Let’s Talk…Homelessness & Young Children

Welcome guest blogger, Jenna Pattee, human sciences intern at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

ThinkstockPhotos-496025848girl-at-windowAs difficult as it is to think about young homeless children, this is an important problem in our country and in Iowa that needs to be addressed. Administration for Children and Families informs us that more than 7,000 Iowa children under age 6 are experiencing homelessness. This is a large concern because there are many negative consequences associated with children who are experiencing homelessness such as developmental delays, health problems and various other challenges, says the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

If a family in your child care program is dealing with homelessness, there are multiple resources to help in this time of need. The Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness notes that more than 900,000 families and 1.5 million children receive childcare assistance each month through the Child Care Development Fund. Assistance with childcare can help parents attend job interviews, trainings, and other employment opportunities. This is a small step in combating the issue of youth homelessness.

In Iowa, Youth and Shelter Services provides homeless young children and their mothers support and assistance in the following areas: education, employment, safe housing, life skills, and positive community engagement.   For general information, please call 515- 233- 3141. If you are in an emergency and need immediate help contact Youth and Shelter Services at 515-233-2330 or 800-600-2330.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach also has some excellent resources to support parents of young children. The Iowa Concern Hotline, 1-800-447-1985, is answered 24-hours a day and can be a source of information for families dealing with legal, finance, and crisis issues. For other home and family questions, call AnswerLine at 1-800-262-3804. Parents can register for Just in Time Parenting, a FREE monthly e-newsletter for parents in the first five years. Use the coupon code IA10JITP. The Science of Parenting blog is also an excellent resource sharing research-based information for families. Contact your local human sciences specialist to obtain promotional materials for any of these programs to share with families.

Malisa Rader

Malisa Rader

Malisa Rader is a human sciences specialist that misses the daily hugs and high-fives from little people.

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Let’s Talk… Gidgets and Gazmos

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

I worked in a center-based program for many years, beginning in college. For many of those years I was a closer-the person in charge of closing up the building for the night.  On more than one occasion, walking through an empty, semi-dark building, I would hear a short song, or a mechanized voice say “The cow goes Moo!,” and would nearly faint from shock and fear.  A lot of us have been there.  A random battery-powered toy goes off for no reason and scares the daylights out of us.  I remember wanting to find the offending toy and smash it to bits, or at least remove the batteries.  OK, I’ll admit it.  There was one particular musical toy that scared me on the wrong night, and quickly took residence in the dumpster.

I recently came across an article on NPR entitled “The Trouble with Talking Toys.” No, the authors were not raving about random, scary noises in the dark.  They were relating the results of a study on talking toys.  The information is not overly academic and statistical, making for an easy read, and provides some food for thought.

More and more toys are claiming to be educational. Marketing teams are really skilled at honing in on those words that get most parents attention- “school readiness,” “cognitive development,” or “motor control.”  Despite the hype, are tech-type toys really teaching children? It’s important to take a close look at the toys we’re providing children.  I compare it to reading food labels. The box might say “Low-Fat” or “Healthy,” but the details on calories and fat content may tell a different story. Read the fine print on toys.  The large letters on the front of the box may say “educational,” but is it really? What are the toys really giving children? Are they simply a mechanical voice spouting out colors and shapes, or do they provide real learning opportunities?

I think we can all agree that there is no substitute for parent and provider interaction. Back and forth conversation, including “baby talk,” is so valuable to children’s development.  It simply cannot be replaced by a computer or machine. This is not to say that all talking toys are bad-they’re not.  We just need to be careful how they are being used.  If a talking cash register is the only voice a child hears in a one hour period, they’re probably missing out on some valuable interaction time. If the talking cash register aids in a child and providers play while they run a pretend grocery store, the toy may enhance the child’s play and learning.

So, what do you think? Everything in moderation, including tech or noise/talking toys? Or, do you only allow a few batteries-required toys?  Do you think tech-type toys, like baby laptops or self-reading books are valuable?

Cindy Thompson

Cindy Thompson

Cindy is a human sciences specialist in family life with many years of experience in early childhood, both in family child care and parent support. Her experience combined with her psychology background fuels her ongoing passion for supporting the child care community!

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Let’s Talk… Pack-n-Plays and Play Yards for Nap

Welcome guest blogger, Melissa Wagner, Early Childhood Coordinator for Environmental Rating Scales at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Recently we’ve had questions about the use of pack-n-plays and play yards for napping. Melissa provides this important clarification. You might be surprised with what you learn… we were!

We often hear about all the standards involving on crib safety, but what if you use a pack-n-play or play yard for infant naps? Are there safety requirements to consider?

Child Development Home providers see several benefits to using pack-n-plays for naps. They are light, smaller than a regular size crib, they fold up and you can tuck them away.

Caring For Our Children states all cribs should meet American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards. For non-full size cribs/play yards this standard is F406-10b. In 2013, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) ruled for more strict and thorough testing of play yards. Play yards made after February 28, 2013 are held to a much stronger standard. A safety approved crib/ play yard is one that has been certified by ASTM, CPSC, and/or Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association (JPMA). If looking for a crib, JPMA is a common certification you will see. JPMA is based on ASTM standards but also includes federal and state requirements as well as requirements from retailers; thus adhering to the highest level of product testing. It is important for providers to keep the manufacturers information (make, model, and certifications) for each crib in their early childhood program.

Also remember, even if the product meets ASTM guidelines, collapsible cribs or pack-n-plays are a safety hazard if the sides no long lock securely, if the model does not meet ASTM standards, or if the crib is no longer in good condition (holes in the mesh sides, missing parts, etc.). It is also important to note, these cribs/ play yards should only be used for their intended purpose and with the original fitted mattress.

Check out these great one page CPSC handouts describing the updated requirements of play yards and crib safety as well as Safe Sleep for Babies.

 

Cindy Thompson

Cindy Thompson

Cindy is a human sciences specialist in family life with many years of experience in early childhood, both in family child care and parent support. Her experience combined with her psychology background fuels her ongoing passion for supporting the child care community!

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Let’s Talk… Infant/Toddler Environments Photo Contest

Do you wish you could see how other early childhood professionals arranged their environments to meet high quality care standards in infant/toddler classrooms? Are there elements of in your program you would enjoy sharing with others?  Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Human Sciences is hosting a photo contest with you in mind!!  Between now and March 30 photos are being accepted that reflect best practices on the Infant/ Toddler Environment Rating Scale- Revised.  Judging will take place the week of April 11th and winners will be notified by April 30th!

For more details, check out the Photo Contest Flier!

Good luck, and we look forward to seeing all of the unique ways you create high quality care environments!

 

Cindy Thompson

Cindy Thompson

Cindy is a human sciences specialist in family life with many years of experience in early childhood, both in family child care and parent support. Her experience combined with her psychology background fuels her ongoing passion for supporting the child care community!

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Let’s Talk… ACEs and Resilience

Adverse Childhood Experiences… have you been hearing about these? If not, put the topic on your “need to know” radar. Adverse Childhood Experiences – or ACEs – are categories of childhood experiences that produce toxic levels of stress for children. Physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse, a parent or caregiver with substance abuse, and neglect are some examples of the ACEs. The explosion of brain research over the last few decades, coupled with research by Dr. Robert Anda and Dr. Vincent Felitti on ACEs, now provides convincing evidence that what happens to us as children is stored not just in our memory, but also in our biological make-up, and this has long term implications for our health and wellbeing as adults.

You might be thinking, “Ok, that makes sense. In early childhood we know how important the early years are for providing a solid and strong foundation. Why should I pay so much attention to this new perspective?”

Here’s why!!!

  1. It’s not new – the research started in 1991 with results so powerful that the Center for Disease Control took notice and started funding ongoing research. Many states now track ACEs and have ongoing outreach and education on the subject.
  2. It’s not just an early childhood issue – linking adverse experiences in childhood to long term health concerns like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even life satisfaction and productivity has implications for everyone.

YOU have a powerful opportunity to impact the children AND families you serve!

What do we know about individuals who have thrived despite experiencing early and toxic stress? They had caring and competent individuals in their lives and strong, supportive communities!!

Want to learn more? We’d love to have you join us in exploring ACE research and resilience – the ability to bounce back!! Workshops in Iowa are being offered across the state through Child Care Resource and Referral, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and other partners. Register on Iowa’s DHS Training Registry [search title An Introduction to ACE Research and Resilience (ACE Interface Foundation)]. Not from Iowa? Talk to your colleagues and explore what is happening in your state and how you can be involved!

Cindy Thompson

Cindy Thompson

Cindy is a human sciences specialist in family life with many years of experience in early childhood, both in family child care and parent support. Her experience combined with her psychology background fuels her ongoing passion for supporting the child care community!

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Let’s Talk…Group Time

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

Group times can be great. When appropriate, they can foster a sense of community, enhance children’s patience and attention span, and offer a provider the opportunity to communicate with everyone at one time. When large group times aren’t appropriate, they can be a negative experience for all involved. Unfortunately, we sometimes find that providers spend more time saying things like “sit down,” “crisscross applesauce,” and “listening ears,” than they spend conveying information or interacting in a positive way with the children during large group times.  Ask yourself the following questions about your large group times.

What am I trying to accomplish? Most of us remember school as a time when the teacher stood in front of the class and gave the students information or knowledge.  We know that young children don’t learn this way.  Instead of imparting wisdom to them, we help them learn through play and experiences.  We ask questions, foster curiosity, and encourage exploration.  What are you trying to accomplish with large group-would it be more effective through a small group, individually, or through a play experience?  For example, I’ve seen providers who still conduct a calendar/weather time each day with children, but it is a voluntary time- only those children interested participate.

Is group time necessary? None of the ERS scales require large group time.  Large group times are assessed and scored only if they are conducted.  Your program, school district, or personal philosophy may require large groups, and that’s just fine.  Large groups can be very beneficial, we just have to remember to adjust them to meet the needs of the children.

What are children gaining from group time? We know that children learn best through play and interaction.  When they are required to sit for long periods of time, participating in an activity that they are not interested in, they may be losing out on valuable time they could be learning in a meaningful way.  This is not to say that we should immediately “give in” and allow children to always do what they want, but we do need to work to make group times feasible and appropriate.

Are children capable of learning in a group time?  Consider each child’s ability to participate in group.  We know that young children need to be active and are often impulsive.  Are they physically capable of sitting in group, or is their body telling them they need to move?  Instead of reprimanding them for doing what their body is telling them, (“sit still”) would it be better to allow them to join in another activity?  Is there another way that they can gain the same information that is more appropriate for them?

What’s the right group size? Consider the ages and stages of the children. The pressures and distractions of a large group can bother some children. Keeping group size small, especially for younger children, helps children focus and enjoy participation. The ITERS-R states that group sizes should range from 2-3 infants, 2-5 toddlers, and 4-6 two year olds.  ECERS-R recommends group sizes of 3-5 children for 2-3 yr. olds and groups of 5-8 children for 4-5 yr. olds.

Do I feel good about group time? If group time is a daily struggle, it’s as hard on you as it is the children. When you’re constantly reminding children to sit down, listen, stop talking, etc., it’s hard to feel successful.  It may be time to re-evaluate.  What are some ways you can determine if group times are helpful to the children?  Are there any tips or techniques you feel work well when it comes to group time?

What are your experiences with group time??

Cindy Thompson

Cindy Thompson

Cindy is a human sciences specialist in family life with many years of experience in early childhood, both in family child care and parent support. Her experience combined with her psychology background fuels her ongoing passion for supporting the child care community!

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Let’s Talk…Valuable Real Estate

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!!

Cindy Thompson

Cindy Thompson

Cindy is a human sciences specialist in family life with many years of experience in early childhood, both in family child care and parent support. Her experience combined with her psychology background fuels her ongoing passion for supporting the child care community!

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Let’s Talk…Sea of Toys

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.

Cindy Thompson

Cindy Thompson

Cindy is a human sciences specialist in family life with many years of experience in early childhood, both in family child care and parent support. Her experience combined with her psychology background fuels her ongoing passion for supporting the child care community!

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Let’s Talk… Winter Reminders

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

Resources:

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

Cindy Thompson

Cindy Thompson

Cindy is a human sciences specialist in family life with many years of experience in early childhood, both in family child care and parent support. Her experience combined with her psychology background fuels her ongoing passion for supporting the child care community!

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Let’s Talk . . . Essential Oils

Passion Flower EssenceHURRY… 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.

 

Kristi Cooper

Kristi Cooper

Kristi’s expertise in caregiving, mind body skills and nature education inspires her messages about healthy people and environments with parents, professionals, and community leaders.

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