Let’s Talk… Phonological Awareness

May 26th, 2015

IT’S SUMMER!!  (Or, depending where you’re at and how you define “summer”, it will be soon.)  That means a break from learning for all the children in your care for a few months, right?  Of course, not!!  Children are learning all the time. Here, guest blogger Kris Corrigan shares some ideas for including phonological awareness throughout your day.

Letters compressedIn a preschool class I recently visited, the group music time turned into laughter and giggles as their teacher substituted the name of each body part in the familiar “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” with a different beginning sound /b/.  “Bed, Boulders, Bees, and Boes” was a hit and requested again and again.  Through repeated exposure to fun, no pressure language play activities like the mentioned above, their teacher is helping them develop phonological awareness.

Phonological awareness, or the awareness of individual sounds or groups of sounds within words, starts in preschool with activities that help children become aware of syllables in words, recognize words that rhyme, or through alliteration activities (repeating the same beginning sound) as the teacher did by substituting the beginning sound for the letter /b/ in the song. Research shows that phonological awareness is a key predictor of later success in reading and spelling.

The good news is this is not just one more thing you need to squeeze into your already busy day. In fact, many of these activities require no additional preparation and can be done in as little as five to ten minutes while children transition from one activity to another.  Here is one that can be used when children are waiting in line to wash hands:

  • Bippity Bobbity Bumble Bee
    The teacher begins the chant and walks to a child in line:
    Bippity Boppity Bumble Bee
    Won’t you same your name for me?
    Child says her name.
    The class and teacher say her name while clapping once for each syllable in the child’s name.
    Bibbity Boppity Bumble Bee, thank you for saying your name for me.
    Continue the chant by repeating with another student and his or her name.

Here are a few resources if you would like more information about phonological awareness and fun activities you can do with your children:

Yopp, Hallie K. & Yopp, Ruth E., (2009) Phonological Awareness is Child’s Play! Beyond the Journal Young Children on the Web, NAEYC.

Bennett-Armistead, V. Susan, Duke, Nell K. & Moses, Annie M.  (2005) Literacy and the Youngest Learner, New York:  Scholastic

Yopp, Halie K. & Yopp, Ruth E. (2011) Purposeful Play for Early Childhood Phonological Awareness, Huntington Beach, CA:  Shell Education

If you already are incorporating these activities into your daily activities and routines through games literature and songs, we would like to hear your ideas at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/phonological-awareness/.


Early Learning

Let’s Talk… Fall Surfacing

May 5th, 2015

This week we again welcome guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Iowa State University Environmental Rating Scale Assessor, to discuss playground safety.

Fall Surfacing compressedWe are all on the same page when it comes to playground safety.  We want children to have fun, take appropriate risks so they can develop new skills, and gain confidence in themselves.  At the same time, we do not want them to get hurt while doing so.

As an Environment Rating Scale Assessor, I often find that playgrounds do not have enough cushioning to help prevent injuries in the event of a fall.  In fact, the Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that 70 percent of the injuries that occur on playgrounds involve falls and the majority of those falls are on improper surfacing.  They recommend protective surfacing under and around any piece of equipment over 18 inches in height.

There are two types of surfacing recommended in The Consumer Product and Safety Commission’s Playground for Safety Handbook:

  1. Loose-fill surfacing includes organic materials such as wood chips, wood mulch, and engineered wood fibers, shredded, recycled rubber; or, inorganic materials such as sand and pea gravel.
  2. Unitary surfacing materials such as rubber tiles or mats or poured in place surfaces.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  Factors such as the cost, maintenance, age of the children and climate should be considered if you are in the process of selecting materials.  For example, pea gravel would not be a good choice for a playground with children under the age of three because it can be a choking hazard.  Likewise, sand and pea gravel have limited fall height protection and would not be a good choice if your equipment is more than 4-5 feet tall.  Whatever protective surface you choose or is chosen for you, the most important factor is to make sure you have enough surfacing to protect children in the event of a fall. You can find a chart outlining the depth requirements for loose-fill surface and the fall height protection it provides in the Playground for Safety Handbook.

Here’s a quick way to check the depth of your surfacing:

You just need a hand shovel and ruler. Dig down as far as you can with the hand shovel until you either hit hard-packed dirt or get to an appropriate depth.  Measure the surfacing material with a ruler.  If the depth is not correct, here are some options:

  • If the surfacing is insufficient only under certain equipment, it can be raked to fill in the gaps.
  • If the material is down in several areas, the site needs to buy more surfacing material to ensure the correct depth.

The depth of loose-fill material be it sand, pea gravel, or wood chips must be a minimum of 9 inches. Rubber mats, tiles, or poured in place surfaces should have documentation of the critical height rating of the surface provided by American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM).


For more information:

Hudson, S., Thompson, D., & Olsen, H. (2007) S.A.F.E. Play Areas – Creation, Maintenance, and Renovation, Cedar Falls, IA: National Program for Playground Safety

Playground Information to Use with the Environment Rating Scales (revised 10-3-13)


Environment, Health & Safety

Let’s Talk… Happy Earth Day

April 22nd, 2015

Earth DayOne of the favorite elements of my current role in family life is getting to work with a wide range of partners across the life span who focus on many different disciplines. This morning I had the pleasure of visiting on the phone with a naturalist I am collaborating with for a two-day workshop later in June, and as our call came to an end she cheerfully add, “Happy Earth Day!” I have to admit, I was not expecting that and it made me smile. It also reminded me that while there are many important things about childhood on our radars, we might not place as high a priority on some as we should.  I have outdoor education on my radar, but never would have thought to wish someone a Happy Earth Day.

Research has long supported the idea of the importance of children experiencing nature, and only through this experience can children learn to respect and honor our earth.  Research also supports the critical role that adults play in helping model and foster positive attitudes about the earth and nature in children.

Earth Day is officially celebrated April 22, but each and every day we can help build a love of our planet in children.  For some ideas check out the Outdoor Explorations for Early Learners blog… or share your ideas with us at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/happy-earth-day/.

So in honor of all my naturalist and outdoor education friends and the valuable work they do, as well as the important work YOU do to provide outdoor experiences for children, let me wish each and every one of you a very HAPPY EARTH DAY!!


Environment, Social Emotional

Let’s Talk… S.A.F.E.

April 16th, 2015

This week we again welcome guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Iowa State University Environmental Rating Scale Assessor

FriendonPlaygroundPlaygrounds evoke good and bad memories for many of us.  For me, it was testing my limits as I pumped to make the swing go higher and higher or the time my play partner decided to leave the teeter totter and left me in mid-air only to come crashing down landing on a hard surface.  Playgrounds and playground equipment can provide fresh air, fun and great exercise; but, they must be safe.

The statistics are staggering.  Each year over 200,000 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries sustained on playgrounds.  In 1995, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) gave the University of Northern Iowa a grant to raise awareness about playground safety.  The National Program for Playground Safety was created.  They researched all the factors that contribute to a safe playground and developed the acronym S.A.F.E. which has become a widely used model for playground safety.

S = Supervision  Effective supervision is an important part of keeping children safe.

A=Age-appropriate design  The equipment should be appropriately challenging and the right size for the ages and abilities of the children.

F=Fall surfacing  The surface under and around any equipment over 18 inches in height should be cushioned with appropriate materials.

E=Equipment maintenance  Routine maintenance is essential in keeping children safe from hazards that can exist.

All four of these elements work hand-in-hand to create a safe playground.  If you are interested in this important topic, you can register for one of several courses offered by the National Program for Playground Safety at http://www.uni.edu/playground

To view short video clips presented by Heather Olsen on each of the S.A.F.E. elements, please go to www.monkeysee.com/playground

How do you incorporate the elements of S.A.F.E into your playground environment? Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/s-a-f-e/.


For more information:

Hudson, S., Thompson, D., & Olsen, H. (2007) S.A.F.E. Play Areas – Creation, Maintenance, and Renovation, Cedar Falls, IA: National Program for Playground Safety

Hudson, S., Thompson, D., & Olsen, H. (3rd edition, 2013) Early Childhood Assessment Manual for Outdoor Play Environments, Cedar Falls, IA: National Program for Playground Safety

Consumer Product and Safety Commission (2010, publication #325), Public Playground Safety Handbook www.cpsc.gov/…/Sports-and-Recreation/Playground-Safety/325

National Program for Playground Safety: America’s Playgrounds – Safety Report Card – www.playgroundsafety.org/resources/safety-checklist

National Recreation and Park Association, The Dirty Dozen:  12 Playground Hazards


Health & Safety

Let’s Talk… Problem Solving (Part 2)

April 8th, 2015

Again we welcome guest blogger Lori Schonhorst, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Early Childhood Specialist and I-Consult.

Earlier in the week, we discussed the importance of having a consistent problem-solving approach to address challenging situations in your program. One option for problem solving is called DO IT! and includes the four steps below:

D: Define the Problem
O: Open Your Mind to the Possibilities

I:  Identify a Solution
T: Try It!

Simple enough, right?  But what do these steps look like in action?

Define the problem. This is the most important step.  It seems logical but sometimes what we think may be the problem is not actually the problem at all.  Asking questions helps us identify what the actual problem may be.  Examples of questions include:

  • How does it happen?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where does it occur?

Sometimes we have new insights based on the information we uncovered as we are defining the problem.  Maybe we discover that the behavior we are feeling challenged by happens during transitions, or usually happens during outside play, or maybe it tends to happen more often if another child is close by.

Open your mind to the possibilities.  The next step is considering options for solving the problem.  Collaboration can be especially important during this step.  Sharing what things you have already tried and brainstorming new possibilities takes place during this step. It is important to avoid evaluating the ideas at this point…just get the ideas out there and allow for a free-flow sharing of ideas.

Identify the best solution.  After generating ideas, explore the pros and cons of each idea.  If there is an idea that you like but there is something about it that you consider negative or think won’t work, is there a way to modify the idea?

Try it!  It is easy to get stuck and never move to the point of trying an idea out.  If we get too caught up in the sharing of ideas or evaluating the pros and cons of our ideas, action doesn’t happen.  When moving through this last step, it is important to determine:

  • What steps will be taken?
  • Who will do what?
  • What resources are needed and when?
  • How will we determine if it worked?

Problem-solving is often an ongoing effort and sometimes we may try something and then discover the need to start the problem-solving process over; however, having a consistent approach and being creative when exploring options helps create supportive environments for both children and teachers.

How will you use DO IT! in your early childhood work?  Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/problem-solving-2/.


Resources: The Art of Creative Thinking, by Robert W. Olson

Guidance, Professionalism

Let’s Talk… Problem Solving (Part 1)

April 6th, 2015

This week we welcome guest blogger Lori Schonhorst, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Early Childhood Specialist and I-Consult.

Problems!  The word itself conjures up images of something to avoid.  But how can a problem be a good thing?  Problems create opportunities….opportunities for collaboration, change and growth…. opportunities to build on the important work you are already doing to support the growth and development of the children in your care.  The challenge can be in how to approach the problem in a way that facilitates positive change.

Partnering with a colleague or seeking support from an outside resource, such as a Child Care Resource & Referral consultant, are helpful strategies for supporting your problem solving efforts. CCR&R Child Care Consultants can provide individualized support to help you with challenges you may be facing in your program.  It is not uncommon to feel the need to problem solve when we are feeling challenged by the behavior of a child….biting, aggressive behavior, or refusal to transition from one activity to another are a few that quickly come to mind. To find out more about consultation services in Iowa, go to http://iowaccrr.org/providers/home_consultant_services/.  For the national network of Resource and Referral agencies go to Child Care Aware.

Having a consistent approach to problem-solving that is easy to remember can also be a supportive strategy for approaching problem-solving.  One such approach is called DO IT!  Stay tuned for more information on this creative approach to problem solving on Wednesday.

What are your go-to resources for help in solving problems?  Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/problem-solving-1/


Guidance, Professionalism

Let’s Talk… Spring

April 2nd, 2015

springI’m not sure about the weather where you are, but here in northeast Iowa we are enjoying the first really nice spring weather of the season.  So far this week I’ve spent most of my time in the car or in meetings.  Today, however, I’m getting caught up on emails and other responsibilities and enjoying the work near an open window. The snow is all melted, birds are chirping, the breeze is gently blowing and my thoughts keep lazily drifting to this time of year when I did family child care and the different activities the kids and I enjoyed on these first nice days:

– Sitting on concrete areas coloring with chalk
– Collecting lots of sticks that the winter winds had broken off trees
– Playing eye-spy for new plants peaking out of the ground to see if winter really was over
– Jumping, running, and tumbling without being inhibited by snow or bulky winter wear

My memories of this time with children are joyous and fun-filled, and the parents loved how well the children slept after some good doses of fresh air.  While it’s important to get kids outside regardless of the season, there is something magical about spring that seems to mirror the magic and wonder of childhood.

What are your favorite things about experiencing spring with young children?  I welcome your thoughts at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/spring/.



Early Learning, Environment, Social Emotional

Let’s Talk… Email

March 25th, 2015

Welcome guest blogger Shannon Wilson, Iowa State University Early Childhood Specialist.

InboxI personally have shied away from email with the belief that face-to-face interactions are best. After reading through the book Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years published by Routledge and NAEYC I changed my mind. There are times when email can be beneficial in building relationships: those between the teacher and parent as well as the child and parent.

Here’s an example. A child has a rough morning at drop-off. A way to ease their transition into the room can be through email. They can dictate an email for the teacher to write their parent. The child will feel more connected to their parent through this process. This goes both ways, a parent’s worry over that morning’s drop-off may disappear after receiving an emailed picture of their child happily playing with toys.

When using technology versus face-to-face communication it is helpful to have clear boundaries.  Here are some tips from the book:

  • Start on a positive note, no one wants to read a message that is all negative.
  • Add something to the email that builds on the topic covered in the classroom so they can apply it at home.
  • Keep up your communication throughout the year so there are no surprises.
  • Not all parents use email, so survey parents to find out the best methods of communication.
  • Set up boundaries and have it written so families have a copy.
  • Always have an away message stating when you are not available, and how long it takes you to respond to messages.
  • Not everyone is comfortable with technology, so some training might be needed.
  • Model appropriate use of technology for parents and children by staying professional in your communication.

To learn more about communicating with families through technology a helpful article in the book is the “Strengthening the Home-School Connection” by contributing author Tamara Kaldor.

Do you connect with families via email?  If so, tell us how at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/email/.


Family Relationships, technology ,

Let’s Talk…Photo Contest!!

March 11th, 2015

camera 2Do you wish you could see how other early childhood professionals arranged their environments to meet high quality care standards in family child care?  Are there elements of YOUR family child care 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 April 10 photos are being accepted that reflect best practices on the Family Child Care Environmental Rating Scale Revised.  Judging will take place the week of April 13 and then 5 lucky winners will receive prizes!

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!



Let’s Talk…Sensory Needs

February 26th, 2015

Hand on treeThis month we welcome guest blogger Lori Schonhorst, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Early Childhood Specialist.

Do you have a child in your program who seems to always be on the go?  Perhaps a child who is very tactile and has a difficult time keeping his hands to himself or seems to struggle recognizing personal boundaries.  What is often seen as a lack of social skills can actually be an unmet sensory need.  These children often seek out sensory experiences such as touching, stroking, hand shaking, tapping, skipping or drumming as an attempt to meet those special sensory needs.

For the child who has a high need for sensory input, it is important to reflect on your environment and consider how those sensory needs are being met.  Children who demonstrate sensory seeking behavior may benefit from some of the following types of experiences and support:

  • Opportunities to MOVE! All children need frequent opportunities to move their bodies in different ways throughout the day; however, it is especially critical for the child with high sensory needs to have these opportunities. Their bodies crave movement.
  • Many HANDS-ON activities. The child with sensory-seeking behavior may have a more difficult time with learning experiences that allow for less movement. Large group experiences need to be limited for all children but especially children with high sensory needs. Hands-on learning is critical for the child with high sensory needs. In situations that are less hands-on, providing a small object or material to manipulate, may help a child who has high sensory needs focus.
  • Help the child better understand PERSONAL SPACE. For a child with sensory seeking behaviors, being in close proximity to another child often invites touch. Consider visual cues, such as a carpet square during group time, to help the child better understand personal space.

Teachers and family members who find creative ways to meet a child’s needs for sensory input show children that they are respected and valued.  And children learn how to use the same strategies to be more successful as they grow and learn.

NAEYC’s publication Young Children has an article with more information on meeting the sensory needs of young children.

As a former teacher, I also found the following books by Carol Kranowitz helpful:

The Out-of Sync Child:  Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder
The Out-of Sync Child Has Fun, Revised Edition:  Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder

How do you incorporate these strategies (and others) in your program?  Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/sensoryneeds/.


Early Learning, Environment, Social Emotional