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Picture Books for Creative Preschoolers 

Tue, 08/01/2023 - 08:00

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Busy caregivers may feel there is never enough time to do a little something extra. Yes, we all know that feeling of exhaustion!  When you are feeling in a creative rut, this is the time to get acquainted with your local librarians you may find your librarians’ enthusiasm and the humorous picture book illustrations will spark your creativity and energy! 

Reading books that inspire creativity and provide opportunities for children to explore their abilities can help development. When children have creative opportunities, their language skills and social skills develop rapidly. Children need to touch, see, explore, and manipulate objects and ideas to learn.  Creative activities can provide an emotional outlet and also focus a child’s attention on planning/problem-solving skill sets.  You can set the stage by providing the three basics for creativity:  time, encouragement, and materials.  You already know your child’s abilities and personality.  Now collect some basic, easily available materials that will appeal to your preschooler.  This can be a great start for skills they will need in the elementary classroom. 

These books are grouped by an emphasis on art, music, or folklore with a few suggestions for follow-up activities to spark children’s creativity and development. Let’s look at some books you can use as a springboard for creative activities.   

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Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, illustrated by Salley Mavor.  2010.  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.   

This book contains 64 familiar rhymes.  The pages are illustrated with fabric collages using colorful stitching, buttons, bark, shells, and bells to demonstrate various textures. 

Last Night, by Hyewan Yurn.  2008.  Farrar Straus Giroux. 

A young girl is sent to bed after refusing to eat supper.  She goes on a dreamlike, wordless adventure with her teddy bear.  Illustrations are linoleum block prints that evoke many emotions. 

In the Small, Small Pond, by Denise Fleming.  1993.  Henry Holt. 

Geese, minnows, and muskrats populate the pond with illustrations featuring hand-cut stencils and handmade-paper. 

Below, by Nina Crews.  2006.  Henry Holt. 

Jack’s action figure falls through a crack in the stairs and goes on a fantastic journey.  His adventures are illustrated by layered images combining photographs and line drawings.  

Art Activities 

Begin by reading the stories with your preschoolers and observing the illustrations they find most interesting.  Discuss those illustrations and the materials used to convey the stories.  Then, provide materials so they can create their own stories of fantasy world adventures.  The first time, you may want to keep it simple and just use photos from magazines.  If you circle back to this idea a few weeks later, your child will probably come up with their own ideas for other interesting materials to use.  

Another activity you could do is to make relief collages by layering various materials on a paper or cloth background.  Materials may include magazine pictures or print, construction paper, newsprint, felt, buttons, shells, leaves, and cloth that has been cut or torn. 

Children could also make prints using sponges cut into different shapes and dipped into tempera paint.  Let the prints dry and then add another layer in contrasting color.  This may provide an opportunity to point out colors that blend to form a new color where the prints overlap (Red + blue = purple, etc.). 

Books with Music Lyrics 

The Wheels on the Bus, adapted and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.  1990.  Dutton. 

The pull tabs and flaps used to narrate this story make it an interesting but also delicate book for children to handle.  

Sing, lyrics and music by Joe Raposo.  Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.  2013.  Henry Holt. 

A recording of the Sesame Street song is also included. 

Tweedle Dee Dee, by Charlotte Voake.  2008.  Candlewick. 

This story is based on the song “The Green Leaves Grew All Around.”  It follows two children as they interact with nature, observing animals, and learning about the world around them. 

There Was an Old Monster!   by Rebecca, Adrian, and Ed Pemberley.  2009.  Scholastic. 

“There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” is rewritten to feature a monster with illustrations of the contents of his stomach! 

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Music Activities 

Preschoolers will enjoy singing along with these stories.  Record your sing-along session using a tablet, computer, or cell phone This might be a great way to showcase classroom learning with families by sending the recording electronically! Then, encourage preschoolers to compose original songs or illustrate scenes from these songs with pencil and paper. You may then want to write the line under your child’s drawing to encourage reading skills.  If you are doing this activity with a group, the children may enjoy combining their drawings to make a book of illustrations. 

Songs can be an introduction to rhyming. Ask preschoolers to listen for sounds that repeat. They can tap their chest every time they hear a sound or word that is similar.  Afterward, discuss the concept of patterns in music and art. Additionally, you could have children draw or create patterns by tracing around common objects or cookie cutters. 

Books Featuring Folktales 

Anansi the Spider:  A Tale from the Ashanti, by Gerald McDermott.  1972.  Henry Holt and Company. 

When Anansi gets in trouble, his children work as a team to save him. 

Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco.  1990. Philomel Books. 

This book tells the legend behind loud storms as related by a grandmother to her granddaughter. 

Moon Rope/Un laza a la luna, by Lois Ehlert.  1992.  Harcourt. 

Fox and Mole take a trip to the moon and a folktale explains the origin of “the man in the moon.” 

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Taback.  1999. Viking Children’s Books. 

  Preschoolers will enjoy this tale of making something out of nothing.  They will probably chime in where lines are predictable. 

Folktale and Cultural Activities 

Create a prop box or tote filled with costumes, puppets, props, and hats related to the stories.  Be on the lookout for items relating specifically to the cultures in the story.  Sometimes these items can be found inexpensively at a garage sale or in a store clearance cart. Neighbors and grandparents may be recruited to watch sales for books or cultural items.  Many small towns celebrate their heritage days with summer parades featuring colorful costumes; these celebrations could also be a good time to acquire cultural items.    

Choose an exciting time in your child’s life and retell it using something from the prop box.  Then suggest your child pick a recent event and tell his version using the props.  If you know an older person living nearby, they may be willing to talk about one of their childhood experiences.  Make a recording for later listening/retelling.  This could be the start of your own family folklore! 

Learn about different countries by sampling traditional foods found at your grocery store or specialty store. It might be fun to try out foods that are mentioned in the picture books! You may want to discuss two possible menus before shopping to better utilize your time in-store and keep entrees within your own abilities to prepare.   Also, grandparents and neighbors may be eager to share traditional recipes from their countries of origin. 

Introduce simple songs from different cultures.  You can probably locate some community resources through your librarian, elementary music teacher, or the community college teachers and students involved in English Language Learner classes. 

Display a world map at child level on the refrigerator.  Have stickers or magnets available so that with a bit of direction, your child can mark your hometown and the countries where the folktales originated. For more ideas check out Fit and Healthy Kids Discover and Design .   

Conclusion  There are so many other books that may provide a springboard to creativity.  Browse your local library to find the above-mentioned titles or ask your librarian to recommend other picture books!  Hopefully, your time involved in collecting books/materials brings rich rewards in the form of your child’s creative involvement in the arts, expanding awareness of community, and expansion of children’s language and social skills.   

LADONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION

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

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

Puppets for Preschoolers 

Mon, 06/26/2023 - 08:00

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Creativity takes center stage when preschoolers begin playing with puppets.  Storytelling also provides a safe space for expressing strong feelings.  Another bonus is the expanding vocabulary your child will rapidly acquire when presenting various puppet plays. We will go over the many ways to build puppets for your child and set the atmosphere for storytelling!  

If you don’t have a whole corner to display puppets, that’s fine.  How about a couple of totes?  One tote can store materials such as paper, markers, yarn, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, ribbon, felt, fabric scraps, feathers, and pom-poms.  The other tote can safely store all of the finished puppets.  Now, it’s time to explore all the various puppets you and your preschoolers can create for dramatic play! 

Dragon Puppet 

Supplies:  colored paper, scissors, markers or crayons, glue, tape, Popsicle sticks or cardboard 

  •  Draw the head and tail of the dragon on colored paper. 
  •  Cut out the head and tail. 
  •  Cut another piece of colored paper in half length-wise. 
  •  Fold the two pieces, using accordion folds.  Tape them together to make one long piece. 
  •  Glue or tape one end of the folded paper to the dragon head and one end to the dragon tail. 
  •  Glue or tape a Popsicle stick to the dragon head and another one to the dragon tail. 
  • Decorate with extras to make the puppet colorful.  

Felt Puppet 

Supplies:  felt in multiple colors (at least two pieces), scissors, markers, glue, extras 

  •  Trace the desired puppet shape on two pieces of felt and cut them out. 
  •  Put the shapes together and glue at the edges.  Leave an opening for the hand. 
  •  Decorate with felt scraps and use extras to add hair, clothes, eyes, and other features. 

Finger Puppet 

Supplies:  old glove, scissors, glue, markers, extras 

  •  Cut the fingers off the glove where they meet the hand.  Put the hand part in the scrap box. 
  •  Decorate each finger with markers or extras. 

Jointed Puppet 

Supplies:  cardboard, glue, scissors, markers or crayons, metal paper fasteners, Popsicle sticks 

  •  Cut out the desired puppet shape from the cardboard.  Decorate it. 
  •  Cut off the arms and legs. 
  •  Poke holes in the body, near where the arms and legs were joined to it.  Poke holes in the arms and legs, near the cut ends. 
  •  Reattach the arms and legs, lining up the holes and securing the limbs with metal paper fasteners. 
  •  Glue the finished puppet onto a Popsicle stick or piece of cardboard. 

Unstuffed Animal Puppet 

Supplies:  old stuffed animal, glue or sewing needle and thread 

  •  Purchase stuffed animals from garage sales or thrift stores. 
  •  Determine where the puppeteer’s hand will go, and cut an opening in the back of the stuffed animal. 
  •  Remove most of the stuffing, but leave the head filled. 
  •  Finish the edges of the hand hole with hand-sewn stitching, glue, or wide tape. 

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Supplies:  sock, marker, scissors, cardboard, fabric, glue, extras 

  • Put your hand in the sock, with fingers in the toe area and wrist in the heel. 
  •  Form a mouth in the sock using your thumb and fingers.  With a marker, draw a straight line where the mouth is. 
  •  Remove the sock from hand and cut along the line. 
  •  Cut out two ovals, three inches wide and five inches long.  (One from the cardboard and one from the fabric.) 
  •  Glue the fabric oval onto the cardboard oval. 
  •  Fold the oval in half, fabric side in. 
  •  Glue the oval in the mouth hole of the sock. 
  •  Decorate the sock puppet. 

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Paper Bag Puppet 

Supplies:  paper bag, pencil/pen/marker, glue, extras 

  • Lay a paper bag flat, with the bottom folded face-up at the top.  The bottom flap will be the face.   
  •  Add eyes, a nose, and a mouth.  The upper lip of the mouth will be on the edge of the bottom flap with the lower lip on the corresponding area of the main bag. 
  •  Stick your hand in the paper bag and use your fingers and thumb to move the puppet’s mouth. 

Purchased puppets may be used for a different style of puppet play.  For example: 

  •  Oversized puppets can sit on a leader’s lap and engage the children in conversation. 
  •  Big-mouthed puppets inspire talkative characters who engage with each other and the audience. 
  •  Furry animal puppets are realistic and comforting like familiar stuffed animals. 
  •  Molded plastic and rubber hand puppets are easy to wash and tend to be long lasting. 
  •  Family puppets come in diverse sets to mix and match depending on children’s cultures and the composition of their families. 

To set the atmosphere as children make their puppets, post photos or posters of puppets from various cultures on the wall.  Check with your local library for books to display about puppets or storybooks to inspire play writing.  Neighbors and family members may be able to donate brown paper lunch bags, fabric scraps, old gloves and socks, or unusual doll-sized hats, purses, scarves, crowns, wands, etc. After finishing their puppets, preschoolers can act out a familiar story or dictate an original script for their puppet show.   

Whether using purchased or self-made puppets, preschoolers may want to perform with their puppets for an audience.  A simple stage may be arranged by using a low bookcase for performers to kneel behind.  Designate someone to introduce the puppets and their handlers before or after the performance. Encourage children to explain the reasons they conducted their puppet show.  

Children may want to make tickets and invitations for parents, grandparents, or siblings.  This may involve some counting and pre-planning.  This can also be the perfect opportunity to talk about hospitality. It would lead to practicing ahead of time the use of good manners to welcome guests and guide them to their chairs/floor space.  Listening to children as they perform with their puppets is guaranteed to entertain, but you will also be likely to gather several new ideas for other puppet performances to capitalize on the children’s interests. 

Source:  Expressing Creativity in Preschool from the editors of Teaching Young Children.  2015.  National Association for the Education of Young Children. 

References:   

Puppet Mania!  The world’s most incredible puppet making book ever! by John Kennedy.  2004.  North Light Books.  Plenty of step-by-step illustrations for making sock puppets and furry animal puppets with lots of personality! 

Easy-to-Make Puppets and How to Use Them by Fran Rottman.  1995.  Gospel Light. 

Reproducible patterns and guidelines for making and using puppets with children ages 2-12. 

Many variations on finger puppets, hand puppets, glove puppets, and paper bag puppets.  Short seasonal rhymes for three and four-year-olds to easily memorize.  Some scripts for puppet plays suitable for older children. 

LADONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION

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

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

Storytelling for Preschoolers through Movement and Dance 

Mon, 06/05/2023 - 14:13

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“Tell me a story!”  This is an opening to build on your child’s interests and attention span.  Pounce on the opportunity by having a few suspenseful stories of your own ready to share!  Unlike reading to children, oral storytelling seems to unleash the imagination.  (No illustrations to rely on!)  When we are making direct eye contact with the children in our audience, we are also building community.  When we watch each other’s faces for emotions, a call-and-response takes place.  For example, if I gesture wildly or raise my voice, the children gasp.  If I whisper, they lean forward.  The intense listening and immediate responses create a level of intimacy and unity.  

By acting out stories, children consider how characters look, move, and sound.  What are the gestures and voices that make the characters seem real?  Here are some stories appropriate for children ages three to five, with a few suggestions for sparking interaction. 

“Goldilocks and the Three Bears” 

When telling this story, pause to let the children act out scenes.  When Goldilocks is tasting porridge, children cup their palms as if holding the bowl.  Does the bowl feel hot or cold?  Next, taste the porridge using various facial expressions.  When Goldilocks sit in the rocking chairs, they can rock back and forth.  Then Goldilocks startles awake, looking very frightened!  The children can run in place to demonstrate Goldilocks fleeing and may begin stomping their feet to show speed and fear. 

“Going on a Tiger Hunt” 

This story not only has repetitive phrases such as “but I’m not afraid” but also gives children the opportunity to invent many sound effects and memorize/anticipate the rhythm and sequence of the sound effects. 

“The Three Billy Goats Gruff” 

Before telling this story, discuss with the children how a troll might move or sound. When telling the story, ask the children, “How do you think the eldest Billy Goat Gruff sounds different from Baby Billy Goat Gruff?  How do you think the eldest Billy Goat Gruff moves when he crosses the bridge versus Baby Billy Goat Gruff?”  This discussion will make each character more distinctive and will also encourage the children to be aware of the differing points of view when acting out each segment.  Children will also begin to predict the repetition of phrases such as “trip-trap-trip-trap” when the goats move over the bridge. 

Oral storytelling encourages deeper participation among preschoolers through role-playing and performance.  Preschoolers develop essential speaking and listening skills when they express their ideas and respond to the ideas of others. Storytelling can expand preschoolers’ creativity and develop their language skills and social skills.  If children are learning a new language, tell stories that incorporate a few keywords in their native language.  

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Dancing with Preschoolers 

Have you ever wondered how to get your exercising done while also keeping an eye on your preschooler? You can do both at the same time by teaching dance to the children in your care. Children are natural explorers, and they enjoy activities that involve the senses and movement.  As a result, children are more engaged and physical activity makes them feel good! Together we can demonstrate and practice the movements that go with words like tiptoe, gallop, soar, swing, shuffle, sway, prance, and twirl.  While teaching, set up a mirror or record the children dancing, so the children can watch themselves during or afterward!  

You can also incorporate changes of tempo (speed) and rhythm (marching, waltzing).  Choose music that is mostly instrumental and let the children experiment with movements best adapted to the music.  Alternate between music that is calm and soothing and music that suggests a very energetic response. Ask children how their bodies felt when listening or moving to the different types of music. Which ones did they like the most?  

Activity Ideas for groups of preschoolers 

  1.  Read the chosen book aloud to the undivided class.  Then, ask the children in the first group to go to a personal space.  Remind children to be aware of others in the space around them.   
  2.  Split the class into two groups if space is limited. One group will be the audience and the other will dance.  
  3.  Ask the children in the audience group to do something specific while they watch the dancers. Watch for actions by the dancers, like ice skating, building a snowman, or making footprints in the snow.
  4.  Play the music softly.  Over the music, retell highlights from the story in the order they happened and if necessary, call out movement prompts. 
  5.  Observe any variations created by the children as they relive the story through movement.  Give children enough time to try out their ideas, but also be ready to move on to the following action before attention wanders. 
  6.  Conclude the story and ask the children to freeze in their final position.
  7.  Have the two groups change places and retell the story. 
  8.  Then, children can move to a circle to sit and discuss any changes or additions they could make to the story. 

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Children may have a favorite story that suggests various movements.  Encourage them to move by selecting their favorite story to act out. It’ll help them stay engaged with the story! 

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  1962.  Viking Press. 

The book follows the adventures of Peter, a little boy in the city on a very snowy day.  

Possible actions include:  Waking up, looking around, putting on a snowsuit, walking with toes pointing out and toes pointing in, dragging feet slowly, swinging a stick at a tree, making a snowman and a snow angel, climbing a snow bank and sliding down, putting snowballs in pockets, going to sleep. What other actions can you think of?  

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes.  2004.  Greenwillow Books. 

This book is about a kitten who thinks the moon is a bowl of milk.  

Possible actions include:  looking at the moon, closing her eyes, stretching her neck, opening her mouth, tasting a bug, leaping at the moon and falling, hurting her ear, running (in place), climbing a tree, leaping in the pond, feeling wet and hungry, drinking a bowl of soup  

Interestingly, when preschoolers retell a story through dance, they build language and literacy skills. Creating dance stories helps preschoolers learn about sequencing, identify with characters, understand the setting, acquire vocabulary, reinforce concepts from the stories, and gain awareness of adapting movement to the available space. Overall, incorporating movements with stories frees a child’s imagination and prompts them to interact with the material.  Check out Growing Active Readers for more book-based lessons for children Pre-K to 3rd Grade.

Source:  Expressing Creativity in Preschool from the editors of Teaching Young Children.  2015. 

National Association for the Education of Young Children. 

LADONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION

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

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

Keeping Routines is the Secret to a Calm Holiday

Thu, 12/15/2022 - 16:35

Photo source, Lynn DeVries

As I sit in the warmth and quiet of my home, I see the posts, advertisements, and the excitement of Black Friday shopping. And it starts, the traveling, special programs, shopping, parties and holiday gatherings.  It can take a toll on us all, especially our young children.

Children are even more sensitive to disruptions in their routines. However fun the activity or event may be, parents may observe more displays of behaviors or moodiness from their children during the holidays. Structured routines help children to feel safe and predict what is happening around them. Children learn how to control themselves and their surroundings when they live in a structured, secure, and loving environment. This feeling of security fosters healthy social and emotional regulation in young children.

Tips for a healthy holiday:

Sleep well

A regular schedule will help children sleep better at night and they are less resistive to transitioning to going to bed. Parents can help by sticking to routines and bedtimes that are as consistent as possible during the holidays. Perhaps reading a bedtime story to children after bath time.

Regular meal times

It is best if children eat at predictable times to avoid those “hangry” moments.  Offer a healthy breakfast and small healthy snacks between meals. Eating at the table instead of in front of the television, will reduce overeating, as children can focus on how hungry or full they feel. I recommend family style meals where caregivers sit with and eat the same foods as children.  When children are ready, allow them to serve themselves. They will be more likely to try new foods if given choices.

Traveling

For those long car or airplane trips, bring along a comfort item like a stuffed animal or a busy bag of books, paper and crayons. Mornings seem to be better for children, consider traveling in the morning, and making stops for meals at regular times. I recommend scheduling extra time on road trips to stop and allow children a break from their car safety seats.

Active times

If children are home from school or childcare over the holidays, remember to keep them active.  Build in time for outdoor activities so children can be physically active. If the weather doesn’t allow outdoor time each day, be sure some indoor time allows for physical activity.  Have an indoor paper snowball fight, or build a fort with blankets. Planning out a specific time each day during winter break for an activity will become part of their routine while children are at home.

Limit Screen time

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states, “Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. To help kids make wise media choices, parents should develop a Family Media Use Plan for everyone in their family.”

I recommend focusing on laps instead of apps. Instead of reaching for a digital “babysitter,” offer more of your time and attention.  What might be seen as attention getting behaviors, could simply be your child’s attempt at wanting more connection with you.

 Photo source, Lynn DeVries

Screen time recommendations:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

Check out this Media time plan and calculator by the American Academy of Pediatrics, to help you set your own family guidelines.

Transition back to school

As the holiday break ends, if you did stray from routines, help your child adjust by gradually getting back on schedule to similar meal, and bedtime schedules that they will have at childcare or school.

In closing, my wish for you is that you have a safe, happy and healthy holiday with your family. Take time to enjoy the little things and laugh together.

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, , Lisa Poppe, and LaDonna Werth, Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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

  

Creative Preschoolers

Tue, 11/01/2022 - 08:00

(Three to Five Years)

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The “Why” years can be rather trying at times, but what a clear sign of your child’s expanding knowledge!  This is the prime time to make memories through shared activities.   Creativity can be encouraged through art, dance, music and story-telling activities.  These activities may be one-on-one with your child or with small groups of preschoolers.

Three to Four Years

At three years of age, you may notice new skills such as matching shapes, colors and patterns or drawing simple faces. Three-year-olds may use a pencil or crayon to print large capital letters or they may cut with scissors and begin to follow simple outlines.  These are some activities you may enjoy trying with your child:

  • Reading stories and poems with repeating phrases where children can join in
  • Singing or dancing activities in small groups such as “Ring Around the Rosy” and “Musical Chairs”
  • Reciting rhymes or finger plays with counting
  • Dancing or exaggerated movements in front of a mirror
  • Making collages using paper, glue, and pictures cut from magazines
  • Labeling your child’s artwork using his/her own words and then letting your child “read” it
  • Humming familiar tunes and encouraging your child to recall lyrics or add new verses
  • Asking your child to choose a favorite storybook character to act out and discussing the character’s feelings and emotions
  • Reading a familiar story and pausing halfway through to let your child recall the ending or make up a new ending
  • Telling stories of grandparents, aunts and uncles when they were children
  • Imitating movements made by animals (loud and fast or soft and slow)
  • Imitating sounds found in nature (wind, rain, hail, thunder)

Image source: Canva

Four to Five Years

Are you starting to hear “stories” from your child that show imagination and exaggeration?  Do these stories involve lots of actions such as running, jumping and hopping?  Here are some other creative activities to try:

  • Repeating sequences of three to five simple movements to fit a song or dance
  • Creating child drums by using empty containers
  • Making a patchwork quilt with scraps of paper or fabric
  • Inserting a familiar song when telling a story or reading a book
  • Drawing a character from a favorite book or drawing a self-portrait while looking in a mirror
  • Observing animals and drawing them in motion
  • Identifying what is missing from a drawing of a face or animal
  • Bringing clipboards outside so children can draw trees, flowers, pine cones, and tall grass
  • Dramatizing a story together with familiar roles and then reversing roles in the same story.

Image source: Canva

Five Years

“I can do this!”  Yes, your child will demonstrate many new skills during this year!   Physical skills may include jumping rope, playing hopscotch, doing somersaults and cartwheels and riding a bike.  Buildings made with cardboard or blocks may become quite elaborate and so will the stories that accompany these adventures.  Encourage your child’s creativity by providing opportunities to try some of the following activities:

  • Making scrapbooks of favorite stories or artwork
  • Writing a song together
  • Telling a brief story and have your child draw or paint pictures showing emotions
  • Role play a familiar chore and have your child guess the activity, then reverse roles
  • Choosing a theme and have children create a mural using sidewalk chalk
  • Demonstrating dance movements and then have children take turns leading the dance while the music plays
  • Reciting poetry about emotions and experiences. Reciting a second time with pauses to let your preschooler provide keywords especially concerning feelings.  Encouraging your child to talk about any other feelings.
  • Provide a prop box of durable items and choose stories to dramatize

For more information on developmental milestones, check out our NebGuide on Ages and Stages for 3, 4, and 5 year olds https://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g2106.pdf

Our Beautiful Day video inspires families to Go on a Nature Walk https://mediahub.unl.edu/media/12406 or here is another on playing a game of Bean Bag Toss https://mediahub.unl.edu/media/13187. Discover and Design are packed full of ideas https://fitandhealthykids.unl.edu/discover-and-design.

Linked resource:  Creative Connections:  Young Children and the Arts

By the Maryland State Department of Education, 2013

www.marylandhealthybeginnings.org

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

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

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

The Creative Toddler

Sat, 10/01/2022 - 08:00

(Eighteen to Thirty-Six Months)

Image source: Canva

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

Eighteen to Twenty-Four Months

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

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

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

                    Look at pictures and photos and tell stories.

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

Image source: Canva

Twenty-four to Thirty-Six Months

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

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

Image source: Canva

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

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

Linked Resource:  Creative Connections:  Young Children and the Arts

by the Maryland State Department of Education in 2013

www.marylandhealthybeginnings.org

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

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

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

Choose Creativity for Your Child!

Thu, 09/01/2022 - 08:00

(Ages Birth to Eighteen Months)

Image source: Canva

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

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

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

Birth to Three Months

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

Three to Eight Months

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

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

            Name objects as your child touches them.

  • Listen to singing or instruments.

            Clap or sway in time to the music.

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

Eight to Eighteen Months

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

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

Image source: Canva

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

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

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

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

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

Linked Resource:  Creative Connections:  Young Children and the Arts

Published by the Maryland State Department of Education in May 2013

www.marylandhealthybeginnings.org

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

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

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

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

Mon, 08/01/2022 - 08:00
Image source: Canva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ERIN KAMPBELL, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

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

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

“Comfort in a Changing World”

Mon, 06/13/2022 - 08:00
Image Source: Pexels

“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

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

“Seas” the Day

Thu, 06/02/2022 - 09:31
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

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

Learning in the Heartland!

Mon, 05/02/2022 - 12:04
Image Source: iStock-841351076

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

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

Celebrating National Kindergarten Day

Fri, 04/01/2022 - 21:14
Activities like visiting apple orchards provide kindergartners with space and time to explore interesting environments that cultivate an excitement for learning.
 Image source: Sara Wangler

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

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

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

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


Ideas for celebrating National Kindergarten Day

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

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

Do you know what school your child will attend?

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

Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten?

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

ERIN KAMPBELL, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

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

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

Talking to Young Children about the Ukrainian Crisis

Sun, 03/13/2022 - 20:05
Image Source:Pexels.com

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 disorders21(7), 888-902.

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

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

KATIE KRAUSE, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

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

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

 

Be Well to Teach Well with Mindfulness Practices

Wed, 01/26/2022 - 16:58
Image Source: Natalie Hanna

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

What is mindfulness?

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

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

Why Practice Mindfulness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Benefits for Children:

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

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

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

At home:

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

At work:

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

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

NAEYC shares the following strategies for adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

LYNN DEVRIES, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

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

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

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

Fri, 12/17/2021 - 10:11
Image Source: Katie Krause

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

Scared of Santa

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

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

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

Presents from Santa

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

Santa is watching

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

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

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

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

Is Santa even real?

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

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

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

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

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

Sesame Street: Kids Talk About Holidays

Sesame Street: The Power of We Holiday Party

4-H Holidays at Home

I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season!

KATIE KRAUSE EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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

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

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

Reading to Infants and Toddlers

Wed, 12/08/2021 - 13:22
Image Source: Canva

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

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

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

Common Concerns

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

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

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

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

Resources

  • 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

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

 

The Benefits of Reading to Babies

Gratitude is Always in Season

Fri, 11/05/2021 - 12:47
Image Source: Lynn DeVries

What is Gratitude

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

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

Gratitude as a Mindful Practice

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

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

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

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

WAYS TO NURTURE GRATITUDE

Writing Thank-you-Notes or Emails

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

Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal

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

Pray or Consider Thanking a Higher Power

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

Mindfulness Meditation

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

GRATITUDE PRACTICES FOR YOUNG CHILDREN

Image Source: Lynn DeVries

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

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

CARING FOR YOUR CORE AFTER PREGNANCY

Fri, 10/01/2021 - 08:00
Image Source: Canva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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Grandparents Day – Do Something Together

Tue, 09/07/2021 - 13:10
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

  • 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

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

Choosing Quality Child Care: Guidance For Parents

Wed, 08/11/2021 - 21:00
Image Source: The Learning Child

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

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

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

Image Source, The Learning Child


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

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.

Image Source, The Learning Child



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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