Category Archives: Preschool

The Dreaded Parent-Teacher Conference

trey-drinking-the-water

As the parent of a “spirited” child, I myself get anxious about parent-teacher conferences!

Preparing for any parent-teacher conference takes time, but more time may be needed for more challenging children. These more “challenging children” are typically the ones we wish were absent on those mornings we forget our coffee, but at the same time they’re our favorites! Teachers often refer to these children as “spirited.” Which doesn’t mean they are bad children by any means; it just means they challenge us as teachers—which in return makes us better teachers. My son was and still is referred to as “spirited.” (He is pictured above, drinking the sensory activity water.)

No matter how nervous we may be prior to a conference, the parents of “spirited” children are just as anxious. Don’t forget these are the parents who are probably growing accustom to only hearing the negative or challenging aspects about their child. They consistently feel as if they need to defend their children because all they hear is the bad, and they know there is good inside there too! Keep in mind every parent loves to hear positive and funny stories about their children; that’s a great place to start the conversation.

Here are some key steps to a successful parent-teacher conference:

  • Interact with the children in your care. This should occur constantly throughout the year, everyday—not just before conferences. If you’re not interacting with the child chances are you have very little information on that child. As you interact with children, engaging them in play and conversation, you’re able to discover their skills, abilities, and developmental levels. You also establish what their interests are which you can use to entice them to learn or enhance skills.
  • Determine goals based on those everyday interactions. Where does this child need support? I found sometimes starting with a few goals is more productive than having goal overload. It’s easier to focus and plan for between one and three at a time. Plus this focus and planning will increase the child’s chances for success surrounding that goal. More goals can always be added later when the child is ready. Allowing the parents the option to add a goal is a great way to create a teaching team between school and home.
  • Create an action plan of how you’re going to support that child with each goal. This is the step a lot of teachers skip. Children don’t magically develop the skills needed to reach our goals, they get there through play, repetition, and our intentional planning. Document and explain to parents what YOU are going to do to help support their child using concrete examples. For instance, if Johnny’s goal is to recognize his name in print, but avoids the writing center like the plague, how can you use Johnny’s interests and favorite areas to intentionally plan for letter recognition through play? What kinds of playful interactions can families do at home to reinforce concepts and skills? I’ve found that suggesting “activities” to parents adds pressure and more often than not, there’s no follow through. However, everyday, intentional interactions are much easier steps for parents because there is no prep time or materials to gather. It can simply happen in the car or during dinner. Communicating your action plan takes some of the anxiety off parent’s shoulders and gives them ideas of how to make learning fun. Plus, it puts them more at ease during the meeting knowing you already have a plan to help their child. Again this helps create the teaching team between school and home.
  • Put it all in writing. Prior to the meeting, document your talking points, goals and action plan examples to ensure you’re not forgetting anything. It’s not only professional, but when parents see that you’re plan is documented, they know you’re going to follow through.

Most importantly please remember, regardless of what our biases and opinions are telling us, ALL parents want their children to be successful. Some parents just show it in a different way than others. And some parents just don’t know or realize what they can do to help their children be more successful. That’s where you as the early childhood educator come in!

Quiet Space, Happy Place

quiet-space

This sample quiet space has some great ideas for elements to include: comfy pillows, books, and calming lighting!

Full days at preschool can be long and tiring for children, just as days can feel long for caregivers. Provide the opportunity for children to have somewhere to go and calm down, take a break and relax by creating a “Quiet Space” in your classroom. Make it a space where a child feels safe, by creating rules to ensure the comfort of the space. Explain to the children that there are times when we are too upset to think or make good choices, so spending time alone can help them feel better.  Teach children to respect the area and use it one at a time, and for peaceful activity.  Make the area comfortable through the use of soft items such as pillows, bean bag chairs, and stuffed toys. Young children like enclosed spaces. To make it even more private, play huts and tents that still allow visible access to the teachers can be used. To optimize relaxation in the area, teach children breathing techniques and ways to identify emotions and calm their bodies.

When introducing this area to your students, make sure they know this space is not a “time-out,” but a place to go if they feel different emotions or become overwhelmed.  Creating a “homey“  environment in this area can put children at ease. Including small photo albums such as family pictures of the students is a great way to allow children to feel connected to their parents while they are missing them.

We as adults need to “get away” sometimes and leave the chaos behind. Children are no different, and if they feel that there is no place to go to get a break from the crowd, they will begin to feel frustrated just as we would. If a student needs to be supported while trying to calm down, make it a point to sit with them and help them identify their feelings and give them the attention they need. Taking care of a child’s social emotional health is so critical for their overall well being.

The ultimate hope is that as children become successful in using a quiet space, they will be able to find a quiet place within themselves and manage their feelings without needing the physical space. Teaching children how to have control over their emotions and self soothe will not only help them in preschool, but throughout their lives. Parents can use these relaxation techniques at home, as well as identify a space for quiet time. Teachers and parents can work together to support children when it comes to dealing with difficult emotions. For more information on breathing techniques and ideas for your quiet space, go to https://consciousdiscipline.com/.

Cozy spaces bring happy faces!

Gone With the Worksheet

meaningful-play

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” – Aristotle

Worksheets… I will admit— I used them. I used them for one school year. With every letter of the week I presented to my class, I had a ditto to go with it. Trace the Aa’s. Write the Aa’s. Color the apple red. And don’t forget to write your name on the top.

During my first seven years as a preschool teacher, I didn’t use worksheets at all. I relied on what I had learned during my education and experience about engaging children in hands-on experiences to teach. And it was working.

During my eighth year in the classroom, I accepted a position in a new center, in a pre-k classroom. One day, early on in the school year, my director pulled me into her office and said,  “Merideth, a parent complained to me that her child isn’t bringing home worksheets, and she’s worried he isn’t learning anything. What exactly are you doing in your room?”

“Wow,” I thought. “Teaching, I’m TEACHING! And my kids are LEARNING! I know it—I see it!” But at that moment, what I actually said was a jumble of words about all of the exciting things we were working on in my room in the hopes that I would say something that would allow me to keep my job. My director responded by reminding me that as a teacher in a pre-k classroom I had a responsibility to prepare the kids in my class for kindergarten, and that meant, yes, you guessed it, using worksheets.

So, the next time I sat down to write my lesson plans, begrudgingly, I included worksheets. Trace the Aa’s. Write the Aa’s. Color the apple red. It seemed to fly in the face of everything I had come to know about educating young children up until that point, but that’s what my director wanted, and that’s what the parents in my classroom obviously wanted (or so I thought), so that’s what I did. For the rest of that school year, I continued to use a mixture of seated time doing worksheets and engaging, real world experiences in my classroom.

Worksheet time was like pulling teeth. Trying to get wiggly, energetic, curious little 4- and 5-year-old bodies to sit at a table and complete their “work” was next to impossible without some sort of extrinsic motivation… “If you finish your worksheets, I’ll get the out the slime we made yesterday. AND we can put the DINOSAURS in it!”

Making slime, however, attracted every child in my class like moths to a flame. Measuring out the ingredients, talking about the texture, observing the chemical reaction that occurred when we mixed everything together was something that every single child in my class COULDN’T WAIT to do. And then adding dinosaurs to the mix?! Forget about it!

In that one activity, my class was learning math and science concepts, working on fine motor skill development and having a great time doing it all.

When they sat down to do a worksheet, not so much.

So, as early childhood educators, we know that real-world, hands-on, interactive experiences based on familiar topics are how young children learn best. How do we ensure this is how the children in our programs are being taught?

  • Provide learning experiences that children get excited about, and want to participate in.
  • Base your lesson planning around topics that interest them or questions they ask, and include opportunities for them to BE ACTIVE!
  • Get excited! Use an animated tone of voice and interesting facial expressions. Children’s level of interest in a particular activity is often directly related to the affect you take on when presenting it.
  • Toot your own horn! Document what goes on in your classroom by taking, and posting, photos of children engaged in the learning process. Include direct quotes from the children, if possible.
  • Communicate with families about the learning that’s happening every day in your classroom. Write a daily note, a newsletter and/or have a face-to-face conversation about all of the great things you’re doing with your class.
  • Educate families about how young children learn and develop through play. For example, explain that before they can write their name, children need to do things like mold with playdough and build with Legos to develop the muscles they need to write.

If you’re using worksheets in your classroom right now, I encourage you to take the leap, try another way. I promise you, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what happens when worksheets go by the wayside.

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!

Social Emotional Teaching Strategies and the Role of the Caregiver

social-emotional-caregiver-roleThe school year has begun! As you prepare to teach your preschoolers this year, remember that your interactions and environment play an incredible role in children’s social- emotional well being. The social-emotional domain is foundational to all learning. Providing an experience for the children in which they feel safe and supported will give them the confidence they need to succeed. It is important to always be attentive to the child’s needs. Showing a child that you are there for them will build the trust that is needed for them to seek guidance. Keep in mind that each child will need unique interventions and support to help them develop their skills. Children flourish in environments that provide consistency. Focus on creating routines that involve meaningful activities, especially in times of transition. These can include things like games or songs to minimize problems when waiting in line. One of the most important goals as caregivers is to promote a love of learning to our children. If you follow a child’s lead, allow them to initiate activities, and remain flexible around their needs, you will create an environment in which they feel respected. This is key to motivating the desire to learn. Positive relationships with peers and adults—parents and teachers included—are critical to the development of social emotional skills in children.

Characteristics of adults who promote positive relationships.

  • Offer lessons that engages the children and relates to their lives and culture
  • Provide consistent guidance, clarity of rules
  • Model appropriate social skills
  • Provide a nurturing environment, acknowledge emotions, provide comfort and support
  • Demonstrate empathy through questions such as, “Why do you think she is upset?”
  • Promote children’s confidence by engaging them in problem solving
  • Model positive language
  • Engage with parents in a relationship to support children emotionally
  • Support autonomy and leadership, allow choice and follow children’s lead

As a teacher, you have the chance to play a vital role in the lives of preschoolers at such a critical period of social-emotional growth. Make sure you create a space where children feel valued, safe and cared about. Children’s emotional health is closely tied to the characteristics of the environment in which they are surrounded. As you plan, make sure to intentionally promote a positive place to learn. Children who develop positive relationships with their teachers or caregivers are more positive about learning, more confident and more successful in their learning environment. As you start your new school year, remember to lay the foundation children need to succeed! A smile, pat on the back and encouraging word may seem small, but will go a long way. As they say, people may not remember exactly what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Children are no exception.

Math in the Early Years: Preschool

preschool-mathThere is a lot of pressure on young children these days to become expert mathematicians at an early age. Typically, I’ve found that when a child feels this pressure it creates stress. When a child feels stressed they shut down and disengage. If educators can intentionally incorporate math concepts through everyday activities, the stress on children is eliminated.

Math in early childhood education has many stages that come together to create its foundation. It’s a process for children. Once they develop one math concept, they are ready to build upon it or move along to the next level of this process. In my previous math blog we highlighted math concepts and everyday activities that were taking place in our infant and toddler classrooms. As we build upon that infant and toddler math foundation, let’s focus on the everyday activities that occur in preschool classrooms. Remember, when we think outside the math center box, we realize math concepts can be intertwined throughout every classroom area/activity, during daily routines, and even transitions. All it takes is a little intentional teaching and teacher-child engagement.

Let’s think about a few math staples that can be introduced and strengthened during this process of development. First, we need to recognize there is a difference between counting and quantifying. This is how I think of it: counting is verbalizing the number words, which is a big part of the process, but quantifying is the end product, when the child determines how many are actually in the set.

Rote counting—children verbally putting the number words in order (usually memorized, not necessarily quantifying objects).

  • Rote counting activities outside the math area are usually originated from the intentional teacher: “I wonder how long it takes us to walk down the hall. Help me count.” or “I wonder what’s the highest number you (we) can count to?”
  • Cooking activities or turn-taking structures. Allowing each child to stir during the cooking activity for 10 seconds.

One-to-one correspondence/principle—a child matches one object to each object in a set (i.e., ice cube tray and pom-pom activity) or the child matches one number word to one object (i.e., touching each dot on the die as they say the number word).

  • Everyday activities such as allowing children to help count chairs at the snack table, crackers as you pass them out, or heads as you transition outside will strengthen this skill.
  • When I was in the classroom, I always found that young children were more successful grasping one-to-one correspondence/principle when counting large objects or utilizing gross motor motions.

Cardinally—the stage when a child realizes the last number counted represents the total amount in the set.

  • Once you begin observing children quantifying, asking questions such as: “How many spaces are left?”, or “How many did you count?” will promote and support the cardinally stage.
  • Graphing activities are a great way to incorporate many mathematical milestones. While working with graphs children are quantifying and incorporating math vocabulary words such as “more,” “less,” and “least.”

Patterning— the ability to create or continue a repeated format or design.

  • A few everyday patterning activities would be clapping out patterns, building with Legos, and at times seating arrangements for lunch or group time (i.e., patterning children themselves by clothes or shoes).

Making math part of children’s everyday life is a great way to support their development. What other ways can you incorporate math concepts into your daily schedule?

Planning Individually

individual-plan

Often times when I talk about planning for children, eyes widen at the thought of planning for each child in the classroom. There are many benefits when every child is considered in what goes on an activity plan. Children’s needs are met and they receive the quality care and education that they deserve. Below are some questions and thoughts around why planning individually is necessary and important for all age groups.

Why is planning for individual children important?

Every child is unique. This uniqueness should not be forgotten about or suppressed because group care is a reality and necessity for families. Although it may feel overwhelming at first, it is doable to plan for individual children within a larger group. Children benefit from individual planning when all aspects of development are considered. When you value a child’s uniqueness and learn about their strengths, these strengths can be used as tools to support other areas of learning and development.

What is considered when planning for individual children?

First and foremost, you need to understand child development when considering how to plan for all children in your care. This will help you plan for appropriate expectations and guidance no matter what age group. Children develop and learn in a certain sequence and there is a set of milestones to help assess if children are on the right track. Each child develops at their own rate and providing an enriching and open-ended environment can help children to achieve those milestones. In order to truly grasp “Approaches Towards Learning,” caregivers and teachers need to understand that their own agenda may not be the most appropriate for children. To truly support children’s learning and understanding of their world is to offer choices and freedom to play at their own risk.

How can you create a plan?

Routines and experiences can be individually planned for each child in your classroom and it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may seem. Planning for routines means we consider how children may need support during events that happen consistently throughout each day, such as diapering/toileting, mealtimes, drop-off and pick-up.

Consider a newborn infant that is beginning group care at 6 weeks of age. They have already developed preferences. Their experiences and interactions with other people are their family. The family can give information about how much an infant is eating, how often, how they like to be held or not held. Gathering this information is all a part of planning for the individual child.

Experiences and activities can also be used to plan individually. A specific activity can be available to the whole group while intentionally giving a child that may need extra practice with a certain skill. Integrating learning concepts into a child’s favorite learning center, such as providing pretend cookies and a cookie sheet with a grid taped to it can be a way to introduce math concepts in the dramatic play area. Open-ended activities can offer many ways for children to use materials how they choose to and can offer insight on how to plan for each child

Although planning individually can seem daunting at first, there are several ways to simplify the process. Find time to observe children in the environment, watch and listen to what children have to say. Ask them what they want to learn about. Remember to consider every child in your care!