Grandparents Day – Do Something Together

Image Source: Kara Kohel

Grandparents Day 2021 is fast approaching. Have you bought your cards? Ordered flowers? If not, don’t rush out to do so. This year, consider returning to the origins of Grandparents Day and celebrating the day as the founders intended.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day. This national proclamation followed several local proclamations and a grassroots effort, led by Lucille Herndon McQuade, to recognize the important role of grandparents and older adults in society.

Although cards, flowers, or gifts have become one way of recognizing grandparents on this day, the originators of Grandparents Day had something else in mind. They envisioned a day dedicated to

  • Honoring Grandparents
    • Giving Grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children
    • Helping children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer

Lucille’s vision for families and communities on Grandparents Day was about connection: being together, having a reunion, or sharing in a community gathering. As recognition of the day became national, public affirmation of the importance of grandparents and older adults in families and society became another priority.

Organizations like Generations United and The Legacy Project encourage people of all ages to do something together during Grandparents Day and the following week. Generations United, in particular, encourages young and old to participate in intergenerational civic engagement for the week following Grandparents Day. Above all, it is an occasion for mutual sharing among the generations.

Shared Reading is an especially great way for young children to connect with the older adults in their lives. Visit your local library and ask about books that feature grandparents or have an intergenerational theme. Some titles I recommend include:

  • I love Saturdays y Domingos, by Alma Flor Ada
    • My Grandfather’s Coat, by Jim Aylesworth
    • A Little Something, by Susan V. Bosak
    • Mr. George Baker, by Amy Hest
    • Thank You, Omu, by Oge Mora

Older youth may enjoy “interviewing” grandparents and older adults about their life. A great addition to this activity is to have the grandparent interview the youth, too. Then, each person writes a story about the other. Storytelling is a great way to talk about similarities, differences, and shared hopes and dreams for the future. Creating a family tree together is another great activity that provides an opportunity to share stories of the past and hopes for the future.

These activities can be done in-person or virtually!

Finally, participating in community service or advocating for a shared cause that impacts all generations in your community or nation is a great way to observe Grandparents Day. It can be as simple as writing a letter to a local representative together or volunteering in your community. 

Image Source: Kara Kohel

We’d love to hear how you celebrate Grandparents Day! Share with us on Facebook (@UNLExtensionthelearningchild), Twitter (@UNLExtensionTLC)

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KARA KOHEL, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | NEBRASKA EXTENSION

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Linda Reddish, and Lynn DeVries Early Childhood Extension Educators, Nebraska Extension

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Choosing Quality Child Care: Guidance For Parents

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Finding quality child care near your location might seem like an overwhelming task. The Voices for Children organization reported in their Kids Count in Nebraska 2019 Report that 77.1% of all available parents in Nebraska are in the workforce, and nearly 80% of children ages 0–5 are in some form of paid child care.

A high-quality workforce is vital to care for our youngest population while parents and caregivers are working. The first 1,000 days of a child’s life have a profound impact on their brain development. We know that early relationships, environments and experiences affect all aspects of a child’s development. Finding the right place for your young child is going to take some work.

FIVE AREAS TO CONSIDER
The Learning Child team at Nebraska Extension has created a website at http://child.unl.edu/quality-child-care to guide parents seeking potential caregivers for their little one(s). The team received a national Extension first-place award for this website! The team identified five areas to consider when choosing a child care program.

Image Source, The Learning Child


1. Relationships — Children develop through relationships with attentive adults. Every day, teachers help your child feel secure and important. From the morning greeting to the end of the day, teachers should interact warmly with your child. Children who feel safe and cared for, grow in all areas of their development.

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2. Health and Safety — The program should promote the nutrition and health of children, and protect children and staff from illness and injuries. Children must be healthy and safe in order to learn and grow. Child care programs should prepare healthy food, provide opportunities for physical activity and provide a safe environment.

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3. Curriculum and Approaches To Learning — Program activities should involve learning experiences through active involvement with people and materials. It should be play-oriented and child-centered, encouraging children to develop their natural love of learning. These practices should be developmentally appropriate and align with state early learning guidelines or standards (see https://www.education.ne.gov/oec/early-learning-guidelines). Research shows curriculum content that emerges from the interest of children, leads to greater engagement with activities and experiences increasing children’s positive approaches to learning. Positive approaches to learning include characteristics such as curiosity, persistence, creativity and problem-solving skills.

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4. Learning Environment — The physical environment should include appropriate indoor and outdoor spaces to enhance learning activities for children. The environment consists of the physical layout of the room, materials children have access to and the overall sense of belonging.

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5. Policies and Administration — Programs should develop policies and procedures including family handbooks to maintain consistency within their program. Family handbooks are especially important, so parents understand what programs offer for their children and families.

Nebraska Extension has checklists to take when you tour a child care program for each of the five topic areas identified above [see “Lincoln’s Strengths and Assets” below]. Print-friendly versions are at https://child.unl.edu/choosing-quality-child-care.

WHERE CAN YOU FIND QUALITY CHILD CARE?
According to Kids Count in Nebraska Report, in 2018 there were 2,834 licensed child care facilities in Nebraska.

In 2020, First Five Nebraska, Buffett Early Childhood Institute, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative, Nebraska Children and Nebraska Extension collaborated to create a website to help you find child care. Visit http://nechildcarereferral.org to find a licensed child care program near you. On the website, you can search for child care within a certain number of miles from a specific address and even look at programs who have available openings.

Step Up to Quality is a Nebraska resource coordinated by the Nebraska Department of Education to help both families and child care providers learn more about implementing and selecting quality care. To learn more, visit https://stepuptoquality.ne.gov. In March of this year, Step Up To Quality reported they now have more than 500 programs participating in the Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS). This QRIS system was passed by the Nebraska Legislature in 2013. The system uses professional development, formal education and coaching to improve early care and education. This will increase the positive outcomes for Nebraska’s youngest children.

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CHILD CARE CHECKLISTS
Take these questions with you to ask child care programs to learn more on each topic.

Relationships
☐ How do teachers keep families regularly informed about our child’s activities?
☐ How does this program respect language, culture and the values of families?
☐ How will you help me with my child’s initial adjustment to your child care?
☐ Am I welcome to drop into the program at any time?
☐ How will we work together to help my child transition to the next class?
☐ Will my child have a consistent caregiver?

Health & Safety
☐ What meals and snacks are served, and are they prepared on site or catered in?
☐ Are emergency numbers posted?
☐ Do you have a space for mothers to breastfeed?
☐ How often does the program need a health report from our doctor?

Curriculum & Approaches to Learning
☐ What is your daily routine with the children and how do you plan for individual children’s needs?
☐ Do you use a curriculum and if so, what is it and why did your program choose it?
☐ How does your curriculum align with early learning guidelines or standards?
☐ How will my child’s learning and culture be supported?
☐ How do you train and support your staff with this curriculum?
☐ What do you notice the children enjoy about the activities during the day?

Learning Environment
☐ How much time do children spend outside?
☐ What is your policy on weather and outside play?
☐ What do you notice is the children’s favorite thing to do outside?
☐ Do you have an area for indoor play when children can’t go outside?
☐ How many children can be in this space at one time?
☐ How do you determine what materials you provide for children?
☐ Does my child need any extra clothes for outdoor play?
☐ Will my child have their own space for storing items from home, like extra clothing, book bag, coat, etc.?

Policies & Administration
☐ Did you receive a copy of the family handbook to look at before you enrolled your child?
☐ How are parents engaged in program events?
☐ How can I express concerns regarding my child’s care or education?
☐ What is the center’s sickness and health policy?
☐ What is the severe weather policy?
☐ Do you have an emergency preparedness plan?
☐ What happens if I am late to pick up my child?
☐ Is there always an administrator on site, or designated lead?

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Tasha Wulf, Lisa Poppe, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Sparking Interest in STEM through Animals and Literacy

Image Source: Jackie Steffen

What sparks your curiosity?  What sparks the curiosity of your children?  I would venture to guess that nature and animals might rank pretty high on the list of interests for you and the children you work with every day.  Using animals and nature with children is a wonderful opportunity to teach empathy, conservation and environmental stewardship.  Fortunately, Nebraska Extension has an exciting early childhood resource to share with you this year around animals and their habitats.  This year, we are thrilled to provide eight guides highlighting habitats such as the tundra, rainforest, and desert.

Image Source: Sarah Roberts

Nebraska Extension has created this great resource for parents, early childhood professionals, care takers, grandparents, and anyone who loves to read with young children that ties directly with local libraries’ summer reading programs.  Summer reading programs are taking place right now and the theme across the state is Tails and Tales.  Our STEM Imagination Guides are designed to provide several opportunities to connect with each year’s theme by featuring:

  • Familiar storybook suggestions:
    • The stories that have been selected for each guide are well-known stories and often children’s favorites.  It is okay if you child has already heard the story prior to taking part in the lesson.  Sharing a story multiple times helps children develop language and listening skills. 
  • Conversation starters:
    • When a two-way conversation is initiated with children during story time, participation in dialogic reading is encouraged.  Open-ended questions are provided in each lesson to foster dialogic reading which has tremendous academic and social-emotional benefits for young children. 
  • STEM connection experiments:
    • Children love finding out how things work through fun, hands-on projects.  The experiment included in each guide relates to the featured habitat and teaches a variety of STEM concepts that are engaging and educational.
  • Sensory explorations:
    • Sensory play stimulates children’s senses and is important for brain development.  During the suggested sensory activities, children use multiple senses which allows them to learn more from their experiences and retain more information.
  • Music and movement activities:
    • Research shows that music ignites all areas of child development and enhances skills for school readiness.  Not only is singing songs and playing games fun, but these activities also encourage self-expression and physical activity. 
  • Creative arts investigations:
    • When children create pictures of stories that they have read, comprehension improves and often motivates children to want to read and interact with books even more.  Art is an early form of communication.  Creative art suggestions allow children to express themselves and make meaningful connections with the stories.
  • Additional related readings:
    • Since each of the Imagination Guides focus on a different habitat, children often have additional questions and are interested in learning MORE!   Supplemental fiction and nonfiction books are suggested so children can expand their knowledge.
Image Source: Jackie Steffen

The STEM Imagination Guides can be utilized in a variety of ways.  No need to panic if you do not have access to the featured storybook.  Consider listening to the story online or sharing the story orally from memory.  Each Imagination Guide has a variety of options and can be customized to meet the needs and interests of the children in your care.  Incorporate all of the activities or just a few.  It is up to you!  The shared reading experience and creative play opportunities are sure to create an excitement for animals as well as foster a joy for reading.   

All of these resources are free and available for download and print at https://go.unl.edu/imagination.  This website also houses the previous year’s resources focusing on fairy tales.  This website is like a treasure chest of great literacy and STEM resources right at your fingertips.  All Imagination Guides, whether from this year or previous years can be utilized at no cost.  Enjoy this year’s habitat exploration!

SARA ROBERTS AND JACKIE STEFFEN, EXTENSION EDUCATORS | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Amy Napoli, Assistant Professor & Early Childhood Extension Specialist and LaDonna Werth and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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PLAYING IN THE MUD IS MORE THAN JUST FUN

Image source: Pixabay.com

This special blog was authored by our dear colleague and friend, Leanne Manning who lost her battle with cancer on April 9, 2021. Leanne dedicated 34 years of her life’s career to Nebraska Extension, and to the Learning Child Interest Group. Leanne was passionate about education, helping others through educational programming, and watching youth develop into their potential. She loved spending time outdoors in nature and watching blue birds. Leanne will be missed, but her work will live on in those who knew her well and had the opportunity to be instructed in her care. This is the last blog she had written and requested that it be published in June 2021. Thank you and a fond farewell to Leanne Manning.

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Remember when you were a kid and you had fun playing in the mud?  Turns out that was good for you!  Some of the benefits* of playing in the mud follow.

  1. The bacteria, Mycobacterium Vaccae, found in the soil or mud, has been found to reduce anxiety and increase serotonin (the endorphin that is used to regulate mood and makes you feel happy) in the brain.
  2. Mud play increases brain activity by stimulating a child’s senses.
  3. When children play in the mud outdoors, physical activity increases which helps children maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  4. Regular exposure to mud will reduce a child’s vulnerability to depression.
  5. Mud play reduces allergies and asthma symptoms.
  6. By experiencing outdoor mud play, children learn a sense of self and belonging in the natural world around them.  It provides a chance to explore nature, ground themselves, and learn to care for their world.
  7. Children exposed to playing in the mud have more opportunities to be creative.  There is no end to the amount of games and uses for mud in child’s play.  This can lead to an increased ability to problem solve, think critically, and be innovative.

   Ideas to get kids involved in mud play are:  

  • mud hand-prints or footprints,
  • use fingers, paintbrushes, or old kitchen tools like potato mashers to paint or make prints,
  • hang a large white sheet and have kids throw mud balls at it to create splatter painting,
  • set up a mud kitchen with pots, pans, and more to make mud pies or other culinary creations such as mud stew,
  • use a plastic kiddie pool and create a mud pit supplying them with shovels, bowls, and spoons for digging and let the children squish mud through their bare toes in the mud pit,
  • make mud castles or mud bricks,
  • make mud buddies by forming mud into people or pets.

   Ask children questions that help them think about what is happening during this experience such as: What would happen if we used sand instead of mud? What would happen if we left this mud out in the sun? What would happen if we added more water?  At Prince Edward Island in Canada, they use their famous red mud to dye t-shirts.  Maybe you could experiment with mud dying on inexpensive pieces of fabric with the children.

   Clean up after mud play can be as much fun as playing in the mud.  Take a garden hose and have children hose off.  There is no better time than now to go outside and have some fun playing in the mud….it is good for you!  International Mud Day is Tuesday, June 29, 2021…have fun getting dirty!

*Source:  https://natureplayqld.org.au/

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Sarah Roberts, and Erin Kampbell, Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Lawn Care and Young Children: Creating a Safe and Fun Place to Play

Image Source: Katie Krause

Spring is in full swing here in Nebraska and our family is spending a lot more time outside.  As I walked around our yard this week, I realized I needed to do something to help get our less than stellar yard in better condition. We have been trying to get our lawn healthy so it can withstand the wear and tear of 2 young children and 2 dogs (we are getting a new puppy next week!) playing on it year-round.

So, what does lawn care have to do with early childhood?  For our family, this is simple.  Safety.  We’d like to have a yard with enough grass that we don’t end up with a muddy mess, but we don’t want to risk our kids or pets getting sick from whatever we apply to the lawn.  I reached out to my fellow Extension Educator, John Fech, who is a horticulturist.   One of his areas of specialization is turf grass.  He responded quickly, and even wrote this wonderful blog so we could share the helpful information with you!

Check it out here: https://grobigred.com/2021/04/22/lawns-kids-pets/

John shares details about these 4 big takeaways

  • Follow the instructions exactly!  
  • Break the application into 2 or 3 part
    • This one was a huge ‘ah-ha!’ moment for me.  Don’t do your front and back yard all on the same day.  Get the backyard done, but still have safe access to your front yard.  Simple…but genius!  
  • Know how the product works – foliage active – work on the leaves, root active – goes into the ground
  • Mow – Fertilize – Water
Image Source: Katie Krause

Remember, Children Thrive Outside….so use these helpful hints to make sure your yard is functional and safe for your whole family!

KATIE KRAUSE, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Kara Kohel, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Jump, Roll, Slide at the Playground

Image source: Linda Reddish

My son loves to jump.  He is exceptional at finding launching surfaces that provide him the opportunity to challenge gravity’s hold on his feet.  I remember the day when he decided to test out jumping from the third step on the playground.  The ground beneath covered with mulch but, he looked so small to be making such a big jump.  As he lifted his arms to the sky and his knees bent, I took deep breath watching him get ready to fly.   My spouse on the other hand was a second away from saying, “that’s not safe, get down.”

Before the words could be uttered, our son jumped, landed on both feet, and then began spinning around.   Another child directly behind him yelled out, “That was awesome!  Five points for both feet.” Suddenly, the two of them were setting rules for how to earn points while jumping.  5 points for both feet, 1 point if your hand touched the ground, a hundred points if they both did it together at the same time and stuck the landing.  His parents and I made eye contact, smiled, gave a shrug of the shoulders, and continued to watch.  My spouse, again, on the other hand, was now looking at the sky and letting out a deep sigh of relief.

As the children continued to play, I asked my spouse about the warning cry he was about to utter.  He expressed his concern about him falling and that the steps seemed too high.  I shared with him that generally, you can check the “critical height” of play equipment outdoors and I showed him the sticker on the side of the equipment.  The space he was jumping from was well mulched and for our son’s height had more than enough protection because of mulch.  This made me realize something, I knew about this and could show my spouse were to find this but, I wondered how many other caregivers knew where to find this information. If you are curious about playground safety and platform guidelines click here for the Public Playground Safety Handbook from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission .

Image source: Linda Reddish

This additional piece of information helped, but my spouse still told me after I showed him the equipment safety suggestions that watching our son jump felt like a lifetime.  In reality, the exchange was only about 5-10 minutes.  Eventually, the game stopped and the children choose to go over to slope on the other side of the playground and began rolling down it.  Sometimes they bumped into each other, but their faces were smiling and laughing as they rolled. We have continued to talk about this feeling of hesitation or being uncomfortable watching our child engage in this rough and tumble play.  This feeling is not unusual among adults.  Author, Frances Carlson addresses adult’s uneasiness with this type of play in her book Big Body Play; Why boisterous, vigorous, and very physical play is essential to children’s development and learning.

She shares that adults and educators are typically motivated to reduce or hinder this type of play out of fear for the following reasons:

Image source: Linda Reddish

1. Fighting

2. Escalation

3. Agitation

4. Injury

All reasonable and understandable fears.  I, as a parent, that day, felt all of those fears too.  Perhaps not as strongly as my spouse did, but when I reflect on my teaching days, I likely responded more like my spouse did.  Ensuring children’s safety and well-being was paramount.  However, I’ve grown in my understanding of how to support children’s exploration into big body play.  I went back and re-read the chapter on how to support this type of play while balancing the safety concerns. The readings confirmed while some risk of injury is possible any time when children engage in physical play or explore outdoor spaces like playgrounds, the risk is minimal. Adults can set safe limits by setting clear expectations and ground rules, supervising or joining in on the play, and helping young children recognize their limits.  Following the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s playground, public safety and fall height recommendations are another strategy to prevent life-threatening falls or injuries in both outdoor and indoor spaces.

Carlson further addresses adult’s reservations by providing concrete ideas and examples such as encourage children to:

Image source: Linda Reddish

1. Run

2. Skip

3. Hop

4. Roll

5. Climb on structures

6. Wrestle

7. Broad jump

8. Jump from heights

Again, this type of boisterous play and physical activity has its benefits.  Children who are physically active reduce their risk of becoming overweight or obese.  That is because early childhood is an ideal time to establish children’s healthy attitude towards the adoption of health and wellness.

We continue to watch our son test out his jumping skills while he is at the playground.  Now he has moved on to running, hopping, and skipping around the loop of the playground.  He still likes to test out that third step.  Before we leave the playground, he still asks, “Can I jump off that step one more time?”

If you are interested in learning more about Big Body Play, you can check out this webinar.

Resource:

Accelerating Progress to Reduce Childhood Obesity. (2021, March 24). Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.nccor.org/

Carlson, Frances M.  (2011).  Big Body Play: Why Boisterous, Vigorous, and Very Physical Play Is Essential to Children’s Development and Learning, by Frances M. Carlson.  National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Young Children: Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 69:5 (Nov 2014), pp. 36-42.

LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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

Image Source: by K Kohel in Canva

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image source: by K Kohel, in Canva

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

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

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

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

Staying Connected During Social Distancing

KARA KOHEL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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


Video by cottonbro from Pexels

Direct link for video:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Child “Nothing”

Wondering what happens next? 

Curious how the caregiver might respond? Me too…!

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

  1. Tinkering
  2. Making
  3. Engineering.  

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

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

Strategy 1

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

Strategy 2

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

Strategy 3

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

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

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

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels

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

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

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

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

Child “Respect our classroom materials.”

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

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

Child “In the blue box.”

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

Child (points to a roll of tape)

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

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

Child “hmm”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Blogs and References

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

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

LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Dr. Soo-Young Hong, LaDonna Werth, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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

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High Level Questions for High Level Thinking

Most children have a “Why” stage where they ask why to literally everything a person says. Sound familiar? Despite how frustrating that can be at times, answering those “whys” is really beneficial to the child’s curiosity. Do you know what is also really beneficial to the child? Asking THEM questions! Tables have turned and now it’s their turn to think hard for the answers.

However, we’re not completely off the hook because we have to put a little thought into our questions. To really expand our children’s thinking, we have to ask more high-level questions. A high-level question is never a yes-or-no question (“Do you have siblings?”). It isn’t a question that only has one answer (“How old are you?”). Nor is it a question that has an obvious answer (“How many wheels does that bicycle have?”). Answers to these kinds of questions can show the child understands language, pays attention, and can count or identify colors, numbers, and shapes, but the questions don’t push the child to think deeply. High-level questions are always ones that will foster unique answers from each child. If the question is effective, the child is usually excited to give you a very detailed explanation. Now, you don’t necessarily have to ask a question to encourage thinking because statements such as “Tell me about…” or “I wonder…” get the job done as well. Now that you know what a high-level question is, it is time to start trying them out.

So the next time you see a child playing in the mud and pretending sticks are something else, rather than asking “Are you using that stick as a utensil?”, say something like “Tell me about what you are making.” Try it out and see what kind of interesting conversations come out of it!

Source: Big Questions for Young Minds by Janis Strasser and Lisa Mufson Bresson

LA DONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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

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Keeping Routines is the Secret to a Calm Holiday

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Photo source, Lynn DeVries

As I sit in the warmth and quiet of my home, I see the posts, advertisements, and the excitement of Black Friday shopping. And it starts, the traveling, special programs, shopping, parties and holiday gatherings.  It can take a toll on us all, especially our young children.

Children are even more sensitive to disruptions in their routines. However fun the activity or event may be, parents may observe more displays of behaviors or moodiness from their children during the holidays. Structured routines help children to feel safe and predict what is happening around them. Children learn how to control themselves and their surroundings when they live in a structured, secure, and loving environment. This feeling of security fosters healthy social and emotional regulation in young children.

Tips for a healthy holiday:

Sleep well

A regular schedule will help children sleep better at night and they are less resistive to transitioning to going to bed. Parents can help by sticking to routines and bedtimes that are as consistent as possible during the holidays. Perhaps reading a bedtime story to children after bath time.

Regular meal times

It is best if children eat at predictable times to avoid those “hangry” moments.  Offer a healthy breakfast and small healthy snacks between meals. Eating at the table instead of in front of the television, will reduce overeating, as children can focus on how hungry or full they feel. I recommend family style meals where caregivers sit with and eat the same foods as children.  When children are ready, allow them to serve themselves. They will be more likely to try new foods if given choices.

Traveling

For those long car or airplane trips, bring along a comfort item like a stuffed animal or a busy bag of books, paper and crayons. Mornings seem to be better for children, consider traveling in the morning, and making stops for meals at regular times. I recommend scheduling extra time on road trips to stop and allow children a break from their car safety seats.

Active times

If children are home from school or childcare over the holidays, remember to keep them active.  Build in time for outdoor activities so children can be physically active. If the weather doesn’t allow outdoor time each day, be sure some indoor time allows for physical activity.  Have an indoor paper snowball fight, or build a fort with blankets. Planning out a specific time each day during winter break for an activity will become part of their routine while children are at home.

Limit Screen time

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states, “Today’s children are spending an light tableaverage of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. To help kids make wise media choices, parents should develop a Family Media Use Plan for everyone in their family.”

I recommend focusing on laps instead of apps. Instead of reaching for a digital “babysitter,” offer more of your time and attention.  What might be seen as attention getting behaviors, could simply be your child’s attempt at wanting more connection with you.

 Photo source, Lynn DeVries

Screen time recommendations:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

Check out this Media time plan and calculator by the American Academy of Pediatrics, to help you set your own family guidelines.

Transition back to school

As the holiday break ends, if you did stray from routines, help your child adjust by gradually getting back on schedule to similar meal, and bedtime schedules that they will have at childcare or school.

In closing, my wish for you is that you have a safe, happy and healthy holiday with your family. Take time to enjoy the little things and laugh together.

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, , Lisa Poppe, and LaDonna Werth, Extension Educators, 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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