Category Archives: Preschool

Keep It Authentic!

sandRecently, I was lucky enough to join my family for a seaside trip to South Carolina. After months of talking about the sandy beaches and salty ocean, my preschool-aged niece was excited to finally experience everything she had heard about with her own five senses! No matter how often we described the feeling of sand between our toes or the weightlessness of riding the waves in the Atlantic, it was difficult for her to make connections without actually experiencing it herself. All week, I could see these new experiences providing her with rich language, early science concepts, and filling her brain with background knowledge she will carry with her for years to come.

We know children learn best through hands-on activities. By providing opportunities that allow them to engage all of their senses, they are able to have meaningful experiences that help build connections to the real world. So how do we help those children who have yet to visit the beach experience these elements in authentic and meaningful ways? Bring it to the classroom, of course! Here are some awesome ways to bring seaside fun and learning into their everyday environment:

  • Sand can be an easy addition to any sensory table! You can find play sand in most toy or home improvement stores. Kinetic sand on table top trays can be a great alternative for classrooms without a sensory table. Add a variety of tools & buckets from a local dollar store, and even some water to experiment with. The children can create and build just like they are at the beach!
  • Know any friends or family heading to the beach? Ask them to bring back a bag full of shells! Adding real shells to your math or science learning area with some magnifying glasses and scales opens up an opportunity to explore math concepts and increase observation skills. Also, using descriptive words to talk about shell textures can help build rich language.
  • Did you know the largest Great White Shark recorded was 20 feet long? Most are only about 13 feet long, which is still pretty giant compared to the children in our classrooms! Using painters tape, create a 13 foot long outline of a shark on your classroom or hallway floor, allowing your students to see just how huge a shark would be if they encountered one in real life. Allow them to use a variety of classroom materials to explore measurement. They will love answering questions such as “How many Legos long is this shark?”
  • Set up some experimentation of salt water vs. fresh water. Children can do a little taste-testing, and play with the idea of “What sinks and what floats?” using different materials in the classroom. I love this salt water experiment.

When we bring in authentic materials, it helps children connect concepts and understand our learning themes in a tangible and meaningful way!

Back to School…Am I Ready?

back-to-schoolLots of families are ready to get back into a routine and send children back to school in the month of August. Some of the children are excited and ready, but are you? It’s a time of year when no matter how old you are, the time is ripe for a fresh start. An early childhood program may follow a school year format where a new cycle of lessons start. You may have new families and children beginning in your program for the first time. Some children may be transitioning into a new classroom.

This time of year is the perfect opportunity to recharge and refresh your early childhood classroom. I’ve expanded some of the tips I found in a blog for elementary school teachers to apply to early childhood programs:

Be Organized. Having your ducks in a row is good for you and good for your students. Making sure that everything and everyone has a place helps the flow of the day go smoothly. Prepping materials ahead of time for the sorting, storage, display, and accessibility will also help children get to the tasks and work they have to do with ease. Move some furniture if you have to! Everyone will be happy.

Manage the Classroom. Your room can look awesome with every bit of organized labeling and decor. If you do not have a positive behavior management plan ready, it may be a rough start to the school year. Every student, class, and room is different. Children spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year learning the rules of the classroom. Just make sure you have a plan and stick to it to ensure that you, the kids, and parents know how things will go.

Develop Family Relationships. Making kind and welcoming connections with parents from day one will not only benefit the children in your care, but yourself!  It builds trust between you and the parent when you make yourself accessible and available to discuss things about the year in a positive way.

Know the Community. Making relationships in the community benefits everyone in your program. Inviting community to be guest speakers, meeting people from organizations that can help families in need, and creating classroom projects to help the community are all great examples of how building those relationships can be a good thing for all!

Involve the Students in Planning! I have said it before in previous blogs… Taking time to listen to the children in your care and let them help you plan activities for how they want to learn something will make it a fun school year! Building on the children’s interests is always a good idea to keep them wanting to come to your program.

With the start date getting closer and closer each day, keeping these strategies in mind will help pave the way for a great year for both you and the children in your program.

Moving On

tough-transition

“A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.” —Chinese Proverb

In a little less than two weeks, my son will enter fifth grade, and my daughter will enter kindergarten. My son, who just recently turned 10, has gone to the same early childhood program since he was 6-weeks-old. This is the same program my daughter currently attends, and she’s been there since her first few months of life, as well. Both of my children have been there full time since infancy. When he began first grade, my son continued to attend this program for before- and after-care during the school year, and then summer camp when school was out every year since.

A couple of weeks ago, we dropped the bomb on him that this would be his last summer there— his time there was coming to an end because he was simply too old to attend anymore. Next summer it would be time to move on to somewhere that was more age-appropriate for him.

From under the brim of his baseball cap, I could see tears welling up in his big, blue eyes. “But, mom, I’ve GROWN UP there! I LOVE that place! I don’t want to leave.” I understood him completely. To be honest, I didn’t want him to go, either. The people that work at that program literally helped my husband and I raise our children— they were our village. He was safe there, he was loved.

Many of you reading this have children in your programs that are going through similar transitions this time of year. Whether you’re saying goodbye to your school-agers, sending your preschoolers off to kindergarten, or transitioning your infants up to the toddler room, there are many things that you, as an early childhood educator, can do to help ease the uncertainty of this process.

  • Develop a transition plan. The first thing to keep in mind, when helping a child transition to a new classroom or setting, is that this will be a transition for not just the child, but for their family, as well. Meeting with family members to develop a transition plan before the actual transition takes place is a helpful tool to get everyone on the same page about how and when everything will occur. Get input about what the child might need to make the transition a successful one, and find out what questions or concerns the family may have about the process. . If possible, have both the child’s “current ” and “new” teachers be part of developing this plan. The “current ” teacher often has knowledge of how the child functions in a school setting that would be helpful for the “new” teacher to know.
  • Provide age-appropriate activities in the classroom in preparation for the transition. When children are preparing to move to a new classroom or educational setting, classroom teachers can provide a multitude of activities to help ready children for their move. Keep in mind what skills or knowledge would be helpful for the child to have in their new setting, and start working on those things while they’re still in your room. For example, a toddler who’s moving to a preschool room might benefit from working on self-help skills such as throwing their own items away after lunch or snack, or pulling their own pants up and down when beginning to use the potty. A school-age teacher might role play with his/her class how to shake hands, look someone in the eye, and introduce themselves.
  • Involve the children in conversations regarding their upcoming move. Having positive conversations with the children in your care about their new classroom or school can also be helpful. Use their new teacher’s name (if you know it), show them photos of their new environment, or even take a walk or a field trip there.

Ironically, as much as we care for the children in our programs, as early childhood educators it is ultimately our goal to help children reach a place where they no longer need us. Growing up and moving on are good things—they are natural parts of life that can be exciting and wonderful!

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.

Art vs. Crafts

Every parent likes to see something that is cute and well put together that “their child made” such as sun catchers or that cute hand-print frame that is sitting on their desk at work. During the summer, lots of programs have different projects, and parents want to see what they do. HOWEVER, the question lingers in one’s mind—how much of that project did the child actually make? Craft projects are fine every now and then, but is it really something that a young child understands? Process art is different than crafting—it’s about the journey a child takes to get to their end product. It is way more fun, hands on, and appropriate for a young child to do. With process art, a child is able to:

  1. Work fine motor muscles. Working with different types of tools/media they can build the hand muscles for better dexterity. This lays the foundation for cutting and writing. Examples of this could be setting out a hole punch and pieces of paper, using scissors to cut straws or clay.
  2. Enhance critical thinking skills. When a child is in the creative process, his/her mind is thinking out ways to make/create the subject at hand. Gathering information and hypothesizing how to create the artwork builds the mind for thinking out other scenarios children may face throughout everyday events. Instead of laying out specific supplies for the children to all come to the same end result, give lots of options: hole punches, stamps, stickers, beads, string, tongue depressors, pom poms, glue, scissors—the possibilities are endless!
  3. Express themselves. If you provide the materials, they will come! Allowing the child to experiment will result in something that has meaning for them. Sitting and asking questions about the creative process also helps the child develop the language and vocabulary for something that they may have never been able to talk about before. For example, something you may ask would be, “Why did you choose the felt to make the dog’s ears?” or “How can you attach the ears to the paper?” You can also help them express what they created by writing about it. This gives the families the story and process behind the masterpiece.

Art in an early childhood program is about more than just making something cute; it is creating the moments for a child to discover and learn. I said it before and I will say it again: let children have the time to play and try new things. After all, learning through play is how a child learns best!

School Is Out…What Do We Do Now?

summerplaySummer is here and if you are like me, a routine master, you are in a panic. School is over and children are shouting, “I am BORED!” You realize that the time you had celebrating the end of a successful school year must come to an end as you begin planning a summer program. Unfortunately, that time has slipped away and you are scrambling to find ideas, theme/unit items, guest speakers and field trip forms. PAUSE. Teacher life does not have to be chaotic and always busy with grandiose activities. Plan activities that you would like to enjoy with your children and SLOW DOWN.

On our first day of the summer program when I was still teaching, I gathered my class of preschoolers on our group time rug. We sat and talked about what they wanted to do to have fun in our summer before they started ‘big kid school’ in the fall. It may not seem like a big thing to do, however, making it a priority to sit down and include children in the planning is the best thing you can do to make your summer awesome! Here are three simple tips to help you and your planners come up with safe, age-appropriate ideas.

  1. Give real expectations and choices. Kids might come up with about 9,000 ways to blow your supply budget and your stress limit. Setting limits and goals are okay, talk it out! Help children to work through the critical thinking and reasoning process.
  2. Make a map. Sometimes the best plans for your students can be better examined with charting! Written lists can also help them express their opinions and interests in a concrete way. You can make one list of plans the staff members want to do, one list of things children want to do, and compare the lists that both the staff and the children can do together.
  3. Research and choose. Pinterest makes visual organization a breeze. Also, going to the library to look at books together to get ideas is wonderful. You can take the more hands-on approach and make a collage of activities on poster paper using magazines and other paper material. Let your children help you look for ideas on the list. Whatever the activity— creating art, outdoor activity, cooking lesson—it is right there for our children who are still learning. It gives them a chance to make connections.

After all of your hard work with your ‘assistants,’ your summer will be something that you and your children have always wanted. No stress involved (or very little). If I have learned anything from teaching, this one thing is true: the fun plans you have intended for the children to do are not always as good as the children’s ideas of fun. Let them take the lead—within reason. Find out what makes things fun for your children and watch the laughter, smiles and precious moments appear. Collect those teachable moments, not the material things, and everyone will have a very happy summer.

Helping Children say Goodbye

saying-goodbye-for-the-dayI have never liked to say goodbye to those I care about. It felt better to say, “See you later,” or “Take care,” rather than “Goodbye.”  Saying these phrases had less finality. It helped me feel at ease as I separated from my family and friends. Realizing how uncomfortable I felt saying goodbye to my loved ones helped me to understand the importance of supporting children as they learned how to cope with separating from their family for the day.

It is important that adults offer this support so that children can understand why they separate from their family and have the opportunity to learn about the emotions they’re feeling.  These feelings do not have to be avoided—they need to be supported! Here are a few ways to support children and their families as they say, “See you later.”

Create a Calm, Inviting Environment

Setting a mood in the morning can be a beneficial way of supporting children when they are dropped off. If the size of the classroom permits, provide a small couch or love seat for children to sit on with their families during a drop off routine (see below). Make sure children know where their personal items belong. When children have a space of their own in a classroom, it can add to the sense of belonging. Remember that if children are not ready to take off their coat or jacket right away, it is okay. They may need to hold on to an item from home to help them feel safe. It is also helpful to encourage families to bring in comfort items such as a blanket, a stuffed animal or photo book from home to help keep a connection between home and school.

Say Hello and Make Yourself Available

Greet every child and family member that walks through the classroom door. Make sure to use names; having a cheat sheet can be helpful in remembering everyone’s name. It is important for everyone to feel comfortable when they enter a classroom. When children see their teacher conversing with their family members, it helps to build the trust that is needed between teacher and child.

It can be helpful to observe and reflect on the kind of support the child and family needs when a child is having a hard time separating from their family. Some children feel supported when their parent hands them off to their teacher. Others may just need some extra time with their parent, so encouraging them to create a drop off routine can be helpful (see below). Based on that routine, the teacher my need to remind children and their family what the routine is or to make sure all elements for that routine are available. It is best to refrain from being too forceful for the family to separate. This can be a sensitive and challenging part of the day for all involved. Sometimes a simple, “Let me know when you are ready to leave and I will help,” can be all that is needed. The important thing is to be available.

Encourage a Drop Off Routine

Children thrive on consistency. Drop off routines can be successful in establishing smooth and consistent separation. Encourage families to think about what works best for them. Are they typically in a hurry or do they have flexibility to ease a child into the classroom?  Encourage families to start off by helping children to put their items in their cubby and then washing their hands. A parent may be able to engage in some play with their child for a few minutes before leaving. Offer breakfast throughout the morning and make it a choice for children. Another routine that works well is for the family member to sit and read a book or two with their child before separating for the day. It may also be important for the adult to pick the number of books and stick to that number. This may be something that the teacher can help reinforce.

Offer Interesting Choices

Having several popular activities available for children to choose from can be helpful when separating for the day. Knowing children’s typical schedules and what their interests are can be helpful for children as they separate from their family. I had success opening the sensory table in the early morning. Sensory play can be a magnet for young children which can help children be ready to explore the classroom because it is interesting and fun, therefore saying goodbye may not feel so pressing and hard.

All in all, the most important thing is to help children feel comfortable while they are at your program. It can take some time to find out exactly what works for each child. No matter how uncomfortable separations may feel, they are important. Make sure that children have the opportunity to say “Goodbye, see you later” or “After while, crocodile!”