Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guiding Young Children's Behavior

I sometimes hear teachers talk about classroom discipline.  The difference between child guidance and discipline is sometimes seen as pretty much the same as whether a child is stubborn or determined.  It all depends on your perspective.  We all have the same goal of having the children in our programs behave appropriately and must train our staff in what they can and cannot do to achieve those goals.  However, it's also very important that our staff understand our philosophy of child guidance.

So, guidance or discipline?  If we simply look at the definitions of the two words, the difference is pretty clear. 
  • guidance--"supervised care or assistance" or "advice or counseling"
  • discipline--"training to act in accordance with rules" or even "punishment inflicted by way of correction and training"
Obviously, "discipline" has a negative connotation and punishment certainly has no place in a child care program.  Our goal is not to have children who follow our directions for fear of reprisal.  Our goal is to help children to develop self-control and good problem-solving techniques. 

We do this by:
  • making sure children know the rules of the environment, the choices they can make, and the consequences of their choices
  • never referring to a child as "bad"; the child is not bad, he or she just made a poor choice.
  • talking with children when they make poor choices so that they understand why the choice was poor and how they can make better choices next time
If you don't already have a written Child Guidance Policy, check ours out at: http://daycaretools.com/DaycareProducts.aspx#Policies
Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Your Baby Can Read--But Why?

As reported by ABC News, "Your Baby Can Read" has shut their doors in light of a possible Federal Trade Commission investigation over false claims.  This is a company that preyed on parents; those from a lower socio-economic status who desperately wanted to give their children a head start, those who wanted to brag about their babies' skills, and those who just believed the company's claims.  At $200 a pop, they purportedly made a fortune off of these parents.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association for the Education of Young Children recommend NO screen time for children under the age of two.  However, if parents followed the instructions of the Your Baby Can Read program, their children would be subjected to as much as 200 hours of screen time in their first two years of life through this program alone.  

Screen time issues aside, is the program valuable?  Yes, an infant can be trained to mimic words that they see printed.  But does this qualify as reading?  I can watch "Dora the Explorer" with my Goddaughter and learn to greet people with "hola".  But does that mean that I can speak Spanish?  Absolutely not.  It's the same idea.  Providing a response to a few words in isolation doesn't make a child a reader any more than Dora makes me a Spanish-speaker.

Reading is  a complicated process that combines aspects of memorization with decoding skills.  An early program that focuses solely on memorization can establish some bad habits in young children.  Many of my reading students have great difficulty with the vowel sounds in words; they often just skip over the letter and inserting whatever vowel sound seems right to them.  This is because they see the word as one whole piece rather than individual sounds that combine to make a word.  Memorization is simply not an effective way to learn to read.

The other, even more basic piece of all of this is:  Why would we want our children sitting in front of television screens when we could be snuggling with them and reading to them?  THIS is how we establish pre-reading skills.  We show children how wonderful it is to read and show them the basics of the alphabetic principle--we read from top to bottom, left to right, letters make distinct sounds that combine to form words, and print represents meaning.  I would much rather my child learn that from warm interactions with me than from my television set.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Free Child Care Marketing

As a child care provider, one of your best marketing tools is free; your local child care resource and referral agency.  As a former Center Director as well as a Resource and Referral Program Manager, I've seen it from both sides.  

First of all, you need to understand what your R&R can and cannot do for you.  They cannot recommend your program to parents.  This would open them to huge liability issues.  But, what they can do, and get paid by the state to do, is to help parents find child care that meets their needs; they can provide referrals.

So, how do you maximize your referrals from the R&R?  Get on their list and keep your listing up-to-date.  When the R&R counselor talks with a parent about their child care needs, they ask very specific questions.  They then plug those answers into a computer and the database spits out referrals that meets the parent's needs.  

Making sure that your provider profile in the database is complete and up-to-date will help you make sure that the referrals you receive are appropriate for your program.  For example, if you don't provide infant care, but the R&R doesn't know that, you may get referrals for parents looking for infant care.  This is a waste of the parent's time and your time.

I was amazed when I ran R&R's at how often I would get calls from providers complaining that they weren't receiving referrals.  More often than not,  when I looked up a provider's profile, I saw that the list indicated zero vacancies listed.  The provider would complain that he or she had vacancies for months, but when I looked up the last update, it was six months earlier.  Many R&R's have systems in place to contact providers every three-to-six months to update profiles, but that doesn't mean that you can't, and shouldn't, contact them in the meantime.  I would recommend calling in every month and any time you have a change in your program; vacancies, fees, services, etc.  

Remember, updated profiles translate into more, and more appropriate, referrals.
P.S. If you don't already know your R&R, you can find them at http://childcareaware.org/child-care-providers. Just plug in your zip code.  When someone calls looking for child care, do you have a form to fill out that makes sure that you, or your staff, collect all of the important information?  If not, you can get our Initial Inquiry Form for just 1.95 ($1 off).  No discount code necessary.  Click here to start shopping!
Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tools for Learning

Last week I talked about developing independent learners by instilling the joy and excitement of learning in each child.  Once we get those children interested in learning, we need to make sure that we provide them with the basic tools of learning.

Most people recognize reading, writing and arithmetic as the basic tools of learning; with those basics, we can learn just about anything.  But the tools I'm talking about are even more basic than these.  We need to teach children how to be life-long learners.

One of the first tools we need to give children is perseverance.  My husband's favorite quote, from his father, is "Nothing hard is ever easy."  We want to make things as easy as we can for children, but the reality is that some things will always be difficult.  We need to teach them this, but also show them that, through perseverance and hard work, they can accomplish whatever they set out to do.

Allowing, and encouraging, the children to work with partners or groups will help them to start developing those collaboration skills that are so important in most American businesses these days.  Most employers are looking for the complete package employee--someone who not only has content knowledge and skills, but have emotional intelligence, social skills, and the ability to work collaboratively.  

Children are curious.  We have to encourage and nurture that curiosity by giving children a safe environment in which to explore; not just physically safe, but emotionally safe as well.  They need to understand that we all make mistakes, but those very mistakes are what help us to learn.  In modeling acceptance of mistakes (and the ability to admit our own mistakes), we can also help those children to develop empathy for one another.  In demonstrating an ability to "roll with the punches" when things don't go as we planned, we can teach the children to do the same.  

With these tools in their toolboxes (perseverance, collaborative skills, emotional intelligence, social skills, curiosity, empathy, flexibility, and the ability to accept mistakes), children are prepared to tackle whatever comes their way and to start taking responsibility for their own learning.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Inspiring Independent Learners

Happy Independence Day!

As educators, our ultimate goal is to develop independent learners; children who are self-motivated and responsible for their own learning.  To do this, we need to first instill the joy and excitement of learning in each child.

We must make sure that what we teach children is, first of all, developmentally appropriate.  We've all been trained on the developmental stages of children and need to keep that in mind when we are planning our program.  Our plans have to be well thought-out, but not so precise that we don't leave the opportunity to follow the lead of the children.  We might have an amazing lesson planned, but if a kite floats into our playground, we may have to shift the focus to kites for a few days.

We must make sure that what we are trying to teach is relevant and interesting to the children.  Talking to my students about a warm summer rain is pretty difficult because in Northern California, it doesn't rain in the summer.  All of our rain is from about November to March, so it is cool.  Some of the students find it interesting to think about a warm rain, but discussions about puddle-hopping aren't really relevant.  Similarly, we've all met the 4 or 5-year-old child that can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about dinosaurs.  That's because that child has a passion for dinosaurs; he or she WANTS to learn everything about them.  When children have choices about what they learn, they are much more engaged and start to learn that ever-important lesson of taking ownership of their own learning.

Children are active (in case you hadn't noticed!).  Providing them with opportunities for active learning will be much more successful than expecting them to sit back and simply observe what you are teaching them.  Children are also inquisitive by nature, so encouraging them to develop their own ideas, experiment, and even take some "safe" risks will help them to learn to step outside of their comfort zones.  They love to create things and, when we proudly display their work, we can show them that we also value their creation.  (Remember "process, not product".  No canned art work where everyone's looks the same.)

The environment that we create is also very important in instilling the joy of learning in a child.  The physical environment must be safe, so that a child can take those risks.  It must also be appealing so that the child will want to be there and will be intrigued by the materials that we provide.  The outdoor environment must also be appealing and the child needs to have a sufficient amount of time outdoors every day.  Finally, the environment we establish must be emotionally safe, where the child feels safe to explore interests, work with friends, and branch out to try new things.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net