Category Archives: Family Child Care

Building a Classroom Community

classroom-family

One morning in my preschool classroom, while everyone was busy playing and learning, a student proclaimed to anyone who was listening, “I love everyone in our class because, well, that’s just what families do!” That little voice has stuck with me for many years as one of the highlights of my teaching career. When my students referred to our small group as their preschool family, I felt such pride and joy. My goal was to create an environment where my students felt loved and valued, free to take risks and free to make mistakes. We were far from perfect; there were still tears, frustration, and other big emotions. But at the end of the day, we loved our little community we had created.

When children feel comfortable in their environment, they are more receptive to learning. As child care providers, it is our responsibility to facilitate the building and maintenance of a positive classroom community. Here are some ideas to help create a “family feel” in your classroom or center!

Let the classroom be a reflection of the students: When creating this positive environment, children need to feel a sense of belonging in the space. An easy way to accomplish this is to let them see themselves throughout the classroom! Pictures and work samples hung at their level are an easy way to accomplish this. My students loved gathering together and watching a digital picture frame I had loaded with classroom memories! Allowing children to bring in pictures of their families and pets can build a wonderful home/school connection and provide a sense of comfort as well.

Have fun together! Use games and activities to work on team building skills! Group games can be a fun way to practice sharing, communication, and simply help your students build relationships with one another.

Involve families: Making sure to include families as part of the classroom community is important as well. Inviting them into the space at drop off and pick up, including them in special events and parties, or even asking for volunteers to come read to the class are all simple ways to help families feel welcome. I loved sending home questionnaires for families to fill out at the beginning of the year so I could learn more about the child and how the families saw the children! Consistent communication between school and home is crucial. We provided families with “Ask me!” questions weekly, which gave families the knowledge and language to have conversations with the students and bridge the gap between school and home. 

Show them they are an integral part of the classroom: Classroom jobs and responsibilities are an easy way to let each child build into the community. The classroom doesn’t run as smoothly without them! If they are absent, let them know that they were missed and you are so glad they are back! Build personal relationships by spending quality, one-on-one time getting to know each student as an individual. When you show an interest in their lives and embrace the uniqueness of each child, everyone feels as if they belong in the community!

De-stressing the Stressors of Drop-Off Time

drop-off-timeWhen I first began teaching preschool, I had a little boy who always struggled with drop-off each morning. He was happy to see his friends and always gave me a big hug, but when Mom and Dad would say, “It’s time for us to go!” he would burst into alligator tears. They stayed, played, ate goodbye snacks, hugged, gave 10 kisses, and he still was devastated when they walked out of the classroom door. One instance after a goodbye snack day as I was holding him, he dropped his vanilla wafer as we were waving out the window. I had a hair appointment that evening and went straight from the school. As the stylist was washing my hair, she found the cookie in my hair.

It is very hard when a child is upset about leaving their family for the day. It is also hard on parents and caregivers when they have to leave their child for the day while they go to work. Our job as professionals is to help both parents and children find a place where each feels comfortable and can trust the environment will be a safe space. Below are some helpful tips to encourage families and their children that where they go and who they choose for child care is a safe and comfortable fit.

Get to know the families. Before the child even starts in your program, invite the family to come and meet you several times to check out the space at different times. This way they get to see what happens at different times of the day while the child is allowed to explore the space.

Talk about daily routines. Talking about what happens during your day with the family helps them to know how to talk about what happens at home with the child. Parents will know how to talk about the day before the child comes to child care. Newsletters and emails are great to let parents know what is coming up for the week or month. The more consistent you communicate, the better prepared everyone will be and know what to expect.

Offer several activities to transition. Not every child is ready to come into a group of people first thing when they get to child care. Sometimes over-stimulation can make anxiety even worse for some children. Make sure that you have some welcoming activities that can be offered for a child to play to help them come in at their pace. In my classroom I had a “Me Space.” It was a canopied area filled with pillows, books, sensory bottles, stuffed animals—items that were calming and comforting to the students who needed it.

Talk it through. For some of my students, I had to talk to them one on one as their parent placed them in my arms. Addressing how the child’s feels is the proper way to start giving the support they need in this stressful transition. For example, “I see tears on your face. Can you tell me how you feel when Mommy leaves for work? I miss my mommy when I am at work too.” Then if they wanted to, I would also give them the option of being able to wave. “Let’s go to the window to wave to her!” I or my aide had to hold some of the children for waving goodbye until their families were out of sight, in the car, and down the road. When you talk out feelings and explain processes it helps eliminate stress and gives the child words to express how they feel. They are still learning academically as well as socially and emotionally.

With these few tips, working towards a stress-free drop-off will get easier for all involved!

Grow the Good in You

professional-development

“The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” – Robert John Meehan

Have you ever felt unmotivated? Have you ever been stuck in a rut in your classroom? Have you ever felt like you’re doing the same old things with the same old materials in the same old ways, day after day after day? I promise you, you’re not alone—all educators, if they are being entirely truthful, at one time or another have felt this way.  The question is, how do you shake it off…how do you get your teaching groove back? One of the best ways to do this is to attend an early childhood professional development conference!

Here are just some of the ways teaching professionals can benefit from an event such as this:

  • Connect with other early childhood educators. Being around people who do what you do everyday creates a deep sense of belonging and camaraderie. Having conversations about topics that are of mutual interest to you and other conference attendees, helps you establish new professional relationships, and sometimes even friendships.
  • Learn new strategies, ideas, methods, concepts, etc. This is a chance to pick each other’s brains! Learn from those around you who’ve “been there, done that,” and share what you know so that others can benefit from your knowledge and experience, as well.
  • Reinforce the fact that early childhood professionals are, in fact, professional. As in any other field of work, continuing education is necessary to stay current and knowledgeable about best practices. Participating in quality professional development on an ongoing basis cements your place as a true early childhood professional.
  • Earn professional development credit. If you play your cards right, you can often find early childhood conference offerings that will help you earn professional development credit/hours needed for things like renewing a CDA credential, or participating in a statewide quality rating and improvement system like Ohio’s Step Up To Quality or Kentucky’s ALL STARS.
  • Take a well deserved break from the daily grind. Remember that rut I mentioned earlier? Sometimes just getting out of the classroom for a day or two lets you shake off those cobwebs and come back feeling refreshed and renewed.
  • Gather new resources—and free stuff! Exhibitors usually attend these events who are more than happy to talk with you about the services they offer, and many times you’ll be lucky enough to score information packets and/or free samples to take home with you.

If you choose to attend one of these events, remember to make the most of your experience. Your time out of the classroom can often be limited, be mindful of not squandering your opportunity. Show up for registration and workshops on time—get a good seat! Come prepared to listen, learn and share. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there…nothing ventured, nothing gained! Bring a pen and a notepad to jot down any ideas that strike you. If you have business cards you can hand out, bring those to give to new folks you might meet.

Have you ever been inspired? Have you ever been introduced to a new concept, or idea, or way of doing something, that lights a fire in you? Have you ever attended a professional development workshop that makes you so excited about the subject matter that you want to run back to your program and try what you’ve learned RIGHT THIS MINUTE?! If you choose an early childhood conference that’s right for you, you’ll see just how great it feels to grow the good in you!

Foster an Appreciation for Books

appreciatingbooks

It has been proven that exposing children to books and reading to them at an early age can promote children’s language and literacy development. Love for books isn’t just about the words on the page—it’s about the physical objects too! Luckily, the love for books can be easy to foster from the time children are born solely by exposing them to books early on and on a continual basis. I often hear from educators that they are concerned that young children are rough on books. I see books kept out of reach of the children. An early childhood program is the perfect place to help children learn how to use and care for books. Yes, it is possible to teach the youngest of children to respect books. That isn’t to say that books won’t get ripped, chewed on and mishandled. In fact, this is a positive thing. These occurrences are teachable moments. The following are occurrences that can be turned into teachable moments and will support children in learning how to care for books.

Read, read, read!
Reading books should occur more often than just at group time. When children have access to books, they will bring books to teachers to be read. This can begin in an infant room by finding time to read with infants one on one. I have seen teachers read books while holding an infant who is taking a bottle or inviting children to sit in their lap to introduce a new book or an old favorite. As a toddler teacher, all I had to do was sit on the floor and children would bring books to me. I didn’t have to have a formal story time because we were reading throughout the whole day, including getting ready for nap time.

Reading to children often opens the door for modeling how to take care of books. Gentle reminders on putting books back on the shelf when finished reading may be necessary. Sometimes when books are left on the floor, children will stand on them. It can be appropriate to say, “I see you standing on a book. I am worried that will tear up the book. You can read the book or put it back on the shelf.”

Mouthing
Allowing infants and young toddlers to mouth objects is okay. Mouthing is important to their development. The mouth is the drive for life. When we are born our drive for survival is undeniable. Infants cry and search (known as rooting) for sustenance which satisfies their needs. This drive is so deep that it takes most children a long time to move past it. I would challenge that this need never goes away. Think about the joy of tasting your favorite flavors, chewing a cup of ice, or enjoying your favorite gum or candy. Do you prefer certain textures of foods over others such as crunchy vs. creamy?

One solution is to provide cloth and vinyl books. They can be mouthed with no damage and are easily washable. Board books are also sturdy and wipeable. Mouthing them will deteriorate them over time therefore it is okay to say, “I see you are putting the book in your mouth. You can put this toy in your mouth. (Offer an appropriate toy) or we can read the book.” Offer the child to sit in your lap and enjoy the book together.

Ripping pages/Misusing books
Children are natural explorers which explains why they are curious about their surroundings. They also do not know their own strength nor have any clue about what is “socially acceptable.” Adults can take note of this fact and decide how they react to children who are simply doing what comes natural to them. The act of exploring needs to be guided not dictated. In order to know how to respond to children’s curiosity, it is important to remember to think in terms of what the child is trying to accomplish. In my experience in providing the opportunity to explore books, I noticed that when books have the slightest tears they do not go unnoticed to children. Their initial instinct seems to be to peel back on the layers that are unraveling on the board book or bend the spine of the book back until it cracks. The first few times this happens they do not know what the consequence of peeling or bending will be, therefore they will test it out a few times to see if they get the same result.

Our response to exploration will also be tested, which means consistency is key.  A response that seemed to help children was to calmly point out what was happening to the book and that we wouldn’t be able to read the book if it was torn or broken. Remember to keep an even tone and do not overreact. A lot of damage that happens to books can be fixed. If damage occurs; include the child in helping fix the book. Clear packaging tape works wonders when it comes to repairing books.

Children of all ages should have a variety of books within reach throughout the day. If you need ideas on what types of books to have in your program, check out my previous post—and remember, many libraries have educator cards with perks that may include wear-and-tear forgiveness! Physical access to books is an important foundation of early language and literacy skills.

Exploring the Library for Your Classroom

The other day, a colleague asked me about books for his child. He knew that his son liked books that have flaps and he was looking to introduce his son to some new books to promote a love for reading. We happened to be at a library for a meeting and decided to walk over to the children’s section to look at board books, since his child is of toddler age. I had a sudden flashback of how I used to go to the library to pore over the board books for my toddler classroom. I loved being able to fill up my bookshelf with new books for children to explore. The following are some thoughts that I kept in mind when I was choosing library books for my classroom.

Library Rules. We all know how expensive books can be. Thankfully, I believe that libraries keep this in mind and make it easier for everyone to have access to books. Locally, The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and Midpointe Libraries have an educator card, which makes it more convenient for teachers to put library books within the reach of children. There are perks such as pre-ordering books and having them delivered to your program, automatic renewal, no late fees and wear and tear forgiveness.

Children’s Interests. One of the easiest ways to decide what books to choose is to think of what the children in your classroom like. What are their interests? What are they talking about or playing with the most? What have they experienced? Preschool and school-age children are more likely to verbalize their likes and interests. For children who are non-verbal this can be a challenge, yet there are clues that will help you out. I can remember when children would bring a toy from home to school and want to carry it around for most of the day. This was my clue as to what that child liked and was interested in. Freight Train, by Donald Crews or Chugga-chugga choo-choo, by Kevin Lewis; pictures by Daniel Kirk, were popular choices when children showed interest in trains. I once found a book with a handle attached that I brought into my classroom because there were a few children who had the tendency to carry around items like purses, bags and buckets. Following interests can intrigue children who would otherwise have no interest in books.

Repetitive and Predictable. There are types of books that tend to be more appealing to children. Books that are repetitive and predictable seem to lull children into wanting to hear them repeatedly. When children have access to books they will want their caregivers and teachers to read to them throughout the day. These opportunities expose children to the sounds and rules of language and literacy in an interesting way. The predictability of books support children’s cognitive development by supporting the ability to remember the events of the book. Examples of repetitive and predictable books include: Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin, Jr., pictures by Eric Carle; Jump, Frog, Jump! By Robert Kalan, pictures by Byron Barton; and The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood.

The Arts and Illustrations. Children’s books can expose children to the arts in a variety of ways. Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober put together a collection of board books that showcase classic artists’ work, such as Monet and Seurat. Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver created primer books that emphasize classic literature, including Huckleberry Finn and Wizard of Oz. The illustrations of children’s books can expose children to an assortment of art medium such as pencil, paint, watercolor, collage, and computer graphics. This exposure not only introduces children to the arts but could open up their minds to their own avenues for creativity and expression.

Read the book. Not all books are created equal. Some of them don’t make sense, others may be too long for children to sit through. It is extremely important for you to read the book before checking it out.

All in all, my goals for choosing library books were to offer the children in my classroom opportunities to have constant access to books and to foster their interests by integrating them into a literary form. Books can support attachment, learning and development and most importantly provide a chance for teachable moments.

Let the Children Lead the Learning!

Aqua Play at NurseryWhen visiting a preschool classroom recently, summer weather was upon us and the classroom was buzzing with excitement. An unexpected visitor (a snake!) had joined the children on the playground that morning and they could barely contain their joy. As you could guess, the teachers did not have anything in their lesson plans involving this guest, but after discovering the teachable moments that accompanied the children’s interest in the snake, they quickly changed their ideas for the day.  The class conducted internet research to discover what type of snake they had found, and they were making some estimates about its length. I couldn’t help but think of the endless possibilities that could come of the day; drawing pictures of the snake’s design in the art center, slithering like a snake during transitions, exploring the idea of how snakes shed their skin. The teacher was thrilled about how engaged the children were in learning and was happy everyone was having such a fun morning!

Summertime is a wonderful time to explore more child-directed experiences outdoors and at special events.. By paying attention to what children are doing and saying, we are provided more insight into their interests and have the ability to offer many more meaningful learning opportunities!

How can you go about discovering interests to expand upon?

  • Observe and listen! Children naturally gravitate towards talking about and doing the things they are currently passionate about. Conversation at mealtimes and throughout the day, along with paying attention to what they are building in the block center or pretending to be in the dramatic play area, can give great insight to their personal favorites!
  • What is trending? Currently, my nephew is all about his new fidget spinner and I can’t help but see them everywhere I go! I love how this teacher turned a popular toy into some incredible STEM activities that can be adapted to a variety of age levels.
  • What events are surrounding them? Field trip to the firehouse or a visit from the shaved ice truck this week? Build upon their excitement for happenings outside of the normal routine and find ways to incorporate elements of the event into your classroom plans.
  • Be spontaneous! If your children are distracted by the construction project outside the classroom window, it’s okay to change up plans for the day. They might not often get the chance to see this machinery in action, so take advantage of the spur of the moment science and engineering learning opportunity.

Planning activities based on children’s interests needs plenty of teacher support to be successful.

Teachers help facilitate learning by providing materials, asking a variety of open-ended questions to expand thinking, and being actively involved by enjoying the process right alongside the children!

By letting the children lead the learning, classrooms benefit in many ways:

  • Children are engaged and excited, resulting in less challenging behaviors.
  • Topics often offer opportunities that can span across several curriculum areas. Math, science, and writing skills to name a few.
  • Build connection and expand children’s knowledge by sharing your interests. Children can only be interested in what they already know, so exposing them to new topics and experiences helps increase that knowledge. Plus, they will love learning about your favorites!

When you open your eyes and ears and let the children lead the way, the learning opportunities are endless!

How to Make the Most of Mealtime

family-style-dining

For parents and teachers, mealtime is not always the most enjoyable time of the day. Whether it be a child not wanting to eat what you serve, not wanting to leave an activity to come to the table, or just not knowing what to cook, mealtime can be seen as a stressful time. I have seen some incredible early childhood programs use mealtime not only to provide healthy, balanced meals, but also to provide an opportunity for supporting social skills and self help skills. I have seen an increase in “Family Style Dining” in many of the programs I have worked with.

Family style dining provides opportunities for children to practice patience, turn taking, and using manners. The children are able to pass the bowls of food and serve themselves. What better way to use those fine motor skills than by trying to balance the proper amount of spaghetti on your spoon and carefully moving it to your plate? Using utensils is a great way to work on those pre-writing skills through the use of those small muscles in the hand. The children are learning to be autonomous and independent. Allowing children to serve themselves may be messy at first, but it is worth it when the children become more coordinated and feel the sense of pride that comes with being trusted with these tasks. Family style dining allows for great conversation between the child and caregiver, and any chance to engage verbally with the children is fabulous.

Many programs are also looking into healthier meal planning, and I have seen children really learning to love healthy foods. This can also be a great parent engagement piece, educating families on health and nutrition. It is becoming rare to hear of families eating together at the table, and as child care providers we can lead by example and show the benefits of taking the time to enjoy meals together as a family. There are wonderful programs for parents and teachers,  such as My Plate, USDA Team Nutrition, and Let’s Move! Child Care. You can also download the free Family Style Dining Guide to get started on building healthy habits around eating in your program today. Bon Appetit!