Baby Brain Map

Zero to Three, an organization promoting the healthy development of infants and toddlers, has a wonderful section of its website called the “Baby Brain Map.” Here parents and caregivers can learn about the specific areas of the brain that are especially active or developing during different age spans.

To use this tool, chose an age-range to focus on from a drop-down menu. You’ll see an image of the brain and depending on the age you have chosen, different developmental areas (language, gross motor, etc.) will be marked on the brain image. Then, you can click on an area you are especially interested in, say, “Language”, and all kinds of tips and information about promoting language development in a child of this age will appear. Pretty cool!

What Kind of an Environment is Your Program Providing?

Do you have an answer to these questions? Think about what goes on in your child care program. How do you rate?

  1. Should a 1-year old watch any TV?
  2. Should a 4 year old watch more than 2 hours?
  3. Should a 3 year old spend most of the day doing quiet, sit-down activities?
  4. If a child is misbehaving do you cut back their outdoor play time?
  5. Is juice the best beverage choice for a young child?

If you answered “no” to all of the above questions, give yourself 5 stars and a pat on the back. You’ve got the elements in place to create a healthy environment for young children.

According to an article at UPI.com, researchers at Oregon State University found that of 300 family child care providers surveyed, most didn’t rate so well.

two-thirds of those caring for children under age 5 have the TV on most of the day…78 percent of the children ages 2 to 5 were not getting enough physical activity and 63 percent had active play or exercise restricted as a punishment.

To me, this is a shame. Family child care homes have the potential to offer some of the best child care environments for young children. The home setting, the small groups, the mixed ages, the care and attention that children receive in these wonderful care environments can often be preferable to the larger, rather industrial style settings of larger child care centers.

It is important that care providers are not only aware of the basic health recommendations for young children, but that they follow those recommendations in the environments that they provide.

Here are some basic recommendations and links to articles with more information:

TV Viewing: Children under age 2 should not watch any TV, children between 2 and 5 years old should watch a maximum of 2 hours a day (American Academy of Pediatrics)

Physical Activity: Children ages 2-5 should get at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity (adult-led activity), at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity (free play) and should not be inactive for more than 1 hour at a time, unless sleeping (National Association of Sports and Physical Education)

Juice: juice should be 100% pasteurized fruit juice and not fruit drinks, infants under 6 months of age should not be given juice, children aged 1 to 6 years should have only 4 to 6 ounces of juice a day (American Academy of Pediatrics)

For fun activity ideas that will help you turn off the TV and grow young bodies and minds, check out the activity binders at wowkits.com!

A New Tool Helps Identify Autism in Young Toddlers

WebMD recently published an article announcing the development of a new screening tool for identifying autism spectrum disorder in infants. It is called the Systematic Observation of Red Flags (SORF) and it is designed to be a practical screening tool that doctors or other clinicians can use along with the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) to:

…distinguish between 18- to 24-month-olds with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and those with either developmental delays or who are healthy, normal children.

For more information about how this new checklist was created and to read the original article click here.

A Community Celebrates Early Childhood

Today plans were finalized to create an “Early Childhood Extravaganza” event in our local community. World of Wonder spearheaded the organization of the event, but it is taking place because a variety of organizations serving young children and there families saw this as a great opportunity to come together.

The extravaganza is a one-day event where any organization, school or business serving young children (birth-8yrs) can show the community what they have to offer. Families can learn about various schools, summer camps, enrichment programs and local services.

Key components to the event include:

  • Free for everyone thanks to the sponsorship of our local resource and referral agency
  • Exposure to the community- great for programs looking to advertise cheaply in this down economy
  • Open format- creates a great networking opportunity for all
  • Fun- in exchange for the free marketing opportunity, participating organization must come up with a fun activity for children. Ideally this activity will showcase the organization’s strengths. Some preschools are planning activities that show how important play is to learning. The local library will have an activity around reading to young children.
  • Strengthens community- through increased understanding of local resources and increased awareness of the importance of early childhood.

I’m proud to be a part of this event and urge other early childhood organizations in other communities to think about working together for the benefit of all.

Obama’s Pick for Secretary of Education Speaks Volumes

On Tuesday president-elect Barack Obama announced his pick for Secretary of Education and shouts of joy were heard across the early childhood community. He made the announcement at a Chicago elementary school and the man he chose, Arne Duncan, is a strong advocate of early education and care. Both the location and the selection are signs of the importance Obama places on early education. The official website of the office of the president-elect, change.gov, outlines the following plan:

  • Zero to Five Plan: The Obama-Biden comprehensive “Zero to Five” plan will provide critical support to young children and their parents. Unlike other early childhood education plans, the Obama-Biden plan places key emphasis at early care and education for infants, which is essential for children to be ready to enter kindergarten. Obama and Biden will create Early Learning Challenge Grants to promote state Zero to Five efforts and help states move toward voluntary, universal pre-school.
  • Expand Early Head Start and Head Start: Obama and Biden will quadruple Early Head Start, increase Head Start funding, and improve quality for both.
  • Provide affordable, High-Quality Child Care: Obama and Biden will also increase access to affordable and high-quality child care to ease the burden on working families.

Times are tough, and the new administration may not be able to follow through with the full $10 billion plan, but it is clear that Obama understands the importance of this issue and has been committed to it for a very long time. In fact, I would argue that now more than ever, a financial commitment from the federal government to early care and education is crucial. Consider this:

  • The cost of early care takes a bigger bite out of the wallets of all working parents with young children than either housing or fuel costs. A recent Massachusetts study shows that families at most income levels spend more than half of their income on child care.
  • The lack of quality early care today costs taxpayers a bundle in remedial education services and social services as these children get older. Quality infant, toddler and preschool programs save taxpayer  money in the long run. See FirstFiveYearsFund.org for more info.
  • Most of the public funding for early care programs is picked up by the states. With many states in financial crisis, this model is in jeopardy.

Clearly, we need strong leadership backed by financial resources at the national level, and it looks like the new administration understands this.

A recent NY Times article describes the excitement in the early childhood community well:

After years of what they call backhanded treatment by the Bush administration, whose focus has been on the testing of older children, many advocates are atremble with anticipation over Mr. Obama’s espousal of early childhood education.

Build Parent Relationships and Create a Habit of Engagement

For many families, early care environments are a first “school” experience. But it is an experience that is very different from traditional school and ripe with opportunities to engage parents.

  • The majority of parents who are placing their babies, toddlers or preschoolers in your care are very aware of the important role they play in their child’s life. Also, young children are very open and honest in expressing their need for parent involvement.
  • The idea that their child is having experiences during the day that they know nothing about is a strange new experience for parents and most are hungry for information.
  • Parents may be hoping that you will provide learning experiences, but what is more important is that their child is happy.
  • Most importantly, they don’t see your early care environment as school, which makes it much less threatening for those who did not have positive school experiences.

All of this puts early learning professionals in a unique position to get parents involved in their child’s education in a relaxed, almost celebratory way. Getting parents involved now can create habits of involvement that will carry them through their child’s schooling years.

How can you make the most of this opportunity?

  • Make a point of having casual conversations with parents at pick-up and drop-off times. Get to know your parents, let them know you are interested and help them to feel comfortable in your environment.
  • Have regular parent/teacher conferences. Make them informal and conversational. Prepare parents ahead of time with a questionnaire. Ask about strengths and weaknesses from a parent’s perspective and find out what goals they may have for their child. Celebrate a child’s progress, but don’t hesitate to voice concerns. Make a sincere effort to meet with every family. Take notes to show you are listening. If parents find the parent/teacher conference to be a positive, fun and informative experience where their voices are heard, they are more likely to make it a priority to attend these conferences in the future.
  • Be a resource for parents, not a teacher. Listen to parents who may be subtly expressing concerns or venting about issues they are having at home. Provide them with resources such as a web site or handout where they can get more information, a book about a topic, or information about community programs.
  • Take a hard look at your environment from a parent’s perspective. Is it welcoming? Does it make parents feel included and comfortable? Does it invite questions?

A parent who sees the benefits of being involved in their child’s learning is much more likely to make an effort to stay involved, even if their child’s next school experience isn’t as parent friendly. So make it easy for parents to be engaged and you’ll have an impact on a family that could last a lifetime.