Author Archives: Jamie Webb

About Jamie Webb

I am an infant/toddler coach for 4C for Children. I support caregivers by coaching to best practice and Step Up To Quality (Ohio's star rating system). I also facilitate infant/toddler workshops for 4C. I am a single mom of a 10 year old boy. In my not so spare time, I enjoy reading, camping, and seeing live bands perform.

Planning Individually

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Often times when I talk about planning for children, eyes widen at the thought of planning for each child in the classroom. There are many benefits when every child is considered in what goes on an activity plan. Children’s needs are met and they receive the quality care and education that they deserve. Below are some questions and thoughts around why planning individually is necessary and important for all age groups.

Why is planning for individual children important?

Every child is unique. This uniqueness should not be forgotten about or suppressed because group care is a reality and necessity for families. Although it may feel overwhelming at first, it is doable to plan for individual children within a larger group. Children benefit from individual planning when all aspects of development are considered. When you value a child’s uniqueness and learn about their strengths, these strengths can be used as tools to support other areas of learning and development.

What is considered when planning for individual children?

First and foremost, you need to understand child development when considering how to plan for all children in your care. This will help you plan for appropriate expectations and guidance no matter what age group. Children develop and learn in a certain sequence and there is a set of milestones to help assess if children are on the right track. Each child develops at their own rate and providing an enriching and open-ended environment can help children to achieve those milestones. In order to truly grasp “Approaches Towards Learning,” caregivers and teachers need to understand that their own agenda may not be the most appropriate for children. To truly support children’s learning and understanding of their world is to offer choices and freedom to play at their own risk.

How can you create a plan?

Routines and experiences can be individually planned for each child in your classroom and it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may seem. Planning for routines means we consider how children may need support during events that happen consistently throughout each day, such as diapering/toileting, mealtimes, drop-off and pick-up.

Consider a newborn infant that is beginning group care at 6 weeks of age. They have already developed preferences. Their experiences and interactions with other people are their family. The family can give information about how much an infant is eating, how often, how they like to be held or not held. Gathering this information is all a part of planning for the individual child.

Experiences and activities can also be used to plan individually. A specific activity can be available to the whole group while intentionally giving a child that may need extra practice with a certain skill. Integrating learning concepts into a child’s favorite learning center, such as providing pretend cookies and a cookie sheet with a grid taped to it can be a way to introduce math concepts in the dramatic play area. Open-ended activities can offer many ways for children to use materials how they choose to and can offer insight on how to plan for each child

Although planning individually can seem daunting at first, there are several ways to simplify the process. Find time to observe children in the environment, watch and listen to what children have to say. Ask them what they want to learn about. Remember to consider every child in your care!

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.

Process-Oriented Art With Toddlers

During my time as a toddler teacher, I learned that toddlers are capable, trustworthy and highly intelligent. This intelligence can be observed through the play that occurs when they are given open-ended materials to explore. Let’s look at an example of a process-oriented art activity and the ways that I would help facilitate learning during this activity:

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In this activity, the children were given a small amount of paint, a piece of paper and a paint brush. I wanted the focus of the painting activity to be on the act of painting, not choosing colors; therefore I chose to limit the choice of color (though this could be the subject of another blog). I have found that when young toddlers are given too many choices, they can become overwhelmed. I learned that when children begin to prefer or like a particular color, they will ask for it, therefore the proper thing to do is provide it if possible.

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A process-oriented art activity allows children to explore art mediums in the way they feel most comfortable. Here a child can be seen pouring the paint in the cup out onto the paper. This is okay. Another thing I would see children do is finger paint rather than use the paint brush. They would also rub their hands together and cover their hands in the paint. These actions paved the way to talk about the texture of the paint and ask questions such as, “How does the paint feel?” and, “What are you doing with the paint?” It is also a great time to use vocabulary such as cold, gooey, slippery, smooth, silky and slick. The amount of paint that is in the cup is enough for a child to explore and play with but is limited to control some of the mess it may make—although making a mess can be the best part of an art experience!

Some other tips for open-ended art activities with toddlers:

  • Offer materials that work for the developmental level of the children.
  • Plan and discuss with your team ahead of time how you will prepare, execute and clean up. This preparation ensures minimal wait time: when children come to the table the materials are readily available, and a plan of action is in place for when they are ready to walk away.
  • Invite children to participate, yet refrain from making the activity mandatory. Let children know what they can do such as, “Stay at the table with the paint,” or “Let me know when you are all done.”
  • Support creativity by refraining from telling children what to make with their art supplies. As children grow older and their fine motor skills develop, it may be appropriate to offer ideas around technique or to model how material can be used to challenge a child that may be ready for something new.

Three Joys of Working With Children

joy-of-working-with-childrenWhen I first entered the field of early care and education, I quickly learned that when asked the question, “Why do you like working with children?” the answer should be more than, “I love children.” I had to ask myself, “What do I love about children?” I began to really think about what children do that sparks happiness in my heart, mind and soul. The following, are examples of what I have grown to see as a joy of working with children.

Curiosity in Action
Children are natural explorers. They are born with the innate ability and curiosity to figure out the world. They will work to figure out how their bodies move in space, often times getting stuck. They will taste the nastiest of substances and have a hard time refraining from touching everything they see. I learned to embrace these moments and realized that rather than express my dislike, I could offer ways for children to safely explore their curiosity. I made sure I was close by when they got stuck and explained that some things were not safe and helped them find alternate ways to explore what they were curious about. I realized that it was my responsibility to provide opportunities to open, close, poke, push, pull, crawl, climb, jump, rip, build and knock down in safe and appropriate ways, rather than push my own agenda. I found it joyful to figure out what each child was interested in learning based on their natural drive and curiosity.

Masters of Their Universe
In order for a skill to be mastered, there needs to be plenty of opportunity to practice those skills, including behavior and social skills. Young children will automatically practice skills that they are interested in learning. This can often times be seen as an annoyance because a child’s preference may not align with the teacher’s plans. These preferences can at times be seen as a challenging behavior, which is not the child’s intention. Through this I learned how to be flexible, admit when I wasn’t being flexible enough and learn how to rely on my team and administrator for support when I was struggling. This is only one example of how children have taught me something about myself through their need for repetition and mastery. The opportunity to watch children master new skills and finding ways to challenge myself to allow these opportunities to occur is definitely a joy.

Real Genius
Part of our work with children involves planning experiences for them. I have always enjoyed finding developmentally appropriate activities and materials to use in my activity plans. The real joy of implementing any activity was sitting back and observing the children and allowing them to teach me a thing or two about the different ways to use materials. I can remember bringing in five or six boxes into the classroom. I intentionally chose sizes of boxes so that they would nest together, like nesting cups. As the children played with the boxes they began to decide how many children could fit in each box, the biggest fit three children while the smallest could only fit a foot or a hand. Although this was not my initial intention with the boxes, the social interactions and peer cooperation that I saw in these 2-year-olds was amazing. They taught me that while being intentional is important, allowing children to explore freely can open up doors to all kinds of learning.

All in all, I can say that the biggest joy of working with children is that they have taught me more about myself than I think I could have learned if I had chosen any other profession. These joys are what kept me going on the rough days. The fact is if you are working with children, you should love children. So think about what you find joyful about working with children, and remember to be specific!

Challenging Behavior: How Can You Support Children?

challenging-behaviorIf there is one topic I have talked a lot about during my early childhood career it is that of challenging behavior. I have learned over the years that the more information that is known about the child, the family and the behavior, the more successful adults are in figuring out what supports to provide. There are many considerations to be mindful of when deciding how to handle challenging behavior. Understanding the causes behind behavior as identified by The Program for Infant and Toddler Care (PITC) can give insight on how to support children.

Developmental stage
Children are naturally curious and at each stage of development they work to master new skills as they realize the new things that their bodies are able to do. This can be seen when a child climbs onto a low table, gets into cabinets or tosses a toy across the floor.  Offer children a chance to practice these skills in safe and appropriate ways. If a child is climbing on furniture, bring a climber into the classroom. If children are throwing blocks, offer them soft toys and balls that are safe to throw. It is also  important to verbally explain what the expectations are: “Blocks are too hard to throw. You can throw this ball.” Children are in the process of learning and mastering various skills and adults need to remember, “This too shall pass.”

Individual differences
Each child in your program brings something special and unique to the classroom. Just because children are the same age does not mean all children act the same.  Understand and identify a child’s temperament  to get insight on how to help support them. Be flexible and find ways to individualize expectations based on the children that are currently in your care. If a child feels comfortable wearing a jacket in the classroom, allow them to wear it until they are ready to take it off.

The environment
It is important to bridge the gap between the home setting and the child care setting. Children will better understand what is expected of them and feel confident in their surroundings. Build relationships with families and share information back and forth. Any sudden changes at home are more likely to be communicated which can be helpful when children show signs of distress or challenging behavior. It is also appropriate to constantly reflect on expectations that caregivers/teachers have to make sure that they are developmentally appropriate and set children up for success.

Does not know but ready to learn
Consider a child who is new to a preschool classroom and hasn’t had access to many of the tools and materials that are available. They see a pair of scissors in the art area, pick them up and begin cutting on their shirt. The child knows that the scissors are for cutting but they may not know what is appropriate to cut. With the guidance of adults, children can learn what the expectations for using scissors. It is important to remember that children often times need reminders of those expectations. Stay calm, model appropriate behavior, explain what the expectations are and give reasons why the expectations have been put into place. Is it to keep them safe or to keep the materials safe? Whatever the reason trust that a child can learn to understand them and be a valuable member of the classroom community.

Unmet emotional need
This is a rare cause for challenging behavior and can be the most challenging. It may mean that additional support is needed for the adult and/or the child. PITC suggests “actively respond through deeds not words, [be] giving not withholding, [offer] support not punishment.” When a child is behaving to try to get a need met, it is even more important to meet the child’s needs with “quiet firmness and patience.”

These five causes of behavior can help adults decide how to plan and support children’s behavior. When adults observe, ask questions, build relationships and use responsive caregiving they in turn find ways to support children in their development. Children are able to learn from their mistakes, make corrections, problem solve and through this build their self-confidence.

Perspective

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It’s Morning:

Mornings are such a challenging part of the day. I have to get myself ready, make breakfast, pack my lunch and get Sara ready before I can leave. I forgot to buy diapers last night! I don’t have time to stop this morning. I can’t be late to work again. I will get another point. I will have to stop after work. I hope no one says anything when I drop Sara off. How embarrassing would it be to have to explain that I forgot?

I am ready, I can wake Sara up and get her dressed and to the car. The car. I forgot to look and see if the car windows are frosted. I better make sure. It would be easier to start the car before I wake Sara up. That way, I know she is safe. Then I can get her dressed. I will have to give her breakfast in the car. I hate feeding her in the car.

We made it to the car. Sara was not ready to wake up. I am not surprised since she woke up a couple of times during the night. I decided to leave her in her pajamas and her diaper wasn’t that wet, so it was easier to put her coat on and go. We made it to the car.

Traffic is slow. I hope I can make it to the program on time. I hope Sara’s primary caregiver is there. It will help me to be able to leave quickly. I need to remember to tell her that we were running late and that Sara will need a diaper soon. Why is Sara crying? I FORGOT HER SIPPY CUP AND BREAKFAST!! This is great, but thank goodness, there will be breakfast waiting! Maybe they have extra sippy cups! I hope Sara is ready to see her teacher.

We are here! Finally, some luck! I got a good parking spot! Please, please, please be an easy drop off. I really want Sara to have a good day. It has already been a rough morning. At least she will get to play and be with people that care for her. It helps to know that she is safe and well taken care of while I am at work.

I am almost to work. I will have a few minutes to spare. I FORGOT TO MENTION THAT SARA WOULD NEED A DIAPER SOON!!!

If you had this information every day about every child that was in your early childhood education program, how you would you use it? Would you be able to hold back judgement about why a parent forgets things or doesn’t have the item you have requested multiple times? Would you be more understanding about why a child is cranky and that since we have all been there take extra precaution to stay calm and show empathy? How would this information help you to understand what a child might need from you for that moment, hour, day or week? How would you want or need someone to support you if this was the kind of morning you were having? When we give families the benefit of the doubt and treat them with empathy and respect rather than assuming the worst, we may be supporting them in more ways than we realize.

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

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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.