
December 1, 2008
No matter what type of climate you live in, no matter what the age of your children, there is something endlessly fascinating about ice. It’s slippery and hard. It looks like glass but it’s cold. And most amazing of all…it melts!
As winter approaches consider using ice to get children excited about this season and about science. Here are some ideas:
Put ice in their sippy cups. Watch for their reactions as they listen to and taste their drinks. (Sensory)
Put a bucket of ice and a dish pan of water out for them to explore. Provide tongs, large spoons and measuring cups to enhance the experience. Encourage children to notice how the ice changes over time. (Motor, Language)
Freeze fruit in water and serve the frozen treats at snack time. Watch the children’s reactions. (Sensory)
Freeze several small toys in a large block of ice (use a dish pan or brownie pan as a mold). Leave the frozen block on the sensory table and invite children to explore it throughout the day. Help them describe their observations and notice how they react to the emerging toys. (Sensory, Motor, Language)
Any of the toddler activities listed above work great with preschoolers as well. Be sure to talk about their observations and take it a step further by Inviting them to draw pictures of their observations. (Intelligences: Spatial, Linguistic)
Leave a large block of ice out during the day. In the morning, talk about it with the children, then measure it (length, width or height). Every hour throughout the day encourage pairs of children to measure the block. Help them to write down the measurements. Make a chart showing how the block changed as the day went on. (Intelligences: Logical/Mathematical, Interpersonal)
Give children three containers with ice cubes along with containers of salt, water and Styrofoam (cups or packing material). Invite children to pour salt over one ice cube, water over another and cover the last with Styrofoam. Watch what happens to each cube over time. Talk about and/or draw observations. (Intelligences: Logical/Mathematical, Linguistic)
Make ice ornaments. Freeze berries or other small, decorative items in ice cube trays or small cups. Be sure to also freeze a loop of string or twine in each. Hang these ornaments in an outdoor tree. Do animals come to explore the ornaments? (Intelligence: Kinesthetic, Spatial, Natural)
Give children a large block of ice and a flashlight. Invite them to explore. Does the light go through the ice? Does the light change? Can children see anything new with the help of the flashlight? Does the flashlight change the ice? (Intelligence: Natural, Linguistic, Kinesthetic)
Read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and invite children to talk about their own experiences with ice or snow. (Intelligence: Linguistic, Intrapersonal, Interpersonal)
Slowly pour a lot of ice cubes into a large container of warm water. Encourage children to listed carefully to the sounds the ice and water make. Talk about these sounds, then set out instruments and invite children to re-create the sounds. (Intelligence: Linguistic, Musical)
These are just a few ideas. Feel free to share some of yours!
Filed under: Activities for Kids, Infant/Toddler, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, Themes | Tagged: Activities for Kids, Early Childhood, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, Teaching, toddlers | 1 Comment »
November 21, 2008
As the holidays approach, conversations in your preschool class may begin to revolve around the upcoming family celebrations that your children are so looking forward to. For teachers who have cultural diversity in their classrooms, this can be a stressful time. Honoring the various traditions of your children’s families while trying to meet the expectations of the majority, or even a minority of very vocal parents/community members can be challenging. It is also a wonderful opportunity to explore the concept of diversity.
A diversity theme can be intimidating, but it can also be a wonderful way to get to know your families, strengthen the home/school connection and create a strong sense of community within your classroom. Here are some ideas:
Send home a parent letter and questionnaire– give parents advanced notice of the theme. Ask families where they come from, if they will be having a holiday celebration and if they would be willing to come in to talk about their traditions or bring in culturally relevant items or food. (Intelligences: Interpersonal, Linguistic)
Introduce the theme to your group by making “kid masks”– take a photo of each child. Blow it up to 5×7 or larger. Cut out the face. Laminate the photo. Mount it on a craft stick. Give children their masks. Encourage them to look at each others masks, try out the different masks, talk about how they are alike and different. Use them throughout the theme. Sort and group the masks by hair color, eye color, etc. Incorporate the masks into the dramatic play area. (Intelligences: Spatial, Interpersonal, Linguistic, Logical/Mathematical, Kinesthetic)
Encourage children to bring in photos of last year’s holiday celebration at home, or of a favorite family tradition. Use these photos to jog memories, have conversations, draw pictures or create stories. (Intelligences: Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Linguistic)
Explore books that are relevant to the cultures of the children in your program. (Intelligences: Linguistic, Intrapersonal)
Learn games from the family cultures of your classroom. (Intelligence: Interpersonal, Kinesthetic)
Look for songs in the home languages of the children in your classroom and encourage the class to learn a word or phrase in that language. (Intelligences: Musical, Linguistic, Intrapersonal)
These are just a few ideas. If you’ve tackled this challenging theme with the children in your program, we’d love to hear about what worked for you!
Filed under: Activities for Kids, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, Themes | Tagged: Activities for Kids, community, Early Childhood, Family, holidays, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, Themes | Leave a comment »
November 18, 2008
No doubt the world of education is in an age of standards and accountability. Many educators bristle at the mere mention of bringing standards into early childhood environments. Children should be allowed to learn at their own pace and research shows they learn best when they learn through play.
On the other side of the debate, policy-makers and the general public are insistent that we have to hold all schools accountable. Educators of young children have a responsibility to prepare our children for school. The debate is a heated one and it often feels that there is no option for a middle ground.
I wonder if we can’t find that middle ground in the definition of “school readiness”. Traditionally, school readiness has meant ensuring that children know the alphabet, letters and sounds, and are on the path to reading. It has meant that they can count and identify numbers. Some might even argue that they should know how to sit at a desk, fill in worksheets and stand in line.
Consider another definition, one that sees school readiness as multifaceted, encompassing the “whole child”, including physical, social, emotional, language, and cognitive skills. The skills children need to develop in order to thrive in school and beyond. School readiness is preparing young children to work with others, to communicate, to explore their surroundings, to problem solve, to use their senses as a tool for learning, to become self-motivated.
This means that “school readiness” is not an issue that individual schools can tackle alone. It is a community issue. Rhode Island Kids Count, a multi-issue children’s policy organization, has a similar view of school readiness. They put together a multi-state research project called the School Readiness Indicators Initiative. The task was to create a set of measurable indicators that define school readiness and can be tracked regularly over time. The indicators they came up with are divided into the categories of Ready Children, Ready Families, Ready Communities (this includes education, care and health resources). Here’s a glimpse into the “Ready Children” indicators:
Physical Well-Being and Motor Development
% of children with age-appropriate fine motor skills
Social and Emotional Development
% of children who often or very often exhibit positive social behaviors when interacting with their peers
Approaches to Learning
% of kindergarten students with moderate to serious difficulty following directions
% of children almost always recognizing the relationships between letters and sounds at kindergarten entry
Cognition and General Knowledge
% of children recognizing basic shapes at kindergarten entry
These indicators are explained in more detail in the initiative’s final report. I am still a bit uncomfortable with the idea that all children should be able to name all of the letters and their sounds when they enter kindergarten. Some children just aren’t developmentally ready yet. I think it is more important that they understand the concept of letters and written language. That they communicate well and enjoy listening to stories. A love of language, written and oral, will motivate them to learn their letters when they are ready. But I do think this wholistic approach to school readiness is a huge step in the right direction and one that I hope influences policy makers as learning standards become more influential in children’s early learning experiences.
November 5, 2008
On this day after the election I am filled with hope about the future of early childhood education. President-elect Obama sees the availability of quality early education and care as an important foundation on which future success in school is built. His web site outlines his plan:
Zero to Five Plan: provide critical support to young children and their parents. Unlike other early childhood education plans, the Obama-Biden plan places key emphasis at early care and education for infants, which is essential for children to be ready to enter kindergarten. Obama and Biden will create Early Learning Challenge Grants to promote state “zero to five” efforts and help states move toward voluntary, universal pre-school.
Expand Early Head Start and Head Start: quadruple Early Head Start and increase Head Start funding while improving quality for both.
Affordable, High-Quality Child Care: provide affordable and high-quality child care to ease the burden on working families.
While details of how this important vision will develop or how it will be funded in light of the country’s current economic situation have not been laid out, I am thrilled to see that our future president is aware of the importance of early childhood education and care in building a stronger America. It’s about time this issue, which is so important to families, will soon be on the radar in Washington.
November 3, 2008
It’s natural, as we work or play with young children, to look back on our own experiences in school and act as our teachers acted. Sitting back and just watching can feel awkward, maybe even boring. But young children learn by doing. Real doing, like coming up with ideas and acting on them. Experimenting. Problem-solving. Talking, making up rhymes, singing. Often times, when we try to act like traditional “teachers” we end up interrupting the real learning that children are doing on their own.
If we are always talking to a young child, asking and then answering our own questions, or pausing only a moment before continuing the monologue, we may be denying the child opportunities to talk. Shy or cautious children are especially likely to give up trying to communicate and just let you run the show.
If we are always the one coming up with the play ideas for children, they may have a hard time finding the opportunity to work on the skills they need to for their own healthy development. Then we complain about their attention span!
If we are always jumping in to fix problems (get the shape out of the sorter, get the blocks to interlock) children are missing out on opportunities to problem-solve.
At the high school or college level, teachers may be judged by their ability to give an interesting lecture or motivate their students. At the early childhood level a skillful teacher is:
one who knows how to actively observe children
one who knows how to set up an environment that encourages independence so that children can choose from a variety of play opportunities
And most importantly, someone who can spot the learning opportunities and “teachable moments” in children’s natural play and knows when and how to step in and guide a child to a new experience or level of understanding.
When working with young children, less is more. But becoming a careful and knowledgeable observer is not easy. It’s an art. It takes training, experience and skill and when a teacher does it well, it is something to behold!
October 23, 2008
Watch just a few moments of TV during a “family friendly” show, or take a stroll down any aisle in a toy store and you are sure to encounter a “smart toy”. They run on batteries or plug in. They beep, speak, light up, play music, wiggle around or react in some way to your child as he plays, and the manufacturers can’t talk enough about how their toy will make your child smarter.
Babe has one of these toys. It’s a battery operated ball that wiggles and rolls by itself, singing a tune with lights flashing as it goes. It was given to him with the best of intentions- he was a very late crawler, and this toy was designed to inspire babies to crawl. Great! He pushed a few buttons, watched it wiggle around with an amused look on his face and then turned his attention to other things. It never inspired him to crawl. He never really played with it much, and never for very long. With this “smart toy” He learned to:
watch something go
In contrast, he’s got a set of stacking cups that he is constantly pulling out of the toy box. He stacks them, nests them and tries to fit different objects into them. He pours small things from them, pretends to drink from them and hides things under them. His 4 year-old sister also loves to play with them and the two of them will even use them together. With these simple cups he’s learned to:
develop motor skills- grasp, stack, pour
develop spatial sense and explore size
engage in pretend play
engage in social play
These cups are a great example of “loose parts”, a term coined by architect Simon Nicholson that is being used more and more in early childhood circles. “Loose parts” are simple objects that have no specific purpose. They are open-ended, so children can use their own imaginations and creativity, impose their own experiences and play in a way that is meaningful to them.
An article in Penn State’s e-newsletter for people caring for children describes this kind of play:
It is in this free exploration and creation from the child that we can see their concrete ways of thinking and doing, or as the famous psychologist Eric Erickson put it, we can see their “natural genius of childhood and their spirit of place.” The cleverness and connections to formal learning that unfold from loose parts is amazing and is a motivation to make sure we include loose parts in our early childhood environments, whether they are a home care, center care, or group home care.
Imagine a preschool child out in the yard with a stick, some rocks and a bucket. She pretends a stick is a fairy wand (she’s been reading fairy books with Mom lately), and she wanders the yard collecting “magical rocks” in her bucket. She discovers the sound the rocks make as they fall into the bucket and she begins counting each “thump”. She thumps the bucket with her wand and begins singing to the beat. They options for play go on and on and she could be busy for hours, learning about the objects in her environment, integrating different experiences and exploring new skills in a way that is meaningful to her.
Now picture the same child inside with a “smart toy”. She presses a button and hears a letter sound, song, or story. She may learn the sound that a letter makes, but how meaningful is the experience? How engaged is the child? Is she learning anything about herself or her world?
To really create meaningful (and educational) experiences for young children, pass over those “smart toys” and encourage your children to explore the all the wonderful “loose parts” they can find around the house and outdoors.
October 14, 2008
Most states currently have rules and regulations for both center-based and family child care programs. To be licensed, a program has to meet that state’s health, safety and environment standards. On top of this, in an effort to improve the quality of care, many states have begun implementing preschool curriculum standards or guidelines. Keeping track of all of this and staying up-to-date takes time, effort and energy. In the midst of all of this bureaucracy, many program owners or stakeholders often wonder, “is seeking national accreditation from organizations such a NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) or NAFCC (National Association for Family Child Care) worth the hassle?”
Consider the Pros:
Accreditation is recognition of your program’s commitment to self-improvement and viewed by many parents and professionals as the mark of a higher quality program
The accreditation process is often a valuable learning experience
In some states, national accreditation may make your program eligible for grants or other financial assistance
Accreditation can make your program appear more prominently in on-line child care searches
Accreditation can be an expensive (time and money) process
Some of the requirements may be unrealistic for your program’s unique situation
It is clear that the world of education is walking down a path of standards and accountability. In some states this trend is pushing it’s way into the realm of preschools and early care. More and more research is coming out stressing the importance of the early years as formative years for a child’s future growth and learning potential. With this in mind and the fact that more and more families are dependent on child care, it is inevitable that accreditation will only become more and more important in a program’s success and viability.
Click here for more information about accreditation.
World of Wonder activity binders meet the NAEYC curriculum requirements for program accreditation and the Family Child Care Kits and Activity Binders can help providers meet the requirements for NAFCC accreditation.
October 9, 2008
Here in New England there is no mistaking the time of year. The trees are an autumnal rainbow of colors, the air is crisp and cool and with every breath comes the unmistakable smell of fall. Add to this the sound of feet shuffling through leaves and the occassional thump of acorns and pine cones falling to the ground and it is clear that any time spent outdoors is an absolute sensory feast. Take advantage of all the sensory stimmulation that nature provides and get outdoors with your kids during this special time of year. Some fun activities for toddlers include:
collecting acorns and pine cones in buckets
walking through big piles of leaves
mushing soft cooked apples to make apple sauce
putting leaves onto clear contact paper (sticky side up)
With preschoolers try:
giving a group the task of raking an area using child-sized rakes and after raking, jump into leaf piles (intelligences: kinesthetic, interpersonal)
collecting nature items in buckets and then counting and sorting them (intelligences: logical/mathematical, natural)
making leaf prints or rubbings (intelligence: spatial)
following a recipe to make apple sauce (intelligences: linguistic, logical/mathematical)
Keeping a tree journal, observing a tree throughout the fall and then drawing and talking about your observations (intelligences: natural, linguistic, spatial)
Gathering leaves in the play yard, sorting them, then chart and graph the results (intelligences: logical/mathematical, natural)
Making musical shakers from items found in nature, i.e. pie plate shakers filled with dried leaves (intelligences: musical)
Most importantly, just give your children the opportunity to get outside and have all of their senses awakened by the wonders of fall. If you have fall activity ideas you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!
Filed under: Activities for Kids, Infant/Toddler, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, Themes | Tagged: Activities for Kids, Early Childhood, Multiple Intelligences, Preschool, toddlers | Leave a comment »
October 7, 2008
Whether you are a parent or a teacher of young children, chances are you’ve experienced first hand the challenges of transition times (moving children from one activity or space to another). During transitions children loose focus, their sense of purpose and sometimes even control over their bodies and emotions. Sure you’ve dropped them off at day care a hundred times, but each drop of seems as traumatic as the first. Every day they are asked to clean up and get ready for lunch, and every day they wander aimlessly, seem confused and show their knack for doing exactly what you don’t want them to do. If these scenarios describe your daily routine with young children, check out the YC Magazine article, Planning Transitions to Prevent Challenging Behavior.
The article suggests you take a look at how your program manages transitions. Some sources for problems include:
Too many transitions
All children transitioning at the same time in the same way
Transitions that are too long, leaving children waiting with nothing to do
Lack of clear, specific instructions during transition times
Inconsistent expectations of staff (day to day or person to person)
The article gives some good information about why individual children may struggle with transition times and suggests teachers work together to observe one another and look critically at these moments of transition. Then, as a team consider the following:
assign roles for individual staffers before transition times (i.e. choose someone to prepare the next activity)
think about the placement of staff (i.e. have someone at the door to lead a quick activity for children standing in line)
identify children who may need extra support during transitions and plan for someone to give them extra guidance as needed
The article also includes scheduling ideas to reduce the number of transitions children must go through during the day as well as great transition ideas.
September 23, 2008
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you need the latest “smart baby” videos, high-tech gadgets and enroll in all of the latest “mommy and baby” classes to make sure that your young child is learning. But being over-scheduled and over-stimulated can cause a lot more harm than good!
Here’s a video clip I recently created to promote the “At Home with Ones” kit. In it you’ll see some snippets of simple activities to do with a one year old that really engage them and help to develop important skills.
So sit back, relax and try some of these activities with your child. I’d love to hear what you think.
September 15, 2008
Today Bug attended her first music class. It is called “Instrument Explorations”. It is designed to teach 4-6 year olds some of the basics of music with the idea that down the road, if they choose to play an instrument, they will have some sort of knowledge. The class description says they will be introduced the the keyboard and recorder, but what I found after joining Bug for her first day is that it is teaching her a lot of math concepts. Today they explored:
right/left (high hand/low hand)
counting (identifying fingers by number, counting keys)
patterns (rhythm, black and white keys)
grouping (piano keys as they are arranged)
comparisons (high/low, fast/slow, two-key vs. three-key groups)
And that was just the first day! I had heard about the connections between math and music before, but never had I seen it so clearly. After some quick online searches, here are some resources I found that further explore the topic.
Quick overview of a variety of math concepts and how they relate to music (all ages)
Article: Music and Math, How Do We Make the Connection for Preschool? (Childcare Information Exchange)
Article: The Effect of Music Enriched Instruction... created/researched by a Canadian Montessori school
For an easy way to bring music exploration to your infant or toddler, check out World of Wonder’s Music with Little Ones Kit or Experience Binder and remember, all of our preschool and kindergarten curriculum binders include a section on music activities.
September 10, 2008
A fellow blogger recently made me aware of an article that explores a recent study regarding the academic success of children in a full-day kindergarten versus those in a half-day program. As we might expect, full-day students have more success early on with academic concepts like reading, writing and math. What was surprising is that this difference disappeared by the time the kids got into first grade, and by the time the group was in fifth grade, the half-day kindergarten children were outperforming their full-day counterparts.
The article goes on to question whether the trend towards pushing for academic success at an early age is wise. Unfortunately, I also thought it seemed to question the trend towards full-day kindergarten programs. While I do agree that working tirelessly to get preschool children to read is not developmentally appropriate (and may do more harm than good), I think the reality of the modern family, which is usually made up of either two working parents, or one single working parent, means that a full-day kindergarten program takes a lot of financial and emotional stress off of parents. A large number of children spend full days in the care of others long before they reach kindergarten, so for them the time away from home is not an issue.
To me, the most interesting part of this article is what was left unsaid. Why did the half-day children become more successful? If they did actually spend the other half of the day with a parent at home (most of the half-day kindergartners I know go to another caregiver for the remainder of the day), what was that time away from school like? How can we create school environments that more closely mimic the positive aspects of staying at home? Do we need to encourage more positive play experiences?
In my oppinion full-day kindergartens are a necesity for most families. Right now the focus for kindergarten seems to be academic prep. It’s an introduction to first grade. Maybe instead the focus should be on the whole child, encouraging play and development in a more wholistic way and and trust that with a strong experiential foundaiton, the academics will naturally follow.
September 2, 2008
One question I get a lot from parents when they learn that I’m involved in the world of preschool and daycare is “how can I tell if a program is any good?”. To many parents, child care and preschool environments all look the same. They have toys, a playground, napping mats and the kids are usually playing. It’s not easy to explain the subtleties of a quality program, because often what sets a great program apart is not the quality of the toys provided, the slickness of the brochure or the paint job in the rooms. Instead it is the relationships the caregivers and teachers have with the children, and that is hard to spot during an open house or “after-hours” tour.
To find out more about how relationships between teachers, children and parents make for a quality early childhood program, take a look at this NAEYC article. Is your program fostering strong relationships?
August 26, 2008
This week I am helping our local children’s museum with their summer theater camp for elementary school children (5-12 yrs). It’s their first time running this camp, though the majority of the workshops are being put on by performance art professionals (actors, dancers, puppeteers, storytellers, etc.) While many of these performers are wonderful at their crafts, this is a new environment and new situation for everyone involved. One way we hope to ensure that each day is better than the last, we’ve been encouraging the workshop presenters and group leaders to go through a brief self-evaluation with the event coordinators.
These self-evaluations have proven to be invaluable. Not only do they help the presenters to think about ways to improve their presentations and grow as educators or “ambassadors of their craft”, but it also helps the event coordinators to see how we can play a more supportive role, creating an environment that promotes success. The entire self-evaluation process seems to have had the added benefit of really cementing a partnership between the presenters and the children’s museum.
If your program doesn’t have a formal system for teacher self-evaluation, you might want to consider it. I have no doubt that you will quickly see the benefits of higher quality learning experiences for the children, improved organization for your program and, if done right, a great sense of ownership and teamwork among the staff.
August 19, 2008
Near San Bernadino, California, a local elementary school is supporting families and encouraging disadvantaged children to aim for college through an innovative program for parents called “Parent University”. Here is a link to an article on the program.
Basically, it is a series of parenting classes on a variety of topics from nutrition to encouraging positive behaviors. Even traditional topics like how to help with homework are covered. The entire program has a college theme, with parents selecting courses from a catalog, cap and gown decorations throughout the rooms and teachers wearing college t-shirts.
The program has been well received by parents. Maybe it’s the positive vibe from the fun environment the theme lends to the program, but more likely it is because not only are the classes free, but food, childcare and even translation services are provided for free.
I love the idea of this program. It supports parents, promotes a strong family/school relationship, encourages parents to get involved and helps children to see that the entire community supports them and has high expectations of them. It may seem odd to start talking college to children just entering the world of schooling, but if you think about it, what a great opportunity it is to get young children to aim high!
August 18, 2008
Children who’s parents are involved in their schools do better in school. Taking the time to get involved shows children that school is important. An involved parent is also more likely to know how to step in and who to talk to when things aren’t going so well for their child.
Many parents want to be involved, but don’t know how. Work schedules are a big obstacle, but an even bigger one is parent uncertainty or apprehension. How do I start getting involved? Do I have anything worth contributing? Am I knowledgeable enough for the school to want me?
Personally, I think that child care and preschool teachers are in a wonderful position to help get parents engaged in their child’s education early on. More often than not, this is a parent’s first introduction to schooling for their child and a great place to start good habits. It’s also a less intimidating environment than an elementary school might be. And, of course, the nature of caring for very young children (feeding, changing diapers, toileting, napping) puts early childhood teachers in a position to have more intimate and longer conversations with parents than most elementary school teachers do.
Here is a handout written for the benefit of parents entitled I came across a handout written for the benefit of parents entitled “Communicating with Teachers” by the Center for Effective Parenting. Use it to help parents get involved, but also, have a look at it from the point of view of your program and think about ways that you can help meet parents half way.
August 8, 2008
In the July issue of Zero to Three’s newsletter for parents I came across a great article about young children, art and writing. The article begins describing a typical 15 month-old’s experience with crayons:
At first, it’s all about just figuring out what these cool things called crayons can do. Then your child discovers the link between her hand holding the crayon and the line she made on the page: Presto! She experiences the power of cause-and-effect. Imagine how exciting this must be for her!
It goes on to talk about the impact this creative experience has on a child’s thinking skills and takes the reader on a step-by-step tour of how a child’s art changes as she grows and how these changes relate to the child’s sensory, motor and cognitive development. It even links these early drawing experiences to pre-literacy skills.
Not only is it interesting to learn about the developmental phases of a child’s artwork, but I also found the article to be a great reminder of how simple activities, like experimenting with paper and a crayon, can have a profound impact on a child’s learning and development. To read the entire article, click here.
August 7, 2008
Thematic units are the backbone of the preschool and kindergarten learning materials available through wowkits. I have always believed that themes are the best way to engage young children in learning, no matter what their strengths or abilities. Today I came across an article in the teacher resource section of pbs.org stating:
Thematic units provide one of the best vehicles for integrating content areas in a way that makes sense to children and helps them make connections to transfer knowledge they learn and apply it in a meaningful way. Thematic units also address the diverse learning styles of the students we serve.
The article goes on to explain the many benefits of teaching with themes and echoes a lot of my beliefs and the reasoning behind our thematic units. It is also very well documented. To read the entire article, click here. I highly recommend it to anyone currently using or considering using themes in the classroom.
August 5, 2008
My niece starts first grade in a new school next week. It’s hard to believe that it’s already that time of year in some parts of the country! She’s excited and nervous. Her mom is a bit more nervous than excited…
It made me realize that whether it’s the first day of daycare or preschool, the first day of kindergarten, or the first day at a new school, those same feelings of anxiety are still there. This is true for children and for parents. I came across this article, Helping Young Children Start School on the NAEYC website. It focuses on the things you can do to help children make a successful transition to a new environment, but following these suggestions can also be very helpful for nervous parents. As the article says:
Approach the new year with confidence, and your child will, too.
I hope this will help ease some nerves as we all get ready to jump into a new school year. Good luck!
August 4, 2008
For a quick and easy way to get preschool and school-age kids exploring the outdoors, try this simple leaf rubbing activity. All you need is:
a few pieces of paper
a couple of crayons with the paper wrappers removed
a hard, flat surface (smooth table top, floor or hard cover book)
a bucket, basket or bag for collecting leaves
1. Explain to kids that they need to collect a variety of different leaves or other flat objects in their bucket. Then we’ll use the paper and crayons to make cool rubbings.
2. As the children collect their leaves, encourage them to take their time and look at and feel the textures they encounter. Point out some of the features of the leaves, plants, trees or landscape you are exploring. Keep an eye out for insects or other little creatures you might come across. Don’t worry if they collect things that you know won’t work well for rubbings. It will be a great learning experience as they try it out. Also, don’t worry if you’ve spent so much time exploring the outdoors that you run out of time for the project. After all, the whole point of the activity is to get the kids to pay attention to nature, so… mission accomplished!
3. Once you’ve got a nice selection of items, show the children how to lay one out on the flat surface and cover it with the paper. Hold the crayon so it is lying across the paper and rub it across the leaf. Encourage children to press firmly and rub all around the flattened leaf under the paper.
4. Enjoy the oohs and aahs that are sure to erupt from the children’s mouths as they watch the images of the leaves appear.
Take it a step further by talking about the types of marks that appear after the rubbing. Which leaves make better rubbings? What didn’t work so well? After trying a few different leaves, can you predict what will make for a good rubbing image?
This activity is great for active learners as well as nature lovers and those who love crafts. It appeals to kinetic, natural and spatial intelligences, and the discussion questions can also help those with linguistic and logical/mathematical strengths also get involved.
July 29, 2008
At a time when personal budgets are tight and many states and our federal government are running up deficits, it’s easy to dismiss an idea like “preschool for everyone” as a luxury concept, something to table for better times. But preschool should not be a luxury. Preschool sets the stage for future learning. Preschool can help children of different cultural backgrounds, home languages and economic situations arrive at Kindergarten on a more level playing field. This means fewer supporting services will be necessary in kindergarten and the ripple effect will eventually be felt up through the grades. Sending children to preschool is like starting a college savings program the day your child is born. A little bit of money put in now will give us big returns in 15 or 20 years.
Research shows that children who attend high-quality pre-K are more likely to perform better on standardized achievement tests in math and reading, graduate from high school and attend college. They are less likely to be held back a grade, placed in special education or become involved in crime. Graduates of effective preschools are also more likely to be employed and earn a higher income, and less likely to need public assistance.
This quote is from a recent article in the Pasadena Star News. It’s time to think seriously about making preschool accessible to everyone.
July 23, 2008
“Again!” It’s the one-year-old mantra. They never seem to tire of watching the spoon fall from the high chair or pushing the button to hear the sound. Babe loves to pull himself up to standing and then fall to the floor. He does it over and over again with a great big smile on his face, followed by an eruption of giggles as his bum hits the floor. But it’s not just one-year-olds who love repetition. It’s all children. It’s how they learn.
A one-year-old may be mastering a new skill, like pulling himself up, or discovering a new concept, like cause and effect. The first few times they try it, it’s experimentation. Then it’s testing and gaining confidence. Once they’ve done it enough to feel confident, they continue to experience the joy of being able to do it. But that’s not enough…they’ll do it some more, changing things slightly to see what happens. Finally, they’ve had enough and move on.
The same is true for preschoolers. Sure, you may feel like you’re going to loose your mind if you watch that DVD or listen to that song again, but your preschooler thrives on that repetition! First, she’s becoming familiar with the song, getting a feel for it’s rhythm and tempo, where it changes and when it will end. Then she’s figuring out the words and how she can participate. Once she’s got that down, she just wants to hear it for the sheer joy of being able to sing along and know what to expect. Then, she’ll start to notice some of the details she hadn’t paid attention to before, like sound of a flute in the background, or an extra holler or chirp from the singer.
So, when you come across an activity that you and your child enjoy. Don’t just do it once. Embrace repetition! Do it again and again. Here are some tips for making the most of repetition:
Make materials easily accessible so that children can re-create the activity on their own.
Take pictures or video tape the activity. These are fun to look at later on and can help you all to see the progress made.
After a bit of independent repetition invite children to talk about or draw the experience.
Once children truly seem done with an activity, put it away for awhile, then bring it out again. With a little time and distance from an activity, your child will probably approach it again in a whole new way, learning something completely different and new.
Children are eager learners, we just need to be patient, try to see an activity through their eyes and let them do their thing!
July 17, 2008
It seems that everywhere I look, I’m getting the message that our children need more unstructured, independent time. Whether I’m reading about the kind of physical exercise that is appropriate for preschoolers, helping teachers to understand how Multiple Intelligences can improve their effectiveness in the classroom or learning about the effects of “nature time” on children (see previous post) the repeated message is that children are ready, willing and able to learn, grow and develop on their own. All they need is the time and the space to do it on their own terms.
We don’t need to “instruct” them. We just need to set up the right sort of situation, sit back, watch and be there to catch them if they fall (physically and emotionally). We need to get out of the habit of trying to keep them busy. Instead, let’s give them a bucket and a magnifying lens (some blocks and a toy truck, a scarf and a doll), take a deep breath, sit back and watch what unfolds. By being careful observers of our children, we can learn so much! We will begin to notice how they learn, gain a new appreciation and trust for them as capable individuals and, eventually, learn to wait to step in and lend a hand only at those critical moments that enable a new level of learning to happen.
It’s a bit like traveling from coast to coast. You can hop on a plane and get there quickly. You might not know exactly where you are or how far it is from where you started, but you have a general idea, and hey, you’re there! Or you can travel by car, train or bike. You’ll get there at your own pace and you’ll know exactly where you are, how you got there, and how far it is from where you started (and learned so much more “extra” stuff along the way)!
July 16, 2008
This morning the Today Show did a segment on the startling discovery that children are not getting out into nature. Apparently only 6% of children between the ages of 9-12 spend time outdoors on their own. I’d imagine the stats are even worse for younger children. In the segment Richard Louv, the author of the book Last Child in the Woods, discusses the many benefits that children get from spending unstructured time just exploring outdoors, including reduced stress, increased attention span, and increased creativity. You can see the segment here.
I was truly amazed to learn that so few children are getting out into nature. My daughter is four and my son is only 16 months and they both love to explore the yard and go for “hikes”. My daughter is so into discovering the plants and animals in the yard that she does almost daily “patrols” informing me of new flowers and weeds blooming and bringing me exciting beetles and slugs to inspect. My son practically goes into convulsions when he sees his hiking backpack come out, he gets so excited about a walk in the woods. I know we are fortunate to have a big yard and to live in a rural area near both town and national forest lands. For many folks, getting out into the wilderness takes a lot more planning and effort. But it’s worth it!
On Richard Louv’s web site is a resource page, giving suggestions of things parents and communities can do to encourage more “nature time” for kids. One of the suggestions is to create a Family Nature Club. Any parent could do it. It’s as simple as calling a few friends with kids and organizing a walk at a local park. I also think that preschools and day care centers could be great leaders for such an initiative. Just post something on a bulletin board or send the idea out in a newsletter home. Then help interested parents find each other. Once families get out to the great outdoors, remember, it’s all about the time in nature. Don’t plan a big walk, and don’t rush the kids along. The point is to give them a chance to stop and turn over rocks, poke at a bug or climb a tree. Just take a deep breath of fresh air and let the kids do their thing!
July 14, 2008
Beginning last week, a construction crew installed themselves on our street. They’ll be here for a month updating the water and sewer lines and repairing the road. The kids are in HEAVEN! Every morning at breakfast they take their seats facing out the window to watch the action. So far they haven’t been disappointed. An excavator is digging, a dump truck is dumping, a front loader is carting loads of dirt up the street and the roller rolls everything flat again at the end of the day. The crew has been wonderful, waving to the kids and occasionally stopping to chat and answer questions.
Babe is enthralled by the sites and sounds of the big trucks. I’m amazed at how long he can stand in one place and just watch them. But Bug has really surprised me. Her usual passions involve fairies and kitty-cats. She is a lover of caterpillars, butterflies and flowers, and generally hates loud noises. But now she is loving learning about how roads are built and how big machines work. Of course, every bit of knowledge leads to more questions. She is delving into the world of scientific inquiry and discovery.
On that topic, I came across a great article in Early Childhood Today magazine entitled “Outdoor Activities: Taking Science Outside“. It talks about the value of taking science projects outdoors and gives ideas of very simple outdoor science experiences for young children. It is a good reminder that science and learning doesn’t have to be complicated.
July 10, 2008
Over the years I’ve gotten many calls from people in the child care industry who are frustrated by the pressure they feel from parents to push young children into academics. These dedicated professionals know that “kindergarten readiness” encompasses a lot more than knowledge of ABCs and 123s. Children need to develop emotionally, physically and socially. Young children need to do what they do best (play) in order to develop into healthy, independent and competent learners, but it’s hard to communicate this to parents in the few hectic moments at pick-up and drop-off time.
Likewise, I know many parents that feel lost when it comes to choosing a child care or preschool for their cherished little ones. Our earliest schooling memories are usually from elementary school. “Academic” learning is what we are familiar with, so naturally that’s what we look for as we search for the perfect learning environment for our young children.
Today I came across an article in Child Care Information Exchange magazine that may help teachers communicate a young child’s learning needs to parents and help parents understand what they should be looking for in a quality program. So, no matter which end of the parent/teacher relationship you most relate to, this article is worth reading. It’s entitled “The Child’s Job: Talking to Parents about Child Development“. In it the author encourages us to “think about children as being born with a job to do. Their job is to live their lives, learn about the world, and develop into the very best people that they can be.” It’s a big job and a quality early childhood environment will support our children every step of the way.
July 9, 2008
It was a big night at our house… Babe did his first sign! I offered him some grapes as I was getting dinner ready. He did his usual grunting and lunging in the highchair to let me know that he wanted more. I replied with my usual, “Do you want more?” as I did the sign for “more” (fingertips of both hands coming together). We’ve been doing this since he was about 10 months old. Tonight he finally did the sign back to me. I was so excited, I fed him one little grape at a time, encouraging him to sign for each grape. He did it consistently! Then we had dinner and he showed off his new signing skills by asking daddy for more dinner. His face was absolutely beaming with pride. Then he topped it all off with the sign for “all done”. It was a break through and I can’t wait for the explosion of communication that is sure to come! If you’re not familiar with using sign language with babies, here’s a basic article on the topic: http://abcnews.go.com/ Those of you looking for more in-depth info can check out the research section of the BabySigns web site.
July 7, 2008
Today I began looking through the annual report published by The National Institute for Early Education and Research on the state of preschool education and funding across all 50 states. I know I’m a bit of an early education “geek” with a special interest in the quality of care and kind of funding available across the states, but I think that any one who wants to insure that they have access to quality care for their own children would find at least the summary of the report to be an eye-opener and quite interesting. Here are some stats from the report:
38 states now have state funded pre-k programs and 30 of those states increased enrollment in 2007
for the first time since 2002 states with a state-funded preschool initiative increased their per student funding for pre-k, though not by much
more children attend preschool through state funded programs than by any other means
Twenty-two percent of all 4-year-olds in the nation attended state-funded pre-K, an increase from 20 percent in the previous year.
Behind the national averages lie large and growing disparities, making it ever more obvious that the chances for a child to benefit from state pre-K are largely determined by the state where he or she lives.
Click here to check out the full report. If you aren’t happy with how your state is performing, get involved with your local preschools or contact your state representatives to let them know that preschool funding is important and will save us all money down the road as more and more children will be better prepared for kindergarten and more and more parents will struggle less with the cost of child care in the early years.
July 2, 2008
Babe is my little late bloomer. He’s 16 months old and not walking or talking. He started crawling the day after his first birthday. He starting pointing and grunting at things at about the same time, but not even the words “mama” or “dada” have sprung from his lips. Everyone reminds me that he’s fine. He’ll be running and gabbing away in no time and I’ll be wondering why I was in such a rush for this new active phase. I know they are right. I’ve said the same thing to many other parents. It’s just impossible to stay objective when the child in question is your own.
So, as I was looking through old child development information, I came across an article by Dr. Brazelton and Dr. Stanley Greenspan in Early Childhood Today Magazine called “Why Developmentally Appropriate Practice is Still Important“. It’s all about emotional development milestones and I was thrilled to see that Babe is right on track with those. I’ve always joked that he may be late walking and talking, but he is very advanced in snuggling. According to this article, healthy emotional development lays the foundation for future communication, social skills, self-control and even logical thinking. They list six different emotional milestones from birth to age three-and-a-half. So far he’s hit each of them right on time. I found it very reassuring.
June 30, 2008
Today is the deadline for workshop proposals for the California AEYC (Association for the Education of Young Children) Conference next spring. I got an email requesting a workshop proposal, and when I saw that the theme of the conference is “play” I couldn’t resist submitting a proposal. I’m always ready to jump at any opportunity to talk about the importance of play. And I don’t just mean as a stress reducing technique. So many people view play as an unnecessary “luxury”, or even a waste of time. Not so! To a young child play is work! Sure, it’s work they enjoy… isn’t that what we all aspire to?
Play is how young children learn about the world. If you want your preschooler to get excited about science, don’t strong-arm the local elementary science camp coordinator to squeeze in your young but brilliant child. Give your child things to play with! I don’t mean a kid-sized science lab kit, I mean open-ended things. Things they can get creative and experiment with. A water table, pitchers, flexible tubing, a funnel and a cheap siphon from the hardware store will keep your child entertained all summer. Just give her the time and permission to get wet and play with it all. You’ll be amazed with the projects that your child comes up with on her own. Through her play, she will learn about all kinds of scientific principles and problem solving. She’ll be improving her motor skills and her thinking skills and it may even plant the seed for a genuine interest and excitement about science as she gets older.
Of course, this idea applies to all kinds of subject matter and skills. Young children need to play to learn and to apply what they’ve learned in a way that is meaningful to them. We all need to remember to let kids play without meddling so much. Let’s sit back from our role as activity director. We will never be disappointed with all that they will learn on their own. That’s not to say that teachers of young children are irrelevant. It actually takes a very skillful teacher to bring out the best in children’s natural play and encourage them to try new things. But that’s a subject for another time…
June 29, 2008
For my daughter’s 4th birthday her grandparents gave her a trail-a-bike. For those who don’t know, this is something that looks like a regular child-sized bicycle, but instead of a front wheel, it has a long bar that attaches to the seat post of an adult’s bicycle. When it’s all put together it looks like a funny, three-wheeled train of a bicycle. She and her Dad tried it out for the first time a few weeks ago and she loved it! From the moment she climbed into the seat to the moment she hopped off, she had an ear to ear grin on her face.
Since then, between the rain and Daddy’s work schedule they hadn’t had a chance to get out on the bike again until today. When Daddy asked her if she wanted to go for a bike ride Bean could barely contain her excitement, but when it came time to hop onto the seat, she was suddenly filled with apprehension. She clearly wanted to experience the thrill of the bike ride, but she just couldn’t stir up the courage to actually climb on. She just stood there staring at the handle bars. Her eyes focused on the padding between the handle bars. She fidgeted with it for a bit and managed to removed the pad’s vinyl cover and then the foam itself. Then she proudly put it back together again. Daddy complimented her on this adjustment and asked her if there was anything else she wanted to do to the bike before she got on. He helped her put air in the tires and tighten the valves and then she announced she was ready to go. She hopped on and off they rode! Maybe it was the extra time that she needed to get up the courage to climb on, but I wonder if it was the sense of ownership she got from making these little adjustments herself that gave her enough of a sense of control to be able to hop into that seat and embrace the unknown adventures to come.
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