Let’s Talk…Severe Weather

July 9th, 2014

New Picture (15)April 23, 2001, is a day I will always remember.   It was a beautiful Monday morning and literally out of what we thought was a clear blue sky a small tornado made its way through the little town where I had my family child care business.  Fortunately no one in my home was injured and there were only a handful of minor injuries sustained by others.  There was some property damage, but nothing significant.  I remember feeling very sad about a little tree about a block from my home that had been lifted up from the ground, roots and all, and tossed in the grass.  The recent severe weather across Iowa has been a keen reminder of why that day stands out so vividly in my mind… I gained a true appreciation for why practicing emergency drills is so important in child care.

For example, the children in my care knew where to go for tornado drills, but getting curious preschoolers to a safe place in the basement with my arms full of small children while a real siren was going off was a major challenge.  I learned that practicing drills is as much for how you, the provider, will manage in an emergency situation as it is for the children. Practice, practice, practice, for your sake as much as for the children’s!

Parents will be frantic!  The minute word got out in my small community that there was damage (remember, it was minor) near my part of town, parents were not only calling but they also arrived at my home to make sure the children and I were ok.  In addition to ensuring you have emergency contact information, have you communicated with your families how you will get word to them in a weather related emergency?  Discuss this often so that parents know and understand what they can expect.

There are lots of check lists and how to manuals for being prepared in an emergency.  One example is from the Administration for Children and Families: Office of Child Care.  It includes lots of links to other resources, including some state specific links.  Also, remember to follow the specific guidelines set in your registration or licensing expectations.

Emotions and adrenaline run high when bad weather strikes… are you ready?  Share your stories about weather related lessons at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/severe-weather/


Health & Safety

Let’s Talk…I Spy Some More

July 1st, 2014

Lab 1 and 2 034Last week we gave thought to display for children. Let’s explore a bit further on the other side of the pendulum – when we potentially overdo our wall space with so many visuals that it is overwhelming for young children. Rethinking the Colorful Kindergarten Classroom shares about a study that concluded when kindergarteners are taught in a highly decorated classroom they are more distracted and their test scores are lower than a room more spartan. This is not to mean that an early childhood classroom should be bare or austere, but that we need to set guidelines in limiting what is displayed as well as be intentional and purposeful in what we do display. For example, we want to recognize and honor children’s individual artwork, but when we display it among all kinds of other visual images then it loses its focus. My favorite suggestion in the article is from a teacher – “Let wall displays grow from children’s experiences.” Yes!!  A fabulous journal article on this subject comes from NAEYC’s Beyond the Journal titled Consider the Walls.

How do you find the balance in your wall displays between scant and too much? Share with us at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/display2/



Let’s Talk…I Spy

June 23rd, 2014

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


I Spy with my Little Eye…

Display is one item assessed in all of the ERS Scales and is an important factor in your child care program.  Displays not only give the children something to look at, but, as they are able, something to talk about.  Careful selection of your display can lead to valuable learning experiences.    Ask yourself some questions about your display to determine if it is having a valuable impact on the children.

What is displayed?

While cartoon-like pictures and posters can be cute to adults and some children, realistic pictures give children accurate representations of people and objects found in their world.

Developmentally appropriate displays provide children items to look at, explore, touch, and discuss.  Posters of the alphabet, shapes, and numbers may be appropriate for preschool-aged children, but are not always for appropriate infants and toddlers.  Remember to keep display relevant to the children who will be experiencing it.

Quality displays should contain pictures and posters depicting a variety of people.  Not only do these displays provide children with stimulating pictures and conversations, they also provide exposure to the different types of people in our world.  The people represented in displays should reflect different races, cultures, ages, abilities, and genders.

Who can see it?

Consider where your display is located and who can see it.  Is it at eye level?  Mobile infants, toddlers, and preschool aged children are generally capable of moving around the classroom and able to view the displays as they choose.  Keep in mind that children can’t fully experience display if it is covered  or partially covered.  Are there some pieces of display that are hidden behind a shelf or partially covered by the easel?

Special care needs to be taken when creating displays for non-mobile infants.  Consider whether or not they are able to see display while they are laying on the floor or during tummy time.  Display should be throughout the room, not just in main play areas.  Placing pictures or posters in the diaper changing area, on cribs, and within view of feeding areas ensures that young infants will have access to display.

How often is it changed?

With so many things to consider and do each day, display can often be forgotten.  Remember to change it frequently so that it will continue to have an impact on children.  Fresh display sparks exploration, new conversations and new ideas.

Are the children included in the display?

When children see their art work displayed, it not only gives them a sense of pride in their work, but also a sense of belonging.  When their art work or pictures of themselves and/or their families are displayed, children understand that they are an accepted and valued part of the classroom community.

To share your thoughts on this post, visit http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/display/

Jamie Smith


Let’s Talk…Retirement

June 14th, 2014

RetirementWhen I was a family child care provider, retirement was the farthest thing from my mind. Runny noses, crayon drawings, diaper changes, meal preparation, and time on the floor playing with the children were where most of my energy was spent. Sure, there are those days in child care where we all joke about retiring to a beach someday, but research shows very few early childhood professionals are taking the steps they need to be able to retire comfortably. An Iowa child care workforce study showed that less than 50% of center teachers or assistant teachers (46% and 33% respectively) have retirement accounts, and only 14% of registered child care providers have retirement accounts! Early childhood professionals spend so much time taking care of others that planning for their own needs is often overlooked.

So where does one begin when thinking about retirement? Ask yourself, “What do you want your later years to look like?” Do you want to travel, volunteer, take up a new hobby or rediscover an old one? Do you want to stay in the community you currently live, or is a warmer climate or maybe a community closer to family calling your name? The answers to these questions can help you begin to pull together a plan for your retirement, including how much you will need to save. The earlier you start, the better, but it is never too late!! There are lots of resources to help you begin, such as a new publication series called Retirement: Secure Your Future. Planning Your Financial Future, an Iowa DHS credit approved class for child care professionals, can also help you begin to see why retirement planning is important and where you can begin. Search for face-to-face and online classes on the DHS Training Registry.

When I retire I hope to garden and travel to see family.  What do you see yourself doing? Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/retirement/.


Personal Finance

Let’s Talk…Summer School-Age

June 3rd, 2014

bookIt is officially summer for most of us in early care and education and that frequently means an influx of school-agers to our program. Because this age group is typically not a focus of our work, we need to make sure we give some special thought and attention to our activities and environment to make sure they meet this age group’s needs.

  • Books – Summer is the perfect time for children to read for enjoyment. Do you have reading material appropriate for school-agers? Check out this list of recommended summer reading for children ages 8-13 put together by Newbery award winning author Kate DiCamillo.
  • Dramatic Play – Have you made materials accessible that are more appealing to elementary students like fantasy toys such as pirates and fashion dolls?
  • Manipulatives – While there are some universal toys that span a large age group like unit blocks, school-agers can spend many hours building with smaller or more complicated building materials. If you have mixed age groups, be sure to have a plan for children safely playing with those materials.
  • Art – What thought have you given to add to your art center that will meet an older children’s needs? Keep in mind that the attention span of school-agers is longer than toddlers and preschoolers. Allow them the opportunity to extend their projects over several days if needed.

Of course, this is just a starting point for thinking about how to keep school-agers engaged and satisfied over the summer. Be sure to make them feel special and give independence where possible so they don’t feel like they have been placed back in preschool.  What are your best tips for integrating school-agers into your full-day program? Join the conversation at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/summer-school-age/


Ages & Stages, Environment

Let’s Talk…5210

May 28th, 2014

5210 imageAs early childhood professionals, you know how difficult it is to keep track of current health and nutrition information. For example, “My Pyramid” is now “My Plate”, and it seems like each year the Child and Adult Care Food Programs changes its requirements just a little to meet the ever changing new health recommendations. Well, my colleagues with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative introduced me to a simple and catchy phrase to keep straight several different health and fitness recommendations for children. The phrase is “5210”. (Anyone remember Beverly Hills 90210? Maybe that’s why I find 5210 so catchy!) Here is what 5210 stands for:

  • 5 or more fruits and vegetables
  • 2 hours or less of recreational screen time
  • 1 hour or more of physical activity
  • 0 sugary drinks (more water and low-fat milk)

The 5210 Let’s Go! website has tool kits designed for various ages and audiences, including child care programs. The 5210 Goes to Child Care tool kit includes posters, resources, and activities around each of the four 5210 categories, as well as information for parents on each topic. Check it out and share what you find with us at  http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/lets-talk-5210-2.


Health & Safety

Let’s Talk…What’s In a Name?

May 21st, 2014

The Huffington Post published an article titled Day Care Disrespect: Why What We Call Child Care Matters.   I am proud of the field I represent and have much respect for those directly caring for and educating young children as well as support and administrative staff.  While most I know agree with the article and find the term “day care” to describe what they do as diminishing (“I don’t care for the day. I care for children.”), on the other side are those that didn’t have the opportunity to name their program or have built a program over many years. Perhaps they have a misspelled word in their name or the name doesn’t conjure up images of quality in early education, but to change the name now would only cause confusion and be expensive.

I remember a point in time when those in the field were trying to get the term “educare” to take off to describe our important work. Sometimes I use the phrase “early care and education program” to make sure I am hitting both the “care” and “educating” in our field. Most frequently I probably use “early childhood program” in order to make sure I am encompassing all options – part-day preschool, full-day center child care, family child care, Head Start and school associated programs. Probably the most difficult decision we made related to this blog was what to call it – wanting to be descriptive and inclusive yet easy to say and memorable.

So, what are your thoughts? Does what we call our field matter? Have you experienced trying to help others (including parents) use a different term to describe your program? And what is your preferred descriptive word for what to call our profession? We hope to hear from you at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/daycare/


Business Management, Professionalism

Let’s Talk…County Naturalists

May 14th, 2014

Spring TreesIn my part of the Iowa, the world has finally turned green.  Just this week, as I look out over the landscape, I can see that all of the trees have the light green tint that indicates winter is a thing of the past.

Getting children outside during each and every season is important.  But this time of year it seems as if the warmer temperatures and newly green spaces pull at us to enjoy nature even more.  Outdoor play spaces and neighborhood parks can provide great exposure to nature, but did you know that most counties in Iowa have great county parks and nature centers waiting to be explored as well?  Many county conservation areas have naturalists and outdoor educators who would be happy to do an educational presentation for your early childhood program at their local nature center.  In some counties these programs are free; in others there is a small fee.  Some county naturalists are even able to come do educational presentations at your program for free!!!  I’ve also heard of back pack’s you can check out from some county nature centers to help you and the children in your care explore and learn more about nature.  To find out what is available in your Iowa county, check out mycountyparks.com.  Not from Iowa?  Use the Nature Find website to discover resources in your community.

How do you use your local county conservation resources to support nature education with the children and families in your care?  Share with us at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/county-naturalists.


Early Learning ,

Let’s Talk…Friendship Kit

May 9th, 2014

imagesJ2X5A0IRLove this Friendship Kit idea from the Head Start Center for Inclusion! What a super way to promote pro-social behavior among children in your group. Find this and more teacher tools & classroom visual supports for building social skills at http://depts.washington.edu/hscenter/teacher-tools#visual  Be sure to check out the visuals that go along with the Friendship Kit!

Creating a classroom Friendship Kit is a great way to promote the idea of children helping each other. The Friendship Kit is an accessible container that holds all of the necessary items for providing support to a sad or lonely classmate. When children notice a classmate is feeling sad, they can be encouraged to go to the Friendship Kit for ideas to comfort their friend. Teachers may demonstrate how to use the kit at a large or small group time and keep the kit in a visible, easy to access location so children are able to comfort a friend at a moment’s notice! Provide specific examples of when children might use the kit (when a child is sad because he didn’t want his mom to leave, when a child scrapes her knee on the playground, when a child doesn’t have anyone to play with, etc.).

Below are some ideas for items to include in your classroom Friendship Kit:

  • A small package of tissues: to give to a friend to wipe away tears
  • A small stuffed animal: to give to a friend to cuddle
  • A box of Band-Aids: to give to a friend with an owie
  • A couple of sheets of stickers: to put on the shirt of a friend who needs some cheer
  • A pair of silly glasses with moustaches, a funny finger puppet, or other funny prop: to give a sad friend a smile
  • A set of sticky notes and a pencil or crayons: to write a friend in need a happy note for her cubby, table place, etc.
  • Blank, cheerful greeting cards: to write and deliver to a friend
    • A visual reminder for the following actions
    • Ask a friend if he wants a hug
    • Ask a friend if he wants a high five
    • Ask a friend if she is OK
    • Ask a friend if he wants me to get a teacher for help
    • Ask a friend if she wants to play with me

What other resources like this one from Head Start Center for Inclusion do you use to promote pro-social behavior among children? Malisa

Early Learning, Environment, Guidance, Inclusion

Let’s Talk…Playground Safety Week

April 21st, 2014

PlaygroundPlaygrounds in early childhood are always a hot topic of conversation.  Whether you are working on a nature friendly environment or trying to meet safety standards with equipment, there are a lot of things to take into consideration.  So MANY considerations, in fact, that often providers feel like a truly safe playground area is unattainable.

This week, April 21-25, is National Playground Safety Week.  It is a time to focus on children’s outdoor play environments and to pledge to use good judgment when playing.  But where does one even begin when thinking about safety?  The National Program for Playground Safety  (NPPS) uses the following  S.A.F.E Factors:

  1. Provide proper supervision of children on playgrounds
  2. Design age-appropriate playgrounds
  3. Provide proper fall surfacing under and around playgrounds
  4. Properly maintain playground equipment.

Whether you have a large play structure, an entirely nature focused play space, or many different outdoor play spaces for children to experience, the S.A.F.E Factors provide a great framework for ensuing all the children in your program can have meaningful and safe experiences.

The National Program for Playground Safety offers training, research, resources and guidance around playgrounds.  Check out their website for ideas on things you can do during this special week and throughout the year to ensure safe outdoor play experiences for children.

NPPS also encourages everyone this week to take time to thank all those who work to maintain playgrounds.  Have you thanked your playground crew lately?!?  Let us know how you incorporate S.A.F.E into you work at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/playground-safety-week/.


Environment, Health & Safety