Superhero Play

In our March 2019 newsletter, we explore the benefits that risk-taking and big body play provide to children in early learning environments. One theme that often promotes both risk-taking behaviors and big body play is superhero play. Children are drawn to the action and power that superhero play provides. It excites children, engages their creativity, and offers a wide variety of scenarios to explore. And yes, it can sometimes become aggressive, which is why teachers should be prepared to guide children away from the aggressive aspect of superhero play, back to a more creative and pro-social interactions.

Placing a ban superhero play is rarely the best choice, and can be extremely difficult to uphold. Superhero play allows children to:

  • Explore elements of humanity such as bravery, and the difference between right and wrong
  • Build confidence
  • Experience a sense of control over their lives, which is dominated by adult control
  • Improve physical skills, strength, and coordination
  • Let their imaginations soar as they look for new ways to solve problems
  • Work as a team to accomplish a goal
  • Communicate with peers in a way the promotes collaboration
  • Practice taking on the perspectives of others, which is key to developing empathy
  • Develop leadership skills

Instead of banning this type of play, consider how you might build upon it and incorporate superhero play into engaging learning activities.

  • When it seems that children are “fighting” each other, encourage them to both take on the superhero roles and figure out a way to defeat the villain together.
  • Encourage children to create a back story for their superhero. Perhaps these stories could be illustrated and turned into a class book.
  • Measure how far the superheroes in your class can jump or throw a ball as a way to incorporate math skills into superhero play.
  • Ask children to think like a team to solve a problem that you “discovered” in the block area.
  • Discuss the notion of “good guys” and “bad guys”, make links to the actions of these two characters and the actions children can take in the classroom.

For more ideas, check out these articles:

Program Policies that Support Dual Language Learners

Contrary to many of the myths related to Dual Language Learners (DLLs), it has been proven in study after study that learning two (or more) languages in early childhood is actually beneficial to young children. 

In a review of research conducted by Linda Espinosa (Challenging Common Myths About Young English Language Learners), some of the following conclusions were made:

1. All young children are capable of learning two languages. Becoming bilingual has long-term cognitive, academic, social, cultural, and economic benefits. Bilingualism is an asset.

2. Young ELL students require systematic support for the continued development of their home language.

3. Loss of the home language has potential negative long-term consequences for the ELL child’s academic, social, and emotional development, as well as for the family dynamics.

4. Teachers and programs can adopt effective strategies to support home language development even when the teachers are monolingual English speakers.

One recommended strategy for programs includes creating a written policy for support DLLs and their families.  As you work with staff, families, and other stakeholders to create your program’s policy on supporting DLLs, consider the following suggestions:

  • The program will provide forms, information, and other methods of communication in multiple languages.  For examples, see resources such as ECLKC.
  • The program will make every effort to screen and assess children in their home language.
  • The program will intentionally incorporate professional development opportunities related to supporting DLLs and cultural responsiveness.
  • The program will plan bilingual activities, regardless of the presence of DLLs in the learning environment.
  • The program will employ a diverse staff, some of whom are bilingual and speak the home language of the majority of DLLs in the program.
  • The program will create family engagement activities that actively invite all parents to participate.
  • The program will implement the use of a home language survey or other data collection tool upon enrollment.  Information gathered will be used to create a plan of action to support the needs of the child(ren) and family members. 
  • The program will support and encourage families to maintain the use of the child’s home language while the child is also learning English.
  • The program will make efforts to place DLLs in learning environments with other DLLs who speak the same home language (not as an isolation practice, but to reduce the sense of isolation).
  • The program will set aside funds specifically for the purpose of supporting DLLs in the classroom.
  • The program will design outreach programs to attract and enroll diverse families, including children who are DLLs.

Many state requirements  and quality improvement  initiatives have started to include language specific to meeting the needs of DLLs. Be sure to research the resources available in your state to guide your policy making efforts.  More information can be found here.

Engaging Families and Children in Continuous Quality Improvement Initiatives

This month’s newsletter focuses on the idea of creating a culture of continuous quality improvement.  Besides members of leadership and employees, the families and children we serve are important partners on this journey toward high quality early childhood programming.  If you think about it, everything that is done within a program has an impact of families and children, so it only makes sense that we would gather information from them during the process.  This information can inform decisions about areas of opportunity, goal setting, and action planning.

Here are a few ideas for engaging with families as part of continuous quality improvement efforts:

  • Family surveys – It is good practice to gather feedback from families throughout the year in the form of a customer satisfaction survey.  You could choose to include general satisfaction questions on your surveys or customize survey questions to focus on specific areas that you are targeting to quality improvement.  For example, you may choose to send out a survey that focuses specifically on aspects of food service or summer field trips. 
  • Surveys of unenrolled families – It may be possible to gather important information from families who have disenrolled from your program in the past year.  What contributed to their decision to discontinue care for their child(ren)?  You can take this idea a step forward and ask families who toured the facility, but did not choose to enroll, what contributed to their decision. 
  • Child surveys – Preschool and school-age children are quite capable of discussing elements of their experience that could be improved upon.  Engage children during class meetings or meal times to discuss ways they think the program could be better.  You may get some silly ideas, but then again, you may be very surprised by the ideas the children share.
  • Family Committees – Parent representatives acting as advisors on family committees are investing valuable time contributing to your program.  Engage them in the process of quality improvement by inviting them to participate in the steps your program is undergoing. Consider having a few students participate in your family committee quality improvement efforts as well!
  • Engage with parent experts – It’s possible that a few of the family members of y our program have expertise in quality improvement, goal setting, or event grant writing (for those projects that require extra funds).  Reach out to the experts in your extended circle to capitalize on all possible opportunities.

Each of these actions helps build stronger relationships with families, which in and of itself, is an element of quality improvement for early learning environments.

How have you been able to engage families in your program’s continuous quality improvement initiatives?  Share your thoughts on our Facebook page here.

Resources that Support the Practice of Gratitude

The December newsletter explores the benefits of cultivating gratitude and a few strategies to help with the practice. There are many different resources that you can delve into to help establish your own practice and to help you as you introduce this concept to children. Below are just some of the resources that you may find helpful.

Books for adults:

  • May Cause Happiness: A Gratitude Journal by Br. David Steindl-Rast
  • Everyday Gratitude: Inspiration for Living Life as a Gift by A Network for Grateful Living
  • Gratitude in Education: A Radical View by Kerry Howells
  • Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul by Robert Emmons and Joanna Hill
  • The Little book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Wellbeing by Giving Thanks by Robert Emmons

Websites:

Digital media apps:

  • Gratitude 365
  • Delightful
  • Bliss
  • Zest
  • Attitudes of Gratitude
  • My Affirmations: Live Positive

Resources for working with children:

Lists of children’s books about gratitude:

Share your favorite resources on gratefulness on our Facebook page here.

Creating a Culture of Mutual Trust and Partnership

Center Staff Training

November 10-18 is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.  The CCEI November Newsletter focuses on ways that caregivers can meet children’s basic needs and support families as they work to do the same. In many cases, this work will occur within the safety of the child’s consistent and comfortable home.  However, consider that in some cases, families may experience economic hardship, homelessness, or other more severe situation that prevents them from meeting their child’s most basic needs.

In order to support children and families, early childhood professionals need to be aware of family circumstances. However these situations are often shrouded in shame or embarrassment. Families may not be willing to talk openly about their living arrangements or financial hardships.

In order to create relationships with families in which they feel comfortable sharing information with us, we have to work to eliminate some of those feelings of shame or embarrassment. This can be accomplished through the proactive creation of partnership between families and members of the program staff.

By proactive, we mean that communication about these sensitive topics is conducted prior to the need for the conversations.

  • Program staff should incorporate collaborative language into their conversations with families. It might sound something like this, “When you enroll your child here, we become partners in preparing your child for success in all areas of life. We will often seek important information from you, and in turn we will keep you informed of our observations. We will share strategies with you as part of this shared responsibility, and hope that you will keep us informed of any changes in your family’s situation that might impact your child’s success.”
  • When a family enrolls, regardless of their current economic standing in the community, they should be informed of the community resources that the program makes available to families. It might sound something like this, “We are committed to the success of each family and child.  We want you to know now that if you are ever in need of community resource, for any reason, we are here to help you.  We will maintain your privacy in these situations because your trust in us is vital to our partnership.”
  • As children move through the program, regular communication is provided in ways the meet the families unique needs and preferences. Some families may prefer written communication while others may prefer to have conversations.  These interactions should always include an invitation to the family to share their observations.  It might sound something like this, “We have been introducing a number of self-calming strategies to the children this month. Here is one example… If you have an opportunity to try this strategy at home, we would love to hear about how it worked out for you.”
  • Throughout the year, staff members share relevant information in nonthreatening ways. This might include sharing resources and strategies through written or verbal communication. It might sound something like this, “I went to a training last week and walked away with so much to think about.  I am excited to share a few highlights from the training with you. I am eager to hear your thoughts about the topic.  Please let me know if you have any questions.”
  • Displays, decorations, celebrations, and gatherings reiterate the partnership that you are attempting to create. Bulletin boards, newsletters, the program website, etc. should all highlight the sense of partnership and community you hope to establish.

Though these efforts, families will receive the message that this partnership exists. If a need for additional resources arises, families will already view your program as a trusted ally.

Tell us how you have built trusting partnerships with families on Facebook here.

Empowering Children

Stop Bullying

The distinguishing factor that separates typical conflict in the classroom from bullying is the exploitation of an imbalance of power that exists between the children.  A child who exhibits bullying behaviors takes advantage of that power imbalance in order to harm or intimidate another child.  One of the recommended practices in many bullying prevention programs focuses on empowering children.  If each child feels a sense of power and control, it is possible that there will be fewer instances of bullying.  This sense of power benefit children who bully, children who are bullied, and bystanders who we want to encourage to stand up for children who are being bullied whenever it is safe to do so.

As a bullying prevention measure, here are a number of ways to create an environment that empowers children:

  • Offer choices
  • Make connections between actions, choices, and consequences
  • Create leadership roles that rotate each day or week
  • Allow children to determine how they want to explore materials, and for how long
  • Eliminate gender stereotypical messages from the environment
  • Teach about personal space
  • Give children the language to use to address different situations
  • Brainstorm options children can take during conflicts
  • Encourage creativity
  • Introduce plants and pets for children to take care of
  • Teach specific social skills with as much intention as you do for math and literacy
  • Introduce classroom chores
  • Introduce and practice self-calming strategies
  • Allow children to pick topics of conversation during meals and snacks

Engage with children in ways the promote growth mindset.  For more information, Consider taking CCEI course CUR121: Establishing Growth Mindset Practices in Early Learning Environments.

Setting Intentions for Success

Professional Development Courses

Have you ever set an intention for yourself?

If you have ever determined that a particular day, situation, or person required you to act or respond in a specific way, you have set an intention for yourself.  Essentially, an intention is a decision to show up for life in a particular manner. Intentions are about who you want to be rather than what you want to get.  In this way, they don’t necessarily focus on a specific outcome or tangible result.

Common examples of intentions include, “Today, I will have a positive attitude,” “I choose to be courageous in my communication today,” or “During this meeting, I will share my thoughts freely.”  Intentions can also be a short phrase or a single word, such as, “Patience,” “Embrace change,” or “Smile.”

Setting an intention does not need to be as formal as goal setting though, and typically intentions are focused on short-term time frames.  In fact, experts recommend that we set intentions for each day as a way to create a frame of mind that matches what is present in our lives.  However, if you do have a long term goal in mind, setting daily intentions can help you reach your goal.

Setting intentions can benefit early childhood educators, because each day presents a unique set of challenges and situations to manage. Here are a few suggestions for incorporating intention setting into your practice:

Start the day with an intention – as you move through your morning routine, think about what you have planned for the day and what you want to accomplish. Then reflect on which character traits or ways of being you would need to bring to the table to be successful throughout the day.  For example, if you have a conference with a family, you might create the intention of “Be open-minded.”  If there is a field trip planned, you might create the intention of “Today, I will share all of my energy and excitement with the children.”

Keep intentions positive – Just like classroom rules for children, intentions should focus on what you will do and how you will act.   Rather than saying, “Today, I will stop getting frustrated,” create the intention of “Today, I will remain calm.”

Write it down – Each day, jot your intention down as a way to make it more permanent.  You could find a set of sticky notes that is appealing to you and use them to document your intentions.  You might post the sticky note in a place where you will see it throughout the day, or fold it up and place it in your pocket as a reminder of your intention.

Share your intention – If you are comfortable and it is appropriate to do so, share your intention with a friend, coworkers, or even the children.  Explain that you are sharing this intention so they can kindly remind you about your intention throughout the day, especially if they see that you are not embodying your intention.  This is a great way to stay accountable to the intentions that you set.

Setting intentions with children– Introduce intention setting to children, using simple language and common scenarios.  Talk with children about the scenarios and then brainstorm a list of words or phrases that children can use in their intentions, such as:

  • Stay calm
  • Try again and again
  • Do all you can
  • Be nice
  • Be a good friend
  • Work together

At the beginning of the day or when children enter into play situations, ask them to think of an intention for their day or play.  Remind them of their intentions throughout the day in a gentle and kind way, so that they can make adjustments to how they are acting to match their intention.

Areas of Family Involvement to Consider

When you hear the words family involvement, you may think of planning events for families to attend or establishing a family committee.  It turns out that family involvement is much deeper than that.  An important voice in the drive for strong family school partnerships is researcher Joyce Epstein.  Epstein’s work provides us with a number of important points to consider as we deepen our understanding of family engagement and involvement.

First, let’s consider the terms school-like homes and home-like schools. According to Epstein, the outcome of positive family engagement initiatives results in home environments that incorporate elements of the school environment and vice versa:

School-like homes:

  • Family members have an understanding of child development and how to apply that knowledge
  • Educational activities and opportunities are provided and valued
  • Family members observe their children and adjust their approach to interactions

Home-like schools:

  • Nurturing and love provided to children
  • Individualized care and education is provided
  • Comfortable environment created for learners

Early childhood learning environments are typically most likely to be home-like, compared to elementary, middle, and high schools.  However, it is still important to consider ways that you can reflect children’s home lives in your learning environment.

Epstein also identified 6 different types of family involvement.  Does your program incorporate all 6 of these elements?

  1. Supporting Parenting: Programs share resources and strategies that support parents in their efforts to raise their children. This is done in a supportive and strengths-based manner that builds relationships.
  2. Communicating: Programs ensure ongoing communication with families about children’s needs and progress.  Methods of communication are reflective of families’ ability to access information through various means.  Technology is used as a tool for communication in creative and appropriate ways.
  3. Volunteering: Programs create multiple opportunities for family members to participate with the program as volunteers.  These opportunities should reflect the unique skills and strengths of family members.  Programs recognize that volunteering will look different for each person who participates.
  4. Learning at Home: Programs provide resources and activity ideas that families can use to incorporate more educational opportunities into home life.  The programs share information about developmentally appropriate practices and help parents gain an understanding of learning through play and open-ended activities.
  5. Decision Making: Programs create opportunities for families to contribute to the decisions made by the program. Typically, this is accomplished through the use of family committees or creating spots on the program’s advisory board for family members.
  6. Collaborating with Community:  Programs act as a central hub for family resources. Programs create strong collaborations with community resources and plan events that encourage families to connect with these community service agencies as necessary.

As you start a new school year, reflect on your current program practices relating to family involvement.  Are you able to identify any opportunities to enhance your current practices?  Discover more specific examples and strategies relating to the 6 types of family involvement in this document:  https://www.sps186.org/downloads/table/13040/6TypesJ.Epstien.pdf

Promoting Independence

As people across the United States gather together to celebrate Independence Day, it seems fitting that we take some time to think about how children experience independence and what adults can do to create an environment in which children can develop this vital characteristic.

Children who are independent have learned, over time, that they are capable of accomplishing tasks and taking care of themselves. They feel confident in their abilities and in their capacity to succeed in the face of challenges.

When thinking about an environment that promotes independence, there are a number of features and practices you can put in place:

Trust children – Create a safe environment that includes opportunities for practicing self-help skills, exploration, and risk taking. To learn more, consider completing the CCEI course: GUI105: The Role of Risk in Early Childhood

Reflect on the direct and indirect messages that you are sending to children with your verbal and nonverbal communication. Are you telling children that they are capable and trustworthy? Or are your messages letting children know that they are inadequate and unable?  To improve the messages you are sending children, be sure to acknowledge even the smallest successes.  Confirm for children that tasks are challenging, but with hard work and effort, they will learn the skills they need to be successful.

Challenge children appropriately – Getting to know each child as an individual will allow you to identify tasks and activities that challenge children without being overly frustrating (too difficult) or under-stimulating (too easy). Offer a wide variety of materials and chances to explore materials freely. Set up provocations using familiar materials to encourage children to think of new ways to use materials. If you see signs of frustration, remind the child that you are available to help, but do not step in and automatically fix the situation.

The goal is for the children to experience challenges and learn strategies to manage the frustration and accomplish the task. Provide suggestions, ideas, or clues, and allow the child to work through the problem. Talk about the situation afterward. Acknowledge the child for the efforts that they made to address the challenge, regardless of whether they were 100% successful.

To learn more about how to acknowledge children’s efforts, consider taking the CCEI course called CUR121: Establishing Growth Mindset Practices in Early Learning Environments.

Provide opportunities to make choices – Whenever it is reasonable and safe, allow children to practice making choices. Children become good decision makers when they have opportunities to think about their options and make choices.

It is important to follow up afterward to process the outcome of each decision. Help children make connections between their choices, the outcome, and what they might do the same or differently the next time they are faced with a similar choice.

This step can help children understand how to be accountable or responsible for their actions, when things turn out well and when things do not go as planned.

What are your favorite methods for helping children develop independence? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

Communicating with Families about Children’s Learning

As we head into the summer months, many programs are switching from a school year curriculum to a “camp” curriculum.  Sometimes, this can be interpreted as shifting to a less academic focus.  If you have worked in the field for even a short time, you know that this is a tremendous misinterpretation – children experience rich learning opportunities all throughout the year, even during summer months.

So, why does this misconception exist?   It is possible that families believe this because they have not been properly educated or informed about the learning that goes on during “camp” activities.   If this is the case, then we can easily address it through our communication with families enrolled in the program.  Here are a few things you can do to address the concern:

  1. Become an expert in the early learning standards in your state, developmental milestones, and assessment criteria. Being able to communicate what children are learning begins with being 100% comfortable with the tools and resources that guide our practice. It will allow you to speak confidently when families share concerns, in both scheduled meetings and impromptu conversations.
  2. Include learning objectives or learning standards on lesson plans. This will help you remember to focus on certain skills or activities. It will also communicate to families that you continue to work with intention to prepare children for success in school.
  3. Share a description of several of the learning standards that will be addressed in planned activities each week in a parent letter. Even include a few learning standards that will be practices on the marketing materials used to promote camp activities. Every piece of communication to families should include a focus on academic skills. Doing so will help families understand how play-based, open-ended activities are also academic in nature.
  4. Document learning through photography or videos. Post or share images of children engaged in play-based activities with families.  Include a list of the different skills that children are practicing while engaged in play.
  5. Invite family members to participate in the program. When family members are able to participate have them pick a learning standard or developmental milestone at random and see how many times that skill is evident in the environment and in the activities they observe.
  6. Share activity ideas that families can easily incorporate into their summer vacation plans. You could also send home ideas for play-based learning activities that are easy for families to try at home over the weekend. Include a list of skills or learning standards that would likely be evident during the activities. Include a list of questions or prompts that families can use to extend learning.  Ask families to take pictures of children engages in the activities and share them with you for the children’s portfolios.  You could also create a bulletin board that highlights summer learning at school and at home!