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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Jobs for kids! What a thought! It conjures up images of assembly lines with children chained, or at least velcroed to their seats. Not a pleasant, or even, legal image. Children are beautiful, full of life and fun. They are creative people with amazing minds. Why should parents and teachers yoke them to responsibilities aside from cleaning up their own messes, which they aren’t usually enamored with?

Many parents, including those I’ve met in conferences, are mind-blown by the idea. “We make her clean up her toys. What else should she do? She likes to play.” Yes, the children like to play and, in fact, that is how they learn to learn, learn to think, and learn to work with others. This is, or should be, a big part of early childhood. It is, in fact, crucial. But another thread in the fabric of learning needs to be a child’s meaning to the group beyond the personal. A child who feels that his or her meaningful contributions to either family or classroom are needed will have a greater sense of self-worth than those who are raised only to be future Yale grads, for instance (no offense to Yale grads—my favorite director of all time is one). I once recommended to the parents of a young girl that she have a job that was meaningful to the rest of the family. Something that, if she didn’t do it, would interrupt the flow of the family’s life as a community. “She picks up her toys. What else can she do?” It turned out that this girl, the youngest of three, sister to two older boys, hungered for work to do that was as beneficial to the family as that of her brothers. The parents decided she could fill the napkin holder. That was a start!

I like the image of woven fabric, because each thread is important to the whole. In the family, each child is as important to the fabric of the family as the parents are. The classroom, or center is also a piece of fabric, interwoven with threads that have different colors and textures, but that each give strength and beauty to the whole. Teachers, children, administrators, and parents are all part of this beautiful fabric. Most good centers have job boards (you don’t?! Get with it!). These daily jobs are like trophies to the children. Jobs are rotated each day or week, and each child has a job that is important. A job chart can be constructed many ways. 

Jobs are posted for children to make them feel included and important. Becky Bailey, of Conscious Discipline, has been instrumental in encouraging teachers to use job charts for creating a classroom family. In my experience, this is a powerful strategy for encouraging children to contribute, many of whom might otherwise feel disconnected, leading to acting out and attention-seeking behavior.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Young children are the mensches of the world. (in Yiddish, a Mensch is a Good Person. Someone who does the honorable thing.) They don't know that their future depends upon teachers who understand child development. but they believe that adults are their guideposts, their role models, their wise ones. If an adult gives them a worksheet to do in the name of learning, they will gamely attempt it, especially if that adult gushes over their “good” result. If they are asked to make a spider from a paper plate and pipe cleaners, one that looks just like their teacher’s, they will, maybe grudgingly, maybe happily, try to do just that. Their teacher may say, “No, the pipe cleaner should be here, not there,” preserving their status as experts on bug-making. You can always depend on children to try to please, even as they secretly internalize the message that they themselves are deficient in some way. They don't know that their arts activities should be for them, not for their teachers.

My college students say that parents are worried about their threes being ready for kindergarten. Threes! The parents want their children to work on letter recognition and phonics. They do not understand child development. This is an agonizing frustration for teachers who understand that a child develops as a whole, in all developmental domains. That they mustn’t be educated as if they are loosely organized piles of parts labeled "Letters," "Numbers," and "Good Handwriting." If those parents decide their children need “academics, ”they might choose to go elsewhere, perhaps to a center that (cynically?) offers excellent preparation for grade school. The mensch/child will go on to please another set of narrowly focused adults.

Parents need to know that learning is best done in the broad context of real life. A program that creates an environment where children can play over reasonably long periods of time, experimenting, building, drawing, and generally feeding their insatiable appetite for novel experience, is a program where children learn what will help them in the future. Doing this under the supervision of expert adults who know how to observe, take note, document, and provide materials is also a necessary component. These adults also must be in love with children, and be willing to mentor to their families. Letters, numbers and handwriting happen, in these excellent programs, because children really do want to learn them in context. They are useful tools in the pursuit of creating, exploring, and then representing what they have accomplished. If their amazing teachers document this learning, demonstrating that learning is, indeed, happening, parents will relax, and, perhaps, be persuaded to be involved in the program rather than fighting it.

Parents, many of us have been where you are now, wanting the best for our precious children. Don’t let programs take advantage of their good will and eagerness to please. Don’t be misled. Educate yourself about what really works in early childhood education, and choose what gives your child the opportunity to create meaningful experiences with their peers. Consult your own child within. Ask that child if a program seems exciting and creative. Then go with that insight. Your little mensch will thank you.

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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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