Category Archives: Advocating for Children

Children get overwhelmed, too!

Have you ever sat down at the end of the day and thought, “Wow, I need a break!” I am sure that young children feel the same way, and maybe for many of the same reasons. Our classrooms are a nonstop assembly of activities. Dynamics change as we move throughout the day with children arriving and departing and teachers rotating in and out. Even during nap times there are papers to fill out, planning to do and other preparations.

Tips for child care providers on strengthening children through relationships with their parents.

There is so much going on that sometimes I feel we forget what’s on the other side of door for the children; we forget to ask how what is going on at home. Reminding ourselves that children can feel overwhelmed with all of the events filling their days, both in child care and at home, can help us better understand their emotions and behavior.

The most important thing you can do to better understand  the children in your care is to talk with parents about what is going on in their lives. Go further than the usual, “Hello, how are you?” It will help you to build stronger, trusting relationships with parents. It shows that you care about them as a family and for their well-being.

When you notice a child saying a particular phrase or acting a certain way, don’t feel afraid to ask the parents or family members about it. Phrases such as, “I noticed Fara talking a lot about concrete this week,” or “Tom has been watching the infants with a lot of curiosity lately” can be great icebreakers in starting a conversation with parents.

When a child’s emotions and behaviors change dramatically it could be a clue that something is happening in their lives. Children respond to stress and feelings of being overwhelmed the same as adults. Checking in with the other adults in their lives can help alleviate stress on you.

So at the end of the day when you just need to take a load off, consider reflecting on those young people in your care. How might you be able to understand them better?

Healthy kids are happy kids!

A question recently came up at a workshop I was facilitating. The question was: “How do we tell parents that they are not making the right choices when it comes to their child’s diet and health?” The answer is: you don’t. I know it can be difficult to see children who are not as active as others or eat foods for lunch that you wouldn’t choose for them. However, it is important to remember that as much as we may disagree with choices made, they are the parents’ choices to make. The exception to this would be if there is a situation in which a child is being physically harmed, and you need to use your best judgment, consult with your supervisor and with your licensing regulation as to what the steps would be.

Can you tell parents what to feed their children? No. But you can help educate them to make better choices.

So, what can you do? You can advocate and educate, and you can make positive choices for those children while they are in your care. Advocating for the children might look like organizing a family dinner night once a month in your program. It could also include finding out if there are agencies in your community to partner with to get coupons or gift certificates to healthy eating establishments that you could offer to the families in your program.

Educating can involve both the children and the families. With the children, doing activities, having discussions or going on field trips around healthy practices can be a good foundation with which to start. With the parents, you could distribute articles on simple fitness tips. You could also compile easy and healthy recipes to send home. Another approach is to provide information on resources available to them, such as My Plate or WIC. All these strategies can help the parents make informed decisions for their children’s healthy lifestyles.

Finally, the one way you can make sure children are getting healthy foods and staying active is by having those things as a part of your program. That way you know that during the time they are in your care, they are being fed well and are getting opportunities for fitness. This may require looking at your schedule or menu, being reflective and making changes when you are able.

In the end, everyone has the same goal, which is to do the best for the children as possible. There will be times that it is harder for parents, as well as you and your program, to reach this lofty goal. But, as long as that is the goal, we can all work together to get us through those harder times. Do you have any ideas of how you have advocated or educated around healthy practices in your programs? I’d love to hear about them!

The Changing Face of Early Childhood in Ohio

The face of early childhood is changing in Ohio. What's a teacher to do?

In Ohio, we have so many things changing within the field of early childhood education. Step Up To Quality, our quality rating system for child care programs, is changing from three to five stars. The Infant Toddler Guidelines and the Early Learning Content Standards, tools for the classroom teacher, have been transformed into one document called the Early Learning and Development Standards.  And all family child care providers will be required to become licensed in January of 2014.

I have to be honest with you, I don’t like change. I like the safety of things that are consistent. I like it when I know what to expect. It’s scary when so many things change all at once. It’s scary because it’s uncertain.  It’s scary because it’s new.

But new and uncertain can also be so exciting. New and uncertain can lead to things that make us better. New and uncertain, while still scary, can help us grow to new levels of greatness!

The author Fredrick B. Wilcox once said, “Progress always involves risk: you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” So even though change scares me a little, I’m becoming more excited about all of the great things that are going to happen for the children of Ohio. It’s definitely time for all early childhood professionals in Ohio get ready to steal second. Our kids deserve it.

For the most recent updates on Ohio’s plan to “steal second,” visit Early Childhood Ohio.

– Angie

More Than Just a Biter

Many years ago when I was a young and naive preschool teacher, I met with the parents of a child who would soon be entering my classroom. Aaron was an adorable 3-year-old boy with bright blue eyes and a gorgeous smile. As I was observing Aaron shyly interacting with a few of his peers, Aaron’s mother dropped the bomb. She said the words that have haunted teachers since the beginning of time: “Aaron has problems with biting.” I must admit my world went dark for just a moment. But as a professional, I was able to offer a smile and a bit of encouragement. I told her we would work together to help Aaron.  We both wanted Aaron to be happy and successful in the classroom, but my heart was in my stomach.

Children bite for many different reasons! Strategies to understand and cope with biting in the classroom, and at home.

After the family left I began to ponder this new challenge. What was I going to do? What if he hurt another child? What if he hurt me? Instead of worrying I decided to investigate. I began my research by talking with more experienced teachers. I wanted to hear and learn from their experiences. I read articles in magazines and textbooks. I also had a more in-depth conversation with Aaron’s parents. I asked questions and I listened.

There are many reasons children bite. Infants and toddlers bite because it’s part of a normal developmental phase. It is a form of exploration since they learn most about their world through their mouth. Sometimes they bite simply because something is there to bite or because biting relieves the pain of teething. Toddlers sometimes bite as a form of communication. Young children lack the language and communication skills to say, “I want that,” or I’m tired.” So, they bite to express a need or as a way of telling us something important. Sometimes children even bite because they are so happy and excited that they truly don’t know how to express it.

As children reach preschool age, biting occurrences should decrease. However, preschoolers may bite for the same reasons as infants and toddlers. A preschooler may bite to exert control over a situation where he feels helpless. He may bite for attention, as a self-defense strategy or out of extreme frustration and anger. In very rare cases, a preschooler’s bite may indicate deeper issues and concerns.

It’s important for adults to be aware of the circumstances surrounding biting. Does biting occur around the same time each day? What happens just before and after an incident? Can the teacher see the frustration building in the child before he bites? Can the teacher intervene before the biting occurs? Are there any changes in the child’s health, family or home life that may be causing the child to feel the need to bite? What can the teacher do within the environment to prevent biting?

When biting occurs, try and stay calm. It’s important to step in immediately but don’t yell, offer lengthy explanations or say things to crush the biter’s spirit. It’s okay to firmly say things like, “I don’t like it when you bite people. It hurts.” Or simply say, “No biting!”  It’s even better to offer the child the words he needs to express himself. For example, a teacher can say, “I know you are very sleepy, but it’s not okay to bite your friends.” Teachers should also help the child who has been bitten. It’s important to comfort the child and apply the appropriate first aid.

Most of all, it’s important for every child care center to have a policy addressing biting.  Teachers and parents should know the policy, follow it and support it.  After all, everyone wants the best for the children. We all want children to feel safe and loved.  Only when those basic needs are met are children free to relax and learn.

After Aaron entered my classroom there were a few biting incidents and some tears, but with support and team work Aaron and his classmates learned that although every behavior has meaning not every child has to be labeled because of his behavior.  Aaron was not “a biter”. He was an innocent little boy who sometimes bit others but most of all he loved learning and being with his friends.

– Patty

What Do Children Need?

Photo courtesy of Sarah Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Gilbert.

When I was an infant/toddler teacher, December was a time for reflecting over the past year and thinking about how to improve the experiences in my classroom, as well as myself professionally. I looked closely at what was happening in my room, school and community. I thought about the children and families I served, and how I could best support them. I would read books and articles, discuss and debate with my fellow teachers and just listen to the babies and families around me.

One book that I often returned to was The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, And Flourish by T. Berry Brazelton, MD and Stanley Greenspan, MD.   Though the book is more than ten years old and new research and knowledge is available, the “irreducible needs” that Brazelton and Greenspan discuss haven’t changed.  According to Brazelton and Greenspan, children have:

  1. The Need for Ongoing, Nurturing Relationships
  2. The Need for Physical Protection, Safety and Regulation
  3. The Need for Experiences Tailored to Individual Differences
  4. The Need for Developmentally Appropriate Experiences
  5. The Need for Limit Setting, Structure, and Expectations
  6. The Need for Stable, Supportive Communities and Cultural Continuity
  7. Protecting the Future

I often think of these needs as “rights” to help guide my teaching and interactions with children, and they’re easier to implement in your classroom than they might seem at first.

A close relationship with a trusting adult will support a children’s growth in all areas of development. Find ways to support the relationships between the children and their families, too.

We are responsible for the health and safety of the children in our centers, too. Review state licensing regulations often; you never know when you might be unwittingly breaking some of the rules that are in place to keep children safe and healthy!

The experiences we provide should be developmentally appropriate.  The most important thing to bear in mind when thinking about this is that your curriculum should be based on the age, developmental levels and interests of the individual children in your room.  All children are different! They develop at different rates, in different ways, have different personalities and come to us with different experiences, families and backgrounds. Our expectations for their learning and behavior, as well as how we structure their day, should always be as individual as they are.

Keeping these “irreducible needs” alive and well in your classroom is one of the first steps in advocating for children’s futures, and a good start on ensuring that our communities and schools are caring, supportive places for children and families.

– Nicole

Shyness Is Not a Character Flaw

I am the mother of three, and as most mothers confess: “Each of my children is different”.

The oldest has an opinion to share with everyone and will argue his point until you are so exhausted you just give up the discussion. My youngest (and the only girl) is the talker of the family. She has never met a stranger. The middle one is the shy one. He was born with a speech delay and, for his first five years of life, he really struggled with vocabulary and pronunciation. I think that is where his shyness began. Adults were kind and patient. Children would walk away or ignore him if they did not understand him, and that contributed to his shying away from his peers. If you are a teacher or a parent of a shy child, you’ve probably already encountered adults or peers who see a child’s shyness as a character flaw, or a problem waiting to be fixed.

Shy children need someone who will protect them from being labeled in this way.  People sometimes talk about shy children in front of them, as if they are invisible. Words like withdrawn, introverted or inhibited can hurt. Think kids don’t understand?  Take note: children are experts at reading tone of voice and expression. Being labeled (even when you’re not sure what the words mean) can make anyone feel incompetent, and it sure doesn’t help put shy children at ease socially.

Shy children need adults who believe watching is a valuable way to learn.  Some researchers have suggested that shy children are more visually perceptive than outgoing children. Because shy children take in more, new sights can seem overwhelming at first. They take a brief look, pull back, and then take longer and longer looks until they actually begin to enjoy what they see. Eventually, they may join in. Watching can help a shy child understand new situations. Adults need to understand that watching is a legitimate way of being a part of what is going on.

Shy children need support in moving into new situations. When you’re very young, almost every situation is something new that takes getting used to. You can help your shy child learn that he can handle new things if he takes it on gradually. Keep in mind that enjoying just a portion of an activity willingly can build more confidence than being forced to endure the whole thing. Pushing children to join in when they feel uncomfortable usually backfires.

Shy children need time to recharge afterwards. Shy children put a great deal of effort into new social situations, even when they’re thoroughly enjoying themselves. Afterwards they may need to recharge by slowing down and processing what happened.

We Americans place a high value on sociability. That can make it hard for teachers and parents of shy children to give them the time, compassion and understanding they need.  My son is now 23. Though he loves adult interaction, he is still a bit shy around his peers. He is, however, the king of one-liners! The one lesson that I have learned as a parent and an educator:  Shyness is a strength to build on, not a character flaw!

Celebrating What’s Right!

This year I have had the privilege of serving as the facilitator for the monthly sessions of 4C’s leadership seminar for administrators. Developing Early Childhood Leaders (DECL) is designed to help administrators further develop leadership and advocacy skills in the field of early childhood education. This month we watched a video titled “Celebrating What’s Right With the World.” Dewitt Jones, a photographer for National Geographic, narrates the video while we see his striking images from all over the world.  He shares experiences and life lessons learned as his job has taken him all over the world.

As I viewed his masterpieces and listened to his pearls of wisdom, one stuck with me and resonated. Dewitt said to celebrate what’s right with the situation instead of griping about what’s wrong. This makes us more receptive to change and gives us the energy to change.

Classroom teachers are dealt a hand each morning that they have very little control over:  Maddie’s mom is angry that her shirt was dirty yesterday, Kerry is acting out in class because her parents are divorcing. Bryce’s dad always drops him off at 6:30 am and he is tired all day in class. At first glance it may be difficult to see what you could possibly celebrate in challenging situations like these, but you have to look closely at each situation and dig deep. Maddie’s mom cares about her daughter’s appearance and is sharing her feelings with you because she feels safe enough to do so. Kerry feels comfortable enough to express her feelings in your classroom because she knows you care about her. Bryce’s dad is a hard worker and values the care you offer each day when he has to be at work early. When you begin to realize what a family’s values are, you will begin to understand the family’s culture.  Understanding the views of our families is essential to providing individualized instruction. We will also have a better line of communication that will make future problems easier to solve.