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!

Building a Nutrition and Culinary Vocabulary

When cooking with children, it is important to introduce new words and concepts to children who may have never prepared food in the past. There is an entire culinary vocabulary out there to explore with young children.  Some of these words will relate to instructions within recipes (“fold in the cheese”), while other terms are related to food items and preparation methods.

Here is a sampling of words you could introduce to children as you explore food together:

  • Absorption – when flour mixes with and retains liquids.
  • Acid (or acidic) – the element in food that makes it taste sour, like lemons and other citrus fruits.
  • Aerate – to sift or beat quickly to add air to the ingredients.
  • Al dente – cooking an item (e.g., pasta) to the point that it is not too soft or too hard.
  • Antioxidants – substances in foods that combat aging.
  • Antipasto – a selection of meats, vegetables, and cheeses that are served as an appetizer.
  • Appetizer – small portions of food that are served before a meal.
  • Apple corer – a tool used to remove the apple core.
  • Arroz – the word for rice in Spanish.
  • Bake – to use an oven to cook a dish.
  • Baking pan – metal containers used to hold items placed in the oven for cooking. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and depths.
  • Batter – the result of mixing wet and dry ingredients in a recipe. It can be thin and pourable, like pancake batter, or thick like chocolate chip cookie dough, which you place on the pan with a spoon.
  • Beat – the act of mixing ingredients to a smooth texture using an electric mixer or a tool such as a whisk or a fork.
  • Blender – an electronic tool used to mix ingredients to a smooth consistency.
  • Boil – to heat a liquid to a temperature where bubbles form and rise to the surface.
  • Bread – to coat a piece of food in bread crumbs before cooking.

So, going through just two letters of the alphabet, you can see that there is a lot to talk about.  And there is so much more.

As you review recipes with children, ask children to find words that they don’t know. Use internet resources to find the definitions of any unfamiliar words.

Use these words as children are cooking in the dramatic play area. For example, “It looks like you are using the whisk to beat those eggs.”

Encourage children to demonstrate different preparation methods, even when they are not cooking, as in a game of culinary charades.

Look for other instances where these words can be reinforced.  For example, “This bread is yummy!  Who remembers another meaning for the word bread?”

Gather vocabulary words from families as well to ensure that you are representing a variety of cultures in your culinary vocabulary.

Most importantly, model the use of different words often and have fun!

Reframing Failure

In the September edition of the CCEI newsletter, we share numerous strategies and resources related to exploring engineering with children. Engineering activities are great opportunities for children to not only explore fundamental science concepts, but also build their creative, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.

One resource that engineers use to guide their work is called the engineering design process which requires engineers to ask questions, brainstorm solutions, build and test prototypes, and perfect the solutions they create. Within this process, there is lots of room for failure, but the failures don’t hinder the process. That is because engineers are trained to look at failure as a vital learning opportunity.

When they test a new product and it fails, they analyze the problem and head back to the drawing board to make adjustments.

Unfortunately, accepting failure, let alone enthusiastically welcoming it, is not really a common practice. Failure has gotten a bad rap. Generally speaking, we feel bad when we fail. Many of us shrink a little bit when we experience failure. Other people look at us differently when we fail (or so we think).

Early childhood is when many of us learned how to respond to failure, mainly by watching how people around us responded to failure, both ours and theirs. Watching someone crumble under the weight of failure sends a powerful message. Having our own failures met with harsh responses sends an even more powerful message.

So, how do we help children recognize the value that exists within failed attempts? You guessed it – we have to change how we view failure. This is hard work. However, when you look carefully you can see that there are two choices; to learn from the experience and move on or to succumb to fear and insecurity.

In an early learning environment, there are ways to demonstrate an acceptance of failure that are less risky or weighty. For example, you wouldn’t talk with children about a failed relationship but you could talk with them about how you got lost taking a detour to the grocery store. You could talk about how you failed to make it to the library yesterday, so today you don’t have the book that you had planned to read to them today.

In these conversations, you could share how you got into the situation, how you felt, and most importantly, what you learned and what you are going to do differently in the future.

This same approach should be used when children make failed attempts in the classroom.

  • Mistakes happen.
  • They can make us feel uncomfortable.
  • What can we learn from the experience?
  • What can we do differently next time?
  • How can we fix it?

So, go out there and make lots of mistakes; they really are a great way to learn.

Best of luck as you begin the new school year!

Making Decisions about Character Education Programs

CCEI’s August Newsletter explores the importance of exploring character traits and how they develop with young learners. Several considerations arise when a program decides to implement a character education program. First, will they purchase a commercial program or develop their own?

There are pros and cons to each approach.  Developing a unique program takes time and experience. It can be challenging for new teachers who are developing their curriculum planning skills. However, the lessons can be tailored to meet the needs of the children and the program.

Purchasing a commercial product is easier but it has a cost associated with it. The style of the curriculum might not match your program’s philosophy and sometimes teachers feel their creativity is limited when using commercial products.

It is important for program staff to have multiple conversations about what the character education curriculum will look like in their program.  This may look completely different from the practices used at the center down the street.  Here are some things to talk about during these discussions:

  • Traits most important to your program culture – What are the character traits that align with your program’s philosophy, vision, and mission statements? Decision makers should gather feedback from the teaching staff and families to make sure that important elements of character development are apparent in any curriculum that is purchased or developed.
  • Developmental appropriateness – Some programs may be too advanced for use in the early learning environment. Some programs utilize worksheets or coloring pages, which may not align with the approaches used in your program. Discussions should be had concerning the language and activities provided in different programs to ensure there is a good fit.
  • Materials provided – When possible, staff should be able to preview the materials contained in any commercial kit. It might also be a good idea to share materials with the programs’ family committee so they have a chance to provide feedback.
  • Value of materials – Serious consideration should be given to the value of the materials provided in any commercial curriculum. Is it possible to accomplish the same outcomes with the books and materials that are already present in the classroom? What unique features do the materials add to the environment?
  • Flexibility – Commercial products will likely require adaptations. Teachers should be comfortable adding their own touch to any product to ensure they are reflecting the interest and needs of the children in their care.
  • Staff buy-in – Conversations must be had with staff to encourage participation and create positive feelings about the program. Conversations can focus on the benefits of character education and how it can beneficially impact the overall classroom atmosphere.
  • Professional development options – Some curriculum companies provide training on their materials. Sometimes, teachers benefit from additional training on the topic. What training resources are available to ensure that whichever approach is chosen is effective?
  • Time and resources – If everyone is feeling short on time or having difficulty completing assessments or other daily tasks, asking staff to develop character education lessons from scratch may not be successful. The same could be said for introducing a new and complex curriculum product.  It’s best to meet employees where they are and determine the most effective way to incorporate character education into weekly planning.

Programs should engage in these types of conversations before making a purchasing decision. Doing so will make it more likely that the curriculum chosen will actually be used. More than likely, programs will opt for a hybrid approach that utilizes pre-planned activities and teacher-initiated interactions to help children strengthen their character development.

Best of luck!

What Community Means in Early Childhood Education

CCEI’s July newsletter focuses on ways that ECE programs can strengthen the sense of community between every person who walks in the door.  The goal is for every child and adult to feel a sense of belonging, respect, and connection. This is the foundation for all learning that occurs within the walls of the program.

We can refer to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and their most recent position statement on developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) for guidance on what community means in early childhood education.

Specifically, NAEYC states, “The role of the community is to provide a physical, emotional, and cognitive environment conducive to development and learning for each child.”

According to NAEYC’s DAP position statement, in an early learning community:

Each member of the community is valued by the others and is recognized for the strengths they bring.

      • When teachers model behaviors that communicate respect, it is possible for children to learn these skills as well. This is accomplished by honoring the unique makeup of each family and working to build on the strengths of both children and their family members.

Relationships are nurtured with each child and educators facilitate the development of positive relationships among children. 

      • Educators who are community builders recognize that strong relationships make everything else just a bit easier. Whether faced with a challenging conversation with a parent or helping a child work through challenging behaviors, the trust that blossoms from a positive relationship will be beneficial.

Each member of the community respects and is accountable to the others to behave in a way that is conducive to the learning and well-being of all. 

      • Teachers set the tone of respect but every member of the group is responsible for maintaining the sense of safety, caring, and cooperation that keeps a community strong. This is accomplished by focusing on ways to communicate needs and emotions and work within a set of expectations that keeps everyone safe, both physically and emotionally.

The physical environment protects the health and safety of the learning community members, and it specifically supports young children’s physiological needs for play, activity, sensory stimulation, fresh air, rest, and nourishment.

      • This means that teachers manage the daily schedule to ensure that children have the opportunity to explore an engaging selection of activities. The flow of the day should allow ample time to complete tasks, rather than rushing through them.

Every effort is made to help each and every member of the community feel psychologically safe and able to focus on being and learning.

      • This is accomplished through reflective and responsive practices teachers put in place in response to individual children’s needs. Teachers look for signs of stress and act to reduce it. They reflect children’s home lives within the classroom and maintain an organized environment that promotes play and exploration.

Sometimes, the idea of creating community seems like an abstract concept.  It may seem more difficult than it actually is.  Shifting the focus from a purely academic approach to a more social and emotional approach is the first step to building community.  That means slowing down, getting to know children and families, and putting practices in place that meet their unique needs.

Best of luck!

Talking with Children about Traumatic Events

Talking with children about traumatic events can be challenging.  Whether it’s addressing concerns about images of war, natural disasters, or community violence, it can be difficult to know where to start. In an early learning environment, children’s access to graphic news reports should be quite limited, but it is hard to tell just how much children are absorbing from listening to adults or seeing images in the media.

Experts suggest that adults pay close attention to children in the aftermath of traumatic events, regardless of how little the event seems to directly impact them. In other words, adults should not assume that children are okay just because the traumatic event occurred in another state or country.

When children see traumatic images in the media, they may not understand that the event occurred hundreds or thousands of miles away.  They see people crying, damage to buildings, and emergency responders, which can result in feelings of fear and anxiety. If they do understand that the event happened in a different part of the country or world, they may still be worried that a similar event could happen to them or their community.

It may seem appropriate to simply reassure children that the scary images they are seeing happened somewhere else and that they have nothing to worry about, but experts encourage adults to take additional steps to help children process their feelings.

Reassuring the child that they are safe is definitely important – and for some children, it is all they need to hear.  Other children may have deeper concerns, misunderstandings, or questions about the traumatic event.  Signs that a child may be experiencing fear or anxiety about traumatic events include:

  • Trouble sleeping or nightmares
  • Appetite changes
  • Behavior changes
  • Reenacting the event repeatedly
  • Irritability or anger
  • Regression of skills such as thumb-sucking, bedwetting, or soiling their clothing
  • Withdrawal from others

Teachers should watch for these signs and listen closely to conversations children are having. It may not be necessary to have a whole-group discussion about the event.  Instead, focus on individual children and their unique concerns.

When working with individual children, ask open-ended questions to determine what the child understands about the event.  Acknowledge the child’s questions or concerns by demonstrating empathy – even if their concerns are not warranted.  For example:

  • I get it – seeing images on television makes me feel upset, too.
  • Sometimes watching the news can feel scary, and that is normal. Here’s what’s important to understand about the event…
  • I understand that you feel worried about the images you saw.

Share the reality of the situation with the child using language that matches their level of understanding.  Help them see the measures that are in place to help keep them safe. You don’t have to share more information than necessary to help reassure the child they are safe. Here are some examples:

  • You are right, that person hurt other people, but it is over and they stopped the person from hurting anyone else.
  • I know tornados are scary because they happen without much warning. That is why we practice our tornado drills often so that we know what to do when we hear the alarm.
  • Right now, that war is happening here on the globe. Can you see how far away that is from where we live?  Yes, it’s very far away and you and your family are safe here.

As a way to build children’s resilience, you can offer some of the following opportunities:

  • Teach self-calming strategies, such as deep breathing or guided visualizations.
  • Encourage children to draw pictures or write stories about their feelings.
  • Reassure children that they can talk to you anytime they need to.
  • Maintain a consistent routine that children can depend on.
  • Read books that help children build emotional literacy.
  • Look for ways to help by donating clothes, food, or funds to verified charities.

Below you will find a number of resources that provide more details about talking to children about traumatic events. Be sure to share with families.

Consider taking a few of these CCEI courses to help you develop your confidence in working with children who have experienced trauma:

21st Century Skills

The CCEI May Newsletter provides great information about project based learning (PBL), a teaching tool that uses long term investigations into real-world challenges as a curriculum approach.  When children collaborate, explore, and problem solve together, they use valuable skills that will serve them well in academics as well as their chosen career fields.

There is a set of skills that have been identified by experts known as 21st Century skills. These are the things children should develop throughout their education that will prepare them to be career-ready when they leave school.  As it turns out, PBL is an excellent teaching tool for helping children strengthen these 21st Century skills.

The skills are organized into three categories.

Learning Skills:

  • Critical thinking – the ability to look at a problem from different perspectives, evaluate ideas, make connections between concepts, use reasoning skills, and make a case for a particular course of action.
  • Creativity – developing original or unique outcomes and perspectives, building something new and innovative, and thinking outside of the box.
  • Collaboration – working with others in productive ways, learning to give and take, and listening to the perspective of others to develop an agreed upon plan.
  • Communication – being able to share thoughts and ideas effectively using verbal, nonverbal, and written messages.

Literacy Skills:

  • Information literacy – the ability to comprehend facts, statistics, and data in order to determine what is true and what is untrue.
  • Media literacy – being able to identify trustworthy sources of information and recognize credible media outlets.
  • Technology literacy – the understanding of how technology works.

Life Skills:

  • Flexibility – the ability to adapt to new situations and changes in the environment.
  • Leadership – being able to guide others through a project or situation effectively, which is not a skill reserved only for people with titles.
  • Initiative – working independently and doing things without needing to be told that they should be done.
  • Productivity – staying on-task and producing quality work in a timely fashion.
  • Social skills – having the disposition to be able to work well with others, understanding the needs and motivations of others, and building strong working relationships.

These are the skills that have been identified as necessary skills for success in a 21st Century workplace, regardless of the field or occupation. Early childhood education may be focused on early literacy and math skills, but limiting learning to these narrow topics will do a disservice to the children in your care.  Engaging children in meaningful and engaging learning experiences, such as project based learning, can help children build a foundation of skills that will contribute to their success in their future endeavors.

Learn more about these and other important career-readiness skills that can be promoted in the early years by checking out these resources:

A Comprehensive Guide to 21st Century Skills – https://www.panoramaed.com/blog/comprehensive-guide-21st-century-skills

21st Century Skills – https://www.edglossary.org/21st-century-skills/

What is Career Readiness and How DO You Teach It?  https://www.aeseducation.com/blog/what-is-career-readiness

Nature Field Trip Planning

CCEI’s April newsletter focuses on ways that programs can enhance nature-based learning experiences. One suggestion for increasing the amount of time that children spend exploring nature is to take field trips and take nature walks.  These community outings are great opportunities to reap the many benefits that come with time spent in nature.

When planning field trips and nature walks, there are a few things that teachers should keep in mind. Decisions about the appropriateness of potential field trip sites and walking routes should be based on the answers to the questions below.

Health and Safety:

  • Will there be access to drinking water, bathrooms, and handwashing?
  • Are there potential hazards that must be avoided?
  • Are there areas of shade?
  • Is there a seating area for eating or resting?
  • What are the missing child procedures at the site and who is the contact person in the event that a child goes missing?
  • Does the site require special clothing or shoes?
  • Is the space accessible for children with disabilities?
  • Has the site been inspected by someone on staff to get a lay of the land?
  • Are there incident reports that indicate that the site is not appropriate for young children?
  • How many staff members are required to provide adequate supervision?

Appropriateness:

  • Does the site provide learning opportunities that align with what the children are capable of doing?
  • If there is an on-site tour or lesson planned – is it hands-on and does it match the attention span of the children?
  • Are the children capable of meeting the physical demands of the outing?

Learning:

  • How does this site relate to children’s interests?
  • What will children have the opportunity to learn/explore?
  • How does this site connect to children’s current knowledge?
  • How can the outing be tied to the curriculum?
  • What are the goals or learning outcomes of the trip?

These are just a few of the questions that should be answered when picking locations for nature exploration. In addition to the child care licensing rules regarding field trips, teachers should also consider how they will prepare children for the excursion and what kinds of follow-up activities should be planned upon returning to the building.

Happy exploring!

Using Sign Language to Promote Communication Skills

We have all heard the phrase – children are hands on learners. This means that they tend to learn through the concrete manipulation of materials with their hands. For example, children learn how to stack blocks, not by being told how to, but by practicing using their arms, hands, and fingers.

What happens when educators incorporate a hands-on approach to language development using sign language? Research has shown that there are multiple benefits to using sign language with young children. It has been shown that sign language “adds a layer to the way their brain will process the information they are learning” according to Samantha Hakim in her paper entitled Utilizing American Sign Language in the Early Childhood Setting.

Introducing sign language to young children provides them with a visual way to take in information and a kinesthetic way to express information.  This gives children access to an alternative communication tool that they can use when they do not yet have the ability to communicate verbally.  This can reduce frustration levels for children and caregivers. Sign language can also be used in conjunction with verbal prompts, which helps children who may have receptive language delays to understand the requests being made of them.

Teachers can begin by introducing signs for common parts of the daily routine (eat, drink, potty, outside, etc.). Children can also learn signs for please, thank you, and you’re welcome. Simple vocabulary words, such as coat, shoes, door, and friend can also be introduced as children become familiar using sign language. When children learn letters and numbers, sign language can be incorporated.  Teachers can then plan to introduce vocabulary words related to books being read or curriculum themes.

 

If you are interested in learning more, here are a few resources to explore:

ASL Video Dictionary – https://www.handspeak.com/word/

ASL Connect from Gallaudet University – https://www.gallaudet.edu/asl-connect/asl-for-free/

ASL Kids – Sign Language Resources and Applications – https://asl-kids.com/learn-sign-language-online/

Sign language activity ideas – https://www.weareteachers.com/teach-sign-language/

What You Can Learn from Observing Children

In this month’s newsletter, child observation takes front and center.  We discuss the importance of gathering observations to complete assessments, engage with families, and make curriculum decisions. Most states have identified a list of skills that children should be able to demonstrate as they head into public school. Assessment tools are likely to mirror these lists of skills and a teacher’s observations will help them complete these assessment tools.

However, there are other things you can learn about children that might not be listed on the state-sanctioned list of school-readiness skills. Observing children can help teachers get to know children and engage with them in meaningful ways that transcend the required assessments.

Observing children can tell you a lot about how they approach new situations, tolerate frustration, and adapt to change.  These are elements of a child’s temperament and each child is unique in how they navigate through the world.  When teachers notice that a child approaches new experiences timidly, they can decide to create space for the child to warm up to the experience at their own pace. Teachers can decide to provide advance warnings about upcoming changes or new experiences that will soon be coming to the learning environment.  They can slowly introduce new experiences for the children who prefer to approach things more slowly.

When a teacher recognizes that a child becomes easily frustrated with difficult challenges, they can make sure to adapt activities or provide scaffolding to support the child’s learning. The teacher can also teach the child self-calming strategies that they could use when they begin to feel frustrated.

Teachers who are careful observers notice changes in children from day to day.  They may note that a typically active child is uninterested in playing.  They could notice that a child who is usually able to focus their attention, is suddenly distracted for much of the day. In other words, they notice when a child is “off”, which could be a sign that the child is getting sick.

Most importantly, teachers with strong observation skills can pick up on changes in skills and behavior that may indicate that something more serious is going on with the child. These observations can become the basis of some very important conversations with the child’s family.

Take some time in the coming weeks to not only make note of the skills on your developmental checklist but also of those underlying temperament traits that define how children interact within the environment.