Last September we shared information about the Affordable Care Act and what it means for children, families and early childhood programs. Now, over five months later, the clock is ticking for when individuals can open enroll in a health insurance plan. The annual open enrollment period ends on March 31, and most people will be unable to purchase individual health coverage from any source until the next open enrollment period, set to begin Nov. 15, 2014. It has been widely publicized that the open enrollment period for the new Health Insurance Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov ends on March 31, but most people are unaware that the term open enrollment period applies not only to the official Health Insurance Marketplace, but also to all individual health insurance policies. That means that outside of the designated open enrollment period, most people who want to purchase health insurance on the individual market will be unable to purchase health insurance anywhere.
People who experience major life events, including events that cause them to lose their health insurance, will be eligible for a “special enrollment period,” which lasts 30-60 days. Examples of eligible life events include loss of insurance due to job loss or divorce, marriage, and birth or adoption of a child. As a result, people who have access to group insurance have no need to fear being left without options if they unexpectedly lose their group coverage. To learn more, go to www.healthcare.gov and search “special enrollment period.”
Group plans will continue to be open to new group members; for example, newly-hired employees will be able to enroll in the employer’s health insurance plan regardless of what time of the year they are hired or during their employer’s annual open enrollment. But those who purchase insurance in the individual market must do so this month or be prepared to wait until the fall 2014 open enrollment period for 2015.
Anyone who is currently without health insurance is urged to take action this month to enroll. Many consumers who are concerned about cost may be eligible for financial assistance in paying their premiums, or even possibly free health insurance, that they might not know they qualify for. You can get more information about health insurance coverage and how it impacts you as a child care provider in Iowa by visiting http://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/content/health-insurance-resources or general information about the Affordable Care Act and early childhood at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ecd/the-affordable-care-act-what-it-means-for-children-families-and-ece.
Free assistance with health insurance enrollment is available. Find help at https://localhelp.healthcare.gov or at www.getcoveredamerica.org.
This blog post was supported by a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The contents are solely the responsibility of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Department. US DHHS
Business Management, Personal Finance
We hear over and over the importance of reading and math in early childhood education. Today I had the pleasure of someone reminding me about the importance of writing. It was once believed that children learn to talk, then read, and then write. What we now know is that all of these are more intertwined with each other than what we once believed and children do not all follow the same steps. As early educators, we need to be providing literacy-rich environments – thinking beyond just books but including expansive language, listening and writing into our programs.
Perhaps you have a writing center set up in your space that includes tools like pencils, paper, stencils, notepads, envelopes, markers and chalkboards with chalk. Give thought to what you are doing to draw children to that area and how you are supporting children’s writing skills that might not choose that area during a self-selection time. Here are some ideas to get you started -
- Model the function of print – “Let’s make a list of things we want to do today.”
- Write dictation on children’s artwork and read it back to them
- Encourage a child to write in a journal (even if it is emerging writing) about an enjoyable experience
- Point out letters naturally found in the environment to build print awareness
- Promote invented spelling rather than actually spelling words for children
- Help children see themselves as authors and illustrators of their own stories
- Add clipboards, paper and pencils to other indoor and outdoor areas for children and adults to document
Keep in mind that it is the INFORMAL experiences that are the most valuable and applicable to children’s learning. This would include seeing their own name in print, reading books they helped write or are included in, reading labels of their favorite foods, and pretending to read and write during dramatic play. This is where rich learning with depth happens rather than the drill experiences of ABC flashcards we may have once thought of as “how teachers teach.”
How do you change up or supplement your writing center to keep it fresh for children? How do you add to the environment to support each child’s growth in writing abilities? Share with us at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/writing/
Early Learning, Environment
Starting in January, all across our country, many states enter legislative session and begin the process of introducing, reviewing, adopting and rejecting new laws and policies that impact citizens in their respective states. This year, Iowa is looking at several bills that could impact the early care and education community, including things like work and school hours required for child care assistance eligibility, expansion of voluntary preschool, and family child care registration requirements. Every Child Counts is the Child and Family Policy Center’s advocacy initiative in Iowa. ECC aims to make Iowa children a priority for policy action by providing advocacy tools on important child policy issues, including regular legislative updates, policy statements and training. Each year they identify Policy Priorities that guide their work at the state capital. You can stay informed on what’s happening by following them on social media or signing up for their e-newsletters.
Does your state have an advocacy organization for young children? What policy priorities is your state focusing on this year related to early care and education? We’d love to hear!! Share your thoughts at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/every-child-counts.
I am excited to introduce a guest blogger this week – Kris Corrigan, ISU Extension & Outreach Environment Rating Scale Assessor. Malisa
The time we spend transitioning children between daily routines can be a very busy time for us, but, too often, it is just “unnecessary” wait time for the children in our care. As an Environment Rating Scale Assessor, I often see these wait times occur when children have to wait in line to go outside, wash hands, or sit idly at a table as they wait for others to sit down for meals. Since young children have not developed the self-control to be able to stand or still for long periods, they will often fidget and “invent” their own activity. Sometimes this is activity that can lead to behavior problems that require intervention from already busy teachers. For these reasons, the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales require that there is no long waiting period between transitions during daily routines. They define a long waiting period as more than three minutes. There are many strategies that teachers can implement to avoid “unnecessary” wait time, and these require no additional preparation for teachers. Consider giving children something to do so that transition times can be productive time for them too.
Reducing children’s “wait” time can reduce behavior problems in your program. Check out these resources for transition activity ideas -
What are your favorite transition activities? Share with us at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/transition/
Turning the calendar to February means Groundhogs Day, valentines, and, for most of us, tax season. Are you getting the most out of tax season? And I don’t mean all the deductions you can make if you own a child care business. I mean things like the Earned Income Tax Credit, or using a VITA site or Free File.
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a tax credit to help you keep more of what you earned. It is a refundable federal income tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and families. In Iowa (and possibly other states), the EITC went up this year, leaving you with a potentially bigger refund. There are also tax credits for children under 17 (different than the dependent claim), and credits for furthering our education. The trick, though, is to be sure you file a claim. That’s where VITA and Free File might help!!
VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) programs offer free tax help to people who make $52,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in local communities. VITA sites are not able to do tax returns for businesses, so if you operate a child care business you’ll want someone with small business experience, especially around child care. However, if you work in a child care program this might be a great option for you.
Another option for saving on tax preparation is through Free File. With this program taxpayers do their own tax returns online, using software made available free by commercial vendors through the IRS.
Working families with moderate or low incomes qualify for important tax credits that frequently result in substantial tax refunds. Be sure you get the most out of tax season by exploring filing options, asking about credits, and making sure our return is submitted on time!! What helps you during tax season? Share your ideas at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/tax-time/.
Mother Nature has been hitting the entire country with her arctic blasts lately. What is a child care provider to do with a program or classroom full of young children cooped up indoors? One of the best things you can do is shake things up a bit and build an indoor tent! Working as a team to create your fort builds child development in all areas – physical, intellectual, language and social. Children will take pride in their accomplishment and enjoy crawling into their tent. Reading books, coloring and board games take on a whole new meaning of fun inside of a tent! Keeping a side open for easy viewing and providing them with activity ideas will help keep problems to a minimum.
So, bring on the blankets and pillows, we’ve got a fort to build! You can find other cold weather inside activities on Child Care Resource & Referral of Southeast Iowa’s Pinterest board. I love the potato head pieces in a tub of snow idea! What are some of your favorite indoor cold weather activities? Share with us at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/indoortent/
Early Learning, Environment
“Time to wake up, sweetheart.”
“Ugh… my stomach hurts, Mom… ugh…”
“Do you feel like you might get sick?”
Of course, this is one of many working parents’ ever-present fears… waking up to an ill child. This was the scenario at my house a few weeks ago, and the start of three days of bad stomach pains for my son. During day two he started to complain of dizziness, so on day three I took him to our family doctor. My son never had “official” stomach flu symptons (if you know what I mean), just pain, so my fears turned to appendicitis and other ill begotten stomach issues. Our family doctor said my son probably did have a little touch of some sort of stomach bug, but his biggest issue was that he needed to drink more water. What?!?!? After three days at home it hadn’t even occurred to me that might be the issue. We’ve all probably heard about the importance of water during the warm summer months, during periods of increased activity, and when we aren’t feeling well, but we can forget how important water is for overall good health, even during the winter months.
Water is a very important element to children’s health, helping with digestion support, constipation prevention, and proper blood circulation. There is no specific recommended amount for children, but it should be offered throughout the day. Offering water to children throughout the day is even a criterion on some tools that measure quality in early care and education environments.
For more information about water in our diets, check out this handout from the ChooseMyPlate.gov. How have you helped children in your care develop a habit for drinking water? Share your ideas at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/water-water-everywhere/
Health & Safety
I am excited to introduce a guest blogger this week – Jamie Smith, ISU Extension & Outreach Environmental Rating Scale Assessor. Malisa
Pretty much everyone involved in child care knows about fall zones, but do you know about the “Scoop Zone”?
Snow and ice are a part of life here in Iowa and watching children’s faces light up when those first flakes fall is one of the joys of caring for children. Children love heading out into the white wonderland to play. Snow itself, despite the headaches it can give adults, provides children with great excitement. It also leads the way for many science and sensory opportunities and discussions. Snow can also pose safety risks on the playground. Playground safety is a big issue any time of year, but you need to take extra precautions in winter and not just because of the temperature and wind chill.
Fall zone surfacing, whether it is poured in place or loose-fill, cannot protect children if it is covered in snow or ice. We all know how solid packed snow and ice can be — most of us have had a winter weather trip or fall at one time or another. Imagine falling on to hard, packed snow from a height of 4-5 feet — OUCH! The “Scoop Zone” is the area under slides and other equipment that needs to be scooped in order to provide safe playgrounds for children. No one wants to do more scooping or spreading of ice melt, but it is vital to children’s safety. In order for fall zone cushioning to protect children, it has to be exposed. Children can help with the process — many children love to help scoop snow with child-sized shovels and they can always find ways to be creative with the snow that has been removed from the fall zone-snowmen, snow forts, etc.
For more information on safe playgrounds, visit the Public Playground Safety Handbook at www.cpsc.gov
For some really “cool” sensory ideas, search “snow sensory” on www.pinterest.com
Environment, Health & Safety
Burrr!!! It sure has been cold over most of the country this past week. Are you looking for a way to warm up without turning to the thermostat? January just so happens to be National Soup Month!! Chicken noodle, Italian meatball, vegetable barley, even Stone Soup… the possibilities are endless, not just for the kitchen but also for the dramatic play area as well as the math, science, and literacy areas. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Explore recipes and have children select one (or more) that they would like to try, either in the kitchen or play space – or BOTH!! Sites such as Eat Smart Spend Smart or Seriously Soupy are great places to start.
- Add large pots, ladles, serving bowls and spoons to the dramatic play area. Encourage children to create their own imaginary concoctions.
- Create recipe cards and put the cards in the math area with a variety of measuring cups and spoons. Have children find the measuring cups they need for each recipe.
- Read books about soup, such as classics like Stone Soup by Ann McGovern, Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert, and my all-time favorite book growing up – Mouse Soup by Arnold Lobel!! Seriously Soupy has a list children’s soup books, and don’t forget to visit with your local librarians for their ideas, too.
We would love to hear your ideas for warming up with soup this month. What are your children’s favorite soups? How have you incorporated soup into the children’s learning experiences? Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/nationalsoupmonth/.
Did you know that pound-per-pound children drink more, eat more, breathe more and absorb more through their skin than adults? This means that what may have little effect on us as adults might put children’s health at risk. Emerging science is telling us a great deal about the links between environmental exposures and children’s health as well as ability to learn. Where do kids spend a significant portion of their day? In YOUR environment! That is why it is so important that early childhood professionals become aware of possible toxins in child care environments and consider steps to reducing those — even small steps can make a big difference!
In January, ISU Extension & Outreach will be offering an online series for early childhood professionals titled Eco-Healthy Child Care®.
- Jan. 14 Indoor environment
- Jan. 21 Outdoor environment
- Jan. 28 Materials
Each online class in the series is from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. CST. Consider joining us to learn about making your environment healthier for children (and yourself!) as well as how to become an endorsed Eco-Healthy Child Care®. If you live in Iowa, register for the Eco-Healthy Child Care® online series on the DHS Training Registry. If you live outside of Iowa but are interested in participating in this online series, contact me at email@example.com.
You can find a listing of all of ISU Extension & Outreach’s online classes for early childhood professionals at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/el-online
We look forward to sharing and learning with you!
Health & Safety