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!

More Posts

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!

More Posts

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!

More Posts

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!

More Posts

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!

More Posts

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, 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!

More Posts

Let’s Talk… Babies and Science

Science? What comes to mind? Elaborate equations, glass beakers, Bunsen burners? Or maybe you’ve come to be more open minded about science from an early childhood perspective so think of science as books and posters about nature or animals, magnifying glasses, magnets, collections of objects like shells or pine cones. Even if your notion of science is the latter, it can still be a far cry to connecting these types of objects to the world of infants and toddlers.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines science as “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation”. Let’s think of about that in terms of the world of infants:

  • What happens when a 4 month old is given a rattle? He or she bang it around or mouths it – collecting facts about the sound and texture.
  • If you build a small structure out of blocks for a 7 month old, what will likely happen? The infant will knock it down. Observation of cause and effect!
  • Ever watched an 11 month old with a container of objects… what do they do? Dump it out! Experimentation with sound, weight, (and maybe your reaction, too!)

Infants are, by nature, scientists, collecting facts about the world around them through experiments and observation.

How can you help with infants’ experimentation?

  • Give yourself over to their sense of wonder! Yes, you’ve heard the sound that two blocks clapped together make, but for an infant making this happen for the first time is magical.
  • Ask open ended questions… even of an infant who can’t answer. “What makes the block sound like that?” is great practice for you in asking and the child in hearing language.
  • Follow the child’s lead.. watch their eyes and facial expressions and provide more of what interests them.
  • Slow down… infants are learning to observe, and to be successful often takes lots of repetition, time, and patience, on both their parts and yours.

When I was a family home visitor the number one concern I heard from families was “She’s into EVERYTHING”. My response was always the same – “That is WONDERFUL news! That means she is curious and will be a great learner!” As early childhood professionals what a WONDERFUL opportunity you have to engage and enhance curiosity with your little scientists!

What examples do you have of infants being scientists?

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!

More Posts

Let’s Talk . . .Purposeful Movement

2013-07-20 07.41.57Movement is essential to brain development for young children and child care programs are expected to include gross motor movement daily either outdoors or indoors. We want children to run, jump, skip and dance!

Climbing structures, swings, and wheeled toys are common outdoor options to encourage gross motor play. However the outdoor playground equipment has limited seasonal use – too dangerous to use in the winter due to ice and frozen surfacing and too hot to play on in the summer.

Many programs are removing their climbing structures and swings because of the limited seasonal use and the ongoing cost of maintaining a fall surface. They are designing an outdoor learning space that incorporates purposeful movement so kids can be active year around.

Look at the Certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms and see how purposeful movement is built into the outdoor activity centers. These spaces provide safe, interesting, easily maintained and supervised environments that help children grow in all developmental areas.

An open space with gentle slopes give kids a chance to run, roll or slide in any season. The gentle slopes help children develop core strength, visual spatial skills, and balance.

Full body and core strength activity can be achieved with balance beams, jumping stumps and bulky building materials such as “tree cookies”, stones, and long branches. Children lift, push, pull, carry, and reach with these open ended materials that also stimulate imagination and cooperation.  Large items may take 2 or more children to move from one place to another.

A designated dirt digging area lets children use complex muscle groups without disturbing other active play.  It can become a snow shoveling area in the winter.

An outdoor music and movement area can inspire children to dance, leap, squat, roll and wiggle. This purposeful movement also serves to regulate emotions.

Durable fabric hammocks can provide a safe swinging experience. They also provide an inclusive experience for all children without special equipment.

Pathways through plantings such as native grasses and edible shrubs like hazelnuts or aronia berries can become places for children to stoop, twist, reach, pull, jump and crawl through – purposeful movement by design. Flowering plants attract beneficial insects like butterflies enhancing the children’s science learning. Deep rooted plantings absorb and redirect spring flood water.

One program planted strawberries on the roof of the playhouse where children were inspired to reach and stretch. Children learned nurturing skills by taking care of the plants, developed social skills and gained a sense of mastery by growing their own tasty snacks!

Each of these design elements provide multiple functions and require little maintenance or expense once they are established. Children are experiencing gross motor movement, learning and fun at the same time!

Get training hours at a Nature Explore workshop! Contact your Human Science Specialist to schedule one in your area!

What purposeful movement can you incorporate into your outdoor play space?

Kristi Cooper, Certified Nature Explore Educator and Design consultant, and Human Science Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Kristi Cooper

Kristi Cooper

Kristi’s expertise in caregiving, mind body skills and nature education inspires her messages about healthy people and environments with parents, professionals, and community leaders.

More Posts

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!

More Posts

Let’s Talk…Valuable Real Estate

Below is a follow-up post to last week’s blog by guest blogger Jamie Smith.

Whether you provide care in a family child care home or a center-based program, space is a hot commodity. You are constantly looking for ways to organize, store children’s belongings, arrange toys and supplies, etc.  As child development professionals, we know that we have to carefully consider and evaluate the environments and toys we provide regularly.  Here are some tips for making the most of your “real estate.”

  • Can children reach and use the toys and materials?  Successful storage of toys and materials starts with accessibility. If children cannot reach toys, they can’t play with the toys and can become bored and frustrated.
  • Do I have enough toys?  Providing fewer toys may make your program or classroom seem less cluttered and easier to clean, but this practice can seriously impact children’s behavior.  Young children require different toys and activities in order to keep them busy.  When they are bored, they may act out, bother peers, or become upset.  Providing an adequate amount of toys helps to ensure that children stay busy and have many learning opportunities.
  • Do I have too many toys?   As a child, I remember thinking “There is no such thing as too many toys!”  The adult me knows that yes, there is such a thing as too many toys!  Having enough toys and materials to rotate and bring “new” items out regularly is important, but providing too many toys at once can easily overwhelm children.  If children cannot focus or concentrate on a certain material because they have too many things to see and do, consider placing a few items in storage for a while.
  • Do I have too many toys in one spot? Too many items in one container can cause confusion and discourage children from actually playing with items.  Children may dump an entire container of toys on the floor in order to find what they really want, or simply ignore an overly-full container because they know they can’t access the items at the bottom.  Consider leaving a few favored items in the container and placing the rest into rotation later.
  • Do the children know how to use the toys?  If toys are too boring or too challenging, children will usually not use them. Providers must model how to play.  A bucket of colorful linking toys may attract a toddler, but if he or she doesn’t know how to use them or is not yet capable of using them, the only thing they know to do is dump them out.  Assisting children in their play will help them understand how to use certain materials and provide you with valuable interaction time.
  • Does every toy need to be in a container or on a shelf? We have to be creative in order to maximize the use of space.  Not all items need to be stored in containers-placing items directly on a shelf or the floor is perfectly fine.  Thinking “outside the box” will help you make the best use of the space you have.

Check out the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach FCCERS in Photos on Pinterest for creative space ideas.  They’re great ideas for anyone, not just family child care providers!!

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!

More Posts