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


Photo source: Canva

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.


Photo source: Canva

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

Image Source: The Learning Child

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

Helping Foster a Growth Mindset in Young Children

Image Source: Stock Photos

“Mommy you do it … It’s too hard for me … I can’t do this … I don’t understand.” The struggle is real. I think it is safe to admit we all have had moments where it seems easier to ask someone else to do something or just give up rather than to keep trying. Raising children can be difficult, and the pressure is on us to help our children be the best they can be. Too often, we might find ourselves jumping in to help the child accomplish something even though (with a little effort) they may be able to do it themselves. You might be thinking that jumping in and rescuing your child works for you. For instance, opening up the granola bar wrapper is relatively easy for you — but might take quite a bit of effort from your child. The child might whine or become frustrated when they cannot immediately open the wrapper. In the long run, our children need to be able to persevere, to fail and try again, to be disappointed and to put in the hard work.

Caregiving Adults

We might need to step back for our children to move forward. Dr. Carol Dweck is a researcher at Stanford University. According to Dweck, there are two types of mindsets — a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe their qualities are fixed traits and, therefore, cannot change. These people document their intelligence and talents rather than working to develop and improve them. They also believe talent alone leads to success, and effort is not required. Alternatively, in a growth mindset, people have an underlying belief their learning and intelligence can grow with time and experience. When people believe they can get smarter, they realize their effort has an effect on their success, so they put in extra time, leading to higher achievement.

Mindsets

Dweck has found that mindsets can change, and when a mindset changes, learners do better. History shows us there are a lot of famous people who have displayed a growth mindset. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team but went on to become a famous professional basketball player. The Beatles were rejected by Decca Recording Studios who said, “We don’t like their sound; they have no future in show business,” yet they went on to become a very popular group. Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as news anchor because she “wasn’t fit for television” yet she hosted the longest-running talk show on television which ran for 25 years. Growth mindset is real and attainable.

Graphic by Nigel Holmes

Fostering Growth

So how do we foster a growth mindset in the children we care for?

• Consider the language you are using with children. Words have meaning and communicate an important message to the receiver. The language we use tells others what to believe and what we think of them. Example, instead of saying, “It’s not that hard;” say, “You can do hard things.”

• Explain to children our brains can learn and grow. For young children, try reading stories to them which focus on growth mindset. Examples include Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, Listening With My Heart by Gabi Garcia and The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.

• Have daily learning discussions. Encourage children to be their best each day, to put their heart into their work. Remind children it is okay to start their day over whenever they need to. Failure does not mean we are finished; instead, see it as an opportunity to begin again.

• Encourage and model positive self-talk. If you notice your child being critical of themselves, ask them what they would say to a friend who is in a similar situation. Explain to the child it is important to treat ourselves with the same care and respect we treat others. It is small, but when a child tells you something (they cannot tie their shoes), add “yet” to the end of their statement. “You cannot tie your shoes, yet.”

• Encourage risk, failing and learning from mistakes. Remind children disappointment, setbacks and making mistakes are a part of growing up. Focus on effort by saying, “I like how you tried a new way to solve that.”

Suggested Resources:

JACI fOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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Adaptability and Stability: Changing and Maintaining Traditions, Rituals, and Routines During a COVID-19 Holiday Season

Image Source: by K Kohel in Canva

Traditions, rituals, and routines are good for all of us. They contribute to a shared sense of meaning, increase our connection to others, and can even support resilience in difficult or stressful times. The winter holiday season is one that is looked forward to by many families and young children. Various traditions bring family and friends of all ages together to share meals, exchange gifts, and simply be in the presence of loved ones.

The 2020 holiday season is not exempt from the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know this holiday season may be experienced differently by many of our readers, and we want to acknowledge any feelings of confusion, frustration, sadness, or anger that you may be experiencing. We hope this blog provides encouragement and a few ideas for connecting with loved ones and making this a meaningful holiday season.

Young children are often more perceptive of adult emotions than we expect. They may not understand why the adults in their lives are upset, but they can sense that something is not quite right. As adults, it is important that we model emotional awareness and self-regulation for young children and invite them into conversations about emotions. Read for Resilience is a Learning Child program that is free and available to all through our website. This program aims to help adults and children share conversations about difficult topics through the process of reading and discussing storybooks.

If this holiday season is made more difficult due to loss or feelings of grief, sadness, and frustration, consider a ritual that acknowledges those feelings and helps your family share them together. For example, if you have lost a loved one this year, consider making a special ornament to hang on your tree with their picture or a symbol that reminds you of their life. Use the hanging of this ornament as a special time to share memories of that person.

Although your traditions may look different this year, it is still important to connect with loved ones. If you are “gathering” with your family online, consider having a conversation with your children about why your traditions are important to you and your family. Ask older members of the family to share how some traditions have been passed down and others have changed over the years. Encourage older family members to reminisce about the holidays when they were children, and have young children talk about how things are both the same and different than they used to be. Have all members take time to share what they are grateful for. These intentional conversations help build relationships among the many generations in your family.

Finally, many families and communities of different backgrounds have special celebrations that occur throughout the year. In addition to celebrating your family’s treasured traditions – perhaps in new ways – consider taking the time to learn about the traditions and holidays of others.

Image source: by K Kohel, in Canva

For more on routines, rituals, and traditions during the holiday season, check out these other Learning Child blog posts:

  1. Teaching Kindness and Giving with a Holiday Twist
  2. Connect with Your Children this Holiday Season
  3. Tips to Manage Holiday Stress
  4. The Power of Storytelling
  5. Keeping Routines is the Secret to a Calm Holiday

And these additional resources (also linked in the blog):

  1. How Important is Thanksgiving Soup to a Child’s Wellbeing?
  2. Creating Routines for Love and Learning
  3. Let’s Use this Time to Strengthen, Not Weaken, Bonds Between Generations

Staying Connected During Social Distancing

KARA KOHEL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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3 Teaching Strategies for Supporting Children’s Tinkering, Making, and Engineering in Makerspaces


Video by cottonbro from Pexels

Direct link for video:

https://www.pexels.com/video/two-kids-building-a-gingerbread-house-3198432/

Picture this. Child and caregiver are at the table using their Makerspace baskets. Both sit side-by-side, exploring the materials in front of them when the following question is asked…

Child “I can’t decide if I want to stick the pipe cleaner or the paper towel to my board.”

Caregiver “Well, what problem are you trying to solve today?”

Child “I don’t have a problem. I want to know what is sticky.”

Caregiver “Hmm, figuring out what is sticky is a good idea to explore. I wonder what’s something we have here on the table that is sticky?”

Child “Nothing”

Wondering what happens next? 

Curious how the caregiver might respond? Me too…!

A previous blog (written by Extension Educator Lynn Devries) described how to create Makerspaces in early childhood settings. The blog broke down the child’s role in Makerspaces.

  1. Tinkering
  2. Making
  3. Engineering.  

In this post, the focus shifts to three teaching strategies that can be used to support the child’s exploration in Makerspaces.

  1. Ask questions or prompt children’s thinking
  2. Follow children’s lead
  3. Teach and model safe use of tools and materials

Strategy 1

First, open-ended questions and “I wonder… or Tell me more…, or That’s interesting, could you explain that to me…” prompt children’s thinking. Well, you might be wondering yourself, what does prompting children’s thinking even mean? Prompting is a specific teaching strategy that fosters children’s imagination and creativity and generates new ideas.

Strategy 2

Second, when allowed to lead, young children are more likely to be engaged in the activity and stick with it. This is because children are actively involved in learning how to problem-solve with caring adults rather than adults solving their problems. Children build their confidence by leading their investigation, and that further encourages children to try out new ways to learn, explore, and problem-solve.

Strategy 3

Finally, Makerspaces are meant to include real tools and materials. The caregiver’s primary responsibility is to help children understand how these tools materials are used in everyday problem-solving. In addition, it is important to teach and model how to use them and why it is vital to follow the set expectations and use these materials appropriately.

For example, the caregiver can teach and model how to safely get materials (like how to hold scissors while walking), use the materials (wearing goggles while using a hammer), and put materials away (closing the lid on a box holding different sized small buttons).

Let’s Keep Following the Example Above to See How the 3 Teaching Strategies Support Exploration

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels

Direct link for image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/anonymous-cute-toddler-girl-holding-brush-for-getting-white-paint-from-plate-standing-on-chair-3933226/?utm_content=attributionCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pexels

Caregiver “Hmmm! I wonder, have you looked a little closer at the blue box? I think there might be a few tools in there that are sticky.” Strategy 1

Child (rummages around but in the process is starting to knock over a box that is holding cut up cardboard)

Caregiver “It looks like you focused on this sticky situation but, do you remember what our first rule is in this space?” Strategy 3

Child “Respect our classroom materials.”

Caregiver “That’s right; we respect our space so we can stay safe. You are looking so hard that you’ve knocked some other items over. Please pick that box up, take a deep breath, and let’s think about where the sticky stuff is kept.”

Caregiver, “OK. Thank you for putting that away and pausing to catch your breath. Now, did you find where we keep our sticky stuff like tape, glue, and tact”?

Child “In the blue box.”

Caregiver “Great! (child brings over a bucket) What do you want to explore first?” Strategy 2

Child (points to a roll of tape)

Child “Yes, but it’s smooth, not sticky.”

Caregiver “Sounds like you explored one side of it. What can we do to make it sticky? Strategy 1

Child “hmm”

Caregiver Have you tried peeling it? Peeling is like pulling it back, kind of like when you peel a piece of fruit like a banana or orange.” Strategy 1

Child (grabs the tape and pulls it back) “WHOA. It’s sticky on this side. That’s perfect for what I need.

Caregiver, “OK. You have the sticky tool. Now you said you needed pipe clear and paper towel, right?”

Child “Yes. I will use both and then stick them with three pieces of tape. Maybe four, I don’t know yet.” Strategy 2

Caregiver “As you go along, see how many pieces work for you. You can try small or big pieces. It’s up to you.” Strategy 2 Caregiver “Glad you found something sticky to tinker and explore with for a bit. Maybe you can try out some of the other items too, if you want. I’m going to go check on a few friends for a bit, but then I’ll come back and check in with you to find out what you’ve discovered. Don’t forget our rule, please, respect the space, so everyone and the materials stay safe.” Strategy 3

See how each strategy encouraged the child’s role to tinker, make, and further construct? It’s also helpful to see how the strategies are not linear. Depending on the situation, the caregiver’s role may require a different approach to facilitate the child’s time to creatively design, build, and explore their ideas. Caregivers will need to be there to establish and model the safe use of materials and tools, but by following the child’s lead, caregivers can facilitate them to make their own discoveries!

If you are interested in learning more about Makerspaces or incorporating more STEM learning into your Makerspace, enroll in the Tinkering with STEM on Demand course offered through the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Nebraska Extension.

Additional Blogs and References

https://learningchildblog.com/2017/09/11/makerspaces-in-early-childhood-settings/

https://learningchildblog.com/2020/04/01/high-level-questions-for-high-level-thinking/

LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Dr. Soo-Young Hong, LaDonna Werth, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and 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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Exercising While Pregnant

Image source: iStock.com / jacoblund

In the past, pregnant women were told to take it easy when it came to exercise. However, now that there is more known about it, exercising while pregnant is shown to be good for both the mom and baby.

What are the Benefits?

  • Not only does exercise benefit the body, but the brain, too! It increases the amount of blood flow, which leads the body to create more blood vessels. In turn, the brain is then given more access to oxygen and energy.
  • The moms who exercise will usually be more physically fit and will potentially be less likely to have a C-section and possibly will recover more quickly after the baby arrives.

Cardio or Weights?

  • Some of both is great, but if you are short on time, stick with the cardio. Aerobic exercise has a better effect on the brain. One great way to get a work out in is swimming. It works your entire body and the water helps by supporting your weight. Simply walking around in the pool will make you feel better, and your swollen ankles will, too! If you are more of a runner, that also totally works. The main thing is that you are getting some sort of exercise to better you and your baby’s health.

How hard should I push it?

  • The number one tip is to simply listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to push yourself and get some sweat dripping, but make sure to stay in tune with your body and know when it is time to lay off a bit. As the pregnancy goes on and you get closer to your due date, your body will probably be ready for a little easier workout, but it varies for every pregnant woman so that is why it is so important to listen to your body.

In the end, it is simply important to be active to help better your health and your baby’s. Remember to always check with your doctor before starting any type of exercise or physical activity.

Source:

Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow

LA DONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and 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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