The most important call you’ll ever make

Margaret MeadGuest-blogger and Director of 4C Kentucky Services Julie Witten shares her thoughts on the role of early childhood professionals in advocating for children.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead was on to something when she noted the importance of standing up for what you believe in. Despite this time of often sensationalized election coverage, it is important to remember what the democratic process—and the role of our elected officials—is really all about.

Elected officials are chosen by the people to represent the people and are answerable to those who elected them. You may think that your opinion or your voice doesn’t matter or can’t make a difference once someone is elected. In fact, quite the opposite is true. All elected officials offer a variety of ways (phone, email or in person) for you to contact them, but first you need to know what legislative district you live in. To find your legislator in Kentucky click here and in Ohio click here. This video shows just how easy it is to make a call to your legislator!

The Kentucky and Ohio state legislatures are in session now and representatives are making big decisions. So, this is a perfect time to contact your legislator about issues that are important to you.

What do you say? Is it important to you that families have access to child care assistance funding? Would you like to see additional incentives for providers in STARS for KIDS NOW in Kentucky or Step Up To Quality in Ohio? What supports would help your small business to thrive? If these or any other issues rise to the top of your list, contact your representative.

And, if you would like to see what statewide advocates for children and families are asking for, take a look at the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children or Groundwork Ohio.

Remember, it’s the duty of each elected official to listen to his or her constituents, the people who reside in his or her district. Each time you call or email, your exact words are registered on a green slip and the legislator reviews these each day.

Let your voice be heard. Your opinion matters!

To be there for children, it is important to take care of yourself.

take-care-of-yourself

We all know that working in the early care and education profession can be exhausting and stressful. As adults, we set the tone for our programs. If we are in a negative mood and are putting off vibes that we are unhappy, children can and will feel this and often times react in negative ways. Here are a few ideas that my colleagues at 4C for Children shared with me that they have used to recharge throughout and/or after having a tough day:

Pamper yourself. Treat yourself to something special! Some ideas include: reading a book or taking a hot bath. Or perhaps getting a mani/pedi is more your style. Sometimes enjoying a sweet treat is enough to recharge during a 15-minute break. It is okay to do these things for yourself in order to maintain a level of calm.

Commune with nature. Spend some of your lunch break and take a walk or find a quiet place to immerse yourself in the beauty of the outdoors. Terri, a 4C Professional Development Specialist kept a pair of binoculars with her to watch the birds that inhabited the tree line off of the parking lot. She found this very relaxing and rejuvenating on stressful days. Sitting under a tree can be grounding and can quickly recharge you with enough energy to make it through the rest of the day.

Ponder the positive. Bridget, another member of 4C’s Professional Development team kept a memory box of items that she kept from her classroom. On particularly rough days, she would go home and look through the box and think of all the positive events that she had experienced in the classroom. 4C professional development specialist Alissa commented that finding some alone time and thinking of pleasant thoughts can also be helpful on stressful days.

Involve the children. If you cannot get away or take a break—because let’s face it, it can be difficult to do—find ways to involve the children. Sing a silly song or put on your favorite, child-friendly music. Some of my favorite go-to albums included “Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George” by Jack Johnson, “Not for Kids Only” by Jerry Garcia & David Grisman, and “Let’s Go Everywhere” by Medeski, Martin & Wood. Music is one way to bring people together and can quickly turn around the dynamics of the program. Bridget also shared she would bring out a favorite book or art activity for children to do and this would often times help engage children and ease tension.

So the next time you are feeling tense or a little stressed out, remember it is important to model the behavior we expect to see in children. By taking care of ourselves, we can teach children how to do the same. How do you plan take care of yourself? However you choose to take care of yourself, it is important that you take the time to do it. The young people in your life depend on you and need the adults in their lives to be stable and strong.

Let Mother Nature Do the Teaching

Take a hike! Let mother nature do the teaching.

Take a hike! Let mother nature do the teaching.

Welcome Kelly Ely, 4C for Children Professional Development Specialist, to the blog team for 2016!

Exploring the outdoors is an incredible way to promote development in preschool children. The opportunities to encourage children’s inquiry and learning are endless. Experiences in nature can allow teachers to focus on all developmental domains—including cognitive, social emotional, physical well being, language and literacy, and the child’s approach toward learning. Children are naturally curious; therefore a nature trail is the perfect environment to prompt children to ask questions that lead to higher-level thinking.

Think of the woods as an outdoor classroom. The teacher can call attention to specific items seen on a hiking trail, such as animal homes, rocks, various trees, and plants. Often times in a classroom, teachers ask students to “stop talking” during lessons. While taking a nature walk, children will undoubtedly be inspired to talk to one another, fostering language development. Teachers can ask questions such as, “What do you think birds use to build their nests?” and the children can work together to discuss their hypothesis with other students. Collaboration is one of the keys to successful social emotional development. Successful team work creates a positive climate in the classroom. Students are empowered by the idea that they are explorers working together to get answers. Empathy, another important social emotional skill, can be encouraged in such as teaching children to be gentle with nature and not destroy or damage animal homes.

The opportunities for physical development in nature are endless. Beyond students running, walking, bending and following a trail, teachers can use this time to engage their fine motor skills. Picking up leaves, small rocks, and other small objects enhance children’s ability to use their pincher grasp with their index finger and thumb. Children love the challenge brought by this hands on task.

Items both large and small can be brought back to the classroom to further investigate and examine in depth. Student’s will enjoy activities that allow them to be “scientists” as they compare, contrast and classify items that they have discovered.  Children feel trusted and independent when teachers give them tools and ask them to investigate their findings and report what they see. A love of science grows from learning that exploring can be fun, as well as educational.

Before taking children on a nature walk, I would suggest reading a well-illustrated nature book as an introduction. This provides a great opportunity for children to become familiar with things to look for on the walk. It also allows provides a time to brainstorm with the children about what they already know about nature and what they would like to learn. Teacher’s can take learning to the next level after the walk is completed by placing books in the library relating to things seen on their adventure.

These teachable moments are not limited to preschool teachers; parents can share these same experiences at home with their children. If you do not have access to a nature trail, look no further than your own backyard or school yard for these opportunities to expand your child’s learning. Remember as you create lesson plans for your classroom or plan learning experiences for your child… there is a whole world of possibilities outside waiting to be explored!

Technology and the early childhood classroom

classroom tech

I have a love/hate relationship with technology in early childhood education. On one hand—I believe that children construct knowledge through play, and I don’t believe that technology is as useful in that way. On the other hand—technology is becoming more and more of a necessity in our society. So, should children have opportunities to explore technology in our ECE classrooms? As children advance to kindergarten and beyond, using technology in the classroom is mandatory. Some children have the opportunity and resources to be introduced to technology in their homes—through gaming systems, computers, iPods/iPads and their parents’ smart phones. Let’s face it; some would even argue that technology/televisions are becoming our children’s playmates at home.

Since many children have all this exposure to technology at home, why would we need to incorporate it in our preschool classrooms? Something to consider: this exposure doesn’t occur in every home. Some children do not have the opportunity or resources to be introduced to technology at home or it might be something that is off limits. For example, when my son was younger, he was not allowed to play on the computer. Since it was not something I could easily replace at the drop of a dime, I could not take the chance of it breaking. I saw my computer as being a necessity for survival and my family’s future, to be used only for work and to continue my education; it was not toy. Some may say he was at a disadvantage entering kindergarten due to his lack of technology experience at home.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all about balance. As educators, we know children learn through play, hands-on experiences, interacting with their peers and conversations with their teachers/adults. I personally would love to see more teachers using technology as an opportunity to enhance development through investigation and exploration with children. Too often I see children plopped down at the computer playing some kind of “interactive” game in silence. These children are typically isolating themselves—escaping social interactions with their peers and teacher. They sit and watch the screen, clicking the mouse occasionally. Instead, I would love to observe teachers becoming co-researchers with their children! Incorporate technology to follow the child’s lead and expand knowledge. Teachers can use technology to take advantage of teachable moments with children, for example, when a child asks questions about where an animal lives or what they eat, that’s the perfect opportunity to pull out technology to further their knowledge. As educators we want to encourage children to be curious, thirsty for more knowledge, and lifelong learners.

Ask yourself these questions before implementing technology in your classroom:

  • What is the purpose?
  • How will the children use it?
  • What will the children gain from it?

Even though children who don’t get early exposure to technology may be at a disadvantage in that area when they begin school, they do catch on quickly! Since my son started kindergarten, he hasn’t missed a beat with technology. In fact, he’s even taught me a thing or two. My son had been equipped for future learning in his early years because of the quality of engagement from his teachers. If technology is not an option for your early childhood program, remember that the most important thing that we can do for children is to offer them opportunities to gain knowledge through meaningful interactions and engagement.

There’s more than one way to address a behavior

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It turns out preschool boys are full of energy and can team up together to create an environment that feels chaotic and out of control. One preschool program that I often visit has entered a challenging phase, where the boys seemingly run the room. It also seems like the child care providers in the room hardly have time to engage with all of the children meaningfully because they are constantly “putting out fires.”

What makes this situation difficult is that it’s not only one or two children who need some very intentional proactive strategies to feel successful, it’s like seven. What I have observed is, these particular children, who happen to be boys, like to impress each other. It’s almost like they feel peer pressure to act a certain way. It’s become a pattern that some children will run around the playground when it’s time to line up to go inside. Every day some children do this. They run around the playground and taunt the child care providers, saying things like “You can’t catch me!” At first the providers tried a trusted strategy—get to children before it was time to line up, to hold their hand. In some situations, this works for those children who are “runners” because they do not want to have to hold the teacher’s hand, so this method takes one or two times to be effective. However, in this particular situation, that strategy didn’t work. The biggest reason is there are more children that habitually run than there are providers’ hands to hold.

What we know about children this age is that they have become increasingly more aware of and connected to other children. Other children become much more important than they were in earlier years. Most preschool children have friends and value being a friend. Fortunately, this program has access to an early childhood professional that has a strong knowledge base on the social and emotional needs and development of young children. After observing the behaviors and interactions of the children all day, he had a great insight that made perfect sense. Instead of talking to the children about their own good or bad choices (which I have used as an effective strategy in similar situations), talk to the children about what good friends would do. Whether the behavior was running around the playground when it was time to line up or hitting another child, most children of preschool age (and in particular the boys I’ve been referring to) know what kind of behavior is right and what kind of behavior is wrong. Good friends help their friends do what is right. Children at this stage are still learning what it means to be a friend. If asked, these particular children would likely say that the other boys are their friends. They would also say they want to be a good friend. So, encouraging them to help their friends do what is right might be effective. While they are focusing on supporting their friend, they are also doing what is right themselves.

In any situation where children are “misbehaving,” it’s important to be flexible. Just because one strategy to address a behavior worked with a different child (or group of children), doesn’t mean it will work every time. Sometimes you need to be open to trying a different strategy!

Don’t be sorry, be a problem solver!

Does forcing children to say they're sorry teach them what being sorry means?

Does telling children to say they’re sorry teach them what being sorry means?

Sorry is just a word. I feel that people use this word way too often—so much that it has lost meaning. People use it as a quick fix, “I said I’m sorry…” Are they really sorry? Do they even know what sorry means? The word sorry is defined as feeling sorrow or regret, but too often people repeat that same action or behavior. It becomes a “sorry cycle.” I feel that if someone was truly feeling sorrow or regret, the behavior would stop—ending the cycle. There is a tendency to slap on the “sorry band aid” instead of learning from one’s behavior or actions. Sorry is just a word; it doesn’t fix anything.

Think about this word through the eyes of the child. Do you think young children know what it means to be sorry? Do they understand regret and sorrow? Jean Piaget’s theories of development indicate young children are egocentric. Once children begin the third stage of cognitive development, concrete operational, they begin to use more logical thinking and eliminate egocentricism. Egocentrism is the inability to differentiate between self and others. More specifically, it is the inability to understand or assume any perspective other than their own. For example, a child who takes the block from her peer is so focused on her own needs and desires; she may not even be aware or concerned with the needs of her peers. The child has no regard for her peer because of her own focus. Children during this stage of development are still processing and identifying their emotions/feelings; they cannot fully comprehend the emotions of their peers or the idea of empathy. As educators, we understand that children are egocentric and these skills are emerging, so why are we forcing children to say, “I’m sorry”?

More and more educators are recognizing the importance of emotional and social development and its everlasting benefits on children. Often I work with teachers to help them strategize ways to increase children’s self esteem and self control. We discuss problem-solving strategies, appropriately expressing emotions, and encouraging children to begin to recognize the emotions of their peers. Instead of forcing children to say “Sorry,” let’s help them to become problem solvers and to learn from mistakes. Would it be more beneficial to encourage a child to focus on what he can do next time, what he can do to help fix the problem, or what he could do to help his peer feel better? Instead of just telling children to say they’re sorry, ask these questions:

  • Can these issues be solved through actions from the child? For example, should the child help rebuild a peer’s block structure?
  • Does the child need adult/peer modeling?
  • Should we ask the child’s peers what solutions they think would help?
  • Do we need to provide the words to help the children begin the problem-solving process?

In early childhood education, we are helping children build skills and construct a strong foundation that will last a lifetime. Instead of creating more people who are sorry, let’s create children who are problem solvers. Sorry is just a word.

Assuming children are friends does not teach them social skills.

Assuming children are friends doesn't teach them social skillsMany times I hear adults who work with children referring to a group of peers as friends. For example when two children start fighting over a toy, I often hear, “Be nice to your friend,” or “Your friend wants a turn.” What is a friend? Who in your life do you truly consider your friends? What signs do children give us that convey to us that they are friends? It is not enough nor appropriate to assume that all children are automatically friends—instead we should focus on how to help children learn what it means to be kind and respectful to others. Children also need our support to learn about empathy, how to express themselves through words, as well as learning about how to problem solve with one another. Here are some ways to support children’s social development:

Model using your own behavior. Children learn by imitating those around them. When they see others treated with kindness and respect, it teaches them what is socially acceptable. This also includes being transparent to children. It is okay to express your feelings aloud to children along with owning up to your mistakes. This can teach children that feelings and mistakes are natural and normal to experience.

Make it clear that everyone is entitled to their feelings. Labeling and validating emotions helps young children not only learn about what they are feeling but also that it is okay to feel them. When children understand that it is safe to feel their emotions they can learn to self-regulate and work to understand why they may be feeling a certain way. This is when they can move past problems and work with their peers to solve problems; not to mention make friends.

Refrain from fixing conflicts. Telling children how to solve a conflict—whether it is through forced sharing, time limits for turn taking and taking away the object or toy that is the source of the conflict—hinders children from learning how to problem-solve on their own. This can be a challenge because conflict can be uncomfortable for many people. It takes trust and patience to help children learn these skills.

Facilitate conversation. Sometimes starting a conversation with, “What is the problem here?” or “How can you work this out?” is enough to get to the root of the problem. Adults can help facilitate conversations so that children can learn to identify what the issue is and then figure out steps to a resolution. Remain neutral, stay calm and do not take sides. Repeat what you hear children saying or see them doing through their actions. Ask, “What should we do about this?” You will be surprised what children can come up with on their own.

“Intentionality” has become a buzz word in the world of early care and education for good reason. We should not only be aware of what activities are being planned and why but we should also be intentional about the words we use when speaking to children. Being intentional supports social development and a lifetime of skills that will help children initiate play, resolve conflicts and make friends.