Category Archives: Early Childhood

Refreshing Summer Learning Ideas

lemonade

Summer is here, and learning always seems to take a backseat to relaxation, playtime and fun. As early childhood educators, we know that learning doesn’t take a summer break. When I was a teacher, I would urge parents to remember that learning can be intentionally woven into their fun summer festivities. Teachers can create a list of activities for parents to use at home. Let’s work together to close the learning gap from the summer to the fall! Here are some ideas for you to share with parents:

Lemonade stands are a quintessential summertime activity for kids of all ages. What better time to use a child’s math skills to make the stand successful. It all begins with measurement skills to mix the lemonade. From simple measuring to doubling the recipe, children can use these proficiencies to make sure everyone in the neighborhood is able quench their thirst on a hot summer day. Math skills can be extended through the counting of money and making change for customers. We can’t fail to mention an early lesson in sales and marketing with a discussion on how to attract customers and be the best salesman.

Road trips and vacations are also a great time to keep those little brains busy. Younger children can search for “sight words” on signs and billboards. Social studies can stay on the horizon while you search for license plates from different states and discuss these states characteristics with your child. The “ABC” game where you search for a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet is a favorite.  Practice estimation while getting gas by asking kids to predict how much money it will cost to fill the tank, or asking them how much longer they think it will be until you reach the next state. (They will be sure to ask this anyhow, why not make it a game?)

Keep science alive by planting a garden! Gardening almost seems like a lost art, but imagine all the hands on experience children can get through planting and tending a garden. From preparing the proper space, measuring rows and watering and sustaining the garden, to harvesting and discussing the nutritional value of the crops.

Use baseball games to keep siblings engaged in learning by asking questions about the score, how many more runs the team needs to catch up, and having them tally balls and strikes. Sporting events of all kinds are great opportunities for discussing strategies for plays, practicing math skills and even working on those social emotional skills that involve teamwork and sharing.

Make sure to take many field trips to the local library to keep the children reading. Sign up for your local library’s summer reading club, and help each child reach their goal.

Whether families are going to the beach, the neighborhood park, or setting up a lemonade stand, learning is all around! It’s our responsibility to partner with parents to help their child succeed, and one way to do this is to share with them how they can support their child’s learning when they are not in your program.

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?

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!

Game On!

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It is becoming less common to see a child playing a board game in this day of technology, where video games, iPads and phones with game apps are everywhere. What children seem to desire and need more than anything is time spent together with the adults in their lives. Why not grab a board game and show a child that you have an hour or two to focus on having fun while teaching many lifelong skills?

Board games reinforce many social skills such as sharing, waiting, taking turns, self regulation, interacting with peers and winning and losing gracefully. Children benefit cognitively from board games as well, developing skills such as sorting, matching, classifying and problem solving. Executive function is vital to social emotional development and growth. Board games foster executive function skills such as flexible thinking, memory and self control. Children learn to predict the outcome of alternative moves. In a game as simple as Candyland, children are developing one-to-one correspondence while counting. Games such as Memory, Bingo, Checkers, and Dominoes get everyone involved in a hands-on activity as they are learning many important skills through play.

As educators, we know that children learn more when they attempt to explain their reasoning. Take the opportunity while playing a game to ask children open-ended questions such as, “Why did you choose to make that move?” or, “How did you decide which way to go?” These questions will allow them to grow intellectually by explaining their thought process. Preschoolers are capable of absorbing and memorizing facts much quicker than adults. Give them the chance to be successful and gain self confidence during a board game in the classroom.

Encourage families to play board games at home by sharing the many benefits for children. As a bonus, board games can help grandma and grandpa as well! Games and puzzles, along with other thought-provoking activities, keeps memory function performing at a higher level. Your preschooler can help grandparents avoid the risk of memory loss! Share this resource on the top preschool board games with families in your program.

As I reflect on my childhood, some of the most precious memories I have involve playing games with my dad. There was not a night that went by in my childhood when my dad wasn’t up for a game of Checkers, Connect Four, or a long competitive UNO championship. I can still remember my excitement when I used my last DRAW FOUR card just when my dad was just about to say UNO… Looking back, it was not just the game I enjoyed, but the undivided attention my dad gave me while taking the time to play with me. It was that joy of competition he instilled in me that makes me enjoy winning to this day. If this is still one of my favorite memories almost 40 years later, imagine what a gift we are giving to our children when we make time for them. No matter how you look at family game night, everyone wins!

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.

There’s more than one way to address a behavior

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It turns out preschool boys are full of energy and can team up together to create an environment that feels chaotic and out of control. One preschool program that I often visit has entered a challenging phase, where the boys seemingly run the room. It also seems like the child care providers in the room hardly have time to engage with all of the children meaningfully because they are constantly “putting out fires.”

What makes this situation difficult is that it’s not only one or two children who need some very intentional proactive strategies to feel successful, it’s like seven. What I have observed is, these particular children, who happen to be boys, like to impress each other. It’s almost like they feel peer pressure to act a certain way. It’s become a pattern that some children will run around the playground when it’s time to line up to go inside. Every day some children do this. They run around the playground and taunt the child care providers, saying things like “You can’t catch me!” At first the providers tried a trusted strategy—get to children before it was time to line up, to hold their hand. In some situations, this works for those children who are “runners” because they do not want to have to hold the teacher’s hand, so this method takes one or two times to be effective. However, in this particular situation, that strategy didn’t work. The biggest reason is there are more children that habitually run than there are providers’ hands to hold.

What we know about children this age is that they have become increasingly more aware of and connected to other children. Other children become much more important than they were in earlier years. Most preschool children have friends and value being a friend. Fortunately, this program has access to an early childhood professional that has a strong knowledge base on the social and emotional needs and development of young children. After observing the behaviors and interactions of the children all day, he had a great insight that made perfect sense. Instead of talking to the children about their own good or bad choices (which I have used as an effective strategy in similar situations), talk to the children about what good friends would do. Whether the behavior was running around the playground when it was time to line up or hitting another child, most children of preschool age (and in particular the boys I’ve been referring to) know what kind of behavior is right and what kind of behavior is wrong. Good friends help their friends do what is right. Children at this stage are still learning what it means to be a friend. If asked, these particular children would likely say that the other boys are their friends. They would also say they want to be a good friend. So, encouraging them to help their friends do what is right might be effective. While they are focusing on supporting their friend, they are also doing what is right themselves.

In any situation where children are “misbehaving,” it’s important to be flexible. Just because one strategy to address a behavior worked with a different child (or group of children), doesn’t mean it will work every time. Sometimes you need to be open to trying a different strategy!

Don’t be sorry, be a problem solver!

Does forcing children to say they're sorry teach them what being sorry means?

Does telling children to say they’re sorry teach them what being sorry means?

Sorry is just a word. I feel that people use this word way too often—so much that it has lost meaning. People use it as a quick fix, “I said I’m sorry…” Are they really sorry? Do they even know what sorry means? The word sorry is defined as feeling sorrow or regret, but too often people repeat that same action or behavior. It becomes a “sorry cycle.” I feel that if someone was truly feeling sorrow or regret, the behavior would stop—ending the cycle. There is a tendency to slap on the “sorry band aid” instead of learning from one’s behavior or actions. Sorry is just a word; it doesn’t fix anything.

Think about this word through the eyes of the child. Do you think young children know what it means to be sorry? Do they understand regret and sorrow? Jean Piaget’s theories of development indicate young children are egocentric. Once children begin the third stage of cognitive development, concrete operational, they begin to use more logical thinking and eliminate egocentricism. Egocentrism is the inability to differentiate between self and others. More specifically, it is the inability to understand or assume any perspective other than their own. For example, a child who takes the block from her peer is so focused on her own needs and desires; she may not even be aware or concerned with the needs of her peers. The child has no regard for her peer because of her own focus. Children during this stage of development are still processing and identifying their emotions/feelings; they cannot fully comprehend the emotions of their peers or the idea of empathy. As educators, we understand that children are egocentric and these skills are emerging, so why are we forcing children to say, “I’m sorry”?

More and more educators are recognizing the importance of emotional and social development and its everlasting benefits on children. Often I work with teachers to help them strategize ways to increase children’s self esteem and self control. We discuss problem-solving strategies, appropriately expressing emotions, and encouraging children to begin to recognize the emotions of their peers. Instead of forcing children to say “Sorry,” let’s help them to become problem solvers and to learn from mistakes. Would it be more beneficial to encourage a child to focus on what he can do next time, what he can do to help fix the problem, or what he could do to help his peer feel better? Instead of just telling children to say they’re sorry, ask these questions:

  • Can these issues be solved through actions from the child? For example, should the child help rebuild a peer’s block structure?
  • Does the child need adult/peer modeling?
  • Should we ask the child’s peers what solutions they think would help?
  • Do we need to provide the words to help the children begin the problem-solving process?

In early childhood education, we are helping children build skills and construct a strong foundation that will last a lifetime. Instead of creating more people who are sorry, let’s create children who are problem solvers. Sorry is just a word.