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.

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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

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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.

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Reading to Infants and Toddlers

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There are many benefits of reading to young children. Being read to helps children develop language and emotional skills. Reading also supports bonding between babies and their caregivers. The best part? It is never too early—or too late—to start reading to the children in your life! Sometimes, it can be intimidating to read to infants and toddlers. You may wonder,
“What’s the point—do they even understand?” or think, “They never sit still long enough to hear anything anyway!” However, many researchers argue that reading to children—and from a very young age—is the single most important activity you can do to prepare them to learn to read. Reading to infants and toddlers sets the stage for a later love of reading and the development of pre-reading skills.

ZERO TO THREE offers suggestions for types of books and tips  for shared reading at different stages during infancy and toddlerhood. Here are some guidelines for reading to infants and toddlers.

  • Don’t worry about finishing every book, or even reading all of the words. Focus on the bonding experience.
  • Try to read together every day.
  • Ask questions while you are reading, even if your child can’t yet respond.
  • Read new books, and also read the same books over and over. Babies learn from repetition.  
  • When books aren’t available, talk. Describe the things around you. Narrate what you are doing. Make up a story.

Common Concerns

My baby thinks the book is a snack. This is not only common, it is also appropriate! Babies learn about their environment by putting objects in their mouths to explore the taste and texture. It is also common for babies to explore by ripping. If you can, provide sturdy books that will hold up to biting and tearing. You can also provide books with flaps, mirrors, and new textures to explore.

My baby won’t sit still. This is also developmentally appropriate. Continue to read out loud, even as they move away and explore other parts of the room. Show excitement when they show interest in the book.

We don’t have access to books. Start talking! Oral storytelling is a great way to expose young children to new words and ideas. It is also a great way to share family traditions and to help children learn about their cultural identity.

My child doesn’t enjoy reading together. Be flexible. Try new ways of exploring books, such as looking at the pictures together or flipping through to the pages your child likes. Don’t force your child to sit and focus only on the book; allow them to crawl around or engage with other toys. The goal is to keep the reading experience positive.

Resources


AMY NAPOLI, EXTENSION SPECIALIST | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

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

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Gratitude is Always in Season

Image Source: Lynn DeVries

What is Gratitude

Let’s pause for a moment to examine the definition of gratitude. The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, practicing gratitude supports social emotional learning competencies for social and self-awareness.

Research has shown there are many benefits to practicing gratitude. In a study by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, they asked participants to journal on specific topics over the course of 10 weeks. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). The people who journaled about gratitude were found to have improvements in health and well-being, including increased energy levels, improvement in sleep quality, lowered blood pressure, less symptoms of pain, and feeling a greater sense of joy. Click here to read more on how Practicing Gratitude Can Increase Happiness.

Gratitude as a Mindful Practice

Practicing mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally (Jon Kabit-Zinn). Another definition states, “Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention here and now with kindness and curiosity, so that we can choose our behavior” (Dr. Amy Saltzman). Practicing gratitude can bring you to a more present-moment awareness and similarly, gratitude can lead to living in the present.

Mindfulness in Gratitude is the topic of the week for a class I am teaching for childcare professionals, Cultivating Healthy, Intentional, Mindful Educators (CHIME). The CHIME Program provides education and guidance on how to incorporate mindfulness and reflective practice into your daily routine, teaching and care giving. Engaging in mindfulness and reflective practice has many benefits for health and well-being of both providers and young children — including reduced stress, improved emotion management, better sleep quality, increased focus and attention, and enhanced relationships.

In my CHIME class, participants kept a gratitude journal for two weeks. After the two weeks, the early childhood teachers also noted a sense of greater happiness amongst themselves and others in their workplace. Another activity I modeled in the CHIME class was to make a gratitude necklace or bracelet. We selected beads that resembled a person or thing we are grateful for and shared among the group as we strung the beads. For example, I chose the blue bead as I am thankful for the fair weather and clear blue skies. The teachers will replicate this activity with preschool children.

Harvard Medical School suggests Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier and “Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

WAYS TO NURTURE GRATITUDE

Writing Thank-you-Notes or Emails

This practice can cultivate your relationships with others and help you to feel happier too. Don’t forget to send or deliver the message personally. I keep a bulletin board in my office, and it has pinned to it the special thank you notes that others have written to me. This little gesture of gratitude is a gift to the heart.

Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal

Keep the journal where it is handy to reach at a specific time each day, perhaps in the morning or in the evening. Write down 1, 2, or 3 things you can be grateful for each day. The things you write about do not have to be grandiose things or events, it can be the little things, hidden often in plain sight. It is important to stop and reflect on how this practice is going after about 2 weeks. What do you notice about your health and well-being?

Pray or Consider Thanking a Higher Power

Consider the practice of thanking a higher power to cultivating gratitude.

Mindfulness Meditation

Find a Gratitude Meditation Practice centered on what you are grateful for.

GRATITUDE PRACTICES FOR YOUNG CHILDREN


Julie A Reiss, author of Raising a Thankful Child from NAEYC says, “Teaching manners is a fine art of modeling but not always the making of meaning. Raising thankful children is a fine art of helping them make their own meaning.” We can model manners and ways to say thank you when appropriate, but it may not have meaning for children until later. Reiss suggests that learning to say thank you is not the same as being thankful, and that our role as caregivers is to model appreciation and reflect those genuine feelings back to the child.

What Does Modeling Gratitude Look Like for Young Children?

Here are some suggestions from Rebecca Parlakian and Sarah S. MacLaughlin, Nurturing Gratitude (Zero to Three, 2020)

  • Show appreciation to your children. Slow down and observe more closely. You’ll see things you appreciate about your kids—then tell them! Appreciation can be an even more powerful motivator than praise. Sharing appreciation is a strong way to feel connected to one another.
  • Show appreciation for others. Never underestimate the power of your words and actions. Your children are paying attention to the way you treat others, whether it’s friends, neighbors, a teacher, or the cashier at the market. They hear your tone with the salesperson on the phone. You set a great example when you model kindness, generosity, and gratefulness in your own everyday interactions.
  • Use the word “grateful.” Children need to learn what this new word means. Explain that being grateful is noticing something in your life that makes you happy. “I’m grateful that it’s sunny today because it was raining yesterday.” Mention gratitude when you’re doing an everyday pleasant activity, like hanging out at the playground or eating watermelon on a hot day. Pause and say, “I’m so grateful for this day!” or “Wow, this is fun!” Your enthusiasm will be contagious.
  • Make a Thankful Tree. Cut a tree trunk from cardboard or construction paper. Tape to a wall or window and cut out some leaf shapes. Ask your child to think of something they are thankful for and write one on each leaf. Then tape the leaf to a branch. Add your own “thankful things.” Have your child ask family members what they’re grateful for and add them to the tree.
  • Share stories of thankfulness, gratitude, and generosity.

As with any mindfulness practice, mindful gratitude practice does take time. The benefits may not emerge immediately, but rather gradually occur over time, and children will need to be exposed to genuine appreciation and to feel appreciated themselves. How do you practice gratitude?


LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Amy Napoli , Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist and Kara Kohel Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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CARING FOR YOUR CORE AFTER PREGNANCY

Image Source: Canva

Being active after pregnancy provides many benefits for new mothers. One important consideration for women who have recently given birth is taking proper care of the core. As the baby grows during pregnancy, abdominal muscles stretch, the tissue connecting the muscles on either side of the abdomen thins and stretches, and the back muscles become shorter. After giving birth, these changes do not immediately return to their pre-pregnancy state so caring for the core muscles is important in avoiding injury.

Note: Some post-partum women may experience separation of the abdominal muscles, called diastasis recti. This condition should be diagnosed by a medical professional. Women with diastasis recti should consult with their doctor or physical therapist about the best movement program for them. All women should check with their doctor before beginning an exercise or movement plan.

A common tendency of women seeking to strengthen and condition their muscles after pregnancy is to do crunches or sit-ups. Crunches and sit-ups primarily work one type of abdominal muscle near the surface of the torso and may even create too much pressure in the abdomen. A better strategy is to begin with smaller movements that strengthen all abdominal muscles as well as the pelvic floor.

Certified fitness instructor and personal trainer Nicole Nichols shares a series of progressive exercises in a blog for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. The series allows time for the body to strengthen before moving to the next exercise.

However, caring for the core after pregnancy goes beyond exercise routines. Being conscious of movement and posture throughout the day will contribute to a stronger, more stable center while preventing injury. Continuing with movements like those used when you were pregnant will help your body transition.

  • When picking baby up from the floor, kneel or squat down and hold baby close to the center of your body. Use your knees to lower and lift your body, keeping your back straight.
  • When putting baby into the tub or car, bend your knees, keep your back straight, and stand or kneel close to the edge of the tub or the car.
  • When working at a counter, sink, ironing board, etc., stand near the edge with your back straight and knees bent. Bend at the hips, rather than the spine, when reaching and moving.
  • To vacuum, shift your weight from one foot to another, lunging out over the forward foot. Bend at the hips when reaching or moving to the side.
  • To get up from a resting position on your back, turn to your side, then push yourself up to a sitting position.

The most important thing to keep in mind when being active after pregnancy is to allow your core the time it needs to regain strength. The abdominal muscles were continually stretched for nine months so taking several months to gradually build up to your pre-pregnancy style of movement is just fine!

References

Nichols, N. National Academy of Sports Medicine. “Progressive Exercises for Post-Pregnancy.”

https://blog.nasm.org/progressive-exercises-for-post-pregnancy

Pre-natal Exercise and Back Care Handbook. (2011). University of California San Francisco.


ERIN KAMPBELL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Kara Kohel, Lisa Poppe, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Grandparents Day – Do Something Together

Image Source: Kara Kohel

Grandparents Day 2021 is fast approaching. Have you bought your cards? Ordered flowers? If not, don’t rush out to do so. This year, consider returning to the origins of Grandparents Day and celebrating the day as the founders intended.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day. This national proclamation followed several local proclamations and a grassroots effort, led by Lucille Herndon McQuade, to recognize the important role of grandparents and older adults in society.

Although cards, flowers, or gifts have become one way of recognizing grandparents on this day, the originators of Grandparents Day had something else in mind. They envisioned a day dedicated to

  • Honoring Grandparents
    • Giving Grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children
    • Helping children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer

Lucille’s vision for families and communities on Grandparents Day was about connection: being together, having a reunion, or sharing in a community gathering. As recognition of the day became national, public affirmation of the importance of grandparents and older adults in families and society became another priority.

Organizations like Generations United and The Legacy Project encourage people of all ages to do something together during Grandparents Day and the following week. Generations United, in particular, encourages young and old to participate in intergenerational civic engagement for the week following Grandparents Day. Above all, it is an occasion for mutual sharing among the generations.

Shared Reading is an especially great way for young children to connect with the older adults in their lives. Visit your local library and ask about books that feature grandparents or have an intergenerational theme. Some titles I recommend include:

  • I love Saturdays y Domingos, by Alma Flor Ada
    • My Grandfather’s Coat, by Jim Aylesworth
    • A Little Something, by Susan V. Bosak
    • Mr. George Baker, by Amy Hest
    • Thank You, Omu, by Oge Mora

Older youth may enjoy “interviewing” grandparents and older adults about their life. A great addition to this activity is to have the grandparent interview the youth, too. Then, each person writes a story about the other. Storytelling is a great way to talk about similarities, differences, and shared hopes and dreams for the future. Creating a family tree together is another great activity that provides an opportunity to share stories of the past and hopes for the future.

These activities can be done in-person or virtually!

Finally, participating in community service or advocating for a shared cause that impacts all generations in your community or nation is a great way to observe Grandparents Day. It can be as simple as writing a letter to a local representative together or volunteering in your community. 

Image Source: Kara Kohel

We’d love to hear how you celebrate Grandparents Day! Share with us on Facebook (@UNLExtensionthelearningchild), Twitter (@UNLExtensionTLC)

Linked Resources

KARA KOHEL, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | NEBRASKA EXTENSION

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

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Choosing Quality Child Care: Guidance For Parents

Image Source: The Learning Child

Finding quality child care near your location might seem like an overwhelming task. The Voices for Children organization reported in their Kids Count in Nebraska 2019 Report that 77.1% of all available parents in Nebraska are in the workforce, and nearly 80% of children ages 0–5 are in some form of paid child care.

A high-quality workforce is vital to care for our youngest population while parents and caregivers are working. The first 1,000 days of a child’s life have a profound impact on their brain development. We know that early relationships, environments and experiences affect all aspects of a child’s development. Finding the right place for your young child is going to take some work.

FIVE AREAS TO CONSIDER
The Learning Child team at Nebraska Extension has created a website at http://child.unl.edu/quality-child-care to guide parents seeking potential caregivers for their little one(s). The team received a national Extension first-place award for this website! The team identified five areas to consider when choosing a child care program.

Image Source, The Learning Child


1. Relationships — Children develop through relationships with attentive adults. Every day, teachers help your child feel secure and important. From the morning greeting to the end of the day, teachers should interact warmly with your child. Children who feel safe and cared for, grow in all areas of their development.

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2. Health and Safety — The program should promote the nutrition and health of children, and protect children and staff from illness and injuries. Children must be healthy and safe in order to learn and grow. Child care programs should prepare healthy food, provide opportunities for physical activity and provide a safe environment.

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3. Curriculum and Approaches To Learning — Program activities should involve learning experiences through active involvement with people and materials. It should be play-oriented and child-centered, encouraging children to develop their natural love of learning. These practices should be developmentally appropriate and align with state early learning guidelines or standards (see https://www.education.ne.gov/oec/early-learning-guidelines). Research shows curriculum content that emerges from the interest of children, leads to greater engagement with activities and experiences increasing children’s positive approaches to learning. Positive approaches to learning include characteristics such as curiosity, persistence, creativity and problem-solving skills.

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4. Learning Environment — The physical environment should include appropriate indoor and outdoor spaces to enhance learning activities for children. The environment consists of the physical layout of the room, materials children have access to and the overall sense of belonging.

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5. Policies and Administration — Programs should develop policies and procedures including family handbooks to maintain consistency within their program. Family handbooks are especially important, so parents understand what programs offer for their children and families.

Nebraska Extension has checklists to take when you tour a child care program for each of the five topic areas identified above [see “Lincoln’s Strengths and Assets” below]. Print-friendly versions are at https://child.unl.edu/choosing-quality-child-care.

WHERE CAN YOU FIND QUALITY CHILD CARE?
According to Kids Count in Nebraska Report, in 2018 there were 2,834 licensed child care facilities in Nebraska.

In 2020, First Five Nebraska, Buffett Early Childhood Institute, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative, Nebraska Children and Nebraska Extension collaborated to create a website to help you find child care. Visit http://nechildcarereferral.org to find a licensed child care program near you. On the website, you can search for child care within a certain number of miles from a specific address and even look at programs who have available openings.

Step Up to Quality is a Nebraska resource coordinated by the Nebraska Department of Education to help both families and child care providers learn more about implementing and selecting quality care. To learn more, visit https://stepuptoquality.ne.gov. In March of this year, Step Up To Quality reported they now have more than 500 programs participating in the Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS). This QRIS system was passed by the Nebraska Legislature in 2013. The system uses professional development, formal education and coaching to improve early care and education. This will increase the positive outcomes for Nebraska’s youngest children.

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CHILD CARE CHECKLISTS
Take these questions with you to ask child care programs to learn more on each topic.

Relationships
☐ How do teachers keep families regularly informed about our child’s activities?
☐ How does this program respect language, culture and the values of families?
☐ How will you help me with my child’s initial adjustment to your child care?
☐ Am I welcome to drop into the program at any time?
☐ How will we work together to help my child transition to the next class?
☐ Will my child have a consistent caregiver?

Health & Safety
☐ What meals and snacks are served, and are they prepared on site or catered in?
☐ Are emergency numbers posted?
☐ Do you have a space for mothers to breastfeed?
☐ How often does the program need a health report from our doctor?

Curriculum & Approaches to Learning
☐ What is your daily routine with the children and how do you plan for individual children’s needs?
☐ Do you use a curriculum and if so, what is it and why did your program choose it?
☐ How does your curriculum align with early learning guidelines or standards?
☐ How will my child’s learning and culture be supported?
☐ How do you train and support your staff with this curriculum?
☐ What do you notice the children enjoy about the activities during the day?

Learning Environment
☐ How much time do children spend outside?
☐ What is your policy on weather and outside play?
☐ What do you notice is the children’s favorite thing to do outside?
☐ Do you have an area for indoor play when children can’t go outside?
☐ How many children can be in this space at one time?
☐ How do you determine what materials you provide for children?
☐ Does my child need any extra clothes for outdoor play?
☐ Will my child have their own space for storing items from home, like extra clothing, book bag, coat, etc.?

Policies & Administration
☐ Did you receive a copy of the family handbook to look at before you enrolled your child?
☐ How are parents engaged in program events?
☐ How can I express concerns regarding my child’s care or education?
☐ What is the center’s sickness and health policy?
☐ What is the severe weather policy?
☐ Do you have an emergency preparedness plan?
☐ What happens if I am late to pick up my child?
☐ Is there always an administrator on site, or designated lead?

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Tasha Wulf, Lisa Poppe, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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