Let’s Talk…Bundle Up and Head Outside!

te_outside-walk_webWe have enjoyed an usually warm fall this year, but winter coat season is finally here! It is important that no matter what our own personal opinion is about the cooler weather outdoors, we still take children outside.

Remember that Iowa has a weather chart from the Department of Public Health for child care programs to follow related to weather and outdoor play.

Why go outside? Well there are many documented benefits to outdoor play –

  • Physical exercise
  • Improves immunity
  • Imagination & creativity increase
  • Vitamin D

What is needed to make outdoor play during the winter months successful?

  • A strong policy that informs parents of daily outdoor play
  • A good supply of back-up clothes
  • Patience getting everyone ready
  • Schedule that allows a nice chunk of time to play outdoors
  • Be sure to check equipment and fall zone surfacing for safety

Need some winter outdoor activities? Check these out from Penn State University Extension or these from Michigan State University Extension.

So, bundle up and head outside! Outdoor play is not only good for children, it is good for YOU too!

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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Let’s Talk…The Challenge with Books

Guest blogger Shannon Wilson, Early Childhood Specialist, shares some frustrations and solutions about using books with young children.

Molly, an active 11-month-old, crawls across the room over to the library. She picks up a board book, sits down and then puts the book in her mouth, chewing on the corner. Molly’s provider scoots over and says “Molly I see you found the book on animals. Let’s read it together”. She holds out her hand for the book.

As a child care provider you have heard how important it is to read to children of all ages. The expectation is to have books available for the children in a book area or library. How do you do this when the children constantly rip, tear, chew, and break these materials? In the observation above Molly is doing what is appropriate for her age. She is exploring the book with all her senses, this includes putting the book in her mouth. Her parent or provider needs to acknowledge her interest in the book and show her how to open the book, turn pages, and look at the pictures. It is also important to understand that children this age are not destroying books on purpose, or deliberately ripping and tearing pages. It may be frustrating, but we can’t get upset with them for using books in ways that are developmentally appropriate for their age.

Children are not born knowing how to handle a book. Like all new materials they have to be taught the appropriate way to use something. Set the stage by putting out the right material for the ages and abilities of the children you serve. For young children or children who are not used to books start with board books. They are more durable and less likely to tear. As children age and can handle books start introducing paperback books.

For young children (two years and under) pick up an interesting board book and talk about it out loud. “Oh, look at this book. I wonder what it is about.” If you are sitting on the floor you’ll have several children by you by the time you finish talking. Show the children how you open the book, point out the pictures, ask them questions about what they see, and then show them where the book goes when you are done. They won’t remember and do all the steps right away, but as they continue to explore books remind them to put them back so everyone can find them later.

Older children can be introduced to new books through group time or when they arrive in the morning. Briefly tell them about the new book or read it to the whole group. Afterwards talk about the story and put it out so the children can read it on their own through-out the day.

Teach children how to care for books

  • Show children what to do with books when they are done ready. Do they go back in a basket, on a shelf, etc?
  • Create a book hospital. Books get torn and worn out. No matter how careful you are with books they are just made of paper. Have a box where the children can put books that need repairing. Teach them to be aware of those books that need fixing. When you have a pile break out your packaging tape and/or contact paper and start repairing.
  • Use contact paper. Clear contact paper is a great way to make a paperback book more durable. Cover the outside of the book with contact paper so it is less likely to rip.

For more helpful tips on helping children of various ages with books, check out these resources from Scholastic and the Department of Education.

What successful strategies have you used to keep books 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… It’s Clean-up Time (Part 2)

Guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Early Childhood Specialist and ERS Assessor returns with tips and strategies for clean-up time.

Now that your classroom is organized and you have decided on a clean-up routine to follow, it’s time to teach your expectations.

Teach your clean-up routine
It is important to take time at the beginning of the year to introduce your centers and discuss where toys should be used and put away.  One activity that worked for me was to bring a box of toys to the rug at group time, and have each child find its home.  When children know where things belong, they are less likely to become overwhelmed.

Prepare for change
Children become very engrossed in their play and may become upset if play is interrupted abruptly.  It’s best if you give them a signal to prepare them for clean-up time.  Turning off the light and announcing in 5 more minutes it will be clean-up time is effective.  Children will quickly learn that it means it won’t be long before the clean-up song starts and they need to finish their play.

Save work when possible
If a child needs more time, put it on a shelf so the child can work on it the next day.  An elaborate block design might not be able to be saved, but the teacher can take a picture of it so the child can have a memento to share with the class.    

Clean-up song
This is a great prompt for getting children to start clean-up.  An up-beat song will also create enthusiasm as children will quickly learn the words and sing-a-long as they work.

Age-Appropriate Expectations
Clean-up time can be a nightmare if we do not match tasks with children’s developmental level.  Children will quickly become overwhelmed and act out, walk away or refuse to help.

  • Two-year-olds – Children this age can follow simple instructions, but it works best if you model the process as you work alongside them. Give them simple tasks that are fun (Let’s drive the truck over to its spot or Let’s go put the baby back to bed).
  • Three-year-olds – Three-year-olds will remember where toys go and can stick with a task as long as you are there to guide them. They delight in showing you what they know.  Try putting a toy in the wrong place and ask the children if this is where it belongs.  The children will find this funny and delight in showing you its proper place.
  • Four-year-olds – Four-year-old will still need your help is the clean-up task is large. At this age, children can clean-up quickly and are good at sorting and finding where toys belong.  When I taught 4-year-olds, they liked to beat the clean-up song.

What are your best ideas for songs or activities to motivate children to clean-up?

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… It’s Clean-up Time (Part 1)

It’s the start of the new school year – a time of transition for many children in child care and their caregivers. Guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Early Childhood Specialist and ERS Assessor explores classroom organization and how to help children be a part of the process!

The classroom is a mess!  There are so many toys on the floor that you have to be careful where you step.  You announce time to clean-up, and you look around to see that you are the only one devoted to the task at hand. The children are all sitting on their squares on the rug ready and waiting for the next activity.   As preschool teachers and child care providers, we have all faced the clean-up dilemma at one time or another.  Some children and classes are better than others, but it is a consistent and on-going issue in many programs. So, how do we get children involved and as committed as we are to keeping their classroom or playroom clean and tidy?

Classroom organization is the key

  • Does every toy have a “home”? Do children know where the toys go or do they wander around aimlessly looking for the “right” place to put the toys?
  • In order for children to be helpful, the toy shelves must be low enough for children to reach by themselves.
  • Shelves should be labeled with words and pictures of the toy so children can look for the matching picture of the toy when it’s time to clean-up.
  • Baskets or containers should be used to store multiple items of the same type, such as small blocks. Picture labels on the container that match the shelf label can make it easier for children to clean-up.
  • Make sure toys that are often used together are stored in the same area. Are blocks in one area, but the animals, cars and people that they use to add to their block play in another area?  The children may be using these accessories as they play with blocks and when it comes time to clean-up, they may have to search for their “home”.

The good news is that having a dedicated space for everything in your classroom not only helps with clean-up, but helps children learn too. Here are just a few examples:

  • Shelves that are labeled with pictures and words will help children learn that print carries a message and names the picture. Here is one website for making free labels.
  • Children develop classification and reasoning skills when they put items associated with home living in the dramatic play center, for example.
  • Having a good system for classroom organization helps children experience success when cleaning up which, in turn, builds their self-esteem.

Decide on your clean-up expectations

Some providers may want children to clean-up their area before moving on to the next activity. This helps children develop individual responsibility and keeps the area tidy for the next child to play. Other programs may have less time or do not want to interrupt play, and prefer to have one clean-up time at the end of free choice time.  Whatever method you use, it is important to be consistent and make it a non-negotiable routine. 

In the next article, some ideas for getting children to experience success at clean-up time will be presented.

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…Enrollment Forms

Shannon Wilson, Early Childhood Specialist, concludes our special two week focus on the importance of getting to know families by suggesting a form to include in your enrollment packet.

Nestled among the health record, CACFP forms, and the various other enrollment papers your families fill out, consider adding a Getting to Know You form. Think of the benefits such a form would have for you as you care for this new child. It is especially helpful when caring for non-verbal children or children who do not speak your language.

In an ideal world your new family would complete such a form before starting their child. This would give you time to review this form, allowing you to know how to comfort the child for naptime, what their favorite activities are, and any special names they have for family members. But it’s never too late to make an effort to get to know a family better!

While working in a classroom with children just beginning to explore speech and language, I recall running into a situation where having this type of form would have been very helpful. My newest little one was trying to tell me something. “Baba” he kept saying. “Bottle?” I asked. He shook his head and cried louder “BABA!!!!!” I was at a loss. I started saying any word I could think of that might be “Baba”. He was in tears with his face scrunched up. I held out my arms and he crawled into my lap for a hug. All I could do was rock him and softly say “I don’t know what Baba is, but we’ll ask mama when she comes. I’m sorry.” After a time he settled down and went off to play. At pick up time I asked mom what “Baba” meant. “Baba is his grandpa. He lives with us.” I turned to my newest friend and said “Baba is your grandpa? You must have missed him today. I bet he missed you too.” The day ended on a happy note and I never forgot who “Baba” was.

Think of the stress and confusion he experienced when trying to communicate to me. This could have been easily resolved if I could have grabbed his Getting to Know You form and reviewed it for clues. Of course they are not a crystal ball providing you with all the answers, but the insights into the child are always beneficial.

Not sure where to start in creating such a form? Here is one example, and another. Think of the needs of your children and you. What type of information would be most helpful? You can also ask families for feedback about what information they think would be most useful for you. This leads into another helpful form to include in the enrollment packet; a family survey. You have to be willing and ready to get feedback from families but this is a great way to get to know families and be sure you are making connections with them.

What questions have you found most helpful in getting to know families?

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… 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… Welcoming Families

Early Childhood Specialist Shannon Wilson kicks off a two week special focus on getting to know new (and seasoned) families in your program this fall.

A new child has just enrolled in your program. You’ve created a spot for their supplies, added their name to your materials, and given the family enrollment papers. Everything is set, right? Maybe not. Children don’t come to you from a vacuum or a bubble. You are welcoming them into your environment, but need to acknowledge that they are coming from their own unique environment, made up of family and friends who are important to them. In the field of Early Childhood Education our focus is on the children, as it should be, but this can create a narrowed focus. The result? The family gets left out.

I remember working in the two-year-old class comfortably greeting the children as they entered. “Sarah, it’s good to see you today!” “Maliki, look we have your favorite book in the library.” Did I greet the parents and families? No. Secretly they terrified me. I was very comfortable with the children, but unsure about the parents. I was around the children all day. I quickly learned their names. I didn’t know half of the parents’ names.

Thankfully I had a wonderful supervisor who taught me that by doing this I was missing out on a key piece of the child. The parents knew their child; knew their likes and dislikes, what made them happy or sad, how to cheer them up when they got hurt. My supervisor said you can’t truly help the child until you know the parent.

In the next two posts I will be writing about how to get to know the families you serve. It may be easier than you think! Please share your own tips on how to you connect with the families you serve.

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… Telephone Play

Many moons ago I had an opportunity to learn just how important telephone play can be in the life of a little one. No, this isn’t a 911 story… it’s the story of a little girl trying to navigate something important to her – new glasses.

You see, I had been observing the children during dramatic play, and one little preschooler – let’s call her Stacy – spent a large portion of morning talking on one of the several available play phones. Her topic of conversation was her new glasses; when they would arrive, what they might looked like, how they might fit. At pick-up time that afternoon I made a comment to Stacy’s mom about the new glasses. Mom was confused because she hadn’t yet shared with Stacy that she would be getting glasses due to her concern that Stacy might be upset. Humm… not only are children always listening and more intuitive than we often give them credit, but Stacy had found a powerful way to make sense of a situation that was confusing to her.

Quality child care assessments often identify play telephones as an integral part of any dramatic play area for ages as young as toddlers. It’s important to have several play phones available to cut down on toy competition as well as enhancing play. Often we think of telephones as only being important for the housekeeping area, but play phones can work for any dramatic play theme – wood working shop, post office, restaurants, school.

Telephone play enhances multiple areas of development. Just a few examples include:

  • Math concepts (numbers on dials, shapes of buttons)
  • Language acquisition and back and forth communication
  • Fine motor development (pushing the buttons, opening a play flip phone, setting a phone back on it’s play charging cradle)
  • Cooperative play

Here are some more examples of things children learn during dramatic play. My favorite on the list, and the one that reflects my experience with Stacy, is “Children work on confusing, scary, or new life issues.

What opportunities do you give children to explore telephone play? What ways you think technology has changed telephone play over the last few decades?

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… Sing, Sing a Song

Guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor, shares the importance of singing, regardless of your tune! 

Are you a musical person? Are you comfortable singing? I think many people feel like a rock star when they sing in the shower or in their car.  Ask them to sing in front of others, and they may feel completely different. How do we find our musical comfort zone? We often observe programs that have a variety of music for the children to listen to, musical toys and instruments, but they receive a lower score on quality assessments because the staff do not informally sing or chant (ITERS-R) or initiate a music activity (ECERS-R and FCCERS-R).

First a foremost, music is fun! Music is also a vital part of child development. Singing encourages children to play with sounds, experiment with different rhythms and rhymes, and according to research, may even help create pathways between the cells in the brain. Finding beats and patterns provides early math skills. Dancing and coordinating body movements helps children learn to control their bodies. We know music plays an important role in early childhood programs, but so many of us struggle with singing in front of the children.

Sing out loud!  Think about how you feel when you sing your favorite song or let loose on the dance floor. When you’re belting out your favorite tune on a road trip, you probably get a feeling of release and joy. Children need those experiences, too. They need to feel unrestricted in order to really get in touch with their feelings and creativity.

Be a rock star!  You’re a model for the children in all you do, even singing. If you are shy and embarrassed, or say “I don’t have a good singing voice,” what does that tell the children? You shouldn’t sing if you don’t have a good voice? You should be embarrassed when you sing? We want to foster children’s confidence and creativity and we can do that through encouraging them to sing and dance and not being afraid to do so ourselves.

Let loose and enjoy! No one is watching. It’s hard to get over stage fright, but trust me, no one is secretly recording your rendition of “Wheels on the Bus.”  Your time with the children can inspire them and allow you to feel creative and even silly-we all need that sometimes.

The article Introducing Preschoolers to Music provides some great tips for incorporating music in your daily routine. We know music is important to infants and toddlers, as well, and some of these tips and ideas work for younger children as well.

Music and mood are discussed in this article from healthychildren.org, which is sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

What are your thoughts? Can you easily channel your inner Mary Poppins, or is it hard for you to sing our loud?

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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