Tag Archives: education

Are you on your check list?

Lately, it just seems as if life is moving so fast. It’s the end of the school year. Kids are taking tests. Schools are hosting end of the year concerts and taking field trips to local parks. There is so much to get done and so very little time to do it all. I don’t know how to get all of the things done that need to be done. I am overwhelmed. I am also task oriented, so I knew it was time for a check list.

One of the items on my check list was to attend a retreat with my colleagues titled Searching for Your Heart of Gold. When I first arrived at the retreat, I had a laundry list of things that I could be getting done racing through my head. Breakfast was served and still, all I could think about was pushing forward to the next big thing so that I could hurry even faster to something else. Finally the speaker arrived and she gave an assignment to complete: define who we are. I was so grateful to have something to do so I could push forward to what’s next that I was quick to get started. But I realized that rushing through her assignment wouldn’t do me any good. I took a deep breath and slowly began to open myself up to the activity of defining who I am.

Are you on your check list? The importance of self-care for early childhood educators.

We couldn’t define ourselves by the roles that we have like being a mom or our jobs. Rather we had to define what characteristics make us unique, what qualities feed our souls. I’ll be very honest, it was so hard to do. It took me many moments to define me and remember what feeds my soul. It’s something that is still on my mind, how can I take care of myself when I am losing myself in the day-to-day checklists I keep creating.

After the speaker finished and we had time for lunch and reflection, I took a walk around the space we were in. The sun was shining and I literally took time to slow down and think about the things that make me, me. I am creative. I am faithful. I am observant. I am kind. I am reflective. I am a thinker. I am a reader. I am passionate. I am a planner. I am a worrier. I am loyal.

I realized that in creating my check lists, I wasn’t part of the list. Everyone and everything else was on my list, but I was nowhere to be found. I wasn’t nurturing my soul so that I could continue to be the best me I can be!

In the field of early childhood, there are so many check lists that need to be taken care of, observations that need to be written, toys that need to be cleaned and rotated, parents that need to be greeted, children needing lunch, tables needing to be cleaned and sanitized. I could go on. My hope for all of us professionals in the field of early childhood is that we take time to add ourselves to our check lists. Take time to care for yourself so that you can continue to be rejuvenated and refreshed in the work you do each day.

– Angie

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

More Than Just a Biter

Many years ago when I was a young and naive preschool teacher, I met with the parents of a child who would soon be entering my classroom. Aaron was an adorable 3-year-old boy with bright blue eyes and a gorgeous smile. As I was observing Aaron shyly interacting with a few of his peers, Aaron’s mother dropped the bomb. She said the words that have haunted teachers since the beginning of time: “Aaron has problems with biting.” I must admit my world went dark for just a moment. But as a professional, I was able to offer a smile and a bit of encouragement. I told her we would work together to help Aaron.  We both wanted Aaron to be happy and successful in the classroom, but my heart was in my stomach.

Children bite for many different reasons! Strategies to understand and cope with biting in the classroom, and at home.

After the family left I began to ponder this new challenge. What was I going to do? What if he hurt another child? What if he hurt me? Instead of worrying I decided to investigate. I began my research by talking with more experienced teachers. I wanted to hear and learn from their experiences. I read articles in magazines and textbooks. I also had a more in-depth conversation with Aaron’s parents. I asked questions and I listened.

There are many reasons children bite. Infants and toddlers bite because it’s part of a normal developmental phase. It is a form of exploration since they learn most about their world through their mouth. Sometimes they bite simply because something is there to bite or because biting relieves the pain of teething. Toddlers sometimes bite as a form of communication. Young children lack the language and communication skills to say, “I want that,” or I’m tired.” So, they bite to express a need or as a way of telling us something important. Sometimes children even bite because they are so happy and excited that they truly don’t know how to express it.

As children reach preschool age, biting occurrences should decrease. However, preschoolers may bite for the same reasons as infants and toddlers. A preschooler may bite to exert control over a situation where he feels helpless. He may bite for attention, as a self-defense strategy or out of extreme frustration and anger. In very rare cases, a preschooler’s bite may indicate deeper issues and concerns.

It’s important for adults to be aware of the circumstances surrounding biting. Does biting occur around the same time each day? What happens just before and after an incident? Can the teacher see the frustration building in the child before he bites? Can the teacher intervene before the biting occurs? Are there any changes in the child’s health, family or home life that may be causing the child to feel the need to bite? What can the teacher do within the environment to prevent biting?

When biting occurs, try and stay calm. It’s important to step in immediately but don’t yell, offer lengthy explanations or say things to crush the biter’s spirit. It’s okay to firmly say things like, “I don’t like it when you bite people. It hurts.” Or simply say, “No biting!”  It’s even better to offer the child the words he needs to express himself. For example, a teacher can say, “I know you are very sleepy, but it’s not okay to bite your friends.” Teachers should also help the child who has been bitten. It’s important to comfort the child and apply the appropriate first aid.

Most of all, it’s important for every child care center to have a policy addressing biting.  Teachers and parents should know the policy, follow it and support it.  After all, everyone wants the best for the children. We all want children to feel safe and loved.  Only when those basic needs are met are children free to relax and learn.

After Aaron entered my classroom there were a few biting incidents and some tears, but with support and team work Aaron and his classmates learned that although every behavior has meaning not every child has to be labeled because of his behavior.  Aaron was not “a biter”. He was an innocent little boy who sometimes bit others but most of all he loved learning and being with his friends.

– Patty

Holidays Can Be Teachable Moments

One thing I love about our society right now is that the typical family unit is anything but! Our family fits nicely into that category. We have four children total; one is his, two are mine and the baby is ours. But my favorite part of our blended family is that I come from a VERY Christian home (my father being a United Methodist Minister may have something to do with that) and my husband is Jewish. This calls for an extremely busy, not to mention expensive, holiday season.

Photo courtesy of techne.

Photo courtesy of techne.

If you were a little mouse peeking into our home during the holidays you would see a Christmas tree and stockings, the nativity and an advent wreath. You would also see a Menorah, about 25 Dreidels and loads of chocolate coins. Things can get complicated. When my middle son was explaining to his class that he is Christian who celebrates Hanukkah, they dubbed him “Hannuikan.” Both of our families had a good laugh over that one and his outstanding teacher took the opportunity for a “teachable moment” and had a lesson over the two holidays. Randy was able to bring in our Menorah and of course we provided Dreidels and chocolate coins for the

class.

I know I never played with a Dreidel until I met my husband. Now I sing the song at the top of my lungs with my children as we spin it and wait to see who is going to have the biggest pile of chocolate coins. I had never experienced Latkes or Sufganiyot and now my life (and my thighs) wouldn’t be the same without them!

My children are truly lucky to not just read about different faiths at school, but experience them. I am partnering now with his teacher so that throughout the year we can share the different Jewish holidays with his class and they can experience the traditions and stories that the Jewish faith has to offer. We have such a responsibility as educators to enlighten our students to the world around them. Bringing the experiences to them and letting them “live it” is what learning is all about.

– Joy

Creativity and Academics Go Hand in Hand!

As a teacher and a parent I have always encouraged creative thinking by providing lots of open-ended materials such as books, blocks, dramatic play items and art materials. When I was at home with my 4-year-old daughter one of our favorite activities was to draw a squiggle on a piece of paper for each other, and then we would each create a drawing from the squiggle. Then we created a drawing from the squiggle. I was lucky enough to have her in my preschool classroom, too, where she was happy and well-behaved, her days filled with creative activities.

Photo courtesy of Selena N.B.H.

Photo courtesy of Selena N.B.H.

But when she went to kindergarten, my daughter’s enthusiasm for school waned. She was anxious and struggling with her work. Her teacher reported that she was well loved by the other students and always participated in all of the activities, but she struggled with her assignments. When I asked to see an example of her work, her teacher showed me a paper where the children were to draw two fish alike. But instead of completing this assignment, my daughter had drawn two detailed fish with purple with pink polka dots.

When I asked why my daughter’s assignment was “wrong,” the teacher produced another child’s assignment where the child had drawn two fish that were exactly the same. And then she produced another, and another, all perfect examples of modeled art. What could have been a creative opportunity was instead a test, and one my daughter had “failed.” I walked away from that conversation with her teacher knowing that I needed to find another learning environment that encouraged creativity, namely, both convergent and divergent thinking.

Convergent thinking is the ability to come up with a single correct answer. This type of thinking is measured through standard testing methods. Divergent or creative thinking is the ability to come up with new and usual answers. Both are important! Let the children in your classroom explore and allow them to express their thoughts and ideas. You’ll be supporting curiosity, flexibility and originality in their work and play, and encouraging unique and effective solutions. Teachers should strive to help children explore their academic potential and their creative potential.

– Stephannie

What Do Children Need?

Photo courtesy of Sarah Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Gilbert.

When I was an infant/toddler teacher, December was a time for reflecting over the past year and thinking about how to improve the experiences in my classroom, as well as myself professionally. I looked closely at what was happening in my room, school and community. I thought about the children and families I served, and how I could best support them. I would read books and articles, discuss and debate with my fellow teachers and just listen to the babies and families around me.

One book that I often returned to was The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, And Flourish by T. Berry Brazelton, MD and Stanley Greenspan, MD.   Though the book is more than ten years old and new research and knowledge is available, the “irreducible needs” that Brazelton and Greenspan discuss haven’t changed.  According to Brazelton and Greenspan, children have:

  1. The Need for Ongoing, Nurturing Relationships
  2. The Need for Physical Protection, Safety and Regulation
  3. The Need for Experiences Tailored to Individual Differences
  4. The Need for Developmentally Appropriate Experiences
  5. The Need for Limit Setting, Structure, and Expectations
  6. The Need for Stable, Supportive Communities and Cultural Continuity
  7. Protecting the Future

I often think of these needs as “rights” to help guide my teaching and interactions with children, and they’re easier to implement in your classroom than they might seem at first.

A close relationship with a trusting adult will support a children’s growth in all areas of development. Find ways to support the relationships between the children and their families, too.

We are responsible for the health and safety of the children in our centers, too. Review state licensing regulations often; you never know when you might be unwittingly breaking some of the rules that are in place to keep children safe and healthy!

The experiences we provide should be developmentally appropriate.  The most important thing to bear in mind when thinking about this is that your curriculum should be based on the age, developmental levels and interests of the individual children in your room.  All children are different! They develop at different rates, in different ways, have different personalities and come to us with different experiences, families and backgrounds. Our expectations for their learning and behavior, as well as how we structure their day, should always be as individual as they are.

Keeping these “irreducible needs” alive and well in your classroom is one of the first steps in advocating for children’s futures, and a good start on ensuring that our communities and schools are caring, supportive places for children and families.

– Nicole

A Breath of Fresh Air

This past Thanksgiving, my granddaughter went over to the sliding glass window, smiled at me and pointed outside. The next thing I knew she was holding my hand and we were heading outdoors.

She did this several times throughout the day, and we’d always go out for 15 or 30 minutes at a time. At first I felt that I was going outside “for her,” but after awhile I realized I was going outside for me, too. The fresh air was a welcome relief! Together we explored: collecting sticks, watching our scarves blow in the breeze, climbing, running and just enjoying each other’s company. We had more time to talk – and listen! – to each other once we were outside.

Outdoor play is often abbreviated during the colder months, but it doesn’t have to be. Playing outdoors supports all aspects of a child’s development, helps prevent obesity and reduces the spread of illness. Not to mention it feels good just to get out of a stuffy classroom! If you and the children are properly dressed for it, take the fun outside. Blow bubbles, play with hula hoops, have a winter-themed parade with noisemakers or enjoy some dramatic play out of doors by doing a little “yard work.” We’ve written before that there’s no perfect temperature for outdoor play, and it’s true. Head outside! The fresh air will do everyone good.