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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! 

Woman and child working together at a table

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 .

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.

Blog Archive

Below you will find older blog posts that have been saved as a PDF.

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