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

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

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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

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

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

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Code-a-pillar! Where Development Comes into Play

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Preschool teachers, imagine turning your room into an obstacle course and preschoolers working together for 45 minutes problem solving and programming.

The Code-a-pillar inspires little learners to be big thinkers by encouraging preschoolers to arrange and rearrange the easy-to-connect segments. This learning toy helps children to learn that the arrows indicate different directions. This is a perfect time to introduce the difference between right from left by using the color-coordinated segments that hook together with USB ports. Every time a child changes or rearranges the segments the child is working on learning directions, how to problem solve, planning and sequencing and critical thinking.

Teaching preschoolers about coding and the binary system foster curiosity, experimentation and problem-solving. Allowing the children to become engineers and robots all at once allows a child to work in a fantasy world while learning. The binary system has only two numbers so preschoolers can learn and be successful almost immediately. The number 1 stands for stepping forward and 0 stands for turning right. While one preschooler writes his code on the whiteboard, another preschooler follows the directions given through the coding. The children learn very fast that they can navigate the entire room using only the two codes.

Bringing the preschooler’s attention back to the Code-a-pillar is very easy. Their little brains are ready to arrange and rearrange the segments to get their Code-a-pillar to a particular place in the classroom. They soon realize adjustments (problem-solving) are needed so they can navigate around the tables and chairs in the classroom.

Once the preschoolers understand what a sequence is or program a path, the sky’s the limit. Thinking as they figure out how to get the Code-a-pillar to go wherever they want.

Coding is an excellent way to supports children’s curiosity and develop children’s inquiry skills by asking children to brainstorm solutions, or use open-ended questions like: How did you get that caterpillar to move?

Using open ended questions encourages children to listen, reflect, and then respond back how they made decisions or describe the actions they took to reach a specific goal.  This is an important scientific skill to learn and develop because it will allow children at an early age to practice using the scientific method! (Predict, Collect Data, Describe, and Reach a Conclusion, then… TRY AGAIN!)

As an early childhood educator, and interested in learning more strategies and specific ways to increase children’s scientific knowledge, please join us for an Early Learning Guidelines training on the Science Domain.  For more information visit: Fall 2017 ELG Classes

Image Source: Linda Reddish

RUTH VONDERHOE, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Paulos, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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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

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

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

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Have you ever heard this statement “So, I have a silly question.”

As an early childhood specialist, I listened to teachers ask this question only for it to lead into a richer discussion regarding their classrooms.  For many years, I coached infant and toddler teachers, and I used this statement as an opportunity to introduce the importance of responding to young children’s curiosity.  Whenever a teacher led with that comment, I would either start the coaching conversation or end the conversation sharing the following story…

When I was three years old, my mother attended ESL classes at the county’s local community college.  Adjacent to the college was a small childcare lab school that I attended for preschool.  It was an incredible program. Well-defined learning centers with warm, patient, and interactive teachers.  Now knowing what I know, the program was certainly a high-quality early childhood program.  I am confident my preschool experiences reinforced my aspiration to become an early childhood professional.

One day, I asked my preschool teacher if she was a magician.  Every day, my preschool teacher offered in the art center a fruit-scented play dough. I was perplexed by the possibility that play dough could smell sweet like grape juice, or citrusy like lemons. It was beyond my imagination.  I remember her response, and all these years I have carried it with me.  She said, “What a silly question, and I am so glad you asked it. Tomorrow you can help me make it, and I will show you the magical powder that goes into it.”  My preschool teacher met my curiosity responsively instead of dismissing it.  She relished in my joy; I can still hear her laughter as I helped her make the play dough.  That day my teacher taught me that play dough was not just pliable dough; it could be so much more.  It was beyond anything I could have imagined.  My teacher recognized this question as a teachable moment and an opportunity to strengthen our relationship by affirming my question instead of dismissing it.  This experience inspired the creation of my twitter handle @beyondplaydough (I invite you to follow me).

Have you ever wondered what it is like for young children when they ask adults questions? 

If we are hoping to instill a sense of joy in learning, it is up to us as early childhood educators to respond authentically to young children’s bids and questions, no matter how silly they may seem.

As the mother of a preschooler who is currently in this state, I can relate to my teacher’s delight many years ago.  The other night, while reading Duck on Bike by author David Shannon I paused on the hilarious page when all of the animals hop on the bicycles.  I wanted to focus on defining new words by using what he already knew about bikes and then conceptually map the different types of bikes while introducing new vocabulary.  As I pointed to each bike, I explained how Chicken was actually on a tricycle because it had three wheels.  I noted that Pig and Pig were on a tandem bike built for two!  Then, our son noticed one of the bicycles had a different shaped seat.  He pointed at it and I told him it was called a banana seat, and immediately giggling ensued.  He turned his head to look up at me and said, “You cannot sit on a banana Mama, it would be all mushy, that is just so silly. Why would anyone be so silly Mama and sit on a banana?”

Right on little guy, why would anyone be so silly?

What is the silliest question a child has asked you?  Did the question delve into a deeper level of learning? Were you able to use it to further a child’s understanding of a particular concept, if so how?

Comment below!

Source: Linda Reddish, personal image

Linda Reddish, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

John Porter, Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator

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