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Early Childhood Blog

  

Welcome To The Early Childhood Blog

You've found the early childhood blog. On this page you'll hear directly from Deby - our Early Childhood Director - about resources, tips, and her feelings that might be helpful to you. Visit often for the latest information and reach out with any comments or questions. Thank you for being a part of our early childhood network! 


Car Gift Away — A Story From La Crèche Early Childhood Centers | 2023-12-10

If it’s too good to be true…hold out, regardless of what is usually said. It just might be true! At least it was for La Crèche parent, Zakkiyah Sanders.

On Tuesday, October 30, 2023, Zakkiyah collected a car that she was the winner of; a vehicle not by random raffle, but rather by the generosity of long time northside community member, Barbara West. A woman with a giving spirit, driven to make a difference.

Barbara would not take much credit for coming up with the idea to gift her vehicle since she was purchasing another. She spoke of how it “is a shame” that dealerships will not give you blue book value as you trade in your car for another. She then thought that it would be more helpful to purposefully give the older car - in great condition - away to someone who would value it and use it: a young mom.

This has been such a rewarding experience for all involved, that Barbara is hoping others throughout our community will think to do the same, as they move from one vehicle to the next. Barbara said, “It was important to find the right young mom, who could benefit from this vehicle. The car needs to help her and her child, get to where they need to go. She has stated that this will help them. Her mother too.” Barbara spoke assuredly, ”This was the right thing to do!”

As they were at the DMV on Tuesday, transferring the title on the car, a woman overheard their story. The woman then gifted Zakkiyah
$75.00 for the first oil change.

Goodness and kindness, yet prevail. Joy and light at the end of the tunnel. Zakkiyah left through the doors of the La Crèche center with a bounce in her step, uttering that everything was feeling better. With a hug, she told Barbara that she was so thankful and loved her. She claimed Barbara as a friend for life. Barbara warmly returned the embrace of Zakkiyah and her toddler aged daughter. She knows that they have made a lifetime connection.

Zakkiyah, Barbara, and toddler posing outside.
The car that was gifted to Zakkiyah.

Generic holiday photo

Nurturing Holiday Cheer: A Guide to Helping Children Cope with Seasonal Stress | 2023-12-06

While the holiday season is often a time of joy and celebration, it can also bring about stress for both adults and children. Young children, in particular, may find the disruptions to routine, new environments, and heightened emotions overwhelming. As parents and caregivers, it's essential to support our little ones in navigating the holiday season with ease. In this blog, we'll explore practical strategies to help children cope with the holiday stress.

Create Predictable Routines:

Young children thrive on routine, and the holiday season can introduce a multitude of changes. To provide a sense of security, try to maintain as much consistency as possible. Stick to regular meal times, nap schedules, and bedtime routines. Predictability helps children feel grounded, especially during the whirlwind of holiday activities.

Limit Overstimulation:

The holidays often come with a flurry of bright lights, loud music, and crowded spaces. Recognize your child's sensory thresholds and be mindful of their exposure to overstimulating environments. Consider using noise-canceling headphones or providing a quiet space where your child can retreat when needed.

Communicate Simply and Honestly:

Explain holiday plans and activities to your child in a simple and honest manner. Use age-appropriate language and answer any questions they may have. Knowing what to expect can alleviate anxiety and help your child feel more in control of the situation.

Encourage Expressing Emotions:

Holidays can evoke a range of emotions for children, including excitement, confusion, and even frustration. Encourage your child to express their feelings through words, drawings, or play. Validating their emotions fosters a sense of understanding and helps them develop healthy emotional coping mechanisms.

Create Cozy Family Traditions:

Establishing comforting family traditions can provide a sense of continuity during the holiday season. Whether it's reading a favorite holiday story, cooking together, or having a special movie night, these traditions create warm memories and a sense of stability for young children.

Balance Excitement and Rest:

The holiday season can be tiring for everyone, especially young children who may have difficulty pacing themselves. Balance exciting activities with periods of rest and relaxation. Ensure your child gets enough sleep, and be mindful of signs of fatigue or overstimulation.

Set Realistic Expectations:

Sometimes, the desire for the "perfect" holiday experience can lead to stress. Set realistic expectations for yourself and your child. It's okay if not every moment goes according to plan. Embrace the imperfections and focus on the joy of spending time together.

Offer Choices:

Empower your child by providing choices within the holiday activities. Whether it's selecting decorations, choosing holiday outfits, or deciding on a festive activity, offering options gives your child a sense of control and involvement.

Practice Mindfulness Together:

Introduce simple mindfulness exercises to help your child stay present and calm during hectic moments. Whether it's taking a few deep breaths together or engaging in a brief mindfulness activity, these practices can be effective in reducing stress for both children and adults.

By prioritizing routine, communication, and emotional expression, you can help your child navigate the holiday season with resilience and joy. Create a nurturing environment, establish comforting traditions, and remember that the most important aspect of the holidays is the love and connection shared with your little ones. Wishing you and your family a peaceful and joy-filled holiday season!


Promoting the Development of Self-Regulation Skills for Young Children | 2023-11-01

Self-regulation is a crucial set of skills that enables a person to manage their emotions, behavior, and attention effectively. For young children, the development of self-regulation skills lays the foundation for success in various aspects of their life, including academic achievement, social relationships, and emotional well-being. In this blog post, we'll explore what self-regulation is, why it's important, and practical strategies to promote its development in young children.

Understanding Self-Regulation

Self-regulation encompasses a range of abilities including:

  1. Emotional Regulation: The ability to identify, understand, and manage one's own emotions.
  2. Behavioral Regulation: Controlling one's actions and reactions in different situations.
  3. Attentional Regulation: The capacity to focus and sustain attention on a task or activity.

Why is self-regulation important for young children?

  1. Academic Success: Children with strong self-regulation skills are better equipped to focus, follow instructions, and persist in tasks, leading to improved academic performance.
  2. Social Competence: Self-regulation helps children navigate social interactions, resolve conflicts, and develop positive relationships with peers and adults.
  3. Emotional Well-being: It enables children to cope with stress, frustration, and disappointment in a healthy way, reducing the likelihood of behavioral issues and mental health problems.
  4. Life Longevity: Studies have shown that individuals with strong self-regulation skills tend to have better long-term outcomes, including higher levels of education and employment.

Strategies for Promoting Self-Regulation

  1. Provide a Structured Environment: Predictable routines and clear expectations help children know what to expect, which fosters a sense of security and reduces anxiety.
  2. Teach Emotion Recognition: Help children identify and label their emotions. Encourage discussions about feelings and validate their emotional experiences.
  3. Model Self-Regulation: Children learn by example. Demonstrate how you manage your own emotions and behaviors in challenging situations.
  4. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Simple mindfulness exercises and relaxation techniques can help children calm their minds and bodies, enhancing their ability to self-regulate.
  5. Encourage Play and Imagination: Play allows children to explore their emotions and practice problem-solving in a safe, imaginative environment.
  6. Offer Choices: Provide opportunities for children to make choices within limits. This helps them develop decision-making skills and a sense of autonomy.
  7. Set Realistic Expectations: Recognize and celebrate small achievements. Gradual progress is key to building strong self-regulation skills.
  8. Foster Problem-Solving Skills: Encourage children to think through challenges and generate possible solutions. Offer guidance rather than providing immediate answers.
  9. Limit Screen Time: Excessive screen time can hinder the development of self-regulation. Set reasonable limits and encourage alternative activities.
  10. Provide Consistent Discipline: Clear and consistent consequences for behavior help children understand the link between actions and outcomes.

Promoting the development of self-regulation skills in young children is a vital investment in their future well-being and success. By creating a supportive environment, teaching emotional awareness, and offering opportunities for practice, caregivers and educators play a crucial role in nurturing these essential life skills. Remember, patience and consistency are key, and every small step toward self-regulation is a significant achievement for a child.

If you would you like to receive our Early Childhood news, information, and blogs in your inbox, sign up for our newsletter here. Also, be sure to check out our website for more early childhood information and resources. 

Drawing of light bulb going off inside someone's head

MN Story Collective

The Vital Role of Parental Voices: Sharing Experiences with Decision-Makers | 2023-10-07

(Note: Story Collection website closing soon)

Parenting is a journey filled with unique challenges and triumphs, and the wisdom gained along the way is invaluable. One way parents can leverage their experiences is by sharing them with decision makers in various arenas, from education, health care and beyond. In this blog, we will explore why it is crucial for parents to engage with decision makers and how their voices can shape policies and systems for the better.

 

Real World Insights:

Parents are on the front lines of their children’s lives. They navigate the intricacies  of education, child care, health care and other daily essential services daily. Their first hand experiences provide critical insights that policymakers may not fully understand without their input. Sharing these insights helps decision makers develop more effective and responsive solutions.

Advocating for Change:

When parents share their experiences, they become advocates for change. Whether it’s advocating for improvement in the education system, safer communities, or better healthcare systems, their stories can highlight the areas that require attention and reform. Decision makers are more likely to act when they hear real stories from those directly affected.

Humanizing Complex Issues:

Complex policies and decisions can sometimes seem detached from real people’s lives. Parents sharing their experiences humanize these issues, making them relatable and tangible to decision makers. When faced with real stories, decision makers are more likely to feel a sense of urgency and empathy pushing them to take action.

Strengthening Accountability:

When parents share their experiences they hold decision makers accountable for the impact of their choices. Transparency and open dialogue create a sense of responsibility among those in power. Decision makers are more likely to prioritize the needs and concerns of parents when they know they are being watched and held accountable.

Building Stronger Communities:

The sharing of parental experiences fosters a sense of community and solidarity. When parents come together to advocate for change, they create a united front that can drive meaningful improvements. Decision makers are more inclined to engage with organized, informed, and passionate groups of parents.

Fostering Inclusivity:

Decision making processes should be inclusive and representative of the communities they affect. When parents share their experiences, they ensure that diverse voices are heard. This inclusivity leads to more equitable policies and decisions that benefit all members of society. 

Empowering Parents:

Engaging with decision makers empowers parents to take an active role in shaping their children’s futures. It teaches them that their voices matter and can drive positive change. Empowered parents are more likely to participate in civic activities and advocate for the needs of their families.

 

Parents’ experiences are a valuable resource that decision makers should tap into. When parents share their stories and insights, they play an essential role in shaping policies and systems that directly impact families and communities. Decision makers, in turn, should actively seek out and listen to the voices of parents, recognizing the invaluable role they play in creating a better world for future generations. The collaboration between parents and decision makers can lead to more informed, responsive and inclusive policies that benefit everyone.

 

If you are interested in sharing your experience, click HERE. We would love to hear from you and support you in your journey of becoming an advocate for your child’s future. Tell us what is important to you as a parent. What is your hope for your child’s future? We look forward to hearing from you.


Navigating Back-to-School Germs And Infancy: A Guide For Parents Managing Work Without PTO | 2023-09-01

The transition back to school after a long summer break is often a mix of excitement and apprehension. This year, however, there’s an added layer of complexity with the ongoing concerns about germs and infections. For parents with infants who aren’t yet school bound, managing work responsibilities while dealing with potential illnesses can be overwhelming, especially if you're running low on paid time off (PTO). In this blog, we'll dive into some practical strategies to help parents cope with back-to-school germs while navigating the challenges of being out of PTO and caring for an infant.

  1. Prepare ahead of time:
    Even before school starts, anticipate potential disruptions due to illnesses. Stock up on essential household supplies, including baby essentials like diapers, formula (if applicable), and over-the-counter medications for infants. This preparation can save you from making last-minute trips to the store when you're already stressed.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  2. Build a support network:
    Reach out to friends, family members, and trusted neighbors who might be willing to help out in case of emergencies. Having a support system can alleviate some of the pressure when you need to take time off work unexpectedly.
  3. Communicate with your employer:
    If you're concerned about running out of PTO, have an open and honest conversation with your employer. Explaining your situation and asking about flexible work arrangements, remote work options, or unpaid leave can demonstrate your commitment while acknowledging your responsibilities at home.
  4. Explore alternative care options:
    Look into alternative childcare options for your infant. If your budget allows, consider hiring a backup babysitter or nanny who can step in when your regular childcare arrangement falls through due to sickness.
  5. Prioritize self-care:
    Caring for an infant while managing work and potential illnesses requires a lot of energy. Make self-care a priority, whether it's through short breaks during the day, deep breathing exercises, or setting aside time for a calming activity you enjoy.
  6. Embrace technology: 
    Leverage technology to stay connected with your child's school or daycare. Many institutions offer digital platforms or apps that provide updates on your child's health and any potential outbreaks. This can help you stay informed and make decisions proactively.
  7. Focus on preventative measures: 
    Although your infant may not be attending school, practicing preventive measures at home can reduce the risk of illnesses spreading to your family. Encourage older siblings to follow good hygiene practices, such as proper handwashing and respiratory etiquette. Make sure when you are picking your infant or toddler up from child care that you are washing their hands and during high infectious times change their clothes when they get home.
  8. Explore community resources: 
    Research local resources that offer support to parents in situations like yours. Parenting groups, online forums, and community organizations might have helpful tips, recommendations, or even volunteers who can offer assistance.
  9. Plan for the unexpected: 
    It's important to have a backup plan for sudden illnesses, especially since infants can be more susceptible to infections. Have a list of healthcare providers you can contact, as well as emergency contacts, in case you need to seek medical attention for your child.
  10. Remember, you're doing your best: 
    Parenting is a journey filled with challenges, and balancing work, family, and health concerns can be incredibly tough. Give yourself credit for the effort you're putting in, and remember that it's okay to ask for help when you need it.

Navigating back-to-school germs while managing an infant and being out of PTO is undoubtedly a challenging task. By planning ahead, seeking support, communicating with your employer, and focusing on preventive measures, you can navigate this period with resilience and ensure the well-being of both your family and your professional responsibilities.

3 children posing together in a yard
Young child holding a book in a classroom

Toddlers running around in play area

School Readiness — What Does It Mean? | 2023-08-07

School readiness refers to a child's preparedness to succeed in a formal educational setting, such as preschool or kindergarten. It encompasses a range of cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and language skills that children should develop before starting formal schooling. The concept of school readiness is crucial as it sets the foundation for a child's future academic and social success.

Determining if a child is ready for school involves assessing their physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral development. While every child is unique and develops at their own pace, there are some general indicators to help you gauge their readiness for school. These include:

  • Language and Communication Skills: Children should be able to communicate effectively and express themselves verbally. They should understand and follow simple instructions and be able to engage in basic conversations with peers and adults.
  • Cognitive Development: Children should show curiosity, problem-solving skills, and an eagerness to learn. They should be able to recognize letters, numbers, colors, and shapes, and have an interest in books and storytelling.
  • Social Skills: Children should be able to interact positively with other children and adults, share toys, take turns, and cooperate in group settings. They should be able to follow basic rules and display empathy towards others.
  • Emotional Development: Children should have a basic understanding of their emotions and be able to manage them appropriately. They should be able to handle separation from caregivers and show some level of independence in self-care tasks.
  • Physical Development: Children should have developed basic motor skills, such as running, jumping, holding a pencil, and cutting with scissors. They should be able to use the restroom independently.
  • Attention and Concentration: Children should be able to focus on tasks for a reasonable amount of time, follow directions, and participate in structured activities.
  • Interest in Learning: Children should display an interest in learning new things, asking questions, and exploring the world around them.
  • Emotional Readiness: Children should generally have a positive attitude towards school and be excited about the idea of learning and making new friends.

It's essential to remember that readiness for school is a gradual process, and children may have strengths and weaknesses in different areas of development. Getting children ready for school involves a holistic approach that encompasses their physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral development. There are many things you can do to facilitate a child’s development. Here are some key strategies to help prepare children for a successful transition to school:

  • Reading and Language: Read to children regularly and engage in conversations to promote language development and a love for books.
  • Fine Motor Skills: Encourage activities that enhance fine motor skills, such as coloring, drawing, cutting, and manipulating playdough.
  • Gross Motor Skills: Provide opportunities for physical activities like running, jumping, climbing, and playing sports to improve gross motor skills and coordination.
  • Socialization: Arrange playdates and social interactions with peers to help children develop social skills, share, and take turns.
  • Following Instructions: Practice giving simple instructions and encouraging children to follow them, which will help them adjust to the routines of a classroom setting.
  • Independence: Encourage self-help skills like dressing, using the restroom independently, and tidying up after playtime.
  • Emotional Preparedness: Talk to children about starting school, addressing any worries or concerns they may have. Reassure them that school is a safe and exciting place to learn and make friends.
  • Daily Routines: Establish consistent daily routines that mimic a school schedule, including mealtimes, playtime, and rest time.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Praise children's efforts and accomplishments, fostering their self-confidence and motivation to learn.
  • Play-Based Learning: Encourage learning through play, as children thrive in environments that allow them to explore and discover.
  • Limit Screen Time: Limit screen time to ensure children engage in a variety of activities that promote development.
  • Encourage Curiosity: Support children's natural curiosity by answering their questions and exploring new topics together.
  • Foster a Love for Learning: Create a positive attitude towards learning by celebrating achievements and making learning enjoyable.

Remember that each child is unique, and readiness for school varies. Be patient and provide a nurturing environment for children's growth. Be supportive during this transition period, as some children may take time to adjust to the new environment. Encouragement, positive reinforcement, and a nurturing environment will help prepare preschoolers for a successful start to their educational journey. If you have concerns or questions about a child's development or school readiness, don't hesitate to consult with teachers, pediatricians, or educational professionals for guidance and support. 


Outdoor Play for Young Children | 2023-07-07

Playing outdoors is crucial of the healthy development of young children. This goes beyond the basic health benefits of promoting an active lifestyle and reducing the risk of sedentary behaviors, but goes on to include things like physical and cognitive development. Outdoor play provides children with ample opportunities for physical activity, such as running, jumping, climbing, and throwing. These activities help to improve children’s motor skills, coordination, balance and overall fitness.

Outdoor play will stimulate a child’s cognitive development by exposing them to new environments sensory experiences, and natural elements. They can explore their surroundings, observe changes in nature, and engage in imaginative play, which enhances their creativity and problem-solving skills.

Outdoor play will also encourage social interaction and cooperation among children. It offers opportunities for them to play together, take turns, share resources, and negotiate rules. They learn essential social skills like communications, empathy, and conflict resolution.

Spending time in nature has a positive impact on a child’s emotional well-being. Outdoor play allows children to release energy, reduce stress, and experience a sense of freedom. Being outdoors also exposes them to natural sunlight, which helps regulate mood and boosts Vitamin D levels.

Outdoor environments provide children with more space and the freedom to engage in imaginative and unstructured play. They can build forts, create imaginary worlds, role-play, and explore their own interests and curiosities. Such play fosters creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. There is a connection with nature and the natural world that happens when children play outdoors. They can experience firsthand the beauty of plants, animals, and the changing seasons. This connection promotes a sense of wonder, curiosity, and environmental awareness, fostering a lifelong appreciation of nature.

All of this in addition to the health benefits of outdoor play are a win for children! Fresh air and exposure to sunlight has been proven to contribute to the overall health and well-being of children, supporting their immune system and sleep patterns.

If you follow our social media pages you have already learned about some ideas of activities to do outdoors with young children. However, there are plenty more to take advantage of to keep young children entertained and engaged. Here are a few more to add to your list:

  • Nature scavenger hunt- Create a list of items found in nature, such as leaves, rocks, flowers, or insects, and challenge the children to find them while exploring the outdoors.
  • Sidewalk chalk art- Give children colorful sidewalk chalk and let them unleash their creativity by drawing pictures, hopscotch grids, or designing their own games on the pavement.
  • Bubble party- Set up a bubble station with bubble wands or machines, and watch as children chase and pop bubbles. It’s always a delight to see the shimmering spheres floating through the air. Check out our Instagram page for a recipe for homemade bubble solution!
  • Outdoor picnic- Pack a picnic basket or backpack with delicious snacks and head to the local park or even your backyard for a picnic. Children can enjoy the fresh air while having their lunch and bonus- less mess to clean up at home!
  • Gardening- Teach children about plants and gardening by involving them in planting seeds, watering plants, or harvesting vegetables. It’s a hands on activity that encourages a connection with nature.
  • Animal watching- Take children to a nearby zoo, farm or animal sanctuary where they can observe and learn about different animals. It’s an educational and exciting experience.
  • Water play- When the weather is warm set up a sprinkler or a small pool for children to splash around in. Water play is not only fun but it also helps keep them cool. And it is a great sensory tool.
  • Nature exploration- Take children on a walk or hike to explore the wonders of the natural world. Point out interesting plants, rocks, or insects, and encourage them to ask questions.

Remember, above all else, prioritize safety while engaging in outdoor activities. Apply sunscreen, provide plenty of water, and supervise children appropriately depending on their age and the nature of the activity.

Encouraging outdoor play in young children is essential for their holistic development, as it benefits their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional well-being. Take advantage of all the natural resources at your disposal to make this a summer to remember for yourself and your children.

Kids running outside together
Toddler playing with bubbles outside

Baby crying
Child yelling

How to Deal with Aggression in Toddlers | 2023-06-20

Aggressive behaviors in toddlers is relatively common and can be a normal part of their development. Toddlers are still learning to regulate their emotions and communicate effectively, they are becoming aware that they are separate individuals from their caregivers. They love being independent and asserting themselves, but sometimes they resort to aggressive behaviors when they are frustrated, angry or overwhelmed. However, it is important for parents and caregivers to address and guide toddlers towards more appropriate behavior. There are many reasons for toddlers to become aggressive. Here are some reasons as well as some strategies to help manage them:

  • Frustration: Toddlers may become aggressive when they can’t express their needs or desires. Encourage them to use words or teach them simple signs to communicate their wants and needs. Responding positively to their attempts at communication can reduce frustration and aggressive outbursts.
  • Copying behavior: Toddlers often imitate the actions and behaviors they observe. If they witness aggression or conflict in their environment, they may mimic it. Be mindful of the behavior they are exposed to and provide positive role models in their surroundings.
  • Attention seeking: Some young children resort to aggressive behavior to gain attention, even if it’s negative. Ensure that you provide plenty of positive attention and reinforcement for good behavior. Ignoring aggressive behavior (when it’s safe to do so) and redirecting their attention to more appropriate activities can discourage aggression for attention.
  • Overstimulation or fatigue: Toddlers can become overwhelmed by their surroundings, which can lead to aggressive behavior. Make sure to provide them with a calm and structured environment. Give them plenty of down time to rest or nap and help them recognize and communicate their own limits. A tired toddler is no fun!
  • Lack of impulse control: Toddlers are still developing their ability to control their impulses. Teach them appropriate ways to handle frustration and encourage the use of calming techniques such a taking deep breaths. Often with many children using big body movements or heavy work will help them learn emotional regulation as well.
  • Teaching empathy and emotions: Caregivers can help toddlers understand and express their emotions in healthier ways. Encourage them to use their words to describe how they are feeling, you can also use books or pictures to help them learn about different feelings and how to act appropriately when they are feeling our of sorts.
  • Provide alternatives and distractions: When you notice your child becoming aggressive, try to redirect their attention to another activity or provide them with a more appropriate outlet for their energy. Engage them in a new game, offer them a toy or suggest a different activity to help them shift their focus.
  • Consistency and follow through: Establish clear and consistent rules and boundaries for aggressive behavior. Use positive reinforcement and praise when they exhibit good behavior. Follow through with consequences when they act aggressively.
  • Model appropriate behavior: Children learn by observing their parents and caregivers. Be mindful of your own behavior and make sure you model calmness, respect, andpositive ways of handling conflict. Avoid aggressive behavior or harsh discipline methods, as it can reinforce aggression in your child.

As caregivers, one of our jobs is to help young children learn emotional regulation. We can help by teaching them how to communicate their feelings in acceptable, nonaggressive ways. It is often a difficult and arduous task but over time with the right support and guidance children can and will learn to manage their big feelings and reactions. The bottom line is that when you see aggressive behavior in a young child it is an important sign that they are out of control and need help calming down before they can learn anything. Staying calm yourself is one of the best things you can do for your child at this point. Reacting with anger or frustration may escalate the situation further. Take a deep breath, maintain a calm tone of voice, and approach the situation with patience.

 

If your child’s aggression persists or becomes severe, it may be beneficial to seek support from your pediatrician, child psychologist, or a parenting counselor. Often occupational therapy is successful as well. These professionals can provide additional guidance, evaluate any underlying issues , and suggest tailored strategies to address the aggressive behaviors.

 

Remember, consistency, patience, and a supportive approach are essential when dealing with aggression in young children. It’s important to provide a safe and nurturing environment for your child, helping them learn and develop appropriate behaviors over time.


Young People As Caregivers | 2023-04-21

We know that family members play a crucial role in the early care and education of young children. Typically, we think of these family members as adults such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, close friends etc. We often overlook the role that older siblings or teen relatives may have in the early care and education field. 


This type of child care has been happening for decades and yet it is not recognized as a viable option for parents of young children. There may be good reasons for this, however, in light of the current lack of affordable child care options for parent of young children it is time to recognize and support the important role of our young people in the field of care and education.
 

Here are some benefits that often get overlooked:

  1. Supervision: Young people often are tasked with  supervising younger children, which can be particularly helpful for parents who have a hard time finding or affording more formal child care. This may include supervising children while parents are at work, running errands, or attending appointments.
  2. Tutoring: Young people who excel in certain academic subjects often assist younger children with homework or provide tutoring services. This can be a great way for teens to share their knowledge and help younger children develop their academic skills. A benefit for the teen caregiver is that it reinforces their own learning as they are imparting the knowledge in the young learner.
  3. Play and engagement: Young people can engage in age-appropriate play and activities with younger children, such as reading books, playing games, or participating in arts and crafts. This can help to develop the child's social and emotional skills and provide opportunities for positive interactions.
  4. Stability and consistency: Young people can help provide a stable and consistent environment for children, which is essential for their overall well-being and development. Children who have consistent caregivers are more likely to form secure attachments and develop a sense of trust and safety. Since young people are often family members the relationships they build with our young children will last a lifetime, which is much better than the constant turnover young children can experience in more formal child care settings.
  5. Previously established relationship: Older siblings or teen family members already have an established relationship with the young children they are caring for, they know them well. They generally know naptime routines, what foods they like, what they are allergic to, etc. This is especially true with teens who care for younger siblings with a disability – they know the nuances of their siblings situation (what triggers them, what environments they thrive in, etc.), and this can make it an easier transition for parents and the child.
  6. Cultural and familial values: Young people can also transmit cultural and familial values to young children. For first generation immigrant families there often exists a real tension between upholding cultural values while trying to assimilate. The ability to have an older youth be a receptacle of a family’s culture can be the bridge needed to foster a sense of identity and belonging, which is critical for young children's social and emotional development. This will also lead to an overall stronger mental health outcome for families.

 

It is important to note that while young people can provide valuable assistance with child care, we want to safeguard them from missing out on their own education and activities. Young people still need to have the time and energy to attend class and do homework. It is healthy for them to have peer relationships and continue to grow and learn into adulthood.

 

We also want to provide adequate training and supervision to ensure the safety and well-being of young children. Teens who provide child care should be mature, responsible, and have appropriate knowledge and skills to care for children, such as basic knowledge of child development, CPR and first aid certification. It is crucial that adults help young people come up with a plan in case an emergency arises. Many high schools offer child development courses as an elective and often organizations offer simple babysitting courses to get young people started.

 

It is time to recognize the important contribution that our young people have on the early childhood field and supporting families.  If you know of a young person who cares for our littlest children be sure to thank them and let them know their work is important and necessary.

 

For more information on this and other topics check out our website .

Woman and child working together at a table

Young girl plays in mud with boots on
Group of children playing in bubbles

Learning Through Play | 2023-04-06

Fred Rogers once said “play is the work of childhood.” As parents and caregivers we see that every day. But there is pressure out there in society to get our children ready for kindergarten, give them the school readiness skills they need to be successful. I recently had the mother of a three year old ask me what she could do to make her child sit longer and do more worksheets. She wanted to make sure he was doing “school work” and not just playing all day.

 

I explained that when children play, they are actually working. For them play is their job, it is necessary and important to their learning and development. It’s a way for them to try on different roles, to figure out who they are and what their place in the world is. It allows them time to rehearse for things that they may be frightened of like a doctor appointment, a haircut or changes in their homelife. It helps to build the resilience that they need to thrive in their worlds.

 

Young children love to play and explore the world around them. Oftentimes their play seems frivolous and unstructured but it is actually a very necessary part of a child’s development and helps them learn valuable skills. It teaches children how to make sense of the world around them, how to interact socially and how to tackle physical and mental challenges.

 

But, for the people that want concrete ideas of what exactly children are learning I have a few examples for you. This is not by any means a complete list but just something to share with those nervous caregivers who think they aren’t providing enough opportunities for young children to learn.

  • Coloring, drawing or scribbling-
    • Use symbols – reading/writing readiness
    • To use writing as a means of communication (reading and writing)
    • Small muscles (handwriting)
  • Dress up play/house play-
    • Understanding environment (abstract thinking)
    • Group objects such as dishes, clothing (math)
    • Fine motor skills (writing and self-help skills)
  • Storytime-
    • Memory (Literacy)
    • Expressing ideas (Conversation)
    • Symbols are words, words have meaning (Literacy)
  • Climbing, catching and throwing–
    • Using their bodies in challenging tasks (self-esteem, physical coordination)
    • Coordinate hand eye movements ( physical development)
  • Pegboards-
    • Hand eye coordination (reading and writing readiness)
  • Singing and making music-
    • Sound patterns (Math)
    • Musical words such as “legato”, “staccato” (vocabulary)
    • Steady Beat (self regulation)
  • Doing Puzzles-
    • Completion of a task (promotes study good study habits and self-esteem)
    • Spatial relationships (math)
  • Block play-
    • Children learn to understand size, weight, and number concepts (math and science)
    • To recreate the world around them (geography and social skills)
    • Muscle control (physical coordination)

Nurturing Babies Curiosity | 2023-03-17

A few days ago I took my eighteen month old granddaughter to the pool for the first time. She was a little nervous at first. The water felt chilly on her skin and she wasn’t sure she liked it. But as she got used to it she began to explore. She tried walking in the water and realized it was getting deeper on her body. She tried lifting her feet up higher and realized she would fall over. As I hung on to her hands and body, she moved her arms and legs and felt how her body floated in the water. Within about thirty minutes she was happily kicking her feet and splashing her older brother. As I watched her face during this I could see her curiosity about this new environment blossom. She is naturally curious but also cautious and wanted to make sure I was close by. She was responding to this new experience with curiosity and caution.

 

Parents often worry about their child’s development. They get anxious if they think their child is not developing as they should. They compare their child to other children. But what many parents don’t realize is that their child is a born learner. Babies are born with a natural curiosity. They naturally try to figure out just how this world works. This curiosity is an eager desire to learn. They want to explore and discover all the interesting things about their world. There is no need for parents or caregivers to push their children to learn. In fact, the only thing caregivers need to do is provide new experiences for them in a safe manner. Babies  are born with an intrinsic desire to learn and absorb as much as they can about the world around them. They have a drive to understand how the world works. This internal desire, or their curiosity is what motivates them to seek out new experiences and research has shown that this leads to greater success in the long term for a child’s learning.

 

There are many things you can do to nurture your babies natural curiosity. Things as simple as taking a walk outside and wondering aloud about what you see. It may be the cars in the street, the trees on the boulevard or the clouds in the sky, all of these can model your interest in the world. Encourage them to follow their interests. Many young children are interested in small things like bugs. Let them stop and watch the ants on the ground. Talk to them about what they are seeing. Answer their questions as simply and clearly as possible.

 

Show them how to research things they don’t know about by looking at books on bugs for example. Take them to the library. Most libraries have great children’s sections and do regular story times. These visits help expose children to stories and experiences beyond their own small circle. Children who are exposed to books also become better readers.

 

It also helps to nurture a child’s curiosity when you give them open ended toys and activities. There are so many commercial toys that are designed to only be used a certain way, however, things like blocks, sand, or boxes can be used creatively using a child’s imagination. I often just put things out on the floor to see what will happen and am usually surprised by the results.

 

Give it a go! Let your child’s curiosity guide you both and see what transpires!

Baby looking into a mirror

Young children coloring at a table
Mother coloring with children at a table

The Many Benefits of Coloring | 2023-02-21

As a teacher I once had a parent come to me and proudly say that they wanted me to teach their child to scribble. They never wanted their daughter to have to color in the lines on a picture. I listened patiently and then explained that there are so many benefits children get when they practice coloring. It is so much more than just creating a colorful preschool work of art!

 

Coloring can improve a child’s ability to manipulate many other tools such as scissors, pencils, eating utensils, combs, brushes, a toothbrush and many other tools we use in our daily lives. By allowing children to develop their coloring skills, it gives them a natural way to build on those skills in a way that is both fun and creative. It also helps build those critical hand muscles that are needed in everyday life.

 

Bilateral coordination is one of these fine motor skills that is needed for so many tasks. When children learn to use both hands together in a somewhat coordinated manner they can then transfer these skills to other functional tasks. When coloring a child needs to hold the paper as they color. Using the assisting, non-dominant hand as a stabilizer allows a child to build strength and dexterity in their dominant hand. This skills carries over to writing tasks and makes coloring a great activity.

 

However, they are not only building strength in their hands but they are building core strength as well. When the core is not engaged, the child’s non-dominant hand cannot support the paper. Coordinating both hands together with an engaged midsection requires a strong core. A weak core leads to weak fine motor skills distally. The engaged and strong muscles of the abdomen and upper body allow for strength and engagement of the upper arm and in turn lead to dexterity and motor control of the hands.

 

Coloring can also increase a child’s fine motor endurance. Many children may complain of hand fatigue while coloring. But what they are actually doing when they color is building the small muscles of their hands. This will give them greater hand strength for other activities too. When a child holds a crayon they are working on the strength of the intrinsic muscles of the hand. Using broken crayons requires even more work and is a greater task for children who need to work on their tripod grasp. You can extend this even more by having them color on different surfaces such as cardboard, construction paper or even sand paper.

 

Visual perception is an important aspect of this as well. Coloring brings an awareness of the body’s position as it moves through space, line awareness, using margins on a page, and writing within a given space or coloring between the lines. It takes a lot for children to coordinate their physical movements with the information received from their visual system. Developing these important hand eye coordination skills through coloring is a well-researched strategy for children. Controlled movements are essential for handwriting, buttoning clothes and a variety of other fine motor tasks.

 

Here are some ideas to help children who may struggle with their coloring and fine motor skills.

  1. Use an adapted grip or molded crayon to help support young children. Triangle shaped crayons or thicker crayons can help small hands learn proper grip and finger placement .
  2. Give children smaller spaces to color. This encourages movement of the thumb and fingers to move the crayon as opposed to larger movements that use the forearm or upper arm.
  3. Once children get the grip down switch them to a smaller crayon. This will promote a functional grasp and separation of the sides of the hand. You want them to be small enough to fit in the hand while promoting opposition of the thumb and the pointer finger.
  4. Elevate coloring pages by putting them on the wall or an easel. This will put the wrist into an extended position and pulls the thumb and pointer finger into a functional position.
  5. Make it fun! Kids are intrinsically motivated by interests. I know our kids are motivated by challenges so I give them a three crayon challenge, they do their best coloring, while switching colors and get lots of crayon grasp practice in! Simply have them pick 3 crayons, close their eyes and color a whole page with just the 3 crayons!

Mental Health - Post 2 | 2023-01-24

The last few years have brought on an onslaught of mental health issues in the children we care for. We have been bombarded with behavior issues, meltdowns, and even worse children who reenact the violence and trauma they see around them. We wonder how to help them. We wonder how to help ourselves as we try to bounce back from our own trauma experiences the past few years have brought on. We cannot give the children what we don’t possess ourselves.

It is easy for us to get lost in troubling thoughts and overwhelmed by the physical sensations that accompany stress. Think of resilience as a piece of spaghetti. Before it is cooked it’s hard, if you bend it , it snaps and breaks. But if you cook it, it bends, it’s flexible and can move in a different way. We want to be able to bend like spaghetti so that even when we are experiencing a tough time we can think – “This won’t break me.”

There are many things we can do, I think of a mindfulness practice, yoga and breathing techniques, being outdoors in nature etc. These are all important and can help but here are some more things we can all do to build our own resilience and continue to help the children and families we support.

  • Connection - Make sure you are taking the time to connect with other adults who can support you and also understand what it is you are going through.
  • Routines - Routines provide a sense of safety, control and predictability. Find a daily routine that works for you.
  • Mindfulness – Find ways to practice mindfulness – try some yoga, deep breathing, or meditation to help you find your inner peace and stay in the moment.
  • Family Traditions – Family traditions give us the connection a stability we crave, Even in uncertain times they can be a foundation for hope and reassurance.
  • PLAY - Just like children who learn from play, adults can learn from play as well. Playing games and having fun is a great stress reliever and can help hone skills such as overcoming challenges or picking ourselves up after a failure.

Above all – be patient with yourself. No one is given a handbook on how to deal with life. No one told us it was going to be this hard. Continue to check in with yourself on a daily basis, take care of your mental, emotional and physical health so that you can be the caregiver you want to be.

Picture of distressed child with backpack

Image of child looking up

Mental Health - Post 1 | 2023-01-23

As a digital society we have learned how to do a hard reset with our computers or our phones by simply turning them off and then back on again. But what happens when your child is acting up and pushing that last nerve? How do a reset? How do we help our children do a reset? Often children, especially young children need help and support with the big feelings that come with stress. Here are some tips to help children, and parents calm down and reset.

  1. Take a few deep breaths. Depending on the age of the child you can teach them how to breath deeply into their belly. Breathe with them. Turn it into a game such as doing some “Bunny Breathing”.
    1. Have the child pretend they are a bunny
    2. Twitch the nose to get ready for a breath
    3. Take several short, quick sniffs in through the nose
    4. Exhale in one long, smooth breath
    5. Repeat!
  2. Give them words. Help children label their big feelings and strong emotions. Sometimes feelings can be more manageable if they have a way to begin to understand them. For some children it helps to draw pictures of their feelings or use playdoh. This also helps to calm them down in a hands on concrete way.
  3. Create a comfort toolbox. Sometimes it can help for a child to have a favorite stuffy, a comfy blanket, relaxing music or a favorite book. Familiarity can calm a child quickly and help prevent a meltdown.
  4. Change of scenery. Go outside. Even when it’s cold you can bundle up and go outside for a few minutes. It doesn’t have to be for long but it can give everyone a much needed break.
  5. Practice when kids are calm. Empower them and help them build their muscle memory so that when they feel it coming they can use these tools on their own.

It is important to trust the process. These tips may not change things immediately and prevent or stop every meltdown however, if used consistently, over time the child will begin to learn and use them on their own. As caregivers you see the resilience begin to build.


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Please contact Deby if you have any questions or would like to collaborate on anything related to early childhood. 

Deby Ziesmer

Deby Ziesmer

Early Childhood Director & Pritzker Fellow

Phone: 763-232-8649