Category Archives: teachers

Let the Children Lead the Learning!

Aqua Play at NurseryWhen visiting a preschool classroom recently, summer weather was upon us and the classroom was buzzing with excitement. An unexpected visitor (a snake!) had joined the children on the playground that morning and they could barely contain their joy. As you could guess, the teachers did not have anything in their lesson plans involving this guest, but after discovering the teachable moments that accompanied the children’s interest in the snake, they quickly changed their ideas for the day.  The class conducted internet research to discover what type of snake they had found, and they were making some estimates about its length. I couldn’t help but think of the endless possibilities that could come of the day; drawing pictures of the snake’s design in the art center, slithering like a snake during transitions, exploring the idea of how snakes shed their skin. The teacher was thrilled about how engaged the children were in learning and was happy everyone was having such a fun morning!

Summertime is a wonderful time to explore more child-directed experiences outdoors and at special events.. By paying attention to what children are doing and saying, we are provided more insight into their interests and have the ability to offer many more meaningful learning opportunities!

How can you go about discovering interests to expand upon?

  • Observe and listen! Children naturally gravitate towards talking about and doing the things they are currently passionate about. Conversation at mealtimes and throughout the day, along with paying attention to what they are building in the block center or pretending to be in the dramatic play area, can give great insight to their personal favorites!
  • What is trending? Currently, my nephew is all about his new fidget spinner and I can’t help but see them everywhere I go! I love how this teacher turned a popular toy into some incredible STEM activities that can be adapted to a variety of age levels.
  • What events are surrounding them? Field trip to the firehouse or a visit from the shaved ice truck this week? Build upon their excitement for happenings outside of the normal routine and find ways to incorporate elements of the event into your classroom plans.
  • Be spontaneous! If your children are distracted by the construction project outside the classroom window, it’s okay to change up plans for the day. They might not often get the chance to see this machinery in action, so take advantage of the spur of the moment science and engineering learning opportunity.

Planning activities based on children’s interests needs plenty of teacher support to be successful.

Teachers help facilitate learning by providing materials, asking a variety of open-ended questions to expand thinking, and being actively involved by enjoying the process right alongside the children!

By letting the children lead the learning, classrooms benefit in many ways:

  • Children are engaged and excited, resulting in less challenging behaviors.
  • Topics often offer opportunities that can span across several curriculum areas. Math, science, and writing skills to name a few.
  • Build connection and expand children’s knowledge by sharing your interests. Children can only be interested in what they already know, so exposing them to new topics and experiences helps increase that knowledge. Plus, they will love learning about your favorites!

When you open your eyes and ears and let the children lead the way, the learning opportunities are endless!

School Is Out…What Do We Do Now?

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

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

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

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

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

teachers-disagreeThink about your own personality style for a minute. Do you crave order and organization, or are you a creative, “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of person? Do you like to lead the way, or do you prefer to blend into the crowd? Do you have endless patience, or are you a “short fuse?” Maybe, depending on the setting, you could lean either way. Now, reflect on the personalities of those you work with. As you’re thinking, two main themes are probably presenting themselves—those you get along with, and those you don’t!

At times in early childhood programs, personality clashes may develop among the adults working within the same program. Take my first classroom teaching experience, for example. At 21-years-old, fresh out of college with my brand spanking new early childhood degree, I accepted the position of lead teacher in a 4-year-old classroom. My assistant teacher was a woman in her 50’s (let’s call her “Jane”), who had been at this program for a little more than a decade, and had been teaching young children for over 20 years. The only reason Jane wasn’t the lead teacher in this classroom was her lack of formal education.

As my first day of employment neared, I thought about all of the wonderful lesson planning ideas I couldn’t wait to implement, how I wanted to rearrange the centers in my new room, and how I was absolutely sure I would be the teacher these children had been missing all of their little lives. Then, my first day arrived… and reality hit me like a punch in the face. In all of my teachery daydreaming, I had forgotten to take into account that I would have an assistant teacher who might actually have her OWN thoughts, ideas, opinions and experiences to add to my “perfect classroom.”

At first, Jane and I were very closed off around each other, sizing each other up daily. She was much more dominant than I in the classroom, and I had a much more progressive teaching philosophy than she did. It became obvious very quickly that she was “old school” and I was “new school.” The children figured this out quickly, and in a very short span of time, they began to play us against one another. Neither Jane nor I seemed to be able to figure out how to find some common ground, and the children were taking advantage of our discord.

As time passed, Jane and I discovered that, outside of the classroom, we had a very similar sense of humor. At staff meetings or break times, we could eventually make each other laugh to the point of tears. Once we broke the ice between us with humor, slowly but surely we started to come together and make a better plan for how things should happen in our classroom. We began to see each other as a team, rather than adversaries. By each of us compromising a bit, we finally got on the same page and backed each other up in front of the children. The day I left our classroom almost two years later, Jane and I hugged and laughed and cried, and I still think of her fondly to this day, 18 years later.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some ways you can try to bridge the personality gap:

  • Keep what happens between the two of you just between the two of you. Running off at the mouth to other staff members about your frustrations with another teacher just breeds mistrust and resentment.
  • Try to find some common ground. Talk with each other—discover your likes and dislikes. Become human to each other. Who knows? Maybe your mutual love of The Very Hungry Caterpillar could be the spark that ignites a great teaching team!
  • Avoid confrontation when tensions are running high. Cool off, take some deep breaths and/or count to ten before you discuss something you disagree about, preferably out of the classroom.
  • Consider your own actions/reactions. Is your behavior contributing to the situation? Is there something you could be doing differently to change what’s happening?
  • Encourage your program’s administrator to have each staff member take a personality test like the DISC or Myers-Briggs. Discovering everyone’s strengths and preferences goes a long way in learning how to communicate effectively with each other.

Regardless of where you fall on the personality spectrum, in the workplace you rarely get to choose who works alongside you. Try to make the best of your situation and see someone for what makes them great instead of what makes them grate on your nerves!

Helping Children Cope With Death

grievingChildren experience big emotions. When they’re happy, they’re ecstatic! When they’re mad, they’re FURIOUS. And when they’re sad, they’re absolutely sorrowful. When children experience life changing events, such as the death of a loved one, these emotions often get all jumbled up in their little bodies, and can be very overwhelming. It is our job, as the adults who care for them, to help guide children through the process of grieving in a healthy way— a way that will allow them to process their emotions and move on.

A few months ago, my father passed away. My children’s grandfather—the silly, loving, larger-than-life man they had come to know and love—was there one day, and tragically gone the next. This event shook our family to its core. All of us were dealing with so many emotions that often changed from one moment to the next. How was I, in the midst of my immense grief, going to help my children cope with this loss?

The morning of my dad’s passing, my husband and I sat down with my children to talk to them. I gathered my son under one arm, and my daughter under the other, and I began to speak. “I need to talk to you. You know that grandpa was in the hospital because he wasn’t feeling well. The doctors and nurses tried their very best to make him better, but they weren’t able to fix what wasn’t working right in his body. Grandpa died this morning. Grandma and I were with him, and he was surrounded by our love when he died.” At this moment, both of my children began sobbing into my shoulders. I hugged them tighter, began to cry myself, and went on, “Please know that he loved you very, very much. And be certain that he knew how much you loved him. It’s ok to be sad, or mad, or however else you feel. It’s ok to cry.” And that’s just what we did.

Each of us dealt with our grief differently. My 4-year-old daughter talked about grandpa a lot, and even asked questions like, “So, we’re not going to see grandpa anymore, right? Like Stella?” (Stella was our cat who had died the previous year.) She drew lots of pictures— pictures of grandpa wearing his signature plaid shirts, pictures she wanted to give to grandpa, “if he was still alive.” My 9-year-old son was more private in his sadness. From time to time, a few tears would slip out when something reminded him of grandpa. Then, one day, I was outside cleaning out my dad’s truck. Inside, I found a photograph my dad had been carrying around of my son, taken while sitting on my dad’s lap. My son came up behind me and asked what I was doing. I showed him the picture and asked him if he wanted it. He shook his head yes, sat down on the concrete, and began to weep. I sat down with him, as did his sister. We all put our arms around each other, hugged, and cried, for a long time, right there in the driveway.

Grieving is a process for children, just as it is for adults. When children experience the death of a loved one, or even a pet, there are some things you can do to help them:

  • Use simple, clear words that leave no room for misinterpretation. Avoid using euphemisms like “gone to sleep” or “went away” that could lead to scary or misleading thoughts.
  • Let children talk or ask questions. Really listen to what they say without judgment, and try to answer their questions honestly, using terms they’ll understand.
  • Allow children to cry. Telling a child “You’re okay, you’re okay,” only negates their feelings and pushes them back down inside. They’re NOT okay, and they won’t be okay until they’re able to let those feelings out.
  • Cry with them. It’s normal and healthy to express sadness through tears, and modeling that yourself can be beneficial for both of you.
  • Help children remember. Talking about their loved one, telling stories about them, drawing pictures of them, and recalling fond memories they shared together are all things that will help a child get to the final stage of grief—acceptance.

Remember, grief has no timeline. Whatever period of time it takes a child to process the death of a loved one is the time that’s right for them. As early childhood professionals, our role is simply to be there to support them, to listen, to provide stability, and most of all, to care.

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!

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.

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!