Are the activities you are “pinning” developmentally appropriate practice?

All early childhood educators strive to demonstrate what is considered developmentally appropriate practice every day in their programs. Step Up To Quality in Ohio and STARS for KIDS NOW in Kentucky rate our programs to ensure we are living and breathing what researcher’s have proven to be best practice. One of the hurdles programs may be facing is selecting and executing a curriculum that best suits their program and the children’s needs. As the curriculum is settling into place, educators plan activities based on the individual skill levels and the interests of the children. As we know, children develop different skills at different times. The range of development is very broad in the early childhood years. So how do we plan curriculum activities that meet all these different development levels?

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, basing your curriculum around open-ended activities is a great way to ensure every child can be successful yet challenged at the same time. Open-ended activities have intentional teaching strategies that serve a purpose and have goals. These types of activities provide children with more learning opportunities. They foster scientific inquiries, promote creativity, enhance social skills, build self confidence, and create a passion to learn.

This is an example of an open-ended activity. There is no end

This is an example of an open-ended activity. There is no end “product” in mind. Children are learning about mixing color, developing fine motor skills—and so much more!

When discussing curriculum planning and classroom activities out in the field of early childhood education, many teachers inform me they use Pinterest as a resource. Yes, Pinterest may have many “cute” ideas or art activities but they may not presented in an open-ended way. Unfortunately, some of these activities are surrounded by modeled art, which focuses on the end product of an art project, not the child’s ability to be creative, explore, and learn. Plus, let’s face it, my end product as an adult never looks as well as the end product on Pinterest! So why are we holding children to this Pinterest standard? What is the purpose? What are the goals? Many of these activities have no purpose or goals surrounding them, they’re just cute. Many of these activities are not truly based on the current interest of the children in your classroom, they’re just cute. Many of these activities are not cognitively inspired by the children in your classroom, they’re just cute. Many of these activities do not challenge children to a higher level thinking process; again, they’re just cute. I do understand there may be some activities on pinterest that are more open-ended than others. I encourage educators who may be using pinterest to seek out those activities that have a purpose and are focused on learning objectives and goals. Some activities can even be altered to be more open-ended, meeting the varying developmental skill levels of the children in your classroom.

When you are looking for new activity ideas for your classroom, consider the following:

  • Is there a purpose or a goal?
  • Is it something the children in your classroom would enjoy, based on your observations of their current interests?
  • Does it challenge the children to a higher level thinking process?
  • Does it meet the varying developmental skill levels of the children in your classroom?
  • If it is product art, could the activity be altered to be more open-ended?

Our goal in this field is to strive for what is considered developmentally appropriate practice, provide high-quality programs in early childhood education, and ignite a passion in children for becoming lifelong learners. Please carefully select activities with a purpose, learning objectives, and goals, not only because it is cute on Pinterest.

Are you communicating effectively?

I recently overheard an interaction between a child care provider and a preschooler that had me reflecting on the best ways to talk children so that it’s both respectful and effective. It was during pick-up time and the pair was in the gym. The provider was on one side, sitting down, picking up materials and the child was on the other side, playing, not wearing shoes. The provider said, “We wear shoes at school.” It wasn’t what she said, it’s how she said it; her voice was raised louder than was appropriate. She wasn’t yelling at the child and her tone wasn’t bad, it was just loud. But that’s all it was, loud. The provider didn’t leave her spot on the ground and the child still ran around the gym, laughing, not putting on her shoes.

Is your communication style effective?

One strategy for effective communication is to get close to the child on her level and speak softly, being very clear with the child what the choices are. If this teacher would have gotten up, walked over to the child and got down on her level, it may have gone a lot differently. She could have still begun with, “We wear shoes at school,” but then continued with options, “Do you want to put on your shoes or do you want me to help you?” “When you/then” statements work well too, “When your shoes are on, then you can play because it’s much safer to play in the gym that way.” The provider could have also made it about the safety, “I’m worried you are going to get hurt and it’s my job to keep you safe, so I am going help you get your shoes on.”

After telling the child several times to put her shoes on across the gym, the child ran up to the provider to give her a hug. The child care provider said, loudly and sternly, “No, I don’t want to hug you right now because you are not listening. Go put on your shoes.” The teacher remained on the floor and the child ran around the gym. It was obvious this preschooler was playing games or testing limits, but the way the provider reacted made it seem like not getting a hug was a punishment for not listening, which is not okay. Again, rephrasing would have completely changed the dynamic. When the child came over for a hug, a more successful and respectful response could have sounded something like, “I’m happy to give you a hug, as soon as your shoes are on. Would you like to walk over to put them on together?” It’s critical that adults are thoughtful in how we talk to children. I’ve written a previous blog about strategies to make sure interactions are nurturing and positive to guide behavior.

I walked to a classroom for a few minutes and when I walked by the gym again, the child had crawled into a large shelf, still shoeless, and the provider was still sitting on the ground. The child was in control of the situation. The provider was cleaning up which I know needed to be done because it was the end of the day, but sometimes that part of work has to wait. Perhaps once the provider supported the child in getting her shoes on, she may have been able to get her to help clean up.

“I don’t care about the letter __. My name starts with T!”

Letter recognition is one of the many priorities we face in the early childhood classroom. As educators we want our children to be prepared when it’s time for them to say goodbye to their preschool years. Often I find teachers incorporate letter recognition by utilizing the “Letter of the Week” strategy. However, best practice in early childhood education informs us that we should plan based on the individual child and their interests. My question to educators: is there a more natural and meaningful way to introduce children to the letters of the alphabet?

If you observe closely you will find that incorporating the letter of the week strategy is not of interest to many children. From my experience, I often observe most children wriggling around, talking to friends, playing with “closed” materials, and generally disengaged as the letter of the week is introduced. Why are so many of these children disengaged? Could it be that they don’t care about this letter because it’s not meaningful to them? The letters that children are most focused on in this stage of development are the letters in their own name. The letters in their name and the letters in the names of their peers are very important to young children!

In this classroom, the teacher created a fun activity for children to match the blocks to the letters of their name and their peers names

In this classroom, the teacher created a fun activity for children to match wooden alphabet blocks to the letters on their name card and on the name cards of their peers

So how can we utilize this interest and expand it to meeting the goals of letter recognition? Is there a way to incorporate letter activities as children play? Below are some of the ways you could incorporate the use of children’s name cards for various purposes in the classroom. Children could:

  • Find and use their name card to save their work
  • Copy the letters from the name cards to create a waiting list or write a letter home
  • Hang their name up on an attendance or interactive chart
  • Hang the names of their peers up on an interactive chart
  • Find their names at the lunch table
  • Fill out a “lunch request” form asking to sit next to a peer at lunch time

As children utilize their name and the names of their peers, they are recognizing many letters of the alphabet in a natural, meaningful and fun way. Then as children are developmentally ready and interested to gain more letter experiences outside their own name and the names of their peers, conversations and activities about other letters will become more natural and meaningful.

If we force children to focus on something they are not interested in, it becomes work or a chore to them. It feels like a test and drill situation. As educators we understand that children learn best through hands on activities and through play. According to best practice we should be focusing on what the child is interested in and plan from there, even when it comes to letter recognition.

For more great ways to enhance children’s literacy development please look into the training: “Moving Beyond Letter of the Week.” This training and many others can be located on 4C for Children’s online professional development opportunities catalog: http://www.4cforchildren.org/pdo

One simple way to have a “greener” classroom

I recently had a conversation with my mom about the amount of litter that seems to line major highways and busy streets across the greater Cincinnati area. She had noticed this while driving to help me with my son while I was away. I had to agree that during my travels for work, I am often saddened by the amount of trash that I see. We both have been inspired to get our voices out there about keeping Cincinnati beautiful for our children. One way I want to try and make a difference is to encourage teachers of all age groups to consider recyclable materials that are often just thrown away as resources for the classroom.

One of the things that I loved about being a teacher was finding ways to be creative. Incorporating reusable items in the classroom was an outlet that I found very useful. Whenever my teaching team and I could, we would use empty containers to make nesting cups, lightweight blocks, lacing games and more.

Dramatic play was an area of the room that we saw a tremendous amount of learning using different types of saved containers such as food boxes, plastic jars and tubs. Our teaching team would come up with wish lists of items that we were looking to add to the dramatic play area and share them with families. The children were able to recognize the containers as being specific food items that were used in their home. This recognition made teacher-child interactions rich with conversation, which has been proven through research to be an important teaching and learning tool.

In this ECE dramatic play area, you can see the empty reusable materials such as pepper, fruit jars, granola bar boxes and more.

Can you spot all of the reusable materials in this preschool classroom dramatic play area?

The beauty of reusable materials is that there is always a multitude of materials available. If a box gets crushed or a container cracked, you are able to replace it without any expense (of course recycling the no longer usable reusable material).

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, the Infant/Toddler Network (April 24 at 1 pm) will look at how to incorporate reusable materials in the classroom. We will talk about different ways materials can be used and the learning that can be seen as children play. There will be plenty of examples of teacher-made materials and you will be able to begin a project for your classroom!

In the mean time, remember to take care of our precious planet. Every day can be Earth Day!

Birthday party lists and other social interactions

If you are a provider in a room full of preschool children, the chances that you have heard the words “you can’t come to my birthday party” are about as good as the chances that you have seen rain the past few weeks. I was in a preschool classroom recently and had an interesting observation. A three-year-old child walked into the classroom and went straight to the writing center. He announced to other children who also walked to the writing center that he was making a list of children that could come to his birthday party and another list of children who could not come. He started pointing to each child, saying their names and identifying which list that child would go on. He then made some marks on a piece of paper, depending on which list that child was going on. Naturally, as children heard their name being announced, they came to see what the child was doing so after just a minute or two, he had quite a crowd. Children who were on the list to be able to come to his party seemed proud, while the others seem disappointed. I began thinking.

Learning how to interact with other children is part of social emotional development!

Learning how to interact with other children is part of social development!

While this interaction and similar interactions can be very hurtful, it’s also part of social development. Probably, this child won’t grow up to be a bully. He was starting to explore power within his friendships in the classroom. I noticed that all boys made the list of coming to the party and all girls (with the exception of one) made the list of not coming to the party. I wonder if this was a way of showing loyalty and protection of his relationships (versus intentionally trying to exclude children). That being said, caregivers and teachers have a role in supporting pro-social behavior; that is to help this child and others who have said similar things be aware of how their behavior can be hurtful.

As I was reflecting about this experience, I recalled a blog I had once read about “girl-power” that had five suggestions that would be very appropriate in an early childhood program or for those working with children (as this is not a gender specific issue):

  1. Teach language that is respectful. Help children hear the difference between “I don’t want to play with you” and “I’m not ready to play with anyone yet.”
  2. Show children how allowing others to play versus excluding could add to their play. “If you let a friend help you build the tower you may get it even taller and you’ll have a friend to help clean up.”
  3. Talk about qualities of being a good friend. (In the classroom mentioned above, the children are reminded to ask themselves two questions, “Is this kind? Is this safe?”)
  4. Ask children who are using hurtful language how they would feel. This isn’t to shame the child or single them out. Get on the child’s level, speak in a soft voice that only he or she can hear.
  5. Encourage children to play with new friends and try new things.

If wasn’t long before the teacher in the classroom walked over to the writing center to talk to the boy making the lists. She reminded him of the questions to ask; is this kind and is this safe? She also asked him how he would feel if his name was on a list to not go to a birthday party. He didn’t say anything for a moment and then said it would make him sad. The teacher asked how he thought the children were feeling who were on the list to not come to his party. He said, “Sad.” He then said all the children could come to his party and put the lists away before choosing another work.

Invisible child

Do you know what it is like to feel invisible? Have you ever been in a room full of people and wondered if anyone would notice if you decided to leave? Have you ever made a comment or suggestion and minutes later hear someone else repeat your words as though you had been talking to yourself? Now think about the quiet, easy-going, and/or shy children that may be in your care.

Just because a child is quiet, don't let them fall through the cracks when planning for your classroom.

Just because a child is quiet, don’t let them “fall through the cracks” when planning for your classroom.

It could be the child that rarely asks for help. Perhaps they are the one who continually sits quietly through group time. Maybe they are more likely to wait patiently for lunch or give up easily for a chance to take turns with a new toy. Sometimes children with flexible or fearful temperaments will watch from a distance and resist joining large groups. They may be more willing to “go with the flow.”

It was common practice in my toddler classroom to write individual notes on each child’s daily sheet. We also wrote anecdotal notes on an on-going basis to document their learning. While finding a routine for these processes, I remember struggling to write detailed notes for all of the children in my care. I noticed that I could document all kinds of learning for some children, while straining to recall instances for others. I realized that these children were typically those that did not “stand out” for any particular reason. Perhaps they were less likely to “throw temper tantrums” or often times preferred to play on their own. Sometimes after the morning greeting, these children demanded a lot less from me, whether it was one-on-one attention, help with tasks, or behavioral guidance. I didn’t mean to ignore them but I realized that I was unintentionally doing just that.

It became apparent that I was going to have to be very intentional on finding ways to observe children with quiet and/or fearful temperament types. I realized that I had to make adjustments in my practice. I made sure that I sat near them as they played. Sometimes to watch and observe, other times to interact and make sure they knew I was there for them too. If I knew they liked to read books, I would invite them to read. If I noticed that they preferred to play somewhere else in the room while there was a small group activity available, I would allow them that time. The trickiest part was helping children stand up for themselves when other, more persistent children would take their toys, so I would gently let that child know it was okay to say “mine” or “no.”

Once I became more aware of my own behavior, I was able to make changes. It is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure that all children’s needs are being met. We have to be flexible and understand that not every child is going to fit in the same mold and it is our duty to make sure that no child falls through the cracks.

 

 

“Good job!” …Good job doing what?

Many kindergarten teachers will tell you they want their new students to come to school with many tools in their toolbox, but at the top of their list is emotional confidence and social skills. Current research demonstrates that children with strong emotional and social foundations are more likely to be successful learners for a lifetime. Early childhood educators recognize how important this is and try to help foster these skills in many ways. One of these ways is through praise. I often hear teachers use statements like, “Good job!” or “Great work!”, but are these phrases enough? What does a child internalize when an adult says “Good job!”?

What does it mean to a child when you just say "Good job!"?

What does it mean to a child when you just say “Good job!”?

As children go through their day hearing these same phrases repeated to everyone in the classroom, it becomes generic. It’s not meaningful, it’s not concrete. Some children may not even realize what they did to earn that praise. By using these generic statements, we are missing an opportunity to help build a strong foundation for emotional and social development.

Praises should meaningful to that individual child, they should be concrete, and they should re-enforce what that child did that was so great. Praises should be encouraging and create motivation within the child. Attaching the child’s action to the phrase “Good job” is a great way to make this praise authentic and personal. This strategy will also allow other children to hear positive statements regarding classroom expectations and social interactions.

Think about what that child did that was impressive before speaking. Did the child use their words to problem solve or offer a hug to a classmate feeling sad? Did the child write the first letter in their name or build a tall structure in the block area? Or did the child explore paint in a new way by mixing and creating new colors? All of these accomplishments feel big to the child. If educators acknowledge these accomplishments in a concrete way, it will empower the child and promote emotional and social development. Children’s emotional and social development will flourish as they begin to genuinely understand WHAT they did that was “great!”

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