Author Archives: Tracy Schnirring

About Tracy Schnirring

I am a professional development specialist at 4C for Children My main role is supporting preschool teachers through classroom coaching to best practice and Step Up To Quality (Ohio’s star-rating system). I am also certified to conduct program/child assessments and facilitate several workshops for 4C. In addition to my role at 4C, I am a daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and mother. The person who brings me the most joy in life is my 7-year-old boy. Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, playing sports with my son, and being outdoors.

The Dreaded Parent-Teacher Conference

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As the parent of a “spirited” child, I myself get anxious about parent-teacher conferences!

Preparing for any parent-teacher conference takes time, but more time may be needed for more challenging children. These more “challenging children” are typically the ones we wish were absent on those mornings we forget our coffee, but at the same time they’re our favorites! Teachers often refer to these children as “spirited.” Which doesn’t mean they are bad children by any means; it just means they challenge us as teachers—which in return makes us better teachers. My son was and still is referred to as “spirited.” (He is pictured above, drinking the sensory activity water.)

No matter how nervous we may be prior to a conference, the parents of “spirited” children are just as anxious. Don’t forget these are the parents who are probably growing accustom to only hearing the negative or challenging aspects about their child. They consistently feel as if they need to defend their children because all they hear is the bad, and they know there is good inside there too! Keep in mind every parent loves to hear positive and funny stories about their children; that’s a great place to start the conversation.

Here are some key steps to a successful parent-teacher conference:

  • Interact with the children in your care. This should occur constantly throughout the year, everyday—not just before conferences. If you’re not interacting with the child chances are you have very little information on that child. As you interact with children, engaging them in play and conversation, you’re able to discover their skills, abilities, and developmental levels. You also establish what their interests are which you can use to entice them to learn or enhance skills.
  • Determine goals based on those everyday interactions. Where does this child need support? I found sometimes starting with a few goals is more productive than having goal overload. It’s easier to focus and plan for between one and three at a time. Plus this focus and planning will increase the child’s chances for success surrounding that goal. More goals can always be added later when the child is ready. Allowing the parents the option to add a goal is a great way to create a teaching team between school and home.
  • Create an action plan of how you’re going to support that child with each goal. This is the step a lot of teachers skip. Children don’t magically develop the skills needed to reach our goals, they get there through play, repetition, and our intentional planning. Document and explain to parents what YOU are going to do to help support their child using concrete examples. For instance, if Johnny’s goal is to recognize his name in print, but avoids the writing center like the plague, how can you use Johnny’s interests and favorite areas to intentionally plan for letter recognition through play? What kinds of playful interactions can families do at home to reinforce concepts and skills? I’ve found that suggesting “activities” to parents adds pressure and more often than not, there’s no follow through. However, everyday, intentional interactions are much easier steps for parents because there is no prep time or materials to gather. It can simply happen in the car or during dinner. Communicating your action plan takes some of the anxiety off parent’s shoulders and gives them ideas of how to make learning fun. Plus, it puts them more at ease during the meeting knowing you already have a plan to help their child. Again this helps create the teaching team between school and home.
  • Put it all in writing. Prior to the meeting, document your talking points, goals and action plan examples to ensure you’re not forgetting anything. It’s not only professional, but when parents see that you’re plan is documented, they know you’re going to follow through.

Most importantly please remember, regardless of what our biases and opinions are telling us, ALL parents want their children to be successful. Some parents just show it in a different way than others. And some parents just don’t know or realize what they can do to help their children be more successful. That’s where you as the early childhood educator come in!

Science in ECE: It’s Not All Cocoons and Butterflies

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Recently I had the opportunity to observe a teacher during outside time. This teacher was actively engaged with the children as she supervised her class. She took the time to stop and interact with them, constantly asking open-ended questions. As she walked around the playground she made comments to a small group of children using funnels and buckets in the sand box. At her next stop she helped children collect rocks and then sort them. She helped as children gathered and tossed leaves up in the air to watch them swirl around in the wind. The children giggled as she joined them in their shadow dancing/jumping game.

As I debriefed with the teacher after the observation, one of the areas in which she requested support was science. I asked about past activities. Which activities she felt went well, which activities didn’t go well and why. With excitement in her tone, she dove right into telling me about her butterfly project last spring and how the children loved observing the daily progress of the transformation to the release of them on the playground. Then she discussed a volcano explosion demonstration that flopped. I believe reflection is an important part of the planning/teaching process in ECE (and even life in general). Understanding which element was successful or unsuccessful, why it went wrong, or how it could have been done differently is a great strategy for an educator to continuously grow in this field. After reflecting for a few moments, she said the volcano flopped because the children weren’t interested in it. As we began to problem-solve WHY the children weren’t as interested in the volcano as they were in the butterflies, she stated, “Because it’s not a real life experience for them. It’s not something they see in their everyday world.” I immediately thought, BINGO! If it’s not meaningful to children, they’re not going to be engaged. One of my favorite things in ECE is adapting and even disguising learning concepts through topics of interest for children and of course play interactions.

As I read her my notes from the playground observation, she realized science was everywhere! Through her engagement and open-ended questions she was already fostering those early science skills. As we continued to reflect on that morning, she was able to make connection between those activities and the Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS). Here’s what we discovered:

Cognition and General Knowledge: Sub-domain: Science

  • Exploring sand using funnels and buckets= ELDS strand: Science inquiry and application. Topic: Cause and effect
  • Collecting and sorting rocks = ELDS strand: Science inquiry and application. Topic: Inquiry
  • Investigating leaves being tossed in the air= ELDS strand: Earth and space science. Topic: Explorations of the natural world
  • Jumping shadows= ELDS strand: Physical science. Topic: Explorations of energy

Science in early childhood education is fostering a world FULL of wonder. While creating this world of wonder, your classroom doesn’t have to look like a science fair. So when you’re planning for your children, reflect on what is happening around them. What do you see them interested in and what are they asking questions about? What are they experiencing in their everyday world and how can you expand on it?

Math in the Early Years: Preschool

preschool-mathThere is a lot of pressure on young children these days to become expert mathematicians at an early age. Typically, I’ve found that when a child feels this pressure it creates stress. When a child feels stressed they shut down and disengage. If educators can intentionally incorporate math concepts through everyday activities, the stress on children is eliminated.

Math in early childhood education has many stages that come together to create its foundation. It’s a process for children. Once they develop one math concept, they are ready to build upon it or move along to the next level of this process. In my previous math blog we highlighted math concepts and everyday activities that were taking place in our infant and toddler classrooms. As we build upon that infant and toddler math foundation, let’s focus on the everyday activities that occur in preschool classrooms. Remember, 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. First, we need to recognize there is a difference between counting and quantifying. This is how I think of it: counting is verbalizing the number words, which is a big part of the process, but quantifying is the end product, when the child determines how many are actually in the set.

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

  • Rote counting activities outside the math area are usually originated from the intentional teacher: “I wonder how long it takes us to walk down the hall. Help me count.” or “I wonder what’s the highest number you (we) can count to?”
  • Cooking activities or turn-taking structures. Allowing each child to stir during the cooking activity for 10 seconds.

One-to-one correspondence/principle—a child matches one object to each object in a set (i.e., ice cube tray and pom-pom activity) or the child matches one number word to one object (i.e., touching each dot on the die as they say the number word).

  • Everyday activities such as allowing children to help count chairs at the snack table, crackers as you pass them out, or heads as you transition outside will strengthen this skill.
  • When I was in the classroom, I always found that young children were more successful grasping one-to-one correspondence/principle when counting large objects or utilizing gross motor motions.

Cardinally—the stage when a child realizes the last number counted represents the total amount in the set.

  • Once you begin observing children quantifying, asking questions such as: “How many spaces are left?”, or “How many did you count?” will promote and support the cardinally stage.
  • Graphing activities are a great way to incorporate many mathematical milestones. While working with graphs children are quantifying and incorporating math vocabulary words such as “more,” “less,” and “least.”

Patterning— the ability to create or continue a repeated format or design.

  • A few everyday patterning activities would be clapping out patterns, building with Legos, and at times seating arrangements for lunch or group time (i.e., patterning children themselves by clothes or shoes).

Making math part of children’s everyday life is a great way to support their development. What other ways can you incorporate math concepts into your daily schedule?

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.

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.

Becoming a Resource for Parents

family-resourceIn our field, we often hear the phrase: “Parents are the child’s first teacher.” As educators we know how important it is to work with families to help their child reach their full potential. We use parents/families as a resource to better understand the child in order to help them be more successful in our classroom. But how are we acting as a resource for parents? Is there a way we can help them be more successful as they juggle life as parents?

I often hear how hard it is for teachers to get parents engaged. Some teachers have even communicated, “It’s like they don’t care.” They have parents that “drop and run” with their child in the morning. Some parents do the “ghost pick up.” They pick up their child so quickly you barely noticed they were there. Or the parent who never takes home the newsletter—even worse, you see them toss it in the trash without reading it. And let’s not forget about the parents who  question the goings on in the classroom in a not-so-nice way, such as demanding their child stop scribbling when writing their name.

I was the type of teacher who wanted to form strong relationships, I wanted to discuss how each child’s day was with parents, and darn it—I worked hard on that newsletter! Thankfully I had the pleasure of working with some amazingly talented colleagues early on in my career, who taught me to envision life from the parents’ perspective. You know the saying, “Try taking a walk in their shoes.” This concept really hit home for me when I became a parent and then again when I became a single parent. It’s not that parents don’t care—our parents are working parents, and they have a lot to juggle. Plus, parenthood does not come with instructions! The majority of parents do not have an early childhood degree. They have not learned about the stages of writing and do not realize those scribble marks are building the foundation their child needs to make letter like forms and eventually letters. Every parent wants the best for their child. Some parents may still be learning what’s developmentally appropriate and learning how to do the juggle. This is where we come in as educators.

One way we help children to be successful is by meeting them where they are developmentally. We use different strategies to make learning easier for children. Could we use these same strategies while working with parents?

Let’s take the newsletter for example. Is there a way we could produce a classroom newsletter that is more reader-friendly?? Once I changed my newsletter format from a wordy, one page report to using just one power point slide layout (enlarged of course) I began to receive a lot more verbal engagement from parents. Changing the format created more of a read-at–a-glance instead of an overwhelming, lengthy report—this was a time saver for parents. They asked more questions about our projects and even brought in materials to enhance our classroom focus and concepts. It opened the door for more conversations at pick up and drop off because they knew I wasn’t going to overwhelm their juggle. I had become a resource for them.

We want children to be successful in every aspect in life and so do their parents. How will you be a resource for the parents in your classroom?

Block Play: What Are Children Learning?

block-playEarly childhood education is focused on children learning through play. Research has proven children learn through “hands on” engagement and through social interactions with adults and other children. One of the struggles I see educators facing is explaining this to parents. As teachers, how do we explain to families that yes, their child is playing with blocks, but as they play they are strengthening several areas of development? As I thought about this question several cognitive, social, emotional, and motor skills came to mind that educators can share with parents. The following is a list that you can share with parents about the different skills their children are learning as they play with blocks, and the learning domains that go along with each skill.

When building with blocks, children are:

  • Using oral language in a variety of situations (Language/Literacy)
  • Matching objects in a one-to-one correspondence (Cognitive—Math)
  • Learning appropriate social skills for group behavior (Social, Emotional)
  • Using vocabulary to designate quantities (Language/Literacy, Cognitive—Math)
  • Using vocabulary to designate relationships (Language/Literacy, Cognitive—Math)
  • Demonstrating concepts of part/whole (Cognitive—Math)
  • Using vocabulary to compare objects (i.e., same/different or more/less) (Language/Literacy, Cognitive—math)
  • Forming groups by sorting and matching objects according to their attributes (Cognitive—Math)
  • Knowing and discussing the consequences of actions in social relationships (Language/Literacy, Cognitive—Science)
  • Acquiring non-locomotor movement skills (Physical/Fine-motor)
  • Creating, repeating, and/or extending patterns (Cognitive—Math)
  • Developing hand-eye coordination (Physical/Fine-motor)
  • Observing and following safety rules (Social, Emotional)
  • Learning ordering (Cognitive—Math)
  • Learn mapping skills (Cognitive—Math)
  • Learn physical representations of addition and subtraction (Cognitive—Math)
  • Develop classification skills (Cognitive—Math)
  • Learn size and shape recognition, differentiation, and relations (Cognitive—Math)
  • Discuss ways people help each other (Social, Emotional)
  • Understand gravity, stability, weight, and balance (Cognitive—Science)
  • Think, create, and implement plans (Cognitive, Social, Emotional)
  • Discover properties of matter (Cognitive—Science)
  • Discover the names and functions of buildings (Social, Cognitive, Language)
  • Develop respect for the work of others (Social, Emotional)
  • Make choices; make decisions (Social, Emotional)

 Children are doing so much more than just playing in your classroom. How will you communicate this to families? How can you advocate for play in your program/community?