Respecting Family Culture Is Respecting the Child

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Early childhood educators must balance the culture of each child’s family, the classroom, the program and even the curriculum!

The word culture can mean different things to different people depending on the circumstances of its context and even setting. So what exactly is culture? When I think about culture the word values immediately pops into my head. If you read the Merriam-Webster definition of culture, it’s a pretty complex subject. In the field of early childhood education, we have many cultures to uphold and honor intertwined in our classrooms. We not only balance the culture of the family, but that of the classroom, the program, community, and even the curriculum—that’s a lot to balance! So what happens when conflicts occur between the family culture and the culture of your classroom?

When conflicts occur between the cultures, emotions typically are running at high speed with all parties involved. Not only do families hold their cultural beliefs very close to their hearts, but the majority of professionals in this field do as well, which can make it difficult to negotiate and problem solve. I think it’s important for us as educators to remember that not everything in early childhood education is black and white; there is a lot of GRAY area, especially when it comes to balancing cultures.

I feel that best practice points to individualizing as we navigate through the gray area. Individualizing for children is a huge part of our job; it’s how we help children become successful in many areas, from reaching those developmental milestones to writing or recognizing their name in print. In order to honor an individual child’s family culture, we must first try to understand the importance of the cultural discrepancy. Greenman and Stonehouse, co-authors of Primetimes encourage:

“Caregivers always need to remember that often there is a cultural logic to parental beliefs and practices. This logic may be based on cultural practices perceived as just as right as our own closely held truths. Because this is so, we have a responsibility to listen and respect, to adapt practices when possible, and to articulate clearly the logic of programs practices when adaptation is impossible.”

One way educators can do this is by being reflective and asking themselves or even the families, “Why?” One way to achieve understanding and to maintain positive relationships with families is for educators to demonstrate the ability to host respectful conversations around the topic. Hosting these types of conversations with an open mind will allow educators to use the families as a resource and can even strengthen relationships as you bridge the gap between home and school. It may also help educators detect what the family’s true needs are. Understanding the “why” factor is an important piece for educators during the problem solving and individualizing process.

As educators begin identifying what is causing the conflict between cultures, they will also discover what barriers exist. Once you isolate what the need is, you can pinpoint where the conflict between cultures occurs; then you can begin to strategize possible solutions for adaptation and individualization. Try asking yourself, “Why not?” Does it go against program policy, is it a licensing violation, or does it create management issues? Next ask yourself, is there room for ANY adaptation? Am I being flexible, and I am I viewing this with an open mind?

Chances are the topic in question is already something that the child has been exposed to; it’s familiar to them. Best practice in ECE would encourage the implementation of scaffolding techniques and adaptations for the child and family when appropriate and possible. When brainstorming solutions with families, it’s important for educators to respectfully articulate the “why” factor on your end too. Ideally, this will help guide you through compromise, foster the relationship, and allow you to begin advocating for what is best practice in early childhood education, while at the same time trying to honor the family culture. After all, respecting the family culture is respecting the child.

Why You Should Invest in Your Development

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Investing in professional development translates into the learning of the children you care for everyday!

It’s important that early childhood professionals have the tools they need to run high quality programs that engage children and families. It’s important to seek opportunities to sharpen your skills, master new concepts and implement new strategies into your program.

Just as doctors continue their education to stay abreast of new advances in medicine, you must stay up-to-date on the advances in education and child development. Education is an investment of time and money that translates into the learning of the children you care for everyday. Advanced education might come in the form of a one-day workshop, a community meeting, or an all day event. Whether you are a teacher, program administrator, or family child care provider, you are an advocate for children and families. To be the best advocate you must stay educated and then share your discoveries and knowledge with those you work with.

Conferences are a wonderful way to bring fresh energy and inspiration back to the surface. Early childhood program administrators with training in leadership are known to succeed in attracting and retaining highly qualified professionals. All early care and education professionals who attend these conferences are able to bring fresh ideas and motivation to the program to enhance the culture.

4C for Children’s Miami Valley Early Childhood and Leadership Conference will be held on Friday September 23, 2016 at Sinclair’s Pointz Center.  After hearing from keynote speaker Erin Ramsey, there will be knowledgeable professionals offering eleven breakout sessions to keep attendees informed of the latest research, stay abreast of best practice and offer information regarding new concepts. One of the breakout sessions that will be offered is titled “Assemble an Environment to Maximize Your Space” presented by Jenni Jacobs of the University of Cincinnati.  What a valuable topic for so many educators who need help taking a small space and turning it into the most conducive learning environment. Expertise in this area is useful for professionals both new and old. This is just one of the many sessions that will be sure to promote higher professional standards that will strengthen early childhood. Learn more about this exciting upcoming opportunity!

Making Sense of a Violent World

Welcome to our new Growing Children blogger, 4C Professional Development Specialist Merideth Burton. Below is her first post.

“We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” – Nelson Mandela

“We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” – Nelson Mandela

People enter the field of early childhood for different reasons. Some of us are here because we had wonderful experiences as young children. We had inspiring, caring teachers that we remember fondly, and we want to pass those same experiences on to the next generation. Some of us are here because we weren’t quite sure what we wanted to be when we grew up. We may have tried other professions, but through different paths we ended up working in an early education setting – and we discovered we loved it. Some of us are here because our early years weren’t ideal at all, and we wanted to break that cycle by giving something back, by doing whatever we could to be a positive influence in the lives of young children.

Regardless of the reasons we are drawn to this field, we all have one thing in common—we see the bigger picture. We see a world often full of violence and unrest, and we understand the influence we can have on our youngest citizens. We know that we can “be the change we want to see in the world” by contributing positively to the growth and development of young children. We realize the future lies in their hands, and it’s our very important job to give them the tools they need to shape it for the better.

We do everything in our power to create a stable, positive environment for the children in our care so they can feel respected, safe and loved when they enter our classrooms. But, the reality is, we don’t have complete control. The negativity that exists in the world creeps in through television, through social media, through the experiences and the environments that the children in our care are exposed to once they walk out our doors.

How do we combat this? How do we help children process what they see and hear when they’re out in the world that may be unsettling or frightening to them? Though their exposure to these things is sometimes beyond our control, here are some ways we can help them deal with what they are seeing, hearing and most importantly, feeling:

  • Limit exposure to media outlets where children may come into contact with violent or disturbing images/sounds such as newscasts, social media postings, violent TV shows or movies.
  • Be mindful of what you say when little ears are around. Try to avoid discussing these events with other adults, or having telephone conversations, within earshot of young children.
  • If children want to express what they see/hear/feel, let them. However they feel the need to do this, as long as they are not hurting others, is okay. They may want to talk, or be silent. They may cry, they may scream. If they’re feeling big emotions, they need an outlet for them in a place where they can feel safe.
  • Help children find the words to name and express their feelings. Use “feeling” words like “sad,” “mad,” “scared,” “nervous” or “frustrated” in your discussions. Let children know that it’s okay for them to feel that way.
  • Listen to what children say, without judgment, and respond with words they can understand. Answer their questions, but avoid going into too much detail that can create anxiety.
  • Provide them with creative outlets such as drawing, painting, and dancing. If a child wants to share what they create with you, give them your undivided attention and ask open-ended questions: “Tell me about your drawing.” “What’s happening in your painting?”
  • Share your observations about the child’s feelings/actions with his/her family. You can collaborate on what the best course of action may be for supporting the child through processing their emotions.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was cleaning up from morning snack with my classroom of toddlers, getting ready to go outside to the playground at our school in downtown Washington, D.C. The events that occurred that day, and the behaviors and emotions of the children in my class that appeared in the following weeks and months, are things I will never forget. I witnessed children as young as 18 months become more anxious and fearful at morning drop off. I observed children using toy airplanes to crash into block towers. I heard children talk to each other about the “fire on the buildings.” Even as I was dealing with my own emotions surrounding 9/11, I knew it was my responsibility to continue to provide the nurturing, consistent classroom environment they had come to know. We played together, we talked together, sometimes we even cried together. We got through it together.

Math in the Early Years: Infants and Toddlers

sorting-with-toddlerMath skills can be introduced and reinforced in every classroom at every age. Developing math skills is a process which has many stages and requires foundation building. In fact, as early as infancy, math vocabulary and counting skills can be introduced through teacher modeling. Sounds crazy, but it’s true; language comprehension begins in infancy. Think about some of those finger play songs you sing and board books you’re reading to infants. Those activities are introducing math vocabulary, number words, and quantifying—and it’s not even taking place at the math center. When we think outside the math center box, we realize math concepts can be intertwined throughout every classroom area/activity, during daily routines, and even transitions. All it takes is a little intentional teaching and teacher-child engagement.

Let’s think about a few math staples that can be introduced and strengthened during this process of development. Here are some of the concepts you should be aware of, and some examples to support building the foundation for math with infants and toddlers:

Sorting—separating objects into groups according to attributes (i.e., sorting colored teddy bears could be done by grouping them into color sets).

  • Teachers can enhance sorting skills as they include fun facts into everyday conversations. For example, helping children organize or make sets by grouping them according to what color shirt they are wearing, Velcro shoes verses shoes that tie, or even materials grouped by texture (i.e., soft, hard, smooth, rough).

Global stage—child makes set perceptually (i.e., eye-balling it, taking a handful).

  • Helping children understand and construct math vocabulary can be done almost anytime and at any age. Think about that toddler in the dumping stage or a child engaged in a sorting activity. The intentional teacher will make comments or ask questions that provoke mathematical vocabulary words. For example, “Which pile do you think has more?” “When you remove a handful, you’re decreasing the amount in the pile,” and “Which piles look/are equal?” These interactions can also be relevant when the child is engaged in a sorting activity.

Rote counting—children verbally putting the number words in order (usually memorized, not necessarily quantifying objects).

  • A common rote counting activity for infants could be “1, 2, and 3, so big” or “1, 2, peek-a-boo.” As children get older the intentional teacher builds on those skills through interactions such as, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, JUMP!”, and of course counting books.

Spatial reasoning—the ability to understand and remember the spatial relations among objects.

  • Interacting with puzzles, setting out chairs at snack time, exploring with and climbing inside boxes, and even giving children the opportunty to independently self-feed are all activities that will support spatial reasoning skills.

Children start to build a foundation for math at a very young age. These skills can be introduced and reinforced in every classroom area, during everyday transitions or routines, and with every age group. How are you supporting math skills outside the math center?

Stay tuned for Math in the Early Years Part 2: Continuing to strengthen the foundation for quantifying in preschool.

Is Yours or Mine the Best Practice?

This guest post comes to us from 4C Professional Development Specialist, Debra Chin.

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I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. –Isaac Newton

As early childhood professionals, many times we claim something that we do daily is the best practice. Like the little boy described above in Newton’s quote, the moment we found or researched something, and thought the data showed a certain practice that seemed to serve the best to children, we “published” a best practice from our own lenses. I caught myself using the term “best practice” numerous times while I was coaching or presenting training. Then, a tiny voice crept up asking me, “Before you open your mouth trying to defend yourself with so called “best practice” and criticize others, do you know what others’ practice derived from?” I thought I had found “a smoother pebble or prettier shell,” yet Newton’s quote reminded me that “the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” I pause and think…

Each child is a unique person. Each of them has his/her own previous experience constructed from the interactions he/she has had with his/her peers, family and community. A practice that we entitle the “best” could be diverting from those unique experiences that we have learned from each child and each family.

We often promote independence and value children’s learning through free exploration of materials. We encourage children to openly express opinions for themselves.  We may expect children at a certain age to be able to use simple words to express their feelings. However, some of our children may come from families that value dependence behaviors, and expect young children to first develop an ability in following guidance from adults, instead of initiating activities independently.  Children may be expected to “be seen and not heard,” and are encouraged to develop a skill of listening patiently to others prior to that of speaking out. Sharing emotions may not be valued by some families, and instead viewed as something to keep private.

Best practice is not a set of rules, but requires more talking, clarifying, listening, understanding and perhaps negotiating.  Negotiating difference begins with us as teachers or administrators clearly understanding our own preferences and where they come from. I think the message that I’d like to share with all of us is to humbly learn from our children and families about underlying reasons of each practice that seems awkward to us. Through a manner of honoring those different practices, we learn the hopes and dreams of each family for their children which will provide us with a rich source of information to develop a practice that would best facilitate children’s learning and development. Meanwhile, this same reflection goes with the work that we have with our fellow professionals. None of us should proclaim our practice is the best without the willingness to be open to learning from each other and to expand our view of practices based on what we learn, for the best interest of young children. Then we could proudly say that we have a best practice.

Change Is Hard.

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Summer is upon us. School has ended and many transitions are happening. For me, I have had to adjust my route to work because my son is going to summer camp instead of the bus stop or the drop off line at school. I have to remember to pack his lunch and the items in his backpack have changed. Rather than homework and a clarinet, there needs to be sunscreen, a water bottle, swim suit and a towel. Now that my son is eleven and knows that summer means a break from school (except for summer homework), it is an awesome and exciting event each year. These types of transitions have not always been so smooth.

Change is difficult for people in general. Especially when our typical routine is disrupted by life changes, such as moving from one classroom to another. All children need a strong, secure attachment in order to feel safe in their environment. A child’s temperament can dictate how they will react to change and the intensity to which they will need support from a new caregiver to feel safe and secure in their new environment. There is no telling, sometimes, how long this support will have to last.

Here are some tips for caregivers to use to support a child’s transition into a new classroom:

  • Understand that the way you have seen a child handle new situations can be a clue to how they will react in a new environment. If a child enters a new situation without much hesitation or little reassurance, this could indicate that a transition will run rather smoothly. A child that tends to have a tough time separating from their family at drop off or has the need of staying close to their caregiver may need added support through a transition.
  • Create a transition schedule to follow so that everyone is on the same page, this includes all caregivers/teachers and the child’s family. A sample schedule may consist of a span of two weeks. The first few days a child can have the opportunity to visit for an hour or two (with a current caregiver, if possible) and then return to the current environment. The time spent in the new environment should increase to include a lunch, naptime, afternoon and pick up experience. Note that this schedule may and will change based on the child.
  • Prepare children for change by making a transition book. Take pictures of the current and new classroom. Create a book to show children what is similar between the current classroom and the new one, along with pictures that will show things that will be new, such as pictures of the new teachers. Allow children to take the book back and forth between home and the program so it can be read to them in both environments for consistency.
  • Offer the opportunity for a family member or caregiver to visit with the child in order to establish the sense of trust for the new environment. Set up a separation routine for children, which could consist of sitting down for a few minutes at the breakfast table, reading a book, or handing off to a caregiver before saying goodbye for the day.
  • Go with the child’s flow. If they are ready to explore, let them. If they need to be held, hold them. Holding children for long periods of time in group care can be challenging. During the times that you cannot do so, let the child know that you are going to put them down before doing so. Let them know they are welcome to stay close as you change a diaper or help another child at drop off. Telling this to children out loud as it happens will help children understand that even though you may not be able to hold them that they still matter and you are there for them.

All in all, it is important to remember not to rush into a transition. Keep in mind the importance of preparing children for what is coming next and that it can take time for children to adjust to a new environment and the new faces in the room. Be empathetic and compassionate to how children may feel and use the transition as a teachable moment to discuss feelings, promote pro-social behavior and as always remember to be flexible.

Refreshing Summer Learning Ideas

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Summer is here, and learning always seems to take a backseat to relaxation, playtime and fun. As early childhood educators, we know that learning doesn’t take a summer break. When I was a teacher, I would urge parents to remember that learning can be intentionally woven into their fun summer festivities. Teachers can create a list of activities for parents to use at home. Let’s work together to close the learning gap from the summer to the fall! Here are some ideas for you to share with parents:

Lemonade stands are a quintessential summertime activity for kids of all ages. What better time to use a child’s math skills to make the stand successful. It all begins with measurement skills to mix the lemonade. From simple measuring to doubling the recipe, children can use these proficiencies to make sure everyone in the neighborhood is able quench their thirst on a hot summer day. Math skills can be extended through the counting of money and making change for customers. We can’t fail to mention an early lesson in sales and marketing with a discussion on how to attract customers and be the best salesman.

Road trips and vacations are also a great time to keep those little brains busy. Younger children can search for “sight words” on signs and billboards. Social studies can stay on the horizon while you search for license plates from different states and discuss these states characteristics with your child. The “ABC” game where you search for a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet is a favorite.  Practice estimation while getting gas by asking kids to predict how much money it will cost to fill the tank, or asking them how much longer they think it will be until you reach the next state. (They will be sure to ask this anyhow, why not make it a game?)

Keep science alive by planting a garden! Gardening almost seems like a lost art, but imagine all the hands on experience children can get through planting and tending a garden. From preparing the proper space, measuring rows and watering and sustaining the garden, to harvesting and discussing the nutritional value of the crops.

Use baseball games to keep siblings engaged in learning by asking questions about the score, how many more runs the team needs to catch up, and having them tally balls and strikes. Sporting events of all kinds are great opportunities for discussing strategies for plays, practicing math skills and even working on those social emotional skills that involve teamwork and sharing.

Make sure to take many field trips to the local library to keep the children reading. Sign up for your local library’s summer reading club, and help each child reach their goal.

Whether families are going to the beach, the neighborhood park, or setting up a lemonade stand, learning is all around! It’s our responsibility to partner with parents to help their child succeed, and one way to do this is to share with them how they can support their child’s learning when they are not in your program.