Nebraska Extension’s CHIME program Enhancing childcare professionals’ well-being with mindfulness

Jaci CHIME materials

Photo source: Jaci Foged

Have you ever walked across your classroom and forgotten what you wanted? Have you ever driven to work and not remembered the trip? Has your child or a child in your classroom ever said something you later struggled to recall? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may benefit from more presence and focused attention in your life.

WHY SHOULD EARLY CHILDHOOD TEACHERS PRACTICE MINDFULNESS?
An exciting and growing area of research has highlighted contemplative practices, such as mindfulness and reflective functioning, as promising and practical ways to prevent and reduce the stress of teachers. Dr. Amy Saltzman defines mindfulness as paying attention to your life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity. Early childhood teachers who formally practice mindfulness report to have lower levels of depression and workplace stress and higher quality student-teacher relationships.

The field of early childhood is full of joy, laughter and making memories with a plethora of staff and families. It is also a field where teachers are subject to multiple stressors, including low wages, challenging child behavior, low occupational prestige and inadequate role preparation (Friedman-Krauss et al., 2013; U.S. DHHS et al., 2016; Whitebrook et al., 2016).

Programs close and new programs open. Families move their residence, children grow up and go to school and teachers search for new positions for reasons such as increased income, different hours or to care for their own children.

With 60 percent of U.S. 3–5 year olds spending an average of 36 hours a week in center-based childcare (Mamedova et al., 2015), teachers form a central part of many young children’s lives.

EXTENSION DEVELOPS CHIME PROGRAM
Cultivating Healthy Intentional Mindful Educators (CHIME) was created by Nebraska Extension to support and enhance the well-being of early childhood educators. In a 2017 pilot study led by Dr. Holly Hatton-Bowers, assistant professor and early childhood Extension specialist at University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 43 early childhood teachers from four programs in Lancaster and Seward counties participated in the initial development of the CHIME program.

Hatton-Bowers says, “It’s imperative that our early childhood workforce, particularly early childhood directors and teachers, are physically and emotionally well. Teachers who are well, who have better health, are going to have more supportive and healthier relationships with children and families. CHIME aims to support early childhood educators in enhancing and improving their well-being so that they can be more effective caregivers. The program is about facilitating thinking in being more present in one’s personal and professional life, and to find the space to care for children with joy, even during the most difficult and stressful moments.”

Results of the pilot demonstrated that practicing mindfulness and reflection led to less depletion of teachers’ cortisol, a biomarker of stress, as they progressed through the workday (Hatton-Bowers et al., 2018).

Extension Educators Jaci Foged, Carrie Gottschalk and LaDonna Werth contributed to the materials developed by Dr. Holly Hatton-Bowers, and have facilitated CHIME sessions to participants. The handbooks and materials were designed by Karen Wedding of Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County and Mary Thompson of the UNL College of Education and Human Sciences’ Pixel Lab.

HOW DOES CHIME WORK?
Since the pilot, CHIME has been offered in Lincoln and Seward. An online class had participants from across Nebraska.

The CHIME program consists of eight weekly sessions.
• Session 1 – Introduction to Mindfulness
• Session 2 – Mindfulness in Breathing
• Session 3 – Mindfulness in Listening
• Session 4 – Mindfulness and Emotions
• Session 5 – Mindfulness in Speech
• Session 6 – Mindfulness and Gratitude
• Session 7 – Mindfulness and Compassion
• Session 8 – Setting Intentions

Participants in CHIME receive a participant handbook and journal which are used throughout the CHIME sessions. The handbook contains everything childcare professionals need to participate in the class — including handouts, readings and homework. The guiding teacher tracks completion of the homework assignments, so some of the pages are printed on duplicate paper. The participants use the journals in each session, as well as daily, for the duration of the program.
A guiding teacher manual was developed for facilitators to use throughout the program.

Participants who complete the full program (eight sessions) earn up to 16 Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services approved in-service hours.

GROWING CHIME
CHIME was recently presented to collaborators in Recife, Brazil and will be translated into Portuguese.

This fall, Extension educators from across the state will participate in an intensive eight-week training named Just Be, followed by a 2-1/2-day training retreat where they will be trained to facilitate CHIME in their area of the state. Hatton-Bowers, Foged, Gottschalk and Werth will develop and teach this new training. Personal practice in mindfulness and guided reflection is necessary to be able to successfully provide instruction to others.

CHIME will be delivered to early childhood educators across the state beginning in the spring of 2019. Nebraska Extension plans to conduct parallel studies for delivering CHIME as a means to learn more about various ways to promote the well-being of educators and the children for whom they care.

Jaci CHIME dice

Photo source: Jaci Foged;

Listening is an intentional act. During the Mindfulness in Listening  session, participants shake plastic eggs filled with various items to guess what is inside as well as consider how hearing the sounds make them feel. Interactive play is a wonderful way caregivers can teach children about different emotions. During the Mindfulness and Emotions session, participants build their own “emotions animals” dice.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about CHIME, or would like to have CHIME delivered at your program, contact Dr. Holly Hatton-Bowers at hatttonb@unl.edu or 402-472-6578.

CHIME PARTICIPANT FEEDBACK
“I loved it! I looked forward to our class — always wanting to come. So many great ideas and information was shared.”
Childcare provider, Lancaster County

“I love the handbook and the ‘extras’ in it.”
Home visitor, Seward County

“I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed each and every class. Honestly, the best class I’ve taken! I appreciate everything you did for us.”
Family childcare provider, Gage County

“This (listening to understand) is a helpful thing, how much do I love to be listened to and understood, and of course we all do…. Changing my mindset is one more thing that this class has brought to me this past week.”
Childcare teacher participating in online class

“I use several mindfulness techniques in my classroom every day. It is a very helpful class, both professionally and personally. I walked away with skills to help me be more patient and a better listener. I experience moments more now, instead of always thinking of the next moment.”
Childcare provider for preschool-age children, Lancaster County — from 3-month follow-up survey

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Nebraska Extension has the following NebGuides:
• Self-Regulation in Early Childhood (G2288) http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g2288.pdf
• Strategies for Helping Young Children with Self-Regulation (G2287) http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g2287.pdf

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Dr. Holly Hatton-Bowers, Assistant Professor/Early Childhood Extension Specialist, Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Carrie Gottchalk, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Gardening with Preschoolers

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Garden Yoga pose “Seeds”—Photo courtesy Leanne Manning

This summer several sites across the U.S. are piloting a gardening curriculum with preschoolers.  This curriculum, developed by Nebraska Extension and Texas A & M Extension, teaches children about the parts of the plant.  While it sounds simple, they are learning much more than the parts of the plant as they go through  lessons like how to plants seeds, how stems take up nutrients to help plants grow,  eating healthy foods grown in the garden, and about being patient.  It is hard work to wait for your turn to plant your seeds or to wait for your seeds to sprout.  Here are some tips shared by the National Association for the Education of Young Children to help make gardening with young children go a little more smoothly.

  1. Be prepared. Find out what grows best in your area.  Prep the garden area before the children join you.  Have many tools available for lots of little hands.
  2. Chill out. Children will plant 25 seeds in one small hole.  They will plant the leaves instead of the roots in the soil.  Other children will undo what one child has just completed.  Things will happen and it is best to just relax and go with the flow.  Everyone will enjoy it much more if you do.
  3. Have a “can-do” garden. Find all the ways the children can be involved in the garden.  Yes, you may plant those seeds. Yes, you may dig in the dirt. Yes, you can use the hand tools, and yes, you can water the plants.  When attention wanders, allow the children to move to other tasks.  We have incorporated garden yoga into the gardening time and the children love the movement.
  4. Eat what you grow. Remember children are great imitators and if they see you eating and enjoying vegetables from the garden, they too will develop a liking for them.
  5. Have fun! Pretend play is important in all children’s development so see what ideas they come up with for garden fun.  Placing an old chalkboard along the garden path can be fun for impromptu chalk art. Bring out a small pool to have water fun in the garden. Old pots and pans can be hung on the fence and used as “musical” instruments.  The list of ideas is as varied as you make it.  That reminds me, we need to try some singing in the garden.  I fondly remember picking strawberries with my mother in the garden and learning many childhood songs.

 

Source: https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/7-tips-vegetable-gardening

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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Creating Capable Children

LaDonna capable children

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We all know that children tend to take a little (or sometimes a lot) longer when completing simple tasks such as zipping up their coat, opening a jar, or sweeping the floor. We also know that it would be a lot faster to just do it for them rather than having to sit and wait until they get it done. However, that method does not develop self-sufficiency in your child. So, what approach does then?

Be patient

When your child is trying to zip up their coat, do you wait a couple seconds and then do it for them? Or do you wait until they figure it out or actually need your help? Instead of jumping in right away, try using encouraging words like “Almost!” or “So close!” You will be able to tell when they are ready to give up. If they reach that point, try asking if they would like your help, and if so, you could put your fingers over theirs and zip it up together.

Use examples, not just words

When your child is sweeping the floor, but doing more harm than good, simply take the broom for a moment, show them how, and say, “Here, if you do it this way, you’ll get the floor a lot cleaner.”

Don’t plan every minute of their day

There are a ton of benefits that come from boredom. When you plan activity after activity for your child or give them access to a phone or similar device, they don’t ever have a chance to get bored. If they do experience boredom, they will learn to fill the time up with something by themselves. Boredom is a restless state, and the brain, with practice, will find things to do to get out of it, such as daydreaming, imagining, and problem solving. If your child is used to being occupied, they will grow agitated when they’re not doing something and will look to you to fill their time. So make it easier on yourself, and let your child be bored every once in a while.

Source: Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow

LaDonna 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

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What’s Going On in the World of Early Childhood?

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Early childhood education can be somewhat of a mystery, especially since many people don’t think of it as “education” until children reach elementary school.  Early childhood begins at birth and typically goes all the way until children are age eight or entering the third grade.

Unfortunately, early childhood today is changing more and more in our technologically advanced age.  Education consultant, Rae Pica, has seen several of these changes occurring throughout her years of service since the 1980s.  In her article published in Community Playthings, she lists three things that seem to be recurring areas in need of improvement in early childhood education:

  1. More children are unable to cross the mid-line of the body.
  2. Children don’t know how to play anymore.
  3. Children have no fine motor control.

More children are unable to cross the mid-line of the body.  

Amidst the busy lives of parents all over the world, babies are spending less and less time on their tummies, which is vital in the development of muscles needed to crawl and perform cross-lateral movements.  What parents need to remember is that the body and mind work together.  Children need to practice moving in a variety of ways to gain confidence in their skills.  Pica writes, “what impacts the body’s development impacts the brain’s development, and the sooner we acknowledge that, the better off our children will be.”

Children don’t know how to play anymore. 

Almost every animal on our planet plays at some point or another in their lives.  Play is necessary to learn the skills that are needed to become successful adults.  Educators are reporting that children are simply imitating on-screen characters or are just standing around during free-play time because they are at a loss as to what to do.  With the rise in technology, children are exposed to much more media, thus diminishing the need for imaginative play.  As early childhood educators, it is vital that we facilitate play and give children the time, space and materials to foster imaginative play.

Children have no fine motor control.

This, again, goes back to technology.  Children aren’t getting the same opportunities to utilize crayons, scissors, and other utensils as much as they are given a tablet or digital device to keep them occupied.  Children are also not developing and using large muscles which relates to the development of the small muscles such as those in the hands and fingers.  If large muscles are not developed, it becomes very difficult for small muscles to progress as well.  Children must have the strength and endurance in large muscles in order to begin using fine motor control skills (Buttfield, 2017).  This need stresses the importance of play and practice with a variety of materials and utensils.

Early childhood education is one of the most important times in a child’s life.  Giving them ample opportunities and experiences with open-ended manipulatives can help overcome the above challenges.  For more information on open-ended activities and ideas, check out https://www.communityplaythings.com/resources.

Resources:

Buttfield, J. (2017, April 12). Big muscles make a big difference to fine motor skills. [Blog].  Retrieved from https://childdevelopment.com.au/blog/big-muscles-make-big-difference-fine-motor-skills/.

Education and Child Development Experts – About Rae Pica http://www.raepica.com/education-consultant-rae/.

Pica, R. (2018).  The state of early childhood: Three things that have changed since I became an early childhood consultant.  Community Playthings.  Retrieved from http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2018/the-state-of-early-childhood.

SARAH ROBERTS, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Leslie Crandall, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Laugh Out Loud – Developing Humor in Children

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Something special happens when people laugh together over something genuinely funny and not hurtful to anyone. It’s like a magic, creating the feelings of safety and belonging to a group. It’s important to remember that humor isn’t a science. Humor is intuitive and spontaneous. You can’t really teach people to be funny in an appropriate way. Nor can you train them to laugh on cue. But you can prepare the ground, plant the seeds, and provide opportunities. It is possible to create the kind an environment in which healthy humor has a chance to grow.

Humor appreciation does not appear to have a genetic basis (Martin, 1998) but because the humor response does seem to be an in-born social phenomenon (Chapman, 1973, and 1979) there is evidence that humor can be encouraged and taught. Carson et al. (1986) discuss humor as a function of learned communicative abilities. Positive reinforcement of humor increases its use (Ziv, 1981b – cit. by Nevo et al., 1998).

Humor is really just another form of communication. It’s part of our communication skills set. Children need to be allowed and encouraged to be funny, in his or her own way. Laughter can unite groups. Laughter not only creates a shared experience in the moment, but it also creates a memory to recollect and laugh at over and over.

Humor as children grow

It’s never too early to start developing a child’s sense of humor. Babies’ smiles and laughs are so delightful that we often do this intuitively — smiling, or tickling them many times a day just to hear a chuckle. Babies don’t really understand humor, but they do know when you’re smiling and happy. When you make funny noises or faces and then laugh or smile, the baby is likely to sense your joy and imitate you. He or she is also highly responsive to physical stimuli, like tickling.

Sometime between 9 and 15 months, babies know enough about the world to understand that when you quack like a duck, she’s /he’s doing something unexpected — and that it’s funny.

Toddlers appreciate physical humor especially the kind with an element of surprise (like peek-a-boo). One of the best ways to do this is to spend time every day being receptive to the many opportunities each child gives you to smile or laugh.  As children develop language skills, they’ll find rhymes and nonsense words funny and this continues into the preschool years.

As preschooler explore their world they are more likely to find humor in a picture with something out of whack like a car with square wheels, a pig wearing sunglasses than a joke or pun. Incongruity between pictures and sounds (a horse that says moo) is also funny. As they become more aware of bodily functions, preschoolers often start delighting in bathroom humor. Preschoolers have difficulty determining when using bathroom humor is appropriate, so you might set guidelines for your classroom.

Kindergarteners find basic wordplay, exaggeration, and slapstick funny. They have discovered the pleasure of telling simple jokes especially knock knock…, it is fun to be the one who knows the punchline! Jokes are repeated over and over.  Older grade-schoolers have a better grasp of what words mean and are able to play with them — they like puns, riddles, and other forms of wordplay.  Also, be game enough to laugh so the jokes don’t fall flat.

It’s important to keep encouraging humor development as children grow. When you’re playful and humorous with a child, delighting in silliness and laughter, you help him or her develop a playful and humorous attitude about life. Be spontaneous, playful, and aware of what each child finds funny at different ages.

Tips for teachers

Add humor to your curriculum by starting with a “Funny Day.” By creating a day focusing on humor and you can build on that days experience to build humor into your daily curriculum.  Invite everyone to dress in funny costumes to begin the humor day.  Create a humor-rich environment. Surround the children with funny pictures on the wall, and funny books — for toddlers and preschoolers these include picture books or nonsense rhymes; older kids will love joke books and comics. Also check YouTube for out funny songs, rhymes and finger plays you can teach the children. Create funny games and large motor skills. In your art center have children draw or paint funny pictures of their pets.

The teacher should be the humor model and set the tone for day. One of the best things you can do to develop each child’s sense of humor is to use your own. Tell jokes and stories. Laugh out loud! Take each child’s humor seriously. Encourage the child’s attempts at humor, whether it’s reading (potentially unfunny) jokes from a book or drawing “funny” pictures. Praise your child for trying to be funny.

The more you incorporate humor into your classroom the easier it will be to use.  Make humor a part of your day-to-day interactions with each child and encourage them to share funny observations or reactions.

 

Children’s Books that introduce humor

 Llama Llama Zippity-Zoom by Anna Dewdney

Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn’t Fit by Catherine Rayner

Amazing Cows: Udder Absurdity for Children by Sandra Boynton

Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs by Alan Katz

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by RA Spratt, Dan Santat

Zany and Brainy Good Clean Jokes for Kids by Bob Phillips

 

Resources:

Encouraging Your Child’s Sense of Humor https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/child-humor.html

How to Lighten things up and Laugh more as a Family by Monica Swanson  http://monicaswanson.com/laughter-makes-a-family-better/

3 Reasons to Laugh Together as a Family,   http://forthefamily.org/3-reasons-laugh-together-family/

What’s So Funny? Jan 20, 2010, Jenny Schroede,  http://www.boundless.org/relationships/2010/whats-so-funny

Encouraging Your Child’s Sense of Humor   http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/child-humor.html

Healthy Family Humor, https://www.focusonthefamily.com/

Ages & Stages: Don’t Forget to Laugh! The importance of Humor https://www.scholastic.com/…/ages-stages-dont-forget-laugh-importance-humor/

Humor as a Key to Child Development, Lawrence Kutner, https://psychcentral.com/lib/humor-as-a-key-to-child-development/

Laughter Is Serious Business!  Marie Hartwell-Walker,   https://psychcentral.com/lib/laughter-is-serious-business/

How Children Develop a Sense of Humor May2, 2017, https://psychcentral.com/lib/laughter-is-serious-business2017/

PLAY DEVELOPMENT FROM INFANCY THROUGH LATE CHILDHOOD, http://theconversation.com/how-children-develop-a-sense-of-humour-77028

How children can get jokes from the age of two (but they are only as funny as their parents) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2346271/How-children-jokes-age-funny-parents.html#ixzz56N5Mg8BL

LEE SHERRY, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Sarah Roberts, 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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How Dramatic Play Supports Children’s Development

 

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Dramatic play happens when children take on a role and act out a play, a story or act in a video.  When children engage in dramatic play it helps them build social skills, makes them more aware of emotions, and encourages problem solving. As children play and interact in dramatic play, they practice skills in the following areas:

  • Social/emotional: working with others to successfully act out most stories or plays helps children learn to get along with one another to keep the play going
  • Physical: using large and small muscles to put on costumes, manipulate props, and practice eye-hand coordination
  • Cognitive: thinking up and acting out a story requires cognitive ability, organizing and expressing ideas, paying attention to how other people see the world,  and finding creative solutions to challenges
  • Language: asking and answering questions, using language related to a role they are playing, for example, “Did you find everything you were looking for today in our store?”, early literacy and writing skills

Dramatic play is most effective when children come up with the story and decide how it should be acted out.  Adults can help children use the following skills as they act out their plays:

  • Role play: pretending to be someone else
  • Use of props: using objects to expand and enhance pretend play
  • Make-believe: copying the actions of persons from various settings (e.g., waiter, doctor)
  • In-depth play: spending an extended amount of time playing out a theme or idea in dramatic play
  • Interaction: playing cooperatively with others and exchanging ideas about roles and other details
  • Verbal communication: using language skills to act out roles and negotiate play details

adults support dramatic play

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Adults can also help children engage in more complex and extended dramatic play using the following ideas:

  • Model pretend play: Use books, songs, or stories to engage children in using their imagination, such as having children climb a tree, swing on a vine like a monkey, or crawl through a tunnel. Have the children suggest what happens next.
  • Observe children’s play: Pay attention to who is playing, the language being used, and the roles they are acting out. Observing may also give you new ideas for props and dramatic play themes of interest.
  • Participate as a supporting character: If children don’t seem to know what to do next, consider entering their play as a supporting character to give them ideas. If the area is a restaurant, you could sit down at a table and say, “Will someone please take my order?”

Source: eXtension.org

Leanne Manning, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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My Potty Party, Personalized Books that Teach

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Vera is 3 years old and recently started toilet training.  She spends the early mornings at her grandmother’s home before going to preschool.  Her grandma is teaching her to go “tinkle” in the adult sized toilet, puts her in a pull-up, and takes her every 3o minutes to ensure success.  When Vera gets to school her teachers help her change into underwear and go to “the bathroom” in a child-sized toilet open to several other stalls.  By the time she gets home in the evening, her mother rewards her with a star sticker for initiating use of the “potty chair” but still asks Vera to wear a diaper to avoid messes.  Vera is learning one skill in three different settings in three different ways.

Personalized Books That Teach

Toilet training is arguably the most stressful milestone of early childhood.  Complicating this is the fact that in Nebraska, according to the 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska Report, nearly 72% of children aged 0-5 have both parents in the workforce, and the national average is not far behind.  The stress of toilet training can also be extended to child care providers who, due to licensing ratios, may have multiple children in their care toilet training at the same time with little assistance.  The investment of time and stress involved in toilet training is exacerbated when the home and school environments do not have consistent toileting practices.  Using self-modeling in the form of a personalized story book is one approach to teaching the skill of toilet training in a fun and educational way that children and parents will both enjoy.

Toddlerhood is a time of rapid growth and milestones.  These milestones often involve learning new and complex tasks such as sleeping in a bed and toilet training.  While these are exciting new developments, they can also be stressful for young children, families, and teachers.  Even in the best situations, children have multiple adults teaching them the new skill, often in multiple settings, and with varying materials.  Making a personalized book to teach a skill can ease transitions for young children and support families.

Personalized books can be used to teach a skill by uniquely creating a story that teaches a sequence of skills with the child as the main character.  In a personalized book, the child serves as his own model and can see himself be successful from the very start.  Creating a personalized book to teach a new skill accomplishes three main goals important for transitions: using familiar language and terminology, providing a visual image of what success looks like, and maintaining consistency between the home and school environments.

Language and Terminology

When writing the text for the personalized book it may be helpful to keep a children’s book nearby as a guide or imagine yourself talking with the child.  Be sure to write the text in clear, plain language using the family’s preferred terminology.  Gathering input from the family or child care provider will help to identify how the child communicates about the topic at home and school.  This could be the difference in using “potty” or “toilet” or incorporating the correct word used in a child’s native language.  Using specific sequencing words such as “first”, “next”, “then”, and “last” can cue children to the order of the steps and help them remember the sequence.  In the case that a specific reinforcement is used to celebrate a child’s success (such as a high-five, reading an extra book at bedtime, a sticker, or fruit snack) the reward can be written right into the book.  Although it is temping to try to use rhyme, a popular feature of many children’s books, it is best if the message is simple and factual.

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Visual Image of Success

The old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” has never been more true.  A personalized book provides visual images depicting the child completing each step of the new skill successfully.  Research indicates that children find personalized books more engaging than even their favorite picture books (Kucirkova, 2012).  When a child sees her or himself as the main character of the book it draws their attention to the necessary steps, can increase motivation to achieve, and prompts conversation about the topic.  All three of these benefits can be incredibly helpful for parents beginning toilet training with their child.

Consistency Across Settings

The goal of learning a new skill is to be able to generalize that skill across materials and environments.  However when the skill is being acquired, it can be challenging to learn in multiple environments and with different materials.  For the toilet training child this may mean success at home on a potty chair but difficulties at school with a child-size toilet.  In addition, well-meaning adults often use a variety of terms to communicate about expectations, but this can lead to confusion on the part of the child.  Overall, it can be a challenge for all adults to be on the same page.  A personalized book can quite literally keep everyone on the same page.  For this reason, it is helpful to print multiple copies of the personalized book, one for each home the child resides in and one for school.  This allows one uniform message to be shared in multiple places and serves as a reminder to busy adults about the agreed upon process, how to talk about it with the child, and how to reinforce it.

Online Resources

Of course, the busy lifestyle of today’s parents doesn’t always allow for time to create and write your own personalized book.  Luckily, several online resources are available that streamline the process or do it for you.  Advances in technology have improved and led to innovative ways to integrate children into stories that teach a skill or lesson.  Below are online resources that personalize books to support children not only in potty training but through other early transitions as well.

potty resources

References

Kucirkova, N., Messer, D., & Whitelock, D. (2012). Parents reading with their toddlers : The role of personalization in book engagement.  Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 13(3), 445-470. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798412438068

Voices for Children. (2016) Kids Count in Nebraska Report. Ralston, NE: Chrissy Tonkinson.

Erin Hamel, MEd, Guest Blogger | THE LEARNING CHILD

Erin holds a masters degree in Special Education and is currently a doctoral student in Child Development at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and is a licensed teacher in the state of Nebraska. Erin began her career teaching internationally and has worked with children of all ability ranges from eighteen months to sixth grade. She is passionate about teacher development, connecting young children to nature, and supporting parents and children.

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

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Nature’s Gifts

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Have you ever given thought to all the benefits to children of letting them explore the natural world?  When they are outdoors and climbing trees, skipping stones, scaling rocks, or rolling down the hill they are getting much needed physical activity which can help curb childhood obesity.

The visual beauty of nature also has a calming effect on children.  They can relax, breathe deeply, and reflect on their surroundings.  Think about when you were young and you laid down in the grass and looked for shapes among the clouds in the sky and how relaxing that experience was.  Children can also use their senses to explore nature.  Ask them, “What do you hear as you stand here under the trees?  What do you smell or what does the branch of the evergreen tree smell like?”  Try taking paint chips to the outdoors and give them to children to go and find something in nature that matches the color of the paint chip.  Use the sense of touch to feel the texture on a plant’s leaves, the bark on the tree, the surface of a rock, or the roughness of a pine cone.

By having children care for a plant or garden they are learning to be responsible.  If they don’t water a plant it might suffer or die.  The same goes for caring for a pet.  This helps children develop empathy as they make the connection between their timely and responsive care giving to their pet’s or plant’s well-being.

Give children tools to further their nature exploration.  Some ideas include:  collection boxes, small hand tools like shovels or trowels, packets of seeds to plant, a bucket or tub for water play, magnifying glasses, binoculars, pencils, crayons and paper.  Having nature-related storybooks will also encourage children to explore outdoors.

Adults can help children explore nature by planning developmentally appropriate activities and by taking children on trips to parks or other nature areas.  Adults can take infants outside and talk to them about what they are seeing or hearing, for example, “Do you hear that cow mooing?  Cows use mooing to talk to each other.”  When children get older, ask them higher level questions about cows such as, “Where do cows live?  What types of food do cows eat?” It is also important to let children explore on their own.  When given the time to freely experience nature, they will build their own relationship and sense of wonder with nature.

Source: Children and Nature: Are We Supporting the Connection? extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/early-care/tip-pages/all/children-and-nature-are-we-supporting-the-connection.

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Sarah Roberts, 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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Keeping Children Active

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According to the State of Obesity, Nebraska ranks 5th in the nation for childhood overweight and obesity in children ages 2-4.  Yikes!  Nebraska also has the 13th highest adult obesity rate in the nation.

I recently read the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development?  By Rae Pica.  The book is broken down into 3 parts with a total of 29 easy to read essays which reference real-life stories shared by teachers and parents.  At the end of each essay, Rae provides the reader with ideas for what teachers can do as well as where teachers (and other adults) can go to for more information on the topic.

Part two of the book is all about understanding the mind/body connection.  Rae discusses what the research says about active learning, how important physical fitness is to children’s health and development and why we should push our schools to review the research on recess and active play breaks for children.

Benefits of physical activity:

  • reduces the risk of dying prematurely
  • reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
  • helps control weight
  • increases the body’s infection-fighting white blood cells and germ fighting antibodies
  • helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints.

Based on research, it is clear that we need to keep our children and youth (and the adults too) more active.  Fit Activity For Kids, What’s Your Name? is a developmentally appropriate active activity for adults to play with the children.  To play, the player picks out the letters of their name, and then do the physical activity that goes with each letter.  You might be wondering what would your child be learning during this activity.  Literacy (Letter recognition), turn taking (social emotional), physical activity (healthy bodies, balance, core strength), and more!

Are you looking for new, creative ways to keep your children active and happy?   Visit The Learning Child on Pinterest at  https://www.pinterest.com/unlextensiontlc/.

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by 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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What is the Best Preschool to Prepare My Child for Kindergarten?

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A friend of mine asked me the other day to give my professional opinion on whether she should enroll her child in a preschool within the public schools, or keep them in the childcare where they are currently enrolled.  The parent wanted to know if their child would be ready for kindergarten. She loves her childcare but is concerned that the center is rather small in numbers, and didn’t know if this was the best choice to prepare the child to enter a larger classroom with twice as many peers. This is the $100,000 question, and I didn’t give her an easy answer, because the fact is, it depends.

Types of Childcare Licenses in Nebraska

It is important to note that there are several options for licensed childcare in Nebraska and all must meet compliance by Childcare Licensing. For more information on childcare licensing, see The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services website.

Family Child Care Home I

Program in the home of the provider; maximum capacity is eight children of mixed ages and two additional school age children during non-school hours.

Family Child Care Home II

Program in the home of the provider or another site; maximum capacity is twelve with two providers.

Child Care Center

Program licensed for at least 13 children.

School-Age-Only- Center

Program licensed for at least 13 children who are attending or have attended school.

Preschool

Program providing educational services where children do not nap and are not fed a meal.

I believe this parent was looking for some key indicators as to whether the childcare was doing an adequate job in preparing children for kindergarten.  Well, the fact is, the only requirement to enter Kindergarten in Nebraska is that the child is five years old on or before July 31, which is the cut-off date for Nebraska.  The idea is that schools must be ready to educate children of a multitude of abilities.

There are some good resources available for parents through the Nebraska Department of Education that can aid in making this important decision.  The important thing to note when looking at state standards for kindergarten is they are written toward the future, as to what the child should know and be able to do by the end of the kindergarten school year.

I gave my friend a few resources from the Nebraska Department of Education to explore. These resources emphasize that kindergarten readiness is more than what children know at this age, but also includes key behaviors and social skills linked to success.  They also include how parents and caregivers can support the child’s growth and development in all domains to be successful in the next level of education. If parents are searching for childcare, or contemplating the shift from a childcare center to a public school preschool, the quality indicators can be used as questions to ask the childcare provider. Many childcare providers are educated and well trained, and implement research and evidence based curriculum that does provide children the foundational skills needed for kindergarten readiness.

Questions to ask caregivers

  • Tell me how you promote good health and physical skills
  • How do you encourage appropriate social skills among children?
  • How do you support the child’s knowledge and thinking skills?
  • What do you do to support children to transition to kindergarten?

Check out these sites for more information:

Nebraska Department of Education, School Readiness

Getting Ready for Kindergarten: What Early Care and Education Providers Need to Know

A parent’s guide for preparing your child for school

There are many childcare options available in Nebraska that are committed to quality; it is up to families to determine the type of setting their child will learn and grow in, and isn’t that a wonderful thing?

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Beth Janning, 4-H Youth Educator

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

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