Mindful and Reflective Early Childhood Educators

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Image source: Vicki Jedlicka

Early childhood educators work with our youngest children, 6 weeks to age 8 and often work with a vulnerable population.  Sometimes, educators are asked to work long days making minimum wage and some have more than one job.   An early childhood educator is consistently busy throughout the day, attending to children’s learning, managing the classroom and managing daily stress.  Educators benefit from practicing mindfulness and reflection.

What is being mindful?

What is being mindful?  The Association for Mindfulness in Education describes mindfulness as “…paying attention here and now with kindness and curiosity.  Mindfulness reconnects students to their five senses, bringing them into a moment to moment awareness of themselves and their surroundings”.  Dr. Amy Saltzman defines mindfulness as paying attention to your life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity. Simply, it is the awareness and acceptance of the things that happen in the present moment.

What is a mindful early childhood educator?  Practicing mindfulness is one way for educators to maintain their well-being while nurturing the children in their care. It is also a way to foster more enjoyment when teaching. Research finds that early childhood educators using mindfulness benefits children by increasing their kindness, enhancing their self-regulation, increasing their working memory, and decreasing their anxiety.

What is Reflection?

Reflection is the capacity to recognize the thoughts, feelings and intentions in ourselves and others.  If we think about this definition, why would it be important for childcare teachers and directors to be reflective?   Jeree Pawl gives us the answer “…it is not possible to work on behalf of human beings to try to help them without having powerful feelings aroused in yourself.”  The work our early childhood educators do naturally elicits many emotions throughout the day.

I was lucky enough to land a spot as a toddler teacher right out of college.  The first emotion I felt daily as I walked into my classroom of ten children 14 months – 24 months was happiness.  Still today, I miss the children racing to hug me and welcome me to the classroom.  I often experienced many other emotions on the job.  Joy, reading a book for the hundredth time to 4 children all scrambling for a spot on my lap.  Sorrow, when I learned a child was leaving our program.  Disappointment, when we could not go outside due to the weather. Frustration, when I was not able to reach a parent of an ill child.  Delight, when a child learned to do something new (like put on their coat or use a cup without a lid).

The bottom line is that without being reflective, I would not have been able to see each situation for what it was – a learning experience.  I learned so much from each interaction I had with my co-workers, the children and their families.  I wanted my classroom and our program to have positive outcomes for the children and families who attended.  The gift of time for reflection is valuable and can help us make better choices if we find ourselves in a similar situation in the future.

Local Management Required Trainings

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Image Source: Jaci Foged

Earlier this spring I had the opportunity to work with 18 childcare directors who were participating in a mandatory management training.  These trainings were delivered twice a month over a period of four months for a total of 45 hours.

I was interested to learn if infusing brief guided reflection discussions and mindfulness meditations into the existing training would be both feasible and accepted.  I decided to reach out to Holly Hatton-Bowers, an Assistant Professor and Early Childhood Extension Specialist and Carrie Gottschalk, an Extension Educator in Early Childhood. Both have experience in mindfulness and reflection. We came together and talked about simple strategies for integrating these practices into the training.

During the first session of the training participants received an overview of reflective practice, mindfulness, the benefits of using mindfulness both personally and professionally, and were invited to participate in a guided meditation.  Participants were also invited to use a mindfulness meditation app (calm app) for at least 10 minutes 5 days a week.

Before and after the training the group of directors were asked to provide their feedback and share their experiences learning about mindfulness, practicing meditations and participating in guided reflection groups. Directors were asked, “What does mindfulness mean to you?” Reflection and being present were the most commonly stated words. (See Figure 1)

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Figure 1. What does mindfulness mean to you?

“Being present” was the second concept most used to describe what mindfulness meant to the group of directors.  When we are working with young children (or parenting children), it can be easy to become distracted with a task you need to complete which may make you miss something wonderful the children are doing.  We need to take time to stop and delight in their learning.  Just the other day my 8 year old was swimming.  We have struggled for several years now to get her to go underwater due to a crazy case of swimmers ear and an aversion to ear drops.  I was elated when she said she wanted to jump in the water.  Then, she started doing cannonballs.  Next, she wanted to dive into the water!  Each time she experienced success she would swim over to me, put her arms around my neck and squeeze so hard.  She whispered, “I love you mom” and then would swim away declaring that this was the “best day ever”.  I was so happy I decided to be present, not only at the pool, but in the water to celebrate in her joy.  I encourage you all to be present; you never know what you might miss.

Although our intervention with the directors consisted of only 20 minutes of the 6-hour training day, I was pleased to learn that 91% of the childcare directors agreed that they liked participating in the mindfulness meditations.  One director stated, “I like relaxing and getting in the moment with my thoughts.”  Another said, “It was hard to meditate.  But I like how mindfulness has made me more aware of the present.”   Eighty-two (82%) percent of the childcare directors agreed the activities for reflecting were helpful.  A director said, “It made me think about the way I feel and emotions and I typically don’t take the time to do that.”  Additionally, 64% of participants reported they use mindfulness in their daily life.  One participant stated, “I’ve always practiced yoga.  But now I take more time for myself and notice the waves of my emotions.”

New Childcare Program Focuses on Mindfulness and Reflection

The integration of guided reflection, learning about mindfulness and practicing guided meditations was well-received by the childcare directors. I am excited to now be piloting a program with Hatton-Bowers and Gottschalk termed Cultivating Healthy Intentional Mindful Educators (CHIME) with approximately 40 early childhood teachers. This twelve-week program meets every other week for an hour in small groups where we practice guided reflections, meditations, and learn different strategies for practicing mindfulness in the early childhood classroom. One week we practiced mindful listening while listening to sounds of different items being shaken in a plastic egg.

Moving Forward

So, where do we go from here?  How do we develop more mindful early childhood educators?

Let’s start by setting a goal for being intentional.  An intention is a guide for how one wants to live.  For example, “Today I intend to be more positive” or “Today I intend to be more present during drop off” You can set your intention at any time throughout the day, just be sure to check in with yourself and reflect on if you are following through with your intention.

I think we can all agree that we want mindful educators working with our youngest population.

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Dr. Holly Hatton-Bowers, Assistant Professor in Child, Youth, and Family Studies and Early Childhood Extension Specialist , The Learning Child and Carrie Gottschalk, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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The Heart of a Parent

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This is not the typical blog that I write for The Learning Child, but I feel that all parents will benefit from hearing this message from the heart of a parent.

The school where my child attends hosted an all school assembly this month on bullying and cyber bulling. Parents and community members were invited to attend, so I took the opportunity to go and hear firsthand what the message was about.  I truly wish every parent could have heard this message from Mark and Joni Adler as they spoke from their hearts to tell the story of their son Reid, who was a victim of cyber bullying.

The Adlers introduced us to their family and told how they always strived to keep their children at the center of their lives. They described Reid as a good kid who followed the rules and befriended everyone he met.  He was the kid who always looked for the next fun thing to do.  Nevertheless, the Adlers also told us that Reid had made a mistake when he was in middle school.  Reid took a photo of himself on his phone that should never have been taken, and sent it to a girl. Reid never told anyone about this mistake, however, the girl ended up using the photo to blackmail and manipulate Reid, threatening to make it public.  The manipulation went on in such a way that Reid ended up taking his own life.

Reid Adler was close to his parents, and they could see that something was bothering their son. They opened the door for him to tell what was bothering him, and they had even sought counseling together after Reid had told his mom that sometimes he wondered if life was worth it. Still, Reid could not bear the thought of embarrassing his parents, friends and community, and did not tell about the photograph.

Suicide, according to the Child Safety network is the second leading cause of death of people age 15-24 in Nebraska. Mark and Joni Adler told me that they talk to student groups as Reid’s parents, not suicide prevention experts.  They hope to share this story to arm students with what to do if they are ever in a similar situation.

Joni told the students that day that we all make mistakes. Even your parents, who might seem to have it together now, have made mistakes.  She said she believes that we all experience different things so that we can learn from one another. As Reid’s mother, she gave this advice to our kids that day; do not take inappropriate pictures.  She also told them to follow their intuitions.  She said that she feels that Reid probably had that moment before he hit send that he second-guessed sending the photo.  She asked students to trust their intuitions, as they are usually what tells us that something is not right.

Joni’s next piece of advice was for students to pause before they say something, ask themselves, is it truthful and is it helpful. If the answer is no, then don’t say it. In her words, “Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to shut our mouths.”  She said to the group, that some of the kids in attendance might be the bullies. It’s human nature to hurt back those that hurt us, but she asked them to stop. Mrs. Adler stated, “If we keep up this idea of an eye for an eye, we will all go blind.”

This mother’s message is that we all have value and that it does not come from possessions or their family life. She stated, “No matter what has happened to you, or what you have done, you still have great worth, and no mistake is worth your life.” She advised the students that if they ever think of attempting suicide, talk to someone they can trust such as a parent, teacher or other trusted adult. She then said that parents can’t help you if you don’t let them in. She ended by saying that suicide is not the end of pain, but rather the transfer of pain to those who love you the most.

Mark Adler then took the stage to tell the students that this message is about leadership and courage.  Everyone has someone looking up to them, and at school, taking leadership means saying that you will not accept bullying, no matter what.  Courage is being able to step up and tell the bully that we do not do that here, and telling adults if we hear of bullying or someone talking of suicide. Courage is also telling someone if you are having those thoughts. Parents cannot help unless they know what is wrong. In closing, he asked the students to be the leaders and have courage. He asked them to remember that they can always reach a little higher and to go a little farther in kindness, leadership and courage.

I cannot begin to reproduce the powerful story that I heard at the school that day, but what I can say is that it has changed my life as a parent and as a professional.  I tell my parent education groups and childcare providers to be the hands that hold the child, be the hands that allow the child to go out and explore, and be the hands that also welcome the child back in when they are struggling with a need.  Last week in a parenting group I asked this question, “What do you hope for your children someday?” One of the parents said they hoped that their child would always feel welcome to come to them no matter what.

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Image source

From the heart of the parent who writes this blog today, my hope is for all families to communicate this openly so that our children will come to us with their joys as well as their struggles.  We have all made mistakes, learn from them and talk about them with your children.  Listen to your children when they come to you in delight, and when they come to you with the struggles, even if it is not comfortable for you.

Click this link if you would like to hear more of  The Adler Family Story

Another great resource on bullying from Nebraska Extension is this Cyber Bullying Neb Guide

The University of Nebraska has also been a part of the Born This Way Foundation.  Check out this link for more information as well as the related articles on bullying available here.

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Paulos, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Leslie Crandall, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Makerspaces in Early Childhood Settings

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Many adults have fond memories of tinkering with random items and making something from them.  Perhaps you remember making a ramp for your toy cars, or building a playhouse out of a cardboard box, or building a fort with old blankets and sticks. Often times these projects would take days to build as you encountered problems with the design and had to start over, or perhaps you needed to gather more materials as your idea emerged.  A Buzz Word is going around the early childhood education community that is fashioned out of similar experiences for young children, the Makerspace.

What exactly is a Makerspace?

In the early childhood classroom, children are provided materials with which to work together to solve a problem.  The concept requires that children cooperate, use creative thinking related to the use and manipulation of the materials.  NAEYC describes two levels of making; “Tinkering” is playful exportation and curiosity in finding out how things work. Here you might see children taking things apart.  I remember my son’s preschool teacher telling me about how he was more interested in the mechanics of the stapler than the actual project and how she allowed this exploration, which ended up in a stapler in many pieces.  Tinkering is the beginning of engineering, which starts with a problem to solve. For example in the book Brown Bear Brown Bear, how could we get over the river?

The child’s role: NAEYC breaks it down into three simple steps

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image source: provided by the parent, nonreproducible

 

  1. Tinkering: “Using the stuff”

  2. Making: “Using stuff to make stuff” that sometimes does stuff, but sometimes is just cool.

  3. Engineering: “Using stuff to make stuff that does stuff.”

 

The teacher’s role:

 Provide a variety of materials

  • Helping children to problem solve by encouraging thinking through open-ended questions
  • Give the children plenty of time to design, build, and test their products
  • Help children to fix mistakes, do not take over this role, as children will make new discoveries on their own and use trial and error along the way.
  • Safety Note: The teacher’s role involves teaching children how to safely use the “real tools” and to monitor them when in use. Teachers will need to establish rules for how to use the tools and to help the children to see and manage risks.

What kinds of materials can be found in a makerspace? 

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image source: The Learning Child

According to Cate Heroman, author of Making and Tinkering With STEM, your makerspace doesn’t have to include all of the items listed here and it is recommended that you adjust materials based on the children in your group.  Classrooms can start small around a central problem and add as they go.

 Tools

  • Child safety goggles, low-temperature glue guns, measuring tapes, rulers, scissors, funnels, child size hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, etc.

Materials

  • For building: popsicle sticks, straws, paper plates and cups, corks, wood scraps, pipe cleaners
  • For Connecting: A variety of tapes such as masking, duct, and cellophane, staplers, glue sticks, beads, string, clothespins, rubber bands, paperclips and binder clips
  • Sculpting: modeling clay, play dough, and tools such as rolling pins, plastic knives
  • Mixing tools: plastic bowls, spoons, pitchers, and ingredients for science exploration such as corn starch, and vinegar
  • Fabrics and decoration: pom-poms, feathers, buttons, fabric scraps, felt,
  • Writing materials: markers, pencils, pens, crayons
  • Electronics and technology: batteries (keep in a battery holder) flashlights, beginning circuitry kits ( These items would be for the more advanced engineers)

Where does the Makerspace fit in my classroom?

The items found in a Makerspace are similar to items found in the Art Center.  These areas could be set up adjacent to one another to make use of common materials easier to access.

Ideally, makerspaces should be organized in a way that children can easily see all the materials they have available.  Recycled clear plastic jars or drawer organizer trays work well. If children can see all that is available, they can consider which items will work best for a particular task.

To find out more on the concept of makerspaces for early learners, check out Making and Tinkering with STEM  at the NAEYC bookstore.  This publication is full design challenges appropriate for children 3-8 years, and here is an example of Maker Stations in another early childhood setting.

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image source: The Learning Child

Do you have a makerspace in your early childhood setting? How did you get started?  comment below

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Is Your Family Ready For Back To School?

It’s time to start thinking about getting your family ready to go back to school. As time allows in the next weeks before school, there are things we can do to make the transition easier for adults and children.

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Below are some strategies from Nebraska’s Department of Education in response to families commonly asked questions about preparing for, and entering kindergarten.

Separation Anxiety

If you have a young child entering kindergarten, even if they have attended preschool or gone to childcare, there will be separation anxiety for both the parent and the child. This anxiety is a normal growth pattern for children. It is part of their development. Always let your child know you are leaving. Say goodbye even though it may be difficult for both of you.

How do I help my Kindergarten aged child transition to school?

  1. Give plenty of notice that the change will be occurring. You can use phrases like, “In 5 days you will be starting Kindergarten. You will be going to a new classroom but, the teacher will be there to support you.  I will be there to support you too!”
  2. Be positive, speak about the transition using an excited and confident voice. If you do this, so will your child.
  3. Acknowledge any feelings your child might have about the transition, “You said you feel nervous about the first day, that’s okay. I get nervous sometimes when I try new things too. When I feel nervous, I take a deep breath to help me calm down.”
  4. Get to know your child’s teacher, ask questions about homework expectations, start and release times, and other classroom-specific rules or behavior expectations.
  5. On the first day if possible arrive early, give your child plenty of time to settle in and give yourself time to transition too.

Medical Records

Review your child(ren)’s medical files and make sure all their vaccinations are up-to-date and all school physicals are complete, or appointments have been made. If children are involved in sports, do they have their physicals?

 

School Supplies

Check what school supplies will be needed and watch for sales or, if necessary, learn what organizations are willing to help provide these items. Generic pencils, folders, and backpacks work just as well as the latest fad ones. These things are also good to put on birthday and gift lists for grandparents, etc.

Transportation

Plan the transportation that is used and practice safety tips for children walking and/or riding the school bus. If there are older children and they will be walking to school, practice the path. If your family will be carpooling, check with the neighbors or friends to work out a schedule.  For a list of school bus safety and tips for keeping your kids safe in and around the school bus, click here.

 

Morning and Night Routines

Start early planning and practicing the new fall bedtime and wake-up schedule. Work on methods that were not used during the summer. These might be breakfast, bath time, homework and bedtime routines. Perhaps set aside some time each evening to play a quiet game or read starting 2 weeks before the start date. Stress the importance of being awake and alert for the school day by getting enough rest.  In addition to these recommendations, the American Academy of Pediatrics (2016) suggests that “all screens be turned off 30 minutes before bedtime and that TV, computers and other screens not be allowed in children’s bedrooms.”

Double Check

Check with the school or make sure you have read and kept up-to-date on correspondence, so your children have everything they need for the new school year. Ensure that you have the start and dismissal time of school.

And remember to talk with your children about the new school year, so they’re prepared for the changes that will take place and are ready for a productive school year.

Resource: Ready for Success What Families Want to Know about Starting School in Nebraska

Original Author: Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator | The Learning Child
Revised and Peer Reviewed: August 4th, 2017 by Linda Reddish, Extension Educator |  The Learning Child
Image Source: “Laughing children playing in a gym” by 2xSamara.com, used under license from Shutterstock.com

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Nothing Can Compare to my County Fair

The sights, smells, tastes of the county fair will forever be a magical memory for the children and parents in my community.  I had the privilege as an Extension Educator to be a part of it all, working with Clover Kid 4-H youngsters from 5-8 years and their families at the Adams County fair in Nebraska.

What is a Clover Kid?

Clover kids are our youngest 4-Hers that enroll in the program at age 5.  At this age level, the focus is on helping the children to grow and develop physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually.  They learn by doing and can get involved in a variety of project areas including cooking, crafts, gardening small animals and livestock projects such as rabbits, poultry, bucket calves, or lambs to name a few.

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Involvement at the fair

In Adams County, I offer a Clover Kid day camp where the children can learn by doing as they create a few projects to display at the fair. This year the children made their own stick horses, hand print t-shirts, painted a hummingbird feeder, planted seeds to make a plant person, and created a spiral painting with a pendulum.  These fun activities offered a variety of sensory experiences, as well as encouraging problem solving and creativity.  I included a literacy component by sharing the books, “A Place to Grow” by Stephanie Bloom, and “In the Tall, Tall Grass” by Denise Fleming. The children also made their own lunch by rolling biscuit dough to make pigs in a blanket, spreading “wow” butter on celery for “ants on a log”, and building a “campfire” using grapes, pretzels and cheese.

 

The Clover Kid exhibits are non-competitive and are for exhibition only.  I was at the fair on entry day to greet the children as they entered their projects.  The children could “show and tell” by visiting with me about what they learned and sharing their favorite part in creating the project. Each child received a ribbon award.

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Parent/child activities

A family tradition at our county fair is making ice cream in a bag.  Parents help the children read the recipe instructions, measure and mix ingredients in a zipper baggie that is placed inside a larger bag of ice and salt.  The giggles and smiles say it all as everyone has a ball tossing the bag back and forth.  The best part is tasting the yummy ice cream together with their family.

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The day would not be complete without the stick horse races! The children go to the exhibit hall to collect the horse that they made and then bring it to the “race track.”  I had one of the 4-H Junior leaders demonstrate how to weave in and out of the cones for the “pole bending” race and how to maneuver around the buckets for “barrel racing.” I don’t know who had more fun, the parents or the children. I definitely had a fabulous day at the fair with my Clover Kids!

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If you would like to know more about 4-H or Clover Kids in your county, be sure to check out the Nebraska Extension website and click on Nebraska 4-H or check out the Learning Child website

Image Source: Lynn DeVries, Extension Program image

Lynn DeVries, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Parents Ask Questions about Feeding Young Children

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This week a local parenting home visiting program invited me to present a short program on feeding infants and toddlers to a group of teen parents.  The topics requested included“picky” eaters and family meal times. I was asked to keep the program short and to the point.  I decided to turn to a trusted resource for feeding young children.  I first became aware of Ellen Satter’s work through my involvement in the Head Start Programs years ago.  What I like about her research, is that she translates it into simple terms that parents and childcare providers can easily understand and apply.

Questions parents ask around feeding younger children include:

  • How often should I feed my child?
  • Am I feeding my child enough?
  • Am I feeding my child too much?
  • What should I do about my picky eater?

Begin with the Division of Responsibilities:

Satter explains the parent is responsible for what, when and where, and the child is responsible for how much and whether they choose to eat.  According to Satter, “Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to determine how much and whether to eat from what parents provide. When parents do their jobs with feeding, children do their jobs with eating: – See more at The Ellyn Satter Institute

 What about picky eaters?

If parents are consistent with the division of responsibilities, over time, their children will become well-adjusted eaters.  Ellyn Satter says that most children are more or less picky eaters. Their likes and dislikes can vary from day to day, and it may take time to warm up to unfamiliar foods. Parents may need to introduce a new food 15 times or more before a child is willing to try it.  A suggestion offered by Satter is to be sure to offer other options with a meal that are familiar to the child, but not to offer alternatives.  If there is something served with the regular meal that the child can eat, the parent is the one responsible. Let the child pick-and-choose from what is already on the table. The goal is to keep meals positive without putting pressure on the child to eat. Keep in mind that you should also try to stick to consistent meal and snack times, offering only water between these structured times.

 Will snacks spoil the child’s meal?

Growing children need snacks, as their stomach capacity is small and limited.  They need meals that are more frequent.  According to Satter,

Here is what to keep in mind about snacks:

  • Sit to snack, don’t allow yourself or your child to eat on the run or eat along with other activities.
  • Have snacks be sustaining: Include 2 or 3 foods. Include protein, fat, and carbohydrate.
  • Time snacks between meals so that your child will be hungry at the next mealtime.
  • Use snack time to work in foods you didn’t get otherwise, such as vegetables

Click here for more information on Sit Down Snacks

You can also check out The Ellen Satter Institute Facebook page  if you would like to hear more about their research on children’s eating.

What are some of your favorite recipes for children’s meals and snacks?  Comment below

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Lynn DeVries, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Learning to Read

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Recently I listened to a webcast presented by Dr. Victoria Molfese, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Interim Associate Dean for Research, Chancellor Professor and Co-Director of Early Development and Learning Lab on the research she and others have been conducting for about forty years on how children develop the ability to read. She joked that even though they have been studying this for forty years they still don’t know the answer; she said they are getting close but they still need answers. She began with the statistic that about 17% of the 4 million children born in the US each year will have difficulties learning to read. And in Nebraska that number is 4,555 children. She also stated that 85% of the children in the juvenile justice system are illiterate.

So what are the benefits of reading?

Dr. Molfese listed these four benefits: learn what is and what can be; learn skills for careers or professions; provides insight into communication; and allows the reader to be able to access information and expertise. If you are reading this you probably have trouble imagining what it would be like to not be able to read or to have extreme difficulty with reading. The ability to read opens up whole new ways to discover our world. It presents opportunities for human growth and development and learning skills that can enable a person to find a rewarding career or profession.

Current research

Dr. Molfese talked about her current research which focused on phonological awareness skills and alphabetic knowledge. Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate separate sounds within words for example va vs. pa or ba vs ga. Alphabetic knowledge is understanding that sounds of a language are represented in letters and that letters combine to form words. What she has found is that newborn responses to speech predict later reading skills. She stated that intervention, even intensive intervention, has not shown to ever fully bring a child to the developmental level of where fully developed peers are with their reading skills.

To learn more about her research you can access her presentation online at The Nebraska Lectures, Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture Series The presentation is titled, “Learning to Read: Making Sense of the Evidence.”

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LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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The Power of Play

Children bubble nests, Leanne

Play has a very vital role in the normal development of animals and humans. This lesson was brought home in a myriad of ways in the book, “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Brown, S.L. & Vaughan, C.C., (2010), NY, NY; The Penguin Group. Here are some of the salient points from their book about the importance of play in our lives; it just may make you want to drop the work you’re doing and run outside and play!

Have you ever heard of the term “snarly”? Apparently cats and other social animals can become that way if they miss out on play. Without play, cats lose the ability to sense others’ emotional state and to respond appropriately, thus they become overly aggressive or retreat and not engage in normal social patterns. We have a cat named Angel (she’s not one)  if anyone or any creature comes within a foot of her, she usually lashes out at them. You never see her play and she’s pretty aggressive as a result. If you have a snarly friend, you might invite them out for some serious playtime.

Providing infants and young children the chance to play and enjoy friendships with others helps their whole-brains grow and develop. If they are not engaged in play and participate in solitary activities then neural growth occurs in only one area of the brain. Play also aids in developing new connections between neurons and brain centers that did not exist before. These neural pathways that are lit up during play are essential to continued brain organization.

When we can’t play, over the long term, our mood darkens. We become hopeless and anhedonic or incapable of feeling sustained pleasure. My aunt used to say, “all work, and no play makes (insert name) a dull boy or girl.” It is an old saying, but it does ring true.
Some of the benefits of play include, the capacity to become smarter, to learn more about the world than what genes alone could ever teach, and the ability to adapt to a changing world. We all want these things for our children, our family, and ourselves. Now go find a friend or friends and some children and take some time to have some fun!

Featured Image Source: Leanne Manning

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Playful Learning

CJ&J

According to Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Department of Psychology, Temple University, humans learn best when they are active and engaged. Playful learning works and it is one of the areas in which families engage in active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive learning where humans can grow important skills in and out of school. Dr. Hirsh-Pasek distinguishes the difference between free play and guided play as free play being when the child both initiates and directs the play whereas with guided play the adult initiates play and the child directs it.

An example of guided play would be a children’s museum where the exhibits are designed by adults and children come and play as they wish with the exhibits. In guided play the adult plans the play environment and plays with children. The adult also asks stimulating open-ended questions that build upon the discovery found in play. And adults also suggest ways to explore materials that children may not think of. Research shows that guided play can advance young children’s skills in: reading, language, mathematics, spatial learning, executive function, and social emotionally.

Hirsch-Pasek shared some ideas of how a community can be involved in guided play and park-based learning. She talked about the Ultimate Block Party they held in NYC’s Central Park where Legos were available for building all types of structures, 28 science experiment stations were set up for such discoveries as pouring and measuring water, and where they played the largest game of Simon Says which enhances executive function. She referenced Parkolopy which was currently being developed and will be a life-sized game board where participants move themselves through the game. Players roll life-sized die that have regular faces on them and faces expressed as fractions. And she told of Urban Think Scape where benches at bus stops had turning puzzles behind them and other benches that acted as scales lowering themselves as more people sat upon them. Another idea was that of using multi-colored street lights with cranks on them that allowed children to turn the light to whatever color they wanted and other street lights that had a moveable shadow-pattern that children could manipulate and see the show upon the ground as they turned the cranks on the light poles.

Dr. Hirsch-Pasek closed her presentation with a paraphrased quote from Carla Rinadi, President of Reggio Children, which reads, “It is unclear how play and learning were ever divorced from one another. They are like the wings of a butterfly—one play and one learning and without both the butterfly will never take flight.”

Featured image source: Extension CJ&J.jpg

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Grape play dough made me want to become an early childhood teacher

Mark1

Have you ever heard this statement “So, I have a silly question.”

As an early childhood specialist, I listened to teachers ask this question only for it to lead into a richer discussion regarding their classrooms.  For many years, I coached infant and toddler teachers, and I used this statement as an opportunity to introduce the importance of responding to young children’s curiosity.  Whenever a teacher led with that comment, I would either start the coaching conversation or end the conversation sharing the following story…

When I was three years old, my mother attended ESL classes at the county’s local community college.  Adjacent to the college was a small childcare lab school that I attended for preschool.  It was an incredible program. Well-defined learning centers with warm, patient, and interactive teachers.  Now knowing what I know, the program was certainly a high-quality early childhood program.  I am confident my preschool experiences reinforced my aspiration to become an early childhood professional.

One day, I asked my preschool teacher if she was a magician.  Every day, my preschool teacher offered in the art center a fruit-scented play dough. I was perplexed by the possibility that play dough could smell sweet like grape juice, or citrusy like lemons. It was beyond my imagination.  I remember her response, and all these years I have carried it with me.  She said, “What a silly question, and I am so glad you asked it. Tomorrow you can help me make it, and I will show you the magical powder that goes into it.”  My preschool teacher met my curiosity responsively instead of dismissing it.  She relished in my joy; I can still hear her laughter as I helped her make the play dough.  That day my teacher taught me that play dough was not just pliable dough; it could be so much more.  It was beyond anything I could have imagined.  My teacher recognized this question as a teachable moment and an opportunity to strengthen our relationship by affirming my question instead of dismissing it.  This experience inspired the creation of my twitter handle @beyondplaydough (I invite you to follow me).

Have you ever wondered what it is like for young children when they ask adults questions? 

If we are hoping to instill a sense of joy in learning, it is up to us as early childhood educators to respond authentically to young children’s bids and questions, no matter how silly they may seem.

As the mother of a preschooler who is currently in this state, I can relate to my teacher’s delight many years ago.  The other night, while reading Duck on Bike by author David Shannon I paused on the hilarious page when all of the animals hop on the bicycles.  I wanted to focus on defining new words by using what he already knew about bikes and then conceptually map the different types of bikes while introducing new vocabulary.  As I pointed to each bike, I explained how Chicken was actually on a tricycle because it had three wheels.  I noted that Pig and Pig were on a tandem bike built for two!  Then, our son noticed one of the bicycles had a different shaped seat.  He pointed at it and I told him it was called a banana seat, and immediately giggling ensued.  He turned his head to look up at me and said, “You cannot sit on a banana Mama, it would be all mushy, that is just so silly. Why would anyone be so silly Mama and sit on a banana?”

Right on little guy, why would anyone be so silly?

What is the silliest question a child has asked you?  Did the question delve into a deeper level of learning? Were you able to use it to further a child’s understanding of a particular concept, if so how?

Comment below!

Source: Linda Reddish, personal image

Linda Reddish, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and

John Porter, Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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