Let’s Talk… Sense of Wonder

Take a look at the photograph for this post… what do you see? Probably the first thing you notice is a warm, sunny beach, especially as we here in Iowa head into the long, cold, dreary months of winter. But look a little closer…. Now what do you see?

I have to admit this picture makes me smile for many reasons. First, it is of my 22 year old daughter, Mackenzie, and her beloved 2 year old friend, Petsi. The picture was taken on the remote island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, where Petsi’s Papa grew up and where his family still lives. So it makes me smile because the picture is of people I love and a place that has special memories.

But it also makes me smile because this photograph captures simply and beautifully a life philosophy I hold dearly – maintaining a sense of wonder! Mackenzie and Petsi are both completely lost in exploring the object in Mackenzie’s hand. For them, the world has stopped, and the only thing that matters is exploring that item, even if for just a few moments.

Children have an innate sense of wonder – each and every day new and interesting things cross their paths to explore and ponder. The day-to-day busyness of caring for children, however, can get in our way of slowing down to appreciate and encourage children to observe and wonder. Maintaining a sense of wonder is important for children’s development, though, because is helps build children’s curiosity, which leads to success in literacy, math, science… all sorts of areas! There is also simply great joy in getting lost in wonder, for both children and for us as adults.

As we enter this especially busy time of year of holidays, runny noses, mixed up schedules, and bulky winter clothes, remember to pause, catch your breath, and get lost in the sense of wonder children have about twinkly lights, snowflakes, tassels on stocking caps and all the other wonderful things that capture children’s sense of wonder!

P.S. What do you think has Mackenzie and Petsi so intrigued? We’d love to hear your thoughts at Let’s Talk… Child Care!

(Photo used with permission by Pettee Guerrero and Mackenzie Thompson)

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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Smart 911

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Iowa Children and Youth in Disasters Summit on Friday, September 22nd.   The summit was sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Iowa Emergency Management Association.  I was really impressed with the variety of community member’s present-law enforcement, fire fighters, emergency management personnel, Child Care Resource and Referral, the FBI, and other concerned partners.

The summit allowed different agencies to share what they do, their experiences in emergencies and disasters, as well as how they assist children and families in Iowa.  Melissa Juhl, from Child Care Resource and Referral shared information about the new Emergency Preparedness trainings and requirements for child care programs.  It is reassuring to know that providers across the state are now more prepared than ever for emergencies, and you should all be very proud of your efforts!

Tracey Bearden, from the Polk County Emergency Management Agency, gave a short presentation on Smart911.com.  This program is nationwide and free.  It allows you to create a profile about your home, detailing how to enter the home, who lives/works/attends, medical conditions, medications, emergency contacts, etc.  The Safety Profile is secure and confidential.  If you call 911, only the dispatcher can see your profile and use the information to help first responder’s best access your home/building and assist you.

I have shared the information about Smart911 with family, friends, and co-workers, as I think it is a great new resource.  As child care providers, I encourage you to look into creating a Safety Profile.  The profile will indicate how to enter the building (access code, etc.), who in the building or home has mobility issues, hearing impairments, speaks different languages, takes medications, etc.

Knowing that there are so many infants who will need evacuated, what medical conditions and medications are taken by children and staff, and the hours children are present can greatly assist fire fighters, EMTs and other emergency response teams.

It only took me about 15 minutes to complete my Safety Profile for my home, and I could even include information about my pets!





Jamie has worked with young children and their families for over 15 years. She is dedicated to ensuring that all young children receive high quality care and education.

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Last Minute Trick or Treat Reminders


Your favorite super hero, princess, monster, or witch is anxiously awaiting trick or treat night, and you’re just as anxious to see them show off their costume!  Each community has different traditions and times for this special evening, so please check with your local newspaper, city website, or other resource for information.  It may be last minute, but here are a few health and safety tips for trick-or-treat night.

Dress appropriately:   Beggars Night in Iowa can be frigid or warm, depending on the year. I remember a trick-or-treat experience that was disappointing to me as a child, but kept me safe.  It was freezing cold that night, so my mom told me to put on my snowsuit, handed me an old pair of ski polls, and said, “You’re a snow skier this year.”  My previously planned costume was not going to be warm enough, so I had to go as something else. I was upset that I couldn’t wear my intended outfit.   Now, I don’t even remember what that first costume was, I just remember being warm and cozy (and trying to manage adult-sized ski poles and my plastic treat pumpkin).   Be prepared for cool, windy, Iowa weather-dress children in layers that can be added or removed as needed.

Avoid unknown places:  Traditionally, we know that if the front exterior lights of the home are on, the family inside is open for trick-or-treaters.  Remind children to only trick-or-treat at homes of people they know and to wait until an adult has looked over their loot before eating any candy.  It is best to trick-or-treat in groups and with an adult.

Crush the sugar rush:  Too much candy can be a problem.  It’s easy to overload on all those goodies, but it’s important to remind children of healthy habits.  Some dentist offices will exchange prizes for candy.  If kids have too much candy, have them take it to a nursing home or assisted living facility to share with elderly members of the community.  Even if the residents there cannot enjoy the sweets, they will definitely enjoy a visit from some local children.

Talk about culture:  Some families do not participate in Halloween or trick-or-treat. This is a great time to discuss different cultures and how they celebrate throughout the year.  Others may not be able to eat candy due to allergies, illness, or dietary restrictions.    You can encourage children to think about being inclusive-offering stickers, pencils, and other non-food items to trick-or-treaters.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a great acronym for “SAFE HALLOWEEN” on their website at https://www.cdc.gov/family/halloween/index.htm.  The information is helpful and provides safety tips that you may not have thought of.


Enjoy your night!!



Jamie has worked with young children and their families for over 15 years. She is dedicated to ensuring that all young children receive high quality care and education.

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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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