Author Archives: bdoverspike

Holidays in the classroom: What do you do?

They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year but as educators in a preschool classroom sometimes that can be questionable! Setting aside the fact that the cold weather has restricted outside play and the cold virus is regrettably being shared among students and staff alike, it can be daunting to think and plan for holiday celebrations in the classroom. Let’s be honest: times have and are continuing to change. Where do we stand? What do we do?

How do you incorporate holidays into your preschool classroom?

Some people celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas and celebrate Kwanzaa, just as some may celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas or no holidays at all! While I completely support the notion of incorporating a celebration of as many holidays as possible to our preschool classrooms in an attempt to be inclusive, it can be difficult to navigate the many cultures and traditions of the families we serve, in a way that respects and honors them, all while helping the children learn something. Here are what I believe to be three simple steps to move in the right direction of finding that middle ground this holiday season:

  1. Do your homework. Ask questions, do online research, read articles and most importantly, talk to the families in your classroom – they are your greatest resource and will appreciate your willingness to embrace their ideals. Finding out what holidays the families of the children in your classroom and center and incorporating it into your curriculum with solidify an understanding and respect for the different values and traditions of others. Sadie Bonifas, 4C Professional Development Coordinator, shared that “when providers learn about the individual children in their classroom, encouraging them to share what traditions they do at home, they are not only helping those children develop a positive self identity but the other children in the classroom are able to relate thus making the experience more meaningful.”
  1. Be open to change. Change is change. No matter what articles you read or quotes you make as your screensaver, the truth is that change is difficult for most people. And while it doesn’t come naturally or feel good at the moment it is absolutely necessary. As Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Be willing to try something new and be prepared to fail but most importantly, just be open to doing it differently than you are used to doing it. Venture into the unknown and embrace what it has to teach you. At the end of the school year, take time to evaluate what worked or what didn’t work: observe, assess and reflect.
  1. Be respectful. While I don’t have the easy, “quick fix” answer for how to perfectly incorporate holidays, world culture and individual culture into your classroom, I do know that it all should be done with respect. Have good intentions but even more so, acknowledge and appreciate the uniqueness of others in your classroom and in our world. Remember that those innocent little faces are looking up to you and taking notice of your reactions, both verbal and non-verbal, and then will decide how they will react. Whether you share the traditions being shown or enjoy the songs or treats being shared at the time or not, respectfully recognize each and every opportunity and be mindful of the example you are exhibiting to your students.

We as educators need to strive to create a developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive environment that works for our classroom, remembering that each year this could change and needs to be adapted based upon the children in our care at the time. There is no simple answer, no quick fix but being educated, open to change and mindful in our teaching is a step in the right direction.

What steps have you taken to embrace cultural change in your child care setting? How do you avoid getting into a ceremonial rut each holiday season? What are some barriers you face?

 

What motivates your staff?

“Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” — Dwight Eisenhower

There was a day that I hated school and now that my days of studying are finally coming to a close, I am shockingly saddened! I remember dreading homework and getting up early but my parents always reminded me that I could do better at school, if I really wanted to. Looking back, they were so right!

While I knew it was best to actually pay attention in class, do the homework and study for tests, I just didn’t feel like it so I squeaked out some C’s to keep my parents off my back and prepared to just do the status quo again the next semester; however, there were classes that I excelled in. Now as an adult, I can comprehend that while I knew the whole time HOW to do well in all of my classes, the WHY was the deciding factor: motivation.

Motivation kept these hard-working ECE professionals on track to work toward their CDA credential! What motivates you?

Motivation kept these hard-working ECE professionals on track to work toward their CDA credential! What motivates you?

In order to be effective leaders we have to understand what inspires and truly motivates others to reach their full potential, from the classroom full of young children in our care to the staff we work with or manage every day. Motivation is a compelling yet abstract internal force that cannot be seen or measured but we know it exists and it is powerful!

According to RM Steers, co-author of The Future of Work Motivation Theory, effective work motivation must be energizing, direct and have sustainability. Whether intrinsic or extrinsic, motivating your staff or the children in your classroom needs to be energizing to direct their behavior on a path or towards a goal while being strong and nourishing enough to sustain them over time. This will encourage a lasting impression that continues to drive and reveal those positive behaviors we need in our field everyday!

You can easily motivate the staff you work with and the children you care for by building upon the relationships you have already created with them. I found it easy to motivate the children in my classroom to clean up or stay in line by giving them simple affirmations for their great choices! A few small words to your staff can make a big difference and a smile goes a long, long way! When you take a moment to mention that you notice the work they are doing, that can be a way to sustain motivation over time. Don’t underestimate the power of your approval. Motivating the children in your care by giving them your time, attention and approval can leave life-long impressions and I promise you they will last longer than any color stick or candy on the market. “Good job” and “I’m proud of you” and/or a jumping high five can easily energize and direct a child’s behavior.

Directors, what are some things you do to motivate your staff? If you are a classroom teacher, how do you motivate the children in your classroom? And even more importantly, how do you keep your own self-motivation channeled and charged to stay on track, exceed the status quo and avoid burnout?

Allow children to take risks

It is easy to blame the psychology major in me but I recognize that my desire to understand and study human thinking and behaviors goes back a long way. I have spent time reflecting and examining my childhood choices and wondering about my motivations for decisions I made. When it comes to safety I know it all started with how I was taught by my grandmother. Never leaning over the edge of the banister, always taking one step at a time, walking instead of running, holding hands anywhere we walked, watching instead of doing.

How do you encourage healthy risk-taking in your child care program?

As a parent and as a child care provider, safety was always my number one concern and when I recently overheard someone discussing a summer camp for children that encouraged them to take risks, I involuntarily and visibly cringed. I also recently had an “Aha!” moment as a parent when my son did a report for school that said the main behavior that made me happy was him being safe.

In a previous blog, I discussed that I never sat in a chair but stood a post and while I still stand by the choices in protecting the children entrusted in my care, even my own, to the very best of my abilities, I question whether if I could have done a better job of protecting yet empowering them. Have I taught them to be safe or to be afraid? Was my helping, even with the best of intentions, inadvertently hindering them?

As an adult, I fully recognize the need to take calculated risks. So why can’t we guide the children in our care to consider deliberate, advantageous risks in the right parameters, while still under our watchful yet embracing eye? Healthy risks such as going down the big slide, jumping from a step from a safe level, using scissors to perfect their project, walking ahead to explore or using a butter knife to prepare their bread are all developmental learning opportunities. You aren’t letting them go in an unsafe way, you are letting them grow. You are giving the gift of freedom instead of fear.

And yes, as I watch my sixteen-year-old son pull our car out of our driveway on his own, I am saying these things to myself as well. While it isn’t easy, I know and value the lessons of teaching children to chase their dreams while being careful not to clip their wings in order to prepare them for “flight” in life.

Before you lose your mind, find your laughter!

Deadlines and due dates, rushed lunches and drive thru. Clothes in the hamper and shoes stepped in dog poo. Silver white tresses that shock my brown eyes, these are the few of the reasons I sigh. When the kids fight, when the bills sting, when I’m feeling sad; I simply remember to laugh rather than cry and then I don’t feel, so bad!

I have to admit it has taken several circumstances in my life to take me past the point of tears, straight to hysteria, one of which being in the classroom. There is nothing like a flooded large muscle room, 24 shocked three-year-olds, two teachers trying to mop and 15 students from another class due to eat lunch in said flooded basement in 20 minutes to really fry your nerves. Oh, did I mention that the flood was due to an overflowing potty that I missed seeing due to the distraction of breaking up the block war taking place on the carpet?

Before you lose your mind, find your laughter!

There were wet socks (mine), wet eyes (my co-teacher) and wet pants (my youngest student) all around. As my director rushed to contact our local water expert and came down to help us start the evacuation process because the stairs were blocked by the newly created moat, there was only one thing left for me to do: save my sanity by choosing laughter. Now before you rush to judge me as an uncaring educator or irresponsible employee, allow me to challenge you to think of similar situations where reacting with negativity and a bad attitude not only created more tension and stress but magnified the situation to be far worse than it actually was. The children were safe, the carpet would dry and eating lunch a few minutes late was not the end of the world. In our field, it’s all in a days work!

Our team pulled together magnificently and tackled the problem (that potty was later replaced as it wasn’t working properly—I swear!) with a positive energy that could be felt by everyone involved, even years later. The pictures and video are priceless and reminiscing about it leaves us all in stitches. And let’s be honest, who would feel the tension and sweat the stress the most had we chosen to react differently? The children! And they don’t deserve it!

The first day of school, holiday parties and picture day can pack enough punch to make your head spin, but making a conscious effort to laugh instead of cry or scream or even pout can save your sanity and everyone else’s, including the children in your care. So the next time you are cleaning paint out of clothes, gum out of hair, dirt out of a mouth or are wringing water out of your sopping wet socks, I challenge you before you lose your mind to find your laughter!

Does your laughter need resurrected? Need to stimulate your smile? Want to learn more about how to use humor in your life to banish stress and negativity? Join us at the Eighth Annual Northern Kentucky Leadership Conference where keynote speaker Cea Cohen Elliott teaches us how to “Laugh For the Health of It”! Register by Sept. 30 to get the early bird price!

Take a vacation in the classroom!

I apologize in advance for saying this, but a week is just not long enough. I am talking about vacation of course! Now that summer is finally here and we can enjoy the hot days and the warm nights with great glee, it seems that time is just flying by! Leaving in just a few days for my own excursion on a sandy beach I can honestly say that everyone deserves the break, both mentally and physically, especially early childhood educators who labor with love to children in their care day in and day out.

Although we all do our best to stay recharged and unsullied the truth is that there is just no replacing time away from the day to day life of our jobs. For some of us, it takes even longer to relinquish the guilt we feel when taking the time that we need and more importantly deserve, but it is beneficial for all involved, even the smiling and happy children who greet you with joy upon your return. I can also personally attest to the fact that it doesn’t take long for that “just returned from vacation freshness” to dissipate and the days to become long and tedious again.

The children in you care are also excited about summer, some vacationing and some not, and yearn for the same escape that we do. But who says you can’t take a vacation while in the classroom too? You can! Never underestimate the power and potential of the imagination! Some of my favorite trips have taken place on a red circle carpet in the safety of my classroom surrounded by eager and excited three-year-olds. We have traveled by plane, train, car and bus and have ventured around the world visiting different countries, observing diverse people and investigating famous landmarks. This type of travel requires the littlest of maintenance but contains mind-blowing possibility and let me just tell you, the Eiffel Tower and the Tower of “Pizza” were breathtaking.

Have costumes available for pretend play to a far away vacation locale!

Have costumes available for pretend play to a far away vacation locale!

You can make this the simplest of activities,  by learning a few French words and bringing a baguette in to sample. Come on, we all can fake a French accent for a few moments while we stroll the streets in Paris in a beret. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be inspired. Let your imagination and even more so, your children guide the journey. Remember that your interest and enthusiasm is the most contagious piece!

Ask open ended questions, challenge them to create and explore and entertain even the craziest of ideas! I mean, how much fun would it be to try and ride a camel while eating chicken nuggets to the see the pyramids in Egypt? Let’s try it! What do we need? Where would we go? Who would go with us? What will we see? Every question, every answer, every moment is a learning opportunity and the possibilities are endless. Need a break? Recharge and revamp your classroom with an imaginary voyage and just see where you end up!

Invest in yourself—you’re worth it!

I was a young, bright-eyed adventurous teen when I chose not to go to college after high school graduation almost 18 years ago. And when I found out I was expecting a son a few months later, the dream of being a college graduate was bleak to say the least. I knew of the daunting statistics that plagued teen mothers and to top it all off I was comforted by my family telling me that I had made a good choice, as I wasn’t college material anyway. And I believed them. But not for long.

Working full time in a child care center, being a mom and working toward my CDA and then bachelor's was tough... but worth it!

“I will reach the top if this summit, hold my beloved degree in hand and declare to the world that I can do it, I will do it, I DID do it!”

A few years later as my high-energy toddler was running around the kitchen table, I was complaining to my husband about my less than satisfying job. I was frustrated, wanting better and feeling like I deserved more. It was then that my husband looked across the table and said “You are so smart. You should go to school, get your degree and do whatever you want to do.” So I did. I won’t lie to you, it hasn’t been easy but I am confident it will be worth it and I have worked with a vengeance. I made rules I promised to follow and from day one was committed to not only doing it, but doing it well. There have been rivers of tears shed and many doubts along the way but in the end, victories. There have been countless times I have felt as though I am clinging to the side of this mountain I am attempting to climb, bruised, bloody and exhausted. But I held on, taking one step, one class at a time.

Today I have my CDA, my Director’s Credential and am in my final college semesters, only 6 classes away from completing my bachelor’s degree in psychology. Six months from now I will reach the top of this summit, hold my beloved degree in hand and declare to the world that I can do it, I will do it, and I did do it.

How many times do we allow certain limitations such as age or finances or fears of failure stop us from achieving our goals and reaching our full potential? We teach our children to dream big but do we practice what we preach or do just enough to get by? I believe we all understand the value of education but do we realize our own worth and take the time to invest in ourselves? Do we recognize that our own increased knowledge will also benefit those we love and care for?

Going back to school for a degree or working towards an additional certificate or credential may seem impossible but I promise you, it’s not. There are resources and assistance, coupled with incredible support, available for you along your journey. Many of these remarkable programs right here at 4C, including our Child Development Associate (CDA) preparation program and Developing Early Childhood Leaders (DECL) seminar. I challenge you to dream big and dare to defy the odds and obstacles before you. You are worth it and you can do it. Start investing in yourself today!

“It’s story time!”

Recently our staff gathered together to celebrate the upcoming arrival of a little bundle of joy and the baby shower games really got our staff’s competitive juices flowing. It was fun to watch those who shouted out the answers to the names of the celebrity baby photos and equally as interesting to realize you are completely out of touch with the celebrity world. But when the next game announced was to recognize the story quote from children’s books, it was on like Donkey Kong. I had this.

It just doesn’t get any better than story time.

Story time in my classroom was the highlight of my day and my collection was deep and wide. My considerable personal collection contained the classics such as “Goodnight Moon” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and new additions such as “Llama Llama Red Pajama” and the “Fancy Nancy” collection. I took every opportunity to incorporate reading into many activities throughout the day and had a blast making it come to life for my preschoolers. Books on CD, character puppet making and theatrical performances were just some of the regular occurrences in our room.

Trips to the library were exciting escapades of what new books I would find and bring back for the week! The children knew every Monday meant new books to read and rushed to the carpet with anticipation. I was excited too! They were wide eyed during “Where the Wild Things Are,” and it was amazing to hear the way they said the words along with me during “Chicken Little” and “The Mitten.” We laughed heartily as we encouraged the very curious pigeon to NOT drive the bus or to share his beloved hotdog and bellowed “NO!!” as David chewed with his mouth open or ran to the bus in his underwear.

I used every opportunity to teach them new words and encouraged them to use the new words in sentences throughout the day. Their vocabulary exploded and I had a blast observing it. Hearing them use the word “fantastic” to describe their chicken nuggets and their friend’s artwork warmed my heart. It just doesn’t get any better than story time.

As I numbered my paper with great anticipation at the start of the game that day what didn’t occur to me was that I was surrounded by early childhood experts and we all were equally aware of the great importance of reading to young children. They too had many they knew and favored and had as vast wealth of children’s literature knowledge as I did. While I did fend well, proudly the only one who knew of the great “Skippyjon Jones,” I did not win the game. I did learn of several new books to add to my cherished collection and realized while we all know and value the importance of reading to young children, it also impacted us personally as well.

By the end of the shower we all were discussing our own personal favorites as children, as parents and as educators and I walked away with new titles to seek out and explore, even with my older children. Remember that developing the love of reading starts at a young age but can be continued throughout life as they grow and develop into elementary students, adolescents and adults.

What are some of your favorite stories to share with your children and students? What ones have you seen really impact them as well as challenge them to think and reflect? What ones really just made you all laugh, funny but all the while teaching them (and you!) to find humor and comedy in life and sometimes in yourselves?

Perhaps at your next staff meeting you could initiate a fun quiz for your staff about their story book knowledge. You may find out a lot more about children’s literature, your fellow coworkers and yourself. I mean, “Holy frijoles!” when it comes to reading, what have you got to lose?