Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Helpers Surrounding Us

Like many people this week, words just don't come for me right now.  My heart aches for the families and friends of those beautiful children who were lost and the teachers and administrators who died trying to protect them.  My heart also aches for a mother who lost her battle to save her son, losing her own life in the process, and for a young man who was troubled beyond anyone's imaginings.  

How do we possibly explain this to children when we can't understand it ourselves?  How do we assure them that they will be safe when we know that, regardless of how well we plan for emergencies, we simply can't anticipate every possibility?

I don't have the answers, but I think Mr. Rogers has the best response I have heard yet.  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.” 

While we can't lie to children and tell them that bad things don't happen, we can show them very clearly how many helpers there are who are willing to do anything, including laying down their own lives, to help them.  I think that's the best we can do right now.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Appropriate Touch

As a person who works closely with young children, how often have you had a child come up and give you a big, unexpected hug and find yourself very uncomfortable because the child's head, hands, or something are in a really inappropriate place on your body?  I'm sure if it hasn't happened directly to you, you have seen one of your staff members in that situation.  Ideally, we have such a good relationship with the children in our care, that they love to come up and give us a big hug every now and then.  That's awesome, and we can gently talk with them about making sure that their various body parts wind up in appropriate areas on our bodies.

Most children want and need to be touched; it is a normal aspect of human development.  Good touching can contribute to the formation of positive relationships.  But, sometimes children do not yet understand what is appropriate touch with family members vs. what is appropriate touch with others; or what is simply inappropriate touch.  Our staff members need to be well-versed on how to explain this clearly and calmly to children.  

Similarly, we need to work with our staff to make sure they know how to appropriately touch a child (and how to avoid inappropriate, or inappropriate-seeming, touch).  Having a Touch Policy, and training your staff on that policy, will help your staff to understand clearly what is appropriate and what is inappropriate; keeping you and them out of a "touchy" situation.  (Sorry, bad pun, but I couldn't resist.)  If you don't already have a Touch Policy in place, check ours out.
Image courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Encouraging Words

I was in the grocery store the other day and saw a young boy, 8 years old or so, perusing the different flavors of ice cream and trying to settle on just one.  As his mother walked up, he made his decision, grabbed a gallon, and, showing it to his mother, excitedly asked "What is eggnog?"  He didn't know what it was, but had decided that it sounded more intriguing than any of the other options.  His mother's response was "Um, I really don't know what it is, but it's...something weird."  Obviously, he returned the eggnog ice cream to the freezer and made another selection. 

This interaction saddened me.  As parents, teachers, care providers, whatever our roles may be, we have a huge influence on the lives of children.  Many of their habits, preferences, and ideas are formed, in large part, through their interactions with us.  We have opportunities every day to encourage children to step outside of their comfort zones and try something new.  This is very difficult if we aren't willing to do the same thing ourselves.  

If I'm honest with myself, I know that I haven't always encouraged my students, or even my own sons, to try things with which they weren't comfortable.  I know my own biases  have influenced them.  (Sorry, but I just really can't stand pickles and, strangely, neither can my sons.)  My new challenge for myself is to back off on my own opinions, encourage them to try things for themselves (safe things, of course), and see what happens.

What if that young boy's mother had said "Gee, I don't know what eggnog is, but let's find out."?  Maybe they could have found a smaller container of ice cream, bought a bit of eggnog, or even found a recipe to make eggnog themselves.  Perhaps he wouldn't have liked either eggnog or eggnog ice cream, but I sure would have loved to have seen him have the chance to try it out for himself.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Early Literacy

A research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Lead for Literacy, is publishing a series of simple, one-page memos to address current pitfalls in literacy education and propose solutions to these pitfalls. 

One of the memos ("Literacy Unpacked: What Do We Mean by Literacy?") simply defines what we mean by the term literacy and the educational implications for that understanding.  A key component of their explanation is that literacy is not simple; it requires a very complex set of skills and knowledge. 
The skills involved in literacy are:

  • Concepts about print
  • The ability to hear & work with spoken sounds
  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Word reading
  • Spelling
  • Fluency

The knowledge required for literacy includes:

  • Concepts about the world
  • The ability to understand & express complex ideas
  • Vocabulary
  • Oral language skills

The biggest educational implications of this understanding is that most of the literacy skills are acquired by 3rd grade and these skills are heavily influenced by relatively short periods of instruction.  However, the knowledge component of literacy is acquired throughout a lifetime; infancy to adulthood.  This component requires "sustained instruction, beginning in early childhood".  

While it's never too late to learn to read, this deconstruction of the components of literacy make a very strong case for early literacy education to help prevent future reading difficulties.

To see all of the memos, visit the Harvard Graduate School of Education Language Diversity and Literacy Development Research Group at http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=lesaux&pageid=icb.page541445

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cleaning and Sanitizing Your Child Care Program

Does your policy for keeping the surfaces in your program clean distinguish between cleaning and disinfecting?  I have spoken to many people who believe that these two processes are one in the same.  They're not.  Cleaning involves physically removing dirt and germs from surfaces whereas disinfecting involves actually killing the germs.  Cleaning is not enough; surfaces must be sanitized as well.  (You can find our Standard Precautions Policy here.) 

First of all, program staff must know which surfaces need to be cleaned when.  Surfaces that are visibly soiled should be cleaned immediately.  When things are not visibly soiled, each staff member must know what his or her individual responsibility is in keeping the facility clean on a regularly-scheduled basis. 

There are some products that clean and disinfect simultaneously.  These products can be effective, but only if the manufacturer's directions are followed carefully.

If using separate cleaners and sanitizers, start with the cleaning solution to remove any surface soil.  Once the surface is clean and dry, it can then be sanitized.  The biggest issues to watch in both of these processes is ensuring that you are using the right type of product (cleaner or sanitizer) for each type of surface (wood, linoleum, etc.), that you are mixing the product properly (if required), and that you are using the product according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Sanitizers typically need to either dry naturally or, as a minimum, be allowed to remain on the surface for a certain amount of time.  If staff is sanitizing at the end of the day, they can probably just leave the product to dry naturally.  If not, it will need to be wiped off, but must remain on the surface for the minimum amount of time first in order to be effective.

Care must also be taken to keep office staff healthy.  Most electronic devices can be cleaned and sanitized with disposable disinfecting wipes, so don't forget your phones, computer keyboards, etc. in your cleaning routine.

Keeping the surfaces in your program clean and sanitary is one of your most effective ways of preventing illnesses among the children and staff.  Here's to a healthy winter!