Be where the children are!

I was recently thinking about my time as an Early Childhood Education student. I chuckled remembering my practicum in an infant room. I thought I might share some reflections on these first experiences.

I had a lot of experience in a preschool room, but really, close to zero experience in an infant room. As a student teacher, I did not directly set up the materials in the room, but I did have a role in using the materials in the room to encourage and facilitate the infants in interactions and experiences that to support their emotional, social and motor development.

Children learn a lot through interacting with each other—and with caregivers!

Children learn a lot through interacting with each other—and with their teachers!

Some of the older infants liked to get on top of the mats and pretend they were on stage and clap their hands. I interacted with them when they were doing this by singing along and clapping my hands with them. One of the most popular materials in the room was a container that played music every time a ball was dropped down one of the holes. When the children were playing with this toy I would try to encourage development such as vocabulary by saying what I saw them doing. I remember really struggling to come up with questions or statements that would encourage a higher level of thought. That was a skill that definitely came easier with time and experience.

Another favorite area of the room was for building perceptual skills. There was a shelf with colorful blocks on it, a mat and a mirror. The blocks were soft so they didn’t hurt if a child dropped one on them or hit another child with it. When an infant was in the area by the blocks, I loved to go over and try to model how to stack them. I set one on top of another and then would take it back off. I really enjoyed it when an infant tried to copy what I did.

I think one of the most important things I learned during my time in the infant room, was that no matter where the children were in the room, it was important to go there and be with them. I just got down on the floor and used every opportunity as a time for meaningful interactions. The text book I used during that student teaching experience was Infants, Toddlers, and Caregivers, by Janet Gonzalez-Mena and Dianne Widmeyer Eyer and it included a list of ten principals for care giving (Which can be applied in working with all age groups). They are:

  1. Involve infants and toddlers in things that interest them.
  2. Invest quality time.
  3. Learn each child’s unique ways of communicating and teach them yours.
  4. Invest time and energy to build a total person.
  5. Respect infants and toddlers as worthy people.
  6. Be honest about your feelings.
  7. Model the behavior you want to teach.
  8. Recognize problems as learning opportunities and let (infants and toddlers) try to solve their own.
  9. Build security by teaching trust.
  10. Be concerned with the quality of development in each stage.

Are hugs babying our preschool children?

Recently, I was observing in a preschool classroom when I was approached by a young child. This was a new program for me, it was my first classroom visit, and I had never met or formed relationships with any of these children before. Occasionally, on a first visit in a new classroom, children will approach me asking what my name is or if I’m a new teacher. Today was different. No one asked questions as I tried to blend into their environment undetected. All the children were engaged with activities. Then I was spotted by one child. This child just watched me for a few minutes, then stood up, and slowly walked towards me in silence. He didn’t smile or show any facial expression, he just walked. As the child approached me, I smiled. I wanted my smile to illustrate that I wasn’t someone to be alarmed by or fear. This classroom is his environment, his safe place, his territory. I’m just a visitor in his domain. Then it happened, he hugged me. As he hugged me, he squeezed tight and I could feel the tension in his body being released. No words were spoken. I let him hug me until he was finished. It was obvious he needed this emotional support. He slowly walked back to his activity and resumed his work, but occasionally would glance over in my direction and smile.

Immediately after this event, I began to wonder, should I have let him hug me? Was I being unprofessional? Is this hug “babying” him? Soon I began to realize I did the right thing for this child at that moment. He just needed a hug! Yes, you can still facilitate independence with children and be nurturing. Giving a child a hug does not mean you are babying them. I’m a firm believer in the power of touch, everybody needs a hug sometimes and this child was no different. Research proves the importance and everlasting benefits of building strong emotional development during the first five years of life. It begins during infancy; infants and children need to have their basic needs met which includes forming relationships with parents/caregivers. These relationships are necessary to a child’s emotional foundation. This foundation can influence them positively or negatively throughout their life. It has a huge impact on children’s future outcomes.

Sometimes a child just needs a hug—and that's okay!

Sometimes a child just needs a hug—and that’s okay!

As professionals in this field, we understand the importance and the impact of these first five years. As educators, we aspire to help them build that strong foundation. We want them to learn all their shapes, colors, letters, numbers, etc., before they leave our classroom—but what are we doing to enhance their emotional development? Are we building strong relationships with children? Do the children feel safe, secure and protected in our environment? What tools are we teaching or modeling for children to express their emotions appropriately, construct independence, and boost their self confidence? Can we foster independence and be nurturing at the same time?

Building meaningful relationships with children is the foundation piece needed to foster emotional growth in children. They need to feel safe, secure and protected in our presence and environment. As we truly listen and converse with children (not just talk at them) we are valuing them as people. It’s important that we help children acknowledge feelings and model empathy. We need to help children learn how to help themselves and others. Allowing children the opportunity to do things independently demonstrates we trust and respect them as individuals. Not only do we need to be physically present for children, we need to be emotionally available. We as educators need to embed ways to strengthen these skills throughout our curriculum and take advantage of these teachable moments. I encourage educators to put as much emphasis on helping children structure a strong emotional development as we do with all areas of development, and please do not be afraid to hug a child!

The magic of learning about emotions

Last month I wrote about steps to end temper tantrums. In step number five, I mention that “When children know they are in a safe, loving environment, they will learn how to calm down. They will know you will be there for them. This is when the real magic will happen.” What do you think that real magic is? Is it enough for a child to know what emotion he or she is feeling? What do children do with the knowledge that they were angry or frustrated? How do we help them understand why that feeling occurred in the first place? The why behind the feeling is how we help children learn what they can do the next time a child might take their toy or react to a situation calmly and say, “I don’t want to join group time. I want to keep building with blocks.” Whether it’s a choice for that child to continue building or not, all children should feel safe and capable enough to express themselves through words.

Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling.

Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling.

As children learn about their emotions and the “why” behind them, they are more likely to gain confidence in their ability to express their feelings. They can learn how to negotiate and work with their peers to solve problems. They can also learn to know that if they are frustrated they can ask for help. If they are angry they will have the skills to use words or stomp their feet rather than hit or kick another person.

This doesn’t happen overnight. Children need A LOT of practice along with consistency, empathy and compassion from adults as they learn these new skills. This process starts from the earliest days of life. Teachers have to meet children where they are developmentally and support what they may need in that moment. Teachers can then scaffold their learning and help them to the next step in their social/emotional development. It is also important to remember that children need practice from situation to situation. Just because a child has learned how to say, “Give my toy back,” in the dramatic play area doesn’t mean they will know what to do or say if a child knocks over their block structure.

The true magic to supporting and helping children to calm down and learn about their feelings and emotions also includes helping them learn what to do with those feelings as they happen. Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling. This support will help children learn how to become socially successful and emotionally secure.

Southwest Ohio ECE providers, do you need support in learning how to teach children about their emotions? Check out these upcoming 4C for Children workshops:

Science experiences in early childhood

Several years ago I attended training about science and how to incorporate it everywhere in a program which inspired a previous blog of mine. Just recently I was in a program and made an observation that had me thinking back to that blog.

The children were all crowded around a small garden where a butterfly had landed on a flower. The children were very quiet, just watching. I asked a teacher in the room to tell me about what was happening. She said, “That’s our butterfly. He has been visiting for a couple days and he has been on that flower most of the day.” I asked what the children have been doing with it. She replied “They just watch it…they keep each other from touching so they mostly just watch.” I walked over by the children who were watching the butterfly. I heard thing like, “Guys you have to be quiet because the butterfly is sleeping,” with a response, “No, butterflies don’t sleep, besides his wings are moving.” One child wondered out loud if the butterfly was a boy or girl. Another child wanted to move it to another flower but the other children insisted that he keep his hands off it in case it would get hurt. Most children went about playing on the playground, but they returned every so often to check on the butterfly. I thought to myself “What a wonderful opportunity for children to experience science!” These children are so interested in this butterfly, with lots of questions.

How can you enhance the science experiences in your ECE classroom?

How can you enhance the science experiences in your ECE classroom?

First, let me say that I’m glad the children were given the time to just observe—and sometimes that’s enough. Another way to add to this type of experience and extend it a bit would be to provide some clipboards with paper and pencils. The children could write observations, maybe do a time log (since the butterfly had been visiting all day) or draw pictures of what they were seeing. I also wonder about the extensions that could be brought into the classroom. Children could be provided with books about butterflies, both fiction and non-fiction. Small group discussions could be about different types/colors of butterflies, charting favorites. A free choice activity could be to sort the parts of the life cycle of the butterfly.

I think the point here is that sometimes opportunities for science experiences just happen, unplanned. And that is the perfect time to encourage some wonder. As I said in that previous blog, “There are many ways to do science everywhere; to look for ways that allow children to make their own discoveries of the world around them. Children are born scientists; they already have lots of questions and want to explore. It is simply our job to let them…”

Five Steps to End a Temper Tantrum

Temper tantrums can be difficult to deal with for everyone involved. Many times children are told to “Stop crying,” or “You’re okay,” when they are not okay. Adults tend to simply want these big emotions to stop, which is very understandable. It can feel extremely uncomfortable to be around anyone who is in a not-so-great mood. Therefore it is important for caregivers in an early childhood classroom to help children by supporting and teaching them about emotions, especially the not-so-fun ones.

It's important for caregivers to help children by supporting and teaching them about emotions, especially the not- so- fun ones!

It’s important for caregivers to help children by supporting and teaching them about emotions, especially the not-so-fun ones!

Here are five steps that can help children—and teachers—through a temper tantrum:

  1. Be compassionate and be there for the child. Let the child know that you understand that they are upset and that you want to help them. We have all been frustrated and angry enough that we want to scream, grit our teeth, or maybe even throw something across the room. As adults, we sometimes still have a hard time dealing with disappointment or staying calm when something isn’t going our way. Why would we expect children to be so?
  1. Label the emotion behind the tantrum. Typically when children are in the midst of a temper tantrum they are ANGRY. Not sad, but full on angry. They may also be feeling disappointed, frustrated, and often times misunderstood. This is okay! Help them by labeling what they may be feeling: “I can see that you are angry. You really want that toy.”
  1. Validate their feelings. Let them know you understand.
    “It is really hard to wait your turn. The sensory table is a lot of fun. Would you like to ____ while you wait?” Pick a toy or activity that the child likes to do.
  1. Help them learn how to express themselves. It is easy to sit back as a child expresses emotions such as happiness, excitement, and contentment. It is harder when they are feeling irritated, sad, and just plain mad! How can you help children safely express their “negative” emotions? What can they say or do to deal with these big feelings? When they are happy, children laugh. We do not stop them from laughing. It is okay for a child to cry when they are sad. When they are excited, children may jump up and down. How can we make it okay for a child to safely throw something when they are angry? How can we help them feel successful no matter what they may be feeling?
  1. Let it be. Realize that you do not have to stop the temper tantrum. Sometimes children just need time. When children know they are in a safe, loving environment, they will learn how to calm down. They will know that you will be there for them. This is when the real magic will happen.

Young children feel all the same emotions that adults feel but they do not know what those emotions are actually called. They don’t know how to say “I am angry” or “I am getting frustrated!” They feel the emotion but it is up to adults to teach them about feelings and emotions and what is socially acceptable. We all feel emotions, whether they are “positive or negative,” and it is how we deal with those emotions that help us to be socially successful. After all, who doesn’t want children to be successful?

What if a boy wants to play with a doll?

Recently I attended a training that touched upon gender roles and expectations in early childhood education. Even though this discussion was brief, it provoked a lot of personal reflection for me. This reflection was centered on my career as an educator, my role as a mother, and even my own childhood. While working in the classroom, I recall having a few parents who had certain expectations about how their boys should play. The dramatic play area was often a hot spot for them. I was sometimes told by parents of boys that there was to be no play with dress up clothes or baby dolls. As the teacher I timidly reiterated the importance of children being able to explore all the materials in the classroom and the philosophy of our program which allowed children to freely make choices throughout the environment.

Playing in the pretend or drama area is beneficial for all the children in the classroom!

Playing in the dramatic play area is beneficial for all the children in the classroom!

Looking back I feel I should have responded differently. I should not have been scared to participate in this challenging conversation. I should have asked, “Why?” I should have gone into detail on how children learn through imitation. I should have communicated that as children play through imitation they are researching different roles in life. I should have discussed all the things their son might be learning as they take care of that baby doll. I should have explained that as this little boy is pretending to give a baby doll its bottle, he is researching the role of fatherhood.

Even in my son’s younger years, when he was researching my role as his mother, I should have done a better job explaining this to his father. I should have been proud that my son found my role in life important, worth acting out and investigating through. Instead I would think to myself, your father would kill me if you saw you carrying a teddy bear around, wearing my heels! On the other hand when my son would imitate his father’s musical talents, no one pulled the guitar out of his hands. Everybody thought it was adorable that he wanted to be like his dad, so why shouldn’t he want to be like me? Is there something wrong with me or my son wanting to be like me? I believe my son saw me as someone who took care of other people while attempting to have some sense of fashion. He saw me as being nurturing. So what’s wrong with a boy or man who is nurturing towards others?

As I reflected on my own childhood, I realized these gender expectations weren’t quite as steep for me as a young girl. As a child, I remember my older brother desperately wanting a little brother to play sports with but he was stuck with me, a girl. So until my younger brother was born, I was the one he taught how to play sports. I was a little girl who could throw a spiral football and guess what, no one gasped or took the football and handed me a Barbie doll instead. I was taught how to play pickle, batter on a base, and run football routes; and everybody was okay with that. Not only did they let it happen, they cheered for me. Even after the arrival of my younger brother I was still included, gender didn’t matter. It was okay for me, as a girl, to catch frogs, turtles, and hold snakes. I did “boy” things as a little girl and nobody had a problem with it. So why is it a problem when a little boy does “girl” things?

Let’s stop being scared to have these difficult conversations. We can respectively communicate with parents on the value of children exploring and imitating different roles in society. Children need this type of play as “research,” it’s how they learn. As a mother, I find it comforting knowing my son understands how to be nurturing. This is a character trait that will bring him and other people in his life great joy. While reflecting back on my childhood, I now recognize that acting outside of gender role expectations as a child was helping me prepare for the most important role in my life, being a single mother. My son and I spend a lot of time together outdoors exploring nature and playing sports. Because of my experiences I can teach him about any of the things he might be interested in.

“What Language Are You Speaking?” Part Two

In this guest post, Debra Chin, 4C Early Childhood Specialist, shares some thoughts about our work with young dual language learners.

Part Two: Code-mixing in an early childhood setting

When working with young dual language learners (DLLs), early childhood education (ECE) professionals may need to use the language that the professional is most competent in. This will provide the most meaningful and authentic opportunity for children to be engaged in conversation through the appropriate modeling of a language.

support dual language learners

ECE professionals often use daily communication as opportunities to help children further develop language skills.

To best decide what languages to use, programs that serve children from diverse linguistic backgrounds need to carefully assess and reflect using a holistic approach based on the needs of families and the availability of resources. ECE professionals also need to remember that the goal for learning language for both monolingual or bilingual young children is communication, not for producing consistency of grammatical patterns of a language(s). ECE programs should provide an environment in which all young children, no matter bilingual or monolingual, are encouraged to engage in meaningful interactions with their peers and supportive adults.

Young children also need to constructively experience the power of the language to inspire their interests in developing language and literacy skills. When young children are actively constructing their learning of and knowledge in a new language based on the application of the patterns of the language they know, they are progressing toward proficient competence in each language.

In an early childhood setting, the Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) provides young children with a very powerful and authentic way to acquire language(s). ECE professionals often use daily communication as opportunities to help children further develop language skills. For example when a child at a snack table says, “cookies,” we might say, “These cookies taste good. Would you like more cookies?” This strategy of language modeling can also apply to young DLLs. When a bilingual child says, “Quiero ir playground,” instead of using direct correction and requesting the child to repeat it back in English, you can support the child by modeling the language, “You like to go to the playground. Yes, I like to go to the playground, too.”

Code-mixing happens when young DLLs begin demonstrating their competence with a new language and applying the linguistic knowledge that they have in the other language. Young DLLs need adults to intentionally and respectfully facilitate their vocabulary construction to broaden and deepen their linguistic knowledge. Code-mixing is a path full of excitement and celebration leading to proficiency in both languages. Together, we can explore the beauty of languages with our young dual language learners, recognizing their zest for learning and delighting in the process!

Read Part One: What is Code-Mixing?


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