Aligning our Professional Values – Early Childhood Inclusion

Throughout your career, you have most likely been challenged to evaluate your beliefs and practices. This is an excellent practice; one that has hopefully helped you grow as a professional. One of the most common opportunities early childhood educators have to grow as professionals arises when working with children with special needs.

Having trained thousands of early care and education professionals, often on topics related to special needs, I understand that very few topics cause as much apprehension as the possibility of working with a child with special needs. On all but the rarest of occasions, this apprehension has be alleviated through knowledge and understanding of specific disabilities and instructional strategies. Which makes sense – the more information you have, the more confidence you have in your abilities.

But even before we dig into the specific strategies to use to support children in the classroom, we have the opportunity to examine our personal and professional beliefs about working with children with disabilities. One powerful resource we can use to prompt this examination is the official definition of early childhood inclusion, provided in the Joint Position Statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):

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.

Without getting into the jargon, regulations, and laws associated with supporting individuals with special needs we can ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Do I believe in the RIGHT of every child, regardless of ability, to participate as full members of families, communities, and society?
  • Do I believe that all children deserve a sense of belonging and membership?
  • Do I believe that all children deserve positive social relationships and friendships?
  • Do I believe that all children deserve to develop and learn in order to reach their full potential?

Through this reflection, we can align our professional values to the spirit of early childhood inclusion. With those values firmly in place, we can move forward in our efforts to support all children, regardless of ability. When we struggle, we can remind ourselves of these values and beliefs. When we succeed, we reinforce these beliefs, increase our competence, and act as a powerful inspiration for others!

Share with us your inspiring stories of creating inclusive environments in the comments below.

Helping Children Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food

This November, the CCEI newsletter and no-cost trial course are all about promoting nutrition and healthy eating habits. So many of the habits we have as adults were established when we were young children. Early care and education providers have a great opportunity to teach children about healthy options and to establish healthy habits at an early age.

Beyond making the healthy choice between a bag of chips or an apple, ECE professionals also help children develop healthy relationships with food. They do so through the messages they send children about food during interactions as well as modeling signs of healthy relationships as well.

Here are a few practices that caregivers can put in place that will help children develop a healthy relationship with the food they consume:

Teach children to listen to what their body is telling them about their hunger.

  • Often, children are forced to eat, even when they are not hungry. Children go through periods when they have small appetites, or they feel hungry at times that do not align with our scheduled meals and snacks. Be prepared to meet the needs of children if you notice changes in their appetites.
  • Our bodies send messages that we are both hungry and full. Talk with children about how your body feels when you are hungry and when you are satisfied. Encourage them to pay attention to the sensations in their bodies during meals and snacks.
  • Don’t force children to eat if they are not hungry. Don’t risk the stress and emotional damage that forcing a child to eat can cause. Offer a variety of foods so that if a child does not like one of the foods offered, they can eat more of another option for proper nutrition.

For more information, visit:

Never use food as a reward or punishment.

  • Withholding food in an early childhood is a form of neglect (defined as failing to provide for a child’s basic needs) and should never be practiced in a child care setting.
  • Remember the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? The basic need of every human being includes consistent, unconditional access to food and water. Children who’s basic needs are not met or are inconsistently met have difficulty feeling secure and building relationships with others.
  • Punishing children by withholding food can send a message that children are not worthy of food. It also causes insecurity around food that could lead to binge eating, hording food, or refusing to eat.
  • When we reward young children with food, especially sugary treats, we risk sending the message that when you do well in life, you deserve a treat. This can lead to overeating or even instances of children depriving themselves of food when they make mistakes or struggle with tasks.
  • Using food as punishment and reward can create patterns of behavior that follow a child long into adulthood as they struggle with issues of self-worth and emotional eating.

For more information, visit:

Other things you can do to model a healthy relationship with food:

  • Eat slowly.
  • Chew your food thoroughly.
  • Talk about the delicious foods you are eating and how they are benefiting your body.
  • Talk about the appropriate portion sizes that you are enjoying. Use MyPlateresources to help children learn how to build a healthy plate of food.
  • Avoid eating foods right out of the bag or box. Pour a few crackers on your plate to model an appropriate portion size. If you are eating foods from a bag, close the bag and say, “That’s all my body needs right now.”
  • Practice everything in moderation. It’s OK to have an occasional sweet treat as long as it is balanced with an overall healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein.

For more information, visit:

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Radically Changing Your Style of Communication

The human brain is wired to take in new information and organize it in a way that makes sense.  There is a constant flow of observation, interpretation, comparison, and application.  What is this new information?  What does it mean?  How is it like/unlike the information I already have stored up here?  What do I do with this information?

When we communicate with other people, all of these thought processes are present; often occurring at a hastened pace.  Add into the mix our emotional responses (This information makes me feel….), and it becomes easy to see why effective communication can be so challenging.

It is possible that a breakdown in communication can happen at any step of this process:

  • You may not clearly hear the person or be familiar with the vocabulary they are using.
  • You may misunderstand the meaning of their words or misinterpret the intention of the conversation.
  • If the information is contrary to information you have or believe, conflict may arise.
  • As you are trying to decide how to use new information, you may not be fully present and listening to the rest of what the other person is saying.
  • And without even thinking about it, you may experience an emotional reaction to the new information that clouds your ability to think clearly.

What if we could radically change how we communicate by adding a few new strategies to our bag of tricks?  Maybe one of these ideas would make a difference for you:

Your Story –

Several thought leaders and social science researchers, including Brené Brown from the University of Houston,  have shared ways to combat the detrimental effects our story has on our ability to communicate and connect with others.

Your story is simply what you believe to be true based on the information you have.  It is the result of your observations and interpretations of information.   Good news, right?  Nope! The fact is, your story could be wrong.  Your observations might be incomplete and your interpretations may be flawed.

It’s not your fault that you have a story… we all have stories.  The brain is designed to create meaning.  But knowing this to be true, we can act to address our stories in an effort to become better communicators.

The simplest way to do this is to acknowledge that you have a story; first to yourself, and then if you are really courageous, to others.  Imagine that a coworker walks past you in the hallway without smiling or saying hello.  Your brain may create the story that “My coworker doesn’t like me…  is upset with me… is mean, etc.”

Step one in this situation is to acknowledge that you have just created a story.  You made it up – right there – on the spot.  It might be true, but it also could be false.   By evaluating your stories, you can begin to strip away the emotions tied to the stories, such as:

  • What did I do wrong? (worry, guilt)
  • I didn’t do anything wrong! (defensiveness)
  • Wow, what a meanie!  (offended)

Once the story is acknowledged and layers of emotions have been removed, you might choose to approach your coworker and say something like, “Hey, I noticed you are not your normal cheery self today.  Is everything OK?”  Or you might choose to let it go.

If the same situation occurs for several days, you could approach your coworker and say, “We have not had a chance to talk all week.  I am creating a story that something is wrong between us.  Is there anything we need to address?”

Open-Ended Questions

Early care and education providers are trained to ask open-ended questions to children to promote exploration and deeper levels of thinking.  These same questions can build supportive relationships with the parents can coworkers as well.

How often do you use these questions:

  • Tell me more about…
  • What is/is not working…?
  • How can I help?
  • Have you considered…?
  • How did you come to that conclusion/decision?
  • What would make a difference…?
  • What else could we try?

Deep Listening –

Everyone knows about the importance of listening during conversations.  It is essential to effective communication.  Unfortunately, it is also a very difficult practice. And it is just that – a practice. It’s something you have to do repeatedly, with intention, in order to improve.

During your next conversation, pay attention to your listening.  Are you truly present for the other person, or are you thinking about how you will respond, what advice you will give, or even a book you can recommend. Chances are, your mind will be pulled away from the other person’s words for any number of reasons.

When this happens, gently bring your attention back to the speaker.  If you realize that you have missed important information, you might decide to acknowledge it.  Say something like, “I am sorry, could you please say that last part again? What you are talking about reminded me of an article I want to share with you and I got distracted thinking about where I could find it.  I was not fully listening to the last thing you said,” or “Can I stop you for a second?  I am sorry.  I started planning what I was going to say next, and I stopped listening. Would you mind repeating your last point?

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, “This sounds awkward.  People don’t talk like this!”

Exactly the point!

How might your communication change if you did?

Take CCEI’s October Free Trial Course PROF103 Strategies for Success in Challenging Conversations today.  Offered 10/1-10/31/17.  Click here for more information.

Cultivating a Healthy Relationship with Self-Improvement

September is Self-Improvement Month. Some readers may be thinking to themselves, “Wow, I didn’t know that! Where can I find more information?” Some readers may be shaking their heads and saying, “I’m so tired of hearing about self-improvement!” Your personal feelings about self-improvement may lie in one of these two camps, or somewhere in between. Regardless of what you might be thinking, I encourage you to keep reading.

The idea of self-improvement and the publication of self-improvement resources have been around since the Ancient Egyptians. Today it is a $1 billion industry, which some say is fueled by the fact that life does not come with an owner’s manual. Many people seek out ways to learn more about themselves and others by roaming the aisles of the self-help section of local bookstores.

This desire to learn more, should be the common denominator that resonates with ECE professionals. It is easy to become frustrated after implementing a new strategy and not getting the prefect life results we were seeking.

As a member of the early care and education community, being a life-long learner is vital to your success. If you can look at self-improvement through this lens, it may become more palatable. For those of you who enjoy self-improvement practices, please keep in mind that self-improvement does not mean self-perfection.

Self-improvement is the act of continuing to seek out new information, thinking critically about how it relates to our lives, incorporating the pieces that serve us, and leaving the rest behind. When we approach self-improvement in this manner, we are more likely to be balanced, confident, and ready to support the children in our care.

Think about it. If you are unhappy with an element of your life, you likely carry that with you into other areas of your life, including the workplace. Children feel the stress that adults carry around with them. In addition, when you are not your finest, most-fulfilled self, you are probably not in the best frame of mind to respond to the needs of others – most notably – the children in your care.

With this in mind, here are a few ideas that you may find helpful in your self-improvement (lifelong learning) practice that can impact your work with children:

Organize: Find new ways to organize materials, your environment, and your time. De-clutter your counters, closets, car, and computer files.

De-stress: Identify ways that help you release the stress that you carry. Some people take walks, others lift weights or do yoga. Some play with a pet while others listen to music. There are so many ways to relieve stress. Do some research and find the strategies that work for you.

Take a class: Professional learning is always encouraged, but personal learning is also important. Learn more about making jewelry, cooking, painting, gardening, self-defense, or other topic that piques your curiosity.

Engage: Research shows the importance of connection between human beings. Find organizations or causes that resonate with you and get involved. Participate in events at a place of worship, volunteer at an animal shelter, seek activism opportunities, or contribute to a community garden or event planning committee.

Diversify: Variety is the spice of life! If you normally read mystery novels, try Sci-fi or a biography. Read different magazines, listen to a new pod-cast, watch a different news channel. Make it a point to expose yourself to a variety of information and viewpoints… not necessarily to change your mind… but to build your capacity for compassion and understanding of other perspectives.

Commit: Yes, September is Self-Improvement Month. It’s a great time to start the process of self-improvement that should continue throughout the year. Start a journal, photo gallery, or other form of documentation. Keep it updated throughout the year and next September look back on how much you have learned!

Back-to-School Reflections

The back-to-school season provides early care educators with the chance to practice their self-reflection skills. This professional practice provides an opportunity to build on strengths, make improvements, and prevent issues from occurring in the environment.

Let’s take a look at a few questions you can ask yourself as you begin a new school year:

  • What do I know about the children in my group? What are their interests, skills, and abilities? What steps do I need to take to find out this information?
  • What areas of the daily routine worked well last year? Which parts of the routine seemed to cause problems for me or the children? Can I add a transition activity or rearrange the routine in any way to address problem areas?
  • Does the arrangement of the classroom define interest areas? Is it easy to navigate? Are traffic areas clear? Are quiet areas separated from active areas? Are work spaces and their storage areas obvious? Are builders protected? Are there blind spots?
  • Are the interest areas arranged to promote play and cooperation? Are the interest areas organized or cluttered? Are there enough materials for several children to play without causing competition for materials? Do I need to add multiple items (i.e. more than one shiny red truck)? Are the areas easy to clean up?
  • Which areas of the classroom did children enjoy the most last year? What materials seemed to engage the children the most?
  • Which interest areas were not used as much as others? Are there different materials that I could add to promote engagement in these areas?
  • Are the classroom expectations (rules) phrased in simple language? Do the expectations communicate what children are expected to do? How can I engage the children in the creation of the classroom expectations?
  • Am I prepared to collect observations about the new children entering my program? What methods and materials will I use to collect my observations? How can my coworker(s) and I work together to gather information about children’s skills and abilities? How will I organize the data I collect?
  • Do the decorations, toys, and materials represent gender-neutral roles? Show people with disabilities in a positive light? Promote cultural diversity? What do I need to add to accomplish this?
  • What are some new topics I would like to explore with children this year? How can I incorporate more of the children’s interests into the curriculum this year?
  • How will I build classroom community between the children in my group? See the CCEI August Newsletter for more information.

What are your favorite self-reflection questions to ask during the back-to-school season? We’d love to hear from you on Facebook. Click Here to join in on the discussion!

Stepping Out of Your Professional Development Comfort Zone

Have you ever found yourself reading through a list of professional development opportunities circling the ones that really interest you, only to realize that you are already pretty confident in your ability to implement those skills or topics?

Folks who enjoy music and movement love attending training that teaches about using music and movement in the classroom. Teachers who love nature and science, are naturally drawn to outdoor learning trainings. Providers who enjoy painting and drawing will be the first to sign up for courses that promote open ended art experiences for young children. Naturally, we are drawn to professional development opportunities that align with our personal preferences and interests. Unfortunately, staying in our professional development comfort zone doesn’t fully prepare us for the challenges we will face in the classroom.

It is important to recognize this phenomenon in action and make an intentional effort to pick training classes that don’t necessarily grab our attention. If you find yourself reading a training title that includes the words “sand and water table” but you avoid the use of a sand and water table because you don’t like the mess that comes along with it… you need to sign up for that training. If you see a training description that discusses the integration of technology into classroom activities, but you are not technologically savvy… you need to sign up for that course.

There may be other topics that we do not choose because we feel that we have those skills solidly under our belts. We need to keep in mind that there are new developments and improved strategies that we can learn about by revisiting topics every so often.

To ensure that you are including a wide variety of topics, employ the use of a professional development record or create a tracking tool that will help you plan and document all of the training you complete. Reflect on your current practices, preferences, and aversion. Then create a professional development plan that checks off as many of the topics as possible.

Include general topics such as:

  • ❏Health and safety
  • ❏Working with children with special needs
  • ❏Cultural competency
  • ❏Engaging and communicating with families
  • ❏Child development
    • ➯Physical
    • ➯Social and emotional
    • ➯Cognitive
    • ➯Language and Communication
  • ❏Curriculum
    • ➯Construction and block play
    • ➯Science in the classroom
    • ➯Social studies projects
    • ➯Open ended art
    • ➯Music and movement
    • ➯Dramatic play and storytelling
    • ➯Outdoor learning
  • ❏Teaching practices
    • ➯Small group activities
    • ➯Transitions
    • ➯Conflict resolution

CCEI’s July Newsletter Edition also covers topics on Professional Development for Early Care and Education Professionals with regards to Creating a Reflective Practice you don’t want to miss!