November 2018 Student Spotlight – Celeste Smith

My mom, Beverly Myers, who also worked at my elementary school for 47 years, was the main reason I went into education.  She loved teaching children, but never was able to afford to go to school for her degree especially while raising 4 children of her own.   She instilled a love of learning and children in me, and with her encouragement and support, I graduated from UCF with a BA in Elementary Education in 1985 and taught kindergarten for 5 years, while earning an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education.  During this time, I could see the advantage of preschool, as the children who entered Kindergarten with prior school experience easily adjusted to the new school environment and were advanced academically.

I took 5 years off of teaching to have my daughter, Breylin, now age 28, and my sons, Chey, now 27, and Tanon, 25. I volunteered as a substitute teacher at my children’s preschool.  I loved teaching the youngest children and watching their faces light up when they felt success.  At this time, my daughter was preparing to go to kindergarten, and the school did not have a preschool available.  I approached the principal, Sr. Elizabeth, about opening a preschool, and she was immediately on board with the idea.  We had to share our building with the aftercare program, which meant setting up tables, chairs, and cubbies/centers every day and breaking them back down at the end of the day. Within 5 months of the approval, in 1995, the SJV preschool was established, offering education to 120 three and four-year olds.  I developed the curriculum for the preschool classes using a combination of various curriculum, creating a hands-on learning environment.  I was also given the opportunity to work with Sadlier to develop their first preschool curriculum, Mother Goose.  After five years, we moved from the remote building on campus into a new center in 2000.  The school just initiated a Dual Language program and the VPK program to better meet the needs of the community. I was given the opportunity to be the VPK director, hence how I was introduced to the ChildCare Education Institute.

This is the first time I was able to participate in courses with the CCEI.  The only other on-line classes that I was aware of were the ones I took through the Department of Children and Families’ ChildCare Training, where I received my Staff Credential for the VPK program. I was fortunate enough to be guided in the direction of CCEI, as I was having difficulty receiving the correct information of the direction I needed to take to be able to qualify for the Director’s Credential.  I do plan on continuing my education through CCEI coursework.  With my work and family obligations , the online courses and support of education coaches, is an easy, low stress method of keeping my educational arsenal updated with the most recent findings.

I highly recommend the courses offered by CCEI to my fellow teachers and staff, hoping to further the education of my coworkers.  CCEI was very helpful and a wealth of information, in comparison to other educational avenues that I have used.  I also wish to thank my educational coach, Charlisa Dixon, for her constant support and encouragement in keeping up my schedule to complete my coursework.  Prior to being introduced to CCEI, I spent over two weeks seeking guidance on the right course to take to earn my Director’s credential.  I had a short time to accomplish this goal, and CCEI allowed me to work quickly, and successfully, to reach it.  Thank you, CCEI, for pointing me in the right direction.

I would have to say my favorite time of day to spend with my children is recess.  I love interacting with the children, and watching the dynamics of the different personalities.  Watching the future doctors, firefighters, police officers, and mommies and daddies role playing on our interactive playground, brings a smile to my face. My assistants, Claudia and Wendy, and I enjoy just sitting back and watching their imaginations run wild!  I would say the students’ favorite time of day is center time.  They love the different challenging centers that we set up every day.  They love working in small groups, socializing and playing the learning games.  Their favorite centers usually include the STEM centers.

The joy I get from working with the children motivates me.   I love the “light bulb” effect!  I love watching the children’s faces when they learn something new or make a new discovery!  It is the best feeling ever!  Those smiles can’t be beat, and the hugs I get when they succeed, are the greatest reward I could ever receive.  I enjoy watching and helping children learn and grow.  I am sad to see them graduate, but excited for their future as they move on to Kindergarten.  I am fortunate enough to be able to watch many of my students grow up, as our school goes up through the 8th grade.  It is such a wonderful feeling when my “all grown-up” preschoolers come back on graduation day to visit and thank me for the memories.

I reside in Altamonte Springs, Florida, but work in Orlando, Florida, a few miles away.  In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family.  Summers and holiday gatherings are among my most treasured memories.  Our favorite vacations are spent at the beach and fishing and lobstering in the Keys.  I also enjoy taking care of orphaned animals.  My children and I have rescued and raised many squirrels, raccoons, birds, and opossums.  They have all been released back into the wild- usually our back yard.

My immediate future career plans include directing a Dual Language Program/VPK program in the fall.  Upon retirement, I hope to own my own preschool, where children are challenged to reach their optimum potential through hands-on learning in an interactive environment, indoor and out.  I love the idea of children learning to farm, take care of animals, and to learn the value of working together to reach milestones.  I have always been “in tune” with nature and feel it is important in the development of the whole child.  One thing I have learned in the past 33 years of working in the field of education, is that there is always room to improve your teaching methods and curriculum.  New research, educational opportunities, and resources available to teachers now, enables a teacher to reach for the stars and provide the best possible learning experience a child can have, and isn’t that the goal of every teacher?!

November 2018 Newsletter – Meeting Children’s Most Basic Needs: Director’s Corner Supporting Families to Meet Children’s Basic Needs

As a leader in the ECE field, part of your role includes supporting families in working to meet children’s basic needs.  Reflect on the practices that your program currently used to help families meet the needs of their children.  Make sure that every opportunity to support families is being taken advantage of.  This might include any of the following efforts:

  • Providing connections to community resources. It is imperative that your program have information about community resources on hand to share with families.
    • Create a team that will work to create a community resource binder that can be shared with families
    • Include community resource information in your enrollment packets
    • Host community resource fairs or information sessions at your location
    • Create relationships with local homeless shelters, food pantries, and health centers so that you can support families in accessing these services
  • Model best practices and strategies for meeting children’s basic and emotional needs.
    • Share recipes for nutritious meals and snacks
    • Practice serve and return in front of families and explain how it helps builds relationships and promotes development
    • Use growth mindset language when communicating about children to their families
    • Ensure teachers are using arrival and departure routines to model ways to meet children’s needs
  • Conduct various forms of family education sessions
    • Share articles from ECE experts or write your own articles about meeting children’s basic and emotional needs for your program newsletter
    • Share information about toxic stress and stress reducing strategies with families.
    • Encourage families to participate in their children’s classrooms as often as possible, even if it is for only a few minutes at a time. Promote families spending time in the classroom, to learn with their children, and build trusting relationships with teachers.
    • Invite speakers to present information about meeting children’s needs to both families and teachers. Send home a summary of the event to all families so even those who were unable to attend have access to the information.
    • Create “homework” assignments related to meeting children’s needs that families can choose at random from a community board or display. Be sure to include a detailed description of the strategy and an explanation of why it is so important to child development.

Work with your staff to identify the needs of the children and families enrolled in the program.  Determine how you can enhance your program to ensure that you are doing all you can to support families as they work to meet their children’s needs after they leave your care each day.

For the main article on Meeting Children’s Most Basic Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Children and Toxic Stress, CLICK HERE
For the article on Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Basic Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Emotional Needs, CLICK HERE

November 2018 Newsletter – Meeting Children’s Most Basic Needs: Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Emotional Needs

In addition to meeting children’s basic needs for food, water, safety, etc., it is also the caregiver’s role to meet children’s emotional needs.  These relate back to Maslow’s needs for belonging, love, esteem and accomplishment.

Here are just a few recommendations for creating an environment that supports children’s emotional needs:

  • Respond to children’s cues consistently and with a pleasant demeanor. Yes, working with groups of young children can be frustrating, especially when two or more children are signaling that they have unmet needs at the same time.  Responding in a positive manner to every child’s needs, every time, is a professional practice that caregivers must master.
  • Engage in serve and return interactions with children. This simply means that when you notice a child making eye contact or babbling (the serve), you respond with a similar gesture (the return).  You can read more about serve and return here
  • Engage in meaningful conversations with children. Consider your communication with children.  Is more of your time spent in conversation or in direction-giving and correcting behaviors? Look for opportunities during arrival, departure, mealtimes, and play time to engage children in meaningful conversations.
  • Help children understand their emotions. Teach emotional vocabulary and self-calming strategies. Give children tools to be more successful in their interactions with peers.
  • Encourage and capitalize on mistakes. We all learn from our mistakes, especially when we have someone beside us supporting our learning. Rather than seeing mistakes as something to correct and punish, begin to think about the lessons that can be learned through mistakes.  If a child spills milk, it is an opportunity to learn about responsibility.  If a child gets angry with a peer, it is an opportunity to learn self-calming strategies.
  • Create activities that encourage children to learn about one another. Discuss differences and similarities and how each person contributes to the classroom. Don’t compare children to other children. Identify and accentuate each child’s strengths and contributions.
  • Introduce growth mindset practices. Generally, this means that you communicate with children in a way that highlights children’s accomplishments, regardless of how small. Growth mindset communication focuses on the efforts children make, rather than the accuracy of the final outcome.  You can learn more by taking CUR121: Establishing Growth Mindset Practices in Early Learning Environments.
  • Ensure that you are adjusting the curriculum to challenge children appropriately. At times, it may be necessary to adjust your expectations and lessons to focus on the emotional needs of children, before expecting them to be ready for academic content.  Remember, according to Maslow, children’s basic needs must be met before they can focus on meeting their emotional needs; and those must be met before children can begin to focus on meeting the need to reach their full potential.

Implementing these strategies will help you build strong and supportive relationships with children, which scientists have identified as a contributing factor to children developing healthy stress response systems.

For the main article on Meeting Children’s Most Basic Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Children and Toxic Stress, CLICK HERE
For the article on Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Basic Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Director’s Corner: Supporting Families to Meet Children’s Basic Needs, CLICK HERE

November 2018 Newsletter – Meeting Children’s Most Basic Needs: Children and Toxic Stress

Scientists have discovered that when humans feel threatened or in danger, our bodies flood with hormones that prepare us to respond to the threat with either fight or flight. After the danger passes, or is managed successfully, the body is designed to return to “normal” levels of functioning.  This is called the stress response system.   A key contributor to the development of a healthy stress response system for young children is the support they receive from the adults in their lives.

When adults are seen as dependable and responsive sources of support during stressful times, children are more likely to learn tools to manage stress effectively and return to.  When the adults are seen as unsupportive or in some cases, the cause of the stress, children do not have the same opportunity to learn coping strategies to manage their stress.

Stress can become toxic when children experience prolonged and repeated periods of stress, and the accompanying raised hormone levels.  If a child does not have supportive relationships with adults to help them manage their stress, they exist in a continual state of heightened hormonal stress response.  High levels of stress hormones in the brain can impact brain and organ development.

Stress can occur when a child’s basic needs for food, water, sleep, safety, and security are not met.  Whether the stress becomes toxic depends on the duration and severity of the situation, and whether or not the child has supportive relationships with adults, which act as protective factors in the child’s life.

For the main article on Meeting Children’s Most Basic Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Basic Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Emotional Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Director’s Corner: Supporting Families to Meet Children’s Basic Needs, CLICK HERE

November 2018 Newsletter – Meeting Children’s Most Basic Needs: Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Basic Needs

As caregivers, we may not be able to ensure that children’s needs are met 100% of the time, but we can be sure that their needs are met 100% of the time they are in our care.  Take a moment to reflect on your environment, daily routine, and teaching practices.  Think about the messages these elements send to children about how well their basic needs will be met.

Here are a few practices that will help children understand that their needs will be met when they are in your care:

  • Provide nutritious meals and snacks. Create a plan to provide seconds or additional snacks for all children, and especially for children whose families may be experiencing economic hardship or homelessness.
  • Create a consistent daily routine. This helps children understand that their need for food and rest are a priority and will always be honored.
  • Make water available at all times. This is a small step that speaks volumes about your commitment to children’s well-being. Encourage children to stay hydrated and drink water often.
  • Never use food as a reward or punishment. Food is a basic human need, the receipt of which is not dependent on a particular set of behaviors. Do not threaten children (ever or) with the loss of a snack. At the same time, don’t promise a reward of food to a child in order to encourage a particular behavior.
  • Incorporate daily physical activities. In addition to outdoor free play, add a few organized physical activities or games to your curriculum plan. Talk with children about the importance of building strong bodies and establishing healthy fitness habits.
  • Have extra clothing available. You may find extra cold weather wear or extra sets of clothing at a charity thrift stores. Some communities even have free clothing giveaways or free-cycle resources (
  • Conduct regular safety checks of the environment. Create program policies and practices that ensure the physical environment is free from hazards. Include the outdoor environment in your regular inspections.
  • Create a set of rules or expectations that focus on safety. One rule could simple be, “We keep each other safe.”  This expectation covers any behavior that might cause a child harm, including hitting, pushing, or biting.  Be sure that you share the expectations often and remind the children that everyone has to follow the rules, even the adults.

These practices are just a few of the ways that you can create an environment that consistently communicates to children that their needs will be met and that they are safe in your care.

For the main article on Meeting Children’s Most Basic Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Children and Toxic Stress, CLICK HERE
For the article on Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Emotional Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Director’s Corner: Supporting Families to Meet Children’s Basic Needs, CLICK HERE

November 2018 Newsletter – Meeting Children’s Most Basic Needs

In our everyday efforts to prepare children for success in school, it can become natural to focus most of our attention on teaching and promoting cognitive skills. While these skills are extremely important, it is imperative that we not overlook the most basic needs that children have.  The work of Abraham Maslow can help us to better understand these needs and how they impact a child’s ability to be successful within a learning environment.

In Maslow’s exploration of human motivation, he outlined a hierarchy of needs that all humans strive to achieve or fulfill. When these needs are not met, it can lead a person to feel insecure, anxious, or stressed.

First on the list are physiological needs – the things our physical bodies need to survive including air, water, food, sleep, health, etc. Maslow proposed that humans will work to meet these needs before any others and that the capacity to respond to situations is influenced by whether these needs are met.  Take a moment to think about how you are impacted when you are feeling overly tired or hungry.  Do your behaviors change when you are experiencing hunger?  Are your reactions to situations when rested the same as your reactions when tired?

The next set of needs humans seek to fulfill is the need for safety and security within the environment.  Just as with their physiological needs, children are completely dependent upon the adults in their lives to ensure that homes, schools, and neighborhoods are safe.

In addition to these basic needs, Maslow identified that humans also seek to feel love and belonging.  We also work to meet our need for esteem or feelings of accomplishment.  At the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is the need for self-actualization – or achieving our fullest potential.

According to Maslow, it can be extremely difficult to meet these higher needs, when one is focused on meeting their most basic needs.  For more information about Maslow’s work, click here.

Click on the links below to learn more about meeting children’s needs.

For the article on Children and Toxic Stress, CLICK HERE
For the article on Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Basic Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Emotional Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Director’s Corner: Supporting Families to Meet Children’s Basic Needs, CLICK HERE