The privilege of observing of a child’s learning

The other night I was out walking my dog. It is my favorite time to be out with my dog because we are usually the only ones out and we can hear and feel the peacefulness in the air. This particular night was very clear with a hint of chill swirling around us. At one point I happened to look up and I saw a star shooting across the sky. I was amazed at the fleeting beauty and exclaimed to my dog, “Look!” (She didn’t care to look up from the pole she was sniffing). So I was left alone with my thoughts and pondering. As we continued our walk I reflected upon the star and the gift of looking to the sky at the exact moment it flashed across the atmosphere.

Teacher's have the privilege of a "front row seat" to a child's learning

My mind then wandered to the children we serve. What a gift it is to be present and observing at the exact moment a child truly understands a concept. I love seeing the look of amazement and innocence on a child’s face when she “gets it.” The child sits up a little straighter and sees the world through a slightly different lens. There is a mixture of innocence and a little more wisdom reflected through her eyes.

What a gift it is to be the person who helped facilitate that learning. We are the ones who arrange the environment, plan the lessons, provide the appropriate materials, and facilitate the learning. We have the privilege of creating a culture in which exploration is welcome and everyone understands and accepts there will be mistakes. We have the responsibility to develop community where it is safe to make those mistakes, to learn from them, and then move forward with a deeper understanding of the world.

As child care providers we are blessed to be the person who parents have chosen to care for their bright stars, their children. We must work hard to build trust and a relationship that tells parents we will carefully and intentionally teach their children the skills needed so they can soar through life as the bright star flies across the sky. Not only do we need to build that trust but we need to work hard to keep that trust. This means we follow the regulations, we treat children and families with kindness and respect, and we continue learning and stretching our minds.

Sometimes, as providers, we become so caught up in the busy-ness of the job that we forget to observe. I challenge you today to stop for just a moment and be truly present in the lives of the children. Look into their eyes and see the innocence, see their amazement at learning, and see the child as a star.

Before you lose your mind, find your laughter!

Deadlines and due dates, rushed lunches and drive thru. Clothes in the hamper and shoes stepped in dog poo. Silver white tresses that shock my brown eyes, these are the few of the reasons I sigh. When the kids fight, when the bills sting, when I’m feeling sad; I simply remember to laugh rather than cry and then I don’t feel, so bad!

I have to admit it has taken several circumstances in my life to take me past the point of tears, straight to hysteria, one of which being in the classroom. There is nothing like a flooded large muscle room, 24 shocked three-year-olds, two teachers trying to mop and 15 students from another class due to eat lunch in said flooded basement in 20 minutes to really fry your nerves. Oh, did I mention that the flood was due to an overflowing potty that I missed seeing due to the distraction of breaking up the block war taking place on the carpet?

Before you lose your mind, find your laughter!

There were wet socks (mine), wet eyes (my co-teacher) and wet pants (my youngest student) all around. As my director rushed to contact our local water expert and came down to help us start the evacuation process because the stairs were blocked by the newly created moat, there was only one thing left for me to do: save my sanity by choosing laughter. Now before you rush to judge me as an uncaring educator or irresponsible employee, allow me to challenge you to think of similar situations where reacting with negativity and a bad attitude not only created more tension and stress but magnified the situation to be far worse than it actually was. The children were safe, the carpet would dry and eating lunch a few minutes late was not the end of the world. In our field, it’s all in a days work!

Our team pulled together magnificently and tackled the problem (that potty was later replaced as it wasn’t working properly—I swear!) with a positive energy that could be felt by everyone involved, even years later. The pictures and video are priceless and reminiscing about it leaves us all in stitches. And let’s be honest, who would feel the tension and sweat the stress the most had we chosen to react differently? The children! And they don’t deserve it!

The first day of school, holiday parties and picture day can pack enough punch to make your head spin, but making a conscious effort to laugh instead of cry or scream or even pout can save your sanity and everyone else’s, including the children in your care. So the next time you are cleaning paint out of clothes, gum out of hair, dirt out of a mouth or are wringing water out of your sopping wet socks, I challenge you before you lose your mind to find your laughter!

Does your laughter need resurrected? Need to stimulate your smile? Want to learn more about how to use humor in your life to banish stress and negativity? Join us at the Eighth Annual Northern Kentucky Leadership Conference where keynote speaker Cea Cohen Elliott teaches us how to “Laugh For the Health of It”! Register by Sept. 30 to get the early bird price!

The family/child care provider relationship is a partnership

“They don’t know my parents. They won’t take the time to fill this out.” I hear this statement over and over when speaking to programs regarding information needed from families. My response is typically, “I understand it seems like an insurmountable task to get paperwork from every family. What can you do to change this process or to help families complete what you need?” I know this isn’t what most providers want to hear but if the process isn’t working, it needs to be reassessed.

The family/child care provider relationship is a partnership

There are a few things that I process through with providers when this topic comes up. As far as learning about a child, asking the family for information is the best choice. The family is the child’s first teacher. The family is the expert on the child. We need to tap in to the family as a resource, not see the family as a barrier. I ask providers how they have educated the family on the importance of what is needed, whether it’s the Ages and Stages Questionnaire or a sign up sheet for a family picnic. There are times we need to market what we do to get “buy in” from families. We have to discuss the intentionality of what we are doing so others can understand.

I also ask providers to process their perspective of the families. We need to assume best intentions. Families are busy. Maybe they honestly forgot to submit the form. Maybe they misplaced it and are embarrassed to ask for another copy because you’ve already given them two. Maybe they do not understand what the document is asking. Assuming that the family is purposefully being difficult isn’t going to help meet the needs of the child.   I’m sure every parent remembers a time when someone had the wrong assumption about them. It doesn’t feel good when someone thinks something that isn’t true. We need to keep that in mind when thinking of the families we serve.

As I talk to providers about this, I typically finish our conversation with assuming best intentions not only when asking families for paperwork, but in every interaction. For me, this is hard, but it’s getting a bit easier (depending on the situation). We need to remember that families want what is best for their children. I’ve yet to meet a family that doesn’t want their child to be successful. As we are discussing the importance of our needs with families, we can approach with, “In order for me to help the children be successful, this is what I need from you.” Make the expectations realistic. Let families know what they can expect from you. It’s a partnership. I also try to keep in mind we receive what we perceive. If we go into conversation thinking it’s not going to be successful, it won’t be. Thinking the encounter is going to be productive before it even starts is a great beginning to a wonderful partnership to help children, families, and providers become successful.

Hurry up and wait!

It is so hard to wait. It seems we are constantly waiting. We wait in line at the grocery store. We wait in line at traffic lights. We wait to talk with customer service on the phone. Waiting seems to take up much of our time throughout the day. As adults, we are used to waiting and have learned to cope with the lines. Although it is difficult to wait, we know that at some point it will be our turn and we will eventually get what we need/want.

How to ease and minimize wait times for young children in your ECE classroom

Young children, however, have neither the self control nor the social skills to wait for long periods of time. They often do not understand why they are being required to wait and sometimes they don’t have a strong enough relationship with their child care provider to trust they will eventually get what they need/want. In fact, waiting for an extended period of time can cause anxiety and behavior issues.

Wait time for children often occurs during busy times of transition in the classroom. For example, children are often expected to wait in line for the bathroom or for washing hands, they wait to finish group time and go to center time, and they are expected to wait for others to finish eating so they can get up from the table. It is imperative teachers know how to tell when the waiting has been long enough and too long. Below are some tips for transition times and for reducing and avoiding unnecessary wait time.

Have a routine so children know and understand what is happening next. A daily schedule and regular routine gives children the security of knowing what to expect, avoids confusion, and therefore helps the day move along more smoothly. Staff should have a realistic expectation of children’s attention span. When a teacher sees the children becoming restless and irritable she should know to stop the activity and avoid any further wait time. Along with the routine, planning and preparing materials before they are needed is crucial so children are not waiting for the teacher to gather what he needs for a lesson. Also, allowing the children to transition from group time or meal time to center time without any wait time is optimal.

When children are waiting for the bathroom or waiting in line, sing songs, play word or guessing games, recite rhymes, or do finger plays. Sometimes short waiting periods are unavoidable. A simple activity can do wonders by helping the time pass quickly and offers some priceless teaching moments.

Be prepared for some children to finish one activity sooner than others. It is best to plan something for those children who finish an activity quickly so they are not waiting without something to do. For example, if some children finish cleaning up from one activity, maybe they look at books while waiting for other children to finish cleaning up, and then everyone begins the next activity at the same time.

These are just some basic tips to help children during times of waiting. Remember, best practice is that children have as few wait times as possible and when unavoidable, the time spent waiting is short. Children shouldn’t be sitting and waiting for a turn. They need to be moving, exploring, and interacting with the world around them.

Who should be ready, the preschool or the preschooler?

I was looking through the Sunday ads in the newspaper this past weekend and I noticed that back-to-school advertisements are in full force. New glue sticks and scissors, notebooks and pencils are all part of the back-to-school rituals at my house. I was talking with a good friend of mine about the trials and tribulations of sending kids back to school with the myriad of supplies that need to be purchased. She doesn’t have children who are old enough for elementary school yet. She does however have a 3 year-old son so I asked if she was planning to send him to preschool this year. Her answer surprised me. She said that she didn’t think he was ready. And that got me thinking, who needs to be ready, the preschool or the preschooler?

Who should be ready, the preschool or the preschooler?

As a former classroom teacher for children ages 3 – 5, I spent many hours preparing the environment for the children who were enrolled in my classroom. I worked hard to have a safe space with materials that were interesting and engaging. I planned my lessons by starting with the knowledge of what children who are ages 3 – 5 should be able to do and what I hoped they would be able to do by the time they left to go to kindergarten. For all children who entered my room, my hope was that they came to play each day so that I could get to know them and plan things that were of interest to them. I hoped that they had a change of clothes just in case we found ourselves immersed in something messy. I hoped that they learned to love learning. I hope that I challenged them to try something new.

I believe that it was my responsibility to be prepared for the children who came each day.

So as you look forward to a new set of children in your classroom this year, I hope you take time to be ready for them. Happy New School Year!

Take a vacation in the classroom!

I apologize in advance for saying this, but a week is just not long enough. I am talking about vacation of course! Now that summer is finally here and we can enjoy the hot days and the warm nights with great glee, it seems that time is just flying by! Leaving in just a few days for my own excursion on a sandy beach I can honestly say that everyone deserves the break, both mentally and physically, especially early childhood educators who labor with love to children in their care day in and day out.

Although we all do our best to stay recharged and unsullied the truth is that there is just no replacing time away from the day to day life of our jobs. For some of us, it takes even longer to relinquish the guilt we feel when taking the time that we need and more importantly deserve, but it is beneficial for all involved, even the smiling and happy children who greet you with joy upon your return. I can also personally attest to the fact that it doesn’t take long for that “just returned from vacation freshness” to dissipate and the days to become long and tedious again.

The children in you care are also excited about summer, some vacationing and some not, and yearn for the same escape that we do. But who says you can’t take a vacation while in the classroom too? You can! Never underestimate the power and potential of the imagination! Some of my favorite trips have taken place on a red circle carpet in the safety of my classroom surrounded by eager and excited three-year-olds. We have traveled by plane, train, car and bus and have ventured around the world visiting different countries, observing diverse people and investigating famous landmarks. This type of travel requires the littlest of maintenance but contains mind-blowing possibility and let me just tell you, the Eiffel Tower and the Tower of “Pizza” were breathtaking.

Have costumes available for pretend play to a far away vacation locale!

Have costumes available for pretend play to a far away vacation locale!

You can make this the simplest of activities,  by learning a few French words and bringing a baguette in to sample. Come on, we all can fake a French accent for a few moments while we stroll the streets in Paris in a beret. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be inspired. Let your imagination and even more so, your children guide the journey. Remember that your interest and enthusiasm is the most contagious piece!

Ask open ended questions, challenge them to create and explore and entertain even the craziest of ideas! I mean, how much fun would it be to try and ride a camel while eating chicken nuggets to the see the pyramids in Egypt? Let’s try it! What do we need? Where would we go? Who would go with us? What will we see? Every question, every answer, every moment is a learning opportunity and the possibilities are endless. Need a break? Recharge and revamp your classroom with an imaginary voyage and just see where you end up!

How can we encourage children to be kind?

I recently spent two-and-a-half days at camp with my daughter’s sixth grade class. The experience was enjoyable and definitely schooled me on elementary age children. A comment another parent made has resonated with me and I am still ruminating over it. She stated, “One parenting component I think our society is missing is teaching children how to be kind. Some of the children just aren’t kind to each other, to the camp counselors, and to adults who are chaperones. Even if you don’t like a person, it’s essential to be kind to that person.”

In order to teach kindness to children, you need to model kindness

As I think about that, I can agree with it. I came in contact with children who ignored directions. Children who talked while the adult was talking. Children who watched someone drop a pencil and just walked on by without picking it up. Children who watched another child fall down without doing anything to help. In my brain I get respect and kindness intertwined. Although I think there are similarities, I also think they are different. We do kind acts with respect.

How can we encourage children to be kind? As adults, there are many things we can do in our personal and professional lives. While driving we can not scream at other vehicles. While in the grocery store we can push the cart on one side of the aisle instead of taking up the whole aisle. In school we can talk to children in a kind tone of voice. We can give children acceptable choices. While walking to the school bus with the children we can assist the child who needs a shoe tied. Are these things respectful? I believe so. I believe they are kind acts done in a respectful way.

We can point out the actions children are exhibiting that are kind. When we see Johnny give Elizabeth a tissue because she has a runny nose, we can say, “Johnny, I saw you gave Elizabeth a tissue. That was very kind.” When we see Sylvia walk around Monica’s block structure instead of walking through it, we can say, “Sylvia, you walked around the block area. I know Monica appreciated that!” When Bobby is struggling with his math homework and we see Elijah helping, we need to make sure we make a comment telling Elijah we noticed and how kind he was being.

During our camping trip, I was challenged significantly when children did not listen to my words. I was challenged when children talked while I was talking. I was challenged when after three miles of rafting; the children were still hitting oars while paddling. There were times when I was not kind. There were times when I blurted out, “Just listen!!!” When I calmed down, I had to remind myself that I needed to be kind. I needed to model kindness to the children. That’s not always easy to remember. For me, there are times I need to talk to children and either apologize for my words or to speak to them clearly about my expectations. I think it’s important for adults to acknowledge when they are wrong. There was one incident at camp when I was rude to a girl and needed to follow up with her regarding our interaction. It was so easy to spout the rudeness she was giving me right back at her. It was a little harder to apologize to her and say I was wrong about being rude and that I needed to be kind. It was even harder to be kind when her behavior did not change. Even though that behavior did not change, I still tried hard to be kind. No one deserves to be treated unkindly. How are you showing kindness to those you interact with?

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