Tag Archives: school

Unplug Your Summer!

This is the first summer that my children have not attended some kind of camp during their summer break from school. The lesson I’ve learned? TV is evil!

I am taking measures in my home to decrease screen time for my children, but playing outside is apparently the worst suggestion I can make for how they ought to be spending their time! All I hear is how hot it is and that there is nothing to do, but for years both of my children participated in summer camps where they were outside 100 percent of the time sweating their brains out, playing in creeks, building forts and playing games, all the while getting extremely dirty. I could go on and on about the stories they would come home with when I asked them, “So, what did you do today?”

But when I ask that same question these days the answer seems to revolve around a TV character or what new game they found online or which level they finally made it to on their DS. And I have to ask myself, what about the kids out there that spend their summer plugged in because that is the only child care their parents can afford? Or if the child care program they attend while their parents are at work only takes children outside for 15 or 20 minutes per day (if that) to play on the same swing set they have been playing on for years?

Despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends absolutely no screen time for children under two due to language delays, this just isn’t the reality in many homes and child care programs. According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, 40 percent of infants are regular viewers of screen media, and preschoolers spend on average 32 hours a week with screen media. The American Academy of Pediatrics also states that school age children shouldn’t be exposed to more than two hours of total screen time per day, but that’s obviously not the case for many children, including mine recently! So, what can we do differently?

While parents can set guidelines for screen time in the home (I am making my children “earn” their TV time by completing chores and spending some much-needed time outside), I would encourage child care programs to avoid TV completely.  Children are almost certainly getting some of their screen time at home after they leave our programs, and we have the opportunity during the day to give them new experiences and enrich their lives. I am hard pressed to find something that is more worthwhile on the TV than in real life! The rewards that come from sitting down with a child and reading a book together, playing a game or just talking with them are endless. They feel nurtured, special and are being exposed to new vocabulary. You just can’t replicate that with a screen!

From Chaos to Calm

Playing with the children in your care is very important!In my years in the field, I have been in calm and relaxing classrooms where the noise level was just right and the children and child care providers seemed happy. I have also been in classrooms where it was very loud and the children were very active, and neither the child nor the provider seemed content. In most situations, it wasn’t the children causing the chaos, but the environment.

To have a peaceful classroom, there must be structure and predictability. Children will do better and be more successful in the classroom if they know what will happen. Keep in mind that some disruptions from the daily schedule are appropriate when they are lead by children’s interests, like going outside after the first snow fall of winter or listening to a parent visitor who has come to sing songs.

Try to keep a balance of “active” activities and “non-active” activities when you’re planning your day. If you take the children outside to play and then bring them in and expect that they’ll be ready for a nap, they will have a hard time calming their bodies. In this situation, you should have a “cool-down” activity such as reading books or doing yoga. Transitions can also be a time where children become restless so plan for those times, too. Talk or sing with children and limit the “waiting time” as much as possible.

Never underestimate the importance of free-choice! Children love to explore at their own pace and decide what to do next. Some programs I’ve visited implement a “center management” system that helps children remember how many children are allowed at each center at a time, which also reduces volume level and stress! Put up signs that indicate the amount of children allowed in each center with large polka dots. It will be easier for you, and for them, to keep track.

Keep your voice and body low when speaking with children. This not only helps to keep the room calm, but also helps to keep your conversations with the children private, especially when they need a little redirection. Remember also that too many displays on the walls can cause over-stimulation, especially for those with sensory issues. Even the color of the walls can affect a child’s stress level!

Sometimes life happens and we don’t have as much control as we’d like in our classrooms. However, these guidelines will set you up for success and a better chance of having a calm classroom where children are best able to learn.

Nobody Likes Waiting! Transition Times as Teachable Moments

How to ease and minimize wait times for young children in your ECE classroomWaiting is difficult for everyone. I often find myself feeling impatient or frustrated when I’m stuck in traffic or standing in an impossibly long line at the grocery. I shuffle from one foot to another, sigh or start tapping my fingers on the wheel… this is just the beginning of some of my own challenging behaviors! If I’m reacting this way as an adult, imagine how it feels to be a young child to wait for extended periods of time, told to be quiet and stand in a straight line with their arms at their sides.

Transition times when children are changing from one activity to the next require lots of support on the part of the teaching staff. These are the times when children may be more likely to engage in challenging behavior, so they are typically the teacher’s most difficult part of the day! Let’s face it, if you have to stand around and wait, it becomes really hard not to touch what’s around you or to talk to the person next to you. Adults have a hard time waiting five minutes for their turn at the gas pump!

Why are transitions so difficult for children? Caregivers often have unrealistic expectations. Transitions are often too long, leaving children with extended amounts of time with nothing to do or think about. Children need a predictable schedule; they need to know what is coming next and how soon: “Mary, in five minutes we are going to start cleaning up to go outside.” If a child is frustrated by having to leave a project before they are ready, let them leave it as is and come back to it later. The world does not end if the room is not completely cleaned up and the cleaning crew has to sweep around a fantastic Lego structure!

How do we determine if transitions can be managed more effectively for the children in our classroom? Take a step back and observe what is happening. Because teachers are in the thick of things, they sometimes don’t see the obvious signs and problems. Ask yourself what you could change to make transition times more effective. Are you frequently interrupting play to move on to another space and another activity? Do you need to be?

Transitions can be great teachable moments when we plan ahead. Here are a few things to try:

  • Interactive songs that keep their minds and bodies engaged.
  • Guess what’s in my bag
  • I Spy
  • Clap and Stomp patterns for the children to repeat
  • Whisper to gain their attention. They have to quiet themselves to hear you.
  • Walk like various animals, tiptoe, stomp, fly like a plane or pretend you are on a roller coaster as you move from one space to the next.
  • Turn around facing away from the children and change something about yourself and see if they can determine what is different. Don’t forget to give the children a chance, too!

Providing children with activities and keeping them engaged while they are waiting or transitioning allows children to continue their learning and discovery while making our job more enjoyable. If only we could have this much fun waiting in line at the grocery store!


Making Children Happy: At What Cost?

As a mother and a frequent observer in child care programs, I’ve noticed a trend in teaching as well as parenting: we seem to be focused on making our kids HAPPY. Of course I believe this is important (who doesn’t?), but I wonder what we are teaching children and what the consequences of our focus might be. Wanting children to be happy all of the time can lead to missed opportunities for growth and learning.

At the grocery store recently, I overheard a mother trying to keep her two children well behaved as she moved up and down the aisles. They were begging for the little cheap toys that hang from the shelving units. She said that they weren’t there for toys and they didn’t have the extra money for them, but the children’s pleas became more intense and louder. In the end the mom ended up letting her children pick a toy for some peace and quiet.

There are other ways to keep children occupied during situations like this one. What about having helpers to pull things off the shelf and put them in the cart, or marking items off of a list? Children are getting something more substantial than a toy out of involvement like this. They get to have fun with their parent and feel that they are contributing toward getting the job done! We have similar opportunities in child care programs, and know all too well how impossible it can be to keep an entire classroom of children 100 percent happy unless we’re engaging with them in meaningful ways.

When we “give in” we run the risk of teaching children that if they act out enough they will end up getting what they want in the end. This won’t lead to anything more than temporary happiness, and doesn’t prepare children very well for the reality of school or work. Wouldn’t it be great if all your boss wanted to do was make you happy? While that’s part of the deal, we all have responsibilities and those often come first.

Sometimes it can hurt our hearts to be the one to say “no.” But helping children to understand that there are boundaries and they won’t always get what they want are important ones for parents and teachers to impart.

Hands On, Minds On: Science and Math in Afterschool

If you were to ask a group if they were good at reading, there would be very few who would admit to not reading well. In contrast, if you were to ask about their comfort level with math and science, many would say that they harbor a strong dislike for these subjects. Fewer people value or feel competent in math and science and it is socially acceptable. It’s a sad fact, and this attitude often surfaces first in school!

Many of us remember the anxiety of timed tests, conceptual learning through books and worksheets and the droning lectures we often received in math and science classes. Adults can unintentionally undermine children’s math and science ability and attitudes when they say things like, “Math is hard,” or, “I didn’t like science, either, when I was in school.” Although you can’t make a child enjoy science and math, you can encourage them to try new things and appreciate the value in everyday experiences.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is an exciting new initiative in the afterschool field. Many afterschool teachers are nervous about tackling science and math activities because they feel that they have to have all the answers. But STEM is not focused on concepts and vocabulary! STEM is about informal learning building on children’s interests. It’s about the experience and being able to answer the question: What would happen if? Or, what do you think?  It’s hands on and minds on, where children can openly manipulate materials without a recipe or demonstration by an adult. By providing these informal experiences, it’s hoped that children will gain a greater understanding and make connections when they hear concepts taught during the school day. Best of all, it’s fun!

How can we begin to foster this sense of wonder in school age children? 4C for Children offers many STEM workshops, which you can view and register for on our online catalog (under “School-age”). Time Warner Cable has also invested in Connect a Million Minds, a STEM project where teachers and parents can browse countless opportunities for learning. It’s speculated that 80 percent of jobs will require math and science skills in the next decade. In order to prepare children with 21st century skills, it is our job to provide STEM learning that is exciting, creative and fun.

Critters in the Classroom

Are you an animal person? I am! When I was teaching second grade, I had two ferrets donated to our class. I was so excited! But before they could be introduced to my students, they got fleas. I kept them at my house until they were flea-free. Unfortunately, during that time they developed some very unsanitary habits and they never made it into the classroom. Does your classroom have a class pet, or are you thinking of getting one? Here are some things to think about when you have a critter in your classroom.

From a Humane Society article, there are three important things for keeping and caring for a class pet: “…you must consistently provide all the care the pet needs, establish a classroom code of humane treatment, and remain vigilant in detecting and preventing students’ overhandling, mistreatment, or theft of the animal.” The children will look to you to know how to treat an animal properly.

There are also several reflective questions in the article to determine whether you and your class are ready for a pet. Some of them include “Why do I want a class pet?” “Am I prepared to include the pet in the school’s emergency evacuation plan?” and “Do any of my current students have asthma, allergies or other conditions that can be aggravated by the presence of animals?”

There are some definite pros and definite cons to having pets in the classroom.


  • Teaching responsibility to the children: Of course, this means that the children will need to be participants in the care of the pet. That could mean that the children themselves feed the animal or clean its cage or are present when those things occur and it is used as a teachable moment.
  • Having concrete science experiences: Discovering what the animal eats, what type of housing it needs, using multiple senses to study the animal (touching, smelling, hearing) and understanding how we are different from animals are just some of the great ways a pet can enrich the learning in the classroom.
  • Relieving stress and tension: Whether it’s watching the fish swim in the fish tank, stroking the fur of a guinea pig or feeding treats to a turtle, interacting with the pet can be a way to calm a tense or angry child.


  • Cost of care: Many classroom pets must go to the vet for immunization or when they get sick. Also, they may need special food, enclosures or accessories. Who will pay those costs?
  • Health and safety concerns: Some animals can harm the children through transmission of diseases, a bite or a scratch. They could also trigger allergies the child may or may not be aware of.
  • What if the animal dies? The children may have strong emotions or tough questions for days, weeks or months. How will you handle these?

Of course, there are alternatives to having classroom pets. You could bring in a speaker who is trained and knowledgeable with animals to do a demonstration or go on a field trip to a zoo, pet store or wildlife preserve. You could also set up feeders for squirrels or deer and baths for birds outside the classroom window. What have been your experiences? Do you do anything unique with animals in the classroom? Please share in the comments!

Teacher as Model and Mentor: Ever Teaching

While on the my university’s website retrieving my college transcripts, I stopped in on the page for the education department, my old stomping ground. In two separate places on the page their theme is proudly displayed: “Teacher as Model and Mentor: Ever Teaching, Ever Learning, Ever Changing.” These principles meant little to me when I was in school, but seeing them again as a professional was powerful. I realized just how important each of them is in being a successful teacher. In my next three blogs I will be exploring these three tenets in-depth as they related to early childhood professionals.

I had to stop and think about what “Ever Teaching” really meant to me. I decided it meant two things. The first is taking advantage of teachable moments. Not all learning that takes place was written on the lesson plan or posted on the schedule. Teachable moments present themselves at any time and can be more meaningful learning experiences for the children. They are the nuggets of learning for which we are constantly mining! Do we want the children to learn only while sitting at circle time as the teacher reviews the day’s weather or do we want them to learn by experiencing the weather for the day? What does the wind feel like? How does the position of the sun change our shadows? Why do some snowflakes stick together and other snowflakes fall through our fingers? These are the things that children can discover on their own.

Imagine that it starts raining smack in the middle of calendar time and half of the children are now more interested in the tracks the raindrops are making on the window. We can return them to the lesson already in progress, or we can utilize their curiosity and their excitement to investigate how the raindrops form into streaks, to discuss what it sounds like as it hits the glass or even experiment with water droplets on wax paper.

What else does “Ever Teaching” mean to me? The fact that no matter how old your students get or how long they have been out of your classroom, you will always be their teacher. They may see you at the library, in the movie theater or returning with their own child to your classroom. Your status as “teacher” doesn’t change like your Facebook status does.

Being “Miss Janine” forever has meant encounters with students when I least expected them. Once when I was doing some evening grocery shopping in a t-shirt and messy jeans (that one pair everyone has with paint smudges, ragged cuffs or missing a belt loop), I ran into a student and his mom. We had a nice casual conversation; it didn’t matter what I was wearing or that I was off the clock, I was still “Miss Janine.” I’ve also been on the other end of the student-teacher encounters. I was at a group interview for my teaching position and recognized my fourth grade teacher as the coordinator of the event. It was surreal for me, and I’m sure for Mrs. Johnson as well, to be in a situation where we were peers. However, to me, she will always be “Mrs. Johnson” instead of “Anna.”

Ever Teaching: the return that we receive on our investment in children is measured in hugs and smiles and chance reunions years later. What does “Ever Teaching” mean to you?