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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Creating 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

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

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Families Weathering the Storms

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In lieu of the recent natural disasters that have impacted Nebraska and neighboring states, I felt compelled to write about my personal experience. Fifteen years ago on May 24, 2004, I saw firsthand how one’s world as you know it can crumble in minutes, without warning.  My family survived the tornado that destroyed our house in rural Clay Center, Nebraska and then went on to destroy the town of Hallam, NE.  I hope to share my experience as a parent, and some advice to our readers.

May 24, 2004 was a lovely summer day, the first day of summer vacation for my children. We were sitting down together at the kitchen table finishing our evening meal, when out of the blue, our power went out for no apparent reason. I got up to clear the table and stack the dishes at the sink. I remember looking out the window to the west, thinking how strange for the power to be out. I told the boys, Trevor age 9, Calvin, age 8, and Chase age 3 to go downstairs to play while I checked the radio. My husband, Terry went outside to look. As soon as I turned on the radio, the warning alerted us that a Tornado was heading our way and to take shelter.

Terry came running into the house and yelled to get to the basement.  We all huddled under a table and I placed nearby sofa cushions around the kids. As we rode out the storm, it sounded like an army with baseball bats were ransacking our house. I looked at Terry and said I think this is going to be really bad. The noise of wind, hail and our house ripping apart lasted for about 15 to 20 min. When the storm was over, water began to pour from the basement ceiling, as the house had been lifted off the foundation and all the water pipes had broken. As we made our way with the boys up the stairs, we were greeted by daylight, the roof of our home had been peeled away. There was debris and insulation everywhere. The bedrooms on the main floor on the southwest side of the house were hit the worse.  If we had been in bed, we may not have survived. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the tornado, there were two old concrete grain silos that stood on the acreage that were totally disintegrated into pieces no larger than a football.

They say, after you have been through a traumatic event, there are things that will trigger emotions perhaps for the rest of your life. I myself do not like that term, however I can attest that each spring and summer season as severe weather threatens, my emotions do resurface all over again. We were blessed to be safe and unharmed, but most of our belongings were destroyed. Thankful that we had each other and a community of family and friends that helped us to weather this storm and come out more resilient than ever.

Looking back, we as parents, did the best we knew how to do to help our boys  feel safe. One of the first questions they had was where we would live now, and if they would have to change schools. I didn’t know the answer, but confidently told them we would make sure we would not have to leave their school and friends. We ended up staying at Terry’s parent’s house 25 miles away, for about a month while trying to sort out what insurance was going to cover, and learning about depreciation of the value of your possessions, even though we had full coverage insurance.

Lessons Learned

This tornado taught me a few things.

After a disaster, it is important to help children to feel safe and to maintain as much consistency as possible.  Our boys had been involved in T-ball at the time and we maintained getting them to practices and games so they could be among their friends. Trevor was a 1st year 4-Her and he had already worked on many projects to take to the fair. Tornadoes can do strange things, but one of the first things I carried out of our house that day in May, was his prize insect collection he had spent most of the spring putting together. The house was destroyed all around it, but miraculously it came out unscathed.  It went to the county fair, and on to State Fair earning top honors.

The second lesson I learned is to take time to find joy in each day.  One of the best days after the storm, while still living at my in-laws came when my sister made a visit.  She brought the boys a box full of water toys, squirt guns and water balloons.  We had the best family water fight ever, I remember  laughing so much that my sides hurt. Don’t lose sight of the joy, even in the middle of chaos.

I also learned that it is important to give children a sense of closure for things that would be no more. We ended up finding a house to rent about 5 miles away from our old house.  As we began to put our new home together, we would take the boys back to the old place to tend to the potatoes and pumpkins that they had planted before the storm. They could see the destruction, but also that not everything was destroyed.

I believe my kids all came out of this storm pretty well adjusted, but I wish I had known about access to resources as a parent to help them through this disaster. I am now an Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension on the Learning Child team. I am very proud of all the wonderful and helpful resources that Extension has made available for families, farmers, and ranchers focused on natural disasters and recovery.  I encourage you to visit our websites, flood.unl.edu and https://child.unl.edu/. Here, you will find many tools to help you prepare for or weather the storm and to help with recovery efforts.  Additionally, if you have preschool age children, you can download this free NebGuide: How to Help Preschoolers Manage Their Emotions after a Disaster.  http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g2261.pdf

Be prepared I suggest involving your children in creating a disaster preparation kit for your home. Check out this resource for tips on involving your kids in this activity, Lets Pack an Emergency Kit. Having an emergency kit ready will help your child feel safe.  Work together to determine what you need in your kit.

I also recommend having a detailed inventory of your possessions and personal property.  Our insurance agent told us to make a list of everything we lost.  Where do you start?  It would have been helpful if we had an inventory or at least a photo inventory or video of our possessions.  I suggest taking video of your property, opening closets and drawers, room by room, and making a time stamp on the video.  Store this in a safe deposit box and update it annually.

If you are a childcare provider, look for the new course, Emergency Preparedness for Childcare Providers.  I taught this course twice in 2019, and other educators across the state also offer this 6 hour course. You can check with your local Extension office in Nebraska for more information, or search the Early Childhood training calendar https://ecrecords.education.ne.gov/HomePage.aspx.

I hope that this advice is helpful and that you will feel comfortable to seek the resources you need to feel both safe and prepared to face life’s storms.

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Leanne Manning, 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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The Power of Being Present

LaDonna, power of being present

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Have you ever tried having a conversation with someone who continues to scroll through their news feed on their phone? Frustrating, isn’t it? Personally, I feel ignored, and I know they are not fully listening to what I have to say. Truthfully, you may deal with this with your own child. However, imagine how they feel when they are trying to tell you something, but you’re stuck staring at the screen on your smartphone. Now, we all do it so don’t feel that bad, but it is something to improve at because important opportunities could be missed.

Humans are social beings and need face-to-face interaction to thrive. Relationships are one of the most important aspects of life, and good ones are built with skills that are formed through face-to-face interactions. Your child learns empathy, communication skills, behavior and emotion control, and how to read nonverbal communication through those encounters. Interpreting body language, facial expressions, and gestures make up the huge portion of our communication that is nonverbal. It takes years for children to understand nonverbal communication and they master it when practicing with you, siblings, or friends. They can’t get that experience of reading people if one, or both of you are consumed by a device.

Now, I’m not saying we need to ditch our digital devices completely. However, it is important to consider how much of our time they are taking up in our life, and when and how we should use them. Being present and off your phone makes for more fulfilling relationships with your child, partner, and friends, and great relationships make for a great life. Besides, you don’t want to possibly miss out on a first step, first word, or any other monumental step in your child’s life. So, put your phone down, be present, and be happy.

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

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

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To Be A Grandparent

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I am fairly new at this grandparenting thing.   And it has completely taken me by surprise!  I am delighted, thrilled, and absolutely love being a grandparent to my 6 grandchildren.  I love watching them grow, learn, and develop!  I also love observing that my adult children – the moms and dads- have grown and matured into the loving, capable, and understanding parents that they are.

In becoming a grandparent, it’s important to understand that grandparenting isn’t the same thing as parenting.  It is true that, as grandparents, we get to interact with grandchildren on a level that doesn’t require the daily routine and discipline that the parenting roles requires.  This results in a close, loving, and playful bond with the ‘grands’ that can lead to continuity and stability in a child’s life, opportunities to learn and play, and provide a feeling of connectedness.   Grandparents are important in strengthening the family bonds that are so important to children, parents, and grandparents alike.

So, I have learned that, in order to be a ‘good grandparent’, I support the parent’s role; be helpful when possible, totally enjoy being with my grandchildren, and revel in the pure love and joy that they bring to my life!  It’s a great time to be a grandparent!   What do you enjoy most about being a grandparent?

LESLIE CRANDALL EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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

 

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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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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The Heart of a Parent

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This is not the typical blog that I write for The Learning Child, but I feel that all parents will benefit from hearing this message from the heart of a parent.

The school where my child attends hosted an all school assembly this month on bullying and cyber bulling. Parents and community members were invited to attend, so I took the opportunity to go and hear firsthand what the message was about.  I truly wish every parent could have heard this message from Mark and Joni Adler as they spoke from their hearts to tell the story of their son Reid, who was a victim of cyber bullying.

The Adlers introduced us to their family and told how they always strived to keep their children at the center of their lives. They described Reid as a good kid who followed the rules and befriended everyone he met.  He was the kid who always looked for the next fun thing to do.  Nevertheless, the Adlers also told us that Reid had made a mistake when he was in middle school.  Reid took a photo of himself on his phone that should never have been taken, and sent it to a girl. Reid never told anyone about this mistake, however, the girl ended up using the photo to blackmail and manipulate Reid, threatening to make it public.  The manipulation went on in such a way that Reid ended up taking his own life.

Reid Adler was close to his parents, and they could see that something was bothering their son. They opened the door for him to tell what was bothering him, and they had even sought counseling together after Reid had told his mom that sometimes he wondered if life was worth it. Still, Reid could not bear the thought of embarrassing his parents, friends and community, and did not tell about the photograph.

Suicide, according to the Child Safety network is the second leading cause of death of people age 15-24 in Nebraska. Mark and Joni Adler told me that they talk to student groups as Reid’s parents, not suicide prevention experts.  They hope to share this story to arm students with what to do if they are ever in a similar situation.

Joni told the students that day that we all make mistakes. Even your parents, who might seem to have it together now, have made mistakes.  She said she believes that we all experience different things so that we can learn from one another. As Reid’s mother, she gave this advice to our kids that day; do not take inappropriate pictures.  She also told them to follow their intuitions.  She said that she feels that Reid probably had that moment before he hit send that he second-guessed sending the photo.  She asked students to trust their intuitions, as they are usually what tells us that something is not right.

Joni’s next piece of advice was for students to pause before they say something, ask themselves, is it truthful and is it helpful. If the answer is no, then don’t say it. In her words, “Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to shut our mouths.”  She said to the group, that some of the kids in attendance might be the bullies. It’s human nature to hurt back those that hurt us, but she asked them to stop. Mrs. Adler stated, “If we keep up this idea of an eye for an eye, we will all go blind.”

This mother’s message is that we all have value and that it does not come from possessions or their family life. She stated, “No matter what has happened to you, or what you have done, you still have great worth, and no mistake is worth your life.” She advised the students that if they ever think of attempting suicide, talk to someone they can trust such as a parent, teacher or other trusted adult. She then said that parents can’t help you if you don’t let them in. She ended by saying that suicide is not the end of pain, but rather the transfer of pain to those who love you the most.

Mark Adler then took the stage to tell the students that this message is about leadership and courage.  Everyone has someone looking up to them, and at school, taking leadership means saying that you will not accept bullying, no matter what.  Courage is being able to step up and tell the bully that we do not do that here, and telling adults if we hear of bullying or someone talking of suicide. Courage is also telling someone if you are having those thoughts. Parents cannot help unless they know what is wrong. In closing, he asked the students to be the leaders and have courage. He asked them to remember that they can always reach a little higher and to go a little farther in kindness, leadership and courage.

I cannot begin to reproduce the powerful story that I heard at the school that day, but what I can say is that it has changed my life as a parent and as a professional.  I tell my parent education groups and childcare providers to be the hands that hold the child, be the hands that allow the child to go out and explore, and be the hands that also welcome the child back in when they are struggling with a need.  Last week in a parenting group I asked this question, “What do you hope for your children someday?” One of the parents said they hoped that their child would always feel welcome to come to them no matter what.

students texting

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From the heart of the parent who writes this blog today, my hope is for all families to communicate this openly so that our children will come to us with their joys as well as their struggles.  We have all made mistakes, learn from them and talk about them with your children.  Listen to your children when they come to you in delight, and when they come to you with the struggles, even if it is not comfortable for you.

Click this link if you would like to hear more of  The Adler Family Story

Another great resource on bullying from Nebraska Extension is this Cyber Bullying Neb Guide

The University of Nebraska has also been a part of the Born This Way Foundation.  Check out this link for more information as well as the related articles on bullying available here.

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Paulos, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Leslie Crandall, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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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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Teaching Kindness and Giving With a Holiday Twist

the-kindness-elves-kindness-is-contagious-pass-it-on-680x505Image Source: The Imagination Tree

The holidays are a perfect time to focus on the social emotional development of young children. We can take this time to focus on the giving, rather than receiving.  It may sound cliché, but as parents and teachers our goal is for children to develop healthy attachments and maintain secure relationships with caring adults.  We also want our children to lean to show awareness of and respond to the feelings of others.

I had the opportunity to work with an amazing professional preschool teacher who was a master at setting up a caring community of learners.  It was very apparent that a lot of intentional planning was done to set up her classroom environment in a way that children trusted the adults and were nurtured and accepted.  Many opportunities were provided for children to develop an awareness of their own feelings as well as the ideas and actions of others.  During the holidays, the class was introduced to the “Kindness Kids” and daily were involved in decisions and planning thoughtful ways they could show kindness to others through-out the school.

Check out this article that explains The Kindness Kids, an Alternative to Elf on the Shelf Tradition.

And for you busy parents and teachers here is a site that provides Free downloadable kindness elves messages.  I hope this idea will help you to model kind words, thoughtfulness and giving.  I think you will be amazed at the ideas the kids come up with on their own to thank and appreciate others in their lives.

What are some of the ways you encourage awareness of others during the holidays?

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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