Tag Archives: early childhood

Life can be a lesson plan

At a meeting last month with other school-age specialists from around the state, we were discussing curriculum and its use within child care programs—school-age classrooms specifically. Another specialist said something that stopped me in my tracks. He said, “Life can be a lesson plan.” Wow, what a simple notion, yet it has so many possibilities for learning opportunities! Now, don’t take him literally; I don’t expect to walk into your classroom, look on your lesson plan sheet and just see ‘Life’ written on every line. But, life experiences can provide a wealth of activity options, and the best part is that the concepts will be familiar and relevant to the children.

Let life inspire your curriculum!

Life can be a lesson plan in many different classrooms. When my colleague made that statement, I was reminded of a time recently when I was in the grocery store and the customer in front of me had a toddler with her. The toddler helped the customer put the groceries on the conveyor belt, handling boxes of crackers, packets of cheese and bags of baby carrots. When all the items were successfully taken from the cart, the child looked at the customer and said, “All done!” My early-education brain immediately thought of all the skills the child was demonstrating, as well as ways that they could be reinforced in a toddler classroom, such as having empty food boxes in the dramatic play area, demonstrating the concepts of all/none with different items or picking things up using one hand or two.

In an infant classroom, you can include aspects of the babies’ lives by placing photographs of the children’s families where they can see the photos, identifying the family members in the pictures for them or creating sensory bottles with new or familiar objects like fake flowers, birdseed, foil, dice, water/oil, (remember to always, always, always glue the top on). In a preschool classroom, you can incorporate everyday life by encouraging the children to picture-read through a book, celebrating their cultural differences or constructing a discovery board with various household devices like latches, knockers, locks, spigots and switches. In a school-age classroom, life practices can be used by sending letters or e-mails to pen pals, utilizing extension activities in connection with field trips or creating a currency to represent the classroom that they can earn or spend.

You can find the expectations for each age group’s knowledge and skills in the new Early Learning and Development Standards for birth through Kindergarten entry, and Ohio’s New Learning Standards for school-agers. They can help give you a basis for activity ideas to do with the children in your care. As always, please feel free to share how you use life as a lesson plan in your own classroom.

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.”

Science with infants and toddlers? You’re doing it already!

We often encourage children to be scientists. We ask open-ended questions to encourage the children to hypothesize. We ask children to predict outcomes and graph responses. But some teachers struggle with science, thinking of their own experiences dissecting worms or experimenting with magnets. But science is everywhere! And it’s appropriate for every age group, even infants and toddlers.

Science with infants and toddlers is easier than you think! And chances are, you're doing it already.

I get super excited when thinking about science in early childhood. Physics and chemistry aren’t just topics for high school. With infants and toddlers, physics is all about the basics: how can I make the ball move? Can I roll it with my hands?  If I put this block at an angle, will the car roll down? I want to get on the slide. How do I move the other child to make room for me?

And we’re doing chemistry with infants and toddlers every day. If physics is how to make something move, chemistry is about how to make something change. When working with play dough, how can I make it flat? When feeding myself food, what happens when I mix the mashed potatoes with the applesauce?

Science is more than dissection and magnets. It can be as simple as rolling a ball or as complex as a cooking experiment. It can also be about exploring what is unfamiliar. Once when I was observing in a classroom, a child came over to me and started touching my arms, face and hair. Soon, more children came over. The teachers looked a little nervous but I assured them it was okay for the children to explore. Because I looked different than the teachers the children saw every day, they were curious. This is science. Even though the children were not verbalizing their thoughts, I can imagine they were hypothesizing what my hair felt like. They may have been comparing the feeling to past experiences. They may have been thinking this does not feel like my teacher’s hair.

By allowing children to explore we are encouraging children to think beyond their current knowledge. Simply by rolling a ball, exploring new foods (or new people!), we are inspiring scientific thinking that will help them their whole life.

– Christine

Stickers for good behavior?

We should encourage good behavior for good behavior's sake, allowing children the opportunity to enjoy a job well done.

In a recent meeting, the topic of rewarding children for good behavior came up. This can be a touchy subject. Although I have my own opinions on the subject I chose to sit back and listen as the discussion unfolded.  The conversation became quite spirited: raised voices, red faces. As my colleagues argued, I reflected upon my own knowledge and experience with reward systems and young children.

Rewarding children for good behavior is giving a child something tangible (for example, stickers or small toys) for successfully completing a required task or successfully exhibiting the expected behavior in a situation. Teachers often implement a reward system in their classroom to ensure children follow the classroom rules. The reward system is often in the form of a chart. Children can collect stickers or tokens for the chart each time they behave the way the teacher wants. Children can later swap the stickers for a reward.

A classroom reward system can help a new or struggling teacher focus on children’s positive behavior instead of the negative. Working for prizes can be motivating and that motivation can help a teacher and her students feel less stressed throughout the day. In fact, as a young and inexperienced teacher I often used a reward system to make it through the day. I simply didn’t have any other tools to get the desired behavior from my 4-year-old students. The reward system worked. I began to feel as if I had some control in my classroom, the system was easy and the children seemed happy.

However, I soon found out that a reward system is only good as a short-term fix. My students became wise to my ways and they upped the ante. I soon noticed I needed to provide more and larger items to reach my desired results. Also, some children simply no longer cared about the reward. I needed to do something different and I needed to do it quickly. I needed to allow the children to feel the pleasure of a job well done.  They needed an opportunity to experience choices. They needed permission to grow based upon the choices they made, not on the reward I had to offer that day.

I began by weaning them off a reward system that was based upon tangible prizes and I began to really communicate with my children. I became more intentional and consistent with my expectations. We reviewed the rules and expectations daily. We discussed what may happen if we leave puzzles on the floor. We talked about how it feels to be hit. We talked about what will happen if someone chooses to hurt a friend. We became problem-solving partners in the classroom. Instead of adding stickers to a chart I added specific praise and encouragement. I often told my children how proud their faces look when they remembered to put their work away.  I told them they were being good friends by offering to work together with someone instead of keeping the blocks to themselves and I coached them through arguments. We made classroom books that included pictures of them following the rules. We showed respect for others by saying “please” and “thank you.” The children began to own their behavior and they began to experience how good it feels to do a good job, to be a good friend and make a good choice for the sake of doing it, not for the prize at the end of the day.

Overcoming the Generation Gap

Old or young, we have something to learn from every generation!Generation Y. Millennial Generation. Generation Me. Peter Pan Generation. These are all terms that describe the generation to which I belong, but I can’t say I like many of them. Generation Me? Peter Pan Generation? That certainly doesn’t make me feel like a valued employee or team player, which I strive to be.

Applying labels to different generations may have validity, but chances are no one will fit all the aspects of the label. It is very possible that anywhere from three to four generations could be represented in your program, and everyone has something to bring to the table, whether it’s years of experience or new ideas to try. Arming yourself with the knowledge of what these stereotypes are can help you work to dispel the assumptions if necessary. According to a publication from the Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Minnesota, here is the generational breakdown:

  • Traditionals—born before 1945, loyal workers, highly dedicated, but may have difficulties with ambiguity and change.
  • Baby Boomers—born between 1946 and 1964, believe that hard work and sacrifice are the price to pay for success, but may be technically challenged and expect to have authority.
  • Generation X’ers—born between 1968 and 1979 (which leaves some room for interpretation, with the 4 year gap from the last generation), like to receive feedback, aspire to achieve a balance between work and life, but have been labeled the ‘slacker’ generation.
  • Generation Y’ers—born between 1978 and 1995 (though the end of this generation is still undetermined), are confident multi-taskers, but have been characterized as demanding.

Whether you are a new administrator coming into a program with a wide range of generations or a teacher who works alongside others of different generations, it can be a complex dynamic within the child care program. That new Generation X administrator may struggle with establishing authority with her subordinates in the Baby Boomer generation. Veteran Traditional generation teachers may need to figure out how to work together with the newcomer from Generation Y. Or, just like me, those employees balk at the labels of their generation and you find that working together isn’t as challenging as you predicted.

If you would like to find out more about working with various generations, 4C is holding its First Annual Leadership Conference in the Miami Valley on April 19, 2013. A session will be provided on leading and motivating multi-generations, among many other great session topics. Look for registration coming soon on our Web site! I’ll leave you with a quote I found from the book Change the World for a Fiver: “Talk to old people. They know cool stuff you don’t. Talk to young people. They know cool stuff you don’t.” What have you learned from someone older or younger?

Right and Wrong

A recent argument with my 16-year-old son ended with him stomping away and shouting, “You don’t think I do anything right!”

That comment really hurt my feelings, because I know that he does so many things right. He is one of the coolest young men that I know. He’s a responsible student that works hard. He’s a great friend to those around him. He is generous with his time and gives what he can back to the community. He asks really thought provoking questions that make people think. He can participate in very high levels of conversation about topics that are relevant to current events and life in general. I just didn’t understand how he could believe that I think he does everything wrong.

Photo courtesy of AngryJulieMonday.

Photo courtesy of AngryJulieMonday.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t remember the last time I said something positive to him. Even though I share so many amazing things that he does with so many people in my life, it didn’t even occur to me to compliment him on all of the things I noticed him doing well.

Hiam Ginott, a school teacher and child psychologist, once said, “If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.”  Although I am using this quote to help me in parenting my son, I think this very much applies to the work we do in classrooms every single day. It’s important to let the children we work with know how valued they are and how much they are cared for and respected. There are times that adults struggle with positive things to say about the behaviors that happen every day in our classrooms or even in our homes with our own children. However, we don’t want to get into a situation where all the children hear is a report about the negative behaviors that are seen.

If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.

Children are miraculous human beings that are capable of so much good. Let’s tell them about all the good things that they are doing and can do going forward. So, the first thing on my agenda when I get home today will be to let my son Sam know how grateful I am to be his mom and compliment him on something he’s done well today. What nice thing will you share with a child to let them know just how wonderful they can be?

– Angie

Listen With Your Eyes

Everyone knows that listening is a big part of communicating with children. But have you ever thought about listening with your eyes as well as your ears? Observing a child’s non-verbal communication is one way to find out what’s really on their mind.

Even as adults we sometimes have a hard time putting our true feelings into words. Children find it even harder. By reading a child’s expressions and subtle ways of moving you can get a fuller picture. And once you see what’s on your child’s mind, tuning in and responding becomes much easier.

Reading a child's body language is just as important as listening to what they are saying.

Photo courtesy of Lee LeFever.

Listening with your eyes isn’t difficult. In fact, most teachers learn it from the experts: babies. A baby who silently turns down the corners of his mouth has effectively delivered their message.  A baby who turns his head away while playing an exciting game of peek-a-boo may be saying, “Whew, this sure is fun, but I need a minute to calm down.”  In the same way, a wide-eyed look of wonder or a wrinkled brow tells a teacher whether to keep on playing or call a momentary halt. By listening with your eyes, you can figure out when a baby has had enough, when she wants more, what she’s afraid of, and what she’s fascinated by.  All without her saying a word.

It works with older children, too. A child in your class tells you he has had a great day at school, but bites his lip and looks out the window as he says it. His expression makes you decide to sit down and talk for awhile. You notice that one of the girls in your class will raise her eyebrows when you tell her it is time to clean up the dramatic play area. Seeing her expression makes you think that maybe she really was not ready to clean up and you have interrupted her work.  You give her the benefit of the doubt. You witness two children playing a new board game in your classroom. You notice one child lift his hand to their mouth in hesitation when it’s his turn. You help out with a subtle hint instead of telling him that everyone’s waiting on him and we need to move the game along.

Listening with your eyes as well as with your ears can help you figure out and respond to what your children are feeling as well as to what they’re saying.  It may mean glancing away from a clean-up routine, picking up the block area, cleaning out the paint jars, supervising the bathroom line or any one of a thousand things a busy teacher has to get done.  But what you “hear” with that glance may well be worth a thousand words.