The Creative Toddler

(Eighteen to Thirty-Six Months)

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This is an exciting time for caregivers of toddlers!  Every day brings new glimpses of personality and their expanding interests. Tap into your toddler’s creativity with a few inexpensive and low-stress creative activities.  Your child’s self-confidence and language will develop at a fast pace when participating in a variety of art, music, dance and story-telling activities.

Eighteen to Twenty-Four Months

At this age, you’ll notice your toddler finds undressing to be quick and fun but dressing is still difficult.  Physical coordination is also improving daily and you may notice your toddler standing on tiptoe, walking up and down stairs, and catching balls using both arms and chest.

Better watch what you say and do!  Your child is becoming an excellent mimic of action and voice.  Here are some creative activities to try:

  • Hold hands with your child and move to music.  Let your movements vary from fast to slow, high to low, and forward to backward.
  • When socks won’t stay on the feet, pretend socks on hands are puppets or animals.
  • Visit the library and choose picture books.

                    Look at pictures and photos and tell stories.

  • Act out favorite stories with simple props (toy phone, doll, scarves).
  • Play with simple child-sized instruments.
  • Creative art projects may use paper plates, Popsicle sticks, torn paper, nontoxic paint, or Play Dough.  As the caregiver, you will be supervising but allowing your child room to experiment.

Image source: Canva

Twenty-four to Thirty-Six Months

Growing into the “Terrific Twos” you will notice your child’s coordination improving and concentration lasting longer on some activities.  Since that attention span varies day-to-day, be ready to move on if an activity doesn’t “click” on a particular day. Here’s a wide variety of ideas to try:

  • Draw on paper and name objects drawn
  • Go outside and draw on sidewalks with water
  • Complete puzzles that have large knobs on each piece
  • String large beads
  • Use motions for “Itsy, Bitsy Spider” or “I’m a Little Teapot”
  • Experiment with brushes and paints, Play Dough and clay
  • Create simple costumes using fabric or old clothes
  • Play with puppets to retell stories or create new ones
  • Point out shapes, textures, and colors when dressing
  • Demonstrates loud/quiet and fast/slow when singing or dancing
  • Demonstrate and explain light and dark colors and hard and soft pressure when drawing and coloring

Image source: Canva

For more information on developmental milestones, check out our NebGuide, Ages and Stages for Toddlers https://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g2104.pdf

I also invite you to watch these short videos from our Beautiful Day series, Paint with Water https://mediahub.unl.edu/media/13293 and Exploring Shapes https://mediahub.unl.edu/media/13189 for more creative inspiration with your child. Discover and Design are packed full of ideas https://fitandhealthykids.unl.edu/discover-and-design.

Linked Resource:  Creative Connections:  Young Children and the Arts

by the Maryland State Department of Education in 2013

www.marylandhealthybeginnings.org

LA DONNA WERTH, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Jackie Steffen, Lisa Poppe, and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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Choose Creativity for Your Child!

(Ages Birth to Eighteen Months)

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Think you don’t have time to be creative?  We can’t give you more hours in the day, but we can   find creative activities to do with your child that don’t require any “extra” time.

From birth to eighteen months, creative play is very essential to development.  When children participate in creative play, they are actively learning about their world.  Activities in music, dance, art and story-telling can enrich their play and stimulate self-confidence and language development.

For the young child, these activities will mostly be one-on-one with their caregiver. Caregivers have the closest view of each child’s interests and responses and can quickly cater to those interests.

Birth to Three Months

Maybe you’ve noticed your baby turning toward sounds and voices.  Now is a great time to encourage your baby’s growing awareness of language and music.  For instance, when your baby begins to coo, respond by repeating those sounds.  Encourage your baby’s interest in music by singing while rocking your baby, patting your baby in time to a song, or holding your child close and swaying to music.

Three to Eight Months

Now your child is beginning to make sounds such as cooing, babbling or maybe even some repetitive sounds like Dada or Mama. Your child may also be turning toward voices and focusing on faces or objects.  Watch for new responses from your child when you try some of the following activities:

  • Let your child touch objects that have texture or make sounds.

            Name objects as your child touches them.

  • Listen to singing or instruments.

            Clap or sway in time to the music.

  • Read nursery rhymes, sing lullabies, or play pat-a-cake.
  • Read picture books and point to pictures while naming objects.
  • Tell stories and songs while making faces, gesturing and adding sound effects.
Image source: Canva

Eight to Eighteen Months

What great changes you will see at this age!  Since each child develops at their own pace, keep in mind that the following may happen in any sequence:

  • Anticipates in peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek
  • Understands “all gone” and “bye-bye” and may begin repeating some words
  • Stacks blocks
  • Holds large crayons and can make marks on paper
  • Crawls, pulls up to standing position, walks, climbs
  • Shows affection and expresses frustration

Image source: Canva

You may already be doing some of these activities with your child, but look for a few new ideas to add.

  • Encourage making sounds with voice or clapping
  • Play instruments such as shakers, bells and toy drums
  • Practice balance by swaying while sitting or standing
  • Show emotion through voice and facial expression
  • Move to different play areas inside or outside
  • Play music and move child’s feet, legs and hands to the beat
  • Play clapping games within songs
  • Touch and talk about shapes, textures and colors
  • Hang pictures at child’s eye level then count, describe or compare
  • Read stories using character voices and gestures
  • Finger paint with water or draw with large crayons

Now relax and have fun with activities to spark your child’s attention and creativity!  You will soon be seeing the world through their eyes!

Explore more developmental milestones in our NebGuide, Ages and Stages 0-12 months https://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g2103.pdf

We also invite you to check out our Beautiful Day video on Infant Games https://mediahub.unl.edu/media/12768 or click here to view Reading with Infants and toddlers  https://mediahub.unl.edu/media/12665

Linked Resource:  Creative Connections:  Young Children and the Arts

Published by the Maryland State Department of Education in May 2013

www.marylandhealthybeginnings.org

LA DONNA WERTH, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Jackie Steffen, Lisa Poppe and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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Help Breastfeeding Mothers by Becoming a Link in the Warm Chain of Support  

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The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action designates August 1-7 as World Breastfeeding Week. This year’s theme is the Warm Chain of Support, focusing on how all people and environments in a mother’s and child’s life impact healthy child development. Breastfeeding provides all nutrients needed for babies and is an inexpensive, climate-friendly, sustainable way to provide the best nutrition for infants. Current recommendations from the World Health Organization encourage mothers who are able to breastfeed to do so exclusively for the first six months after their baby’s birth and to continue breastfeeding for up to two years or until mutually desired by mother and baby. At six months, babies may be ready for the addition of some solid foods to complement breastmilk.  

According to the Nebraska Breastfeeding Coalition, 85.3% of Nebraska babies are breastfed at some point and 32.6% of Nebraska babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months. When promoting breastfeeding, it is important to recognize the benefit of formula as an option for nourishing infants. Formula provides infants with good nutrition to grow and thrive in situations where breastfeeding is not desired or sufficient.  

For mothers who begin breastfeeding exclusively, a number of factors influence the decision to switch partly or entirely to formula before six months, such returning to work. Some mothers find it difficult or impossible to provide enough breastmilk for their infants while working away from home and need to supplement with formula.  

To help mothers who want to continue breastfeeding, businesses and workplaces can become part of the Warm Chain of Support through the adoption of policies and practices that embrace breastfeeding mothers. The beauty of breastfeeding-friendly spaces is that all infants benefit from them because mothers who are not able to breastfeed or who choose formula are also welcome in the spaces.   

The Nebraska Breastfeeding Coalition lists a number of practices businesses and employers can adopt to be designated as a breastfeeding-friendly site. Examples of criteria the Nebraska Breastfeeding Coalition examines when reviewing applications for the breastfeeding-friendly designation are: 

  • Breastfeeding and milk expression support applies to all individuals including but not limited to: employees, contractors, vendors, guests, and patrons.  
  • Breastfeeding mothers have access to a private and secure room with a lock, other than a bathroom, for expressing milk or nursing.  
  • Site offers a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere that allows breastfeeding mothers to nurse or express milk including, but not limited to, a comfortable chair, a lock on the door, a small table, and an electrical outlet. 
  • All breastfeeding employees have flexible breaks to express milk or nurse. 
  • Has a formal breastfeeding support policy, guideline, or procedure supporting breastfeeding employees and patrons. 
  • Communicate with staff and new hires on the breastfeeding support policy, guideline, or procedure.  
  • Coordinates with all expectant mothers and supervisors on a “return to work plan” prior to maternity leave 

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action encourages individual community members to join the Warm Chain of Support by sharing personal stories of breastfeeding, forming breastfeeding support groups or connecting new mothers to those groups, advocating government and businesses to create breastfeeding-friendly areas and normalize breastfeeding in public spaces, and volunteering to support breastfeeding mothers in crisis or emergency situations.  

The health of infants and young children is impacted by their environment and the well-being of the adults in their lives. Creating environments that make breastfeeding easy for mothers is a step in supporting the healthy growth and development of infants and young children.  

To learn more about obtaining a breastfeeding-friendly designation, visit the Nebraska Breastfeeding Coalition website.  

ERIN KAMPBELL, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Hayley Jackson and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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“Comfort in a Changing World”

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“I don’t like this!” This statement is one that children or youth might use during a heated game, when being asked to correct unwanted behavior or when plans change. For those children and youth who were looking forward to milestones like field days, end of school year celebrations, prom, or graduation, they have reason to believe that life can be sad, frustrating, and difficult.

The question is how do we, as nurturing adults, help young people cope with these emotions and equip them with the skills they need to be caring, connected, and capable adults? Any loss for a child or youth, such as a failing an exam, death of a pet, changes in family structure, or events from a disaster, can lead to a wide variety of feelings such as disappointment, sadness, loneliness, or anger. These feelings are common reactions to such experiences.

As caring adults, we can do the following to help young people cope.

Acknowledge feelings and allow youth to talk about their feelings and concerns. Let youth know that it is okay to be sad, scared or confused. Identifying and naming a feeling can be very helpful in trying to understand and make meaning of a situation.

Be a calm and reassuring presence. Remind youth that over time things will get better.

Help youth form positive coping skills by setting a healthy example of how to manage feelings like grief, anxiety, fear, or sadness. Teach young people that exercising, meditation, writing in a journal, engaging in a favorite hobby like art, cooking, gardening, or sewing are healthy ways to work through disappointment, loss, and grief.

Expressing gratitude for things that make life enjoyable is another way teach positive coping skills.

Create an environment where youth can interact with their peers. Using video conferencing, having telephone conversations, or writing letters are ways of connecting with peers. These connections can be helpful ways to provide emotional support for youth, especially for adolescents.

Simply, listen. If ever youth need adults to listen, it is now. Being able to talk about an experience can support making meaning of a situation which is an important part of grieving. Remember you don’t have to have all the answers. Silence is okay. Youth just need to know you care.

Sometime life can be difficult, unfair, and painful. While adults cannot prevent or change all these experiences, they can play a significant role in helping young people cultivate and practice skills that give them the ability to develop resiliency or the ability to overcome hardship. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University recommends that adults build supportive adult-child relationships to strengthen a young person’s resiliency. Taking the time to listen and communicate with young people, being a positive example of healthy coping skills, and simply just being a calming reassuring presence are action steps that adults can implement now. As adults, let’s take the time to prepare young people to become caring, connected, and capable adults.

For more information and resources about youth social emotional development in difficult times can be found at https://disaster.unl.edu/families , by contacting your local county Nebraska Extension office or emailing TLC@unl.edu.

DR. MICHELLE KREHBIEL, NEBRASKA EXTENSION 4-H YOUTH DEVELOPMENT, | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Linda Reddish, and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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“Seas” the Day

Image Source: Jackie Steffen

Reading with children is one of the most effective and educational activities you can engage in with your children.  Children learn concepts of print, letter and word recognition, comprehension, and storytelling (https://reachoutandread.org/why-we-matter/child-development/).  To help you incorporate reading into your daily routine and bring in some exciting science concepts, check out Nebraska Extension’s 2022 STEM Imagination Guides.  This year, we are discovering all things ocean!  

Each guide features an exciting book about oceans, water, or sea animals and includes a fun science experiment or activity you can do right at home.  Additionally, we have included a nature activity, a creative arts element, and an infant/toddler specific component.  We are especially excited to announce that our guides are translated into Spanish to help expand our reach!  To access these guides, visit go.unl.edu/imagination.   

Mess Free Painting 
Infants and toddlers bring the story Rainbow Fish alive by using their senses to create a one-of-a-kind painting. 

You might be wondering what is so exciting about oceans.  After all, Nebraska is a land-locked state.  However, I’m sure you are familiar with the Missouri River that borders the east side of our state.  This river meets up with the Mississippi River and empties out into the Gulf of Mexico.  Even though we are not directly connected with the ocean, our actions still impact the plants, animals, and water of the ocean (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/ocean/help-our-ocean.html).  Therefore, it is so important to introduce children to the value of our world’s oceans.  Together, we can help children build a love for the environment and an interest in conservation.  

The following books have been selected and paired with activities that provide opportunities for exploration and play to inspire creativity and wonder.  These books tie directly to the Collaborate Summer Reading Program’s theme, Oceans of Possibilities (https://www.cslpreads.org).  

  • The Sandcastle the Lola Built by Megan Maynor 
  • Pokey, The Turtle Patrol by Diana Kanan 
  • The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister 
  • A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle 
  • Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis 
  • My Ocean is Blue by Darren Lebeuf 
  • Rocket Says Clean Up! by Nathan Bryon 
  • The Treasure of Pirate Frank by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham

STEM Connection:  Fast Fish 
Make your own fish and then see how quickly they can swim when you break the tension. This is an engaging activity about surface tension. 

Check out go.unl.edu/imagination for access to the guides.  If you have questions or would like additional resources, please contact Sarah Roberts at sarah.roberts@unl.edu, or Jackie Steffen at jsteffen2@unl.edu.  

JACKIE STEFFEN, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR AND SARAH ROBERTS, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Amy Napoli, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, University of Nebraska,

LaDonna Werth, and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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Learning in the Heartland!

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According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children: “For preschoolers, field trips as simple as visiting the grocery store down the street or the post office a few blocks away offer interesting learning experiences. Trips such as these help children get to know the people and community in which they live.” Field trips are positively related to many areas of development, including social-emotional skills, by fostering positive relationship-building among students, teachers, and the people hosting the field trip. They also enhance and increase learning that takes place in the classroom and broaden learning to include aspects of a child’s community not encountered in an ordinary day. For children to reap these benefits, educators need to organize the trip to inspire questions, problem-solving, and observation. When these opportunities are provided with activities and discussion before and after the trip, field trips can contribute to children remembering concepts long term. We all know that Nebraska communities have a lot of opportunities to share with our children.

Virtual field trips may seem like a new idea to you and your family.  Covid transformed some of our learning experiences around and gave more opportunities for children to hear from community leaders in a new way. The Learning in the Heartland Project brought four different states together to develop new learning opportunities for children and their families.  If you are a parent looking for a fun thing to do on a rainy day or a preschool teacher with limited funds, Learning in the Heartland is for you!

Bring books to life with virtual field trips and activities. These short, exciting field trips help inspire questions, problem-solving, and observation to help children remember concepts longer. This program provides all caregivers, preschool teachers, and parents with books, virtual tours, art, and physical activities along with music. Children will learn more about community helpers and services and demonstrate an increased familiarity with doctors, police officers, firefighters, veterinarians, and greenhouse managers.

Topics and Books included in the Learning in the Heartland program are:

Fire Drill by Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jenifer Swender / Visiting a Fire Station

Patrolling Police Cars by Tony Mitton / Visiting a Police Station

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert / Visiting a Greenhouse

The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor by Stan and Jan Berenstain / Visiting a Doctor’s Office

Biscuit Visits the Doctor by Gina Bellisario / Visiting a Veterinarian Clinic

You will find:

  • Teacher Outlines
  • Virtual Field Trips
  • Story Book Reading
  • Physical Activity
  • Hand On Activity
  • Music
  • Center Activity Ideas
  • Family Letter

You can download all of the resources at: https://fitandhealthykids.unl.edu/learning-in-the-heartland

LISA POPPE, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by LaDonna Werth, Sarah Roberts, and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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Celebrating National Kindergarten Day

Activities like visiting apple orchards provide kindergartners with space and time to explore interesting environments that cultivate an excitement for learning.
 Image source: Sara Wangler

April 21st is National Kindergarten Day. Kindergarten is a German word meaning “children’s garden.” The name was coined by the German educator Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel who created the first kindergarten in 1837. Froebel admired Jean-Jacques Rousseau who held to the idea that all children are inherently good. Rousseau also stressed that frequent opportunities for natural expression would allow children to develop into well-balanced and free-thinking individuals. Building upon Rousseau’s ideas, Froebel designed his kindergarten to be a place for children to explore music, nature, stories, and play to enhance their development and help them transition to school.

Margarethe Schurz opened the first kindergarten in the United States in 1856. It was a German-speaking kindergarten in Watertown, Wisconsin. The first English-speaking American kindergarten was opened by Elizabeth Peabody in Boston in 1860.

At the Thirteenth Annual Session of The National Conference of Charities and Correction in 1886, Constance Mackenzie presented on the expansion and impact of free kindergarten in the United States. She shared responses to the question, “In what direction is the influence of the kindergarten most potent?” A summary of the responses in 1886 includes developing will power, training children to think, developing self-control, establishing habits, and teaching obedience. In short: building character.

Although kindergarten has changed since those first programs in the 19th century, the importance of nurturing children’s development through play has not. The developmental skills impacted by kindergarten, such as developing will power, creative thinking, and self-control remain relevant. Children learn these skills by engaging in play and open-ended exploration of materials and environments with teachers and classmates.


Ideas for celebrating National Kindergarten Day

We celebrate National Kindergarten Day on April 21, which was Froebel’s birthday. You can celebrate National Kindergarten Day in simple ways by providing opportunities, time, and materials for activities that promote play and exploration.

  • Read books with children. Reading supports children’s learning and development on multiple levels. Try a book about kindergarten such as Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolf.
  • Spend time outside exploring what you see. Do not worry about a set plan for what you will do outside. Instead, be guided by what catches a child’s interest, whether that is a game or sport, a puddle of water, or finding shapes in the clouds.
  • Sing songs or dance to music. Do you play an instrument? Invite children to move to a tune you play yourself.
  • Act out stories with children, either from books or your own made-up scenarios.
  • Thank a kindergarten teacher! Kindergarten teachers balance requirements around academic standards while nurturing an environment of play and wonder so that young children become creative thinkers, problem solvers, and socially competent citizens.

Do you know what school your child will attend?

If you have a child who has not yet attended kindergarten, contact your local school to confirm you are on their contact list. Ask if there is a kindergarten readiness event you and your child can attend. These events usually offer tours of the school, describe what children can expect, and facilitate time for children to meet future classmates. Learn more about kindergarten readiness by following the link below:

Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Kindergarten may be a child’s first experience with school. The play-centered learning that happens in early childhood sets the stage for children’s ongoing enthusiasm for learning—so let’s celebrate kindergarten!

Sources

Brown, C.P. (2020, April 20). National kindergarten day: A day to celebrate the joy and value of play. Texas Education. https://education.utexas.edu/news/2020/04/15/national-kindergarten-day-day-celebrate-joy-value-play

Gershon, L. (2015, June 3). Why did kindergarten become just another grade? J Stor Daily. https://daily.jstor.org/kindergarten-become-just-another-grade/

Mackenzie, C. (1886, July). Free kindergartens. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from: https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/programs/education/kindergartens-a-history-1886/

Russell, J.L. (2011). From child’s garden to academic press: The role of shifting institutional logics in redefining kindergarten education. American Educational Research Journal, 48(2), 236-267. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27975289

ERIN KAMPBELL, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Lisa Poppe, and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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Talking to Young Children about the Ukrainian Crisis

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For much of February, our family has enjoyed watching the Olympics with our 4-year-old, Weston, and 2-year-old, Kelsa. The events have prompted lots of great questions about the snow and cold, the mountains, all the cool sports and the different countries people live in. These unprompted questions led to conversations of culture and some of the different ways we do things. One topic that has been of particular interest to our children, especially Weston, is the concept that while we are getting up in the morning, people on the other side of the world are going to sleep. I didn’t intentionally introduce this idea to him, but when I was telling my spouse I wanted to watch an event that I already knew the results of, our son caught on. “Mom, how do you already know who wins!?” he asked in wonder. I thought, sorry buddy, I don’t see the future, I just listened to the news this morning. It has been fun trying to think of ways to explain the earth’s rotation to a 4 (almost 5) year-old and forced me to dive back into some elementary school science I haven’t really thought about in a long time. 

Then, a week ago, as we were going to bed, our sweet child asked me, “Mom, where’s Russia?” My heart sank. Had this been any other week, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. I would have pulled out the globe and talked to him about how Russia is really close to China, and they are just starting to wake up as we go to bed. Weston has not been watching the news as we haven’t been watching it in our house. My mind quickly thought of the war happening and I began to wonder how I would explain this to him if he asked any questions about it. I told him Russia is a country by China and it was morning time there. Then I asked if he had any other questions. He did not.

As Russia started to bomb parts of Ukraine my mamma brain went on high alert. One  morning, Weston woke up and asked our Google Home to tell him the news. As soon as it turned on, the sounds of artillery fire blared. “Google, STOP”, I nearly yelled. Then I thought again, what is the right way to handle this? Do we block our children from this? How do we talk to them about it? How do I let my child know he is safe? Should children know about this war? What if he hears about it from somewhere I can’t control? This led me to consult some experts and share some recommendations.

Every family needs to think about how they want to have these discussions and if the recommendations are ones they agree with The recommendations I found and am sharing are based on what we know about young children’s thinking and their understanding of concepts that we ourselves often do not understand.

Image Source:Pexels.com

What are ways to support young children (3-6 years) in talking about the war that is happening?

These past two years have been emotionally exhausting and particularly for young children a time of confusion and great uncertainty. Now we have the crisis in Ukraine.

Children are watching you, be mindful of your own reactions to the crisis. It is important for children to see you model feelings and reactions that are safe and do not overwhelm them.

Watch the news when children are not around: Young children often do not understand that when they see an image over and over again on TV, that the same tragedy isn’t happening again and again. They also may not understand that these scary images are happening in a place far away. When adults watch media coverage of traumatic and upsetting events it is related to their having increased stress and anxiety. In one study children had increased symptoms of post traumatic stress after watching televised impacts of violence of the Gulf War. For these reasons, among others, it is best to not watch these upsetting and even in some cases traumatic events with children, even if they are playing in the background.

Let children lead the conversation, ask questions, and offer Reassurance:

If your child is 5 years old and asks, “Daddy what is war? What is happening in the Ukraine?, Are we safe?” Most children at this age (and even older) want to know: Am I safe? Who will keep me safe? Will my day-to-day routine be affected?

It is most important that you reassure children that they are safe right now and what is happening is far away. Show them on a globe or map if you have one. Then ask them if they have other questions. Do not share more information then what they ask for. It is also important to be honest. It is ok if you say, “I do not know. I do know that you are safe right now.” With young children is it important to be simplistic. You can also share that there are people helping and trying to stop the conflict.

Let children express their feelings: If children express that they are worried and sad it is helpful to acknowledge these feelings. You can say, “yes what is happening in the Ukraine makes me feel sad. I remember that I’m safe and you are safe.” It is not helpful to say, “You don’t need to feel sad, your okay.” It is always helpful to let children know that having sad or unpleasant feelings is okay.  

Use storybooks and storytelling to help children understand stressful or traumatic events: Storybooks are relatable and helpful ways for children to understand complex issues. Through the Nebraska Extension’s Read 4 Resilience program, storybooks have been identified  to support children’s coping and understanding of their feelings after experiencing a major stressor, disaster, loss, and/or grief. Visit the website for more ideas and learn how to use reading story books with children to help cope. https://child.unl.edu/read4resilience

Watch for any Signs of Distress: When adults and events are stressful, sometimes young children will express that they are having a  difficult time through behaviors. Things to look out for in young children who may be experiencing distress from seeing these events include regression (such as starting to have accidents when fully potty trained), wanting to be around parents or caregivers more than usual, worry that something bad will happen or issues with sleeping.  It’s not uncommon to see some of these behaviors happen briefly, but if they persist, consider discussing with your pediatrician.

Take Care of Yourself and Reach Out for Support: Finally, the Ukrainian crisis affects as all. Be sure to take care of yourself, limit your own exposure to these events if needed and don’t hesitate to reach out to family, friends or a mental health professional when you need to talk.

How to Help: Many organizations are available that can help provide aid to the Ukraine. Save The Children is accepting donations and will deliver humanitarian aid to children and families in this crisis. https://www.savethechildren.org/us/where-we-work/ukraine

Otto, M. W., Henin, A., Hirshfeld-Becker, D. R., Pollack, M. H., Biederman, J., & Rosenbaum, J. F. (2007). Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms following media exposure to tragic events: Impact of 9/11 on children at risk for anxiety disorders. Journal of anxiety disorders21(7), 888-902.

Joshi, P. T., Parr, A. F., & Efron, L. A. (2008). TV coverage of tragedies: what is the impact on children. Indian Pediatr45(8), 629-634.

Hilt, R. (2013). Terrorism and Disasters in the News: How to Help Kids Cope. Pediatric Annals42(6), 226.


KATIE KRAUSE, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Holly Hatton-Bowers, Early Childhood Extension Specialist and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educator

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Be Well to Teach Well with Mindfulness Practices

Image Source: Natalie Hanna

As a guiding teacher for Cultivating Healthy, Intentional, Mindful Educators (CHIME) with Nebraska Extension, I have the pleasure of guiding early childhood teachers as they learn about, explore and practice the concept of mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention here and now, with kindness and curiosity, so that we can change our behavior. – Dr. Amy Saltzman

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”  – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Why Practice Mindfulness?

  • Research suggests it may protect individuals from the effects of adversity on mental health and physical health
  • We can alter our perceptions and reactions through interventions that teach the practice of mindfulness
  • It may improve relationships and learning

Our nation is stressed right now with concerns over our health and well-being. Early childhood professionals are not exempt. Childcare is facing many challenges including workforce development, keeping up with COVID-19, managing staff shortages, overall health concerns, financial stressors associated with the childcare business, and personal concerns that accompany low wages in early childhood.

Children benefit from teachers who are mindfully present—consciously attending and responding to their needs (Jennings et al. 2017). In other words, teachers must be well to teach well.

Through frequent and consistent practice with mindfulness, one can build the capacity to be fully aware in the moment. We can then focus more intentionally on the children in our care and begin to discover what an infant or toddler is revealing to us. We begin to observe, notice, and reflect on what is happening both for the child and inside of us. These insights create a rich environment where relationships with children, families, and colleagues are nurtured (Siegel 2007).  

Isn’t being fully present with the children in our care what we all really want?

Research shows that for mindfulness to be effective with children, it must begin with the teacher. Thus, our CHIME class focuses on learning mindful practices to move teachers from reactive states of mind to being more reflective in their interactions with others. In CHIME, the practice is frequent and consistent over the course of 8 weeks.

The Benefits for Children:

Mindfulness has been shown to help children build skills for social awareness, self-management, strong relationships, and decision-making.

In her book “The Mindful Child,” Susan Kaiser Greenland refers to the “new ABCs of learning; attention, balance, and compassion.”  In practicing mindfulness skills children learn to soothe and calm themselves, paying close attention to what is going on around them. 

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) shares Recommendations for teachers

At home:

  • Experiment with being present during an everyday activity, such as washing the dishes. Notice the temperature of the water, the feel of the suds, and the sound the water makes on the dishes. Focus your attention on your physical movements.
  • Sit for five minutes during the day and close your eyes. Pay attention to the sensations of your breathing. Count your breaths up to 10 and repeat until the five minutes are up. If your mind wanders—which it probably will—acknowledge the thoughts and bring your focus back to your breath. Try not to judge your thoughts, feelings, or sensations.

At work:

  • Before entering work, take a few moments to intentionally refocus your thoughts. Notice what emotions you are feeling or thoughts you are having. Place a hand on your heart and take a deep breath while recognizing these feelings. Then enter the room.
  • Before picking up a baby, pause to take a few deep belly breaths, and slow down. Speak to the baby about what you are doing as you reach out and interact.
  • When changing or feeding a child, pause and notice your feelings and body. Then look at the child, make eye contact, smile, and talk about the present moment.

In our Cultivating Healthy Intentional Mindful Educators (CHIME) class this week, many of the preschool teachers were eager to share how they have been practicing mindful breathing and mindful movement, and how they have incorporated some of the breathing techniques into their classroom practices as well.

NAEYC shares the following strategies for adults

  • Deep belly breathing: put your hand on your belly and inhale deeply as you count to four, feeling your belly rise. Pause at the top of your inhale, then exhale for a count of six, feeling your belly contract. Repeat five times.
  • Progressive relaxation: intentionally contract all of the muscles in your body. Beginning with your toes and moving up to your head, relax your muscles.
  • Mental body scan: beginning with your toes and moving up to your head, notice any tension in your body and intentionally relax those areas. (This technique is especially helpful to ensure that you are calm and ready before attending to a task such as a diaper change.)
  • Intentional refocusing, take a few moments to bring your mind into the present. For example, without moving, notice 10 items of the same color. Or, using your five senses, notice the sensations you are experiencing.

Zero to Three shares Mindful practices for teachers and families to try when adults or children are experiencing big emotions. It is important to first practice these strategies when children are in a state of calm, in order to use them effectively when big emotions do arise.

There also many informal ways to practice mindfulness such as paying close attention to simple daily activities, like brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. For example, when you brush your teeth, notice the feel of the brush, the taste of the toothpaste, the temperature of the water. There is no single mindfulness activity or technique that works for everyone; whatever helps direct your attention to the current moment is a great way to practice.

As you begin your mindfulness practice, The CHIME program suggests asking yourself these reflective questions,

  1. What feelings am I having? 
  2. What am I sensing in my body?  Where do I notice it?
  3. What am I noticing about my thoughts?  My actions?
  4. What urges do I feel?  What do I feel pulled toward?  Away from?
  5. Do I feel in balance?  Out of balance? 
  6. How can this help me better understand the situation (as a caregiver, parent)?
  7. What will happen if I just lean back and take a deep breath?  Another?

May you be well to teach well. What practices do you think you would like to try?

LYNN DEVRIES, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged and Erin Kampbell, Early Childhood Extension Educators

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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Santa, Please Stop Here! 4 Santa Faux Pas and How to Avoid Them

Image Source: Katie Krause

I love the holidays. I love the traditions I grew up with – that I continue with my own family – like cutting down our own tree each year. I love the new traditions we have started, like taking my birthday off at the end of November to put up Christmas lights and decorate. Being able to share these traditions our young children (2 yo and 4 yo), makes this time of year seem even more magical. While all families have their own magical moments that are important to them, I thought of one I’d like to share that has shifted for me over the years – Santa. Not every family believes or celebrates this tradition, but for those that do I wanted to take a few minutes to share some thoughts about some of the Santa-related issues I’ve been asked my perspective on by others

Scared of Santa

One of our children’s favorite traditions is to visit Santa, multiple times! Since the photos are free, and it’s nearby, we usually go several times in December. While the screaming baby on Santa’s lap may bring a few laughs, consider what that experience is like for the child. When an adult places a child on a stranger’s lap and leaves them there when they are clearly upset what message is that sending? Did you know that the brain wires for trust and mistrust during the first years of life? We want our children to be able to trust that we will keep them safe, be responsive to their needs, and honor their feelings. Is this really a big deal? Well, when children have their needs met (like, being comforted after a scary situation) routinely, it ensures the wiring in the brain will be laid down for trust. Dr. Pam Schiller says it best, “One way or another, the brain is going about its work of wiring.”

“But you do not understand, it’s a tradition to get that photo.” I hear you. Here are some other ways to still get that photo, without reinforcing a negative experience.

  • Let your child sit on a bench next to Santa (very common now), or stand next to Santa at a comfortable distance.
  • Join in – rather than handing off your child to Santa, hop in the picture too, keeping your little one safely in your arms.
  • Visit multiple times – The place we go offers a basic photo for no cost. If we go after school, there is never a line. If needed, we could probably spend a few minutes to get the kiddos a bit more comfortable.
  • Try to keep calm– the more stressed or frustrated you get, the less comfortable your children are going to be.
  • Ask your child what they prefer, “Would you like to sit or stand next to Santa? Do you want me to go with you?” Even children that are not yet verbal are able to make choices like this.
  • Prepare your child for the experience in advance. Show them pictures or videos and talk to them about what will happen. When you arrive, continue to narrate the experience for them.
Image Source: Katie Krause

Presents from Santa

Ever wonder why Santa brought you underwear, but he brought your neighbor a Nintendo?  Research has shown that children as young as four years old notice differences in social class (Heberle & Carter, 2020).  So children that are still young enough to believe in Santa may very well be able to notice the differences between the cost and quantity of presents ‘Santa’ has brought their friends. A great suggestion is that ‘Santa’ only brings one (not expensive) present and maybe fills the stockings.  Help your fellow families who might not be able to splurge over the holidays and give yourself the credit for that awesome present.

Santa is watching

We have been struggling with this one in my house lately. My husband has been doing a lot of the Santa threats, and I’ve been joining in. It might sound something like this: “Santa isn’t going to bring you presents if you don’t do xyz”, “Santa only brings presents for good kids”, “I’m going to tell Santa not to bring you a present this year”.  I even started singing ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town” the other day….yuck! What was I thinking?! I love Christmas…why on earth would I want to turn Santa into someone that can’t look past a bad day, or cancel Christmas?!

While these threats might produce a quick result, the Santa threats don’t work for long, and are often empty threats. They can also leave children feeling scared, sad, or confused. Are you really not going to give your children the present you bought them? And even if you did, young children are not old enough to connect a behavior they did a day, a week or even a month before Christmas to not getting a present Christmas morning. 

Is it not ok to cry, or be upset, or feel frustrated during the holiday season? Remember that negative behaviors are way children communicate a need and how they show us they are struggling with something. Also keep in mind, as an adult, you probably feel sad, frustrated, mad, scared, and a range of other emotions that we often view as ‘bad’ when children feel this way. You’ve had a bit more time to learn how to appropriately cope with those emotions (or sadly…how to punch them back down and put on a happy face, which is certainly not what we want to teach our children). 

Check out our other blog for some great tips on handling your kiddos Temper-tantrums and try to use Time-In J  https://learningchildblog.com/2020/05/01/temper-tantrums-and-time-in/

Is Santa even real?

There are lots of opinions for families and even from the experts regarding the idea of Santa.  Some of us just love the magic of Christmas, and Santa is a big part of that. I’ve got some friends that go all-out moving that darn little elf Every. Single. Day. However, some families are very much against the idea of Santa. Families feel that they are lying to their children if they include Santa in their holiday traditions. 

The key here is to really do what feels right for your family. Yes, some adults look back on their childhood and may have felt lied to or deceived by their parents about Santa. Others look back and have amazing memories of the magic. I’ll never forget being amazed the year I got a wooden desk with my name on it. Santa was truly magical if he could get in my house without a chimney, bring this huge thing along with him and he really did know my name!

We have no way of knowing if, or how, our children will remember these early years. We cannot stress out over trying to create ‘perfect memories’ of our children, or ourselves.  Each family needs to focus on what is meaningful for us, and be mindful of what our intentions are for the various activities we do – or do not – decide to participate in.

At the end of the day, or the end of the holiday season, the thing our children are going to remember the most is the love of their family and time spent together.

Here are some ideas you and your family might enjoy doing together.

Sesame Street: Kids Talk About Holidays

Sesame Street: The Power of We Holiday Party

4-H Holidays at Home

I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season!

KATIE KRAUSE EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Kara Kohel, Linda Reddish, and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

Resource: Heberle, A. E., & Carter, A. S. (2020). Young children’s stereotype endorsement about people in poverty: Age and economic status effects. Children and Youth Services Review108, 104605.

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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