Category Archives: General

Cling to the Positive


With all the rain, cloudy weather, and horrible news reports on TV I know I have been feeling a little negative and down lately. It is a very rare thing for me because I have always been a “glass is half full” kind of person. The children in our programs feel this too. They might exhibit their sentiments by lethargy, defiant behavior, or just lack of interest. Some also might be vocal about it! We set the tone for our children. We model the behaviors and actions that are appropriate and bring success for the child’s development. Even though we aren’t seeing rainbows and sunshine, we still need to be a role model for our children each day to persevere and keep going!

I was reading an article titled, “Helping Young Children Succeed: Strategies to Promote Social and Emotional Development,” from that talked about the effects of social and emotional development. “Children who are emotionally healthy have a significantly greater chance of achieving success in school compared with those who have emotional difficulties. High-quality programs, which offer children emotional nurturance and positive early learning experiences, enhance development and prepare children for school.”

The interactions between a caregiver and a child are those small moments that make or break attitudes toward learning. It may be hard to change a child’s attitude because of early stressors and traumatic events that have previously occurred. Here are some helpful tips based on an article about Growth Mindset by Jessica Stillman that can give you the words to say in the moments of frustration. “Rather than saying ‘Not everybody is good at solving puzzles. Just do your best,’ a teacher or parent should say ‘When you learn how the small piece goes together with this bigger piece, it grows your brain.’ Or instead of saying ‘Maybe solving puzzles is not one of your strengths,’ a better approach is adding ‘yet’ to the end of the sentence: ‘Maybe solving puzzles is not one of your strengths yet,'” she explains. “The bottom line is that you shouldn’t just praise effort; you should praise effort because it leads somewhere, stressing that simply trying isn’t the point.” Your kids should try hard because putting in that effort will make them smarter and better at whatever they put their minds to.

If we change our attitudes and the words we use to model behaviors and concepts to children, their negative attitudes (and school readiness skills) will eventually change for the positive too.



It’s Morning:

Mornings are such a challenging part of the day. I have to get myself ready, make breakfast, pack my lunch and get Sara ready before I can leave. I forgot to buy diapers last night! I don’t have time to stop this morning. I can’t be late to work again. I will get another point. I will have to stop after work. I hope no one says anything when I drop Sara off. How embarrassing would it be to have to explain that I forgot?

I am ready, I can wake Sara up and get her dressed and to the car. The car. I forgot to look and see if the car windows are frosted. I better make sure. It would be easier to start the car before I wake Sara up. That way, I know she is safe. Then I can get her dressed. I will have to give her breakfast in the car. I hate feeding her in the car.

We made it to the car. Sara was not ready to wake up. I am not surprised since she woke up a couple of times during the night. I decided to leave her in her pajamas and her diaper wasn’t that wet, so it was easier to put her coat on and go. We made it to the car.

Traffic is slow. I hope I can make it to the program on time. I hope Sara’s primary caregiver is there. It will help me to be able to leave quickly. I need to remember to tell her that we were running late and that Sara will need a diaper soon. Why is Sara crying? I FORGOT HER SIPPY CUP AND BREAKFAST!! This is great, but thank goodness, there will be breakfast waiting! Maybe they have extra sippy cups! I hope Sara is ready to see her teacher.

We are here! Finally, some luck! I got a good parking spot! Please, please, please be an easy drop off. I really want Sara to have a good day. It has already been a rough morning. At least she will get to play and be with people that care for her. It helps to know that she is safe and well taken care of while I am at work.

I am almost to work. I will have a few minutes to spare. I FORGOT TO MENTION THAT SARA WOULD NEED A DIAPER SOON!!!

If you had this information every day about every child that was in your early childhood education program, how you would you use it? Would you be able to hold back judgement about why a parent forgets things or doesn’t have the item you have requested multiple times? Would you be more understanding about why a child is cranky and that since we have all been there take extra precaution to stay calm and show empathy? How would this information help you to understand what a child might need from you for that moment, hour, day or week? How would you want or need someone to support you if this was the kind of morning you were having? When we give families the benefit of the doubt and treat them with empathy and respect rather than assuming the worst, we may be supporting them in more ways than we realize.

What to do if life feels overwhelming

Lately, my life has been so overwhelming. In my personal life, my oldest is applying to college and reaching out for every scholarship opportunity available. There’s marching band and dance practice, homework and studying, dinners to cook and oodles of laundry. In my work life, we’ve hired two new staff and two people were moved to new roles. I’m working on a new project. The pace of life both at work and at home just seems to be speeding by and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m out of control.

When your job is to take care of others, it's important to take care of yourself!

When life feels out of control, I notice that I tend to be grouchy. And I’m probably less productive in all areas of my life. What I keep trying to remind myself of is that I do have control, not over the things that are happening around me, but how I respond and react to those things.

When life feels big, either at home or at work, remember these tips:

  1. Talk about it. Don’t get lost in the maze of all the things happening around you. Tell a trusted friend or colleague about your frustrations. Sometimes it can be helpful to label how you’re feeling and why you think you’re feeling that way.
  2. Take it one day at a time. Make a list and divide up your ‘to-dos’ into more manageable chunks. Not only will you break each of the tasks down, but you can feel accomplished at the end of the day when you’ve been able to cross things off.
  3. Be flexible. Think of your long list of tasks creatively, recognizing that there’s more than one way to be complete each piece. By channeling some creative juices, you might find you to-do list becomes more of a to-done list more quickly!
  4. Take a deep breath. When faced with a daunting set of tasks ahead, give yourself permission to walk away and recharge. Take a walk, enjoy a bubble bath, read a good book. When you have a chance to recharge your body and your mind, you come back with a renewed sense of hope.

And now that I can check this one thing off my to-do list, I feel so much better. At the end of the day, I hope that you can check something off your list and feel better to.

Dealing with different perspectives

A coworker recently challenged my thinking by saying that members of our 4C coaching team are early childhood education (ECE) snobs. At first I was offended. Of course I’m not a snob. I believe I have an open mind when working with teachers. I believe I attempt to meet teachers where they are and not pass judgment. The more I thought about it, the more I understood. She wasn’t meaning to be rude or disrespectful. She meant to challenge perspective.

Dealing with different perspectives on raising children

As an ECE coach, I have an ideal classroom, philosophy, interactions, environment, etc. When I enter a classroom, I should put my ideals aside and ask how I can support the teachers. I must meet them where they are regardless if their philosophy matches mine. I need to coach toward Developmentally Appropriate Practice, not my idea of what should be done.

I may ask clarifying questions. “Tell me more about how you believe children learn.” “I’m curious about your lesson plan. Can you tell me what prompted this focus of study?” The questions I ask are meant to prompt the teachers to explain why they are doing what they are doing. Teachers need to have an intention behind every action.

I may ask the teachers to reflect upon an activity. “I saw that you closed the sensory table. I wonder what would have happened if the table were left open for the children?” The purpose of the reflective question is not to embarrass the teacher but to get the teacher to think of the situation from a different perspective. The teacher may have closed the sensory table because children were fighting over a measuring cup. If another measuring cup were brought out, would the fighting have stopped? Did closing the table solve the issues at hand?

While I was processing my role with teachers, I couldn’t help but think of teachers roles with families/parents. As adults we have beliefs on how children should be raised. We have beliefs about toileting, pacifiers, food, separation… the list goes on. As teachers, we may know more about child development and best practice in group care than some families, but those families are the experts on their child. The family is parenting their child according to their beliefs, their philosophy. As teachers we need to meet families where they are and not pass judgment.

Teachers can do with families what I do with teachers. Ask questions. Find out more about the families. “Can you tell me what you like to do as a family?” “Tell me about your bed time routine?” “What did you do over the weekend?” Questions aren’t to grill families about where they were and what they did or what they didn’t do. Questions are for building a relationship. Teachers and families must have a trusting relationship to meet the needs of children. We must meet families where they are.

Who Moved My Cheese?

I am often asked, by teachers and directors alike, to recommend books on curriculum, leadership and numerous early childhood topics. There are many books available; one of my favorites that I hold close to my heart is Who Moved My Cheese?  by Dr. Spencer Johnson. This book is written for all ages and takes less than an hour to read, but its unique insights can last for a lifetime!

Who Moved My Cheese? is a simple parable that reveals profound truths. It is an amusing and enlightening story of four characters that live in a maze and look for cheese to nourish them and make them happy. Cheese is a metaphor for what you want to have in life–whether it is a good job, a loving relationship, money (or a possession), health or spiritual peace of mind. The maze is where you look for what you want: the organization or company you work in, or the family or community you live in.

The four imaginary characters depicted in this story are mice! We meet Sniff, who sniffs out change early; Scurry, who scurries into action; Hem, who denies and resists change, fearing it will lead to something worse; and Haw, who learns to adapt in time when he sees that change can lead to something better. Do these mice sound like anyone on your staff or in your organization?

Our field is changing and the new initiatives that we continue to learn about are making us feel nervous, scared and overwhelmed. But at the same time, we are excited that the quality of early childhood education is finally moving in the right direction. We all share something in common: a need to find our way in the Maze and succeed in changing times. Change will happen whether we are prepared or not. We must find our own way, beyond our comfort level and fears. No one else can do it for us or talk us into it. We have to see the advantage and change ourselves.

In summary, this book is a simple read.  Share it with your staff, parents and a friend–or just make time to read it for yourself.  I walked away with a few important lessons that are listed as “The Handwriting on the Wall”

Change Happens–They Keep Moving the Cheese
Anticipate Change–Get Ready for the Cheese to Move
Monitor Change–Smell the Cheese Often so You Know When It Is Getting Old
Adapt To Change Quickly–The Quicker You Let Go of Old Cheese, the Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese
Change–Move With the Cheese
Enjoy Change–Savor the Adventure and Enjoy the Taste of New Cheese!

Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again and Again!

Chinese Wisdom for Welcoming a New Child Into a Class

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.
–Chinese Proverb

Often times teachers don’t have any input into when a new student joins their classroom. You walk in to work one day and you are informed that Trevor will be joining your classroom the next week. What can a teacher do to make this entry experience good for both Trevor and his new classmates?  I think the Chinese proverb above offers clues about a few simple things that teachers can do with children to help facilitate a smooth introduction and transition into a new classroom.

I hear and I forget. You tell the children to expect a new classmate on Monday.  Next week comes and the new child starts. It is a rough start; there are tears and everyone is out of sorts. What happened? You told the children that a new classmate was coming. They heard but they forgot.

I see and I remember. So how can you make this a more meaningful start for the new child and the other children? How about showing your class a photo of the new child? You can also send a photo of his future classmates to the new child. A great idea would be to set up a visit to the classroom for the new child and his family.  Children need to see so that they can remember.  A new classroom and unfamiliar faces won’t seem so new or unfamiliar after a classroom visit.

I do and I understand. Finally to make the best start possible, have your class make a welcome sign or card for the new classmate. This is a great way to help them remember the new child’s name.  Let the children plan other ways to welcome the new child.  Pick a “buddy” for the new student and tell the “buddy” that he or she has   the responsibility of helping the new child until he is adjusted.

How do you support or welcome a new child to your program? A combination of strategies will work best. But as you work on a plan, let this Chinese proverb be your guide:  I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

– Stephanie Kennedy

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!