“Comfort in a Changing World”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Seas” the Day

Image Source: Jackie Steffen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LaDonna Werth, and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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Learning in the Heartland!

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

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

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

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

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

Patrolling Police Cars by Tony Mitton / Visiting a Police Station

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert / Visiting a Greenhouse

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

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

You will find:

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

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

LISA POPPE, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

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

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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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CARING FOR YOUR CORE AFTER PREGNANCY

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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

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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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Sparking Interest in STEM through Animals and Literacy

Image Source: Jackie Steffen

What sparks your curiosity?  What sparks the curiosity of your children?  I would venture to guess that nature and animals might rank pretty high on the list of interests for you and the children you work with every day.  Using animals and nature with children is a wonderful opportunity to teach empathy, conservation and environmental stewardship.  Fortunately, Nebraska Extension has an exciting early childhood resource to share with you this year around animals and their habitats.  This year, we are thrilled to provide eight guides highlighting habitats such as the tundra, rainforest, and desert.

Image Source: Sarah Roberts

Nebraska Extension has created this great resource for parents, early childhood professionals, care takers, grandparents, and anyone who loves to read with young children that ties directly with local libraries’ summer reading programs.  Summer reading programs are taking place right now and the theme across the state is Tails and Tales.  Our STEM Imagination Guides are designed to provide several opportunities to connect with each year’s theme by featuring:

  • Familiar storybook suggestions:
    • The stories that have been selected for each guide are well-known stories and often children’s favorites.  It is okay if you child has already heard the story prior to taking part in the lesson.  Sharing a story multiple times helps children develop language and listening skills. 
  • Conversation starters:
    • When a two-way conversation is initiated with children during story time, participation in dialogic reading is encouraged.  Open-ended questions are provided in each lesson to foster dialogic reading which has tremendous academic and social-emotional benefits for young children. 
  • STEM connection experiments:
    • Children love finding out how things work through fun, hands-on projects.  The experiment included in each guide relates to the featured habitat and teaches a variety of STEM concepts that are engaging and educational.
  • Sensory explorations:
    • Sensory play stimulates children’s senses and is important for brain development.  During the suggested sensory activities, children use multiple senses which allows them to learn more from their experiences and retain more information.
  • Music and movement activities:
    • Research shows that music ignites all areas of child development and enhances skills for school readiness.  Not only is singing songs and playing games fun, but these activities also encourage self-expression and physical activity. 
  • Creative arts investigations:
    • When children create pictures of stories that they have read, comprehension improves and often motivates children to want to read and interact with books even more.  Art is an early form of communication.  Creative art suggestions allow children to express themselves and make meaningful connections with the stories.
  • Additional related readings:
    • Since each of the Imagination Guides focus on a different habitat, children often have additional questions and are interested in learning MORE!   Supplemental fiction and nonfiction books are suggested so children can expand their knowledge.
Image Source: Jackie Steffen

The STEM Imagination Guides can be utilized in a variety of ways.  No need to panic if you do not have access to the featured storybook.  Consider listening to the story online or sharing the story orally from memory.  Each Imagination Guide has a variety of options and can be customized to meet the needs and interests of the children in your care.  Incorporate all of the activities or just a few.  It is up to you!  The shared reading experience and creative play opportunities are sure to create an excitement for animals as well as foster a joy for reading.   

All of these resources are free and available for download and print at https://go.unl.edu/imagination.  This website also houses the previous year’s resources focusing on fairy tales.  This website is like a treasure chest of great literacy and STEM resources right at your fingertips.  All Imagination Guides, whether from this year or previous years can be utilized at no cost.  Enjoy this year’s habitat exploration!

SARA ROBERTS AND JACKIE STEFFEN, EXTENSION EDUCATORS | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Amy Napoli, Assistant Professor & Early Childhood Extension Specialist and LaDonna Werth and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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PLAYING IN THE MUD IS MORE THAN JUST FUN

Image source: Pixabay.com

This special blog was authored by our dear colleague and friend, Leanne Manning who lost her battle with cancer on April 9, 2021. Leanne dedicated 34 years of her life’s career to Nebraska Extension, and to the Learning Child Interest Group. Leanne was passionate about education, helping others through educational programming, and watching youth develop into their potential. She loved spending time outdoors in nature and watching blue birds. Leanne will be missed, but her work will live on in those who knew her well and had the opportunity to be instructed in her care. This is the last blog she had written and requested that it be published in June 2021. Thank you and a fond farewell to Leanne Manning.

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Remember when you were a kid and you had fun playing in the mud?  Turns out that was good for you!  Some of the benefits* of playing in the mud follow.

  1. The bacteria, Mycobacterium Vaccae, found in the soil or mud, has been found to reduce anxiety and increase serotonin (the endorphin that is used to regulate mood and makes you feel happy) in the brain.
  2. Mud play increases brain activity by stimulating a child’s senses.
  3. When children play in the mud outdoors, physical activity increases which helps children maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  4. Regular exposure to mud will reduce a child’s vulnerability to depression.
  5. Mud play reduces allergies and asthma symptoms.
  6. By experiencing outdoor mud play, children learn a sense of self and belonging in the natural world around them.  It provides a chance to explore nature, ground themselves, and learn to care for their world.
  7. Children exposed to playing in the mud have more opportunities to be creative.  There is no end to the amount of games and uses for mud in child’s play.  This can lead to an increased ability to problem solve, think critically, and be innovative.

   Ideas to get kids involved in mud play are:  

  • mud hand-prints or footprints,
  • use fingers, paintbrushes, or old kitchen tools like potato mashers to paint or make prints,
  • hang a large white sheet and have kids throw mud balls at it to create splatter painting,
  • set up a mud kitchen with pots, pans, and more to make mud pies or other culinary creations such as mud stew,
  • use a plastic kiddie pool and create a mud pit supplying them with shovels, bowls, and spoons for digging and let the children squish mud through their bare toes in the mud pit,
  • make mud castles or mud bricks,
  • make mud buddies by forming mud into people or pets.

   Ask children questions that help them think about what is happening during this experience such as: What would happen if we used sand instead of mud? What would happen if we left this mud out in the sun? What would happen if we added more water?  At Prince Edward Island in Canada, they use their famous red mud to dye t-shirts.  Maybe you could experiment with mud dying on inexpensive pieces of fabric with the children.

   Clean up after mud play can be as much fun as playing in the mud.  Take a garden hose and have children hose off.  There is no better time than now to go outside and have some fun playing in the mud….it is good for you!  International Mud Day is Tuesday, June 29, 2021…have fun getting dirty!

*Source:  https://natureplayqld.org.au/

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Sarah Roberts, and Erin Kampbell, Extension Educators, 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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Lawn Care and Young Children: Creating a Safe and Fun Place to Play

Image Source: Katie Krause

Spring is in full swing here in Nebraska and our family is spending a lot more time outside.  As I walked around our yard this week, I realized I needed to do something to help get our less than stellar yard in better condition. We have been trying to get our lawn healthy so it can withstand the wear and tear of 2 young children and 2 dogs (we are getting a new puppy next week!) playing on it year-round.

So, what does lawn care have to do with early childhood?  For our family, this is simple.  Safety.  We’d like to have a yard with enough grass that we don’t end up with a muddy mess, but we don’t want to risk our kids or pets getting sick from whatever we apply to the lawn.  I reached out to my fellow Extension Educator, John Fech, who is a horticulturist.   One of his areas of specialization is turf grass.  He responded quickly, and even wrote this wonderful blog so we could share the helpful information with you!

Check it out here: https://grobigred.com/2021/04/22/lawns-kids-pets/

John shares details about these 4 big takeaways

  • Follow the instructions exactly!  
  • Break the application into 2 or 3 part
    • This one was a huge ‘ah-ha!’ moment for me.  Don’t do your front and back yard all on the same day.  Get the backyard done, but still have safe access to your front yard.  Simple…but genius!  
  • Know how the product works – foliage active – work on the leaves, root active – goes into the ground
  • Mow – Fertilize – Water
Image Source: Katie Krause

Remember, Children Thrive Outside….so use these helpful hints to make sure your yard is functional and safe for your whole family!

KATIE KRAUSE, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Kara Kohel, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, 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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