Let’s Talk…Let Them Play

April 17th, 2014

Another blog post from Kris Corrigan, ISU Extension & Outreach Environment Rating Scale Assessor. Malisa

after-childblocksI have been a preschool teacher off and on since the 1970s.  When I first started teaching, I spent hours making games and planning activities for my small and large groups because I wanted to make sure my students would leave preschool “prepared” for kindergarten. My students would sit patiently as we played the numerous cute matching letter and number games I made.  When I announced it was time for “free choice,” my students would bolt like lighting to their favorite “free choice activity.”  I assumed the role of observer and facilitator during this time, but wondered how much I was really helping them learn through play. 

One day as I was making my sweep around the room, I saw Cody making a letter T with blocks.  He looked at me and said “T, Trent” (naming a child in the class).  I asked him if he could make another letter out of blocks.  He took a long block and a curved block and made a letter P.  He announced “P, pumpkin.”  Other children saw what he was doing and came over to join in.  Before I knew it, the entire room was covered with letter blocks.  The children were thinking at a much higher cognitive level by representing what they had learned than by playing my cute matching game.  It paled by comparison.

This brings me to the subject of my blog today.  As a new ERS Assessor, “substantial portion of the day” (SPD) is a term I frequently use in my reports to programs. The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale requires that 1/3 of the program day be allotted for self-selected activities or “free choice” while the Family Child Care Environmental Rating Scale and Infant Toddler Environmental Rating Scale talks about “much of the day.”Having sufficient time for play  in early childhood programs is important because it gives children the time they need to engage socially with others, problem solve, make choices, develop their imaginations; and, as in the case of Cody, work on skills they need to develop. 

I have been doing assessments since September and about half the programs I have observed have lost points because they do not meet “substantial portion of the day” or “much of the day.” It directly impacts the scores in 11 items and limits the scores to no higher than a level 4 on those items.  If you are thinking about an Environment Rating Scale visit for your program, think about ways that you can meet your learning objectives during free choice time.  It really can be done if you let them play!

Share with us at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/letthemplay/


Early Learning, Environment , ,

Let’s Talk… Children & Stress

April 7th, 2014

Stress PreschoolerStress in childhood?!?!?  What do children have to be stressed about?  No bills, no job, no toilets to clean or diapers to change… how can children be stressed?  Childhood can actually be a very stressful time, especially for young children trying to make sense of what can often be a very confusing world.  Children’s emotional and thinking skills are still developing, so changes in their environment or routine can sometimes be overwhelming.  Expectations that don’t match the child’s abilities or respects their interests can also be stressful for a child.  Early care and education environments provide a perfect backdrop for helping all children experience less stress as they play and learn.  Here are just a few suggestions to help reduce stress for the children in your care:

  • Accept messiness. As children learn to use silverware or experiment with art supplies, there are bound to be spills and accidents.   Taking messes in stride will help build confidence in the children.
  • Teach children that mistakes are ok.  Knowing that mistakes are ok helps children be more open to new experiences.
  • Create a cozy area.  The lights, sounds, smells and textures in an early childhood environment can be overwhelming, but a soft quiet place that children can access most of the day can provide a needed break from all the stimulation.
  • Provide one on one time.  Be sure that each child in your care gets some undivided attention throughout the day.  This can be during routines such as diapering and feeding, or during play, like when a child requests a favorite story.  Even a little one on one time can go a long way in making children feel special.
  • Get children outside.  More and more research is supporting the positive benefits of children getting daily exposure to nature.

What ways have you found helpful in reducing stress for the children in your care?  Share your ideas at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/children-stress/.


Early Learning, Environment, Health & Safety

Let’s Talk…Autism Awareness

April 2nd, 2014

imagesApril is Autism Awareness month. On March 27, 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the newest autism prevalence statistics.  For children born in 2002, the prevalence of autism was 1 in 68 (1 in 42 for boys). With those kind of statistics, it is likely you have had a child in your care that falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. As early childhood professionals, we play an important role in observing and noting atypical child development, communicating that information with families and then helping connect them with resources when needed. We are not diagnosticians and most of us are not special education experts, but this does not make our role any less important. The Center for Disease Control understands the importance of the child care professional in recognizing signs of atypical child development and has a campaign specifically to support you – Learn the Signs, Act Early. There you will find milestone charts, information on valid & reliable screenings, and FREE materials/resources translated into many languages. Be sure to take a peek at the Go Out and Play! Kit.

Are you monitoring and documenting child development milestones? Are you screening children on a regular basis using a valid & reliable tool? Are you having those sometimes difficult conversations with parents based upon what you are observing? Research shows that early intervention treatment services can greatly improve a child’s development. You are an important link to helping parents make those connections!

If you are a center director in Iowa, we will be offering an online class titled Early Signs of Autism: What Directors Need to Know on April 9. To see all of Iowa State University Extension & Outreach’s online classes, bookmark the site – http://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/el-online


P.S. To share your experiences related to red flags of atypical child development and referring families to available resources, please visit http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/autism/

Ages & Stages, Inclusion

Let’s Talk… Week of the Young Child™

March 26th, 2014

Week of the Young Child Logo“The Early Years are the Learning Years!! As early care and education professionals this is our motto, our mantra, our cheer!!  It is also the catch phrase associated with Week of the Young Child™ - a week-long celebration of everything early childhood… especially YOU!!

The yearly event is sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). It was first held in 1971 and is a time to plan how we – as citizens of a community, a state, and a nation – will better meet the needs of all young children and their families.  This year, Week of the Young Child™ is scheduled for April 6-12, and there is still time to be a part of the festivities.  Here are a few ideas to get your started:

  • Host an open house at your program and invite community members.
  • Recognize people in your community that support young children with a thank you note decorated by the children in your care.
  • Invite families to a kick-off breakfast, story time, or other family activity to draw attention to the special week.
  • Go on a field trip or spend time learning about those in the community who help keep children healthy and strong:  dentist, doctor, hospital, grocery store, farmers market.

For all things Week of the Young Child™, including tips and tools for planning an event, resources to use during the week, and even find or post events on NAEYC’s interactive map, go to http://www.naeyc.org/woyc.

How do you plan to celebrate Week of the Young Child™?  Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/week-of-the-young-child/.

Happy Celebrating!!

Family Relationships, Public Policy

Let’s Talk…. Health Insurance Open Enrollment Period Ending

March 4th, 2014

ClockLast 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 ,

Let’s Talk…Early Writing

February 26th, 2014

_20140226_153645We 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 ,

Let’s Talk… Every Child Counts

February 21st, 2014

Contemplative toddlerStarting 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.


Public Policy

Let’s Talk…I’m Waiting

February 14th, 2014

I am excited to introduce a guest blogger this week – Kris Corrigan, ISU Extension & Outreach Environment Rating Scale Assessor. Malisa

WaitingThe 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/


Environment, Guidance

Let’s Talk…Tax Time

February 6th, 2014

New Picture (5)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/.



Personal Finance

Let’s Talk…Fort City

January 27th, 2014

75060_10201363575310991_1128314119_nMother 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