This month’s CCEI Newsletter examines ways that early childhood professionals can enhance math-related learning opportunities for young children. The newsletter contains recommendations from NAEYC and the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, including:

  • Provide ample time, materials, and teacher support for children to engage in play, a context in which they explore and manipulate mathematical ideas with keen interest.

Most of us can recall our own early experiences with math instruction and in many cases that instruction centered on a math workbook.  We may not have memories of how we explored math concepts as a toddler or preschooler. Because our earliest memories included pencil and paper activities, it may be tempting to try to use these same tools with the young children in our care. When we review the child development research, it becomes clear that those pencil and paper activities are not the most effective way that young children learn. While workbooks and worksheets may be used in elementary schools, research tells us that the best way for young children to explore math concepts in early learning environments is through hands-on exploration and play.

Let’s take a look at a few characteristics of play that support the development of pre-math skills that children explore in early childhood.  Play should be:

  • Hands-on – Children should have the opportunity to touch, move, manipulate, stack, and arrange materials in unique and creative ways.
  • Self-directed – Children should have the autonomy to initiate their own play, choose materials, make decisions, and move on from their play at their own pace.
  • Active – Children should be able to move about the space, incorporating gross and fine motor skills into their play.
  • Social – Children should have the opportunity to engage with and learn from other children in the group.
  • Engaging – Children should be challenged to plan, investigate, create, and solve problems as part of their play.
  • Relevant – Children should be allowed to engage with materials that align with their curiosity and interests.
  • Sustained – Children should be provided long blocks of uninterrupted play in order to sink into the learning that occurs during play.
  • Revisited – Children should be allowed to engage with materials repeatedly, as they can extend their learning each time they revisit play scenarios.
  • Expressive – Children should have the chance to express their unique ideas through their play.
  • Challenging – Children should be encouraged to extend their knowledge, practice critical thinking, and take safe risks during their play.
  • Fun – Play experiences should inspire joy and bring a smile to children’s faces.

Take time over the next few weeks to observe children at play.  Identify times when you see these qualities of play and times when perhaps play periods could be enhanced – not only to enhance math learning but all areas of development.

This month’s CCEI newsletter focuses on the importance of play and ways to enhance play experiences for young children. Early learning environments are designed to be places for play and exploration. Toys and materials encourage problem-solving, creativity, and cooperation. Trained teachers guide children to express themselves, take risks, and build critical thinking skills.

But what happens when children leave the learning environment and return home?  What are these play experiences like for children? What skills do children practice and how much adult guidance are they receiving as they play?

The answer is:  It varies from one family to the next.

So, what can educators do to even the playing field (pun intended)?

Share information about the value of play –

  • Use various forms of communication to share the value of play with families.
  • Describe what play looks like at various stages and what parents should expect to see as their children play.
  • Refer to different types of play (pretend, construction, creative, etc.) and share lists of materials that are included in different types of play.
  • Tell families about how play promotes specific skills, especially skills that families are eager for their children to learn, such as handwriting or reading.
  • Share the importance of repetition and brain development.
  • Talk about the importance of developing healthy physical health habits and how play can contribute to the formation of life-long habits.

Encourage families to engage with their children during play –

  • Introduce the concept of serve and return (share this video).
  • Provide a list of questions or prompts that families can use as they play with their children.
  • Model how to engage in play as you interact with children.
  • Share videos of children at play and adults playing along.

Share play ideas with families –

  • Provide ideas for toys that families can make with their children, such as sensory bottles or homemade instruments.
  • Send home books or stories with associated play ideas attached.
  • Create a game of the month, including a description of how the game is played. Encourage families to play the game with their children several times during the month and notice how their child’s skills change over time.
  • Teach families songs and fingerplays that they can sing in the car.
  • Share ideas for games to play at the grocery store or in other community spaces.

Share community resources –

  • Pass along information about community playhouses and parks.
  • Inform families about local children’s museums.
  • Let families know about events at local libraries and other community events.
  • Attempt to partner with community venues to provide discounted rates to families enrolled in your program.

Help families recognize play as a valuable teaching strategy and give them the tools they need to feel confident engaging in play and building stronger relationships with their children.

In the August CCEI Newsletter, the idea of behavior as a form of communication is explored. But what exactly are children attempting to communicate?  We can begin to understand children’s behavior (communication) when we become familiar with the functions of behaviors. The function of a behavior is the why behind the behavior or the need that the behavior is trying to communicate.

Depending on the resource there can be any number of functions of behavior.  Here are a few of the more common functions of behavior.

  • To gain attention – Sometimes, children engage in behaviors to gain the attention of others. The term attention-seeking is used to describe these instances. Many experts are now referring to attention-seeking behaviors as connection-seeking Sometimes, children just need to be seen, acknowledged, and reassured of their connection with adults in their lives.
  • To obtain tangible objects- Sometimes, children will engage in behaviors designed to get them what they want. They may take toys from others or have a tantrum to acquire a desired object.
  • To gain control – Sometimes, children feel completely out of control of the circumstances in their immediate surroundings. They may act defiantly in order to feel a sense of control or autonomy.
  • To avoid or escape a situation – Sometimes, children’s behaviors are a means of getting out of a particular situation, such as cleaning up or having to go to bed.
  • To gain or avoid sensory stimulation – Sometimes, children behave in a way that is a direct response to stimuli in the environment. For example, a shirt tag irritating a child’s neck could lead to an aggressive reaction. A child who is sensitive to sounds could run out of the room if it becomes too loud. Other children may play roughly with others because they are seeking strong sensory input.
  • To communicate strong emotions – Sometimes, children do not have the words to express their overwhelming emotions. They may bite a friend they are excited to see or begin to kick an adult if they are overly tired.

The good news is, that despite all of these possible triggers of challenging behaviors, we know that behavior is communication… we know that children are trying to tell us something.  It is our job to observe, reflect, and engage with children in a way that helps us get to the bottom of the matter. From there, we can help by meeting the child’s needs or guiding them to communicate their needs in safer, more effective ways.

It is likely that you are familiar with the term IQ or intelligence quotient, but are you aware that there is something called EQ, or emotional quotient?  EQ is also sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence and it turns out that it plays a significant role in the success of leaders across all fields.

IQ is a measure of the combination of knowledge, the ability to use reason, and problem-solving abilities. So, what does EQ measure? According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, there are five elements included in emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-regulation – the ability to control impulses and manage your emotional responses to situations.
  2. Motivation – the inner drive to pursue tasks and accomplishments.
  3. Self-awareness – being present with and recognizing your own emotions, including how they influence your behaviors.
  4. Social awareness – having an understanding of the emotions, behaviors, and reactions of others. This is often referred to as having empathy for others.
  5. Social skills – the ability to build relationships and work well with others.

When a person is competent in the components of EQ, they are armored with essential skills required for leadership. The good news is these skills can be strengthened. Experts recommend self-reflection as a tool that can help build EQ.

Self-reflection helps to bring awareness and focus into our lives. As we become more aware of our emotional state and our reactions to situations we can begin to better manage our emotional reactions. We can put in place tools to reduce stress and anxiety that may cause us to act in ways that are counterproductive to the goal of being a good leader.

As we gain a better understanding of ourselves, we can choose to bring that same awareness to the experiences of others. We can empathize with others and offer them our support. Prepared with a solid understanding of ourselves and the needs of others, we are in a good position to establish strong relationships with other people.

You can assess your emotional intelligence and learn more about building these important skills here.

Being able to get fresh air and run around the playground is vital to children’s development.  It helps them expend energy, build muscles, and improve coordination. Unfortunately, these needs do not go away during a heatwave or even a few days of rainy weather. That is why it is so important for early learning programs to create a plan for indoor gross motor play.

According to Caring for Our Children (6.1.0.2):

For days in which weather does not permit outdoor play, the facility is encouraged to provide an alternate place for gross motor activities indoors for children of all ages. This space could be a dedicated gross motor room or a gym, a large hallway, or even a classroom in which furniture has been pushed aside. The room should provide adequate space for children to do vigorous activities including running.

Once you have identified a proper space, you can determine the types of activities that children try. There should be a wide variety of activities that promote all areas of gross motor development. Some activities will require safety equipment, such as mats, so plan accordingly based on the available materials.

Skills to practice:

  • Balancing
  • Walking/running
  • Jumping
  • Lifting
  • Tossing
  • Kicking
  • Climbing

One important thing to keep in mind is the importance of activities that encourage children to cross the mid-line of their body with their arms.

To promote this movement, you can incorporate dancing activities, yoga and stretching, and games like Simon Says and Hot Potato. You could also create obstacle courses or have children draw activities out of a hat that ask children to cross the mid-line.

How do you adapt gross motor activities during inclement weather in your program?

Many states’ early learning standards contain a few descriptions of science-related skills that children under the age of 5 should be working toward. It is important for teachers to become familiar with these standards so that they can plan learning opportunities around them and so that they know what to look for as children explore science.

Did you know, that in addition to these state standards, that there is a set of standards called the Next Generation Science Standards?  These standards were developed for K-12 by experts in the fields of education and science. The goal is to prepare children with the skills they will need to be successful when they enter the workforce.

It is a good idea for early childhood educators to become familiar with the skills and concepts children will encounter when they enter elementary school.  You can search the standards by topic and grade level here.

Here are just a few of the science-related skills that are included in the Kindergarten Next Generation Science Standards:

  • Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
  • Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals (including humans) and the places they live.
  • Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time.
  • Ask questions to obtain information about the purpose of weather forecasting to prepare for, and respond to, severe weather.*
  • Plan and conduct an investigation to compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object.
  • Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
  • Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.
  • Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.

You can see the rest of the standards and those that were established for children of other grade levels by visiting the Next Generation Science Standards website.

How could you use these standards to inform the decisions you make about science instruction in your program?

This month, the CCEI newsletter explores the recommended practices included in what is known as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  The strategies contained within the UDL Guidelines are designed to level the playing field in classrooms around the globe.  The strategies are organized into 3 categories; Engagement, Representation, and Action & Engagement. You can learn more here.

There are a number of other organizations that provide guidance on how to support learners of various levels. The Joint Position Statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) helps educators understand what early childhood inclusion means.

Here is the definition provided in the position statement:

Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation, and supports.

The 3 key elements of the definition are as follows:

  • Access- this includes the steps taken to ensure that both the physical environment and the activities introduces are made openly and equally available to all children.
  • Participation– this refers to the way in which every child feels a sense of belonging and has the opportunity to participate meaningfully in all activities.
  • Supports- this means that steps are taken to ensure the child’s needs are being met, therapists provide services in the learning environment, parents and educators collaborate, and that training is available to everyone involved with the child.

You can access the full document here.

The second third resource that is helpful when considering the individuals needs of early learners comes from the Divisions for Early Childhood.  The resource is called the DEC Recommended Practices.  In the document, educators will find strategies organized into the following categories:

  • Leadership
  • Assessment
  • Environment
  • Family
  • Instruction
  • Interaction
  • Teaming and Collaboration
  • Transition

These easy-to-read, research-based recommendations are a great start for any educator hoping to create a more inclusive environment. The great thing about the strategies is, they work for all children and can be put in place at any time. The practices will promote development for all young learners and prepare the educator with the skills necessary to support children diagnosed with special needs when they enroll.

You can read the DEC Recommended practices here.

This month’s newsletter focuses on those ever-present opportunities to build skills and promote development through teachable moments.  Skilled early childhood educators are on constant watch for teachable moments and recognize the value of these spontaneous learning events.  Unfortunately, it is common for adults to fall prey to a phenomenon that can actually decrease our ability to recognize teachable moments as they present themselves.

This phenomenon is called confirmation bias. 

Confirmation bias can be described as the inclination humans have to seek out information and evidence that aligns with their previously-established beliefs. In addition to being drawn to ideas that we agree with, confirmation bias also tends to reject or discount information that is counter to our beliefs.  In simple terms, confirmation bias is a tool we use to validate our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs.

In a learning environment, confirmation bias can present itself in several ways:

  • Teacher A doesn’t believe children can be trusted with tools. Teacher A focuses only on instances of children using tools improperly, rather than recognizing all of the instances of proper tool use.
  • Teacher B feels that toddlers are too young to participate in family-style dining. Teacher B reluctantly sets up family-style dining meals for the toddlers in her care because it is program policy. However, Teacher B only notices the messes children make during meals rather than observing the benefits of the learning experience.
  • Teacher C believes that outdoor play is not valuable and is too risky and dangerous for children. Every time a child gets hurt on the playground, Teacher C’s belief that outdoor play is dangerous and unnecessary is reinforced.
  • Teacher D believes that Johnny is a “bad” kid. Throughout the day, Teacher D (perhaps subconsciously) looks for evidence that proves the belief that Johnny is bad. This drive will likely prevent Teacher D from recognizing all the times that Johnny is engaged appropriately with toys and peers.

In each example, the teachers’ beliefs influence the observations they make. Research on confirmation bias shows that people are more likely to look for evidence that they are right than evidence that proves they are wrong.

This tendency can have a detrimental impact on a teacher’s ability to notice the teachable moments that emerge throughout the day, especially if they are strongly convinced of their beliefs.  Teachers might not notice an opportunity to show children the proper way to hold a tool or spoon if they don’t agree children should be doing so in the first place.  Teachers won’t engage children in exploring safe risks on the playground if they don’t believe that safe risk-taking is good for children. And teachers might not step in to coach Johnny through a conflict with a peer if they are already convinced that he is a “bad” kid who can’t learn appropriate ways to solve problems.

To combat confirmation bias, early childhood educators must reflect upon their practice regularly. They should ask questions about their beliefs about children and how children learn. They should challenge their preconceived notions about what children, families, and early learning should look like. They should look for their own teachable moments as strongly held beliefs and opinions arise.

You can read more about studies that have been conducted related to confirmation bias and why it exists here.

The CCEI January Newsletter explores ways to reduce stress during the transition into the New Year. There are a number of things that caregivers can do to reduce the level of stress children experience in the learning environment. These practices should be implemented throughout the year to ensure that children have an optimal early learning experience:

  • Establish a consistent schedule that allows children to know what to expect next and to prepare for transitions. This consistency helps children feel comfortable and secure.
  • Set up a routine for daily events like naptime, washing hands, and cleaning up.
  • Concentrate daily on building and nurturing your relationship with each child.
  • Accept, acknowledge, and celebrate individual differences in interests, abilities, and cultural backgrounds.
  • Include plenty of time for self-directed play. This is when children practice social and communication skills and learn to control the objects in their environment. The sense of competence derived from play fosters a positive self-image.
  • Offer choices to children in activities, materials, and directing their own behavior. This helps children learn that they have some control over what they do.
  • Emphasize cooperation and minimize competition. Fostering cooperation helps everyone feel like they have something to contribute and that they are an important part of the group.
  • Display photos of the children in the group and pictures they have drawn.
  • Greet children warmly as they arrive.
  • Listen when children share their ideas. Reflect back what was said in your response.
  • Recognize when children master a skill they have been working on. Be specific about the praise you give. “It used to be hard for you to zip your coat. Now you can do it every time.”
  • Provide activities that are developmentally appropriate and that are open-ended. Use more activities that focus on the process rather than the product. Children will feel more successful.
  • Keep your expectations realistic and convey your confidence by saying, “I know you can do it.”
  • Identify all the things you like about the children and talk about those characteristics often!

 

The December 2020 CCEI Newsletter focuses on family engagement strategies.  In it, we explore the benefits of family engagement initiatives as well as different types of engagement programs can introduce. The newsletter also provides recommendations for planning and implementing these important initiatives.

If your program is seeking a formal family engagement program, there are plenty on the market.  These programs are sometimes referred to as parenting interventions.  Think of these tools as a curriculum that you would use with the parents of your program to enhance parenting skills and to build stronger relationships with their children. Each program has unique features and costs associated with it so deciding on the type of program that would work best for you will take careful consideration.

The National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement has created a helpful resource that provides details on many of the family engagement programs that are available today in the Compendium of Parenting Interventions.

The document lays out the details of a variety of programs that may be appropriate for the families enrolled in your program. The compendium describes each program along with the types of families best served by the program. You can also find information about outcomes and objectives, the length of the implementation of the program, the languages in which the program has been published, and minimum workforce qualifications for staff who will be using the tool.  You can also find information about the costs as well as the type of training required and the cost to receive that training.

The Compendium is a very helpful tool for any program that is seeking to improve family engagement, especially if you looking for a program that would work for a specific target audience.

If you are interested in exploring the types of programs that are available but don’t want to get caught up in all of the details, you can find an easy-to-read At-a-Glance Table on pages 16-19 of the Compendium.