Supporting Families Through Big Transitions

Early childhood is full of big transitions for children and their families. Some transitions are developmental and redefine a child’s (and the family’s) experience – think of the transition from crawling to walking! Some transitions are unanticipated, such as having to relocate to a new town for employment.

Starting preschool is a big transition for children who are new to group care. And for those children who have been enrolled in a program for some time, transitioning to a new classroom can be challenging. And of course, there is the big transition to kindergarten/elementary school.

Regardless of the situation, there are things early learning programs can do to support both children and families as they navigate these transitions. Transitions can be exciting for some students and stressful for others and just because a child has handled previous transitions with ease does not mean that future transitions will be smooth.  Families are no different in how they experience transitions related to their children’s care and education.

Clear communication about these transitions is one way that early care and education providers can support families before, during, and after transitions. Let’s take a look at a few strategies:

Set clear expectations – It is important for families and children to understand how the new environment will be similar to and different from the current environment. In order to share factual information, it may be necessary for teachers to do some investigation, such as visiting the elementary school or having conversations with the new teachers. Some programs have invited teachers from the new school into the program to meet with families and children for an introductory meeting. Read books about upcoming big transitions and share these books with families so they can read them at home.  All of these strategies can help ECE providers give children and families a clear picture of what to expect in the new environment.

Listen and acknowledge – Sometimes, a child or parent just needs someone to listen to their concerns and validate their feelings.  This is a stressful time with many unknowns.  You can’t fix that, but you can be a reassuring shoulder to lean on.

Create tasks or goals – It may be beneficial to create goals for the children or families to work toward to get them ready for the transition.  You could provide the school district’s supply list and turn it into a fun game that children and families can play together.  In some cases, families cannot afford everything on the supply list, in which case, you could have extra supplies (donations) on hand to give children a great start to their new year.

Prior experience – It may be possible to have families and children who went through the transition during the past year return to your program to talk about the experience.  Families with older siblings, and the older siblings themselves may be willing to do this. This is a great chance for children to meet or reunite with a child who has a year of experience in the new environment under their belt.  The same is true when you encourage families to connect during big transitions.

Plan get-to-know-you activities – If you are the new teacher in the transition, take time to introduce yourself to children and families well in advance of the transition. Work out a schedule with your administration that allows you time in the classroom with the children who will be moving to your classroom. Spend that time observing, chatting, and getting to know the children. Send home introduction letters to families with an invitation for them to reach out to you with any questions they have.

Stay in touch – There may be possibilities for you to stay in touch with families and children after the transition via email, written notes, or visits. As a person who knows the children and families well, you are a valuable source of encouragement and confidence.

Keep in mind that transition periods will be different each year.  What worked last year may not be sufficient this year and what you did three years ago may not be necessary in the future.

We wish you the best of luck in the transitions you encounter this school year!


Communicating with Families about Assessment Data

Sharing assessment data gives families and teachers the opportunity to identify and address a child′s specific needs. Together, you can brainstorm activity ideas and materials that could be used to promote development.

This interaction should be viewed as a conversation, an opportunity to share information, discuss goals and expectations, and bridge cultural gaps. The goal is for families and teachers to walk away with a better understanding of the child′s specific needs and a plan for how those needs can be met.

Teachers should consider communicating data with families through:

  • Emails and/or phone calls.
  • Daily or weekly reports.
  • Quick drop-off or pick-up conversations.
  • Family-teacher conferences planned 2-3 times a year and scheduled as needed.

Zero to Three recommends these guidelines for family-friendly communication:

  • Build trusting relationships with families can build on family strengths.
  • Choose authentic assessment measures to describe the child′s capabilities and needs.
  • Use the program′s core curriculum to link assessment and goal planning.
  • Orchestrate the team assessment with families as integral partners.
  • Identify strategies to communicate regularly, collaborate, and reach a consensus.
  • Identify developmentally appropriate curriculum goals that promote family priorities.
  • Be honest and maintain confidentiality.
  • Collect progress data throughout the year.
  • Maintain ongoing communication and family involvement.

For conversations about assessment results to be productive, it is important for teachers to:

  1. Be prepared with copies of the results for everyone.
  2. Outline the context of the assessment.
  3. Review the results, and outline the context of the results in terms of child development.
  4. Make sure to use terminology that is easily understood.
  5. Discuss patterns of skills and behaviors observed at school and home.
  6. Share ideas to strengthen skills in all environments.
  7. Acknowledge ideas generated by the family. Include these ideas when appropriate. If the ideas do not represent best practices, see if a compromise or modifications can be made.

Sign up for PROF110: Family-Teacher Conferences to learn more about communicating assessment results with families.

Understanding Child Development and Developmentally Appropriate Practices

One of the most important things ECE providers can do to support all learners is to make sure that the learning environment is set up to help children succeed. This is achieved through a clear understanding of child development and developmentally appropriate practices.

When teachers have a comprehensive understanding of child development, they are able to recognize characteristics of typical development. They can create realistic expectations for children based on the science of child development rather than expecting children to do things that they are not physically or cognitively ready to do.  They can differentiate between expected emotional responses and challenging behaviors.

They can take all of this information and make informed decisions about the best course of action for individual children and the group as a whole.  This is the necessary foundation for educators seeking to implement developmentally appropriate practices.

In the Developmentally Appropriate Practice Position Statement published by NAEYC, experts outline the skills and strategies teachers and caregivers should use to promote children′s development and learning.

In the document, the authors state:

“Educators recognize that children are active constructors of their own understanding of the world around them; they understand that children benefit from initiating and regulating their own learning activities and from interacting with peers.”


“Recognizing play as critical for children to experience joy and wonder, early childhood educators incorporate frequent opportunities for play in their teaching strategies. They plan learning environments that provide a mix of self-directed play, guided play, and direct instruction.”

Experts recognize the importance of high-quality environments that provide children with a mix of learning opportunities. However, it is possible for children to become overwhelmed or bored in learning environments that do not meet their needs for engagement and self-direction.

Feeling overwhelmed or bored may cause children to act in ways that resemble the symptoms of ADHD, such as distractedness, fidgeting/running/climbing, the inability to engage in tasks, or ignoring instructions.

And because every child is different, the same learning environment may meet some children′s needs while missing the mark for other children. This is why it is crucial for teachers to consider each child′s skills, interests, and guidance needs when setting up the environment and planning curriculum activities.

Creating Psychological Safety in Early Childhood

The May edition of the CCEI newsletter focuses on ways that program staff can create and maintain safe learning environments for young children.  We can all agree that this is the top priority of the early learning workforce.  Equally important, however, is the ability to create psychologically safe environments for children.

Dr. Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”  Dr. Edmondson’s work focused on adult working environments, but one could argue that teachers are unable to create psychologically safe environments for children if they work in environments that are psychologically unsafe.

Here are some statements presented by Dr. Edmondson that teams can reflect on as they begin to contemplate psychological safety in their environment:

  1. If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  2. Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  3. People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  4. It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  5. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  6. No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  7. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

Depending on your position within your organization, the answers to these questions may vary.  How program administrators feel may differ from the thoughts of the teaching staff.  New employees may feel differently than seasoned staff.  It may be a good exercise to present these questions as an anonymous survey to capture a true picture of how employees are feeling about the psychological safety of the work environment.

Only small shifts in language are necessary to adapt these statements to focus on how children experience psychological safety in the environment:

  1. When a child makes a mistake, it is seen as a learning opportunity rather than a reason for punishment.
  2. Children are encouraged to talk about their struggles and support is offered as they attempt to solve problems.
  3. All children and families are welcomed, affirmed, and valued.
  4. Children are encouraged to take risks, explore new materials, and express themselves.
  5. It is common for children to ask peers and adults for help.
  6. Children are learning new social and emotional skills every day. They are not acting out to hurt my feelings.
  7. Children feel safe to communicate their needs and share their interests and skills.

We encourage you to take some time to sit with these questions, either independently or with your coworkers.  The answers may not all be positive as you recognize opportunities to add elements of psychological safety to your learning environment. Create a plan to address situations with a new approach and slowly but surely, you will be actively creating a psychologically safe environment for children and your peers!

Here are some additional resources to help you on your journey:


The April edition of the CCEI newsletter focuses on ways that leaders and team members can work to build a workplace culture in which all are included and valued. This requires that all members of the team contribute positively to that culture and take accountability for their contributions to the team environment.

Accountability refers to the act of taking responsibility for your actions and the impact that they have.  Accountability is more than completing tasks on time and following procedures, which are both important. It is a willingness to take responsibility for one’s actions.  It is also taking responsibility for how you show up for others. When we consider how many “others” there are in an early learning environment, the importance of accountability becomes clear.

Accountability is tough. Accountability requires self-awareness. It takes a measure of humility and a ton of honest self-reflection to recognize how your actions influence the environment in which you work.

Beth Strathman, from Firebrand Consulting, shares a few questions that you can ask yourself on a regular basis to build self-awareness and accountability.

  • What did I do that worked/didn’t work? Why?
  • What do my actions/reactions tell me about myself?  What patterns do I see?
  • What excuses did I make (in my head or out loud) for bad results or failures?
  • What did I do that might be part of my typical behavioral patterns?
  • Who do I want to be? How do I want to come across instead?

As a leader, it is vital that you model for others how to take accountability for your actions and contributions. Remember though, leadership does not require a title. Anyone who has someone following in their footsteps is a leader – How will you be a leader for accountability in your program?

Understanding Secondary Trauma

Working in the early learning field, it is essential that you are aware of and understand the impact of secondary trauma. Secondary trauma is sometimes called compassion fatigue and it can occur when educators support children and families who have been directly impacted by a traumatic event.

Traumatic events are those that disrupt a family’s sense of security and safety. Traumatic events include everything from the death of a loved one to natural disasters to experiencing homelessness, just to name a few.

Secondary trauma is the result of the indirect exposure to trauma and can occur after prolonged exposure or even a single incident. According to the Administration for Children and Families, signs that someone may be experiencing secondary trauma include changes to attitudes, behaviors, and physical health such as:

  • Lowered concentration
  • Apathy
  • Rigid thinking
  • Perfectionism
  • Numbness
  • Helplessness
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Sleep and appetite changes
  • Body pains
  • Immune system issues

The first step in combatting secondary trauma is awareness.  From there, educators can put in place strategies to help address the issue.  Many of the strategies are related to establishing a healthy work-life balance and practicing self-care. These terms are often scoffed at as being impractical, however, they are essential for preventing burnout and addressing trauma.

Educators and program leaders must create supportive working environments that encourage self-care, not as a frivolous practice but as one that is vital to the continued mission of the program.  Ideas include:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, adequate sleep, etc.)
  • Stress relieving activities (time in nature, meditation, journaling, etc.)
  • Creative outlets (art, music, dance, poetry, etc.)
  • Support (peer-to-peer support, counseling, outside support groups, therapy, etc.)
  • Celebrating (recognizing efforts and successes, taking time to identify what is working, etc.)
  • Ongoing education (workshops, speakers, online learning, etc.)

To download a factsheet on secondary traumatic stress, click here.

Process versus Product: Art Experiences in Early Childhood

In the February newsletter, we provide a variety of art activity ideas that early childhood educators can use to help children gain a better understanding of the world around them as it exists now and what things were like in the past. Exploring a wide variety of art activities promotes creativity, self-expression, innovation, and the development of a positive self-concept. Art activities are also a good way for children to explore different cultures, traditions, and ways of life.

When using art activities in this way, it is important to keep in mind that the goal of art activities is not necessarily a perfect final product, but the process (and learning) that children experience as they work on the project.

This is the difference between process-focused art and product-focused art. Characteristics of the preferred, process-focused art include:

  • Child directed
  • A variety of materials and tools
  • Opportunities for creativity and exploration of materials
  • No step-by-step instructions for children to follow
  • No adult model for children to recreate
  • Original and unique results that don’t necessarily look like the other children’s work

In process-focused environments, children are responsible for the project in its entirety, from the initial concept to the finished product. While teachers may present an initial prompt or provocation, the rest is left up to the children to explore with minimal teacher support.

Product-focused projects tend to result in all finished products looking similar, sometimes even identical to an adult model. Often, these projects are justified as necessary to teach children to follow directions. We encourage educators to reflect on all of the other times of day when children are required to follow directions. There are plenty of opportunities to practice direction-following – art activities should be a place for children to explore creativity, experimentation, and self-expression.

Awareness and self-restraint are essential skills when moving toward a more process-focused art environment for children. Teachers need to first recognize whether they are planning process- or product-focused activities. If the teacher has a predetermined idea of what the final product should look like, they can take a step back and ask, “How can I add more opportunity for creativity and originality to this project?” Perhaps the answer is to simply ask a question or make an invitation for children to explore materials. Questions and invitations might sound like this:

  • I found these really fun materials. What do you think you could make with these materials?
  • Do you remember when we explored houses from different countries? Do you think you could use this cardboard to make a house from a different part of the world?
  • Today, I thought we could paint different emotions. I am curious to see what you create.

As you can see from the examples, there are ways to integrate art into other areas of curriculum exploration without controlling the final outcome. And of course, art materials should be available throughout the day for children to explore on their own, without any adult influence.

Happy creating!

Setting Classroom Resolutions with Children

The practice of reflecting on life and setting resolutions is top of mind for many adults during the New Year.  Children don’t really grasp the concept of time or the significance of midnight on December 31st. However, using simple language, adults can explain that a new year has started and that this may be a good time to think about making changes that add more joy and health to our lives.

For early childhood educators, it may be fun to work with the children to create resolutions for the entire class to share. The group can have more than one resolution, which can be designed to build classroom community or address some of the common challenges that the group faces.

To help children understand resolutions, teachers can ask:  “Who thinks it is a good idea to… ?

  • Dance every day.
  • Be a good helper.
  • Work together.
  • Take care of our toys.
  • Get rid of germs that make us sick.
  • Eat lots of yummy foods.
  • Be kind to friends.
  • Keep our friends safe.
  • Ask for help.
  • Read more books.
  • Do our very best.

Teachers can record the number of children who agree with each idea as a way to narrow down the list a bit.  Once the list is settled, teachers can ask children to illustrate their favorite resolutions and post these images on a bulletin board that shares the class’s resolutions with other children and families. When it is time to take down the display, the illustrations can be compiled into a class book for the library.

Older children may be able to reflect on their lives and come up with their own resolutions that you can help them stick to throughout the year.

As with adults, resolutions are ideas to strive toward. No one is perfect and mistakes are made. Resolutions should be reminders of what is important to us and how we would like to act in the future.  Help children see how they could make different decisions in the future that will align their actions with that vision.

Happy 2023!

Remembering Child Development During the Holidays

It’s hard to believe that 2022 is almost over!  We hope you had a year full of all of the things that made you happy.  Whether you achieved big goals or spent the past year taking things slow, we are glad to have been a part of your experience.

We hope that you take time during this transition into 2023 to recognize the important role you play in the lives of the children and families that you support.  That support comes in the form of direct day-to-day care and in the resources and information you share with families.  This month’s CCEI newsletter focuses on the convergence of the holiday season and child development. The holidays bring with them hustle and bustle, family gatherings, excitement, and stress. Children are not immune from the feelings of stress and anxiety that many adults feel during this time of year.

It is important for adults to keep in mind how stress impacts young children who are often put in situations that they are not yet developmentally ready to handle. Keeping the characteristics of different theories of child development in mind can help educators create learning environments that reduce stress for young children.  Educators can also share this information with families so that they can create realistic expectations for their children and help reduce stress at home.

In the newsletter, we reviewed a few well-known theories of child development that can shine some light on how children experience the world around them, including the extra stress of the holiday season.  Here, we will review Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which attempts to explain the elements that must be in place for a child to reach the highest level of fulfillment.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is often depicted as a triangle containing 5 levels with the most basic needs at the base of the triangle. Maslow’s theory states that human motivation is linked to meeting needs in a particular order. To reach the top of the triangle, one must progress through each of the lower levels.  Here are the levels from the base of the triangle to the top:

Physiological needs – This refers to the elements that humans need to survive, including water, food, and a warm environment. These are basic survival needs and they take precedence over all other needs, according to Maslow.  Consider a time when you have been extremely hungry.  At that moment, you were probably more concerned with finding something to eat than you were with becoming a better version of yourself.

Safety – Once a person’s physiological needs are met, they can shift focus to creating and maintaining a safe environment. Safe environments are not only physically safe but also emotionally safe. Humans seek safety in places that are predictable and familiar. Finding safe spaces reduces stress and opens the door for the next level of need.

Love and belonging – When a person lives in an environment that addresses their physiological needs and feels safe and secure, they are better able to focus on meeting the need to connect with other humans.  We are social beings and feelings of acceptance and belonging are important to our overall fulfillment. According to Maslow, a person may find it challenging to address the need for belonging and love if they are focused on meeting the need to feel safe, physically or emotionally.

Esteem – This level of need relates to feeling good about oneself. According to Maslow, people seek to feel confident in their abilities and see themselves in a positive light. People want to contribute to their community and feel proud of their accomplishments. In Maslow’s Hierarchy, this can occur after the needs for belonging, safety, and physiological security have been met.

Self-actualization – At the top of the triangle is the need to feel as though we are fulfilling a purpose that is important to us. What is important to each person is unique, so this will look different from person to person. According to Maslow, the need to fulfill this purpose is something that is not reached by every person.

When we think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as it relates to children, we can see that adults are responsible for helping children meet these needs at every level.  Adults must provide food and water. They must ensure that the environment is safe, both physically and emotionally.  They must create environments where children can feel a sense of belonging and where they can begin to feel confident about their skills.  From there, helping children discover things that make them feel fulfilled is a critical responsibility.

Unfortunately, there are situations in which this support is not available to children. This is rarely intentional and is often the result of circumstances or a lack of awareness of the importance of helping children feel safe, loved, and confident.

Educators can use the information from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to evaluate their learning environments.  Look for opportunities to create safe, predictable environments.  Find ways to recognize and celebrate the contributions of all of the children in the group. Help children make connections with their peers and do things in the classroom that they thoroughly enjoy.  Remember, this may be different for each child, so offering a wide variety of activities can help children meet these needs.

Think about how the stress of the holiday season may impact the children in your group as they seek to meet their internal needs and share information with families to raise awareness of this important theory of development.

Wishing you all the best this holiday season!

Boosting Child Satisfaction

In the November newsletter, we explore different ways that programs can measure and address customer and teacher satisfaction. Making sure that families and teachers are happy with the program can reduce disenrollment and teacher turnover.  Both of these scenarios impact the program’s reputation, the bottom line, and the culture of the program.  Most importantly, happy families and employees create a warm, nurturing, and consistent environment for young children.

One audience we neglected to consider when exploring customer satisfaction was the children. How often do we consider the satisfaction level of the children in our care?  As you reflect on overall customer satisfaction with your program, consider ways that you can bring children’s voices into the discussion.

Take some time this month to reflect on what child satisfaction looks and feels like in your program.  Consider talking with the children about the concept of satisfaction using language that is appropriate for their level of understanding.

Some synonyms of satisfaction include:

  • Happiness
  • Enjoyment
  • Joy
  • Delight
  • Fulfillment
  • Contentment

Create opportunities for children to share their thoughts and opinions about different elements of the program. Here are just a few ideas:

Thumbs-up or thumbs-down

Begin to ask children to rate different learning experiences by giving a thumbs up if they enjoyed the activity or a thumbs down if they did not enjoy it.  You can introduce a sideways thumb as a way to express neutral feelings about the situation.

It might be good to ask these questions to children in private conversations to prevent children from copying what their peers are doing.

Visual rating scales.

Create a visual rating scale with 3-5 facial features ranging from excited to neutral to unhappy. You can use illustrations or, better yet, take pictures of the children making these faces. You can rotate images so that children get to see themselves in the rating scale from time to time. Post this scale in the classroom in a place that is accessible to children.

Introduce the rating scale to the children by identifying the facial images and defining the feelings as they relate to satisfaction. From time to time, ask children how they are feeling about their day.  Ask them to point to the face that represents how they are feeling about being in school.  Follow up with a few open-ended questions to see if the children can tell you why they feel that way.

  • What happened on the field trip that made you give it an excited review?
  • I see that you are unhappy with the puppet show. What happened that made you feel that way?
  • What would have made water play better for you today?
  • Last week you were excited about music class but this week you are so-so. What changed?
  • Can you think of a way we can improve the block area?
  • Homework time can be frustrating. How can we make it better for you?

Children may not always be able to answer these questions or provide any helpful information. However, you are asking questions that encourage them to reflect on their thoughts and feelings. Eventually, they will be able to answer with more concrete responses that you can use to make decisions about future events.

Responding to feedback.

Be sure to incorporate more of what the children say they like and create a plan to address any areas in which children are less than thrilled.

Ask children to help you think of ideas for improving the environment and activities.

Create a happiness committee made up of children, teachers, and family members who focus on ways to improve the day-to-day experiences of everyone in the program.

Share summaries of some of the changes that you are making in program newsletters or on social media to show your dedication to a caring community where everyone has a voice!