Category Archives: teachers

A Crucial Conversation

conversation

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

Kenny was a quiet, happy two-and-a-half-year-old-boy who loved music, and liked to spend most of his time playing on the floor. He could often be found driving cars on the carpet, or lying on a pillow, gazing up at his classmates’ creations that hung from the ceiling. His classmates would play near him throughout the day, and would occasionally try to include him in their play, but Kenny never met their gaze and would always keep to himself.

As months passed, and Kenny celebrated his third birthday with no change in his demeanor, my co-teachers and I began to have conversations about his social/emotional development. We weren’t doctors and were in no way qualified to make a diagnosis, but according to our knowledge of child development, Kenny was exhibiting behaviors that led us to believe he may have been experiencing some developmental delays.

We came to the conclusion that we should have a discussion with his parents about what we were observing in the classroom. Parent/teacher conferences were coming up in a few weeks, but we didn’t want to wait that long. Besides, we knew the conversation we were going to have would be a sensitive one, and we wanted to take the time necessary to adequately address everyone’s questions (instead of the 20 minutes we were alotted at a typical conference).

I called Kenny’s mom at naptime and scheduled a meeting with her for the next day. It was her suggestion that we meet so soon. I could hear the anxiety in her voice over the phone.

Prior to our meeting, my co-teachers and I pulled out Kenny’s portfolio and reviewed all of the observations we had been making on him over the course of the year. We were nervous about how to have this conversation with Kenny’s mom, so we practiced what we wanted to say. In all honesty, as young teachers in the first few years of our careers, we were all secretly hoping that the anecdotal notes, photos and work samples we had collected would lead Kenny’s mom down a path of realization on her own, without us having to find the right words.

The next day, when Kenny’s mom arrived in the classroom, she was on the verge of tears. It was obvious to all of us that she was dreading this meeting. My two co-teachers, Kenny’s mom, and I sat down to talk in a private room. We began by talking about the things Kenny loved to do at school, how much he loved listening to us sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” We talked about all the pieces of documentation we had collected as Kenny’s mom sat and quietly listened.

“What does all this mean? What are you trying to tell me?” she hesitantly asked, as we came to the last item in Kenny’s portfolio. “Well,” I said, “the social skills a three-year-old usually displays are listed here” (at which point I showed her our school’s child assessment tool). Before I had the chance to even finish my thought, Kenny’s mom blurted out “And Kenny isn’t doing those things, is he?!” Her face turned beet red and she began to cry.

We tried to comfort her as best we could, and then we all took a little break – a few minutes to process what was going on. When we sat back down, Kenny’s mom was silent. “Okay,” I said, “now that we’ve laid all of this out on the table, would you like to talk about what we can do to support Kenny?” The look on her face told me that this was not what she was expecting me to say. “You mean he can still stay in his classroom?” she asked in surprise. “Yes, he can,” I replied. “Now let’s talk about how to help Kenny get what he needs.” Together, Kenny’s mom, my co-teachers and I came up with the first step of our plan – for Kenny’s mom to take Kenny, and the information we had discussed, to the pediatrician.

We all wanted Kenny to be successful in our classroom, and for the remainder of his time in our care, we worked together to do just that. Kenny’s mom kept us apprised of what was happening with him outside of the classroom, and brought us information from the medical professionals she was in contact with. We kept her informed of how things were progressing for Kenny at school. At the end of the school year, she gave my co-teachers and I each a warm hug – “Thank you for helping me help my son,” she said.

New Year, New Perspective

eceprofessional

2017 coming to a close has inspired me to really think about who I am as a person—and as a professional. Child care providers get overlooked in this category sometimes. We have had specialized training. We have spent countless hours searching thrift stores and garage sales for fun items that we can add to our learning spaces for our children. We know our librarian on a first name basis because finding the right story to set the tone for our lessons makes it so much more real for the children.

Finding your own professional identity can be hard sometimes when you have parents and others labeling you as a “babysitter.” This bothered me to no end! I knew I was more than a babysitter so why were people calling me one? To quote one of our trainers, Becky Howard, here at 4C: “Whether you call yourself a teacher, caregiver, aide, assistant, or anything else, if you are in a classroom or home care setting with young children, you are a teacher. If you get paid to do it, you are a professional in fact, and should also be a professional in attitude.” Attitude is everything! If you do not believe enough in yourself and trust your judgment as a professional in the early childhood field, who else is going to?

There is a lot going on in the world today that can definitely put a damper on someone’s attitude and outlook. “Sadly, in toxically stressful environments filled with poverty, violence and illness, the seeds of optimism are weakened and often die.” -Steve Gross, Founder/Chief Playmaker of the Life is Good Kids Foundation.

Be and bring your best—ramp up your confidence and optimism!

To fill your bucket, make some new goals and resolutions for yourself, personally and professionally. 4C for Children can help you with the goals that you would like to accomplish in your program/classroom this year.  You can take some courses/training that pertain to a topic that you are interested in to further your education. Getting your Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is a great first step to furthering your professional education. Get parents involved to see what it is that makes you a shining professional and why their kids loving going to your program.

Believe in what you do, believe the work that you do is so important, and you will help shape not only young minds but the minds of their parents and others around your program as well. I believe in you, and I hope you can believe in yourself too!

Building a Classroom Community

classroom-family

One morning in my preschool classroom, while everyone was busy playing and learning, a student proclaimed to anyone who was listening, “I love everyone in our class because, well, that’s just what families do!” That little voice has stuck with me for many years as one of the highlights of my teaching career. When my students referred to our small group as their preschool family, I felt such pride and joy. My goal was to create an environment where my students felt loved and valued, free to take risks and free to make mistakes. We were far from perfect; there were still tears, frustration, and other big emotions. But at the end of the day, we loved our little community we had created.

When children feel comfortable in their environment, they are more receptive to learning. As child care providers, it is our responsibility to facilitate the building and maintenance of a positive classroom community. Here are some ideas to help create a “family feel” in your classroom or center!

Let the classroom be a reflection of the students: When creating this positive environment, children need to feel a sense of belonging in the space. An easy way to accomplish this is to let them see themselves throughout the classroom! Pictures and work samples hung at their level are an easy way to accomplish this. My students loved gathering together and watching a digital picture frame I had loaded with classroom memories! Allowing children to bring in pictures of their families and pets can build a wonderful home/school connection and provide a sense of comfort as well.

Have fun together! Use games and activities to work on team building skills! Group games can be a fun way to practice sharing, communication, and simply help your students build relationships with one another.

Involve families: Making sure to include families as part of the classroom community is important as well. Inviting them into the space at drop off and pick up, including them in special events and parties, or even asking for volunteers to come read to the class are all simple ways to help families feel welcome. I loved sending home questionnaires for families to fill out at the beginning of the year so I could learn more about the child and how the families saw the children! Consistent communication between school and home is crucial. We provided families with “Ask me!” questions weekly, which gave families the knowledge and language to have conversations with the students and bridge the gap between school and home. 

Show them they are an integral part of the classroom: Classroom jobs and responsibilities are an easy way to let each child build into the community. The classroom doesn’t run as smoothly without them! If they are absent, let them know that they were missed and you are so glad they are back! Build personal relationships by spending quality, one-on-one time getting to know each student as an individual. When you show an interest in their lives and embrace the uniqueness of each child, everyone feels as if they belong in the community!

De-stressing the Stressors of Drop-Off Time

drop-off-timeWhen I first began teaching preschool, I had a little boy who always struggled with drop-off each morning. He was happy to see his friends and always gave me a big hug, but when Mom and Dad would say, “It’s time for us to go!” he would burst into alligator tears. They stayed, played, ate goodbye snacks, hugged, gave 10 kisses, and he still was devastated when they walked out of the classroom door. One instance after a goodbye snack day as I was holding him, he dropped his vanilla wafer as we were waving out the window. I had a hair appointment that evening and went straight from the school. As the stylist was washing my hair, she found the cookie in my hair.

It is very hard when a child is upset about leaving their family for the day. It is also hard on parents and caregivers when they have to leave their child for the day while they go to work. Our job as professionals is to help both parents and children find a place where each feels comfortable and can trust the environment will be a safe space. Below are some helpful tips to encourage families and their children that where they go and who they choose for child care is a safe and comfortable fit.

Get to know the families. Before the child even starts in your program, invite the family to come and meet you several times to check out the space at different times. This way they get to see what happens at different times of the day while the child is allowed to explore the space.

Talk about daily routines. Talking about what happens during your day with the family helps them to know how to talk about what happens at home with the child. Parents will know how to talk about the day before the child comes to child care. Newsletters and emails are great to let parents know what is coming up for the week or month. The more consistent you communicate, the better prepared everyone will be and know what to expect.

Offer several activities to transition. Not every child is ready to come into a group of people first thing when they get to child care. Sometimes over-stimulation can make anxiety even worse for some children. Make sure that you have some welcoming activities that can be offered for a child to play to help them come in at their pace. In my classroom I had a “Me Space.” It was a canopied area filled with pillows, books, sensory bottles, stuffed animals—items that were calming and comforting to the students who needed it.

Talk it through. For some of my students, I had to talk to them one on one as their parent placed them in my arms. Addressing how the child’s feels is the proper way to start giving the support they need in this stressful transition. For example, “I see tears on your face. Can you tell me how you feel when Mommy leaves for work? I miss my mommy when I am at work too.” Then if they wanted to, I would also give them the option of being able to wave. “Let’s go to the window to wave to her!” I or my aide had to hold some of the children for waving goodbye until their families were out of sight, in the car, and down the road. When you talk out feelings and explain processes it helps eliminate stress and gives the child words to express how they feel. They are still learning academically as well as socially and emotionally.

With these few tips, working towards a stress-free drop-off will get easier for all involved!

Grow the Good in You

professional-development

“The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” – Robert John Meehan

Have you ever felt unmotivated? Have you ever been stuck in a rut in your classroom? Have you ever felt like you’re doing the same old things with the same old materials in the same old ways, day after day after day? I promise you, you’re not alone—all educators, if they are being entirely truthful, at one time or another have felt this way.  The question is, how do you shake it off…how do you get your teaching groove back? One of the best ways to do this is to attend an early childhood professional development conference!

Here are just some of the ways teaching professionals can benefit from an event such as this:

  • Connect with other early childhood educators. Being around people who do what you do everyday creates a deep sense of belonging and camaraderie. Having conversations about topics that are of mutual interest to you and other conference attendees, helps you establish new professional relationships, and sometimes even friendships.
  • Learn new strategies, ideas, methods, concepts, etc. This is a chance to pick each other’s brains! Learn from those around you who’ve “been there, done that,” and share what you know so that others can benefit from your knowledge and experience, as well.
  • Reinforce the fact that early childhood professionals are, in fact, professional. As in any other field of work, continuing education is necessary to stay current and knowledgeable about best practices. Participating in quality professional development on an ongoing basis cements your place as a true early childhood professional.
  • Earn professional development credit. If you play your cards right, you can often find early childhood conference offerings that will help you earn professional development credit/hours needed for things like renewing a CDA credential, or participating in a statewide quality rating and improvement system like Ohio’s Step Up To Quality or Kentucky’s ALL STARS.
  • Take a well deserved break from the daily grind. Remember that rut I mentioned earlier? Sometimes just getting out of the classroom for a day or two lets you shake off those cobwebs and come back feeling refreshed and renewed.
  • Gather new resources—and free stuff! Exhibitors usually attend these events who are more than happy to talk with you about the services they offer, and many times you’ll be lucky enough to score information packets and/or free samples to take home with you.

If you choose to attend one of these events, remember to make the most of your experience. Your time out of the classroom can often be limited, be mindful of not squandering your opportunity. Show up for registration and workshops on time—get a good seat! Come prepared to listen, learn and share. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there…nothing ventured, nothing gained! Bring a pen and a notepad to jot down any ideas that strike you. If you have business cards you can hand out, bring those to give to new folks you might meet.

Have you ever been inspired? Have you ever been introduced to a new concept, or idea, or way of doing something, that lights a fire in you? Have you ever attended a professional development workshop that makes you so excited about the subject matter that you want to run back to your program and try what you’ve learned RIGHT THIS MINUTE?! If you choose an early childhood conference that’s right for you, you’ll see just how great it feels to grow the good in you!

Foster an Appreciation for Books

appreciatingbooks

It has been proven that exposing children to books and reading to them at an early age can promote children’s language and literacy development. Love for books isn’t just about the words on the page—it’s about the physical objects too! Luckily, the love for books can be easy to foster from the time children are born solely by exposing them to books early on and on a continual basis. I often hear from educators that they are concerned that young children are rough on books. I see books kept out of reach of the children. An early childhood program is the perfect place to help children learn how to use and care for books. Yes, it is possible to teach the youngest of children to respect books. That isn’t to say that books won’t get ripped, chewed on and mishandled. In fact, this is a positive thing. These occurrences are teachable moments. The following are occurrences that can be turned into teachable moments and will support children in learning how to care for books.

Read, read, read!
Reading books should occur more often than just at group time. When children have access to books, they will bring books to teachers to be read. This can begin in an infant room by finding time to read with infants one on one. I have seen teachers read books while holding an infant who is taking a bottle or inviting children to sit in their lap to introduce a new book or an old favorite. As a toddler teacher, all I had to do was sit on the floor and children would bring books to me. I didn’t have to have a formal story time because we were reading throughout the whole day, including getting ready for nap time.

Reading to children often opens the door for modeling how to take care of books. Gentle reminders on putting books back on the shelf when finished reading may be necessary. Sometimes when books are left on the floor, children will stand on them. It can be appropriate to say, “I see you standing on a book. I am worried that will tear up the book. You can read the book or put it back on the shelf.”

Mouthing
Allowing infants and young toddlers to mouth objects is okay. Mouthing is important to their development. The mouth is the drive for life. When we are born our drive for survival is undeniable. Infants cry and search (known as rooting) for sustenance which satisfies their needs. This drive is so deep that it takes most children a long time to move past it. I would challenge that this need never goes away. Think about the joy of tasting your favorite flavors, chewing a cup of ice, or enjoying your favorite gum or candy. Do you prefer certain textures of foods over others such as crunchy vs. creamy?

One solution is to provide cloth and vinyl books. They can be mouthed with no damage and are easily washable. Board books are also sturdy and wipeable. Mouthing them will deteriorate them over time therefore it is okay to say, “I see you are putting the book in your mouth. You can put this toy in your mouth. (Offer an appropriate toy) or we can read the book.” Offer the child to sit in your lap and enjoy the book together.

Ripping pages/Misusing books
Children are natural explorers which explains why they are curious about their surroundings. They also do not know their own strength nor have any clue about what is “socially acceptable.” Adults can take note of this fact and decide how they react to children who are simply doing what comes natural to them. The act of exploring needs to be guided not dictated. In order to know how to respond to children’s curiosity, it is important to remember to think in terms of what the child is trying to accomplish. In my experience in providing the opportunity to explore books, I noticed that when books have the slightest tears they do not go unnoticed to children. Their initial instinct seems to be to peel back on the layers that are unraveling on the board book or bend the spine of the book back until it cracks. The first few times this happens they do not know what the consequence of peeling or bending will be, therefore they will test it out a few times to see if they get the same result.

Our response to exploration will also be tested, which means consistency is key.  A response that seemed to help children was to calmly point out what was happening to the book and that we wouldn’t be able to read the book if it was torn or broken. Remember to keep an even tone and do not overreact. A lot of damage that happens to books can be fixed. If damage occurs; include the child in helping fix the book. Clear packaging tape works wonders when it comes to repairing books.

Children of all ages should have a variety of books within reach throughout the day. If you need ideas on what types of books to have in your program, check out my previous post—and remember, many libraries have educator cards with perks that may include wear-and-tear forgiveness! Physical access to books is an important foundation of early language and literacy skills.

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.