Category Archives: School Age

How does your afterschool program compare to the alternative?

As I sat in the waiting room of my doctor’s office recently, I picked up a copy of Parents Magazine and started thumbing through it. I came across an article entitled The New Latchkey Kids and was intrigued. They very next line after the title said “More than a million grade-schoolers have nobody to take care of them once class lets out. Where have all the after-school programs gone?” At the first sentence, I was nodding, knowing all too well how many children are at home unsupervised after school. At the second sentence, I did a double take; I had to make sure I had read it correctly. Knowing how many programs I visit on a regular basis, it was difficult to imagine how they could say that there was a scarcity. So, of course, I had to keep reading to find out.

Afterschool program tips

A few paragraphs into the article, it described the cuts in funding and limited access to affordable child care options. That may very well be the case. I can definitely see that being an issue for many families, as has been discussed in our Advocating for Children blog (November 2013) many times. It is a tough decision to send your child home alone because you can’t afford it, when there is so much evidence that child care programs, serving anywhere from infant through school-age, are incredibly beneficial to a child’s learning and development. It’s also tough, as a provider, to know that you are losing a child from your care, at no fault of your own. When I ran an after-school program in Indianapolis, there was a family of four children who needed to drop out of the program because of finances. Our fees were not high, but it was more than they could afford. I volunteered to pay for a month of care for them because I knew how crucial it was for the children to have somewhere to go.

Another section of the article touched on what the ‘ideal age’ is for a child to stay home alone. They cited that, at the time the article was published, only two states have regulations for a minimum age. Those states were Maryland (8 years old) and Illinois (14 years old). Other states had set recommendations, but many didn’t even have that. Knowing there is no minimum age for Ohio, I often find myself asking the staff I work with, “What would the children be doing if they were at home instead of in your program?” A lot of their answers revolve around video games and television or movies. Together we brainstorm ideas to make sure what they provide in their afterschool program is substantially different from that. When parents are faced with the whether to continue sending their child to an afterschool program because money is tight, they are going to want to see that there is more being offered in the program than what the child could do for free at home.

What are your thoughts on the availability of affordable child care, being providers of that care? What steps have you taken to ensure that parents want to send their children to you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Plan ahead for summer fun!

Looking for fun and unique summer field trips for your program? Look no further! Talking about the summer in February might sound strange, but I have found that it takes time to plan summer activities that will be enjoyable learning experiences, AND  are inexpensive!

Cold and snow got you down? Cheer up with thoughts of fun summer plans!

Generally speaking, places like roller rinks, bowling alleys and swimming pools are places that cater to child care programs and welcome groups of children. But, have you considered touring a local restaurant, store or airport? Parks and nature preserves are also very popular field trip destinations. What about farms or ranches nearby? I went to one place this last summer with a program and got to see a mountain lion, zebu and kangaroos, held a baby goat and was licked by a giraffe.

That’s not all. Are there historic houses, forts or even a castle near your program?  Or, you could look into places that focus on the arts, like dance studios, art galleries, concert halls or theatres. Many have programs custom-built for children of different ages. Of course, there are always the museums and entertainment plazas that offer a wide variety of activities for children.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box! You don’t have to take the children anywhere to explore new and exciting things. Plus, it is a good idea to plan ahead for rainy summer days too. You could have guest speakers come in or send out Flat Stanley. One of my favorite suggestions is a program called Worldwide Culture Swap. There is a subset specifically for families (and classrooms) in the United States where you are linked up with four other groups from different states. Each group puts together a package that represents the culture or customs unique to that state. If you participate, you are strongly encouraged to add a little explanation of why you chose the items you put in the package and a description of what your favorite things to do in your state are. A group in Ohio might put a buckeye or a model airplane in the package. A group in Kentucky might put a horse figurine or CD of influential music. The packages are then shipped to each group you were linked with, and they send you packages as well. It is a fantastic way to learn about life in other parts of our country, through authentic artifacts and stories.

I hope this summer will be full of field trips to places you’ve never been and memories to last a lifetime! If you have a favorite field trip, please share in the comments. It doesn’t have to be one you’ve taken your children on; it could be one that stands out to you from your childhood! I look forward to hearing about all the places that hold a special place in your heart.

Five tips for reading aloud in the classroom

I spent many years working in a classroom as a lead teacher. I LOVED my time working with children and am often asked if I miss being in the classroom. Upon reflection I discovered there are a few things I truly wish I could share with children again. One of the fondest things I experienced with children was reading aloud and sharing books with them. I loved watching their faces as we read together and learned the story of so many characters. Whether it was helping the peddler retrieve his caps from the mischievous monkeys or watching everyone being woke up by the flea in the Napping House, I was in heaven reading with my students.

A report by the Commission of Reading titled Becoming a Nation of Readers states “The single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” As child care providers, think of the impact you can have with the children you serve just by reading aloud with them once a day.

5 Tips for reading aloud in your early childhood classroom

I have found, however, that many teachers are uncomfortable with reading aloud to children. They are afraid to step out of the box and “become” the character in fear of looking silly or doing it incorrectly. Reading aloud might feel unnatural. In an effort to help teachers become more comfortable with reading aloud below are some tips to help story time be a rich and meaningful experience for everyone.

Be mindful of your audience and choose a story that matches the intellectual and emotional level of your students.  Predictable stories and stories with lots of repetition are perfect for preschoolers. Fairy tales and chapter books are great for older children. Choose stories you loved as a child and are excited to share with your students. Your enthusiasm will be contagious!

Practice reading the story aloud before sharing it with your students. Practice will give you the confidence needed to read aloud with emphasis. As you are practicing, think of examples and real-life situations to help build the background knowledge of your students and ways to help them relate to the story. Also, try to develop some open-ended questions to reinforce comprehension.

Use your voice to paint the picture. Your voice can be used as a prop. It can be loud or soft, fast or slow, high or low, angry or kind. Your voice can express rhythm and rhyme and can be music to the ears of your audience.

Facial expressions and body language are crucial. Facial expressions and gestures can help children understand new vocabulary. Encourage children to interact by using the gestures to describe what they see in the pictures, repeating phrases, or having them mimic your facial expressions. The more involved the students the more they will learn and the more they will comprehend of the story.

Lastly, make the book available to students after you have finished reading it. This important step allows children to look at and interact with the story on their terms and at their pace. Children can reflect upon the story and relate it to their world.

Reading aloud is one of the greatest gifts we can give to children.  As child care providers we have the opportunity to show children the world by simply opening a book and sharing the love of words and pictures. I encourage you to take the time each day to share the beauty of our world through books and reading aloud.

It’s okay to cry!

Few things are more distressing than seeing a child hurt and crying. The natural response for teachers, parents and other adults is to hug and say: “Hush. Don’t cry. Everything will be all right.” But these words don’t allow children to process their emotions. The message they hear is: “Stop now. There’s nothing to cry about.” This makes the little one cry even more since his inner-self needs to prove there is something to cry about.

Helping children "own" their emotion is vital to healthy development!

Last week as I embarked on my routine grocery shopping experience, I watched two brothers fighting over who got to push the grocery cart for mom. I saw the accident coming as they moved in front of me, behind me and pushed between the carts of other shoppers. The older brother ran over the younger brother’s toes. The screams began and tears flowed down the younger brother’s cheeks immediately. Quickly, the mother picked up the crying child and gently said, “It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts. Cry until it stops hurting.” In an instant, the tears stopped. The mother noticed me standing near and simply said “I found when I give them the permission to cry, it’s often all that is needed to stop the flow of tears.”

In helping a child deal with a hurt, the importance of having a right to her feelings cannot be overstressed. Even the youngest ones pick up unspoken ideas from teachers, parents and other adults. When they sense that what they are feeling needs to be suppressed, the message is given that these emotions are unacceptable and unimportant. Phrases such as “crying is for babies” and “be a big boy” are, unfortunately, sometimes still used, and not only do they show little empathy for the child’s problem, they also do nothing to encourage self-esteem. If children are to grow up seeing themselves as worthwhile people, they need to know at an early age that feelings are neither bad nor good, they just are a natural reaction to something that’s happened, and what’s necessary is to express them and deal with them.

So when a little one in your classroom is crying, whether it’s because she fell as she was learning to walk or because he wasn’t chosen to be the line leader, stop for a moment before you begin to offer comfort. Then remember that the best way we can help these small people handle their emotions is to surround them with love and acceptance, and to say: “It’s okay to cry until it stops hurting.”

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!

The art of teaching children to apologize

Recently, I was chatting with some friends with whom I used to teach.  As we were reminiscing we did not discuss not the language, math or science lessons we had taught our students, but rather we shared lessons our students had taught us.  I soon reflected upon one important lesson taught to me by two children and a bike.

One day, while on the playground, Joshua, a spunky four–year-old, pushed Lauren, a shy three-year-old off the bike he wanted. Joshua rode away, happy to have “his” bike while Lauren was left crying for “her” bike. I very quickly intervened and gathered Joshua and Lauren to my side.  When I brought the children together I had every intention of requiring Joshua to apologize to Lauren. However, when I looked at the expression on Joshua’s face I hesitated. Joshua had a smug grin on his face. Clearly, he felt he was right and any apology from him would be meaningless. Lauren was sad and also angry at what had happened and any apology she would have heard would not have been accepted.

"When not freely given, apologies are empty, meaningless, and humiliating for all involved."

Should adults force children to apologize? Are we actually teaching our children to lie about being sorry when they may not be sorry at all? Are we teaching children to say the words in hopes the feelings will soon follow? Does simply saying the words, “I’m sorry” fix everything? These were questions I began asking myself. I pondered these questions for a while and decided I didn’t have the answers. This soon led me to clarify a goal I had for my students. My goal was to instill in the students a sense of empathy for others while also teaching strong communication and conflict resolution skills.

In working toward the goal I realized that, for me, forced apologies were pointless and possibly detrimental. When not freely given, apologies are empty, meaningless, and humiliating for all involved.  I decided that forced apologies close the door to communication and teach children to avoid conflict instead of learning to peacefully resolve the issues at hand. Instead of focusing on the words I began to focus on the meaning of truly being sorry for a wrong-doing.

Moving toward this goal took time, extra effort and patience.  I created an environment in which it was safe to acknowledge mistakes and discuss the emotions of everyone involved. I brought children together to facilitate the dialogue to identify what each child was feeling and describe what happened. I modeled empathy and used the language of sincere apologies and of forgiveness. Slowly I began to see children following my lead. They began to communicate their wants and needs clearly and listen to one another when someone was upset. The classroom became a place of trust, open communication, sincere apologies and forgiveness.

I am happy to report that Joshua and Lauren resolved their conflict peacefully and they rode off together for a school year filled with fun and laughter. Meanwhile, I learned a lesson about apologies and forgiveness.

How to foster learning using the walls of your classroom

Quick…what color is the ceiling? Did you have to peek? It’s ok if you did, I did too. It’s not something we look at on a regular basis because it’s not at our eye level. Did you know that grocery stores often put the lower-priced items on the top and bottom shelves, and the higher-priced items at our eye level? Now, imagine yourself as a child in a classroom, maybe your own classroom. What is at your level and what is high above your head? Where are the pictures you’ve drawn and the stories you’ve written? Where are the classroom guidelines and schedule posted?

How you set up your classroom space matters!

When you set up your classroom environment, you should take a page from the supermarkets. Put what you want the children to see at their eye level. This includes their artwork, pictures from projects and field trips or the class pet. Whatever you display, it should be purposeful; try not to put up maps of the United States or posters of shapes and colors if you won’t use them as teaching tools. In an article for NAEYC  by Patricia Tarr, she states that “the challenge for early childhood educators is to think beyond decorating to consider how walls can be used effectively as part of an educational environment.” I was observing a staff recently who guided the children through a display depicting  flower growth by comparing it to actual flowers they had in the classroom. It gave purpose to the display and made it a more concrete experience.

Teachers should also display classroom guidelines and schedule at the children’s eye level. Try to limit the number of guidelines to 3-5, phrase your expectations simply and with positive language (replace “no running” with “walking feet” or “do not talk back” with “listen to the teacher”) and accompany them with pictures. If you can get pictures of the children in your classroom doing those things, even better! Depending on the age of the children in your classroom, the schedule you post may be pictorial or it could use words. Children thrive when they know what to expect.

Here are some questions from Patricia Tarr’s article to help you reflect on your environment:

-How can the walls reflect the lives, families, cultures and interests of the learners within?

-Do the posters invite participation and active involvement or passive reception of information?

-What are the assumptions about how children learn and how are these reflected by the classroom walls?

-What is the atmosphere of the classroom? How do the materials on display contribute to the atmosphere?

I’d love to hear about displays you’ve done in your classroom and the children’s responses. Please share in the comments!