Category Archives: Families

Celebrating the Bridge Between Home and School

 

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On Friday, May 6, 2016 as I prepared to close my computer and meet my daughter at the bus, I sent an email to her teachers, recognizing the tremendous work they do to facilitate her learning.   I did not just randomly send the email, I wrote it because Friday May 6, 2016 was the conclusion of this year’s National Teacher Appreciation week and I wanted to make sure these two amazing teachers headed into their weekend knowing how much our family appreciated what they do everyday.

Two days later on May 8, 2016, families all over the United States, including mine, celebrated Mother’s Day, which according to Wikipedia is a “modern celebration honoring one’s own mother, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society”.  In June there will be a similar celebration honoring Fathers and in September another celebration honoring Grandparents.

Each of these celebrations separately recognizes the role and influence of an important adult in the life of a child. They honor and celebrate the individual contributions of adults in the home and at school, the environments known to be the most influential in a child’s life. Supportive adult-child relationships in both these settings deserve celebration as they can set a course for the future success of a child.   However, research tells us that the potential for success is elevated when the celebrated adults at home and in school build relationships that bridge the two environments. Relationships between home and school have been “linked to greater academic motivation, grade promotion, and socio-emotional skills across all young children, including those from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds” (Halgunseth, Peterson, Stark, & Moodie, 2009).

Families and teachers each hold unique knowledge about a child. They each hold pieces of information and perspective that contribute to the “whole child”. They have insight into a child’s strengths and challenges based on observation in their unique environment. They hold unique hopes and dreams for a child based on various influences and experiences including family culture and school curriculum. Respectful relationships and 2-way communication between the important adults in the home and at school allow for sharing of the unique knowledge each holds. It creates a place to identify and discuss similar as well as opposing ideas, to build shared understanding, and to set common goals that everyone can support.

Building strong trusting relationships between home and school is not easy. It takes commitment, time, and dedication. As a place to start, schools needs to create a culture that is welcoming and respectful, where each family is seen and treated as a partner and ally in a child’s learning process.   Teachers need to work together with families to identify paths of clear 2-way communication that best fits their distinctive relationship. And strategies need to be developed so consistent opportunities for families and teachers to share information, perspectives and decision-making are regularly available.

To me it seems more than serendipitous that a week of teacher appreciation is directly followed by a celebration of Mothers (or any important adult in our homes).   It seems that someone (perhaps a Hallmark executive) in their infinite wisdom recognized the shared responsibility these adults have for the future success of our children. I know from now on I will consider this week of celebration a symbol of what is possible when the important adults at home and at school build a bridge to support and elevate the potential of the children they love and teach…. How about you?

Resources

Halgunseth, L., Peterson, A., Stark, D., & Moodie, S. (2009). Family engagement,

diverse families, and early childhood education programs: An integrated review of the literature. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/research/FamEngage.pdf

 

Steps to Finding the Right Early Childhood Program

Finding the right early childhood program for young children is one of the most important and stressful decisions families face. Looking for a quality early childhood program while recognizing the reality of a family budget can be a balancing act. Research shows young children develop to their full potential when they have positive experiences in safe environments supported by adults they trust both in and out of their homes. These markers of quality exist in many early childhood programs, but the programs can be expensive, often costing more then a year at a state university. By going into the search process prepared with questions and knowing what to look for, families can find a great early childhood program that meets everyone’s needs.

It is important to begin to search for an early childhood program well before it is needed, especially for infants, as many of the best options will have waiting lists. As a first step, families must consider what type of child care environment would best fit their needs, a nanny, a family child care home or an early childhood center. Each option has benefits and challenges that should be taken into consideration. The next step is to identify providers and programs to be interviewed and visited. A list of licensed family child care homes and early childhood centers can be obtained by contacting the local childcare resource and referral agency for the area which can be identified using the ChildCare Aware website http://www.childcareaware.org/parents-and-guardians/resources . Finally, schedule visits to each program to observe and interview the director or owner. This visit can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as an hour, but it is important it is long enough to ask the right questions and get a feel for the environment.

To help families with this process, the following is a list of recommended questions that go beyond hours of operation and cost to help with the decision making process. They can be adjusted to use in nanny candidate interviews.

1 – Is the program licensed or accredited? If not why and how are you regulated?

When family child care homes and early childhood centers hold a current State Child Care License they have met basic health and safety standards including, background checks, health and fire inspections, current CPR and First-aide certification, basic ongoing professional development, and annual monitoring by local government agencies. There are also required teacher to child ratios and regulations such as supervision of children by sight and sound at all times including while they sleep.

Typically nannies are not licensed or regulated so it is up to the individual family to require basic health and safety qualifications such as background checks and CPR.

2 – How long has the program been in operation and do they have a policy manual for you to review?

Strong candidates have been in business for a while and have solid, up-to-date credentials, clear rules and regulations, and firm policies on operating hours, pickup and drop-off times, safety, hygiene, nutrition, naptime practices, toileting and when children are too sick to attend. References should be available upon request.

3 – What type of credentials does the staff have?

All staff including directors and owners should have had a thorough background check. All staff working directly with children should be educated in an area specific to early childhood development and education and hold a minimum of a CDA. They should have current CPR and First-aide at all times and be expected to participate in ongoing professional development. Staff should be able to talk about the activities they prepare and do with the children and how these activities support positive development.

4 – What methods does this program use to guide children’s positive behavior?

Strong candidates should have clear behavior management policies and procedures that are not punitive, but are respectful, focusing on positive behavior and encouraging children to learn how to express themselves appropriately.

5 – How big are your group sizes?

Strong candidates should maintain small group sizes. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends child care center’s have one caregiver for every three to four babies, and no more than eight babies in a group; one caregiver for every four to six children between the ages of 2 and 3; and a staff-to-child ratio of 1:8 to 1:10 for 4- and 5-year-olds.

6 – How will my child spend her day?

Strong candidates have a set routine with a well-thought-out daily schedule including a variety of activities. The topics and equipment should rotate regularly so children have a chance to learn new skills and don’t get bored. There should be regular outdoor times for fresh air and large movements. Television and other forms of screen time should play little or no part in the day’s routine.

7 – How do you engage with families?

Strong candidates encourage visits from families, maintaining regular two-way communication in many forms (phone calls, newsletters, conferences, daily check-ins), and understand the importance of working as a team to support a child’s positive development. You should always feel welcome and respected.

As important as the answers to these questions are, the feel of the program when touring and observing is just as important. Do the children and staff seem happy and engaged? Are the babies being held? Are the adults talking with the children? Is the equipment clean and well maintained? Are the bathrooms and sleeping areas pleasant? Does it feel safe?
Keeping in mind a child care provider will never do everything exactly as the family does it at home and it is always hard dropping off on the first day, it is imperative to pay attention to intuition. Families should only choose a child care program in which they feel at ease knowing their child will be in that setting without them. When families take the time to do a thorough investigation ahead of time and pay attention throughout their relationship with the program, their child should be off to a great start.

Families Thrive with Routines and Sail Through Transitions

Here is a piece I recently wrote for submission to our local newspaper.  

During my almost 30 year career as an early childhood teacher and administrator some of the most common advice families ask from me is how to get their child to eat or to get dressed or go to bed on time without tears and tantrums. My answer always starts with a question, “can you tell me about your routine?” As a creature-of-habit myself, I know that I depend on my rhythm and routine each day to keep me moving forward and happy. Having a basic routine helps me manage my time, move from one activity to another and reach my goals. I have a sense of how my day or week might go and it keeps stress at bay.

For young children daily routines are especially important. Without them their lives can seem chaotic and out of control. Young children do not have the ability to tell time or understand minutes and hours so they use predictable events and routines in their day to understand what comes next and keep track of their progress. Having this ability allows them to feel secure and to become confident in themselves and the world around them. They can trust their needs are going to be met, allowing them to focus on growing and developing.

When routines are predictable for young children it makes transitions to and from activities such as meals, chores and bedtime easier. They know what to expect, how they are going to get there and that their participation is not optional. When the daily rhythm remains consistent there is less room for arguments and pushback.  The following are some strategies I have found to help make routine events predictable and easier to manage.

Meals and eating can be a problematic time for young children and families. It has been well established that children need fuel in the form of healthy food to develop and learn. We also know children can be picky, choosing to eat little at meals and holding out for unhealthy snacks when they are hungry. This can be quite frustrating and worrisome for families. To help children become healthy eaters, responsible for taking care of their bodies, mealtime expectations must remain consistent. To do this the important adults in a child’s life should set meal and snack time routines that include when meals take place, where meals take place and what food is being offered. The children then become responsible for if and how much they choose to eat.   By making mealtimes predictable and eliminating on demand snacking, children learn to eat when food is served, to try new things and if they choose not to eat, they know when the next meal or snack will be served reducing the potential for argument.

Enforceable statements are an excellent tool to help children move from one activity to another, especially when the appeal of one exceeds the other. For example, when it is time to get dressed for the day, but the child would rather play with a favorite toy, an enforceable statement would be, “when you have your cloths on then you can play with the toy”. Or when it is time to clean up before going outside the enforceable statement would be “when your toys are put away then we will head outside”. The key to enforceable statements is not just saying them, but to mean what you say by following through while remaining calm. When children experience adults using enforceable statements routinely, they quickly learn to take the adult at their word and know what is expected of them.

Bedtime can be another challenging time of the day for families. The best way to eliminate much of the bedtime challenge is to develop rituals and routines that occur in the same order each night. Include activities such as taking a warm bath or reading bedtime stories to create a sense of calm and comfort. (Avoid using television or other electronics as a calming technique as they have been found to stimulate the brain). Use each step of the routine to cue the next, for example you can say “after we get your PJs on what happens next”? A great item to include as part of the bedtime routine is talking together about the day; what happened, what they enjoyed, and any frustrations they may have had. It is also a great time to discuss the events of the next day setting up expectations and preparing for any changes in routine.

Children thrive and are able to become more independent when they have the consistency and limits that are available through a predictable routine, but we all know that life happens and unexpected changes are also important for growth. Occasional unpredictability helps children learn to be flexible and resilient, especially when they know they can count on an adult to support them.  These changes help them learn to face and work through life’s problems as they occur.

In today’s world we are all juggling many things that make a consistent routine daunting, however it can also make life run a little easier. Start small, adding predictability where it may already be and don’t give in to pushback. Who knows by adding some rhythm and routine you may find everyone has a little more time for fun!