Below is a follow-up post to last week’s blog by guest blogger Jamie Smith.
Whether you provide care in a family child care home or a center-based program, space is a hot commodity. You are constantly looking for ways to organize, store children’s belongings, arrange toys and supplies, etc. As child development professionals, we know that we have to carefully consider and evaluate the environments and toys we provide regularly. Here are some tips for making the most of your “real estate.”
- Can children reach and use the toys and materials? Successful storage of toys and materials starts with accessibility. If children cannot reach toys, they can’t play with the toys and can become bored and frustrated.
- Do I have enough toys? Providing fewer toys may make your program or classroom seem less cluttered and easier to clean, but this practice can seriously impact children’s behavior. Young children require different toys and activities in order to keep them busy. When they are bored, they may act out, bother peers, or become upset. Providing an adequate amount of toys helps to ensure that children stay busy and have many learning opportunities.
- Do I have too many toys? As a child, I remember thinking “There is no such thing as too many toys!” The adult me knows that yes, there is such a thing as too many toys! Having enough toys and materials to rotate and bring “new” items out regularly is important, but providing too many toys at once can easily overwhelm children. If children cannot focus or concentrate on a certain material because they have too many things to see and do, consider placing a few items in storage for a while.
- Do I have too many toys in one spot? Too many items in one container can cause confusion and discourage children from actually playing with items. Children may dump an entire container of toys on the floor in order to find what they really want, or simply ignore an overly-full container because they know they can’t access the items at the bottom. Consider leaving a few favored items in the container and placing the rest into rotation later.
- Do the children know how to use the toys? If toys are too boring or too challenging, children will usually not use them. Providers must model how to play. A bucket of colorful linking toys may attract a toddler, but if he or she doesn’t know how to use them or is not yet capable of using them, the only thing they know to do is dump them out. Assisting children in their play will help them understand how to use certain materials and provide you with valuable interaction time.
- Does every toy need to be in a container or on a shelf? We have to be creative in order to maximize the use of space. Not all items need to be stored in containers-placing items directly on a shelf or the floor is perfectly fine. Thinking “outside the box” will help you make the best use of the space you have.
Check out the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach FCCERS in Photos on Pinterest for creative space ideas. They’re great ideas for anyone, not just family child care providers!!
Welcome again guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor.
You just got the room all cleaned up and you hear a crashing sound. Little Susie dumps the entire bin of small blocks on to the floor, and grins at you mischievously. Alex follows suit and spills the zoo animals on the floor while Joshua flings the stacking ring like Frisbees. Before you know it, the entire floor is a sea of toys. We’ve all experienced the frustration that can arise when children continually dump toys on the floor. It feels messy and unorganized- and you’re almost sure they do it just to irritate you!
But then you stop, take a deep breath, and remember they’re toddlers. They’re supposed to do this. It’s how they learn. You may feel like Cinderella- cleaning and picking up after everyone, but you can be Snow White and still “whistle while you work” if you keep the following in mind:
- You are providing valuable play opportunities! Children need many opportunities to manipulate many different items in many different ways. Infants and toddlers typically dump toys from buckets and bins for several reasons. First, it’s fun and natural for them. “What will happen if I turn this upside down?” and “Wow that makes a neat sound!” Second, children are naturally curious. Natural curiosity is something we encourage so that children will explore, experiment, and try new things. As much as it may feel like they’re dumping all the small people on the floor to push your buttons, they truly are not. Children this young are not capable of manipulation or purposely angering others.
- You’re using your child development knowledge! Beyond natural curiosity, children are experimenting with their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. We know it takes many years to be able to use fingers and eyes together to manipulate objects. Finger coordination takes longer to develop than whole-hand movement. It may be easy for children to hold a bucket with both hands and turn it over, but it’s harder to use their little fingers to pick up objects one-by-one to use them.
- You understand things from the children’s point of view! It takes a long time for children to understand that adults use the containers as storage, not as a toy. As adults, we see the bins, buckets, baskets, etc., as a way to organize and store similar toys in a convenient location. Infants and toddlers simply see items to play with.
- You can take advantage of teachable moments! Infants and toddlers do not understand the concept of cleaning or picking up. Adults have to model these behaviors in order for children to understand and eventually participate in them. Children may only be capable of picking up two or three items, even if they dumped twenty. Modeling how to clean up and praising children for their efforts in helping sets the stage for them to continue to understand and assist.
Stay tuned!!! Next week Jamie will share strategies for maximizing the space you have to keep toys under control but still accessible to children.
Do you have new snow today? Here, guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Early Childhood Specialist and ERS Assessor, shares some reminders about winter weather considerations.
We all enjoy going outside when the weather is nice, but no one would argue that it’s more challenging in the winter. We must allow extra time for children to get dressed properly for outdoor play, and there are always children who don’t have the proper attire for comfortable outdoor play. Many times playgrounds are covered in ice and snow and the time and energy it takes to prepare the area for safe, outdoor play does not seem worth it. Faced with these challenges, some providers opt for indoor gross motor time. But it is worth the time and energy to get children outside. Children need outdoor time in the winter months (weather permitting) just like in the summer. In fact, research shows that children who have outdoor time in the winter are actually healthier. Here are some reminders that will make outdoor play time safe for the children in your care:
- Many providers in Iowa use loose-filled surfacing under and around playground equipment to provide cushioning in the event of a fall. The U.S. Consumer and Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) Public Playground Safety Handbook reminds us that freezing temperatures result in the protective surfacing in and around playground equipment to also freeze. Even if the first few layers are loose, the base layer may be frozen and will not provide adequate impact absorption if a child falls from the equipment. If these conditions exist, the CPSC recommends that children not use equipment requiring fall zone protection.
- Those howling winter winds can also cause loose-filled like mulch or wood chips to be blown around which can result in inadequate protection. It is important that providers rake the material and check the surface to make sure there is adequate protection when conditions are safe for using playground equipment that requires protective surfacing.
- Ice can make a play structure including the stairs, slides and platforms to be slippery increasing the risk of falls. In the event of these conditions, ice should be removed from the equipment prior to children being allowed to use it. Snow and ice can also build up on trip limbs creating potential hazards if children play under trees.
- Snow on a playground is fun for play, but can also conceal hidden hazards such as, glass or other unsafe items that can harm children. Even if the snow surface looks pristine, it is important to t still do those routine maintenance checks to make sure the playground surface is hazard-free.
What are some of your favorite activities to do with children outside in the winter?
U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission, April, 2008. Handbook for Public Playground Safety, page 18, www.cpsc.gov/…/325.pdf
Playground Magazine, Volume 9 – No. 5 winter, 2009-2010, The Chill Effect: Winter Tips for Playground Surfaces, www.playgroundmag.org
Child Care Weather Watch Chart, www.isbe.net/pdf/school_health/wind-heat-chart.pdf
HURRY… Registration for the EcoHealthy Child Care® series ends this weekend!
A recent news story about sick children and adults from essential oils diffused in a child care center concerned me. In our Eco Healthy Child Care online series we talk about indoor air quality and its impact on children and the workers in the child care setting. One of our recommendations is to reduce the use of air fresheners.They can trigger asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Essential oils are often used as an alternative to the artificially scented products that cover up the many different smells we encounter in child care. Essential oils are plant derived concentrates that are often used for well-being and can be beneficial if used correctly. Essential oils have medicinal properties and users must know which single oil or blend, its dosage and form of administration (inhalation, topical or ingestion) are appropriate for a person. Even good things can be toxic when used inappropriately.
Children’s bodies are much more susceptible to the influence of chemicals in the environment because they are smaller and their organs are still developing. They are exposed to toxins through inhalation, skin absorption and ingestion. Adult bodies are more adept at cleaning out toxins and are larger. Pound for pound an inhaled chemical like essential oil has a greater affect on children and can become toxic quickly.
Ventilation is key to improving indoor air quality. Reduce moisture levels that may encourage mold and mildew by fixing leaks. Minimize dust and debris with a damp cloth. Keep the child care floor clean with long, moisture and dirt-grabbing rugs at entrances and vacuum/sweep all floors at least daily. Reduce transmission of illness with consistent hand-washing and diapering/toileting procedures. In Iowa, child care settings should be practicing these hand-washing guidelines.
Use essential oils judiciously in cleaning products to reduce germs on surfaces, but limit their use as a classroom inhalant and never use topically on children in your care. Consult a certified aromatherapist if you choose to use essential oils personally or professionally. They have been through extensive training on the medicinal properties of each single or blend of essential oils.
When your olfactory sense is on alert, open the window.
Registry for EcoHealthy Child Care® on the DHS Training Registry.
Kristi Cooper, Human Science Specialist, Grandma and aromatherapy user.
Our guest blogger Lori Schonhorst, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Early Childhood Specialist and I-Consult, encourages us to consider humble inquiry.
Recently I have been reading the book entitled, “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar H. Schein. The book is focused on fostering effective communication between adults; however, in reading it I can’t help but think that there are strategies that relate to how we can communicate more effectively with children as well. Humble inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person. This in turn leads to the building of trust, which in turn leads to better communication and collaboration.
What a gift we offer a child when we ask questions that communicate respect and let them know we are interested and curious about what they have to say. Humble inquiry can be particularly helpful when there is a problem at hand. In child care, we are often pulled many directions at once. Imagine a child comes to you during a time that you are feeling particularly busy and wants you to play. When you communicate that you are busy, the child starts to whine and demand your attention. You have a number of options. You could reiterate to the child that you are busy and go on with what you are doing. This may lead to you feeling guilty that you couldn’t give the child your attention and likely the child’s behavior is going to escalate causing additional frustration for both of you. A second option is to give in and play. This could lead to you feeling resentful because you had other things that needed to be done at that time, or may make the child feel guilty if she can sense that you feel interrupted and aren’t engaged. A third option is humble inquiry. Using humble inquiry, you would stop, be empathic and give the child your full attention asking about what it is they want to do and discussing briefly. Ultimately, it may still be decided that you can’t play at that particular moment but by pausing and creating that opportunity for dialogue, you are communicating that you honor what it is the child has to say and creating a plan. This is a very small change that can lead to big changes in our relationships with children as they feel that their ideas and desires are respected. The beauty of humble inquiry is that instead of the solution being my way or your way, it becomes our way through joint problem solving.
In what other situations might humble inquiry be helpful?
Take a moment and think about one of your activity centers. What are most of the objects in the center made of? If you said plastic, you are not alone.
According to the Environmental Working Group, certain plastics are known to contain toxic chemicals which have negative impacts on human health. Children are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals since their body systems and organs are still developing. Their bodies are small, so what may be a small dose for an adult may be a big dose with big effects for a child. Young children are also at greater risk since they often insert plastic objects into their mouths. Baby bottles, sippy cups, teething rings, and toys are often made with phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA). These two toxic ingredients in plastics are of particular concern, as research increasingly shows that these chemicals mimic or suppress hormones (e.g., estrogen and testosterone) and disrupt normal development and growth. Avoid plastics with recycling codes: #3, #6, and #7.
Safety and learning is enhanced when children experience the physics and properties of different materials by playing with a variety of objects. We know that open-ended materials – that don’t have a prescribed role or purpose – give kids a brain boost by stimulating creativity and imagination. (Think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vs real turtle shells or puppets.) Do your kids a favor and provide a wide variety of materials.
Child care professionals in a recent Nature Explore workshop brainstormed ideas to minimize plastic in their classrooms. Here are some examples –
- plastic broom => wood and natural bristle broom;
- plastic rolling pin => corn cob;
- plastic bins =>open natural baskets or wooden bowls
- plastic math manipulatives =>smooth stones with numbers painted on them, sea shells, pine cones or twigs;
- plastic shelf => wood shelf;
- paintbrushes=> prairie grasses or wheat stalks;
- plastic flowers=>real flowers;
- plastic scoops => small terracotta flower pots;
- plastic place-mats => bamboo place-mats;
- plastic writing tools => wooden pencils;
- plastic buckets => galvanized metal pails.
At the Science Center of Iowa, the preschool director began replacing furniture in the classrooms. Things that changed included:
- plastic kitchen set => wood kitchen set;
- plastic chairs and tables => wood;
- quiet corner plastic chairs=> fabric hammocks;
- curtain rods=> tree branches.
She also added softness by giving each teacher lengths of transparent fabric to use in the classroom. They draped it above the entrance to the room to create a welcoming atmosphere, above an activity center to minimize the bright fluorescent lights and in a corner to define a quiet area.
What will YOU do to minimize plastics and increase learning in YOUR classroom?
Kristi Cooper, a Certified Nature Explore Educator and new grandma!
P.S. Want to learn more about how products like plastics impact your program? Check out EcoHealthy Child Care! Registration for the upcoming series is going on NOW on the DHS Training Registry.
Occasionally when the topic of of multiculturalism comes up in early childhood conversations in the state of Iowa, I hear child care providers comment that they do not serve a diverse population, so the topic is not relevant to them. This could not be further from the truth!
A few points to note –
- Iowa and the nation’s demographics are changing. So, while you might not be serving children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, you likely will be in the near future.
- It is SUPER important that even though our children and families may SEEM similar, there is still diversity among them. Each family is unique and we want to make sure we recognize that fact. Celebrate similarities and celebrate differences!
As early childhood professionals, we want to give intentional thought to our program in all areas and ask the question – Does this reflect windows and mirrors? Meaning, do the children in the program see themselves and their families (mirrors) in the displays, books and learning materials available? This says to the child, “I am important and my family is recognized.”
And, equally important, do the displays, books and learning materials available reflect the growing multicultural world we live in and the one they will be citizens in (windows)? When we offer materials that show a variety of skin tones, abilities, ages, ways of dress, and different family make-ups, we build the foundation for children to appreciate someone who is different from them. When we shut the window of diversity to children and only show their own “reflection,” we send the message that there is nothing else out there.
If you are in Iowa, look for a *NEW* DHS-approved 2-hour course titled Moving Beyond Heroes and Holidays: Creating a Rich Anti-bias Learning Environment in Early Childhood. This workshop will offer practical guidance to early childhood educators for reflecting on as well as confronting barriers of prejudice, misinformation, and bias about specific aspects of personal and social identity. Most importantly, it will include tips for adults and children to respect each other, themselves, and all people. If there is not one scheduled for your area, talk to your Child Care Resource and Referral consultant about offering the session.
Malisa Rader is a human sciences specialist that misses the daily hugs and high-fives from little people
Let’s face it… talking about infant safe sleep best practices in a marketing world full of soft plush blankets and generations of parenting practices can a challenge. Some of my most difficult conversations with child care professionals have been around safe sleep recommendations and why infant care practices of the past are no longer appropriate. New and ongoing research is clear and consistent – there are infant sleep practices that significantly reduce the risk that a child will die from a sudden and unexplained cause.
To make the conversation easier and simpler, our partners at Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral have recently released an approach that makes safe sleep best practices as simple as A, B, C.
- A… Alone – the infant should be alone in the crib with no blankets, pillows, animals or loose bedding
- B… Back – the infant should be place on his or her back
- C… Crib – a crib is best for a sleeping infant
Steps you can take:
Our actions do matter! What steps will do take to ensure safe sleep best practices? Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/safe-sleep/.
P.S. I would like to personally acknowledge the efforts of Mary Janssen for her hard work and efforts towards the creation of these documents.
Cindy Thompson is family life specialist with fond memories of her years caring for children in her home.
When I say the word “math”, what comes to mind? If you are like a lot of folks, formulas, equations, and maybe balancing your check book come to mind – YIKES! (Last week my 14 year old son explained why I couldn’t wear what he considered an embarrassing hat by using a recent IFF statement he learned in geometry. Yep… I was LOST… but that’s another story!)
Often times early childhood professionals shy away from math because they think it is too complicated. Research on the gap between boys’ and girls’ achievement in math-related fields and the stats on the high percentage of women in early childhood fields help explain some of our fear of math. But you are using math each and every day, and I bet you don’t even realize it.
Consider these examples:
- hanging pictures on the wall, arranging a bulletin board or deciding where to place materials (geometry – use of space)
- changing a recipe to serve more people, figuring out the best buy on toilet paper, or how much a family owes for the week (algebra)
- purchasing some supplies with a small grant or allotment of money (spending plan/budget)
There is an appreciation in early childhood for the importance of exposing children to math, but our discomfort can often get in the way of us building confidence in children. When we think about the day to day ways we use math concepts like space and numbers, math doesn’t seem nearly as scary or unsettling. And the more comfortable we are with math, the more likely we are to find ways to talk to children in ways that encourage their development of math thought.
What are some examples of how you use, and have become comfortable using, math? Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/making-friends-with-math/.
Cindy Thompson is a Family Life Specialist with found memories of her years caring for children in her home.
Our guest blogger Lori Schonhorst, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Early Childhood Specialist and I-Consult, shares her passion for the creating memories in nature.
Last night as I was winding down for the evening and scrolling through Facebook I was struck by a quote shared by a friend. As I read the following words… “I’m so thankful I had a childhood before technology took over,” I was immediately taken back to my own childhood. Hours spent re-planting violets from the grove around my playhouse, scavenging for pinecones underneath the pine trees behind the barn and playing house with my sisters using whatever we could find outside to create our home. Did you have similar experiences where you had the opportunity to play and explore in natural settings? Do todays’ children have those same experiences?
This time of year offers so many wonderful opportunities for children to develop their own love for nature through open-ended and creative play in their natural world. All it takes is someone like you to bring opportunities for nature into your own backyard. Observe their joy as they run through a pile of leaves, share in their pride as they show you their own personal collection of natural objects, enjoy the peace that comes with seeing a child play for long stretches of time with a shovel, bucket and open area of dirt to explore.
Respect for their environment grows out of the opportunities to engage with it and the children of today also deserve a childhood filled with opportunities to play, imagine and simply enjoy being a child.
P.S. How do you create memories outside for children this time of year? Share your ideas at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/giftofautumn/.