Let’s Talk…Water Play & Summer Safety

Water play is a way to keep cool and have fun during late summer’s heat and humidity. Guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor, shares important considerations when staying safe while keeping cool!

Summer is here!  Summer time is synonymous with water-pools, wading pools, water play.  The pool is the most likely destination for most of us looking to enjoy some sunshine and a favorite place for children.   The chance to be outside, socialize, and get some exercise is very important for children and adults.  Do you have concerns about children and pools?  Are you going to be responsible for a group of children at the pool?  Even if your program does not take children to an actual swimming pool or use wading pools, it is still very important to form a safety plan for water play.

Let’s take a look at some recommendations for safe pool use and water play.  Remember, it is important to evaluate your comfort level and address safety concerns before you agree to be in charge of children near water.  Don’t put yourself at risk by being in charge of water play without knowing some basic safety rules.

RatiosRatios may need adjusted when children are in or near water.  1 teacher to every 12 preschoolers may work in the classroom, but will not meet safety standards during water play or swimming.  Extra adult supervision can prevent accidents and drownings.  Even if lifeguards are present, it is vital that all providers are carefully supervising the children.  Caring for Our Children provides important recommendations for water play ratios.

Access –  Closely monitor who can access water play and when.  As always, fencing is important to any outdoor play area, but especially pools.  A fence will help keep children out of and away from pools and water play when they are not supervised, as well as prevent them from leaving a designated area in which adults are present to monitor them.  Also, if you are at a pool, you will want to control which children access which parts of the pool.  I worked at a program that required parents to complete a swim-ability form, detailing their child’s level of competence and exposure to water.  Based on that form, children were assigned different colored bracelets.  A red bracelet meant that child had to stay in the shallow end of the pool, blue allowed up to 5 ft. of water, etc.  Most pools have a “diving board test,” requiring children to prove to the lifeguards that they are able to swim a certain length, tread water, etc., in order to be allowed to use the diving board or use the deep end.  Use these opportunities to help ensure children in your care are safe.

Supervision – Adults supervising children involved in swimming or water play must be actively supervising.  It is a good idea to assign each adult to a specific area to remain in and watch closely.  Keep in mind that another adult may be needed for additional duties-taking children to the restroom, applying sunscreen, monitoring the children sitting on their towels taking a break, etc.  Caring for Our Children provides more specifics about water safety supervision.

Again, it is important that each person required to monitor children in or near water is comfortable and confident doing so.  Take time to develop safety plans and communicate with other providers-a brainstorming session may really be helpful.  Forming a group of providers that engage in water play at the same time may also lead to more adults being present and available to supervise.

What are some safety rules you adhere to when children engage in water play?  Do you have any tips for supervising children near water?

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…Diversity Discussion (Infants & Toddlers)

Guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor, continues her discussion on diversity.

I often hear providers and teachers say that they struggle to discuss diversity with infants and toddlers. It’s true, a lot of activities that are out there don’t work for that age group. I like to encourage people to incorporate diversity into their language with children.

We want providers/teachers to use many different descriptive words throughout the day to build children’s vocabulary and language skills, so why not dedicate some of that language to diversity?

  • “Molly you have such big, brown eyes! And Kevin, you have bright, blue eyes! Our eyes help us see.  Where are your eyes? Can you blink?”
  • “Shawn’s mommy brought him to school today. Claire, your daddy brought you. Isn’t it nice to spend time with mommies and daddies?  Let’s look at our family pictures. Shawn, your mom has brown hair. Claire, your dad has no hair. Where is your hair?”

Music is another great way to introduce children to different cultures. We want to avoid having music as background noise, so be sure to limit use to times that children can hear and are interested. It doesn’t do much good to have music on if a child is crying or walking away to find another toy!

Many libraries offer diverse music CDs, and there are many musical apps or programs, such as Pandora, that also provide a variety of music that is free or low-cost. Talk with children about where the music originates – African drums, Celtic lullabies, etc., as well as the sounds, rhythms and beats. This helps children begin to appreciate diversity and music.

  • “Oh, Marcus, did you hear that? Thump, thump, thump. Can you try that on your drum?”
  • “Sara, did you know this music is from Ireland. That’s a long way away from here, but it’s very pretty. Do you hear that sound? That’s a flute.”

Using sign language with infants and toddlers provides them with another route of communication and also helps them gain a basic understanding of differing abilities. Baby sign can be helpful to you and children – a child may not be able to verbally express that they are thirsty, but if they can sign “milk,” you may be able to quickly identify why they are upset or what their needs are.

The American Sign Language for Kids website has many resources, including videos and an app to help you learn and use sign language with young ones.

As the new year unfolds, how will you introduce infants and toddlers to diversity words and experiences?

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… Diversity Discussions

Guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor, kicks off a new year with ideas on helping children embrace diversity.

We can’t turn on the TV or open an internet browser without seeing a story about diversity, racism, racial relations, etc.  As much as we may try to shield children from these stories, especially if violence is involved, children still hear and see things that may have them questioning race, etc.  So, as Early Childhood professionals, what can we do to help children understand and appreciate diversity?  It takes effort, and it takes discussion.

First of all, it’s ok to notice that people are different, whether in appearance or action. I think a lot of people are afraid of offending others, so don’t often discuss differences. The fact is, we do see physical characteristics – we notice if someone has blue eyes or brown, we take note when someone is tall or wears glasses, we notice if someone is using a cane to get around or if their hair is brown, grey, white, or pink, and we notice skin tone.

Noticing these differences does not make us racist or insensitive, it makes us human. Our goal with children is not to teach them to not see differences, but to teach them to respect and appreciate differences. We don’t have to repeatedly point out a child’s skin tone or ethnicity, but it’s certainly ok to acknowledge differences in children and celebrate those differences.

Generally, when I ask about activities that promote diversity, teachers and providers respond by stating they have dolls, books, and play food representing different races/cultures/ethnicities/abilities.  That’s great, but dolls alone just don’t provide the type of activity that really helps children understand and respect diversity.

Use those dolls and play foods to spark discussion: What’s different about the dolls? Hair color and skin tone. What’s the same? They all have eyes, ears, hair, etc. Does your mom or dad ever use this type of pan to cook at home? How do you think you use it? What would you make in a wok?

Diversity isn’t just skin tone, either. What about culture? We all have different cultures, even within our individual families. For example, Susie might celebrate her birthday with dinner at a nice restaurant with her parents and siblings. Henry might celebrate with a large party at his house, including extended family, friends, and neighbors. Susie and Henry both celebrate birthdays, but in different ways-differences in their family culture. Discussing birthday or other celebrations, and having children draw what their family does, or making a chart tallying what is the same and different about their celebrations is an example of an activity that helps children understand diversity.

What ways can you help children embrace differences this year?

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…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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