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Let’s Talk… Getting to Know Families

Early Childhood Specialist Shannon Wilson continues our special two week focus by sharing some everyday tips on getting to know families.

Every day you see families drop off and pick up the children in your care. Often this is happening when you are occupied; one child in your lap and two more standing next to you trying to get your attention. These little points of time can have a big impact on the relationship you have with families. You don’t have to create in-depth long conversations to lay the groundwork for a relationship. Families want to see you interacting with the children so don’t drop what you are doing every time a parent enters the room, but do pause and look at them. Smile and greet them. It is that simple.

I have been on both sides of this and it has been an eye-opening experience. I went from being a provider in a busy room full of children to being a parent dropping off my child for the day. As a parent it means so much to me when my children’s teachers say “Hi” to my child and me. Not only does it mean they are welcoming us into the room, but I also know they are aware my child is now in their care.

Here are some easy ways to start building relationships with the families you serve:

  • Say “Hi” – As stated before, a greeting is a great way to welcome someone into your space. Sometimes parents/families feel awkward entering a room full of children. They don’t want to get in the way. You need to let them know they are always welcome.
  • Write a Note – Depending on your set-up you can write either an individual note to the families or have a white board. The white board is a great way to put talking points out for the families. Put it outside the room at or at the entrance of your facility where families can check it as they enter. “Today we learned about sink and float. Be sure to ask your child about what happened.” It is a great way to build communication with families and helps parents to be able to ask more than just “what did you do today?”
  • Introduce Yourself – This applies to working with new children and ones you’ve had in your care for a while. If you are really meeting this parent or family member for the first time simply introduce yourself. If the child has been in your care for a while and you are not even sure what the parent’s name is, chances are they don’t know yours either. Simply say “I’m sorry, can you remind me of your name again? I’m __________”. Or just say “I don’t remember if I ever introduced myself, sorry about that, I’m __________.”
  • Learn the Family Members’ Name – A common way to learn the children’s names is to stick it to their back. You see the label running around the room all day and by the time they leave you’ve learned it. As much as you might want to do this with parents you can’t. Do the next best thing. Put their name on the attendance sheet next to their child’s. Then you can greet them by name whenever you see them.
  • Ask for Tips – The family has known this child longer than you. Most likely they have experienced similar behaviors at home that you are seeing. Even if they have not witnessed the behavior at home they can still provide help in coming up with a solution. “I have noticed when it is time to clean up the toys she cries and runs into the bathroom. Has she done anything like this at home?” By asking for input from the family you are showing them you want to be a team to come up with solutions for issues. You are valuing their experiences and opinions.

When you have laid the groundwork with parents through these types of interactions it is a lot easier to talk to them about the more challenging topics. When a child is having behavior issues the family is more likely to listen and discuss it with you if you’ve already established a relationship.

What strategies would YOU add to this list???

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… Food for Thought

Guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Early Childhood Specialist and ERS Assessor, invites us to revisit the idea of cooking with children!

As many early childhood educators, I have idea books that I revisit from time to time. Over the weekend, I looked at one called Book Cooks. It has picture recipes that can be used as a follow-up to reading a picture book. This got me thinking about the many cooking activities I did with young children over the years, and how much the children looked forward to cooking with the teacher. Cooking gives children the opportunity to do a “grown-up” activity which gives them great satisfaction and builds confidence.

As an ERS assessor, I see many wonderful teachers who provide children with interesting activity choices, but I very seldom see cooking activities being done with children. In fact, in my three years as an assessor, I have observed a cooking activity only once.

Is safety a concern?

Some teachers may avoid cooking activities because of safety concerns. Teaching safety rules and providing good supervision should certainly be a part of every cooking activity, allowing you to proceed with confidence. There are also many ways children can help without putting them at risk. Even young preschoolers can help you wash fruits and vegetables.

Not enough time?

Time can be a concern for other teachers. But learning time isn’t wasted when doing cooking activities.  Here are just a few skills children learn through cooking activities:

  • Math concepts when they measure different ingredients
  • New vocabulary associated with cooking and unfamiliar foods
  • Literacy and logical thinking skills when following the steps in a picture/word recipe

A great opportunity to teach them about nutrition

Cooking with children gives you the opportunity to talk with them about healthy foods, too. They are more likely to try new, healthy foods that they have had a hand in preparing.

Here are some resources to get you start or reignite your interest:

How do you involved children in the kitchen? What are some of your favorite kid-tested recipes?

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…Group Time

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

Group times can be great. When appropriate, they can foster a sense of community, enhance children’s patience and attention span, and offer a provider the opportunity to communicate with everyone at one time. When large group times aren’t appropriate, they can be a negative experience for all involved. Unfortunately, we sometimes find that providers spend more time saying things like “sit down,” “crisscross applesauce,” and “listening ears,” than they spend conveying information or interacting in a positive way with the children during large group times.  Ask yourself the following questions about your large group times.

What am I trying to accomplish? Most of us remember school as a time when the teacher stood in front of the class and gave the students information or knowledge.  We know that young children don’t learn this way.  Instead of imparting wisdom to them, we help them learn through play and experiences.  We ask questions, foster curiosity, and encourage exploration.  What are you trying to accomplish with large group-would it be more effective through a small group, individually, or through a play experience?  For example, I’ve seen providers who still conduct a calendar/weather time each day with children, but it is a voluntary time- only those children interested participate.

Is group time necessary? None of the ERS scales require large group time.  Large group times are assessed and scored only if they are conducted.  Your program, school district, or personal philosophy may require large groups, and that’s just fine.  Large groups can be very beneficial, we just have to remember to adjust them to meet the needs of the children.

What are children gaining from group time? We know that children learn best through play and interaction.  When they are required to sit for long periods of time, participating in an activity that they are not interested in, they may be losing out on valuable time they could be learning in a meaningful way.  This is not to say that we should immediately “give in” and allow children to always do what they want, but we do need to work to make group times feasible and appropriate.

Are children capable of learning in a group time?  Consider each child’s ability to participate in group.  We know that young children need to be active and are often impulsive.  Are they physically capable of sitting in group, or is their body telling them they need to move?  Instead of reprimanding them for doing what their body is telling them, (“sit still”) would it be better to allow them to join in another activity?  Is there another way that they can gain the same information that is more appropriate for them?

What’s the right group size? Consider the ages and stages of the children. The pressures and distractions of a large group can bother some children. Keeping group size small, especially for younger children, helps children focus and enjoy participation. The ITERS-R states that group sizes should range from 2-3 infants, 2-5 toddlers, and 4-6 two year olds.  ECERS-R recommends group sizes of 3-5 children for 2-3 yr. olds and groups of 5-8 children for 4-5 yr. olds.

Do I feel good about group time? If group time is a daily struggle, it’s as hard on you as it is the children. When you’re constantly reminding children to sit down, listen, stop talking, etc., it’s hard to feel successful.  It may be time to re-evaluate.  What are some ways you can determine if group times are helpful to the children?  Are there any tips or techniques you feel work well when it comes to group time?

What are your experiences with group time??

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…Sea of Toys

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

You just got the room all cleaned up and you hear a crashing sound. Little Susie dumps the entire bin of small blocks on to the floor, and grins at you mischievously. Alex follows suit and spills the zoo animals on the floor while Joshua flings the stacking ring like Frisbees. Before you know it, the entire floor is a sea of toys.  We’ve all experienced the frustration that can arise when children continually dump toys on the floor.  It feels messy and unorganized- and you’re almost sure they do it just to irritate you!

But then you stop, take a deep breath, and remember they’re toddlers. They’re supposed to do this. It’s how they learn.  You may feel like Cinderella- cleaning and picking up after everyone, but you can be Snow White and still “whistle while you work” if you keep the following in mind:

  • You are providing valuable play opportunities! Children need many opportunities to manipulate many different items in many different ways. Infants and toddlers typically dump toys from buckets and bins for several reasons. First, it’s fun and natural for them.  “What will happen if I turn this upside down?” and “Wow that makes a neat sound!” Second, children are naturally curious. Natural curiosity is something we encourage so that children will explore, experiment, and try new things. As much as it may feel like they’re dumping all the small people on the floor to push your buttons, they truly are not. Children this young are not capable of manipulation or purposely angering others.
  • You’re using your child development knowledge! Beyond natural curiosity, children are experimenting with their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. We know it takes many years to be able to use fingers and eyes together to manipulate objects. Finger coordination takes longer to develop than whole-hand movement.  It may be easy for children to hold a bucket with both hands and turn it over, but it’s harder to use their little fingers to pick up objects one-by-one to use them.
  • You understand things from the children’s point of view! It takes a long time for children to understand that adults use the containers as storage, not as a toy. As adults, we see the bins, buckets, baskets, etc., as a way to organize and store similar toys in a convenient location. Infants and toddlers simply see items to play with.
  • You can take advantage of teachable moments! Infants and toddlers do not understand the concept of cleaning or picking up. Adults have to model these behaviors in order for children to understand and eventually participate in them. Children may only be capable of picking up two or three items, even if they dumped twenty. Modeling how to clean up and praising children for their efforts in helping sets the stage for them to continue to understand and assist.

Stay tuned!!! Next week Jamie will share strategies for maximizing the space you have to keep toys under control but still accessible to children.

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… Humble Inquiry

Our guest blogger Lori Schonhorst, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Early Childhood Specialist and I-Consult, encourages us to consider humble inquiry.

Recently I have been reading the book entitled, “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar H. Schein.  The book is focused on fostering effective communication between adults; however, in reading it I can’t help but think that there are strategies that relate to how we can communicate more effectively with children as well.  Humble inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.  This in turn leads to the building of trust, which in turn leads to better communication and collaboration.

What a gift we offer a child when we ask questions that communicate respect and let them know we are interested and curious about what they have to say. Humble inquiry can be particularly helpful when there is a problem at hand.  In child care, we are often pulled many directions at once.  Imagine a child comes to you during a time that you are feeling particularly busy and wants you to play.  When you communicate that you are busy, the child starts to whine and demand your attention.  You have a number of options.  You could reiterate to the child that you are busy and go on with what you are doing.  This may lead to you feeling guilty that you couldn’t give the child your attention and likely the child’s behavior is going to escalate causing additional frustration for both of you.  A second option is to give in and play.  This could lead to you feeling resentful because you had other things that needed to be done at that time, or may make the child feel guilty if she can sense that you feel interrupted and aren’t engaged.  A third option is humble inquiry. Using humble inquiry, you would stop, be empathic and give the child your full attention asking about what it is they want to do and discussing briefly.  Ultimately, it may still be decided that you can’t play at that particular moment but by pausing and creating that opportunity for dialogue, you are communicating that you honor what it is the child has to say and creating a plan.  This is a very small change that can lead to big changes in our relationships with children as they feel that their ideas and desires are respected.  The beauty of humble inquiry is that instead of the solution being my way or your way, it becomes our way through joint problem solving.

In what other situations might humble inquiry be helpful?

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…Give Me Some Space!

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

Protecting nonmobilesWe know it’s vital for infants to have open space on the floor to play, but how do we keep them safe from older children?  In the eyes of a toddler or preschooler, infants can be like a shiny new toy.  The urge to touch and play with the new “toy” can be overwhelming.  Children don’t have the intention to hurt an infant, but sometimes their natural curiosity can pose a threat to non-mobile infants. I’ve listed some tips and techniques that I have observed or used below.  Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts – we can all use fresh ideas!

Establish boundaries. Some programs set aside space specifically for non-mobile infants.  Designating a corner of the room for infant play (a rug with rattles, cloth books, and other infant materials) provides older children with a visible difference in play areas.

Don’t have room to designate a specific space?  Use a blanket or mat to indicate a non-mobile infant’s personal space. Blankets and mats are portable, so you can move the child to different areas of the program while still being able to supervise all children.

Keep active play areas separated from infants on the floor.  Designate a safe place for children to dance or use active toys away from non-mobile infants.  This will keep the area around the infant less active and less likely to cause injury.

However you arrange the space used for floor play by non-mobile infants, remember supervision is key.  Arrange all play areas to enable you to both visually supervise and also move quickly to a different area if your help is needed.

Help children learn appropriate ways to interact with babies.  Remember, we encourage children to be curious and explore their world, and with supervision, children can safely satisfy their curiosity about babies, too. Providing interested children with their own baby doll to care for can help them practice what they see and take on some “grown-up” tasks.

Another way children can safely interact with non-mobile infants is to help when appropriate.  Bringing the infant a favorite toy or stuffed animal can make an older child feel important and allow them to safely interact with an infant.  Make polite requests like “Baby Alex is laying here on his blanket.  Can you tell him a story while I get his bottle?”

Use those “teachable moments” to encourage social skills.   Help children understand privacy and personal space.  Use phrases such as “You know, Baby Kate is playing by herself right now.  I don’t think she wants you to touch her.  Can you build a tall tower with blocks instead?  I’ll bring Kate over to see it when you’re done.”

Use infant attempts to communicate to teach older children how to respond to verbal and non-verbal cues from others.  Provide language such as “Baby Leo is crying right now.  Do you think he’s hungry or do you think he needs a diaper change?” and “Wow!  Look at Keisha smile.  She must really like that you’re singing to her.”

Keep older children busy.  Access to plenty of toys and materials keeps children occupied.  If older children are engaged in their own activities, the non-mobile infants in your program may seem less exciting to them.

How do you support both non-mobile infants and older children with floor play?  Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/give-me-space/.

 

 

Additional Resources:
Many children’s books deal with the topic of new babies.  Even if babies aren’t new to your program, these books can help children gain an understanding of infants.  Some examples include:

  • The New Baby at Your House, by Joanna Cole
  • The Berenstein Bears New Baby, by Stan and Jan Berenstein
  • A New Baby is Coming, by Emily Menendez-Aponte

Books about feelings help all children begin to recognize feelings and practice reacting to them.

  • The Feelings Book, by Todd Parr
  • Lots of Feelings, by Shelley Rotner
  • Feelings, by Aliki

The book Personal Space Camp, by Julia Cook, is geared toward older preschool and school-aged children, and provides knowledge and an understanding of personal space that will help children in many situations.

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… Problem Solving (Part 2)

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/.

Lori

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

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… Problem Solving (Part 1)

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/

Lori

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…Pretzels vs. Rubber Bands

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/

Malisa

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

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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