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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Let’s Talk… The BUZZ about Bug Spray

Guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor, continues to help us prepare for summer with the second of two timely posts this week!

We’re getting close!  Those sunny summer days are just around the corner!  With more outside time, it’s important to take a moment to review the use of insect repellent and ways to decrease mosquito presence in your play areas.

Prevent Mosquito Bites

The DARE Method for using insect repellent spray

  • DEET: concentration should not exceed 30% when being used with children. 
  • Avoid: products that are both sun screen and bug repellent.  The insect repellent can decrease the effectiveness of the sunscreen. 
  • Range of Age: all repellent must be approved for use in the child’s age range.  If a parent provides an insect repellent for their two year old that is labeled for use with children 3 yrs. and older, request a physician’s permission prior to use.
  • Essential oils: be sure to get information on how to correctly apply, how often to apply, and look for any side effects.  Citrus oils can increase sun sensitivity. 

Also, wear light-weight long sleeved shirts and long pants to help prevent mosquito bites.  The less skin that is exposed, the lower the chances of mosquito bites.

Avoid attracting mosquitoes

  • Mow the yard and clear brush and leaves frequently. 
  • Check the sand toys (buckets, shovels), slide exits, low-lying areas of the yard, flower pots, garden, driveway, etc. to ensure that no standing water is present.  

Treat Bug Spray as a Medication

  • Obtain written parent (but not physician) consent for each child
  • Keep all insect repellents out of the reach of children
  • Document each time repellent is used

Kara Wall, Community Health Nurse with Visiting Nurse Services, recommends  Caring for Our Children for information on insect repellent as well as dealing with ticks.

Valuable insect repellent information can be found in Healthy Children, sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Do you have tried-and-true method for applying insect repellent?  If you live in a heavily-wooded area, what do you do to prevent ticks and bug bites?

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… The BUZZ about Zika

Guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor, helps us prepare for summer with the first of two timely posts this week!

By now, almost everyone has heard of the Zika virus.  The pictures and news stories can be frightening, and our hearts go out to all those effected by the virus.   As with any outbreak or health scare, the most important thing is to remain calm and not panic.  While there is not a need to panic, there is a need to be aware of the virus, and how to prevent mosquito bites, especially those that may cause illness.

Stay informed!

Zika is not a new disease-the first case was documented in 1947.  More and more information and research is available, so be sure to stay updated on the latest information. Both the Iowa Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control have valuable Zika-related information on their websites

Keep In Mind

  • Zika virus is only spread by one specific type of mosquito
  • Roughly 20% of people infected will become ill, meaning not everyone who is infected will become sick or display symptoms
  • Only the Aedes species of mosquito spreads the virus, and typically lays eggs around standing water
  • As of May 13, only 5 Iowans have been infected with the Zika virus
  • Illness usually does not lead to a hospital stay, and very rarely leads to death

Be aware of symptoms

  • Fever, rash, joint paint, conjunctivitis (red eyes)

Inform Parents

Policies and Procedures

  • Remind parents about your policies and procedures regarding insect repellent.
  • Let parents know what types of environments their children will be using for outdoor play-heavily wooded, suburban with few trees and shrubs, etc.
  • If a child is bit while in your care, be sure to inform parents.

Stay tuned!  The “buzz” on bug spray is our next blog article, and will provide reminders on the correct use of bug repellents in your program.

What concerns do you or the families you serve have regarding Zika?

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… Wordless Books

Ok, I’ll be honest. When I was a family child care professional I didn’t have a clue what to do with wordless children’s books. You know, those early literacy books often full of amazing photos or engaging illustrations but with no words to guide a word dependent adult. I had a handful in the library of books the children accessed throughout the day, but I can’t remember the titles… that is how infrequently I pulled them off the shelf.

This was more than 20 years ago, and to my credit what I remember knowing about early literacy was to read, read, and read some more to children. And I did LOTS of that… both formally before rest time and as children took interest in books throughout the day. But I just didn’t know what to do with those books that didn’t give me guidance with words. Today I believe we have a much better understanding – or at least maybe the early childhood world is talking more openly about – all the various ways we can build early literacy skills with children through open-ended conversations and exploration of ideas.

Recently I was reminded of my blunders with wordless books while reading an article in NAEYC’s Teaching Young Children. I found myself wishing I had an opportunity to engage a group of young children in some strategies I’ve learned over the years about using wordless books, but in lieu of any little ones in my world I’ll share these wordless book conversation starters with you!

Questions you might ask children when using wordless books:

  • What do you think this story is about?
  • What is happening in this picture?
  • What might we find on the next page?

In short… take the children’s lead!! Being open to their ideas can yield exciting possibilities!

Here are some wordless book titles to get you started!

What are your experiences with wordless children books? Share your “stories” with us!

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… Creating Relaxing Days

 May can be a crazy time of year… are the children in your care feeling the stress? Here, guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Early Childhood Specialist and ERS Assessor, shares some ideas for helping children have relaxing days.

We all love being around preschoolers because they smile, laugh and know how to have fun.  Things that we find commonplace are fascinating new discoveries for them, and as we deal with the stresses in our everyday lives; we find joy in their seemingly carefree life.  With those images in mind, we don’t often associate stress with preschool children.  But it is very real for some children.  Just being in a group care setting can cause stress for some children.  The activity and noise can be overwhelming, some may not have the social skills needed to share and take turns, and routines can be confusing causing long periods of waiting without anything to do.  Some may have a hard time transitioning from home to school.  As early childhood professionals, we have the responsibility to create environments that allows children to have a relaxed, comfortable and interesting day.  Here are a few strategies:

  • Set up activities in the classroom where one or two children can play. A table with two chairs and puzzles or crayons and paper.
  • Limit the time children have to wait during routines. Sing songs, do finger plays or play games.
  • Create small cozy places in the classroom away from noisy activities. A wading pool filled with pillows where one or two children can look at books or relax.
  • Reduce noise by arranging the classroom so noisy activities are concentrated in one area of the room and separated from quiet activities.
  • Encourage families to visit frequently – eat lunch or read books to children, for example.
  • Spend one-to-one time with each child. Give them your undivided attention even if for just a brief time.

What are some strategies you use in your program to create a relaxed, stress-free day for children?

Resources:

Harm, T., Cryer, D., & Clifford, R. (2005) Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (Revised), New York:  Teacher’s College Press.

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…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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