September 2021 Newsletter – Increasing Opportunities for Free Play: Director’s Corner – Increasing Opportunities for Employees to Play

Director’s Corner – Increasing Opportunities for Employees to Play

We know that play provides many benefits for children and their development. But did you know that play is beneficial for adults as well? Experts suggest that play can reduce stress, build teamwork and confidence, and help adults rekindle creativity.

As the leader of your team, if you want your program to experience the benefits of play, you will need to promote playfulness. This might mean that you spend time each week, in classrooms, modeling how to play with the children. Not teach the children – not guide their play – but simply play with them.

You could incorporate games into your staff meetings, such as a memory game that reinforces your policies and procedures or a game of charades to show the teacher of the month what you appreciate about their work. Hold contests throughout the year to promote creativity and add a bit of healthy competition.

Orientation and professional development events should also incorporate periods of play. There are trivia-style apps that you can use to quiz employees about key information related to emergency preparedness or assessment methods used in your program.

Conduct a training on the power of play by providing a variety of open-ended materials (pompoms, popsicle sticks, tile samples, pipe cleaners, magnets, etc.). Encouraging teachers to quietly play for 20 minutes. Ask teachers to identify the skills and patterns of thinking they used during their play.  Then ask them to pair up with another teacher and combine their materials for another 20-minute play session. Follow up with another discussion about the skills used during the session. Encourage teachers to think of how they could use similar materials to promote skills with children.

Help teachers identify different playful things they can do in their classrooms when they are feeling stressed or frustrated. Point out different opportunities for teachers to step in to play mode as a means of connecting with children in a more casual manner.

Remember, it is a fundamental right for children to be able to engage in play. In order to fulfill this right, teachers must recognize the value of play and take a stand to ensure that a multitude of play opportunities are available to the children in their care.

For the main article Increasing Opportunities for Free Play, CLICK HERE

For the article Play throughout the Day, CLICK HERE

For the article Adaptations to Promote Free Play, CLICK HERE

For the article Incorporating Loose Parts, CLICK HERE

September 2021 Newsletter – Increasing Opportunities for Free Play: Incorporating Loose Parts

Incorporating Loose Parts

Loose parts are collections of materials and found objects that are presented to children in open-ended ways.  British architect Simon Nicholson coined the term “loose parts” to describe open-ended materials that can be used and manipulated in many ways. He believed the richness of the environment was important in providing opportunities for creativity and inventiveness.

According to Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky, authors of the book Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children, loose parts are “alluring, beautiful, found objects and materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change while they play.”

Here are a few additional features of loose parts:

  • They come with no specific set of directions and can be used alone or combined with other materials.
  • They can be turned into whatever children desire.
  • They promote social competence as they support creativity and innovation.

Loose parts are generally presented as invitations to explore.  In other words, teachers introduce materials into a learning center, without instructions. Children can use the materials and any accompanying tools in different ways. They may decide to sort items or arrange them in different patterns. Sometimes children will build with the materials and other times they could create silly faces.

Teachers may have a particular intention or goal for the materials. They can arrange materials in an interesting way that encourages children to expand on a theme.  This is called a provocation.

There are different types of loose parts that you can incorporate in your classroom. They include:

  • Nature-based materials
  • Wood
  • Plastic
  • Metal
  • Ceramic or glass
  • Fabric
  • Packaging materials

Of course, loose parts chosen for the classroom should be developmentally appropriate, safe for children, and should not pose a choking hazard.  You can learn more and find a list of possible loose parts materials in the CCEI course entitled: CUR125: Loose Parts: Incorporating Found Objects and Open-Ended Materials into the Classroom.

For the main article Increasing Opportunities for Free Play, CLICK HERE

For the article Play throughout the Day, CLICK HERE

For the article Adaptations to Promote Free Play, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Increasing Opportunities for Employees to Play, CLICK HERE

September 2021 Newsletter – Increasing Opportunities for Free Play: Play throughout the Day

Play throughout the Day

When reflecting on the amount of play in your program, take time to identify instances of structured play and free play in the daily routine. Structured play occurs whenever adults direct or guide children’s play. Playing a planned game on the playground or setting up a small group sorting activity are examples of structured play.  When children take the lead and design their own play experiences, they are engaged in free play.

Both types of play have developmental value and should be promoted in early childhood. However, be mindful of the balance of structured play versus free play in the daily schedule. It can be hard to strike a balance, especially when curriculum demands are in place. Look for opportunities to provide large chunks of time for children to take control of their exploration of the materials in the environment.  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Large group –Rather than spending time in class meetings working on individual academic skills, such as memorizing colors and shapes, use large group time to build community and relationships between children and adults. Singing songs, acting out stories, and playing games during class meetings can help children get to know one another and build strong connections.
  • Small group – Typically, small group time is teacher-designed, structured play. Small group time is an excellent opportunity to work with children on academic concepts and language development. Working with small groups allows teachers to pay close attention to what children already know and make note of emerging skills. These play opportunities should utilize hands-on exploration of concepts and materials rather than coloring pages or workbook pages.
  • Routines – Teachers can incorporate playful activities into the transitions and daily routines. Again, these experiences would be considered structured play, because of the adult-led nature of the activities. Dancing, make-believe, and silly word games can all be used to playfully enhance elements of the daily routine.
  • Learning centers – Learning center exploration is one opportunity to promote free play in early learning environments. By choosing interesting, developmentally appropriate materials, teachers can set the stage for children to utilize their creativity and ingenuity in unique ways. Set up space for children to explore construction, drama, literacy, science, art, music, and manipulatives together. Teachers can plan activities for learning centers, but remember, we are looking for opportunities to add more free play into the day, so these areas should not be structured for children 100% of the time.
  • Outdoor/Gross motor play – Outdoor and gross motor play are other times when teachers can either plan activities or allow children to explore materials independently. It is a good idea to have a few planned activities in your back pocket that you can use if some children appear disengaged. Note that these periods of the day do not always have to include a teacher-led activity.

Remember, teachers should attempt to create a balance between teacher-led and child-led play each day, perhaps even tilting toward more free play on some days. This can reduce frustration and boost child development and engagement.

For the main article Increasing Opportunities for Free Play, CLICK HERE

For the article Adaptations to Promote Free Play, CLICK HERE

For the article Incorporating Loose Parts, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Increasing Opportunities for Employees to Play, CLICK HERE

September 2021 Newsletter – Increasing Opportunities for Free Play: Adaptations to Promote Free Play

Adaptations to Promote Free Play

There are several things teachers can do to integrate more free play into the day. It may just take a few adaptations to ensure that children can fully engage in free play.

  • Room arrangement – Creating defined spaces for different kinds of play can help children focus and engage in sustained play experiences. For example, creating a construction area that is protected on multiple sides protects builders and their creations from accidental knock-downs. There should also be enough space for construction creations to grow as children’s play expands. There should be unique workspaces for different kinds of play. For example, children working on art projects should not be interrupted by children playing a lively board game at the same table.
  • Naming learning centers- Teachers can open opportunities for play by simply changing what they call certain learning centers. For example, a center that is called housekeeping will likely remain a place where children pretend to play house. There is nothing wrong with this.  There are, however, tons of pretend play scenarios that emerge when everyone thinks of this space as Pretend Play or Dramatic Play.  Now stoves and refrigerators transform into airport ticket counters and veterinarian exam tables.
  • Novel materials- Along with creating space for play, materials are also important. New and interesting materials can prompt new play experiences. They can also extend play; taking it to a new level of excitement and engagement. Create a system where toys and materials are rotated into use based on children’s interests. If you notice that a set of blocks is not being used, replace them with different materials and reintroduce them after a few weeks or months.
  • Open-ended materials – It is also important to provide materials that are open-ended. This means that they can be used in multiple ways. The set of gears in the manipulative center are used in one way – as gears.  A fabric scrap can be used as a baby blanket, a dancing scarf, a bandage, or a backdrop for a puppet show.
  • Space and time for different types of play – Children begin their play journey as solitary explorers. As they develop new skills, play evolves into a cooperative venture. However, older children should still have chances to play alone if that is something they choose to do. Smaller spaces, fit for solitary play, can be created for children who need time away from the large group from time to time.
  • Planning and review conversations – Rather than planning play experiences for children, teachers can help children by encouraging them to create a plan for their play. This is not required for every play period, but it can help some children focus their play. It can be as simple as asking a group of children what they want to accomplish together. Teachers can follow-up with a question such as, “Do you have everything you need?” or “Is there anything you need to make that happen?” Later in the day, the teacher can ask the children how everything worked out.  It is completely acceptable for things to have not worked out.  It is fine if plans changed mid-play. The goal of these conversations is simply to check in and encourage children to think about their play in new ways.

For the main article Increasing Opportunities for Free Play, CLICK HERE

For the article Play throughout the Day, CLICK HERE

For the article Incorporating Loose Parts, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Increasing Opportunities for Employees to Play, CLICK HERE

September 2021 Newsletter – Increasing Opportunities for Free Play

Increasing Opportunities for Free Play

Did you know that the United Nations has created a list of rights for every child around the world?  And did you know that the right to play is included on that list?

This list of rights is a guiding document that nations use to ensure that all children have the chance to grow and develop in the most optimal environment possible.  Included along with the right to access water and food and the protection from violence and exploitation, is the right to play.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) tells us that play is vital to the development of the whole child.  Research shows, time and time again, that play promotes all areas of development and helps build relationships between adults and children.  According to the AAP:

Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.

Despite the research, children’s access to open-ended, free play continues to decrease.  Factors such as increased academic standards have dramatically reduced how much time children spend on the playground or in “specials” such as art, music, and physical education classes. These trends are pushing down to early learning environments as well. Environmental factors, access to technology, and the rise of structured activities for children have all contributed to the decrease of free play in early childhood.

There are early learning programs that have adopted a completely child-led approach to curriculum planning and play. These teachers carefully observe children at play. They engage with children in ways that do not disrupt their play to promote problem-solving, risk assessment, and collaboration. While this philosophy works for some, not every program is prepared to provide this level of independence. So, the question is, are there ways to enhance opportunities for play in more traditional programs?

In this month’s newsletter, we will share ideas for incorporating opportunities for play throughout the program. We will share resources, such as the links above, designed to reinforce your efforts to promote more engaging play experiences for the children in your care. In the free-trial course for September, CHD104: The Importance of Play in Early Childhood, students will learn about different types of play, how play skills develop over time, and ways to enhance play experiences.

All of this is in an effort to empower early childhood educators to take a stand for children’s right to play, as laid out by the United Nations. You can learn more about the rights of children in this easy-to-read summary.

For the article Play throughout the Day, CLICK HERE

For the article Adaptations to Promote Free Play, CLICK HERE

For the article Incorporating Loose Parts, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Increasing Opportunities for Employees to Play, CLICK HERE

September 2021 Student Spotlight – Lisa Ledet

I started in the early childhood field at a church as the secretary when the Mother’s Day Out Director position came open.  I proposed working as the Director on a 3-month trial to see if I could manage both positions.  Four years later, I am still doing both jobs and loving it!  It is such a rewarding experience to help children learn and watch how proud they are when they accomplish a new skill.  I love interacting with preschoolers — talking and listening, playing games, reading stories, or singing songs.  They are such a joy to be around!

I currently live in Lafayette, Louisiana.  I love to spend time with my family.  We enjoy playing board and card games.  I like to read and watch movies.  I am not far from retirement age, but plan to continue working as Director for as long as I am able.

I had been working as the Director of our center with no prior experience or education. I was encouraged by my advisory board to take a course that would be beneficial to me in my role as a leader and also teach me about some aspects of running a program where I had some struggles. I looked online at several Director courses offered and found that the ChildCare Education Institute Director’s Certificate program had exactly what I was looking for, particularly information about staffing, curriculum and assessment, budgeting and marketing.

The course material was easy to understand, the interspersed questions kept me on track, and the videos were interesting and informative. Not long after I finished the unit about staffing, three positions opened up in our center. I was able to apply what I learned from the course and went through the advertising, interviewing, and selection process in a completely different way than I had done before. What a difference that made!  Instead of quickly hiring someone because we needed a teacher, we slowed the process down and advertised the position and filtered through many applicants and chose the top three.  I went through the recommended steps of a phone interview first, then an in-person interview, then a 2nd interview. We also instituted a 60-day probationary period where before we had no probationary period at all. I have so much confidence that we hired the right people for our center, where before it was more like “hope and pray” they worked out.

Family involvement is another area that I was able to apply what I learned right away. We had Open House recently and I gave parents the opportunity to sign up to volunteer with specials events or read to the children or help in the office. The response was wonderful!  I plan to make our newsletter and website more interesting and informative. I also plan to include more information on our website about what our program offers that our competitors do not and ask a few parents to write a brief testimonial about our program that I can include. I am so excited to see the results we achieve from this!

The Director’s Certificate course was phenomenal! In my role as Director, I am better equipped to handle and resolve issues and to recognize areas that need improvement. Now I feel very confident in my role as a leader, and in knowing that I have the knowledge it takes to run a successful center. I am very thankful for what I have achieved through CCEI! I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I would definitely recommend CCEI to anyone looking to grow in the area of early childhood education!

August 2021 Newsletter – Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors: Try Creating Consistency between Home & School

Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors: Try Creating Consistency between Home & School

Any intervention that is put in place to support children through challenging situations is going to be even more effective if it is implemented consistently across all environments. This is just one of the reasons that family engagement and strong relationships are encouraged in early learning environments.

Be sure to share some of the strategies that you have found to be effective with families.  This can be done in a general newsletter announcement, daily reports, or in a one-on-one conversation with families. Be sure to use positive and growth mindset language when communicating about the supports you are putting in place.  For example, you could say:

  • Did you know that children often express themselves through their behaviors? We are dedicated to helping children learn different ways to communicate their needs to reduce the number of behavior incidents each day.
  • Children of this age are working hard to establish autonomy. It is an important developmental stage that is sometimes characterized by undesirable behaviors. Here’s what you can do to promote autonomy at home…
  • To help Sammy move through transitions, we are approaching him a few times before each transition to let him know that it is time to wrap up his play because it’s time to move on to the next activity.
  • Abigail is still working on being able to share toys with others. We are adding lots of chances for her to practice sharing into our upcoming unit on community helpers.

Family education nights are a great opportunity to share strategies with families, as are family-teacher conferences. Online parenting resources, such as ParentEducate.com, are another tool that can be shared with families.  ParentEducate.com offers a free 1-week trial for families to explore early childhood topics written by education experts.

Introduce families to different ways of viewing behaviors. Talk with families about being proactive in order to prevent some of the more predictable behaviors from occurring. Prompt families to think about the transitions that children move through at home and remind them about children’s limited mental flexibility skills.

Encourage families to try some of the strategies that seem to work in the learning environment. Also, ask families how they handle certain situations at home. Brainstorm possible shifts that could be made, and together, assemble a full bag of tricks that you can use to support children across all environments.

For the main article Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Viewing Behavior in a New Light, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Taking a Proactive Approach, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Rethinking Transitions, CLICK HERE

August 2021 Newsletter – Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors: Try Rethinking Transitions

Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors: Try Rethinking Transitions

Transitions can be challenging in early learning environments. As mentioned in the section on looking at behavior in a new light, children are still developing mental flexibility. Shifting gears, especially at a fast pace, can be more challenging for some children than for others. With this in mind, take time to reflect on the following periods of the daily routine from previous years and determine whether any adjustments could be beneficial.

Arrival:  Consider the overall mood of the morning arrival:

  • Does arrival time set a calm and welcoming tone for the day?
  • Do children have the chance to slowly join the group at their own pace?
  • Do the activities offered align with children’s morning dispositions?
  • How does the transition from arrival to the next activity feel?  Is it rushed?  Do most children seem to move on with the day?
  • What adjustments could be made to this part of the routine?

Lunch/rest transition: Reflect on this busy time of day:

  • Do children have enough time to eat without being rushed? Are staff members rushing through transitions due to break schedules?
  • What signals are used to help children shift from active time to quiet time? Could soft music be played during the meal? Is there a way to dim the lights or turn off overhead lights if there is enough natural light in the room? Do adults lower the volume of their voices and initiate calming conversations during lunch?
  • How many steps of the transition exist between finishing the meal and laying down? Is there a way to decrease this number? Or is there a way to stretch the time between finishing the meal and laying down, so that children have time to move through the busy transition?
  • Does the tone of the transition set children up for success, meaning they are calm and ready for rest?
  • Would adding 5-10 minutes to either end of this transition make a difference? Work with colleagues to adjust the schedule accordingly, including when meals are served.

Continue to reflect on your experience with routines and transitions. Ask questions like the ones shared above, talk to coworkers, and discuss options with members of leadership. Consider how the children react during transitions.

Unfortunately, children are not going to magically move through transitions smoothly overnight, and rushing them rarely helps. Remember – they are still working on the skills that help them shift their focus and attention from one activity to another. They need support to strengthen these skills and sometimes they just need extra time to be successful.

For the main article Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Viewing Behavior in a New Light, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Taking a Proactive Approach, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Creating Consistency between Home & School, CLICK HERE

August 2021 Newsletter: Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors: Try Taking a Proactive Approach

Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors: Try Taking a Proactive Approach

Being proactive is an excellent way to decrease behaviors in the learning environment. Using a proactive approach means that you are essentially preventing behaviors from occurring by eliminating the triggers of those behaviors.  Of course, you will not be able to proactively prevent all behaviors, but every little bit helps, right?

Begin by considering the physical environment.

  • Are there spaces or learning centers that become overcrowded? If so, enlarge the space by adjusting the shelves.
  • Are there popular materials that draw children’s interest? If so, make sure you have enough of those materials to go around.
  • Are materials that children need to access easy to get to? If not, rearrange some of the furniture to make the space more accessible.

Next, think about the daily routine.

  • Are there times of day when you have noticed an uptick in challenging behaviors? If so, attempt to determine whether the children would benefit from an adjustment to the daily schedule; perhaps they need more time to eat their snack or get their coats on for outdoor play.
  • Consider how you are feeling at certain points of the day. Are there times when you feel rushed? Are there times you wish you could be more present for the children? Create a plan to address these concerns. If you have a second person working with you, brainstorm how to better divvy up responsibilities so everyone feels fully present.

Consider the children in the group.

  • Are you familiar with their skills and abilities? If not, how will do you plan to get to know the children? Can you speak with a teacher who worked with the children previously? Can you set up brief interviews with the families, or gather that information through a survey?
  • Are you aware of any children who may need extra support or attention during the transition to the learning environment? Work with colleagues and the child’s family to create a plan of action to help the child succeed.
  • Are you aware of the children’s interests? Identify activities and conversations you can pursue during the first weeks of the new school year that will help you get to know children on a more personal level.

Reflect on the curriculum and the way that you plan activities for children.

  • Do you follow a scripted curriculum plan or co-create the curriculum with the children? Think about ways that you can use what you know about the children’s interests to create more engaging curriculum experiences. If you are able to tailor the curriculum to the children’s strengths, needs, and interests, you can prevent behaviors that sometimes stem from boredom and frustration.
  • How can you integrate important self-regulation skills into the curriculum activities that you present to children? Be sure to recognize each child as a unique learner. Not every child comes to the environment with the same skills. Blanket expectations for every child in the group may cause more harm than good. Modify and adapt expectations and activities as necessary.

Reflecting on these areas of your program can help you identify areas where shifts can be made to prevent behaviors and engage children more deeply.

For the main article Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Viewing Behavior in a New Light, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Rethinking Transitions, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Creating Consistency between Home & School, CLICK HERE

August 2021 Newsletter – Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors: Try Viewing Behavior in a New Light

Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors: Try Viewing Behavior in a New Light

Behavior is simply a child’s (or adult’s) reaction to their environment or stimuli within that environment. The skills a child (or adult) has built will determine how well or how poorly they react. The skills we are referring to include the ability to manage strong emotions, communicate needs, delay gratification, compromise, and control impulses, just to name a few.

When you look at challenging behavior as an indication of the skills children still need to build, you can move from constantly reacting to behaviors to identifying missing skills and intentionally working with children to strengthen these skills.

Here are a few additional ways that educators can look at challenging behaviors that might shed new light on what is being observed:

  1. Behavior is a form of communication. Even children who are not yet using words are telling us so much with their behaviors. Sometimes, children tell us they are tired by crying uncontrollably. Sometimes, children tell us they are frustrated by throwing blocks. Sometimes, children tell us they need connection by seeking attention from us in less than desirable means.
  2. Some behaviors are developmental. A familiar example would be biting, where children explore the materials (and peers) in the environment with their mouths. Toddlers are also in the developmental stage where they are seeking autonomy. Preschoolers may have trouble transitioning because they are still working on their mental flexibility.
  3. Sometimes, behaviors are a form of play. Wrestling, tumbling, and big body play can appear to be aggressive interactions. Sometimes, children throwing dramatic play food items at one another are just playing a game that requires safer objects to toss.

Looking at behaviors differently can help educators to pause and look for the underlying cause or message behind the behavior.  This pause should provide enough time for teachers to regulate their own emotions, use the skills they have developed, and respond to the behavior effectively.  Remember, you can’t teach self-regulation to children when you are not managing your own emotional responses to what is happening in the environment.

For the main article Shifting How we Manage Challenging Behaviors, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Taking a Proactive Approach, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Rethinking Transitions, CLICK HERE

For the article Try Creating Consistency between Home & School, CLICK HERE