Category Archives: Family Child Care

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!

Why You Should Invest in Your Development

invest-in-your-development-for-children

Investing in professional development translates into the learning of the children you care for everyday!

It’s important that early childhood professionals have the tools they need to run high quality programs that engage children and families. It’s important to seek opportunities to sharpen your skills, master new concepts and implement new strategies into your program.

Just as doctors continue their education to stay abreast of new advances in medicine, you must stay up-to-date on the advances in education and child development. Education is an investment of time and money that translates into the learning of the children you care for everyday. Advanced education might come in the form of a one-day workshop, a community meeting, or an all day event. Whether you are a teacher, program administrator, or family child care provider, you are an advocate for children and families. To be the best advocate you must stay educated and then share your discoveries and knowledge with those you work with.

Conferences are a wonderful way to bring fresh energy and inspiration back to the surface. Early childhood program administrators with training in leadership are known to succeed in attracting and retaining highly qualified professionals. All early care and education professionals who attend these conferences are able to bring fresh ideas and motivation to the program to enhance the culture.

4C for Children’s Miami Valley Early Childhood and Leadership Conference will be held on Friday September 23, 2016 at Sinclair’s Pointz Center.  After hearing from keynote speaker Erin Ramsey, there will be knowledgeable professionals offering eleven breakout sessions to keep attendees informed of the latest research, stay abreast of best practice and offer information regarding new concepts. One of the breakout sessions that will be offered is titled “Assemble an Environment to Maximize Your Space” presented by Jenni Jacobs of the University of Cincinnati.  What a valuable topic for so many educators who need help taking a small space and turning it into the most conducive learning environment. Expertise in this area is useful for professionals both new and old. This is just one of the many sessions that will be sure to promote higher professional standards that will strengthen early childhood. Learn more about this exciting upcoming opportunity!

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!

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

take-care-of-yourself

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.

New year, new possibilities!

I can’t believe that it’s 2014.  I’m not sure what truly happened in 2013 that made it soar by so quickly, but here we are in the first month of a new year.  If you’re like me at all, you’ve already made your list of resolutions and are jumping on the band wagon to make 2014 the best year ever.  I have a mental list of all the things I would like to improve upon this year (anything from organization to fitness).

While you are preparing for a new year in your ECE program, don't miss out on what is happening in the here and now!

What does your mental list look like?  Classroom teachers, are you planning to rotate your materials to make your environment more interesting to the children?  Do you have goals of documenting children’s learning that happens through photographs?  Administrators, have you revisited everyone’s professional development plans and discovered what new and interesting workshops your staff could attend this year?

Making lists of all of the things that we resolve to do in a new year can feel very overwhelming.  So I think I have decided that the biggest resolution I have for myself this year is to slow down and just breathe. 2013 went by so very quickly that I can barely remember all of the important things that happened.  I hope that you will join me in taking time to slow down and enjoy the present today.

Whether you are a classroom teacher worried about keeping your portfolios up-to-date or an administrator navigating a new quality rating system or licensing regulations, take time to observe what is happening around you and appreciate the beauty of day-to-day life.  Classroom teachers, I hope that while you are keeping track of the goals that are set for the children in your classroom, you take time to play games with them and share their joy when they learn something new. Administrators, as you go through your checklists to make sure your teachers have all of the certifications that they need, I hope you also notice the good work being done in your classrooms and acknowledge their efforts. Wishing you and yours a memorable and productive 2014.  Happy New Year!

-Angie G.

Make your New Year’s resolutions count!

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably experienced the sudden burst of motivation that comes in early January, as holiday indulgences make their way to the waistline and New Year’s resolutions force a new look at the figure we see in the mirror.  “This is the year,” so the resolution goes, “that I vow to lose ten pounds and keep it off.”  Other common variations include goals to get back to one’s “true” weight, to fit into a smaller size, etc.  And worthy resolutions they are.  Sadly, New Year’s resolutions are notoriously short-lived, if not completely forgotten by February.

Make your new year's resolutions count!

So, let’s talk about how we can make one big resolution for the New Year: How can you be more positive? How can you impact the children and families you serve?  It’s easy to complain—everyone does it sometimes.  But what if you don’t complain, or at least try not to?  Being positive does not mean overlooking issues in your program that need addressing.  It’s important to point out problems in a professional way and solve them as team.  You might have said things like, “I don’t like the food” or “The paper towels aren’t very soft,” “The pay is low,” and “Some parents don’t appreciate us.”  All of those statements may be true, but do they really matter?  If they matter enough, work to change them.

It’s easier to have a good attitude when you direct attention away from yourself and focus on the needs of others.  No more complaining or “poor me” attitudes allowed.  You took a position in early childhood education to help young children, but contrary to what most people think, it’s not the responsibility of your employer or your supervisor or anyone else to make you happy –that’s your job.  Your employers don’t owe you; you owe them.  Now, don’t misunderstand, you should never be treated with disrespect or work in an environment that is physically or emotionally unsafe for the children or you.  But we tend to focus on our own needs rather than the needs of others.  Keep your focus on the children, and you’re likely to have a better attitude.

Now, let’s take this one more step.  Not only are you going to be positive and professional, you are going to help others be positive and professional.  When you hear someone say something negative, say something positive.  I realize that being overtly positive might not be a part of your natural tendency or personality, and it takes you out of your comfort zone.  Push yourself.  Make being positive a habit.

I suggest a few more steps:  Choose the right resolution, for the right reasons.  Create a plan and stick to it.  Stay on track.  With a good plan, making significant progress toward your goal may require very little discipline and you can make great strides by following the original plan.  My final piece of advice, remain flexible and keep on going!  Build in flexibility into your expectations; we can simply adjust things as we go.  Make the New Year a happy and productive one for your children, families and co-workers.  On behalf of our 4C staff, we wish all of you a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2014.

Ban classroom conformity–allow children to learn in their own way!

I recently came across a couple articles that reminded me of how important it is to allow children to be free to express themselves and really discover their own take on the world around them. The first article was authored by a parent who was approached by her child’s school and recommended occupational therapy for their child as a way to deal with what her teacher saw as behavioral issues (she wouldn’t sit still during circle time). I am often shocked at how many of these types of articles get printed. I guess I shouldn’t be. We are in an age in our education system where we are looking for answers to every “problem” that comes along. The author of this article discussed the culture of conformity that has become commonplace in our schools. Adults expect children to behave a certain way in an educational setting, and too often when they don’t, it is assumed that there is something wrong with the child and they need corrective action.

Play IS learning. Allow children the space to explore, make mistakes and get messy!

The second article considered the importance of play in a young child’s life. The author wrote about the relationship between the removal of play from children’s school days and home life and the increase in children diagnosed mental illness. He uses historical and biological contexts to make his argument that play is an important, if not vital, part of a young person’s upbringing and we need more of it, not less as we move through a technology-infused future.

We want our children to grow up to be curious and productive citizens. We want children to be able to function on their own and with others in a manner that improves everyone’s lives. Sure, we need rules for safety, but we also need children to help create their own rules as they learn how the world works. Perhaps we can let go of our own feelings and goals and let children determine their own because the more we push them to conform and be “normal,” the more restless they become.

So what can you do to ensure that children remain curious and develop into productive citizens? Give children plenty of sensory activities that go beyond play dough. Include materials that allow them to relate their play to the real world including vehicles, costumes and other props. Share in a child’s delight as they pretend to make soup from water, dirt, sticks and leaves. Make time to engage with children in dramatic play, and allow the children to lead the created environment and conversations. Above all, talk to children about what they are experiencing. How does it feel? How did they do that? Where is it going? What happens if…?

Remember that children learn best through active play but they can’t do it alone. They need you for guidance, support and confirmation of their trials. Removing children from opportunities to play and interact with their peers and adults removes them from the opportunity to be successful in life.

Play on!