Mindful and Reflective Early Childhood Educators

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Image source: Vicki Jedlicka

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

What is being mindful?

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

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

What is Reflection?

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

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

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

Local Management Required Trainings

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Image Source: Jaci Foged

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

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

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

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

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Figure 1. What does mindfulness mean to you?

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

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

New Childcare Program Focuses on Mindfulness and Reflection

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

Moving Forward

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

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

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

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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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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Brain Dance: Encouraging Children’s Natural Explorations through Movement

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Research tells us that from birth to age six there is important learning happening. During this early learning period, children show us many ways that they naturally and competently explore their world and approach learning. One important way children explore and learn about their world is through physical movement.

Movement is a way for children to express themselves, particularly if they have not yet fully developed verbal language. As educators, we need to not only support movement as a learning tool, but embrace it. This may mean letting go of some old ideas, such as the idea that sitting still all the time is a good way to learn.

As Janet Eilber, Advisor for Arts Education in the News, states, “Early learning is all experiential … We learn to move through and communicate with the world by using the basic elements of creativity: curiosity, observation, experimentation, translation, communication. No wonder ‘sitting still and being quiet’ is so difficult and discouraging for many young learners. We are being asked to abandon approaches to learning with which we have had great success.”

Children enjoy activities that involve the senses and movement; they are natural explorations and they are fun! As a result, children are more attentive and engaged, which can heighten the learning experience at hand. In addition, physical activity simply makes children feel good. Feeling good helps children with learning, self-confidence, and an overall positive outlook. Support children’s complex developmental skills by rethinking your day’s activities to include more plans for physical movement and dance, such as the following 5 tips:

  1. Use dance and movement for transition times – Dance like a ballerina to the bathroom, dance like slithering snakes to the coat cubby, etc.
  2. Use movements to tell a story –When telling stories, use physical actions and encourage the children to act out the story with you.
  3. Provide meaningful chores for children that include dance-like movements -sweep the floor, take out the garbage, weed the gardens, and of course, clean up the toys.
  4. Sound out the dance – Move with things that make sound, such as Velcro bands of bells attached to wrists and ankles (uses multi-sensory actions) or shaker-type instruments. Try taping flat, metal lids (recycled from juice cans, etc.) to the bottom of shoes for fun tap dance sounds.
  5. Dance and draw – Twirl streamers to make shapes and letters. Show drawings and pictures of shapes for children to look at first and then make with their bodies.

Source: Penn State University Better Kid Care

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

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COST OF CHILD CARE

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According to the New America study child care for a child age 4 or younger now costs on average $9,589 a year. This is greater than the average annual cost of college tuition which is $9,410. The cost for an in-home caregiver averaged $28,353 annually. One-fifth of families use a “patchwork” approach to providing care for their children such as relying on family or friends to provide care, looking for unlicensed care, or cutting back on the number of hours worked. Some parents have delayed purchasing a home or saving for college for their children. According to the report, quality as measured by accreditation and user reviews, and availability as measured by the ratio of childcare providers to young children, is also inconsistent across the country; no State scores well across the board for cost, quality and availability.

The figures show that child care is expensive even though caregivers make poverty wages; that care can be difficult to find; and only a handful of centers and family homes are nationally accredited for quality. What are parents of young children to do when they can’t afford or find suitable care for their children? The answer can be leaving the workforce completely which doesn’t bode well for labor force participation. The authors of the study list four policy recommendations: universal family leave, better cash assistance programs, high-quality pre-kindergarten, and more programs aimed at dual-language learners.

Source: Financial Advisor

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

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Easing the Goodbye’s at Childcare Drop-off

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Perhaps one of the hardest tasks of parenthood for working parents is separating from their child upon arrival at the childcare home or center.  This can be a time of heightened anxiety for both parent and child.  I remember well when my children were in the infant toddler stages, the sadness I felt as a parent saying good bye at our childcare home. I had formed a strong attachment to my baby and my baby was forming just as strong an attachment to me.  It was through the skilled, compassionate, and trusting relationship with my childcare provider that we all adjusted smoothly through this new separation routine.

How childcare providers can ease the separation:

Nancy Balaban offers five tips for creating a curriculum of trust in the NAEYC publication, Spotlight on Infants and Toddlers:

  1. Use a primary caregiving system by assigning each care giver a small group of three to 4 children in which they would be the consistent person to provide feeding, changing, napping and play time activities and interaction. Of course other caregivers on the team will help if more than one child needs attention at a time. This primary caregiver is also the one to greet the family and child and ease them into the transition by reassuring parent and child.
  2. Institute a gradual easing into the program for the family and child together. This is done by implementing a slow entry process, where new parents come to the center with their child and stay there together for a short time on the first day, the time is increased each day for 2-3 days, then the adult says good bye. According to Balaban (2011), “An easing –in process isn’t simple when parent must go to work, but trying to facilitate it is worth the effort. The payback is a happy child and trusting parent.”
  3. Be there to support the everyday goodbyes. Teachers can support the feelings of the child by emphasizing that mom or dad will be back as young children are not always sure this is true.
  4. Anticipate and be prepared for regressions or shifts in behavior. Beyond the developmental periods where separation anxiety peaks, there are also times when a child’s behavior may regress and they are clingy to the parent again, go back to thumb sucking, or resist going to sleep for example. Teachers can facilitate trust by being accepting and offering help.
  5. Offer children tangible reminders of their parents. Teachers can read books about hello’s and goodbyes, offer the child’s favorite comfort toy or blanket, and display photos of the child’s family in the center.

Check out the entire article on Everyday Goodbyes for more ideas on easing separation times.

High quality infant and toddler programs serve to foster the development of the whole child including social emotional development.  According to the Early Learning Guidelines established by the Nebraska Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services,

Strong positive, secure relationships are the key to social and emotional development. Infants and toddlers need consistent, nurturing adults who are supportive and responsive. Caring adults provide safe, stable and predictable environments that support young children’s growing independence. Such environments promote a healthy sense of self and connections with others.”

You can access the Early learning guidelines for children Birth to Three and Three to Five year olds for more helpful ways to promote healthy social and emotional growth.

How do you handle separation time at your childcare home or center?

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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Child care vs. Day care, Raising the bar for Early Childhood Professionals

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Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to provide educational programming for childcare providers who are seeking professional development to enhance the quality of care and education they are offering young children. In my interaction with providers, the term day care and child care have been used interchangeably. A colleague of mine brought it to my attention that there has been research on the use of these terms and the level of quality of care associated with their use.

An article published in the Huffington Post examined Day Care Disrespect and how what we call child care does make a difference. According to Katherine Rose, Associate Professor in Early Child Development and Education at Texas Woman’s University, the term day care as opposed to preschool or child care is many times associated with negative views envisioned as unstimulating, uninviting and in general, low quality care. Rose states, “The term day care prioritizes the “day” over the “care” — and days don’t need any care.”

A child care provider’s role is vital in the successful development of children in all domains including physical, cognitive, social, and emotional growth. In high quality environments child care professionals are key in setting the foundations that lead to continued progress in school, increased future incomes, reducing anti-social behaviors and less trouble with the law.

Young children today are spending a good majority of their time with child care providers in family childcare homes and childcare centers, if parents are working full time, it equals more than 40 hours per week in time spend in child care. The child care professionals who are dedicating their time to continuing education to include best practices in early care and education are also building quality relationships with the children and families in their care.

So what’s in a name? Words Matter The title of Child Care Professional should be the new language we use if it is quality care we are giving or are expected to get.

Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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Essential Oils, What You Need to Know…

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It seems as though everywhere you look today, there is a new display of essential oils products available to consumers.  I have seen these displays in the major discount retailers and pharmacy stores as well as high-end department stores, beauty salons, and dollar thrift stores.  The products all have the same message for the consumer, emphasizing the natural remedy to many ailments. Many people enjoy the natural aroma and have faith in the healing or behavior changing claims of these products.

As a former classroom teacher, I was always careful to not wear perfume or cologne around my students.  I was cautioned of this by my college advisor before student teaching because of the concern for any students with respiratory problems or asthma.  I was also made aware of the dangers of aerosol sprays and air fresheners for the same reasons, so when I became aware of some classroom teachers using essential oil diffusers in their classrooms, I naturally wanted to see if the same was true of these fragrances.

I found out that there are two possible concerns with essential oils, one being toxicity, and the other as mentioned above, respiratory complications.  With any product in the home, it is important to keep essential oils out of reach of children.  Oils are highly concentrated, and according to the Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt, the primary route of poisoning is by ingestion, but it may also occur by excessive or inappropriate application to the skin.  Justin Loden, Pharm. D., certified specialist in Poison Information (CSPI) at TPC states, “Children are at risk for poisoning because they may try to ingest essential oils from the container. Most have a pleasant smell but bitter taste, so children easily choke on them and aspirate the oil to their lungs. Children are also at risk because their thin skin readily absorbs essential oils, and the protective barrier that covers their brain is easily penetrated.” This has also raised concerns about the use of oils by prenatal mothers, as they can cross the placenta to the unborn baby.

Clinical studies are underway in the United States and many other countries on the benefits of essential oils used for their healing properties as well as safe use. Check out this article for more information on the toxicology of essential oils. Rise in Children Ingesting Essential Oils. Another article on the safety of essential oils by a board certified pediatrician cautions on the use of oil diffusers around children. What Does The Research Say, also provides more information on the difficulty in conducting research on essential oils and the concerns for toxicity in use with children and prenatal mothers. I encourage you to explore more on this topic and to seek advice from your trusted pediatrician or OB/GYN to help you make well informed decisions for you and your family.

Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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Look Who’s Hatching

Look Who's Hatching ProjectWritten by Alice Brown. Brown is a recent graduate from Tennessee State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Child Development and Family Relations and was an intern for Jaci Foged.

Baby chicks for Look Who's HatchingDuring the first month of my internship I worked with three preschool classrooms implementing the “Look Who’s Hatching” embryology project. Working with the children was my favorite. As a future teacher, I love to see the passion and joy in kids eyes when they learn something new or see the outcome of a project.

The classroom had 10 eggs that were placed in incubators until they hatched. Each visit we did activities of different Oviparous Animals (animals that lay eggs) with the classrooms. We kept the fact that we had chicken eggs a secret from the students so they could explore every possibility of what could hatch. Their guesses were adorable and funny!

Frozen Dinosaur Eggs

My favorite activity was the frozen dinosaur egg excavation. Before the activity, we froze toy dinosaurs inside balloons. When we arrived at the center we gave the frozen dinosaur eggs to the kids so they could help the dinosaur hatch. The kids were given a spoon and salt and had to melt the ice to “hatch” the dinosaur. The determination to help free the dinosaur was a sight to see, especially after seeing one of their friends already playing with their dinosaur.

At the end of the project sadly only 10 chickens hatched out of the 30 eggs we delivered to the classrooms, but the excitement from the children was still the same. They were able to name their chicks as they hatched and were excited every time they saw the Egg Lady’s (what the kids called us) come to their classroom.

Are you interested in have the “Look Who’s Hatching” project at your center? Contact Katie Krause at katie.krause@unl.edu for more information!

Alice Brown | The Learning Child

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Strength Training for Fine Motor Development

Children developing find motor skillsWhat Are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine motor skills are those skills that require the use and control of the muscles in one’s hands. We depend on these skills for the many day-to-day tasks that allow for self-care and independence such as getting dressed, eating lunch, and writing. Caregivers play a vital role in conditioning and training our young children to use their fine motor skills to facilitate life-long independence.

In my work with children from pre-school through middle school, something that I am becoming aware of is the lack of hand strength for simple classroom and self-help tasks. I have observed many children with very loose pencil grips that affects their ability to write and form letters. I have also seen middle school students who lack the strength in their hands to manipulate a scissors.

Practice Makes Perfect

Just as with any cognitive skill, fine motor abilities will improve with practice. It is the caregiver’s role to provide an environment rich in experiences that will enhance fine motor development. The intentionalGirl practicing writing with a pencil planning for fine motor practice will also enhance other developmental domains and strengthen the connections made in the brain for learning. In this NAEYC article, the authors introduce four specific muscle areas to concentrate on and have provided a list of activities that promote fine motor development specific to each area.

Children learn best through developmentally appropriate play using their senses to explore their world. These simple and playful hand strengthening activities will give your play a purpose, and who doesn’t enjoy play dough? The Potential of Playdough will give you a whole new appreciation for this simple activity including recipes to make your own playdough.

What are some of your favorite activities to promote fine motor development?

Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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Schedules And Routines

Little girl waking up routinesDay after day we get up, get ready for work, drive to the office, work all day, go home and do it all over again tomorrow… Some adults do not like their routine life but if you are a toddler or preschooler, routines and schedules are one of the best things in the world!

Routine ChartThe terms routines and schedules are interchangeable. Schedules represent the big picture and routines represent the steps done to complete the schedule. For children, routines can influence a child’s emotional, cognitive and social development. Children feel safe and secure knowing what is going to happen next in their day. Schedules help them understand expectations and can actually reduce behavior problems along with having a higher rate of child engagement in activities.

If you are having some challenging behaviors with your children. Take a step back and look at their daily routine. If you are not seeing some consistency then a change may be in order for your family. Children thrive on simple daily routines. Check out these tips from eXtension on Establishing Predictable Routines in a Child Care Setting.

Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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