Let’s Talk… Puzzles

January 27th, 2015

BoywPuzzlepiecesPuzzles!!!  I love them!  They are probably one of my favorite past-times, so imagine my delight when I learned that this Thursday, January 29, is International Puzzle Day!  The benefits of puzzles range from improved hand-eye coordination and fine motor development to problem solving and improved memory.  But what if puzzles aren’t your thing?  How do you help children engage in this great life-long activity without breaking down and just telling a 3 year old where a particular piece goes in the puzzle they are so intently assembling.  Here are some helpful tips:

  • Keep puzzles organized. Make sure pieces to a particular puzzle are together in the same bag or box and that all pieces are included. To avoid having to assemble puzzles to sort pieces that have become mixed mark the back of new puzzles with a unique symbol (i.e. orange star, purple circle).
  • Replace worn puzzles whose pieces no long fit together or are missing with new puzzles, and rotate regularly to maintain interest.
  • Have a variety available for different interests and skill levels. Consider different types such as puzzles with little knobs, large knobs, wooden, cardboard, floor, table or different images like familiar items, food groups, letters, numbers, people, places, nature, illustrated puzzles and photographs.
  • Ask children open ended questions about the puzzles they are working to assemble. For example, if a child appears to be struggling, ask, “What would happen if…” and then add comments like “…turned the piece a different direction?” or “…tried the piece in a different spot?”
  • Point out concepts to children about puzzles. Consider math concepts like “I see that the giraffe on this piece is bigger than the giraffe on this piece. Which hippo piece is bigger?” Puzzles also provide great opportunities to talk about colors, shapes, numbers, order as well as many other conversation starters.
  • Create opportunities for two or three children to work together by setting a favorite puzzle at a table with only 2-3 chairs.

It can be difficult to keep track of puzzle pieces or to watch children appear to struggle with an activity that may require persistence they haven’t yet developed.  But by providing a variety of puzzles for all skill levels and interests and supporting children’s play, puzzles can provide children with problem solving experiences that have benefits beyond which piece goes where.

Are you planning any activities for International Puzzle Day?  How do you support puzzle play in your early learning environment?  Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/puzzles/.


Early Learning

Let’s Talk… Beating the Winter Blues

January 23rd, 2015

DepressedWoman1Welcome again guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor.

No Sunshine? No Problem!

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, January is sometimes met with relief.  No more presents to buy and wrap, no more holiday parties to plan, clean, and cook for.  January can also bring a sense of let-down, or blues.  As early childhood caregivers, we choose to work with children daily because their smiles, laughter, and accomplishments bring us great joy.  While it may be easy to “put on a happy face” for the children in your care, it is important to remember to take good care of yourself during these long winter months.

It’s very easy to get bogged down with the cold weather and loss of sunshine during winter.  The holidays give us something to look forward to.  After they’re over, it’s important to find something that motivates us.  Set small goals and reward yourself when you’ve achieved them.  Scooped the elderly neighbor’s driveway for them? Treat yourself to a special dessert and your favorite movie.  Exercise three times a week all month? Get a manicure with your best friend.

Prevention Magazine’s article “How to Prevent Winter Blues” provides some great tips for adults.  You may spend many days cooped up inside.  While it may come as second nature to you to create activities and experiences for the children to avoid cabin fever, it is important to do the same for yourself.


While it may not be possible to follow every tip on the list, you can certainly pick 2-3 to focus on.  As someone who is often intimidated about trying different exercise routines, I really related to the tip “Lend a Helping Hand.”  What tips do you want to try?  Do they work?  Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/winter-blues/.

Health & Safety, Professionalism ,

Let’s Talk… Smart Choice: Health Insurance

January 13th, 2015

Smart Choice LogoWhen I was operating my family child care business, the start of the new year brought with it the excitement of using a new Redleaf Calendar Keeper (one that was clean and crisp with no bent pages – this was before any electronic record-keeping options existed) while I assembled my tax information from the previous year and renewed my commitment to keeping my finances in order in the year to come.  It also meant reviewing medical expenses, deductibles, and making a plan for meeting my family’s medical needs in the new year.  Whether you are in a family or center based care environment, is meeting medical needs on your radar for 2015??  Early childhood professionals don’t make a lot of money – so it’s extra important to make smart choices with what you do have!

The Affordable Care Act has brought with it many questions for consumer.  One very positive result of this important legislation has come a renewed focus on helping consumers understand what health care is, what their options are, and how to select a plan that is designed to meet their family’s needs. This would seem simple enough, but when you factor in family size, current health considerations, and available financial resources (often not much when working in early childhood) it can be a daunting task!  The time is drawing near when open enrollment for 2015 health insurance coverage will end, so now is a critical time to be discussing the topic.  The Affordable Care Act:  What it Means for Children, Families, and Early Childhood Programs, is a great overview of why this topic is so important to early childhood and provides some great additional links.  Healthcare.gov is the “go-to” website for getting answers to all sorts of health insurance coverage questions for both individuals and small businesses like many early childhood programs.

Looking for more help understanding health insurance coverage?  Next week there will be a FREE online workshop for all consumers, but the extra bonus for early childhood professionals is that the workshop has been approved for professional development credit through Iowa DHS.  Smart Choice: Health Insurance is a non-biased, educational focused workshop and will be held Monday, January 19 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m..  Check out this registration flier for more details, or go to the Iowa DHS Training Registry.

Staying healthy is critical for our ability to stay calm and focused when working with children and families, and children can’t thrive without a healthy foundation.  How are you meeting your family’s medical needs and supporting the medical needs of the families you serve?


Business Management, Health & Safety, Personal Finance ,

Let’s Talk… Integrating Culture in the New Year

January 6th, 2015

baby new yearWelcome again guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor.

You can find ideas for winter activities for children in almost any early childhood resource and especially online.  Type “winter activities for kids” in the search engine of Pinterest and you’ll get an endless list of creative ideas.  Providing fun, engaging activities and materials helps children stay busy and active during the cold winter months, but this time of year is also a great time to talk about culture.

I often hear providers say that there aren’t any diverse families in their programs, but that’s not true. Each family has its own culture: the size and make-up, traditions and times they celebrate, meals or favorite recipes, music they listen to, leisure activities they enjoy, etc.  Just because people may have a similar physical appearance, speak the same language, follow the same religion, and/or are from the same place doesn’t mean they can’t be very different.

Because most children spend the holidays with family, January is a great time to discuss families, what is special about them, and how they are alike and different. These types of discussions provide a base for understanding and respecting diversity.

Ideas for integrating each family’s culture into your program

  • Create a cookbook using 1-2 favorite recipes from each family
  • Allow children to take turns bringing in their family’s favorite music and play the music during the day
  • Encourage children to bring pictures of their immediate family, pets, and extended family
  • Place a large map on a wall and allow families to mark the states and cities where their family members live
  • Have children bring a picture of them and their family participating in their favorite activity-camping, cooking, kayaking, playing with the dog, etc.
  • Read children’s books geared toward diversity topics (Todd Parr has several really good ones.)

Another great opportunity for exploring culture takes place in February; the Lunar, or Chinese New Year, is on February 9thMoonbeams, Dumplings, and Dragon Boats: A Treasure of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities, and Recipes by Nina Simonds is a great resource for provider’s interested in incorporating the Chinese New Year. Children have a great time learning about the various cultures of people who celebrate the Lunar New Year and enjoy the opportunity to celebrate New Year’s twice!  For more ideas of holidays to celebrate throughout 2015 check out kidworldcitizen.org.

How do you plan to integrate culture into your classroom this year?  Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/cultureinnewyear/


Early Learning, Family Relationships

Let’s Talk…Whatever the Future Holds

December 22nd, 2014

As the end of 2014 comes to a close, it is an excellent time for us to reflect on the past and imagine the future.  We hope you will take a moment to watch this Iowa State University Extension & Outreach video clip. The children interviewed by Dr. Kress and Cy are adorable!

If you are receiving this post by email, we hope you will watch the video at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/future/ and share with us which response is your favorite.

Please let us know what topics you would like to see addressed in the coming year. Whatever the future holds – ISU Extension & Outreach will be there!


P.S. As I focus my attention on a special project in 2015, you will have the opportunity to “hear” from many guest bloggers along with my fabulous colleague Cindy Thompson. I am looking forward to learning new info and resources in 2015!



Let’s Talk… Inclusive Celebrations

December 12th, 2014

This time of year social media is a buzz with how we should greet others during the December holidays. The mindset behind these posts are usually to either maintain the religiosity behind the individual’s beliefs or an attempt to be inclusive of all beliefs.  When working with children and families, however, we need to be respectful of all, regardless of how, or even if, they celebrate December holidays.  The NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct and Statement of Commitment, in helping to guide our practices, has set several core values that specifically related to this topic.  One core value is “respect the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each individual (child, family member, and colleague).”  Another is “respect diversity in children, families, and colleagues.”  How, then, are we to even begin to approach holiday celebrations when working with young children, families, and our colleagues?  Below are some resources that can help:

How Can I Plan for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations? (A resource for early childhood)

  • Be Accurate and Sensitive
  • Avoid Stereotyping
  • Look for Themes
  • Be Constitutionally Appropriate

Appreciating Diversity During the Holidays (Includes notes for employers and a link to cultural celebrations)

  • Learn About Other Celebrations
  • Make No Expectations
  • Mark Your Calendar with Holidays People Celebrate

In addition to the NAEYC Code of Ethics, you can also search the NAEYC website for articles and resources around celebrating holidays in an inclusive and respectful manner.

What tips do you have for inclusive holiday celebrations?  Share your ideas at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/inclusive-celebrations/.


Family Relationships, Inclusion ,

Let’s Talk…Bed Bugs

December 1st, 2014

bedbugBad news. A question came to us recently about BED BUGS and early childhood programs.  Not a “fun” topic! The good news is that there are resources available to support you. Have you thought about your policies related to bed bugs? Do your current practices help to prevent the spread of these critters? HINT: They are known to hitchhike on backpacks!! Be sure to check out these links including a sample parent letter to send home.

Does your center have a PMP (Pest Management Plan)? Does it include an action plan for bed bugs? To share your thoughts, visit us at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/bed-bugs/


Health & Safety

Let’s Talk…Pretzels vs. Rubber Bands

November 24th, 2014

rubberbandWe have talked about temperament and “goodness of fit.” The ECMHC’s Infant Toddler Temperament Tool (IT3) shares with you (or a parent!) an array of simple strategies that can be used to best support the unique temperament of each child within your care when completed. And I love this article by Karen Stephens on Strategies for Parenting Children with Difficult Temperament as well as The Temperament Trap: Recognizing and Accommodating Children’s Personalities by Susan Culpepper.

So what about pretzels vs. rubber bands? As early childhood professionals and parents, we have heard that we as the adults need to be the one to adjust once we have the understanding of temperament. Right? But, this has led many of us to twist and contort ourselves to the breaking point – hard & brittle like a pretzel. We need to think about this with a more balanced approach – more like a rubber band. Allowing ourselves time to stretch and grow to meet the child’s needs. If we adjust too much too quickly, then the rubber band will snap. But if we move at a steady pace to meet the child’s unique “shape” we will find our rubber band encircling that child with the support he or she needs and more easily adaptable in different situations.

So, are you like a pretzel or a rubber band when it comes to adjusting to children’s unique temperament? Share with us your thoughts at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/temperament3/


For further reading on the subject of temperament, check out the following books (perhaps add them to your parent library!):

Environment, Guidance

Let’s Talk…GOF

November 17th, 2014

Toddler clinging to an adult's legWhat?! Another acronym to add to our early childhood alphabet soup language? Deep breaths….Perhaps you have already heard the expression “goodness of fit.”   Last week we shared about giving thought to a child’s temperament and the function behind their behavior when using support structures to help a child find social success in your program. Now think about your own temperament. Are your temperaments different? Are they similar? When the two temperaments come together is a there a “goodness of fit”?

Check out this handout from the University of Wisconsin Extension on Goodness of Fit to reflect more on GOF. I really like the seven quick scenarios to test your knowledge.

I know of two tools to help you think about “goodness of fit” between you and a child in your program (can also be shared with parents!) :

What are your thoughts? Does GOF matter?

What about not just in terms of caregiver, but in terms of “goodness of fit” of the program? Some programs are louder than others. Some programs are more structured than others. Some programs have more continuity of care than others. Is there a way to help parents think about their child’s temperament related to the program’s temperament BEFORE enrollment?

To share your thoughts on this subject, please visit us at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/temperament2/


Environment, Guidance

Let’s Talk…Dr. Detective

November 10th, 2014

imagesTTGNR52UWhen a child has a fever of 102 degrees, a medical professional considers that a symptom of something. The doctor has to figure out if this fever is due to influenza or bacterial meningitis or maybe urinary tract infection in order to know how best to treat the fever. The same is true with behavior.  When  children come into our classroom with challenging behaviors, we MUST take the same individual approach. A medical professional will ask the child and caregiver questions, perhaps run some tests and, of course, complete an exam of the child in order to determine the cause of the fever to best treat it.  We have to think the same way with inappropriate behaviors in our program – a behavior detective of sorts. Once we understand the function of the behavior, then we can appropriately “treat” it – giving that child the supports  he or she needs to find success. If we “treat” each child and challenging behavior the same, then there are going to be times where the behavior continues because we haven’t fully considered what is causing the behavior. Just like acetaminophen might give some relief to the child (& caregiver) with a fever, it is possibly only a temporary fix if the root of the fever has not been addressed.

Children come to our program – each with his or her own unique temperament.  The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) has great information on temperament and why it is our job to adjust with strategies that make for a positive experience for each child in our program.

Share with us how you individualize based upon what you know about a child’s temperament – http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/temperament1/


Environment, Guidance