Tag Archives: best practice

Take a Closer Look at Quality

Most people prefer quality products, whether it is food, cars, hotels or even movies. In our society, we have systems that rate the quality of the items that we purchase. There is even a monthly magazine dedicated to rating and ranking items for consumers. With so much concern about quality products, why isn’t the same time and thought put into purchasing child care? Most people spend more time researching what car to buy or what movie to see then where to send their child while they are at work or school.

Fortunately in the states of Ohio and Kentucky, there are quality and improvement rating systems that help families select quality child care. In Ohio, we have Step Up To Quality (SUTQ) and in Kentucky, STARS for KIDS NOW. These systems look at quality factors that are proven to help children be better prepared for school, work and life. Unfortunately, these rating systems are also voluntary, which means families often do not have all of the information when selecting care for their child.

A lot of programs can look wonderful from the outside. An attractive building, beautiful landscaping and lots of new equipment make it appear as if children will receive what they need to grow and learn. Even having degreed teachers isn’t a guarantee of quality. Teachers need to understand what is age appropriate and how to choose activities and plan experiences based on the children’s interest and where they are developmentally. Take a closer look at your own program. Are you truly implementing developmentally appropriate practice or is it just words on the brochure?

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), young children learn by having positive relationships with responsive adults that “promote not only children’s social competence and emotional development but also their academic learning.” Teachers should be talking with children, encouraging them to try new things and sharing in the excitement of each child’s learning. Children also learn through active, hands-on involvement and should be encouraged to investigate, question and ponder problems. Children also need to have meaningful experiences while constructing their own understanding of the world, and they do this by making choices, solving problems, conversing and negotiating throughout the day while engaging in high-level play. If the majority of children’s time is spent in group activities conducted by the teacher, the children are not getting the high-level play which is proven to be one of the best predictors of later school success (Smilansky 1990).

Having a quality program is much more than appearances. I challenge any program, whether SUTQ-rated or not, to stop and reflect on their day to day practices. Think about what it is like to be a child in your program. Is most of your day spent talking to the other children in your classroom?  Does your teacher tell you what activity to do, or is the classroom set up with purposeful materials for you to explore? Teachers should observe and take advantage of the “teachable moments” when children are already at play. Every child will not be ready for every activity at the same time, and experiences should be adapted based on the children’s age, experience, interest and abilities.

Remember when it comes to children, we should not expect anything less than quality. Using a system that rates quality is the first step, but you still must reflect on your day to day practices to ensure that your program is providing children with what they need to learn and grow.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

What is it about a person that makes them good for working with children? Is it their education?  Is it their experience? Or is it just a natural understanding of children and a true desire to want to expand on their curiosity?

The best thing would be a combination of all of the above, but I do believe that a person has to start with the right attitude for working with children. Almost anyone can get a job in the early childhood field (that’s not necessarily a good thing) and almost anyone can get a degree in early childhood or take courses in child development. Without the right perspective on how children grow and learn, however, it doesn’t do the person or the children much good.

In visiting classrooms throughout the state, I have seen teachers with degrees in early childhood who may be “book smart” about activities to do with children but lack that natural ability to expand on the child’s own interest. I’m not sure if it’s because they didn’t notice, didn’t care or just didn’t know how. I have also seen many experienced teachers with such high expectations (everyone sitting in a circle going over every letter, number, month, day, etc. in English and Spanish) that the children become bored and frustrated and aren’t learning anything at all. It makes me wonder if they have been to any early childhood training since they first started or if they are just going by what they have always done. If we want children to grow and learn, shouldn’t we try to do the same?

I personally think most teachers want to do a good job and truly care about the children. I’m definitely not saying that education and experience don’t matter, but you really need to start with what a teacher is like on the inside first. Do they appreciate the children just as they are? Are they willing and eager to learn? Do they respect and value the children and their families? Are they open-minded to suggestions and work well as a team?

Give me a person that delights in children, shows personal responsibility and celebrates the diversity in the world and with some education and experience, I’ll show you a great teacher!

Fairy Tales for the Very Young?

A few weeks ago there was a blog at Suburp about reading fairy tales to young children and whether it’s appropriate or not. You know the ones: “Snow White,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Little Red Riding Hood”-we’ve heard them all. When she writes about a fairy tale where  the “children are abandoned in the woods because the new wife of their father did not want to feed them, where an old woman wants to eat them and the girl then has to burn her to free herself and her brother… this is about as horrible as a child could imagine!” The blogger at Suburp claims that children can process these kinds of stories without being “traumatized for life” because “like generations before them, they understand the stories as they are intended: fairy tales teach us about life…. and the moral of it all is that it ends well for those who deserve it and bad for those who don’t.”

I agree with the blogger on one thing: that story is about as horrible as a child can imagine. Piaget has taught me that children ages two to seven (or so) are in the pre-operational stage, the stage where children are incapable of making truly logical connections in their thinking. Their imaginations can run wild. Young children actually aren’t able to understand fairy tales as they were intended: they literally don’t have that ability. One aspect of a child’s pre-operational thought is called concreteness, which means young children are able to understand real situations that they have actually experienced firsthand, but have difficulty with abstract ideas and things they have heard described in words only: like fairy tales.

Think about it. If you have trouble wrapping your head around what parts of a story are real and what parts of a story are not real, stories like “Hansel and Gretel” are scary. Even if the fairy tale isn’t violent – although most fairy tales have violence – there can still be some confusion about what is fantasy and what is real. “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” a fairy tale intended to teach children about greed, is a good example. The three brother goats run out of grass to eat and they need to cross a river into a new pasture. When the littlest one goes over the bridge first, a troll comes out from under the bridge and says he is going to eat him. The little goat says to wait for his brother because he is bigger, and the troll lets the little goat by. When the middle brother goat crosses the bridge, he says to wait for the eldest brother goat because he is even bigger. When the eldest goat comes along, he knocks the troll into the water with his horns and the brothers live happily ever after. The violence is relatively mild other than the troll threatening to eat the goats, but is it really appropriate to expect a child to hear that story and think to him or herself, “I shouldn’t be greedy like that troll or bad things will happen?” I don’t think so. Children will remember the troll and the dramatic ending.

Fairy tales are told all throughout the year, but as Halloween nears even more stories involving fantasy characters enter the lives of young children. When thinking about what to read to children during this time or what stories to tell, be conscientious of your intention. Stories with ghosts and witches can be scary, and may only confuse children about what is real. We want to avoid nightmares, and definitely being “traumatized for life”!