Category Archives: teachers

Can You Really “Teach” Preschool?

preschool-teachersMany years ago, my husband was having a conversation with a co-worker. They were getting to know each other, and were discussing each of their families’ dynamics. The topic of what their wives did for a living came up.

At the time, I was a lead teacher in a preschool classroom, and coincidentally, so was this co-worker’s wife, at another program. “My wife’s a preschool teacher,” my husband said. “She loves it, and she’s pretty good at it.” “Mine too,” the co-worker said. “But then again, can you really TEACH preschool?” He put air quotes around the word “teach,” and finished his statement off with a condescending smirk and a laugh.

Now, I was not witness to this actual conversation, only to the description of it my husband gave me later on. Considering my passion for quality early childhood education, it’s probably a very good thing (for my husband’s former co-worker, at least) that I wasn’t! But it got me thinking—just how is our profession viewed by the rest of the adult world?

I have always been proud of what I do for a living, knowing that working with children between the ages of birth and 5 years is some of the most important work there is. But as my career has progressed I have witnessed the reaction I get from others when they find out for the first time what I do for a living. Sometimes I get, “How do you do it?! I could NEVER be around little kids all day!” Other times it’s, “Oh, that sounds like so much fun! I wish I could color all day and get paid for it!” And then there are the times when I actually get the brush off. I have witnessed people’s facial expressions and body language change noticeably in ways that indicate they have very little, if any respect, for what an early childhood educator’s job entails. And therefore, for me.

Those of you who have been doing this for any length of time know just what I’m talking about. In fact, recently I came across a video of an interview with a fellow preschool teacher who put it this way… “When I’m in a room and I’m asked what I do, I just say ‘teacher.’ Because if I say ‘preschool teacher,’ then all of a sudden I’m less intelligent because, clearly, I’m just a babysitter. And they have no clue how important my job is.”

Even though the concept of early childhood education has been around since the early 1800’s, and numerous child development theorists such as Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Maria Montessori, just to name a few, have developed well-respected, foundational ideas about the science of how young children learn, the reality is that the job of educating and caring for young children is often still viewed in a somewhat simplistic light. Even the terms people frequently use to refer to this field are often thrown around without a second thought to the negative connotation they may present. This article from the Huffington Post is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

Whatever your role is in the field of early childhood, you matter. The children you work with everyday need you. They look forward to seeing your face smiling back at them, to hearing a word of encouragement or support coming from your lips, to feeling the touch of your hand on their back when they’re struggling with accomplishing a task. Keep showing up. Keep doing what you do. Keep loving it. The adults may not always get it… but the children always will.

Cling to the Positive

positive-behavior

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

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

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

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

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work I Go

off-to-workWorking in the same early childhood program where your own child is enrolled is quite the double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’re right there in the same building as your little one. Over my 20 years in the early childhood field, I have listened to many parents lament over having to leave their child in someone else’s care, and how great it would be to be closer to them. The daily struggle that is being a working parent is made just a little more bearable when you can peek in and check on your pride and joy from time to time.

On the other hand, YOU’RE RIGHT THERE IN THE SAME BUILDING. You have to work to focus on your own classroom and not on what your child might be doing down the hall. Or, if your child is in the same room as you, you have to work to maintain your objectivity. The child/parent dynamic has to become student/teacher. This can be a challenge for you to uphold, and can often be confusing for young children.

I’ve seen educators handle this situation many different ways, and have experienced it firsthand with both of my youngest children. Here are some tips for how to get through this often sticky situation:

  • Set boundaries with your child’s teacher. Have a conversation with him/her about how you do (or don’t) wish to be involved in everyday classroom situations. If you’ve recently gone back to work after having a baby, you may want your child’s teacher to let you know when he/she is hungry so you can come in to breastfeed, pump, or give them a bottle of formula. As your child gets older, you may find it works better to have less contact with him/her at school. I always tried to let my children’s teachers know, if it wasn’t something they would call another child’s parents to come to school to handle, then don’t bring me into the classroom, either. I trusted their judgement, and it was often more difficult for my children to separate from me more than once during the day. This was so important to me that if I even had to walk past my son or daughter’s classroom I would crouch down and sneak below the classroom windows so they wouldn’t see me!
  • Have conversations with other program staff about your wishes. During my days as an administrator, other well-meaning staff would poke their heads in my office from time to time to let me know when my children were upset about something. Try to work on anything else when you get this message—just try! Your natural parental instinct to tend to the needs of your offspring overrides any work responsibilities you may have. In a work setting, however, you can’t let that happen. You have a job to perform, that you are being paid to do, and there are other program staff members who are responsible for caring your child. Trust that they can handle it.
  • If your child is old enough, talk with your child about school vs. home expectations. Include things like behavior expectations, how outwardly affectionate you’re both comfortable with being at school, and what you and your child will call each other (my husband, who works in my daughter’s afterschool classroom, has her call him “Mr. Fuz,” like the rest of the kids, at school, but “dad” anywhere else).
  • Set and maintain boundaries with your child. The line between school and home can easily be blurred when you’re in this situation. Even though you may have argued with your child about what shoe they could wear when getting ready for school that morning, try not to let that bleed over into classroom interactions. Your child deserves the same blank slate that every other child gets when they start their day with you. In the same vein, inappropriate behaviors at school should be left at school. Holding a grudge and enforcing a punishment on your child at home for an indiscretion earlier in the day at school isn’t fair to your child either.

For me, the pros of having my children in the same program as myself far outweighed the cons. I’ll be the first one to admit that at times, it wasn’t easy. But, now that my children are older, and I’ve left that program, I look back on those years with certainty that this was the best decision for my family. My children were lucky enough to have fantastic teachers during their earliest years—I wish the same for yours!

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!