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?

“What Language Are You Speaking?” Part One

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

Part One: What is Code-Mixing?

Many times when our family is asked what language we speak at home our response—“We speak “Chinglish!’’—always stirs people up with much laughing!”

My husband and I immigrated from Taiwan to Cincinnati 30 years ago. Chinese Mandarin, which we used in our home, is our native language and English is our second language. My two college boys were born and grew up in Cincinnati. They learned Chinese Mandarin at home and were not exposed to English until they began attending a local child care center when they were seven months old. In addition to schooling in English, the boys also attended a weekend Chinese-language school throughout their elementary years.

As the boys grew up we, as well as many families that have shared a similar linguistic journey as ours, developed our own language called “Chinglish.” In our “Chinglish” language, we mix both Chinese and English words in a sentence. For example, unlike English, Chinese verbs do not have progressive aspects by adding –ing at the end. One day, I heard one of my boys answer my question by saying, “I am xi zao (洗澡)ing” meaning “I am taking a shower.” “Xi zao” (洗澡) in Chinese means “take a shower.” However in Chinese no change at the end of the verb is required to indicate immediacy. This is an example of code-mixing, also known as code-switching, and it is a very common practice of young dual language learners (DLL) and also adult bilinguals and is a valuable linguistic tool.

How can ECE providers support young children who are learning more than one language?

How can ECE providers support young children who are learning more than one language?

Young DLLs focus on the meaning of the language and truly demonstrate communication, which is the most important goal in learning a language. The reason that young DLLs mix their languages is they have not developed enough vocabulary and/or grammatical structures in one or both languages to express themselves entirely in each language so they borrow from the other language. Yet, even when DLLs integrate both languages in a sentence, paragraph or stream of conversation, they often honor the grammatical patterns of both languages.

Early care and education (ECE) professionals should not stop bilingual children from code-mixing. Code-mixing is a natural learning process for bilingual children and doesn’t happen because children have mistaken one language for the other. Code-mixing reveals children’s active construction of language learning. It’s an advanced language skill for young bilinguals to know when and how to “take out” and use the relevant linguistic information stored in their brain based on what they have learned about languages— and the linguistic needs of their audience at that moment.

Many proficient adult bilinguals code-switch in informal conversations with others who are bilingual in the same languages. As their proficiency increases in both languages, bilinguals will naturally stop doing it when in a situation that demands monolingual uses of language. I notice this progression in my own daily use of the languages. For example, when I am at work around people who are English monolinguals, I use English for communication. However, when I return home to my family, I integrate both languages in conversation. Bilinguals seem to be very sensitive and adaptable to the people with whom they interact and the situations they are in.

In part two, learn about how you can support language development through encouraging code-mixing.

Freedom of movement

What does it feel like for an infant to be in a high chair, exersaucer or Bumbo seat for long periods of time? What is the intent behind using this type of equipment? Is it helpful, beneficial, or—goodness forbid—harmful?

Confining equipment is furniture that, in any way, limits the way an infant can move their body. Some of these types of equipment can be helpful. For instance, a high chair can be used for meal times or for a sensory experience. Caregivers may find a swing helpful when they do not have enough hands to rock a baby that likes it and hold another child while she takes a bottle at the same time. Sometimes these pieces of equipment are used just because they are there or because they are thought to provide entertainment to infants. Why else would they exist? They are made for infants, right?

Lay a blanket on the carpet and place toys within an infant’s reach to encourage movement.

Lay an infant on a blanket on the floor and place toys within her reach to encourage movement.

Marketing has led us to believe that certain products can “promote” development. Bumbo seats are supposed to help “aide” children in learning how to sit up but they can have a negative effect on children’s posture. Exersaucers are thought to help a child learn how to stand but this standing position is unnatural for infants and can cause misalignment to their spine. If you are looking to promote an infant’s motor development, they will benefit most if they are given freedom of movement.

The floor is your best free resource! That, with some classic tummy time can greatly impact a child’s ability to learn all they need to know about how to move their bodies. As infants become more aware of the world around them, they naturally become curious about how to get to the people and objects that are around them. They begin by finding their own hands and feet. They suck on them and watch as they move their fingers and hands. They eventually learn that they can hold a finger, a rattle, their bottle. Eventually, infants find a way to roll, scoot and wiggle to get around, which leads to crawling, cruising and walking.

The truth is infants need very little help from us to learn how to achieve these milestones. Infants are hardwired to move! But—there are some things that caregivers can do. You can prop a book next to an infant on the floor or place a toy just out of reach for an infant that is beginning to reach, roll or scoot. You can also refrain from rescuing an infant when they are stuck in a “compromising situation.” Instead, let them know that you are there for them when they are ready for your help and encourage them to figure out a way to solve the problem. You will not only be promoting their motor development, but also their cognitive and social/emotional development.

In my perfect world, programs would get rid of confining equipment like swings, bouncy seats, exersaucers and Bumbos, or at least limit their use. Until then, I encourage caregivers to think about these questions: What is the intention behind using confining equipment? What research is out there that can help you determine if any one type of equipment has any long lasting effects on a child’s development? How long are infants spending time in confining equipment? How can you support an infant’s freedom of movement?

How to keep staff motivated

I recently facilitated a workshop on how to keep early childhood education program staff motivated and inspired. We are experiencing some beautiful weather and that alone is enough to increase one’s apathy not to mention all the other factors that can contribute to a lack of motivation. I once was a director of a child care program where we could literally hear the roller coasters at a nearby amusement park. It’s super hard to retain the motivation of the seasonal support staff when they can hear their friends screaming in joy down the street.

How can you meet the needs of your staff and keep them motivated?

How can you meet the needs of your staff and keep them motivated?

We had some really solid discussions during the workshop that we framed using an article I found called 8 Deadly Ways to Kill Employee Motivation that can absolutely show up in a child care program if we let them. We talked about 7 of the 8 motivation killers. Hopefully some of these can help you figure out how to keep your staff motivated:

  1. Toxic People. We have all worked with them; the negative Nellie’s. The ones who find something negative to say about any and all things. They find faults in the lesson plan you are super excited about and are never on board with changes. And being excited about aiming for the next star in the quality rating system? Forget about it. Surround yourself with positive people. And if someone is that unhappy in a program, maybe it’s time for them to move on.
  2. No Professional Development. Since this is a state regulation, it may seem like a moot point, but it’s not. At 4C for Children, we hear time and time again that folks come to a workshop because they need the hours and their year is almost up or they don’t even know what the topic is because an administrator signed them up. Motivation will increase when training is meaningful. Encourage staff to give input on their own professional development based on their individual needs and interests. Search through the 4C online workshop calendar together, and call us any time for help with developing a plan.
  3. Lack of Vision. All programs should have a vision. It’s a plan for why we do what we do. Why does this business (for-profit or not-for-profit) open its doors everyday and where is it going? Once the vision is clearly communicated, it should be displayed everywhere (i.e. interview, orientation, reviews, newsletters, etc.); it gives focus to the work.
  4. Wasted Time. In our discussion during the training, what rang loudest and clear, are staff meetings. Staff meetings are necessary. It’s important to get everyone together and on the same page, but it’s also important that staff feel like their time is valued. Some tips we came up with are to allow staff to add to agenda items, have a set meeting time and place so staff can plan accordingly, and add food and fun. Ask a different room to “host” each meeting and what they do with it is up to them. Add team building activities. Sure, you may have some who think those activities are a waste of time (see point number 1) but most will appreciate the bonding, which inevitably will lead to motivation in the day-to-day.
  5. Inadequate Communication. There is no such thing as over-communication. Remember, whether you are in a classroom or running a program, people receive messages differently. If you have something important to say, say it a hundred times in a hundred ways (email, newsletter, posted near clock-in area, in-person, etc.).
  6. Vertical Management. Everyone wants to have a say. No one likes to just be told what to do all the time. Find ways to empower your staff to help make decisions and feel safe offering up ideas. And if you aren’t an administrator, let your voice be heard. Share ideas in an appropriate way and if you aren’t being valued, start looking for a new place to work.
  7. Lack of appreciation. This is the single, easiest way to keep staff motivated. SAY THANK YOU. Let folks know you appreciation them and what they do. Just saying it goes a long way but there also affordable, endless possibilities to show it. You can find lots of ideas on Pinterest for fun, affordable ways to show you are grateful for the work of your staff.
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