Let’s Talk… What’s with the “A”?

July 16th, 2015

Baby w A 2When we are very familiar with something it can be easy  to assume others know as much about it as we do. This past year that has been my experience regarding the acronym STEM. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, but what I take as standard terminology I have come to realize is not quite so for many others. My youngest daughter just finished her first year of college as an engineering major, and she has embraced everything STEM: STEM housing, STEM work study, STEM sorority, STEM summer job. When family and friends ask what my daughter is up to, most ask, “What’s STEM?” Which has me wondering – do early childhood professionals understand what STEAM stands for?

Many professional communities, including the early childhood field, add an “A” into the STEM equation for Art because of the important role interactive experiences with both the visual and performing arts can have on understanding math and science concepts.

Here are some examples:

And here is great resource from eXtension on Art in Child Care which includes information and ideas for all ages.

Art is much more than having a few basic craft supplies available or dancing to music – it can help expose children to creative thinking and problem solving experiences that provide a foundation for later critical thinking skills.

What questions or ideas do you have about using visual and performing arts as a means to science, technology, engineering and math learning in the early years? Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/whats-with-the-a/.

P.S. Check these out:


Early Learning ,

Let’s Talk… Parenting Educator or Supporting Professional?

July 6th, 2015

ParentsI’ve always been a big advocate for the role parenting education plays in our relationships with families as early childhood professionals. Not only do parents often look to us for advice and information on starting solids, toilet teaching, and school readiness (among other things), our interactions with parents and other family members often provide teachable moments for us to share what we, in early childhood, have come to understand as being in the best interest of children. Often I hear early childhood professionals share frustrations related to working with parents, some wishing they didn’t have to interact with parents at all.  My goal in advocating for the important role we play in parenting education has been to emphasize the crucial role parents play in our efforts to provide high quality care for children.

A recent Child Care Exchange Everyday post, however, has me rethinking my perspective. Based on a book by Anne Stonehouse about families’ perspective, the blog author makes the case that by being experts – or being perceived as experts – early childhood professionals can often decrease parents’ confidence and hinder a strong family/program relationship.  Instead, we should strive to empower families by supporting them in their role as the most important person/people in a child’s life.

Parenting Educator or Supporting Professional?  Or maybe both?  What do you think?  Let me know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/parentedorsupportprof/.


Family Relationships, Professionalism ,

Let’s Talk…Give Me Some Space!

June 25th, 2015

Welcome again guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor.

Protecting nonmobilesWe know it’s vital for infants to have open space on the floor to play, but how do we keep them safe from older children?  In the eyes of a toddler or preschooler, infants can be like a shiny new toy.  The urge to touch and play with the new “toy” can be overwhelming.  Children don’t have the intention to hurt an infant, but sometimes their natural curiosity can pose a threat to non-mobile infants. I’ve listed some tips and techniques that I have observed or used below.  Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts – we can all use fresh ideas!

Establish boundaries. Some programs set aside space specifically for non-mobile infants.  Designating a corner of the room for infant play (a rug with rattles, cloth books, and other infant materials) provides older children with a visible difference in play areas.

Don’t have room to designate a specific space?  Use a blanket or mat to indicate a non-mobile infant’s personal space. Blankets and mats are portable, so you can move the child to different areas of the program while still being able to supervise all children.

Keep active play areas separated from infants on the floor.  Designate a safe place for children to dance or use active toys away from non-mobile infants.  This will keep the area around the infant less active and less likely to cause injury.

However you arrange the space used for floor play by non-mobile infants, remember supervision is key.  Arrange all play areas to enable you to both visually supervise and also move quickly to a different area if your help is needed.

Help children learn appropriate ways to interact with babies.  Remember, we encourage children to be curious and explore their world, and with supervision, children can safely satisfy their curiosity about babies, too. Providing interested children with their own baby doll to care for can help them practice what they see and take on some “grown-up” tasks.

Another way children can safely interact with non-mobile infants is to help when appropriate.  Bringing the infant a favorite toy or stuffed animal can make an older child feel important and allow them to safely interact with an infant.  Make polite requests like “Baby Alex is laying here on his blanket.  Can you tell him a story while I get his bottle?”

Use those “teachable moments” to encourage social skills.   Help children understand privacy and personal space.  Use phrases such as “You know, Baby Kate is playing by herself right now.  I don’t think she wants you to touch her.  Can you build a tall tower with blocks instead?  I’ll bring Kate over to see it when you’re done.”

Use infant attempts to communicate to teach older children how to respond to verbal and non-verbal cues from others.  Provide language such as “Baby Leo is crying right now.  Do you think he’s hungry or do you think he needs a diaper change?” and “Wow!  Look at Keisha smile.  She must really like that you’re singing to her.”

Keep older children busy.  Access to plenty of toys and materials keeps children occupied.  If older children are engaged in their own activities, the non-mobile infants in your program may seem less exciting to them.

How do you support both non-mobile infants and older children with floor play?  Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/give-me-space/.



Additional Resources:
Many children’s books deal with the topic of new babies.  Even if babies aren’t new to your program, these books can help children gain an understanding of infants.  Some examples include:

  • The New Baby at Your House, by Joanna Cole
  • The Berenstein Bears New Baby, by Stan and Jan Berenstein
  • A New Baby is Coming, by Emily Menendez-Aponte

Books about feelings help all children begin to recognize feelings and practice reacting to them.

  • The Feelings Book, by Todd Parr
  • Lots of Feelings, by Shelley Rotner
  • Feelings, by Aliki

The book Personal Space Camp, by Julia Cook, is geared toward older preschool and school-aged children, and provides knowledge and an understanding of personal space that will help children in many situations.

Early Learning, Environment, Guidance, Health & Safety

Let’s Talk… Supporting Dads

June 15th, 2015

Dad with babyHave you ever wonder about the powerful role you can play in helping build confidence in the dads you interact with each day???

Several decades ago, the dad in one of the very first families I cared for in my family child care program was the morning routine parent because of the mom’s early morning schedule at the local hospital.  When he dropped 4 year old Vanessa off, after the usually pleasant greeting exchanges, he would often apologize for Vanessa’s hair, especially if it was in a ponytail, as he was the one who fixed her hair for the day. Vanessa’s ponytail usually looked fine, mind you, but this seemingly simple self-doubt has stayed with me as a clear illustration of how much dad’s want to get it right but often feel all thumbs when it comes to supporting their children during the early childhood years.

Research supports the notion that fathers interact differently with children than mothers, which means how we support their role in the lives of children needs to be a little different, too.  Here are a few suggestions from eXtension:

  • Visit with families about what dads and children like to do to do together and provide opportunities for dads and their children to interact in the ways THEY enjoy most.
  • Dad’s tend to play more physically with their children, so make it clear that dads are “allowed” and even encouraged to get down on the floor and play, run around the playground, or let children climb on him (if he’s okay with it!)
  • Talk regularly, with both parents, about the benefits to children of physically active, engaged dad-child play.
  • Remember that the type of play dad’s tend to engage in with children is good for BOTH boys and girls.

So as you go through this week making necktie cards, hand/foot print critters, or other projects to say “Happy Father’s Day” to the dads in your program, give pause to all of the ways you can support their unique role in the lives of children throughout the year!

Here are some additional resource that can help:

What are some of the unique ways you support dad’s?  Share your ideas and stories at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/supportingdads/.


Family Relationships ,

Let’s Talk…Family Child Care Photo Winners on Pinterest!!

June 10th, 2015

invite squareWe have placed the 2015 FCCERS-R photo contest winners and entries on a Pinterest board.  Thank you all for participating and congratulations to the winners!

Check out the spaces of these fabulous Iowa family child care programs and see how they link to the Family Child Care Environmental Rating Scale.  For questions or additional information, contact Early Childhood Specialist & ERS Assessor Mona Berkey.




Let’s Talk… Phonological Awareness

May 26th, 2015

IT’S SUMMER!!  (Or, depending where you’re at and how you define “summer”, it will be soon.)  That means a break from learning for all the children in your care for a few months, right?  Of course, not!!  Children are learning all the time. Here, guest blogger Kris Corrigan shares some ideas for including phonological awareness throughout your day.

Letters compressedIn a preschool class I recently visited, the group music time turned into laughter and giggles as their teacher substituted the name of each body part in the familiar “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” with a different beginning sound /b/.  “Bed, Boulders, Bees, and Boes” was a hit and requested again and again.  Through repeated exposure to fun, no pressure language play activities like the mentioned above, their teacher is helping them develop phonological awareness.

Phonological awareness, or the awareness of individual sounds or groups of sounds within words, starts in preschool with activities that help children become aware of syllables in words, recognize words that rhyme, or through alliteration activities (repeating the same beginning sound) as the teacher did by substituting the beginning sound for the letter /b/ in the song. Research shows that phonological awareness is a key predictor of later success in reading and spelling.

The good news is this is not just one more thing you need to squeeze into your already busy day. In fact, many of these activities require no additional preparation and can be done in as little as five to ten minutes while children transition from one activity to another.  Here is one that can be used when children are waiting in line to wash hands:

  • Bippity Bobbity Bumble Bee
    The teacher begins the chant and walks to a child in line:
    Bippity Boppity Bumble Bee
    Won’t you same your name for me?
    Child says her name.
    The class and teacher say her name while clapping once for each syllable in the child’s name.
    Bibbity Boppity Bumble Bee, thank you for saying your name for me.
    Continue the chant by repeating with another student and his or her name.

Here are a few resources if you would like more information about phonological awareness and fun activities you can do with your children:

Yopp, Hallie K. & Yopp, Ruth E., (2009) Phonological Awareness is Child’s Play! Beyond the Journal Young Children on the Web, NAEYC.

Bennett-Armistead, V. Susan, Duke, Nell K. & Moses, Annie M.  (2005) Literacy and the Youngest Learner, New York:  Scholastic

Yopp, Halie K. & Yopp, Ruth E. (2011) Purposeful Play for Early Childhood Phonological Awareness, Huntington Beach, CA:  Shell Education

If you already are incorporating these activities into your daily activities and routines through games literature and songs, we would like to hear your ideas at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/phonological-awareness/.


Early Learning

Let’s Talk… Fall Surfacing

May 5th, 2015

This week we again welcome guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Iowa State University Environmental Rating Scale Assessor, to discuss playground safety.

Fall Surfacing compressedWe are all on the same page when it comes to playground safety.  We want children to have fun, take appropriate risks so they can develop new skills, and gain confidence in themselves.  At the same time, we do not want them to get hurt while doing so.

As an Environment Rating Scale Assessor, I often find that playgrounds do not have enough cushioning to help prevent injuries in the event of a fall.  In fact, the Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that 70 percent of the injuries that occur on playgrounds involve falls and the majority of those falls are on improper surfacing.  They recommend protective surfacing under and around any piece of equipment over 18 inches in height.

There are two types of surfacing recommended in The Consumer Product and Safety Commission’s Playground for Safety Handbook:

  1. Loose-fill surfacing includes organic materials such as wood chips, wood mulch, and engineered wood fibers, shredded, recycled rubber; or, inorganic materials such as sand and pea gravel.
  2. Unitary surfacing materials such as rubber tiles or mats or poured in place surfaces.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  Factors such as the cost, maintenance, age of the children and climate should be considered if you are in the process of selecting materials.  For example, pea gravel would not be a good choice for a playground with children under the age of three because it can be a choking hazard.  Likewise, sand and pea gravel have limited fall height protection and would not be a good choice if your equipment is more than 4-5 feet tall.  Whatever protective surface you choose or is chosen for you, the most important factor is to make sure you have enough surfacing to protect children in the event of a fall. You can find a chart outlining the depth requirements for loose-fill surface and the fall height protection it provides in the Playground for Safety Handbook.

Here’s a quick way to check the depth of your surfacing:

You just need a hand shovel and ruler. Dig down as far as you can with the hand shovel until you either hit hard-packed dirt or get to an appropriate depth.  Measure the surfacing material with a ruler.  If the depth is not correct, here are some options:

  • If the surfacing is insufficient only under certain equipment, it can be raked to fill in the gaps.
  • If the material is down in several areas, the site needs to buy more surfacing material to ensure the correct depth.

The depth of loose-fill material be it sand, pea gravel, or wood chips must be a minimum of 9 inches. Rubber mats, tiles, or poured in place surfaces should have documentation of the critical height rating of the surface provided by American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM).


For more information:

Hudson, S., Thompson, D., & Olsen, H. (2007) S.A.F.E. Play Areas – Creation, Maintenance, and Renovation, Cedar Falls, IA: National Program for Playground Safety

Playground Information to Use with the Environment Rating Scales (revised 10-3-13)


Environment, Health & Safety

Let’s Talk… Happy Earth Day

April 22nd, 2015

Earth DayOne of the favorite elements of my current role in family life is getting to work with a wide range of partners across the life span who focus on many different disciplines. This morning I had the pleasure of visiting on the phone with a naturalist I am collaborating with for a two-day workshop later in June, and as our call came to an end she cheerfully add, “Happy Earth Day!” I have to admit, I was not expecting that and it made me smile. It also reminded me that while there are many important things about childhood on our radars, we might not place as high a priority on some as we should.  I have outdoor education on my radar, but never would have thought to wish someone a Happy Earth Day.

Research has long supported the idea of the importance of children experiencing nature, and only through this experience can children learn to respect and honor our earth.  Research also supports the critical role that adults play in helping model and foster positive attitudes about the earth and nature in children.

Earth Day is officially celebrated April 22, but each and every day we can help build a love of our planet in children.  For some ideas check out the Outdoor Explorations for Early Learners blog… or share your ideas with us at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/happy-earth-day/.

So in honor of all my naturalist and outdoor education friends and the valuable work they do, as well as the important work YOU do to provide outdoor experiences for children, let me wish each and every one of you a very HAPPY EARTH DAY!!


Environment, Social Emotional

Let’s Talk… S.A.F.E.

April 16th, 2015

This week we again welcome guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Iowa State University Environmental Rating Scale Assessor

FriendonPlaygroundPlaygrounds evoke good and bad memories for many of us.  For me, it was testing my limits as I pumped to make the swing go higher and higher or the time my play partner decided to leave the teeter totter and left me in mid-air only to come crashing down landing on a hard surface.  Playgrounds and playground equipment can provide fresh air, fun and great exercise; but, they must be safe.

The statistics are staggering.  Each year over 200,000 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries sustained on playgrounds.  In 1995, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) gave the University of Northern Iowa a grant to raise awareness about playground safety.  The National Program for Playground Safety was created.  They researched all the factors that contribute to a safe playground and developed the acronym S.A.F.E. which has become a widely used model for playground safety.

S = Supervision  Effective supervision is an important part of keeping children safe.

A=Age-appropriate design  The equipment should be appropriately challenging and the right size for the ages and abilities of the children.

F=Fall surfacing  The surface under and around any equipment over 18 inches in height should be cushioned with appropriate materials.

E=Equipment maintenance  Routine maintenance is essential in keeping children safe from hazards that can exist.

All four of these elements work hand-in-hand to create a safe playground.  If you are interested in this important topic, you can register for one of several courses offered by the National Program for Playground Safety at http://www.uni.edu/playground

To view short video clips presented by Heather Olsen on each of the S.A.F.E. elements, please go to www.monkeysee.com/playground

How do you incorporate the elements of S.A.F.E into your playground environment? Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/s-a-f-e/.


For more information:

Hudson, S., Thompson, D., & Olsen, H. (2007) S.A.F.E. Play Areas – Creation, Maintenance, and Renovation, Cedar Falls, IA: National Program for Playground Safety

Hudson, S., Thompson, D., & Olsen, H. (3rd edition, 2013) Early Childhood Assessment Manual for Outdoor Play Environments, Cedar Falls, IA: National Program for Playground Safety

Consumer Product and Safety Commission (2010, publication #325), Public Playground Safety Handbook www.cpsc.gov/…/Sports-and-Recreation/Playground-Safety/325

National Program for Playground Safety: America’s Playgrounds – Safety Report Card – www.playgroundsafety.org/resources/safety-checklist

National Recreation and Park Association, The Dirty Dozen:  12 Playground Hazards


Health & Safety

Let’s Talk… Problem Solving (Part 2)

April 8th, 2015

Again we welcome guest blogger Lori Schonhorst, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Early Childhood Specialist and I-Consult.

Earlier in the week, we discussed the importance of having a consistent problem-solving approach to address challenging situations in your program. One option for problem solving is called DO IT! and includes the four steps below:

D: Define the Problem
O: Open Your Mind to the Possibilities

I:  Identify a Solution
T: Try It!

Simple enough, right?  But what do these steps look like in action?

Define the problem. This is the most important step.  It seems logical but sometimes what we think may be the problem is not actually the problem at all.  Asking questions helps us identify what the actual problem may be.  Examples of questions include:

  • How does it happen?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where does it occur?

Sometimes we have new insights based on the information we uncovered as we are defining the problem.  Maybe we discover that the behavior we are feeling challenged by happens during transitions, or usually happens during outside play, or maybe it tends to happen more often if another child is close by.

Open your mind to the possibilities.  The next step is considering options for solving the problem.  Collaboration can be especially important during this step.  Sharing what things you have already tried and brainstorming new possibilities takes place during this step. It is important to avoid evaluating the ideas at this point…just get the ideas out there and allow for a free-flow sharing of ideas.

Identify the best solution.  After generating ideas, explore the pros and cons of each idea.  If there is an idea that you like but there is something about it that you consider negative or think won’t work, is there a way to modify the idea?

Try it!  It is easy to get stuck and never move to the point of trying an idea out.  If we get too caught up in the sharing of ideas or evaluating the pros and cons of our ideas, action doesn’t happen.  When moving through this last step, it is important to determine:

  • What steps will be taken?
  • Who will do what?
  • What resources are needed and when?
  • How will we determine if it worked?

Problem-solving is often an ongoing effort and sometimes we may try something and then discover the need to start the problem-solving process over; however, having a consistent approach and being creative when exploring options helps create supportive environments for both children and teachers.

How will you use DO IT! in your early childhood work?  Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/problem-solving-2/.


Resources: The Art of Creative Thinking, by Robert W. Olson

Guidance, Professionalism