Author Archives: Janine Rigg

Encourage exploration of books!

My husband and I, after many failed attempts at a compromise for the theme of our nursery, settled on a general “books” theme. That way, he gets to incorporate elements of The Hobbit and I get to pay homage to Goodnight Moon and everyone’s happy. Imagine my dismay when I happened across an article from 2010 called Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children. It was disheartening, to say the least, thinking that my son will have fewer picture books to help cultivate a lifetime of reading.

Encourage book exploration, have lots of options available in your ECE program

In the article, it discusses how picture books just aren’t selling well, and publishers don’t put out nearly as many as in the past. One of the reasons that they explain is an expectation for kindergarteners and first graders to be reading chapter books—a time when they’re just developing their independent reading skills! Beyond that, picture books develop a different set of skills than books filled with text do, and those skills are very important for reading.

Books with lots of images not only help support the story when a child needs context in reading the text, but the illustrations also allow children to participate in the story through “reading” the pictures. It’s okay if the story they create from the pictures doesn’t match up to what the author penned. It’s helping build children’s creativity, analytical thinking and ability to fill in the gaps from what is shown in the picture (dialogue, plot, character motivation, etc). These are skills that are critical when they transition to books without pictures.

That’s where we come in as educators. Let children explore the books that draw their attention. If that’s a chapter book, great! You can support them by describing how the pages feel to an infant or toddler (let them describe it, too, if they can), showing a preschooler how the words are written left-to-right/top-to-bottom or fostering a school-ager’s reading comprehension skills through open-ended questions. If it’s a picture book, that’s great, too! You can support them in many of the same ways: describe the pages and pictures with the infant and toddler, ask open-ended questions to the preschooler about what they think is going on in the story from pictures and extend the experience for the school-ager with opportunities to form opinions and inferences from the pictures.

All types of books, whether that’s picture books or chapter books or the dictionary, stimulate reading skills in children. It’s important not to set aside entire genres simply because a child had reached a chronological age. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for picture books to add to the nursery’s bookshelves and my son and I will get to listen to my husband’s baritone voice recounting the tales of Bilbo Baggins. As long as we can accept some drool, teeth marks and taped-together pages through the process, I think we’ll all be just fine. What are your thoughts about picture books for children of all ages? Please share them in the comments!

What does “quality” mean for parents?

Greetings from a new mom! My husband and I were recently blessed to welcome our son into the world. It is everything and nothing like what I expected. One of the things I was expecting was to look for a child care program that would be able to meet my family’s needs. I wanted to share with you what types of things parents like us look for when selecting a program for our baby.

What does "quality" mean for parents?

When I sat down to write this blog, I had every intention of showcasing different lenses that parents might be looking through—my lens as an early childhood professional and my husband’s lens as someone with a completely different background. I created my top five list for what I look for in a child care program and kept it a secret as I asked him what his top five were. What happened next really surprised me. The two lists were nearly identical. What this proved to me was that parents are parents are parents, no matter what walk of life they come from and at the end of the day, wanting the best for their children is often going to look the same. So here is our list:

  1. Quality, professional, engaged staff in all classrooms. When my husband said “quality,” I had to ask him what that meant. I didn’t want to assume his version was the same as my own. He said that he wanted the staff to be professional and well-trained. My part was engaged staff. It’s important for them to be actively involved with the children in their care—from being down on the floor with the babies to playing board games with the school-agers. Both of us felt strongly that these qualities should be program-wide and not just in the age group our child was going into. Ideally, our son will be at the program through many classrooms and we want quality care to be a constant for him.
  2. Safe area and safe practices. Safety is important both inside and outside of the program. The facilities and location play large parts in that. But, it doesn’t end there. Safe practices are also huge. This includes emergency evacuation drills, close supervision of the children and positive guidance strategies, among many others.
  3. Meaningful, stimulating activities. We want our son to have a great experience in child care. What he does while he is there is going to mean a lot. Allowing him opportunities to play, explore and interact with his peers will develop skills he’ll need his whole life. This may mean putting the bouncy seat or flash cards away and getting out the blocks or bubbles.
  4. Cost of care. I wish this wasn’t one of our priorities. But, it is, just as it is for countless other parents. I was happy that on both of our lists, it was number 4, because that means that other things were more important to us than how much money we’ll be spending each week. We’re looking for a happy medium between dirt cheap and super expensive. Ultimately, though, we recognize that it’s hard to put a price on the important job of caregivers.
  5. Convenience and availability. This was my husband’s number 5. Naturally, we would want a program that was within a reasonable distance from our home, or is close to our work commute. And we have to understand that even if a program has everything that we want, they may not have the space to take our son. So, this definitely weighs into our decision making process.
  6. Step Up To Quality rating (or STARS for KIDS NOW in Kentucky). This was my number 5. And while I think it’s important, it’s not a deal-breaker. If I find a program that’s impressive, but doesn’t have a high number of stars, it is not going to disqualify them from my consideration. However, if we are deciding between two essentially equal programs, where one has a quality rating and one does not, it will be a big factor.

This is not an exhaustive list. There are so many other things that we, along with other parents, will be looking for in a child care program. Knowing what types of things parents have in mind when choosing a child care can help you reflect on the services and practices of your program. Is there anything you are proud to provide in your program? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. We still haven’t chosen yet, and we’re not alone in our search.


Everyone’s favorite five-letter word: R-U-L-E-S

There was an online article that caught my eye the other day. It was about a school in New Zealand who had abandoned their playground rules as part of a study. What they found was that the children bullied less, got hurt less and were able to concentrate in the classroom more. I was astounded, as I think was the expected reaction for the article.

In some ways, this flies in the face of conventional behavior management strategies. When a program comes to me wanting to know how to handle behavior in their classroom, my first questions are about the guidelines they have in place: are the guidelines posted, or are the children supposed to “know” what they are; how many are there; how are they phrased—is it “no running” or “walking feet”; were the children involved in creating them and are the guidelines referenced when inappropriate behavior takes place? All of these go into making sure the children are aware of the expectations that you have for the classroom.

Can you spot the guidelines in this photo? What similar methods do you use in your classroom?

Can you spot the guidelines in this photo? What similar methods do you use in your classroom?

But, typically my next questions are around what is taking place before, during and after the behavior issues. A lot of times it can be narrowed down to ineffective transitions—when the children have to wait for a long time, such as during the group’s restroom break, or when activities end without notice. I suggest providing things for the children to do during those long waiting periods, like I Spy, Simon Says or fingerplays, and letting them know beforehand when activities will end. In the words of the principal of the New Zealand school, “In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged.” That is what their recess without rules is providing: the opportunity for the children to be busy, motivated and engaged.

In those ways, I can’t say I’m terribly shocked. They are meeting the children’s need for unstructured play. The children get the privilege (and unfortunately it does seem like a privilege anymore rather than a guarantee) to use their imagination. The children are able to problem-solve independently using their critical-thinking and decision-making skills. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s working.

I’m still torn, though. I have trouble making the leap to fully unstructured play, to no guidelines whatsoever. I would hesitate to implement something like this if I had my own program. I think back to when I worked in a park’s day camp and I had to explain to the children why I told them not to climb trees during a thunderstorm. It didn’t bother me that they were climbing trees during nice weather (which is one of the things the children at the New Zealand school are now able to do), so where do we draw the line? At what point does “unstructured” become truly unsafe? I don’t know the answer. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

How does your afterschool program compare to the alternative?

As I sat in the waiting room of my doctor’s office recently, I picked up a copy of Parents Magazine and started thumbing through it. I came across an article entitled The New Latchkey Kids and was intrigued. They very next line after the title said “More than a million grade-schoolers have nobody to take care of them once class lets out. Where have all the after-school programs gone?” At the first sentence, I was nodding, knowing all too well how many children are at home unsupervised after school. At the second sentence, I did a double take; I had to make sure I had read it correctly. Knowing how many programs I visit on a regular basis, it was difficult to imagine how they could say that there was a scarcity. So, of course, I had to keep reading to find out.

Afterschool program tips

A few paragraphs into the article, it described the cuts in funding and limited access to affordable child care options. That may very well be the case. I can definitely see that being an issue for many families, as has been discussed in our Advocating for Children blog (November 2013) many times. It is a tough decision to send your child home alone because you can’t afford it, when there is so much evidence that child care programs, serving anywhere from infant through school-age, are incredibly beneficial to a child’s learning and development. It’s also tough, as a provider, to know that you are losing a child from your care, at no fault of your own. When I ran an after-school program in Indianapolis, there was a family of four children who needed to drop out of the program because of finances. Our fees were not high, but it was more than they could afford. I volunteered to pay for a month of care for them because I knew how crucial it was for the children to have somewhere to go.

Another section of the article touched on what the ‘ideal age’ is for a child to stay home alone. They cited that, at the time the article was published, only two states have regulations for a minimum age. Those states were Maryland (8 years old) and Illinois (14 years old). Other states had set recommendations, but many didn’t even have that. Knowing there is no minimum age for Ohio, I often find myself asking the staff I work with, “What would the children be doing if they were at home instead of in your program?” A lot of their answers revolve around video games and television or movies. Together we brainstorm ideas to make sure what they provide in their afterschool program is substantially different from that. When parents are faced with the whether to continue sending their child to an afterschool program because money is tight, they are going to want to see that there is more being offered in the program than what the child could do for free at home.

What are your thoughts on the availability of affordable child care, being providers of that care? What steps have you taken to ensure that parents want to send their children to you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Plan ahead for summer fun!

Looking for fun and unique summer field trips for your program? Look no further! Talking about the summer in February might sound strange, but I have found that it takes time to plan summer activities that will be enjoyable learning experiences, AND  are inexpensive!

Cold and snow got you down? Cheer up with thoughts of fun summer plans!

Generally speaking, places like roller rinks, bowling alleys and swimming pools are places that cater to child care programs and welcome groups of children. But, have you considered touring a local restaurant, store or airport? Parks and nature preserves are also very popular field trip destinations. What about farms or ranches nearby? I went to one place this last summer with a program and got to see a mountain lion, zebu and kangaroos, held a baby goat and was licked by a giraffe.

That’s not all. Are there historic houses, forts or even a castle near your program?  Or, you could look into places that focus on the arts, like dance studios, art galleries, concert halls or theatres. Many have programs custom-built for children of different ages. Of course, there are always the museums and entertainment plazas that offer a wide variety of activities for children.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box! You don’t have to take the children anywhere to explore new and exciting things. Plus, it is a good idea to plan ahead for rainy summer days too. You could have guest speakers come in or send out Flat Stanley. One of my favorite suggestions is a program called Worldwide Culture Swap. There is a subset specifically for families (and classrooms) in the United States where you are linked up with four other groups from different states. Each group puts together a package that represents the culture or customs unique to that state. If you participate, you are strongly encouraged to add a little explanation of why you chose the items you put in the package and a description of what your favorite things to do in your state are. A group in Ohio might put a buckeye or a model airplane in the package. A group in Kentucky might put a horse figurine or CD of influential music. The packages are then shipped to each group you were linked with, and they send you packages as well. It is a fantastic way to learn about life in other parts of our country, through authentic artifacts and stories.

I hope this summer will be full of field trips to places you’ve never been and memories to last a lifetime! If you have a favorite field trip, please share in the comments. It doesn’t have to be one you’ve taken your children on; it could be one that stands out to you from your childhood! I look forward to hearing about all the places that hold a special place in your heart.

The secret to staying motivated–and loving your job!

I went to the National Afterschool Association conference last year in Indianapolis. One session that I attended was led by Roberta Newman, about the effect that staff motivation can have on classroom quality. I didn’t think about the possibility of using it as a blog inspiration until a workshop participant asked me how to cope with low pay and high expectations in our work in early childhood education. I was glad I still had my packet from that session!

How can ECE staff stay motivated and excited to come to work?

One of the elements of Ms. Newman’s session that really spoke to me was how she covered The Herzberg Motivation-Hygiene Theory. The basic premise of the theory is that there are two sets of factors to staff motivation—those that actually motivate and those that, if absent, can cause dissatisfaction. The latter are called “hygiene factors” and include salary/benefits, status, job security, supervision and autonomy, to name a few. Then there are “motivators,” things like achievement, job interest and advancement, among others. It occurred to me after looking at the packet again that, when the question was posed to me, more than likely at least one of the participant’s “hygiene factors” were not being met, causing a level of dissatisfaction.

Here is my suggestion to teachers who are in a situation similar to the one that was presented to me during that workshop, having to cope with low pay and high expectations, or any other number of ways that your “hygiene factors” are not being met: what makes you feel good about coming back to work every day? Maybe it’s how the children’s eyes light up as they see you walk through the door. Maybe it’s the employee of the month display in the office that currently shows your picture and biography. Maybe it’s watching the new staff you’ve taken under your wing grow professionally. Whatever it is, look for ways to draw energy from a “motivator” to keep you going.

Here is my suggestion to supervisors who are looking to encourage staff: make sure you are meeting as many of the staff’s “hygiene factors” as you can. You may not be able to control the amount of money you pay, but could you offer a more flexible work schedule or adjust work hours to better meet their needs? Can you reevaluate the company’s policies to be more responsive? Are you able to give the veteran staff more independence and autonomy? The more “hygiene factors” being met, the less the staff will be dissatisfied. In addition, be aware of what individually motivates your staff and make the most of those things. Even if you aren’t able to take care of some of the “hygiene factors,” the “motivators” may help lessen the issue.

I learned a lot from Roberta Newman’s session that day. It allowed me to reflect on my own needs and “motivators.” I was recently asked “If you could have any job, what would it be?” and, truthfully, it would be what I’m doing now. I love helping teachers build a great program, providing insight or suggestions through training and seeing how it all impacts the children in their care. That is what motivates me. So, what are your motivators? Please share in the comments!

The struggle and joy of siblings in child care programs

I was at a center recently, speaking with the teacher about her classroom. In discussing ways to help her with her program, we started talking about the various personalities of the children in her group. “Victor is a little rowdy,” she said. “But, I had his older brother, so I know how to handle it.” It was an innocent comment, and I didn’t bat an eye, but it did give me pause later as I reflected on my day. How often do we make assumptions about children based on our experiences with their older siblings?

Don't assume that because you had a child's older sibling in class that the younger sibling will be the exact same!

Growing up, I was the oldest child. I never had to overcome preconceptions teachers had developed from an older sibling. I don’t know if my brother and sister did—the subject hasn’t come up—but I can imagine there were some teachers who had certain expectations of them because I had been their student. My brother and sister and I do have similarities. We are resilient, stubborn and hard workers. We also have vast differences. My brother is very analytical. My sister and I are not. My sister is much more adventurous than my brother and I. I am an open book, and my brother and sister are more private.

It’s important as child care providers to understand and appreciate the unique and individual characteristics of each child, even within the same family. Sure, there may be some similarities—they are raised in the same house—and it’s very possible that the child the teacher was talking about did respond well to the same strategies used with his older brother. But, it may not work that way with every set of siblings in your care.

All of my experience working with siblings has been when they were in my classroom together, so I can’t say whether I would have made assumptions or not. I do know that while they were in my care together, I recognized how diverse their personalities were, and many times had to use varying strategies with them when it came to expectations, behavior management and even the activities they enjoyed. I know it can be hard sometimes to put aside what you think you know about a child because of their sibling, but I challenge you to see the child as a fresh face in your program and learn what will work for him or her specifically. It may save you some difficulty in the long run!

Have you had any experience with siblings in your program that were polar opposites, or even that were like carbon copies? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!