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

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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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Big Questions

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Some questions only elicit rote answers and therefore will not spark a meaningful conversation or connection. Others encourage thought-provoking conversations and ideas.

Questions are powerful tools and they encourage children to think at a higher level. The types of questions that you ask young children can affect the quality of your conversation with them.

Having intentional and meaningful conversations with your children is critical to providing an atmosphere of emotional security.  Engaging with and listening to children help them to feel valued and respected. They learn to feel safe talking with you and sharing thoughts and feelings that may be otherwise difficult to discuss.

Here are some ways to inspire rich conversations.

  • Try to ask more open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with one word. Instead of asking, “How was your day?” consider rephrasing and saying, “Tell me about the favorite parts of your day.”
  • Distractions are all around us. Take time to fully engage with your child and practice active listening in a one-on-one environment. That means removing electronics and getting down on their level. Giving children your full attention demonstrates that you respect them and what they have to say.
  • Make conversations a habit. The time of day that works best is different for everyone. Some might be able to connect deeply on the “to and from” school commutes, others at bedtime, or maybe around the table. Take notice of when your child feels the most comfortable opening up to you.
  • Do your homework. If your child is in school and you have access to daily announcements, lesson plans, or newsletters, use that information to help spark conversations. Children can fail to mention exciting events unintentionally. They may be surprised with some pieces of information that you know about their day.
  • Finally, remember that conversations are a two-way street. If you ask too many questions, children can feel like they are being drilled. Don’t just ask questions; open up and talk about YOUR day. Being authentic and modeling good communication with other adults in your house will encourage children to join in on conversations.

Asking higher level questions takes practice and time.  Think about what information you want to share with your child and what you would like to know from them.  Be genuine.  If it is tough to talk to them, don’t worry.  It is important to simply start practicing conversation skills, especially when children are young.  Have fun and keep a sense of humor and wonder.  Children will follow your lead.

Here are a few open-ended questions to get you started.

  • If you were the family chef, what would you make today for breakfast (lunch, dinner)?  Why?
  • If you could do anything today, what would it be?
  • What was your favorite part about the holidays this year?
  • This year has been hard for lots of people. Is there anything positive you experienced?  What things do you wish you could change? 
  • If you could ask me anything (parents), what would it be?

For more ideas on starting conversations and asking higher level questions, visit High Level Questions for High Level Thinking, https://learningchildblog.com/?s=big+questions, April 1, 2020 authored by LaDonna Werth. 

References:

Big Questions for Young Minds:  Extending Children’s Thinking by Janis Strasser and Lisa Mufson Bresson

SARAH ROBERTS AND JACKIE STEFFEN, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Peer Review:  LaDonna Werth & Kara Kohel

Helping Foster a Growth Mindset in Young Children

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“Mommy you do it … It’s too hard for me … I can’t do this … I don’t understand.” The struggle is real. I think it is safe to admit we all have had moments where it seems easier to ask someone else to do something or just give up rather than to keep trying. Raising children can be difficult, and the pressure is on us to help our children be the best they can be. Too often, we might find ourselves jumping in to help the child accomplish something even though (with a little effort) they may be able to do it themselves. You might be thinking that jumping in and rescuing your child works for you. For instance, opening up the granola bar wrapper is relatively easy for you — but might take quite a bit of effort from your child. The child might whine or become frustrated when they cannot immediately open the wrapper. In the long run, our children need to be able to persevere, to fail and try again, to be disappointed and to put in the hard work.

Caregiving Adults

We might need to step back for our children to move forward. Dr. Carol Dweck is a researcher at Stanford University. According to Dweck, there are two types of mindsets — a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe their qualities are fixed traits and, therefore, cannot change. These people document their intelligence and talents rather than working to develop and improve them. They also believe talent alone leads to success, and effort is not required. Alternatively, in a growth mindset, people have an underlying belief their learning and intelligence can grow with time and experience. When people believe they can get smarter, they realize their effort has an effect on their success, so they put in extra time, leading to higher achievement.

Mindsets

Dweck has found that mindsets can change, and when a mindset changes, learners do better. History shows us there are a lot of famous people who have displayed a growth mindset. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team but went on to become a famous professional basketball player. The Beatles were rejected by Decca Recording Studios who said, “We don’t like their sound; they have no future in show business,” yet they went on to become a very popular group. Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as news anchor because she “wasn’t fit for television” yet she hosted the longest-running talk show on television which ran for 25 years. Growth mindset is real and attainable.

Graphic by Nigel Holmes

Fostering Growth

So how do we foster a growth mindset in the children we care for?

• Consider the language you are using with children. Words have meaning and communicate an important message to the receiver. The language we use tells others what to believe and what we think of them. Example, instead of saying, “It’s not that hard;” say, “You can do hard things.”

• Explain to children our brains can learn and grow. For young children, try reading stories to them which focus on growth mindset. Examples include Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, Listening With My Heart by Gabi Garcia and The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.

• Have daily learning discussions. Encourage children to be their best each day, to put their heart into their work. Remind children it is okay to start their day over whenever they need to. Failure does not mean we are finished; instead, see it as an opportunity to begin again.

• Encourage and model positive self-talk. If you notice your child being critical of themselves, ask them what they would say to a friend who is in a similar situation. Explain to the child it is important to treat ourselves with the same care and respect we treat others. It is small, but when a child tells you something (they cannot tie their shoes), add “yet” to the end of their statement. “You cannot tie your shoes, yet.”

• Encourage risk, failing and learning from mistakes. Remind children disappointment, setbacks and making mistakes are a part of growing up. Focus on effort by saying, “I like how you tried a new way to solve that.”

Suggested Resources:

JACI fOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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More than Counting: Incorporating Math into Daily Interactions with Preschoolers

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Many parents report that time is their biggest barrier to teaching their children. Because there are limited hours in the day, math is the topic that often gets left out. However, it is important to recognize that we do not have to set aside specific time dedicated only to math. Math concepts can be incorporated into activities and routines that you are already doing. These strategies can help you maximize your time, and also show children how math applies in real world settings. It takes intentional effort, but once you have made math engagement a norm, your child will initiate many of the interactions.

1. Eating

Help your child set the table. How many people are eating the meal? Each person needs one plate, one fork, and one napkin. Meal and snack time also provide a great opportunity to expose your child to mathematical language terms (Would you like more carrots? Who has the most bread?). You can also count small snacks like raisins or crackers and ask questions (How many will you have if I give you one more? How many will you have left after you eat two?).

Resources: One Gooey Layer after Another, Eating Up Patterns

2. Reading

While reading to your child, try asking math-related questions and initiating math-related conversations (How many ducks can you see? Let’s count the animals with two legs and the animals with four legs and add them up.). ,

Resources: Mighty Math Books, Maths through Stories

3. Driving

While you are in the car or on the bus, you can help your child count and compare the things that you see. Turn it into a game! “You count the red cars and I’ll count the blue cars. Then we can compare them and see if we saw more red or blue cars.” or “I noticed that car is stopped.  You look for a car that is moving.”

Resource: Get Ready for Road Trips with Our Math On the Go Printable!

4. Playing

Think about some ways that you can incorporate math into playing with your child’s favorite toys. Does your child like dinosaurs? Sort them (by color, size, etc.) and then count the groups. Which group has the most? Which group has the fewest? Then try sorting them by a different trait and compare the groups again.

Resources: Sorting Socks , NAEYC Math at Home Toolkit

5. Talking

Ask questions that prompt your child’s mathematical thinking. Sometimes your child will say things that surprise you, or respond incorrectly to a question. Rather than immediately correcting, try to find the right answer together. Ask follow up questions that help your child figure it out on their own. This is also a good strategy when your child responds correctly. Try prompting with “Wow! How did you figure that out?” or “Show me why you think there would be three.”

Resource: Talking about Math All Around Us! On-The-Go Cards The most important thing to remember when engaging your child in math is to have fun. Set an example that math engagement is a positive and enjoyable experience. The interaction should center on a positive experience with you, with math learning as an added bonus.

AMY NAPOLI, EXTENSION SPECIALIST | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Culturing Creativity

Image source: Lynn DeVries, Learning Child Educator

In a world that is filled with devices and such to prevent boredom and children spending more and more time inside looking at a screen rather than outside playing, children have started to lose time for creativity. The imagination is such a wonderful thing when it is used, and as parents, it is our job to push our children to expand their imagination. With that, here are a few easy ways to culture creativity.

Painting Station

Now, I realize giving a young child paint is not always the most appealing idea, but this can either be done outside where you don’t have to worry much about the mess, or get paint that is easily cleanable. Having a blank paper sheet forces them to paint whatever comes to mind and it can help them express themselves though art. You can even grab a sheet for yourself and paint with your child!

Sidewalk Chalk

Another great way to use art for your children to show their creativity is sidewalk chalk. It gets them outside which opens doors to so much creativity. Like painting, they can use the chalk to portray what they are feeling, thinking, or dreaming about. Not to mention, it easily comes off with water and that’s good news for us!

Nature Walk

A nature walk is exactly what it sounds like: taking a walk in nature. Strolling through your neighborhood or even just sitting in your lawn serves as a way to strengthen your child’s listening skills and offers growth in creativity as they try to decide which animal, vehicle, etc. made the noise they heard.

I know it can be easier to just hand over the social device to your child simply because we, as parents, need some quiet time, but are we doing that so much to as limit our child’s creativity? I’m not saying we cannot ever do it, but it’s important to keep a good balance so they can develop their imagination.

LA DONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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

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