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
- 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
Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!
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!
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
Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!
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.
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 disorders, 21(7), 888-902.
Joshi, P. T., Parr, A. F., & Efron, L. A. (2008). TV coverage of tragedies: what is the impact on children. Indian Pediatr, 45(8), 629-634.
Hilt, R. (2013). Terrorism and Disasters in the News: How to Help Kids Cope. Pediatric Annals, 42(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
Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!
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
- 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.
- 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,
- What feelings am I having?
- What am I sensing in my body? Where do I notice it?
- What am I noticing about my thoughts? My actions?
- What urges do I feel? What do I feel pulled toward? Away from?
- Do I feel in balance? Out of balance?
- How can this help me better understand the situation (as a caregiver, parent)?
- 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
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.
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 Review, 108, 104605.
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.
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.
- Children may qualify for free books from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
- Read Aloud provides book suggestions for children birth to five.
- Visit Reading Rockets to learn baby-friendly literacy tips.
- Reach Out & Read provides e-books and tips for learning at home.
AMY NAPOLI, EXTENSION SPECIALIST | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA
Peer Reviewed by Jackie Steffen and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators
The Benefits of Reading to Babies
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.
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
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!
Nichols, N. National Academy of Sports Medicine. “Progressive Exercises for Post-Pregnancy.”
Pre-natal Exercise and Back Care Handbook. (2011). University of California San Francisco.
Click to access SDOBG0235.pdf
ERIN KAMPBELL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Kara Kohel, Lisa Poppe, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child
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)
- Generations United, Grandparents Day: https://grandparentsday.org/
- The Legacy Project: https://legacyproject.org/index.html
- The Power of Storytelling: https://learningchildblog.com/2018/06/01/the-power-of-storytelling/
KARA KOHEL, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | NEBRASKA EXTENSION
Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Linda Reddish, and Lynn DeVries Early Childhood Extension Educators, Nebraska Extension
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.
Image Source, The Learning Child
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.
Image Source, The Learning Child
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.
Image Source, The Learning Child
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.
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.
CHILD CARE CHECKLISTS
Take these questions with you to ask child care programs to learn more on each topic.
☐ 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?
☐ 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
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- Mud play increases brain activity by stimulating a child’s senses.
- When children play in the mud outdoors, physical activity increases which helps children maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Regular exposure to mud will reduce a child’s vulnerability to depression.
- Mud play reduces allergies and asthma symptoms.
- 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.
- 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!
LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Sarah Roberts, and Erin Kampbell, Extension Educators, The Learning Child
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
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
My son loves to jump. He is exceptional at finding launching surfaces that provide him the opportunity to challenge gravity’s hold on his feet. I remember the day when he decided to test out jumping from the third step on the playground. The ground beneath covered with mulch but, he looked so small to be making such a big jump. As he lifted his arms to the sky and his knees bent, I took deep breath watching him get ready to fly. My spouse on the other hand was a second away from saying, “that’s not safe, get down.”
Before the words could be uttered, our son jumped, landed on both feet, and then began spinning around. Another child directly behind him yelled out, “That was awesome! Five points for both feet.” Suddenly, the two of them were setting rules for how to earn points while jumping. 5 points for both feet, 1 point if your hand touched the ground, a hundred points if they both did it together at the same time and stuck the landing. His parents and I made eye contact, smiled, gave a shrug of the shoulders, and continued to watch. My spouse, again, on the other hand, was now looking at the sky and letting out a deep sigh of relief.
As the children continued to play, I asked my spouse about the warning cry he was about to utter. He expressed his concern about him falling and that the steps seemed too high. I shared with him that generally, you can check the “critical height” of play equipment outdoors and I showed him the sticker on the side of the equipment. The space he was jumping from was well mulched and for our son’s height had more than enough protection because of mulch. This made me realize something, I knew about this and could show my spouse were to find this but, I wondered how many other caregivers knew where to find this information. If you are curious about playground safety and platform guidelines click here for the Public Playground Safety Handbook from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission .Image source: Linda Reddish
This additional piece of information helped, but my spouse still told me after I showed him the equipment safety suggestions that watching our son jump felt like a lifetime. In reality, the exchange was only about 5-10 minutes. Eventually, the game stopped and the children choose to go over to slope on the other side of the playground and began rolling down it. Sometimes they bumped into each other, but their faces were smiling and laughing as they rolled. We have continued to talk about this feeling of hesitation or being uncomfortable watching our child engage in this rough and tumble play. This feeling is not unusual among adults. Author, Frances Carlson addresses adult’s uneasiness with this type of play in her book Big Body Play; Why boisterous, vigorous, and very physical play is essential to children’s development and learning.
She shares that adults and educators are typically motivated to reduce or hinder this type of play out of fear for the following reasons:Image source: Linda Reddish
All reasonable and understandable fears. I, as a parent, that day, felt all of those fears too. Perhaps not as strongly as my spouse did, but when I reflect on my teaching days, I likely responded more like my spouse did. Ensuring children’s safety and well-being was paramount. However, I’ve grown in my understanding of how to support children’s exploration into big body play. I went back and re-read the chapter on how to support this type of play while balancing the safety concerns. The readings confirmed while some risk of injury is possible any time when children engage in physical play or explore outdoor spaces like playgrounds, the risk is minimal. Adults can set safe limits by setting clear expectations and ground rules, supervising or joining in on the play, and helping young children recognize their limits. Following the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s playground, public safety and fall height recommendations are another strategy to prevent life-threatening falls or injuries in both outdoor and indoor spaces.
Carlson further addresses adult’s reservations by providing concrete ideas and examples such as encourage children to:Image source: Linda Reddish
5. Climb on structures
7. Broad jump
8. Jump from heights
Again, this type of boisterous play and physical activity has its benefits. Children who are physically active reduce their risk of becoming overweight or obese. That is because early childhood is an ideal time to establish children’s healthy attitude towards the adoption of health and wellness.
We continue to watch our son test out his jumping skills while he is at the playground. Now he has moved on to running, hopping, and skipping around the loop of the playground. He still likes to test out that third step. Before we leave the playground, he still asks, “Can I jump off that step one more time?”
If you are interested in learning more about Big Body Play, you can check out this webinar.
Accelerating Progress to Reduce Childhood Obesity. (2021, March 24). Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.nccor.org/
Carlson, Frances M. (2011). Big Body Play: Why Boisterous, Vigorous, and Very Physical Play Is Essential to Children’s Development and Learning, by Frances M. Carlson. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Young Children: Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 69:5 (Nov 2014), pp. 36-42.
LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child
Photo source: Canva
Regular physical activity is important for everyone’s overall health and well-being, including that of new mothers. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), physical activity after childbirth may help prevent postpartum depression, provide for higher quality sleep, increase energy, and decrease stress.
When can I introduce physical activity after giving birth?
If you recently gave birth and feel ready to increase your physical activity level, it is important to gain approval from your doctor before engaging in your desired type of activity. It can take time for muscles and tissues to heal after giving birth. Women who experienced a pregnancy and vaginal delivery free of complications may find that their doctor approves them for gentle activity quite soon after birth. Women who had a Caesarean section should be in contact with their doctor about a timeline for introducing physical activity.
My doctor says I am ready for physical activity. What type should I do?
Ask your doctor for tips on what types of activity or exercise are best for you and if there is anything you need to avoid or build up to more slowly. Aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activity are both important for health.
An example of an aerobic activity is walking. Walking while pushing your baby in a stroller is good for both you and your baby and serves as an excellent place to start. You can easily adjust speed and distance to match how you are feeling.
Photo source: Canva
Examples of muscle strengthening activities are weightlifting, Pilates, or sit ups. Muscle strengthening activities are beneficial and should be introduced with thoughtful consideration. Be aware that many traditional abdominal exercises can be a bit too strenuous soon after pregnancy. Seeking modifications for muscle strengthening exercises is important for the first few months after giving birth, even if you are feeling strong enough. Muscles and connective tissue can take weeks to heal and regain strength. Be kind to yourself and start slow—your body needs time.
How much and how intensely should I exercise?
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a weekly goal of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week. It can be helpful to break down the time into 10, 20, or 30-minute intervals most days. Use how you are feeling as a guide for determining length of time. Begin with 10-minute intervals of lighter-intensity activity like slow walks. Gradually working up to moderate intensity exercises like brisk walks will help you safely increase your fitness.
A guide to determining the intensity of your favorite activity is to notice your heart rate and breathing. Moderate-intensity exercise will increase your heart rate and breathing. You may notice you can talk normally but singing would be difficult. When engaging in vigorous-intensity exercise, you will begin to notice that it is hard to speak without taking a pause for breath. If you were exercising at a vigorous level before your pregnancy, you will likely be able to gradually increase your exercise until you return to pre-pregnancy levels.
To enjoy benefits from physical activity like decreased stress, higher quality sleep, and more energy, after your pregnancy, choose activities that you enjoy and do them regularly. Take it slow, listen to your body, and have fun!
Click here to read about exercising during pregnancy.
Click here for ideas on being active with your family.
Click here for a guide on child development, learning, and more.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, p. 119
ERIN KAMPBELL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Jackie Steffen, LaDonna Werth, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child
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.
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
Peer Review: LaDonna Werth & Kara Kohel
“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.
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.
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
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.”
JACI fOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educators, The Learning Child
Adaptability and Stability: Changing and Maintaining Traditions, Rituals, and Routines During a COVID-19 Holiday Season
Traditions, rituals, and routines are good for all of us. They contribute to a shared sense of meaning, increase our connection to others, and can even support resilience in difficult or stressful times. The winter holiday season is one that is looked forward to by many families and young children. Various traditions bring family and friends of all ages together to share meals, exchange gifts, and simply be in the presence of loved ones.
The 2020 holiday season is not exempt from the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know this holiday season may be experienced differently by many of our readers, and we want to acknowledge any feelings of confusion, frustration, sadness, or anger that you may be experiencing. We hope this blog provides encouragement and a few ideas for connecting with loved ones and making this a meaningful holiday season.
Young children are often more perceptive of adult emotions than we expect. They may not understand why the adults in their lives are upset, but they can sense that something is not quite right. As adults, it is important that we model emotional awareness and self-regulation for young children and invite them into conversations about emotions. Read for Resilience is a Learning Child program that is free and available to all through our website. This program aims to help adults and children share conversations about difficult topics through the process of reading and discussing storybooks.
If this holiday season is made more difficult due to loss or feelings of grief, sadness, and frustration, consider a ritual that acknowledges those feelings and helps your family share them together. For example, if you have lost a loved one this year, consider making a special ornament to hang on your tree with their picture or a symbol that reminds you of their life. Use the hanging of this ornament as a special time to share memories of that person.
Although your traditions may look different this year, it is still important to connect with loved ones. If you are “gathering” with your family online, consider having a conversation with your children about why your traditions are important to you and your family. Ask older members of the family to share how some traditions have been passed down and others have changed over the years. Encourage older family members to reminisce about the holidays when they were children, and have young children talk about how things are both the same and different than they used to be. Have all members take time to share what they are grateful for. These intentional conversations help build relationships among the many generations in your family.
Finally, many families and communities of different backgrounds have special celebrations that occur throughout the year. In addition to celebrating your family’s treasured traditions – perhaps in new ways – consider taking the time to learn about the traditions and holidays of others.Image source: by K Kohel, in Canva
For more on routines, rituals, and traditions during the holiday season, check out these other Learning Child blog posts:
- Teaching Kindness and Giving with a Holiday Twist
- Connect with Your Children this Holiday Season
- Tips to Manage Holiday Stress
- The Power of Storytelling
- Keeping Routines is the Secret to a Calm Holiday
And these additional resources (also linked in the blog):
- How Important is Thanksgiving Soup to a Child’s Wellbeing?
- Creating Routines for Love and Learning
- Let’s Use this Time to Strengthen, Not Weaken, Bonds Between Generations
Staying Connected During Social Distancing
KARA KOHEL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, , Lisa Poppe, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educators, The Learning Child
Video by cottonbro from Pexels
Direct link for video:
Picture this. Child and caregiver are at the table using their Makerspace baskets. Both sit side-by-side, exploring the materials in front of them when the following question is asked…
Child “I can’t decide if I want to stick the pipe cleaner or the paper towel to my board.”
Caregiver “Well, what problem are you trying to solve today?”
Child “I don’t have a problem. I want to know what is sticky.”
Caregiver “Hmm, figuring out what is sticky is a good idea to explore. I wonder what’s something we have here on the table that is sticky?”
Wondering what happens next?
Curious how the caregiver might respond? Me too…!
A previous blog (written by Extension Educator Lynn Devries) described how to create Makerspaces in early childhood settings. The blog broke down the child’s role in Makerspaces.
In this post, the focus shifts to three teaching strategies that can be used to support the child’s exploration in Makerspaces.
- Ask questions or prompt children’s thinking
- Follow children’s lead
- Teach and model safe use of tools and materials
First, open-ended questions and “I wonder… or Tell me more…, or That’s interesting, could you explain that to me…” prompt children’s thinking. Well, you might be wondering yourself, what does prompting children’s thinking even mean? Prompting is a specific teaching strategy that fosters children’s imagination and creativity and generates new ideas.
Second, when allowed to lead, young children are more likely to be engaged in the activity and stick with it. This is because children are actively involved in learning how to problem-solve with caring adults rather than adults solving their problems. Children build their confidence by leading their investigation, and that further encourages children to try out new ways to learn, explore, and problem-solve.
Finally, Makerspaces are meant to include real tools and materials. The caregiver’s primary responsibility is to help children understand how these tools materials are used in everyday problem-solving. In addition, it is important to teach and model how to use them and why it is vital to follow the set expectations and use these materials appropriately.
For example, the caregiver can teach and model how to safely get materials (like how to hold scissors while walking), use the materials (wearing goggles while using a hammer), and put materials away (closing the lid on a box holding different sized small buttons).
Let’s Keep Following the Example Above to See How the 3 Teaching Strategies Support Exploration
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels
Direct link for image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/anonymous-cute-toddler-girl-holding-brush-for-getting-white-paint-from-plate-standing-on-chair-3933226/?utm_content=attributionCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pexels
Caregiver “Hmmm! I wonder, have you looked a little closer at the blue box? I think there might be a few tools in there that are sticky.” Strategy 1
Child (rummages around but in the process is starting to knock over a box that is holding cut up cardboard)
Caregiver “It looks like you focused on this sticky situation but, do you remember what our first rule is in this space?” Strategy 3
Child “Respect our classroom materials.”
Caregiver “That’s right; we respect our space so we can stay safe. You are looking so hard that you’ve knocked some other items over. Please pick that box up, take a deep breath, and let’s think about where the sticky stuff is kept.”
Caregiver, “OK. Thank you for putting that away and pausing to catch your breath. Now, did you find where we keep our sticky stuff like tape, glue, and tact”?
Child “In the blue box.”
Caregiver “Great! (child brings over a bucket) What do you want to explore first?” Strategy 2
Child (points to a roll of tape)
Child “Yes, but it’s smooth, not sticky.”
Caregiver “Sounds like you explored one side of it. What can we do to make it sticky? Strategy 1
Caregiver Have you tried peeling it? Peeling is like pulling it back, kind of like when you peel a piece of fruit like a banana or orange.” Strategy 1
Child (grabs the tape and pulls it back) “WHOA. It’s sticky on this side. That’s perfect for what I need.
Caregiver, “OK. You have the sticky tool. Now you said you needed pipe clear and paper towel, right?”
Child “Yes. I will use both and then stick them with three pieces of tape. Maybe four, I don’t know yet.” Strategy 2
Caregiver “As you go along, see how many pieces work for you. You can try small or big pieces. It’s up to you.” Strategy 2 Caregiver “Glad you found something sticky to tinker and explore with for a bit. Maybe you can try out some of the other items too, if you want. I’m going to go check on a few friends for a bit, but then I’ll come back and check in with you to find out what you’ve discovered. Don’t forget our rule, please, respect the space, so everyone and the materials stay safe.” Strategy 3
See how each strategy encouraged the child’s role to tinker, make, and further construct? It’s also helpful to see how the strategies are not linear. Depending on the situation, the caregiver’s role may require a different approach to facilitate the child’s time to creatively design, build, and explore their ideas. Caregivers will need to be there to establish and model the safe use of materials and tools, but by following the child’s lead, caregivers can facilitate them to make their own discoveries!
If you are interested in learning more about Makerspaces or incorporating more STEM learning into your Makerspace, enroll in the Tinkering with STEM on Demand course offered through the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Nebraska Extension.
Additional Blogs and References
Click to access ELG-PDF.pdfNew Study Shows Makerspaces Develop Children’s Creativity, Critical Thinking, Design Thinking & Digital Skills
LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Dr. Soo-Young Hong, LaDonna Werth, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child
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In the past, pregnant women were told to take it easy when it came to exercise. However, now that there is more known about it, exercising while pregnant is shown to be good for both the mom and baby.
What are the Benefits?
- Not only does exercise benefit the body, but the brain, too! It increases the amount of blood flow, which leads the body to create more blood vessels. In turn, the brain is then given more access to oxygen and energy.
- The moms who exercise will usually be more physically fit and will potentially be less likely to have a C-section and possibly will recover more quickly after the baby arrives.
Cardio or Weights?
- Some of both is great, but if you are short on time, stick with the cardio. Aerobic exercise has a better effect on the brain. One great way to get a work out in is swimming. It works your entire body and the water helps by supporting your weight. Simply walking around in the pool will make you feel better, and your swollen ankles will, too! If you are more of a runner, that also totally works. The main thing is that you are getting some sort of exercise to better you and your baby’s health.
How hard should I push it?
- The number one tip is to simply listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to push yourself and get some sweat dripping, but make sure to stay in tune with your body and know when it is time to lay off a bit. As the pregnancy goes on and you get closer to your due date, your body will probably be ready for a little easier workout, but it varies for every pregnant woman so that is why it is so important to listen to your body.
In the end, it is simply important to be active to help better your health and your baby’s. Remember to always check with your doctor before starting any type of exercise or physical activity.
Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow
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