Supporting the Learning Process for Babies

Babies are natural learners. They are curious and eager to explore and experiment. As care providers, the best thing we can do is sit back and support the explorations that drive them.

This video was taken by Janet Lansbury, a trained parent educator, and highlights the innate curiosity of infants. In her blog, Lansbury reminds us:

All babies need is a safe, peaceful environment, some basic objects to examine (unnecessary until they are 3 or 4 months old) and many opportunities throughout the day to move freely and make their own choices without our interruption.

As you watch this video clip, notice:

  • the child is free to move about and develop his motor skills
  • the simplicity of the materials that the child chooses to explore
  • the opportunities the child has to problem-solve as he explores these simple materials
  • many of the child’s senses are supported and engaged (visual, tactile, auditory)
  • adults respond to baby when he initiates interaction (getting adult attention through eye contact or sounds), and don’t intrude upon his exploration

As caregivers we want to make sure we are doing all that we can to help our babies learn and grow. What we need to remember is that there really is very little that we need to do! Our babies are experts at doing. All we need to do is have confidence in their abilities as self-directed learners and be there to support them when they need us.

 

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Secrets for Preventing Behavior Issues in Preschool

Managing a classroom of 20+ preschoolers is not easy! If a “good day” is a day when no one gets hurt, and a day without tears seems all but impossible, you are not alone! Here are some ideas that will go a long way in preventing many behavior issues:

  • Take a look at how your room is set up– young children see large open spaces as an invitation to run. Move low shelves or other furniture to create cozy nooks, quiet work spaces and defined play areas like a block play or dramatic play space.
  • Create classroom rules and give daily reminders– A few positively stated rules can be extremely effective in guiding children’s behavior. Rules like “we are kind to our friends”, “we walk in the classroom” and “we are gentle with our materials”, give children specific behavior expectations and create a positive atmosphere. Make a visual poster reminding children of your rules and reinforce the rules daily through songs, conversations or simple reminders.
  • Get to know children as individuals– most behavior issues come from a child’s need to feel important, to feel included/accepted or to feel respected. If you make a point of spending a little one-on-one time with each child and teach and encourage children to practice social skills  and always treat children with respect, you will be creating a community where everyone feels important, included and respected.
  • Plan activities for different learning styles– we all learn in different ways, yet many traditional school activities are designed for children who learn through listening and writing. Activities that include movement, visual support, songs, teamwork, the natural world or personal reflection will give children with these strengths or learning styles a chance to shine.

With these basic guiding principles in place, you should notice big improvements in the behavior of the children in your class. Of course, some behavior issues require more specific interventions, but only about 10-15% of the children in a typical classroom will fall into this category. For these children, you may need to seek out the advice of others, including teacher mentors, consultants or other professionals.

For all kinds of activity ideas that are engaging to different learning styles or “intelligences” visit www.wowkits.com.

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.

Encouraging Self-Control in Young Children

Whether you are a teacher or a parent, nothing is more frustrating than trying to manage a child who struggles with self-control. To be successful with friends, in school and in life, children need to learn how to control their bodies and manage their impulses. For some children this comes naturally, but for many others, it takes work. Here are some strategies for parents and teachers:

  • Make sure your home or classroom is safe– close off areas of the room that you don’t want children to access. Put away objects that you don’t want children to touch. If some things can’t be removed from your space, teach children how to handle things carefully and praise them when they do.
  • Be reassuring and supportive– no matter how independent or “tough” a child may seem, all young children need to feel confident in the love of the adults in their lives. Be aware of the subtle (or not so subtle) signals that your child sends you to let you know they need your support. Take the time to snuggle often and don’t make fun of them for needing a hug. Lots of love when they are young will help them develop a stronger sense of self and confidence.
  • Show confidence in your child’s abilities– “I can do it myself!” is a phrase young children say often. Take them at their word and set up the experience to be successful. This might mean having non-breakable cups and small pitchers on hand so that children can pour their own drinks, or setting aside more time to leave the house so that children can put on their coats and hats by themselves. If they make a mistake, help them to fix it without judgment. Offer a sponge to clean up spills. Don’t chastise the child for spilling. We all need to practice new things.
  • Offer choices that match a child’s ability– If your toddler doesn’t want to get ready for bed, offer a choice of 2 pajamas to put on. Invite your preschooler to pull a wagon or ride a tricycle when you go for a walk. Giving children the power to make choices shows them that you are confident in their abilities. Even discipline can be accomplished through choices. “Would you like to use a quieter voice and stay here with us, or would you like to leave? Your job is to set up appropriate choices and follow through. Start with just 2 for toddlers and more for older children.

Children are a lot like adults. When we feel we have no control over our situations we get frustrated. Children often act out just to have a voice. With these tips we can let them know we hear them, we love them, we trust them and we can give them the opportunity to be successful with some appropriate responsibilities.

Invest in Early Ed and Care- The Video

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This video is worth so much more! Through the voices of 4 children (an infant – 4 years old) we hear and see the effects of poverty and a lack of a positive environment in the early years. The video clip is targeted to New Mexico legislators, but the facts and statistics presented apply to every community across the country. We can invest in children and save money. It’s a win-win!

Staff Collaboration: Every School’s Secret Treasure

In schools across the country there are educators full of wisdom, experience, new ideas and unique personal skills. We all have wonderful ideas and information to share. We all love helping and we’re pretty good at being supportive (that’s a big reason why we chose this field). Yet most teachers are very isolated in their classrooms or only have opportunities to communicate with the other teachers or support staff within the same age-level group.

How well is your school using the resources you have in your own teachers? Many schools encourage mentor relationships between new and experienced teachers, but do teachers have an opportunity to come together as a school and share issues and ideas? Do you have a forum for group brainstorming to solve problems? How comfortable does your staff feel when it comes to sharing their ideas or insights?

Today’s schools and child care centers are facing increasingly difficult  issues. Children with complex cognitive, social, developmental or emotional problems. Families under great stress. Programs under financial stress or struggling with the burdens of unfunded mandates. Staff professional development is important, and can be very helpful, but you may be amazed at how much information is locked away in the minds of your teachers.

Complex issues require collaborative problem solving, and when teachers and administrators come together in a collaborative environment, effective solutions can be only a brainstorm away! Think about implementing weekly or monthly staff meetings. If you already do this, make sure you set aside time at the meetings for open discussions and opportunities for collaboration. A team approach to problem solving encourages everyone to become invested in the solution and can raise the quality of teaching across your school.

Slow Down Parents! Be Present for Your Children

One thing I see that really upsets me every time I visit an early childhood center is parents on cell phones when they pick up their children. This happens at every center I’ve ever been to. It doesn’t matter how old a child is, or how communicative. Every child deserves to have the full attention of their parent or other primary caregiver, especially after spending a long day apart.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children has a resource series called “Message in a Backpack”. These are great little fliers that help early childhood educators communicate important issues to families. Here is a link to a Message in a Backpack titled, “Listen, Talk, Answer- Support Your Child’s Learning”. This one page handout encourages parents to slow down and really talk with their children, and while it doesn’t specifically address my pet-peeve of cell phones at pick up (and drop off), it does give families some concrete strategies to begin a conversation.