Learning to Read

Child-Reading

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

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

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The Power of Play

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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

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

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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

  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.”

 

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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?

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 tape such as masking, duct, and cellophane, staplers, glue sticks, brads, sting, clothespins, rubber bands, paperclips and binder clips
  • Sculpting: modeling clay, playdough, 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)

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Playful Learning

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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

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

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

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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

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What’s the Buzz on Insect Repellant and Kids?

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Spring is in the air and we will soon see families and children enjoying time outdoors, in backyards, and in the parks.  One thing that can spoil this picture are the annoying biting insects and mosquitoes.  I wanted to know what the experts say about the safety of insect repellents on small children, and I was surprised to find out that deet is not as bad as I had thought.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that insect repellents containing deet are safe for children as young as 2 months. Bug repellents with deet come in varying strengths – some contain up to 30-percent deet. A higher concentration of deet does not mean a product is stronger, only that it lasts longer.

Another ingredient similar to deet in some repellants is Picaridin, which has been used in European countries for 10 years and is becoming more popular in products available in the U.S.  There are also natural repellants made with oils such as lemongrass and citronella.  Along with repellants, parents and caregivers can prevent insect bites by dressing children in long sleeve clothes and socks and shoes.  It is suggested that parents avoid products that combine sunscreen and insect repellant.  While it is good to reapply sunscreen often, it is not recommended to reapply the insect repellants.

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Parent’s Magazine highlights many of the products you can buy in their Ultimate Guide to Bug Repellant for Kids, with specific application information for each product. Check out what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says about Insect Repellant Use and Safety in Children. It is always a good idea to ask your trusted pediatrician what they would recommend for your child. The Center For Disease Control also has recommendations for Insect Repellant Use and Safety.

There are so many positive reasons to get children outdoors to play and explore.  Be informed on how you can prevent insect bites from scratching your plans.

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LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Paulos, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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High Quality Child Care Depends of Effective Family Engagement

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Creating Opportunities for Parent Partnerships

Opening the doors to meaningful contacts and connections with parents is a fundamental piece in building relationships with families.  Early childhood professionals who insure this is done well and in accordance with best practices are getting to know their families well.  They understand the backgrounds and special talents and skills that their family clientele bring with them and they work to incorporate these gifts into activities and learning in their child care homes and centers.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) outlines 6 principles of and also gives insight in to specific ways early childhood programs can meet this standard of excellence in their day to day practices.

Six Principles of Family Engagement Recognized by NAEYC:

  1. Families participate in decisions and goal setting

Invite families to participate in decision making and goal setting for their child.

This can be done through initial intake questionnaires, regular parent teacher conferences, and a consistent staff person to follow the family throughout the program.

  1. Teachers and Programs Engage Families in Two Way Communication

Face to face, written, and on-line communication that is both school and family initiated and in the family’s preferred language that invites a dialogue about the child’s educational experiences as well as what is happening in the early childhood center.

  1. Reciprocal Relationships

Staff are connecting with families to learn about their lives, communities and cultures, and work to intentionally integrate this into the curriculum and instruction.  Programs also work to help families to share some of their own special skills, talents, and knowledge and invite them to take an active role in the school environment.

  1. Learning Activities at Home and the Community

Programs are educating families about child growth and development and connecting families to other services available in the community to support their child’s education.  Many times communities have free or low cost events for families with young children.

  1. Families are involved in Program Decision Making

Family members are asked to serve on committees and boards that help make decisions to shape the policies of the program.  Families have input on hiring of personnel, admission policies, and input on menus to name a few. They can also lead the way in raising funds for special projects.

  1. Programs implement a comprehensive program-level system for family engagement

Programs are intentional in reaching out to families in a variety of ways and teachers are given support and training in effective family engagement strategies including having a diverse staff that mirrors the community in which they serve, and ensuring that the curriculum that serves as the foundation for educational experiences and environments is anti-bias and inclusive for all participants.

Check out the full article from NAEYC Effective Family Engagement

At a recent early childhood conference, I attended, the Buffet Early Childhood Institute gave this advice on creating parent partnerships:

Listening Conferences

Prior to the start of school, invite parents to do the talking at a special parent-teacher conference. The idea is to engage the family before school starts to gain valuable new information about the child and family, which can be incorporated into the learning environment.

Conference Artifact Activity

Another helpful strategy to learn about children at conferences is to invite the parents to share one artifact or special item that has a special meaning to their child. When parents share their story about the item, it gives them a voice in the meeting, and provides the teacher with important insight into who the child is.

The Buffett Institute is dedicated to research, practice, policy, and outreach initiatives to improve the early life experiences of children from birth to age eight.

What strategies are you using to engage families in your early childhood care and education programs?

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LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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Get Back to Nature!

After 70 degree temps earlier this month, I was snowed in at home due to ice and white out conditions.  That’s nature in Nebraska.  We could think of all kinds of reasons to be negative about the weather, but I say, “Let it Snow!”  I remember as a child the many fond memories of playing in the snow with my family, and it was something to look forward to each winter season.  Sledding, making snowmen and snow forts and exploring the different types of snow (such as the kind that easily packs together for building versus the light and dryer type of snow) allows children to connect with nature and the outdoors, while at the same time building their sense of creativity, problem solving, motor skills, and social emotional development.

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Last month I delivered a program to childcare center directors where we focused on spaces to learn and grow and the importance of designing outdoor spaces for children in our care to experience nature.  No matter what season it is, research indicates that children who have opportunities to experience their natural environments have the ability sustain concentration, delay gratification, and cope with stressors in their lives.  Research done in the Netherlands demonstrated the distance one lives from the nearest green space and the prevalence of many major illnesses including Anxiety disorder and depression in children under age 12. According to Louise Chawla, Professor of Planning and Urban Design from the University of Colorado, “Adults in many studies report that memories of a special place in nature experience in their childhood gives them a pool of calm on which they can draw in difficult times.”

When designing spaces for children, I advise childcare providers to include a balance of natural spaces and play equipment. Include areas with small trees, and perhaps a water feature and patches of soil to explore as well as to garden in. Play equipment that is safe for children can be interspersed within the outdoor space and the natural additions of plants and pathways can create natural barriers to define the purpose of these areas.  Check out Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature for some great before and after outdoor spaces designs in childcare settings as well as a detailed explanation to the many benefits of natural environments.

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Bringing the outdoors in to the classroom or center is also essential in early childhood curriculum. Consider the many classroom centers and the possible items from nature that could inspire and challenge children’s exploration.  Classrooms can add sticks and rocks or tree cookies to the building area, or introduce seeds and leaves to the science center.  Could these items be used in the art area? If you have small group experiences, you might explore the seeds inside of a pomegranate or pumpkin.   NAEYC shows how early childhood settings can introduce nature in the classrooms and allow children to take the lead in exploring these materials by Connecting Young Children With Nature .

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Children spend a good majority of their time in childcare, and therefore it is essential that we include natural outdoor learning environments and experiences to enhance their overall growth in development in all domains.

What are you doing in your childcare home or center to Get Back to Nature?

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

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Got the Urge to Splurge?

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Marketers make it easy to want “more bang for your buck” such as up-sizing your meal at the fast food restaurant or upgrading a cell phone or cable package. It is very tempting to receive “more” for what appears to be a relatively small additional cost. Resist the urge to splurge as those extras definitely add up! For instance, if a family of four eats out three days a week, the family will spend nearly $4000 a year on fast food.

Every year, families should review their communication (cable, satellite, phone, internet) service plans to see if they are fully utilizing their contracted services.

Explore the following:

  • Do you pay extra for an unlimited data plan, but only use a small amount of data every month?
  • Do you send numerous texts each month, but only have a small number included on your plan?
  • Do you have premium movie packages on your cable or satellite plan but find you do not watch any movies? If you do like to watch movies, be sure to compare the cost of adding on premium movie channels to using online streaming services.
  • Do you have a land line phone with unlimited long distance and have a cell phone with unlimited minutes? If you have an unlimited cell phone plan, you may decide to completely cut your land line or that you only need a very basic land line.
  • Do you need higher internet speeds? If you only surf the web and send emails, low bandwidth may be sufficient. If you stream high volumes of content or online gaming, you many want a higher bandwidth.
  • If you decide to switch providers for better or different services make sure you check with your current provider first. Many will have customer retention agents who will work with you to offer you a better plan or a better rate.
  • Bundling packages can be beneficial however evaluate each component of the bundle separately. For example, if you are considering a home cable, internet, and land line phone bundle, price each option separately for the exact service or product that would best meet your needs. Also, if there is a promotional pricing with the bundle, be sure and check long-term costs of the service (i.e. what will it cost when the promotion ends) and how to change your plan when the promotion ends. Be certain to mark the date on your calendar when the promotion ends so you remember to take action.

Source: https://militaryfamilies.extension.org/tag/30-days-of-savings/



LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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6 Tips for Savvy Online Shopping

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  1. Look for coupon codes before buying. If you search the merchant’s name and “coupon code” you should be able to see the latest coupons for things like free shipping or a percentage off. Check the coupon’s expiration date and if it requires a certain dollar amount be spent before using.
  2. Consider setting up a separate email account just for coupons to go from stores where you shop. You only need to check the account when you want to make an online purchase.
  3. If you are not needing to make a purchase right away, leave the items in your virtual shopping cart. Many time, after a few days, the merchant will contact you with a coupon to encourage you to complete the purchase.
  4. Daily deals (usually for 50% off or more on retail prices) are growing in popularity. Be cautious not to click to buy just because it’s a great deal, make sure it is something you really need.
  5. Safeguard your personal information when shopping online. Be sure the website you use is secure (https) and that you are on the legitimate retailer’s site. Knock-off sites do exist and it may be hard to tell the difference from the real thing. 6. Use a credit card, as opposed to a debit card, when shopping online. With credit cards there is a time period after making the purchase before you need to pay your bill (not the case with debit cards where the money comes out of your account immediately). You can use this time to settle any disputes that may arise on transactions.

Source: https://militaryfamilies.extension.org/2016/07/26/cybershopping-saving-strategies/


LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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