Gratitude is Always in Season

Image Source: Lynn DeVries

What is Gratitude

Let’s pause for a moment to examine the definition of gratitude. The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, practicing gratitude supports social emotional learning competencies for social and self-awareness.

Research has shown there are many benefits to practicing gratitude. In a study by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, they asked participants to journal on specific topics over the course of 10 weeks. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). The people who journaled about gratitude were found to have improvements in health and well-being, including increased energy levels, improvement in sleep quality, lowered blood pressure, less symptoms of pain, and feeling a greater sense of joy. Click here to read more on how Practicing Gratitude Can Increase Happiness.

Gratitude as a Mindful Practice

Practicing mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally (Jon Kabit-Zinn). Another definition states, “Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention here and now with kindness and curiosity, so that we can choose our behavior” (Dr. Amy Saltzman). Practicing gratitude can bring you to a more present-moment awareness and similarly, gratitude can lead to living in the present.

Mindfulness in Gratitude is the topic of the week for a class I am teaching for childcare professionals, Cultivating Healthy, Intentional, Mindful Educators (CHIME). The CHIME Program provides education and guidance on how to incorporate mindfulness and reflective practice into your daily routine, teaching and care giving. Engaging in mindfulness and reflective practice has many benefits for health and well-being of both providers and young children — including reduced stress, improved emotion management, better sleep quality, increased focus and attention, and enhanced relationships.

In my CHIME class, participants kept a gratitude journal for two weeks. After the two weeks, the early childhood teachers also noted a sense of greater happiness amongst themselves and others in their workplace. Another activity I modeled in the CHIME class was to make a gratitude necklace or bracelet. We selected beads that resembled a person or thing we are grateful for and shared among the group as we strung the beads. For example, I chose the blue bead as I am thankful for the fair weather and clear blue skies. The teachers will replicate this activity with preschool children.

Harvard Medical School suggests Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier and “Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

WAYS TO NURTURE GRATITUDE

Writing Thank-you-Notes or Emails

This practice can cultivate your relationships with others and help you to feel happier too. Don’t forget to send or deliver the message personally. I keep a bulletin board in my office, and it has pinned to it the special thank you notes that others have written to me. This little gesture of gratitude is a gift to the heart.

Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal

Keep the journal where it is handy to reach at a specific time each day, perhaps in the morning or in the evening. Write down 1, 2, or 3 things you can be grateful for each day. The things you write about do not have to be grandiose things or events, it can be the little things, hidden often in plain sight. It is important to stop and reflect on how this practice is going after about 2 weeks. What do you notice about your health and well-being?

Pray or Consider Thanking a Higher Power

Consider the practice of thanking a higher power to cultivating gratitude.

Mindfulness Meditation

Find a Gratitude Meditation Practice centered on what you are grateful for.

GRATITUDE PRACTICES FOR YOUNG CHILDREN


Julie A Reiss, author of Raising a Thankful Child from NAEYC says, “Teaching manners is a fine art of modeling but not always the making of meaning. Raising thankful children is a fine art of helping them make their own meaning.” We can model manners and ways to say thank you when appropriate, but it may not have meaning for children until later. Reiss suggests that learning to say thank you is not the same as being thankful, and that our role as caregivers is to model appreciation and reflect those genuine feelings back to the child.

What Does Modeling Gratitude Look Like for Young Children?

Here are some suggestions from Rebecca Parlakian and Sarah S. MacLaughlin, Nurturing Gratitude (Zero to Three, 2020)

  • Show appreciation to your children. Slow down and observe more closely. You’ll see things you appreciate about your kids—then tell them! Appreciation can be an even more powerful motivator than praise. Sharing appreciation is a strong way to feel connected to one another.
  • Show appreciation for others. Never underestimate the power of your words and actions. Your children are paying attention to the way you treat others, whether it’s friends, neighbors, a teacher, or the cashier at the market. They hear your tone with the salesperson on the phone. You set a great example when you model kindness, generosity, and gratefulness in your own everyday interactions.
  • Use the word “grateful.” Children need to learn what this new word means. Explain that being grateful is noticing something in your life that makes you happy. “I’m grateful that it’s sunny today because it was raining yesterday.” Mention gratitude when you’re doing an everyday pleasant activity, like hanging out at the playground or eating watermelon on a hot day. Pause and say, “I’m so grateful for this day!” or “Wow, this is fun!” Your enthusiasm will be contagious.
  • Make a Thankful Tree. Cut a tree trunk from cardboard or construction paper. Tape to a wall or window and cut out some leaf shapes. Ask your child to think of something they are thankful for and write one on each leaf. Then tape the leaf to a branch. Add your own “thankful things.” Have your child ask family members what they’re grateful for and add them to the tree.
  • Share stories of thankfulness, gratitude, and generosity.

As with any mindfulness practice, mindful gratitude practice does take time. The benefits may not emerge immediately, but rather gradually occur over time, and children will need to be exposed to genuine appreciation and to feel appreciated themselves. How do you practice gratitude?


LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Amy Napoli , Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist and Kara Kohel Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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CARING FOR YOUR CORE AFTER PREGNANCY

Image Source: Canva

Being active after pregnancy provides many benefits for new mothers. One important consideration for women who have recently given birth is taking proper care of the core. As the baby grows during pregnancy, abdominal muscles stretch, the tissue connecting the muscles on either side of the abdomen thins and stretches, and the back muscles become shorter. After giving birth, these changes do not immediately return to their pre-pregnancy state so caring for the core muscles is important in avoiding injury.

Note: Some post-partum women may experience separation of the abdominal muscles, called diastasis recti. This condition should be diagnosed by a medical professional. Women with diastasis recti should consult with their doctor or physical therapist about the best movement program for them. All women should check with their doctor before beginning an exercise or movement plan.

A common tendency of women seeking to strengthen and condition their muscles after pregnancy is to do crunches or sit-ups. Crunches and sit-ups primarily work one type of abdominal muscle near the surface of the torso and may even create too much pressure in the abdomen. A better strategy is to begin with smaller movements that strengthen all abdominal muscles as well as the pelvic floor.

Certified fitness instructor and personal trainer Nicole Nichols shares a series of progressive exercises in a blog for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. The series allows time for the body to strengthen before moving to the next exercise.

However, caring for the core after pregnancy goes beyond exercise routines. Being conscious of movement and posture throughout the day will contribute to a stronger, more stable center while preventing injury. Continuing with movements like those used when you were pregnant will help your body transition.

  • When picking baby up from the floor, kneel or squat down and hold baby close to the center of your body. Use your knees to lower and lift your body, keeping your back straight.
  • When putting baby into the tub or car, bend your knees, keep your back straight, and stand or kneel close to the edge of the tub or the car.
  • When working at a counter, sink, ironing board, etc., stand near the edge with your back straight and knees bent. Bend at the hips, rather than the spine, when reaching and moving.
  • To vacuum, shift your weight from one foot to another, lunging out over the forward foot. Bend at the hips when reaching or moving to the side.
  • To get up from a resting position on your back, turn to your side, then push yourself up to a sitting position.

The most important thing to keep in mind when being active after pregnancy is to allow your core the time it needs to regain strength. The abdominal muscles were continually stretched for nine months so taking several months to gradually build up to your pre-pregnancy style of movement is just fine!

References

Nichols, N. National Academy of Sports Medicine. “Progressive Exercises for Post-Pregnancy.”

https://blog.nasm.org/progressive-exercises-for-post-pregnancy

Pre-natal Exercise and Back Care Handbook. (2011). University of California San Francisco.


ERIN KAMPBELL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Kara Kohel, Lisa Poppe, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Grandparents Day – Do Something Together

Image Source: Kara Kohel

Grandparents Day 2021 is fast approaching. Have you bought your cards? Ordered flowers? If not, don’t rush out to do so. This year, consider returning to the origins of Grandparents Day and celebrating the day as the founders intended.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day. This national proclamation followed several local proclamations and a grassroots effort, led by Lucille Herndon McQuade, to recognize the important role of grandparents and older adults in society.

Although cards, flowers, or gifts have become one way of recognizing grandparents on this day, the originators of Grandparents Day had something else in mind. They envisioned a day dedicated to

  • Honoring Grandparents
    • Giving Grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children
    • Helping children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer

Lucille’s vision for families and communities on Grandparents Day was about connection: being together, having a reunion, or sharing in a community gathering. As recognition of the day became national, public affirmation of the importance of grandparents and older adults in families and society became another priority.

Organizations like Generations United and The Legacy Project encourage people of all ages to do something together during Grandparents Day and the following week. Generations United, in particular, encourages young and old to participate in intergenerational civic engagement for the week following Grandparents Day. Above all, it is an occasion for mutual sharing among the generations.

Shared Reading is an especially great way for young children to connect with the older adults in their lives. Visit your local library and ask about books that feature grandparents or have an intergenerational theme. Some titles I recommend include:

  • I love Saturdays y Domingos, by Alma Flor Ada
    • My Grandfather’s Coat, by Jim Aylesworth
    • A Little Something, by Susan V. Bosak
    • Mr. George Baker, by Amy Hest
    • Thank You, Omu, by Oge Mora

Older youth may enjoy “interviewing” grandparents and older adults about their life. A great addition to this activity is to have the grandparent interview the youth, too. Then, each person writes a story about the other. Storytelling is a great way to talk about similarities, differences, and shared hopes and dreams for the future. Creating a family tree together is another great activity that provides an opportunity to share stories of the past and hopes for the future.

These activities can be done in-person or virtually!

Finally, participating in community service or advocating for a shared cause that impacts all generations in your community or nation is a great way to observe Grandparents Day. It can be as simple as writing a letter to a local representative together or volunteering in your community. 

Image Source: Kara Kohel

We’d love to hear how you celebrate Grandparents Day! Share with us on Facebook (@UNLExtensionthelearningchild), Twitter (@UNLExtensionTLC)

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KARA KOHEL, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | NEBRASKA EXTENSION

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Linda Reddish, and Lynn DeVries Early Childhood Extension Educators, Nebraska Extension

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Choosing Quality Child Care: Guidance For Parents

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Finding quality child care near your location might seem like an overwhelming task. The Voices for Children organization reported in their Kids Count in Nebraska 2019 Report that 77.1% of all available parents in Nebraska are in the workforce, and nearly 80% of children ages 0–5 are in some form of paid child care.

A high-quality workforce is vital to care for our youngest population while parents and caregivers are working. The first 1,000 days of a child’s life have a profound impact on their brain development. We know that early relationships, environments and experiences affect all aspects of a child’s development. Finding the right place for your young child is going to take some work.

FIVE AREAS TO CONSIDER
The Learning Child team at Nebraska Extension has created a website at http://child.unl.edu/quality-child-care to guide parents seeking potential caregivers for their little one(s). The team received a national Extension first-place award for this website! The team identified five areas to consider when choosing a child care program.

Image Source, The Learning Child


1. Relationships — Children develop through relationships with attentive adults. Every day, teachers help your child feel secure and important. From the morning greeting to the end of the day, teachers should interact warmly with your child. Children who feel safe and cared for, grow in all areas of their development.

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2. Health and Safety — The program should promote the nutrition and health of children, and protect children and staff from illness and injuries. Children must be healthy and safe in order to learn and grow. Child care programs should prepare healthy food, provide opportunities for physical activity and provide a safe environment.

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3. Curriculum and Approaches To Learning — Program activities should involve learning experiences through active involvement with people and materials. It should be play-oriented and child-centered, encouraging children to develop their natural love of learning. These practices should be developmentally appropriate and align with state early learning guidelines or standards (see https://www.education.ne.gov/oec/early-learning-guidelines). Research shows curriculum content that emerges from the interest of children, leads to greater engagement with activities and experiences increasing children’s positive approaches to learning. Positive approaches to learning include characteristics such as curiosity, persistence, creativity and problem-solving skills.

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4. Learning Environment — The physical environment should include appropriate indoor and outdoor spaces to enhance learning activities for children. The environment consists of the physical layout of the room, materials children have access to and the overall sense of belonging.

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5. Policies and Administration — Programs should develop policies and procedures including family handbooks to maintain consistency within their program. Family handbooks are especially important, so parents understand what programs offer for their children and families.

Nebraska Extension has checklists to take when you tour a child care program for each of the five topic areas identified above [see “Lincoln’s Strengths and Assets” below]. Print-friendly versions are at https://child.unl.edu/choosing-quality-child-care.

WHERE CAN YOU FIND QUALITY CHILD CARE?
According to Kids Count in Nebraska Report, in 2018 there were 2,834 licensed child care facilities in Nebraska.

In 2020, First Five Nebraska, Buffett Early Childhood Institute, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative, Nebraska Children and Nebraska Extension collaborated to create a website to help you find child care. Visit http://nechildcarereferral.org to find a licensed child care program near you. On the website, you can search for child care within a certain number of miles from a specific address and even look at programs who have available openings.

Step Up to Quality is a Nebraska resource coordinated by the Nebraska Department of Education to help both families and child care providers learn more about implementing and selecting quality care. To learn more, visit https://stepuptoquality.ne.gov. In March of this year, Step Up To Quality reported they now have more than 500 programs participating in the Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS). This QRIS system was passed by the Nebraska Legislature in 2013. The system uses professional development, formal education and coaching to improve early care and education. This will increase the positive outcomes for Nebraska’s youngest children.

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CHILD CARE CHECKLISTS
Take these questions with you to ask child care programs to learn more on each topic.

Relationships
☐ How do teachers keep families regularly informed about our child’s activities?
☐ How does this program respect language, culture and the values of families?
☐ How will you help me with my child’s initial adjustment to your child care?
☐ Am I welcome to drop into the program at any time?
☐ How will we work together to help my child transition to the next class?
☐ Will my child have a consistent caregiver?

Health & Safety
☐ What meals and snacks are served, and are they prepared on site or catered in?
☐ Are emergency numbers posted?
☐ Do you have a space for mothers to breastfeed?
☐ How often does the program need a health report from our doctor?

Curriculum & Approaches to Learning
☐ What is your daily routine with the children and how do you plan for individual children’s needs?
☐ Do you use a curriculum and if so, what is it and why did your program choose it?
☐ How does your curriculum align with early learning guidelines or standards?
☐ How will my child’s learning and culture be supported?
☐ How do you train and support your staff with this curriculum?
☐ What do you notice the children enjoy about the activities during the day?

Learning Environment
☐ How much time do children spend outside?
☐ What is your policy on weather and outside play?
☐ What do you notice is the children’s favorite thing to do outside?
☐ Do you have an area for indoor play when children can’t go outside?
☐ How many children can be in this space at one time?
☐ How do you determine what materials you provide for children?
☐ Does my child need any extra clothes for outdoor play?
☐ Will my child have their own space for storing items from home, like extra clothing, book bag, coat, etc.?

Policies & Administration
☐ Did you receive a copy of the family handbook to look at before you enrolled your child?
☐ How are parents engaged in program events?
☐ How can I express concerns regarding my child’s care or education?
☐ What is the center’s sickness and health policy?
☐ What is the severe weather policy?
☐ Do you have an emergency preparedness plan?
☐ What happens if I am late to pick up my child?
☐ Is there always an administrator on site, or designated lead?

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Tasha Wulf, Lisa Poppe, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Sparking Interest in STEM through Animals and Literacy

Image Source: Jackie Steffen

What sparks your curiosity?  What sparks the curiosity of your children?  I would venture to guess that nature and animals might rank pretty high on the list of interests for you and the children you work with every day.  Using animals and nature with children is a wonderful opportunity to teach empathy, conservation and environmental stewardship.  Fortunately, Nebraska Extension has an exciting early childhood resource to share with you this year around animals and their habitats.  This year, we are thrilled to provide eight guides highlighting habitats such as the tundra, rainforest, and desert.

Image Source: Sarah Roberts

Nebraska Extension has created this great resource for parents, early childhood professionals, care takers, grandparents, and anyone who loves to read with young children that ties directly with local libraries’ summer reading programs.  Summer reading programs are taking place right now and the theme across the state is Tails and Tales.  Our STEM Imagination Guides are designed to provide several opportunities to connect with each year’s theme by featuring:

  • Familiar storybook suggestions:
    • The stories that have been selected for each guide are well-known stories and often children’s favorites.  It is okay if you child has already heard the story prior to taking part in the lesson.  Sharing a story multiple times helps children develop language and listening skills. 
  • Conversation starters:
    • When a two-way conversation is initiated with children during story time, participation in dialogic reading is encouraged.  Open-ended questions are provided in each lesson to foster dialogic reading which has tremendous academic and social-emotional benefits for young children. 
  • STEM connection experiments:
    • Children love finding out how things work through fun, hands-on projects.  The experiment included in each guide relates to the featured habitat and teaches a variety of STEM concepts that are engaging and educational.
  • Sensory explorations:
    • Sensory play stimulates children’s senses and is important for brain development.  During the suggested sensory activities, children use multiple senses which allows them to learn more from their experiences and retain more information.
  • Music and movement activities:
    • Research shows that music ignites all areas of child development and enhances skills for school readiness.  Not only is singing songs and playing games fun, but these activities also encourage self-expression and physical activity. 
  • Creative arts investigations:
    • When children create pictures of stories that they have read, comprehension improves and often motivates children to want to read and interact with books even more.  Art is an early form of communication.  Creative art suggestions allow children to express themselves and make meaningful connections with the stories.
  • Additional related readings:
    • Since each of the Imagination Guides focus on a different habitat, children often have additional questions and are interested in learning MORE!   Supplemental fiction and nonfiction books are suggested so children can expand their knowledge.
Image Source: Jackie Steffen

The STEM Imagination Guides can be utilized in a variety of ways.  No need to panic if you do not have access to the featured storybook.  Consider listening to the story online or sharing the story orally from memory.  Each Imagination Guide has a variety of options and can be customized to meet the needs and interests of the children in your care.  Incorporate all of the activities or just a few.  It is up to you!  The shared reading experience and creative play opportunities are sure to create an excitement for animals as well as foster a joy for reading.   

All of these resources are free and available for download and print at https://go.unl.edu/imagination.  This website also houses the previous year’s resources focusing on fairy tales.  This website is like a treasure chest of great literacy and STEM resources right at your fingertips.  All Imagination Guides, whether from this year or previous years can be utilized at no cost.  Enjoy this year’s habitat exploration!

SARA ROBERTS AND JACKIE STEFFEN, EXTENSION EDUCATORS | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Amy Napoli, Assistant Professor & Early Childhood Extension Specialist and LaDonna Werth and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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PLAYING IN THE MUD IS MORE THAN JUST FUN

Image source: Pixabay.com

This special blog was authored by our dear colleague and friend, Leanne Manning who lost her battle with cancer on April 9, 2021. Leanne dedicated 34 years of her life’s career to Nebraska Extension, and to the Learning Child Interest Group. Leanne was passionate about education, helping others through educational programming, and watching youth develop into their potential. She loved spending time outdoors in nature and watching blue birds. Leanne will be missed, but her work will live on in those who knew her well and had the opportunity to be instructed in her care. This is the last blog she had written and requested that it be published in June 2021. Thank you and a fond farewell to Leanne Manning.

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Remember when you were a kid and you had fun playing in the mud?  Turns out that was good for you!  Some of the benefits* of playing in the mud follow.

  1. The bacteria, Mycobacterium Vaccae, found in the soil or mud, has been found to reduce anxiety and increase serotonin (the endorphin that is used to regulate mood and makes you feel happy) in the brain.
  2. Mud play increases brain activity by stimulating a child’s senses.
  3. When children play in the mud outdoors, physical activity increases which helps children maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  4. Regular exposure to mud will reduce a child’s vulnerability to depression.
  5. Mud play reduces allergies and asthma symptoms.
  6. By experiencing outdoor mud play, children learn a sense of self and belonging in the natural world around them.  It provides a chance to explore nature, ground themselves, and learn to care for their world.
  7. Children exposed to playing in the mud have more opportunities to be creative.  There is no end to the amount of games and uses for mud in child’s play.  This can lead to an increased ability to problem solve, think critically, and be innovative.

   Ideas to get kids involved in mud play are:  

  • mud hand-prints or footprints,
  • use fingers, paintbrushes, or old kitchen tools like potato mashers to paint or make prints,
  • hang a large white sheet and have kids throw mud balls at it to create splatter painting,
  • set up a mud kitchen with pots, pans, and more to make mud pies or other culinary creations such as mud stew,
  • use a plastic kiddie pool and create a mud pit supplying them with shovels, bowls, and spoons for digging and let the children squish mud through their bare toes in the mud pit,
  • make mud castles or mud bricks,
  • make mud buddies by forming mud into people or pets.

   Ask children questions that help them think about what is happening during this experience such as: What would happen if we used sand instead of mud? What would happen if we left this mud out in the sun? What would happen if we added more water?  At Prince Edward Island in Canada, they use their famous red mud to dye t-shirts.  Maybe you could experiment with mud dying on inexpensive pieces of fabric with the children.

   Clean up after mud play can be as much fun as playing in the mud.  Take a garden hose and have children hose off.  There is no better time than now to go outside and have some fun playing in the mud….it is good for you!  International Mud Day is Tuesday, June 29, 2021…have fun getting dirty!

*Source:  https://natureplayqld.org.au/

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Sarah Roberts, and Erin Kampbell, Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Lawn Care and Young Children: Creating a Safe and Fun Place to Play

Image Source: Katie Krause

Spring is in full swing here in Nebraska and our family is spending a lot more time outside.  As I walked around our yard this week, I realized I needed to do something to help get our less than stellar yard in better condition. We have been trying to get our lawn healthy so it can withstand the wear and tear of 2 young children and 2 dogs (we are getting a new puppy next week!) playing on it year-round.

So, what does lawn care have to do with early childhood?  For our family, this is simple.  Safety.  We’d like to have a yard with enough grass that we don’t end up with a muddy mess, but we don’t want to risk our kids or pets getting sick from whatever we apply to the lawn.  I reached out to my fellow Extension Educator, John Fech, who is a horticulturist.   One of his areas of specialization is turf grass.  He responded quickly, and even wrote this wonderful blog so we could share the helpful information with you!

Check it out here: https://grobigred.com/2021/04/22/lawns-kids-pets/

John shares details about these 4 big takeaways

  • Follow the instructions exactly!  
  • Break the application into 2 or 3 part
    • This one was a huge ‘ah-ha!’ moment for me.  Don’t do your front and back yard all on the same day.  Get the backyard done, but still have safe access to your front yard.  Simple…but genius!  
  • Know how the product works – foliage active – work on the leaves, root active – goes into the ground
  • Mow – Fertilize – Water
Image Source: Katie Krause

Remember, Children Thrive Outside….so use these helpful hints to make sure your yard is functional and safe for your whole family!

KATIE KRAUSE, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Kara Kohel, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Jump, Roll, Slide at the Playground

Image source: Linda Reddish

My son loves to jump.  He is exceptional at finding launching surfaces that provide him the opportunity to challenge gravity’s hold on his feet.  I remember the day when he decided to test out jumping from the third step on the playground.  The ground beneath covered with mulch but, he looked so small to be making such a big jump.  As he lifted his arms to the sky and his knees bent, I took deep breath watching him get ready to fly.   My spouse on the other hand was a second away from saying, “that’s not safe, get down.”

Before the words could be uttered, our son jumped, landed on both feet, and then began spinning around.   Another child directly behind him yelled out, “That was awesome!  Five points for both feet.” Suddenly, the two of them were setting rules for how to earn points while jumping.  5 points for both feet, 1 point if your hand touched the ground, a hundred points if they both did it together at the same time and stuck the landing.  His parents and I made eye contact, smiled, gave a shrug of the shoulders, and continued to watch.  My spouse, again, on the other hand, was now looking at the sky and letting out a deep sigh of relief.

As the children continued to play, I asked my spouse about the warning cry he was about to utter.  He expressed his concern about him falling and that the steps seemed too high.  I shared with him that generally, you can check the “critical height” of play equipment outdoors and I showed him the sticker on the side of the equipment.  The space he was jumping from was well mulched and for our son’s height had more than enough protection because of mulch.  This made me realize something, I knew about this and could show my spouse were to find this but, I wondered how many other caregivers knew where to find this information. If you are curious about playground safety and platform guidelines click here for the Public Playground Safety Handbook from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission .

Image source: Linda Reddish

This additional piece of information helped, but my spouse still told me after I showed him the equipment safety suggestions that watching our son jump felt like a lifetime.  In reality, the exchange was only about 5-10 minutes.  Eventually, the game stopped and the children choose to go over to slope on the other side of the playground and began rolling down it.  Sometimes they bumped into each other, but their faces were smiling and laughing as they rolled. We have continued to talk about this feeling of hesitation or being uncomfortable watching our child engage in this rough and tumble play.  This feeling is not unusual among adults.  Author, Frances Carlson addresses adult’s uneasiness with this type of play in her book Big Body Play; Why boisterous, vigorous, and very physical play is essential to children’s development and learning.

She shares that adults and educators are typically motivated to reduce or hinder this type of play out of fear for the following reasons:

Image source: Linda Reddish

1. Fighting

2. Escalation

3. Agitation

4. Injury

All reasonable and understandable fears.  I, as a parent, that day, felt all of those fears too.  Perhaps not as strongly as my spouse did, but when I reflect on my teaching days, I likely responded more like my spouse did.  Ensuring children’s safety and well-being was paramount.  However, I’ve grown in my understanding of how to support children’s exploration into big body play.  I went back and re-read the chapter on how to support this type of play while balancing the safety concerns. The readings confirmed while some risk of injury is possible any time when children engage in physical play or explore outdoor spaces like playgrounds, the risk is minimal. Adults can set safe limits by setting clear expectations and ground rules, supervising or joining in on the play, and helping young children recognize their limits.  Following the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s playground, public safety and fall height recommendations are another strategy to prevent life-threatening falls or injuries in both outdoor and indoor spaces.

Carlson further addresses adult’s reservations by providing concrete ideas and examples such as encourage children to:

Image source: Linda Reddish

1. Run

2. Skip

3. Hop

4. Roll

5. Climb on structures

6. Wrestle

7. Broad jump

8. Jump from heights

Again, this type of boisterous play and physical activity has its benefits.  Children who are physically active reduce their risk of becoming overweight or obese.  That is because early childhood is an ideal time to establish children’s healthy attitude towards the adoption of health and wellness.

We continue to watch our son test out his jumping skills while he is at the playground.  Now he has moved on to running, hopping, and skipping around the loop of the playground.  He still likes to test out that third step.  Before we leave the playground, he still asks, “Can I jump off that step one more time?”

If you are interested in learning more about Big Body Play, you can check out this webinar.

Resource:

Accelerating Progress to Reduce Childhood Obesity. (2021, March 24). Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.nccor.org/

Carlson, Frances M.  (2011).  Big Body Play: Why Boisterous, Vigorous, and Very Physical Play Is Essential to Children’s Development and Learning, by Frances M. Carlson.  National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Young Children: Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 69:5 (Nov 2014), pp. 36-42.

LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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GETTING ACTIVE AFTER PREGNANCY


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Regular physical activity is important for everyone’s overall health and well-being, including that of new mothers. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), physical activity after childbirth may help prevent postpartum depression, provide for higher quality sleep, increase energy, and decrease stress.

When can I introduce physical activity after giving birth?

If you recently gave birth and feel ready to increase your physical activity level, it is important to gain approval from your doctor before engaging in your desired type of activity. It can take time for muscles and tissues to heal after giving birth. Women who experienced a pregnancy and vaginal delivery free of complications may find that their doctor approves them for gentle activity quite soon after birth. Women who had a Caesarean section should be in contact with their doctor about a timeline for introducing physical activity.

My doctor says I am ready for physical activity. What type should I do?

Ask your doctor for tips on what types of activity or exercise are best for you and if there is anything you need to avoid or build up to more slowly. Aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activity are both important for health.

Aerobic Activity

An example of an aerobic activity is walking. Walking while pushing your baby in a stroller is good for both you and your baby and serves as an excellent place to start. You can easily adjust speed and distance to match how you are feeling.


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Muscle Strengthening

Examples of muscle strengthening activities are weightlifting, Pilates, or sit ups. Muscle strengthening activities are beneficial and should be introduced with thoughtful consideration. Be aware that many traditional abdominal exercises can be a bit too strenuous soon after pregnancy. Seeking modifications for muscle strengthening exercises is important for the first few months after giving birth, even if you are feeling strong enough. Muscles and connective tissue can take weeks to heal and regain strength. Be kind to yourself and start slow—your body needs time.

How much and how intensely should I exercise?

The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a weekly goal of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week. It can be helpful to break down the time into 10, 20, or 30-minute intervals most days. Use how you are feeling as a guide for determining length of time. Begin with 10-minute intervals of lighter-intensity activity like slow walks. Gradually working up to moderate intensity exercises like brisk walks will help you safely increase your fitness.

A guide to determining the intensity of your favorite activity is to notice your heart rate and breathing. Moderate-intensity exercise will increase your heart rate and breathing. You may notice you can talk normally but singing would be difficult. When engaging in vigorous-intensity exercise, you will begin to notice that it is hard to speak without taking a pause for breath. If you were exercising at a vigorous level before your pregnancy, you will likely be able to gradually increase your exercise until you return to pre-pregnancy levels.

To enjoy benefits from physical activity like decreased stress, higher quality sleep, and more energy, after your pregnancy, choose activities that you enjoy and do them regularly. Take it slow, listen to your body, and have fun!

Click here to read about exercising during pregnancy.

https://learningchildblog.com/category/family/exercise/

Click here for ideas on being active with your family.

https://food.unl.edu/free-resources/newsletters/family-fun-on-the-run

Click here for a guide on child development, learning, and more.

https://learningbeginsatbirth.org/resources/

References

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-after-pregnancy

USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, p. 119

https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf

ERIN KAMPBELL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Jackie Steffen, LaDonna Werth, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Big Questions

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Some questions only elicit rote answers and therefore will not spark a meaningful conversation or connection. Others encourage thought-provoking conversations and ideas.

Questions are powerful tools and they encourage children to think at a higher level. The types of questions that you ask young children can affect the quality of your conversation with them.

Having intentional and meaningful conversations with your children is critical to providing an atmosphere of emotional security.  Engaging with and listening to children help them to feel valued and respected. They learn to feel safe talking with you and sharing thoughts and feelings that may be otherwise difficult to discuss.

Here are some ways to inspire rich conversations.

  • Try to ask more open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with one word. Instead of asking, “How was your day?” consider rephrasing and saying, “Tell me about the favorite parts of your day.”
  • Distractions are all around us. Take time to fully engage with your child and practice active listening in a one-on-one environment. That means removing electronics and getting down on their level. Giving children your full attention demonstrates that you respect them and what they have to say.
  • Make conversations a habit. The time of day that works best is different for everyone. Some might be able to connect deeply on the “to and from” school commutes, others at bedtime, or maybe around the table. Take notice of when your child feels the most comfortable opening up to you.
  • Do your homework. If your child is in school and you have access to daily announcements, lesson plans, or newsletters, use that information to help spark conversations. Children can fail to mention exciting events unintentionally. They may be surprised with some pieces of information that you know about their day.
  • Finally, remember that conversations are a two-way street. If you ask too many questions, children can feel like they are being drilled. Don’t just ask questions; open up and talk about YOUR day. Being authentic and modeling good communication with other adults in your house will encourage children to join in on conversations.

Asking higher level questions takes practice and time.  Think about what information you want to share with your child and what you would like to know from them.  Be genuine.  If it is tough to talk to them, don’t worry.  It is important to simply start practicing conversation skills, especially when children are young.  Have fun and keep a sense of humor and wonder.  Children will follow your lead.

Here are a few open-ended questions to get you started.

  • If you were the family chef, what would you make today for breakfast (lunch, dinner)?  Why?
  • If you could do anything today, what would it be?
  • What was your favorite part about the holidays this year?
  • This year has been hard for lots of people. Is there anything positive you experienced?  What things do you wish you could change? 
  • If you could ask me anything (parents), what would it be?

For more ideas on starting conversations and asking higher level questions, visit High Level Questions for High Level Thinking, https://learningchildblog.com/?s=big+questions, April 1, 2020 authored by LaDonna Werth. 

References:

Big Questions for Young Minds:  Extending Children’s Thinking by Janis Strasser and Lisa Mufson Bresson

SARAH ROBERTS AND JACKIE STEFFEN, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Peer Review:  LaDonna Werth & Kara Kohel