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Posted by on in Early Childhood

bad table manners

I had a couple encounters recently that really got me thinking about how we are teaching social skills to young children- or not. I was visiting a couple of my students at their child care programs, which I sometimes do, prior to their formal CDA observations.

The first visit was in a 2’s room, with eight children and two teachers. I arrived just before lunch and watched as hands and tables were washed and children were placed into those built-in bucket seats. The kitchen had delivered portion compartment trays with some kind of meat casserole, fruit, and vegetables. What happened next literally took my breath away.

Both teachers began bringing the trays over to the two tables. No eating utensils were evident. As each tray was set in front of a child, the teacher flipped it over, banged the contents onto the table, and placed the empty tray back on the cart. Huh? Gasp!

Messy Eating Fatherly

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Posted by on in Movement and Play

This is my first summer without home-based childcare. Although I work from home, keeping my seven-year-old, only child daughter home with me is not a good option because she is (as previously described on my blog) not very good at entertaining herself. I have work that I need to do, and I certainly don't want her on her device all day long.

Most of the time, she goes to a small nearby childcare center that is play-based. During the summer they have weekly themes, and they offer supplies for different craft projects according to those themes. But they are very low-key, and it's typical for me to go by to pick my daughter up and find the kids doing something like making a cooperative book or practicing a show. [And sometimes they are watching a movie - you can't have everything.] But in general, it's a pretty relaxed environment, and ranges from 2 to maybe 6-7 kids there at one time. She's there during the school year after school, too, but there are more kids then.

Wanting to mix things up a bit, I had also signed her up for two weeks at a bigger, more structured day camp, held at a local elementary school. There were lots of STEAM activities - science and art projects (which are now taking up considerable space around our house). There was plenty of time outside running around, themes for the different days, music, and tremendous enthusiasm on the part of the young counselors. We know a bunch of other families who also attended this camp the first week, and most of the kids loved it.

My daughter? Not so much. After the first day, I basically had to force her to go every day. She kept whining and asking why she couldn't just go to the regular place. (Because I had pre-paid, and was not about to pay for 2 different things at the same time.) The best she could tell me about WHY she didn't like it was that it was too much like school. Reading between the lines a bit, it was like school but without the free play at lunch and recess, without any reading, and without seeing as many of her friends (especially the second week - the second week was very painful). She didn't like having to go from activity to activity on someone else's schedule. She didn't like having to run around outside in the heat. She didn't like being with 150 kids instead of the usual handful.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

swing set

On my way to work, I pass no fewer than 6 child care centers. As my life revolves around Early Childhood and young children, I am always interested in seeing what’s happening in programs in the community. It had been puzzling to me, no matter the weather or time of day, how few children I ever saw playing outside. In the winter, when it was approaching 40 degrees, after a fresh snow- no children. In the fall, it was sunny and windy and leaves were everywhere- nobody. In the spring, it had just rained, the sun was out, but all I saw were abandoned play areas.

It first, it was a curiosity, but as the seasons changed and the pattern persisted, I was concerned why there was this lack of outdoor, physical activity in child care.

I decided to do some unofficial investigating and started asking child care staff if they had some answers. Boy, did I get an earful!

The staffers very often cited children’s clothing as the problem. They said parents send their children in clothes not meant to get dirty or in shoes not safe for playground surfaces or equipment. It was also reported that parents, in their hurry to get out the door in the morning, forget jackets or hats or boots. A couple care providers even expressed their belief that some parents did these things on purpose, so their children would have to stay indoors.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood


Facebook is awash with fantastic memes about the necessity of play in early childhood. I adore seeing them. I also feel some anxiousness because I have noticed that, in a play-based program, five- year old children aren't playing like five-year old children anymore. More of them are playing like three's and four's than I used to see. This has made me anxious and uncomfortable, and grasping for explanations.

While I was looking for an article about Vygotsky for the Infant and Toddler course I teach for my community college, I found this article about play and self-regulation. Self-regulation is the fancy, early childhood development term for self-control. Self-regulation skills are developmental. You wouldn't expect to see a two-year old play by planning the role she would take with another two, then verbalizing what she wanted to do, consulting with her friend. You laugh, if you know two's! They just go in there and do what they do. Self-regulation is a complex of skills that children develop. An infant develops the skill of self-soothing. She is managing her feelings--something she couldn't do at birth. A two can be taught about feelings and how to identify them so that they gradually (some teachers might say hopefully) learn to identify them on their own and, as their verbal skills mature, express them. Adults facilitate this process and work to give the child choices that validate her feelings and problem-solving abilities. This is partly how self-regulation develops.

The authors that sparked my thinking articulate that Vygotsky and his students noticed fours and fives maturing through imaginary play. That play developed increasingly complex interactions, and that these interactions motivated children to inhibit impulsiveness in order to continue to play with their friends. They validated my observations by writing that today's play studies show children are playing at a less mature level than they once did. Imaginary play does not develop. It becomes repetitive, stereotyped, and stunted. The authors speculate briefly that perhaps academic preschool and kindergarten, with their narrowly focused curricula, have created this phenomenon, but their focus is on assessing play, not coming up with theories about how it has degenerated into more primitive skills.

Years ago, there were justifiable concerns that videos of movies reduced children's play to verbatim retellings, with no variation. Many of my colleagues have noticed this. Ninja Turtles can only do what Ninja Turtles do. Ad nauseum. Disney "princesses" can only do what they do in movies. Frozen--Oy!--Frozen characters are cast in the stone of their plot. A girl asked me to be Elsa, recently. I playfully asked her, "Who's Elsa?" She walked away. I didn't know the plot. Could media be the culprit?

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Posted by on in Early Childhood


For a parent, choosing just the right preschool program can be daunting and overwhelming. There are a lot of things to consider, first and foremost being the needs of the particular child. When embarking on this quest, it is critical to put some priorities in order. Sure it’s important for a program to provide opportunities for learning fundamental literacy, science, and math concepts in preparation for school, but equally, if not more important, are opportunities for learning social skills, enjoying childhood, and playing. Never sacrifice some of these for the others.

The first order of business is to take a tour… once without your child and again with him. During both visits, be alert and pay attention to these:

1. A good initial vibe. From the time you walk in the door of a good program, things will feel right. You’re greeted warmly when arriving, by someone who seems genuinely happy to see you and show you around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve entered a center and there was no one to be seen – just an empty reception desk and director’s office. “Hellowww? Anybody here?” I’ve actually had to call their phone number to get somebody to come up to the front. I realize that situations arise, requiring all staff on deck, but if there is not a security door requiring an access code (best option!), there really needs to be someone at that front desk- all the time. This is important, not just to greet visitors like you and me, but to monitor who else might be coming in the door. Sadly, there are all-too-frequent instances of persons entering un-secured centers with less than positive intentions. They can walk right in and down any hallway to do whatever. This is a good vibe buster, for sure.


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