Great Ideas for Making Music Outdoors

Music has the power to lift us- body, mind and spirit. This is especially true for young children. Making and moving to music promotes all areas of development:

  • physical– coordination, muscle tone, fine and gross motor skills develop as children play instruments or dance to music
  • cognitive– creating and listening to music includes problem solving, logical thinking, patterning, counting, cause and effect, scientific discoveries, imagination and creativity
  • language– vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and rhyming can all be developed through songs
  • social– cooperation, turn-taking, give and take and the creation of shared experiences are all a part of the music making process
  • emotional– self-expression, personal reflection and the exploration of moods and feelings

When we take music outdoors all of these wonderful qualities are enhanced. Outdoors children (and teachers) have a heightened sense of freedom. Outdoors we feel more comfortable to let go and explore. We can sing loud, we can play loud, we can get silly and experimental.

So consider creating a music corner in your outdoor space. Every-day items can make wonderful instruments.

  • Plastic flower pots or 5 gallon tubs make great drums
  • a variety of old spoons hanging on a coat hanger can be chimes
  • PVC pipes of various lengths can be tapped with an old flip-flop to create all kinds of cool sounds
  • Pea gravel makes a neat sound when poured over an old washboard
  • Put a little water into a metal bowl and tap it with a stick to hear more funky sounds

Let the Children Play is another blog full of all kids of photos and ideas for musical fun outdoors. Check it out! And if you want even more info on how to create fun and inexpensive musical experiences to your children check out our Music with Little Ones binder for Infants and Toddlers, or our Making Music binder for ages 3-8.

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What to Look for in a Child Care Environment

Quality child care can come in many forms, from large child care centers to small in-home child care programs and everything in between. Finding the right situation for your child can be overwhelming and stressful. It is a personal decision. What is right for your family may not be right for your best friends family. Here are some things to consider as you explore your options:

  • Schedule– if your work schedule is outside of the traditional 9-5 Monday-Friday work schedule it is important that you ask about the hours of operation of any program you are considering. Many programs may be eliminated from your list of options based on schedule.
  • Location– if you are like many people, this is a drive you will have to make on a daily basis. Once enrolled in child care, many people find that the majority of the time they have with their child is just before bed and rushing to get out the door in the morning. If the commute to child care is long, it is using up time you could be spending interacting with your child at home. Also, if your commute takes you through heavy traffic areas or other stressful situations, this will have a negative impact on your entire day (and possibly your child’s day too!).
  • Cleanliness and safety– children are notoriously good at spreading germs and young children are always putting things in their mouths. Avoid child care programs that look unclean, where choking hazards are within easy reach of young children or where you are at all uncomfortable with supervision or safety.
  • Learning environment– Children learn by doing. This means engaging in hands-on play. Look for a program where children are playing with open-ended toys like blocks, housekeeping props and dress up, rubber animals, dolls, balls, cars, etc. Watch the way children interact with each other and how the caregivers interact with the children. They should be attentive, but not controlling. Children should be active, but not wild. Children should have choices of what to play with, when and how. Adults should guide children in their choices when necessary. Avoid programs that rely heavily television, computers and worksheets to keep children busy. The kids may look calm and busy, but they are missing out on important opportunities to explore concepts in meaningful ways that will make a lasting impact on their future growth.
  • Discipline– Just as there is a lot of variety in how families approach discipline, the same is true for child care programs. When it comes to discipline, consistency is important for children so choose a program with a discipline philosophy that is in line with yours.
  • Food– some programs provide food, others expect you to bring it. Be aware of what foods will be served to your child. Excessive amounts of juice and other high-sugar foods should be avoided.
  • Outdoor time– all children, even infants, need time outdoors. Ask how often children are taken outdoors and in what situations (weather, staffing, etc.) children might not be taken outdoors.
  • Teacher training/accreditation– are teachers certified? Is the program accredited by a national or state agency? Do the teachers take part in ongoing training or professional development? A program that has high standards and supports teacher’s professional development is more likely to retain staff and be more aware of current best practice for caring for young children. This is good for kids.
  • Communication– how do teachers let you know what went on during the day? How are problems communicated? How do the teachers communicate with the children?
  • Flexibility– if you are likely to need to change your schedule, add, drop or switch days, ask if this is a possibility. Some programs are very flexible and others are not at all.

Choosing the right child care situation is important for your own peace of mind and for your child’s well-being. Take your time, ask questions and make the choice that is right for you.

Tips for Successful Mixed-Age Groups

Whether spending time at home with siblings, in a family child care setting, or in an early childhood program where lower enrollment allows for mixed age groupings, summer often provides a unique opportunity for kids of different ages to play and spend time together.

This can be a great experience. Younger children watch and learn from older children. They are motivated to try new and challenging things as they imitate the activities they see. Older children have the opportunity to develop nurturing relationships and develop the positive self-esteem that comes with being a role model for others. Everyone benefits.

But along with these benefits come challenges. Differences in developmental stages and abilities can cause conflicts and misunderstandings. Scheduling issues can arise when infants or younger children need to be fed or nap while older children want attention. Taking the time to promote positive relationships among the children in your care will create an environment of cooperation that is well worth the effort.

Here are a few tips for promoting positive relationships between children of different ages:

  • Praise children for being helpful or kind to one another.
  • Be understanding of a child’s developmental stage.
  • Avoid punishing toddlers or older children for disturbing younger children. Instead make it a teachable moment. Explain the possible consequences of their actions and redirect the behavior.
  • Involve older children in the care of younger children.
  • Take pictures of children engaged in cooperative play, then talk about how wonderful the experience was as you look at the pictures later.
  • Give all children the opportunity to take on a chore or task to develop a sense of importance. Even toddlers can water a plant or put napkins on the table.

For great activity ideas complete with tips for modifying activities for different ages and abilities, check out World of Wonder’s Mini Kits. Exploring Water is especially great for summer fun!

Tips for Creating a Great Family Child Care Space

Family child care homes can be an amazing place for young children. Many center-based child care programs try and fall short of trying to provide that cozy, home-like feel that helps to put children and families at ease.

For family child care providers, that home-like feel comes with the space. The challenge becomes making your home a space that works for you and your family, as well as for the children in your care.

Here are some tips for making your space the best that it can be.

  • Have clear barriers (doors, child safety gates) that separate your private family space from the areas used by the children in your care.
  • Use low shelves, sofas and other existing furniture to create room dividers, cozy nooks and control the way people move through your space.
  • Have a areas where children can enjoy quiet activities as well as a space where children can explore movement and more active play.
  • Have areas where children can be comfortably alone (but supervised!) and in groups.
  • Get creative with your furniture and storage. Can nap items be stored in a nearby linen closet or under the sofa? Can a craft cart slide under a side table in your dining room or kitchen when not in use? Can a crib mattress that you are not using help to create a cozy reading corner or tumbling area?
  • Use your entrance to promote parent communication. Post a bulletin board with your daily schedule, yearly calendar or other current notices for parents.
  • Make a payment drop box from an old tissue box or other container and place it near the entrance to encourage prompt payments.

For even more information on setting up your home environment as well as how to plan a routine and all kinds of activity ideas, take a look at our Family Child Care Smart Start Kit or Activity Binder. If you work with mostly infants and toddlers, try our Family Child Care Infant/Toddler materials.

For a great article on how to plan your family child care space, check out Designing a Family Child Care Environment in  Child Care Information Exchange.