Let’s Talk…Enrollment Forms

Shannon Wilson, Early Childhood Specialist, concludes our special two week focus on the importance of getting to know families by suggesting a form to include in your enrollment packet.

Nestled among the health record, CACFP forms, and the various other enrollment papers your families fill out, consider adding a Getting to Know You form. Think of the benefits such a form would have for you as you care for this new child. It is especially helpful when caring for non-verbal children or children who do not speak your language.

In an ideal world your new family would complete such a form before starting their child. This would give you time to review this form, allowing you to know how to comfort the child for naptime, what their favorite activities are, and any special names they have for family members. But it’s never too late to make an effort to get to know a family better!

While working in a classroom with children just beginning to explore speech and language, I recall running into a situation where having this type of form would have been very helpful. My newest little one was trying to tell me something. “Baba” he kept saying. “Bottle?” I asked. He shook his head and cried louder “BABA!!!!!” I was at a loss. I started saying any word I could think of that might be “Baba”. He was in tears with his face scrunched up. I held out my arms and he crawled into my lap for a hug. All I could do was rock him and softly say “I don’t know what Baba is, but we’ll ask mama when she comes. I’m sorry.” After a time he settled down and went off to play. At pick up time I asked mom what “Baba” meant. “Baba is his grandpa. He lives with us.” I turned to my newest friend and said “Baba is your grandpa? You must have missed him today. I bet he missed you too.” The day ended on a happy note and I never forgot who “Baba” was.

Think of the stress and confusion he experienced when trying to communicate to me. This could have been easily resolved if I could have grabbed his Getting to Know You form and reviewed it for clues. Of course they are not a crystal ball providing you with all the answers, but the insights into the child are always beneficial.

Not sure where to start in creating such a form? Here is one example, and another. Think of the needs of your children and you. What type of information would be most helpful? You can also ask families for feedback about what information they think would be most useful for you. This leads into another helpful form to include in the enrollment packet; a family survey. You have to be willing and ready to get feedback from families but this is a great way to get to know families and be sure you are making connections with them.

What questions have you found most helpful in getting to know families?

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… Getting to Know Families

Early Childhood Specialist Shannon Wilson continues our special two week focus by sharing some everyday tips on getting to know families.

Every day you see families drop off and pick up the children in your care. Often this is happening when you are occupied; one child in your lap and two more standing next to you trying to get your attention. These little points of time can have a big impact on the relationship you have with families. You don’t have to create in-depth long conversations to lay the groundwork for a relationship. Families want to see you interacting with the children so don’t drop what you are doing every time a parent enters the room, but do pause and look at them. Smile and greet them. It is that simple.

I have been on both sides of this and it has been an eye-opening experience. I went from being a provider in a busy room full of children to being a parent dropping off my child for the day. As a parent it means so much to me when my children’s teachers say “Hi” to my child and me. Not only does it mean they are welcoming us into the room, but I also know they are aware my child is now in their care.

Here are some easy ways to start building relationships with the families you serve:

  • Say “Hi” – As stated before, a greeting is a great way to welcome someone into your space. Sometimes parents/families feel awkward entering a room full of children. They don’t want to get in the way. You need to let them know they are always welcome.
  • Write a Note – Depending on your set-up you can write either an individual note to the families or have a white board. The white board is a great way to put talking points out for the families. Put it outside the room at or at the entrance of your facility where families can check it as they enter. “Today we learned about sink and float. Be sure to ask your child about what happened.” It is a great way to build communication with families and helps parents to be able to ask more than just “what did you do today?”
  • Introduce Yourself – This applies to working with new children and ones you’ve had in your care for a while. If you are really meeting this parent or family member for the first time simply introduce yourself. If the child has been in your care for a while and you are not even sure what the parent’s name is, chances are they don’t know yours either. Simply say “I’m sorry, can you remind me of your name again? I’m __________”. Or just say “I don’t remember if I ever introduced myself, sorry about that, I’m __________.”
  • Learn the Family Members’ Name – A common way to learn the children’s names is to stick it to their back. You see the label running around the room all day and by the time they leave you’ve learned it. As much as you might want to do this with parents you can’t. Do the next best thing. Put their name on the attendance sheet next to their child’s. Then you can greet them by name whenever you see them.
  • Ask for Tips – The family has known this child longer than you. Most likely they have experienced similar behaviors at home that you are seeing. Even if they have not witnessed the behavior at home they can still provide help in coming up with a solution. “I have noticed when it is time to clean up the toys she cries and runs into the bathroom. Has she done anything like this at home?” By asking for input from the family you are showing them you want to be a team to come up with solutions for issues. You are valuing their experiences and opinions.

When you have laid the groundwork with parents through these types of interactions it is a lot easier to talk to them about the more challenging topics. When a child is having behavior issues the family is more likely to listen and discuss it with you if you’ve already established a relationship.

What strategies would YOU add to this list???

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… Welcoming Families

Early Childhood Specialist Shannon Wilson kicks off a two week special focus on getting to know new (and seasoned) families in your program this fall.

A new child has just enrolled in your program. You’ve created a spot for their supplies, added their name to your materials, and given the family enrollment papers. Everything is set, right? Maybe not. Children don’t come to you from a vacuum or a bubble. You are welcoming them into your environment, but need to acknowledge that they are coming from their own unique environment, made up of family and friends who are important to them. In the field of Early Childhood Education our focus is on the children, as it should be, but this can create a narrowed focus. The result? The family gets left out.

I remember working in the two-year-old class comfortably greeting the children as they entered. “Sarah, it’s good to see you today!” “Maliki, look we have your favorite book in the library.” Did I greet the parents and families? No. Secretly they terrified me. I was very comfortable with the children, but unsure about the parents. I was around the children all day. I quickly learned their names. I didn’t know half of the parents’ names.

Thankfully I had a wonderful supervisor who taught me that by doing this I was missing out on a key piece of the child. The parents knew their child; knew their likes and dislikes, what made them happy or sad, how to cheer them up when they got hurt. My supervisor said you can’t truly help the child until you know the parent.

In the next two posts I will be writing about how to get to know the families you serve. It may be easier than you think! Please share your own tips on how to you connect with the families you serve.

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… Telephone Play

Many moons ago I had an opportunity to learn just how important telephone play can be in the life of a little one. No, this isn’t a 911 story… it’s the story of a little girl trying to navigate something important to her – new glasses.

You see, I had been observing the children during dramatic play, and one little preschooler – let’s call her Stacy – spent a large portion of morning talking on one of the several available play phones. Her topic of conversation was her new glasses; when they would arrive, what they might looked like, how they might fit. At pick-up time that afternoon I made a comment to Stacy’s mom about the new glasses. Mom was confused because she hadn’t yet shared with Stacy that she would be getting glasses due to her concern that Stacy might be upset. Humm… not only are children always listening and more intuitive than we often give them credit, but Stacy had found a powerful way to make sense of a situation that was confusing to her.

Quality child care assessments often identify play telephones as an integral part of any dramatic play area for ages as young as toddlers. It’s important to have several play phones available to cut down on toy competition as well as enhancing play. Often we think of telephones as only being important for the housekeeping area, but play phones can work for any dramatic play theme – wood working shop, post office, restaurants, school.

Telephone play enhances multiple areas of development. Just a few examples include:

  • Math concepts (numbers on dials, shapes of buttons)
  • Language acquisition and back and forth communication
  • Fine motor development (pushing the buttons, opening a play flip phone, setting a phone back on it’s play charging cradle)
  • Cooperative play

Here are some more examples of things children learn during dramatic play. My favorite on the list, and the one that reflects my experience with Stacy, is “Children work on confusing, scary, or new life issues.

What opportunities do you give children to explore telephone play? What ways you think technology has changed telephone play over the last few decades?

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… Food for Thought

Guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Early Childhood Specialist and ERS Assessor, invites us to revisit the idea of cooking with children!

As many early childhood educators, I have idea books that I revisit from time to time. Over the weekend, I looked at one called Book Cooks. It has picture recipes that can be used as a follow-up to reading a picture book. This got me thinking about the many cooking activities I did with young children over the years, and how much the children looked forward to cooking with the teacher. Cooking gives children the opportunity to do a “grown-up” activity which gives them great satisfaction and builds confidence.

As an ERS assessor, I see many wonderful teachers who provide children with interesting activity choices, but I very seldom see cooking activities being done with children. In fact, in my three years as an assessor, I have observed a cooking activity only once.

Is safety a concern?

Some teachers may avoid cooking activities because of safety concerns. Teaching safety rules and providing good supervision should certainly be a part of every cooking activity, allowing you to proceed with confidence. There are also many ways children can help without putting them at risk. Even young preschoolers can help you wash fruits and vegetables.

Not enough time?

Time can be a concern for other teachers. But learning time isn’t wasted when doing cooking activities.  Here are just a few skills children learn through cooking activities:

  • Math concepts when they measure different ingredients
  • New vocabulary associated with cooking and unfamiliar foods
  • Literacy and logical thinking skills when following the steps in a picture/word recipe

A great opportunity to teach them about nutrition

Cooking with children gives you the opportunity to talk with them about healthy foods, too. They are more likely to try new, healthy foods that they have had a hand in preparing.

Here are some resources to get you start or reignite your interest:

How do you involved children in the kitchen? What are some of your favorite kid-tested recipes?

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… Sing, Sing a Song

Guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor, shares the importance of singing, regardless of your tune! 

Are you a musical person? Are you comfortable singing? I think many people feel like a rock star when they sing in the shower or in their car.  Ask them to sing in front of others, and they may feel completely different. How do we find our musical comfort zone? We often observe programs that have a variety of music for the children to listen to, musical toys and instruments, but they receive a lower score on quality assessments because the staff do not informally sing or chant (ITERS-R) or initiate a music activity (ECERS-R and FCCERS-R).

First a foremost, music is fun! Music is also a vital part of child development. Singing encourages children to play with sounds, experiment with different rhythms and rhymes, and according to research, may even help create pathways between the cells in the brain. Finding beats and patterns provides early math skills. Dancing and coordinating body movements helps children learn to control their bodies. We know music plays an important role in early childhood programs, but so many of us struggle with singing in front of the children.

Sing out loud!  Think about how you feel when you sing your favorite song or let loose on the dance floor. When you’re belting out your favorite tune on a road trip, you probably get a feeling of release and joy. Children need those experiences, too. They need to feel unrestricted in order to really get in touch with their feelings and creativity.

Be a rock star!  You’re a model for the children in all you do, even singing. If you are shy and embarrassed, or say “I don’t have a good singing voice,” what does that tell the children? You shouldn’t sing if you don’t have a good voice? You should be embarrassed when you sing? We want to foster children’s confidence and creativity and we can do that through encouraging them to sing and dance and not being afraid to do so ourselves.

Let loose and enjoy! No one is watching. It’s hard to get over stage fright, but trust me, no one is secretly recording your rendition of “Wheels on the Bus.”  Your time with the children can inspire them and allow you to feel creative and even silly-we all need that sometimes.

The article Introducing Preschoolers to Music provides some great tips for incorporating music in your daily routine. We know music is important to infants and toddlers, as well, and some of these tips and ideas work for younger children as well.

Music and mood are discussed in this article from healthychildren.org, which is sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

What are your thoughts? Can you easily channel your inner Mary Poppins, or is it hard for you to sing our loud?

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… Babies and Science

Science? What comes to mind? Elaborate equations, glass beakers, Bunsen burners? Or maybe you’ve come to be more open minded about science from an early childhood perspective so think of science as books and posters about nature or animals, magnifying glasses, magnets, collections of objects like shells or pine cones. Even if your notion of science is the latter, it can still be a far cry to connecting these types of objects to the world of infants and toddlers.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines science as “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation”. Let’s think of about that in terms of the world of infants:

  • What happens when a 4 month old is given a rattle? He or she bang it around or mouths it – collecting facts about the sound and texture.
  • If you build a small structure out of blocks for a 7 month old, what will likely happen? The infant will knock it down. Observation of cause and effect!
  • Ever watched an 11 month old with a container of objects… what do they do? Dump it out! Experimentation with sound, weight, (and maybe your reaction, too!)

Infants are, by nature, scientists, collecting facts about the world around them through experiments and observation.

How can you help with infants’ experimentation?

  • Give yourself over to their sense of wonder! Yes, you’ve heard the sound that two blocks clapped together make, but for an infant making this happen for the first time is magical.
  • Ask open ended questions… even of an infant who can’t answer. “What makes the block sound like that?” is great practice for you in asking and the child in hearing language.
  • Follow the child’s lead.. watch their eyes and facial expressions and provide more of what interests them.
  • Slow down… infants are learning to observe, and to be successful often takes lots of repetition, time, and patience, on both their parts and yours.

When I was a family home visitor the number one concern I heard from families was “She’s into EVERYTHING”. My response was always the same – “That is WONDERFUL news! That means she is curious and will be a great learner!” As early childhood professionals what a WONDERFUL opportunity you have to engage and enhance curiosity with your little scientists!

What examples do you have of infants being scientists?

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 . . . Trash

20151002_171332Any time of year is a good time to de-clutter in our homes and work places. In the child care setting, it’s good practice to keep things circulating – like the toys and books that we rotate through our classrooms, it’s important to take a good look at our waste management processes and storage areas regularly.

  • Reduce waste by buying in bulk when you can to avoid packaging waste. Choose recycled content when possible. Choose high quality durable items.
  • Re-use until it needs to be replaced. If it’s still in good condition and you are NOT using it, put it back into circulation by donating or consigning it.
  • Repair items to extend the lifetime of the object.  Keep safety in mind.  Don’t try to repair equipment on the Consumer Product Safety Commission recall list.
  • Re-purpose what you can – paper, fabric, some plastics and cardboard can become good art and building materials.
  • Recycle excess cardboard, paper, most plastics, some glass. Check with your municipality for recycling policies and collection procedures.
  • Recycle fruit and vegetable scraps by composting indoors or outdoors to become fertilizer for your child care vegetable garden! Composting is a valuable activity that helps young children develop observation, math and science skills, language and literacy skills and empathy. By starting an indoor worm bin you have year-round curriculum!
  • Redirect the hazardous stuff – like adhesives or paint, aerosol cans,  leftover cleaning products, dead batteries and more.  In Iowa, you can take these items to your solid waste collection site. At home, you may discover expired or unused over-the-counter medications. Do. NOT. Flush. Take them to your pharmacy to be disposed of properly. Controlled substances like prescription pain medications should be taken to your local law enforcement agency. Some have designated outdoor drop boxes you can drive up to so no need to be there during business hours.

Kristi Cooper, is a Human Sciences specialist who composts her lunch scraps with red wigglers at home and at work 🙂

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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Let’s Talk…Mud Kitchens

20150825_165747June 29 is International Mud Day!!! Studies like the ones featured in The Dirt on Dirt from the National Wildlife Federation or Why Playing in the Mud Is More Than Just Fun have shown that simply having contact with dirt, whether it’s through gardening, digging holes, or making pies out of mud, can significantly improve a child’s mood and reduce their anxiety and stress. But, as early childhood professionals, we didn’t need research to tell us – we already know it! The world-wide celebration on Wednesday will help us spread the word to everyone. 🙂

To get your creative juices flowing, check out this FREE book titled Making a Mud Kitchen. You will love, love, love the beautiful pictures of children creating all kinds of concoctions using the earth and you will be inspired by the ideas shared in it. Want a more temporary space? Check out this resource from Nature Play QLD!

Happy International Mud Day! To share with us how you celebrated or the challenges you face in allowing children to get dirty, go to http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/mud-kitchens/

A special thank you to family child care provider Amanda for sharing with us the photo of her mud kitchen inspired after a Nature Explore workshop!

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 . . .Purposeful Movement

2013-07-20 07.41.57Movement is essential to brain development for young children and child care programs are expected to include gross motor movement daily either outdoors or indoors. We want children to run, jump, skip and dance!

Climbing structures, swings, and wheeled toys are common outdoor options to encourage gross motor play. However the outdoor playground equipment has limited seasonal use – too dangerous to use in the winter due to ice and frozen surfacing and too hot to play on in the summer.

Many programs are removing their climbing structures and swings because of the limited seasonal use and the ongoing cost of maintaining a fall surface. They are designing an outdoor learning space that incorporates purposeful movement so kids can be active year around.

Look at the Certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms and see how purposeful movement is built into the outdoor activity centers. These spaces provide safe, interesting, easily maintained and supervised environments that help children grow in all developmental areas.

An open space with gentle slopes give kids a chance to run, roll or slide in any season. The gentle slopes help children develop core strength, visual spatial skills, and balance.

Full body and core strength activity can be achieved with balance beams, jumping stumps and bulky building materials such as “tree cookies”, stones, and long branches. Children lift, push, pull, carry, and reach with these open ended materials that also stimulate imagination and cooperation.  Large items may take 2 or more children to move from one place to another.

A designated dirt digging area lets children use complex muscle groups without disturbing other active play.  It can become a snow shoveling area in the winter.

An outdoor music and movement area can inspire children to dance, leap, squat, roll and wiggle. This purposeful movement also serves to regulate emotions.

Durable fabric hammocks can provide a safe swinging experience. They also provide an inclusive experience for all children without special equipment.

Pathways through plantings such as native grasses and edible shrubs like hazelnuts or aronia berries can become places for children to stoop, twist, reach, pull, jump and crawl through – purposeful movement by design. Flowering plants attract beneficial insects like butterflies enhancing the children’s science learning. Deep rooted plantings absorb and redirect spring flood water.

One program planted strawberries on the roof of the playhouse where children were inspired to reach and stretch. Children learned nurturing skills by taking care of the plants, developed social skills and gained a sense of mastery by growing their own tasty snacks!

Each of these design elements provide multiple functions and require little maintenance or expense once they are established. Children are experiencing gross motor movement, learning and fun at the same time!

Get training hours at a Nature Explore workshop! Contact your Human Science Specialist to schedule one in your area!

What purposeful movement can you incorporate into your outdoor play space?

Kristi Cooper, Certified Nature Explore Educator and Design consultant, and Human Science Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

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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