Let’s Talk… Safe Sleep

November 19th, 2015

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.

  • AAlonethe infant should be alone in the crib with no blankets, pillows, animals or loose bedding
  • BBackthe infant should be place on his or her back
  • CCriba 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.

Environment, Family Relationships, Health & Safety

Let’s Talk… Making Friends with Math

November 4th, 2015

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.

Early Learning, Professionalism

Let’s Talk… The Gift of Autumn

October 15th, 2015

Fall leavesOur 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/.

Early Learning, Environment ,

Let’s Talk… Winter Weather Ahead

October 7th, 2015


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

As much as we hate to admit it, winter is approaching. We know weather can change in a matter of minutes, and it’s important to be prepared. So, while you’re enjoying football games, the leaves changing color, and a visit to the pumpkin patch, remember to set time aside to make your program’s building ready for whatever Mother Nature has in store.

Your home and/or center needs to be “winterized,” just like your car or lawn mower. Before it gets cold enough to use the furnace, have it checked by professionals. A service tech can ensure that your furnace is not only working properly and efficiently, but also not emitting any dangerous fumes like carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a dangerous, odorless, colorless gas that is responsible for the deaths of approximately 170 people in the U.S. each year (Consumer Product Safety Commission). Carbon monoxide detectors are vital to safety. Just as we check smoke alarms to ensure that they’re working properly and have fresh batteries, we must do the same with carbon monoxide detectors. I have heard people say to check batteries to smoke alarms each year over Memorial Day and Labor Day. I think this is a good practice that ensures they are checked at least twice a year, and you can do the same with your carbon monoxide detector.

Weather stripping or plastic window coverings can keep your building warmer, but safety is an important consideration as well. Plastic window insulation needs to be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions and be taut. Loose plastic can be a hazard around young children, similar to a plastic shopping bag. If a particular window is used for emergency exits, such as an egress window, it may be best to not use any plastic insulation.

Keeping doors closed or adding weather stripping can also help keep your building comfortable. Just make sure that the doors will function properly in case of emergency.

If you do child care in your home, before you enjoy a nice cozy night in front of the fire place remember to have your yearly chimney or flue inspection by a professionals. A fire place or any other area that emits heat should not be used when children can get close to or touch them. Space heaters can also be fire hazards or emit fumes. If you’re using a space heater, make sure it’s been checked by a professional and meets all guidelines of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The Center for Disease Control has a great article and poster on preparing your building for winter.

Winterizing your program in fall will allow you to be safe, secure, and warm in the winter.

What other ways do you prepare for winter weather? Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/winter-weather-ahead/.




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