Tag Archives: children

Promoting Social and Emotional Development

I had the opportunity to attend Lumenocity at Washington Park, and the show was absolutely amazing. The music, the lights, the food trucks. It was estimated that there were 15,000 people in attendance, so as you might imagine, we were elbow to elbow. This lead to some tense situations, and I was prompted to wonder about the early experiences of some of the adults in the audience.

Children who are given the opportunity practice crucial life skills like critical thinking and problem solving grow up to be more functional adults.

Right before the show started a fight almost broke out because someone put a chair on another person’s blanket. The person in the chair was refusing to move.  Another person approached and threatened to “help” the person out of the chair.  The situation was resolved by yet another person mediating and finding the person in the chair another space.

I couldn’t help but wonder about everyone involved and their experiences with confrontation and problem-solving. I came to the conclusion that with quality early childhood experiences, this situation may not have happened. Had these adults been given the opportunity as young child to practice critical thinking and problem-solving?  Were they taught as young children how to negotiate with others?  Were they given opportunities to function successfully in a group setting?  Were they taught how to reflect on another person’s perspective?  Were they encouraged to use words instead of bodies to get their needs met?

I think it’s important for teachers of young children to have the adult the child will become in mind.  We can’t control everything, but we can provide opportunities for children to practice life skills. How? Let’s go through some scenarios.

Sophie takes a rattle from Max. The teacher can wait to see if Max is upset about the situation before intervening. If Max wants the rattle he may cry. The teacher can model the words that may be used: “Sophie, Max is using the rattle.  Give the rattle back to Max. Let’s find you a different rattle.” Max and Sophie may be too young to communicate by verbal language, but communication did happen.  So did problem solving. Max was upset and got his needs met by vocalizing his want. Sophie was also communicating by taking the rattle. She wanted to play with that toy, too.

Here’s another example. Children are told to line up at the door to go outside. There’s a mark on the floor showing children where to start the line.  Ingrid stands at that line because she wants to be first. John gets in front of her. Ingrid takes a deep breath then says, “John, we can’t open the door if you are there. I am standing at the line. You have to move.”  The teacher, who is standing nearby, validates Ingrid for using her words and waits for John to move. Conflict averted.

Healthy emotional development is a life long process.  Just like we don’t teach toddlers algebra, we shouldn’t expect them to share consistently. We don’t teach first graders chemistry formulas, and we shouldn’t expect them to not get upset when someone takes their seat. But when we start healthy behaviors at a young age, we are assisting in forming healthy adults.

– Christine

Supporting children through changes, big and small!

The office in which I work recently moved. As the big day approached excited chatter filled the air. We planned our new routes to work. We discussed the neighborhoods and restaurants surrounding our new office and strategically planned to visit each new restaurant. We talked about decorating, furniture placement and meeting areas.

In the middle of the excitement and packing I found myself becoming a little sad and a bit reflective. I reflected on all of the “beginnings” I’d had within the office. I began a new job there. I built new friendships and relationships in that office. I started a new chapter of my life within those walls and I decided I was going to miss being there.

Children struggle with change just as adults do. Early childhood educators have the power to make it a little easier on them.

As I reflected, I started to feel out-of-sorts and a little moody. My family even noticed the change in my mood and commented that I seemed distant. I am an introvert by nature and I deal with change and chaos internally. I escape into myself and ponder my thoughts, feelings and reactions. I scrutinize everything and look for ways to calm the storm within.

As one thought often leads to another I began to consider not only how I was coping with this change but I thought of all the children who deal with change and chaos on a daily basis. My change was a planned and scheduled change. I knew about it months in advance and was a part of the moving process. My thoughts began focusing on the children in our programs who sometimes don’t have the luxury of even knowing when a change, whether large or small, is about to happen. Many times children and their families are moving from place to place. Many children are going from household to household and back again as parents battle for custody. Children sometimes have no idea where the next meal is coming from.

How can child care providers help our most vulnerable population deal with change? How can we support them through the chaos of life? One thing providers can do is offer consistency. Each child needs to know when he/she enters the center for the day that there are some things that will always be the same. Consistency in teaching staff means safety and security. Children need that one adult in whom they can trust and build a relationship.

Children also need a consistent daily schedule and routine. A daily schedule provides some security in knowing what will happen next each day. Children need to know that each day after free play they will go outside. After they go outside they will come back inside to wash hands and eat lunch. A consistent schedule allows children to relax within the environment. Children who are relaxed and feel secure in the environment are more prepared to learn.

Providers can provide understanding and support. All children react differently to change. One child may adapt easily to a new baby in the home while another may experience stress and anxiety. One child may show no outward sign of stress while another may act out by screaming, throwing toys or simply by becoming more clingy and crying more often. It’s important to recognize the signs of stress and provide unconditional love and support during a time when our children need us the most.

I am happy to report we are settled into the new office. We are each adding a personal touch and adjusting to the newness. In reflecting upon the last few weeks I realize that as an adult I have survived the move and I am able to move forward in dealing with the change. As providers, it is our responsibility to help children feel supported and loved during times of change and chaos in today’s ever-changing world.

Let the children BE

I’ve decided I want to get the word “Be” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder. For me, it would be a reminder of a lot of different things. Relax. Be in the moment. Let the children be. Let the activity be. Watch. Observe.

It’s becoming increasingly stressful to be an early childhood educator. The demand to get children ready for school is an ever-present thought in every educator’s brain. My reaction to these demands is to BE. Be with the children. Grasp those teachable moments. Be in the process.  Give children finger paint and let them explore. Be outside. Participate in the wonder of nature. Be amazed at the children’s curiosity. Read books. Be in the story. Be quiet. Listen to the environment. Listen to the children. You may be surprised at how much children learn during these moments. You may also be surprised at how much YOU learn, as well.

Children learn best when we can relax and remain present in the moment. But what's the best way to do that?

As we are being, we are teaching and children are learning. Children are learning the scientific process while interacting with paint. They are learning about textures while exploring nature. Children are learning writing skills while using crayons and markers. They are learning math skills while working with blocks. Children are learning self-regulation while engaged in dramatic play.

Most of all, children are learning to BE. They are learning to be competent learners. They are learning that school is fun. They are developing a passion for learning. Children are learning to trust their adults. They are learning to trust themselves.

My advice to early childhood educators? Bask in the attention that’s currently being paid to our field. Showcase your talents. Advocate for your children. Educate society on what the children are learning because you are BEING with them. Have an understanding in theory and developmentally appropriate practice so that your BEING is rooted in a firm foundation. Know why you are doing what you are doing. Soon enough everyone else will realize the value of being, too.

– Christine

The Culture of Child Care

I had the opportunity to live in Seoul, South Korea for about a year. I was able to experience all different kinds of people and food. I had the opportunity to live in a busy, urban area and only use public transportation. Grocery stores were different. Everything I experienced while I was there was different.

But I hope you noticed that the word I used to describe my experiences was ‘different,’ not ‘bad.’ Sometimes, things that are different make us feel uncomfortable. Because we are uncomfortable and experiencing something that varies from our version of normal, we place judgment on those differences and label them as bad or wrong. Things that are different aren’t bad or wrong, they’re new. They provide us an opportunity to see things from a new perspective.

How can you make families feel at home in your program?

Each and every day new families enter our child care facilities and see things that are very different from what they have at home. These families are experiencing a new culture: the culture of child care. One that is naturally very different from their home environments. And it’s good that it’s different! For some children and families, the culture of child care can feel very overwhelming. There are so many people. The food might be different. The place they sleep probably feels different. The way people communicate might feel different. It might even smell different.

Knowing that child care has a culture all of its own, how do we make families feel welcome? Do you shuffle kids and families through your doors, expecting them to know just what to do? Or do you take time out to say hello and be available to chat with them about some of the new things they are experiencing?

When I arrived in South Korea with 2 young children and way too much luggage, I was greeted by a very large gentleman who spoke no English. I’ll be honest.  I was scared until he smiled at me, tapped my hand and pointed me in the right direction. His smile showed me that even though I couldn’t communicate with him verbally, that it was going to be okay. It showed me that all these very different things would likely be fun because I was surrounded by people who were friendly and willing to point me in the right direction.

I sure hope that you will take time to smile and point a new family in the right direction.

– Angie

Learning through play… outdoors!

It’s summertime! The weather is warm and the sun is shining from early in the morning to late in the evening. Children in your program are going to be spending a lot of time outdoors. What a great opportunity to enhance their learning!

Extend chldren's learning with outdoor activities... and don't be afraid to take your indoor activities outside!

In the article “Making the Most of Outdoor Time with Preschool Children,” it is stated that “the outdoor space is an extension of the classroom and should be considered another space for learning.” There are tons of activities the children can do outside that promote learning. They can start a garden with flowers, herbs or vegetables. They can identify the different colors they see in plants or animals and the teacher can keep a list of all the things that are each color. They can investigate their shadows: tracing, measuring at different times of the day or playing shadow tag. They can even adopt a tree!

Adopting a tree will be different depending on the age of the children. With infants and toddlers, the teacher can choose a tree to adopt and take the children out to visit it, touch it and talk with the children about the features, such as what the leaves look like, whether the bark is rough or smooth, if there are animals in the tree and if anything changed from the last time it was visited. With preschoolers, the children can choose a tree to adopt and visit it, but may still need guidance to make the experience meaningful. The teacher can ask the children to describe the tree, identify things around the tree, create rubbings of the leaves, experience how the tree changes with the seasons and look through magnifying glasses at bugs on the tree. With school-agers, the children can each choose a tree to adopt, visit it on their own and be given activity ideas to do independently, as well. School-agers can research what type of tree they adopted, draw a map to their tree from the classroom, identify ways they know whether their tree is alive or not, look for evidence of animals (in the past or present) and take photographs of their tree at different times. The teacher can extend the activities by asking open-ended questions about their findings. One activity can span all the various ages!

In addition to doing outdoor activities, you can do indoor activities outdoors, too. Your sand and water table can be moved outside. The children can do art projects, musical experiences and dramatic play outside. Even better, story time can be taken outside, whether it’s reading a book to the children on the grass or allowing them to nestle under a tree with their own book for independent reading!

This is all in conjunction with the physical activities children naturally do outside. It is essential for their healthy growth and development. Why not make that a learning experience, too? Teachers (and children) can time how long it takes the children to run around the play area three times, measure how high they can jump next to the wall and count how many times in a row they hop on one foot, jump rope or hula hoop. It doesn’t have to be a competition between the children, but they can be challenged to beat their own scores.

What kinds of activities do you like doing with the children outdoors? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Overcoming the ‘I don’t get it’ blues

Most of us can recall a time in school when we just didn’t “get” something. In the third grade, I witnessed a classmate hiding the fact that he couldn’t tell time. The teacher had expected him to do an errand for her and told him to leave his desk at “exactly 1:45.”  He had to confess that he hadn’t a clue what that meant. And his past November, I attended an open house event for my niece, Lauren.  She stood in the hallway very upset because her construction paper turkey didn’t look at all like her first grade peers or the teacher’s model. I recall her saying, “mine looks like a duck with funny feathers.”

Small matters, right? But not to a child. I am guessing that if I would have asked my third grade classmate how he was feeling when he didn’t know how to tell time or if I would have asked my niece why she was so upset about her turkey the answer would have been the same:  “Less than brilliant” or “I am ashamed.”

Play builds confidence and so much more!

“Not getting it” happens to every child. What we want is for them to bounce back, to not lose confidence in themselves as capable learners. Our faith in them helps, of course. So does having their teacher’s support. But there’s something else that can restore a child’s sense of competence, and this old-fashioned remedy is always effective, even when a child does not let you in on a discouraging experience.

Simply give the children in your care the chance to play every day. It has to be real play, though, where a child decides what to do and how to do it! In play, children set their own challenges and find out they can succeed. Children usually choose tasks that challenge them, but aren’t overwhelming.

When children are playing, they don’t worry about failing. Play, after all, is supposed to be fun. And you don’t get evaluated on fun. What’s more, because play is a no-risk situation, children often find themselves attempting more and more. In play, children try out new skills and discover they can perform at a higher level.

When they’re playing, children can pretend that they’re the ones in charge. Instead of being told when to get on the school bus, a child can be the driver. Instead of having to finish their vegetables at a meal time, a child can become the cook. Instead of taking a test, an older child may play school and be the teacher. Play builds self confidence. In play, children put aside feelings of being powerless and experience being capable.

Give a child in your care the time to play and you will be giving them time to re-charge. A child at play is someone who solves problems, generates new ideas, is curious and creative. A child at play is someone who sets and meets challenges, risks trying out new skills and experiences what it’s like to feel capable and in charge. And sometimes, a child who plays is someone who’s bouncing back from a temporary bout of “not getting it.”

Random Acts of Experimentation

Recently when we were sitting at the table finishing lunch, my wife and I were relishing an extended conversation while our son, Eli, switched between spreading peanut butter on crackers and licking his fingers.

With lunch I had a glass of water and Eli had an apple juice box. As my wife and I continued talking, I saw something out of the corner of my eye: Eli’s hand reaching for my glass of water. I looked over and he smiled and said, “Can I have this?” “Sure,” I replied. Boy, was he excited. But why? Did he finish his juice box? Was he still thirsty?

Turns out he needed to experiment. He spread out a cloth napkin on the table, dunked his juice box upside down into my half-full glass of water, gave it a squeeze, set the box on the table and squeezed again. Much to his delight, watery apple juice squirted out! Over and over he did this until he was out of water.

Not wanting to miss this awesome moment I said, “Wow! How did you do that?”

He replied, “Like this,” dunking his juice box in the water glass again and squeezing it.

“Oh, you squeeze it and air bubbles come out. Where does the water go?” I asked.

“Yah, it goes here,” he said, giving the box a good squeeze, making the water spray onto the napkin.

“I like how you spread the napkin out. It seems to catch the water,” I said.

“We don’t want too messy. It would be a big mess!” he said. “This is just a little bit.”

Why didn’t my wife and I stop this? Water could go everywhere; he’s playing with a glass and making a mess! But we didn’t stop him. We never stepped in and re-directed him. Why not? What were we thinking?

We were thinking , “Why NOT let him experiment?” He was gaining so much from this harmless activity that to stop him would keep him from learning and making connections with other activities. It only lasted about eight minutes and he was thoroughly satisfied when finished.

Allowing young children the freedom to experiment with materials in their own way encourages them to be scientists, hypothesize about problems and discover for themselves how and why things work. They also are developing fine motor and persistence skills needed to navigate a complex world. When we take this window of opportunity to ask probing questions, add new vocabulary and allow for time to process we turn this impromptu moment into an intentional one.

After Eli had exhausted his supply of water he let out a very satisfying sigh looking at the now empty glass, the juice box and the soaked napkin. Then he looked at us, smiling, and said, “Want to go play trucks? You can have the concrete mixer, daddy, and mommy can use the water.”