Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Phonemic Awareness Activities (Early Reading Skills)

Research has shown that a child's phonemic awareness (ability to hear and manipulate sounds within a word) is a very good indicator of that child's future reading success or struggle.  So, how do we build phonemic awareness in children, including very young children?

  • Rhyming--read rhyming poems and stories, emphasizing the rhyming words.  Leave a rhyming word out and have the child fill in a word that works.    
  • Blending--putting individual sounds together to make words.  For example, "/b/, /a/, /t/ says what?"  Then change it, "what if we use a /c/ instead of /b/?"  In addition to individual sounds, you can also blend and change groups of sounds; "/h/, /op/ says what? What if you change /op/ to /at/?"
  • Segmenting--segmenting is the opposite of blending; the child tells you all of the sounds they hear in a word.  "What sounds do you hear in 'stop'?"
  • Isolating sounds--matching words with the same beginning, middle or ending sounds.  Sort pictures; play "Beginning Sound Concentration"--find pictures with matching sounds; play "I Spy"--"I spy something  that starts with /w/."
  • Identifying and sequencing sounds--first, identify sounds in isolation.  This part can be done in the classroom or on a "sound walk".  "What was that sound you just heard?"  (crumpling paper, clapping, sliding a chair, etc.)  Once children learn to identify different sounds pretty well, you can start sequencing the sounds and see if the children can tell you what sound they heard first, next and last.  Or, give them three sounds, then do it again, leaving one sound out.  See if the children can identify which sound was left out.
  • Deleting sounds--leaving one sound or part of a word out and seeing what word remains.  "Say the word 'toothbrush'.  Now say 'toothbrush' without saying 'tooth'."  The child should respond "brush".  "Say the word 'train'.  Now say 'train' without saying 't'."  The child should respond "rain".

Anything that we can do to help child develop phonemic awareness will help them in their reading, regardless of whether they are currently learning to read or still a few years away.
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Child Care Food Safety

I recently received an email from a family child care provider friend who asked me to develop a Food Brought from Home Policy.  She had a parent who had requested that her child be served food brought from home rather than from the provider's planned menu.  She agreed to the parent's request, but had no idea what the parent actually intended.  When the parent showed up at  her door with a bag of groceries and asked her to prepare, day-by-day, what the child requested, she was, to say the least, a bit shocked.  So, she has already re-written her parent handbook to make sure this doesn't happen again, but also wanted a very specific policy addressing food brought from home.

Other than the obvious problem of being a child care professional and not a short-order cook, and simply not having time to prepare individual meals for children, what are the problems with food brought from home?  The first issue is that some local licensing agencies simply do not allow any food from outside the child care program.  If this is your agency's policy, your concerns are over; it's a non-issue.  However, if it is possible for you to accept food from the outside, you need to determine if you will choose to accept it and, if so, under what conditions.  

Meals and snacks that you serve in your program must meet food safety requirements and USDA nutrition guidelines.  Managing that through your own kitchen or catering service is one thing, but trying to manage what a parent is bringing into the program is a totally different ballpark.  I would highly suggest, because this is such a difficult aspect to manage, you make sure that there is truly a need for the parent to provide the food for their child.  "My child only eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches" doesn't really cut it; this child can learn to appreciate the foods you serve in your program.  Providing that there is a true need (allergy, religious requirement, etc.), you have to make sure the parent understands the requirement that you have to provide safe, nutritious food to their child while in your program, regardless of who provides that food.  Most parents aren't going to think of food safety regulations and USDA guidelines when planning food for their own child.  

While most parents understand the need for food safety, there will be some who are unaware of the need for washing hands before preparing food, ensuring that food is maintained at a safe temperature prior to serving...and all of those other requirements that we have learned over our years of working with children.  Many parents, even those who do a great job in providing healthy meals and snacks for their children at home, are unaware of USDA nutrition guidelines, especially in relation to which components need to be included in meals and which ones in snacks.  Helping them to understand these basic requirements will be necessary before they start bringing food into your program for their children.  

As a program director, you need to have a plan in place for what to do when a child consistently brings in food that does not meet these requirements.  You have to be able to supplement the meal or snack to make sure that nutrition guidelines are being met and you also need to know how to get the parent the help he or she needs to  supply appropriate food for their child.  You will also need to make sure that your staff understands that food supplied specifically for one child can never be shared with another child in the program.

Your Food Brought from Home Policy , shared with parents when they enroll their children in your program, will help address all of these issues, along with how you handle food for special celebrations (birthdays, etc.).  
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Child Care Employee Self-Evaluation

A couple of months ago, we talked about Employee Evaluations and how the evaluations relate to each employee's Job Description.  The evaluation piece that we didn't talk about at that time is Employee Self-Evaluation.

You should have a system in place where either you or another individual (an Assistant Director, a Head Teacher, etc.) is in a position to directly observe your employee's work on a daily basis.  This person should be the one tasked with either writing the employee's evaluation or providing significant input to that evaluation.  However, you also need to give the employee a chance to evaluate his or her own performance.  

Self-evaluation is important for a couple of reasons.  The first is simple; the employee has the opportunity to provide input into the evaluation process.  Empowered employees can help to develop empowered children (and are typically happier employees).  Additionally, self-evaluation is another opportunity for employees to practice their observation skills.  Are they able to provide an objective evaluation of their own performance?  If not, this could be a learning experience.

Just as we ensure that the Employee Evaluation is fair by basing it directly on the employee's Job Description, the Self-Evaluation needs to be designed in the same way; you need congruence between these three documents.  Along with the direct evaluation of his or her own performance, this is also a great opportunity for the employee to tell you what they think they did well last year, where they need to improve, and what they need from you to be able to make those improvements. 

A strong Employee Evaluation program, with opportunity for employee input, can help you to get the very best from each of your employees.
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                                                                               We remember. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Neuroplasticity--Shaping Young Minds

For 400 years, we were wrong.  We believed that our brains were hard-wired.  We believed that brains that were injured remained that way.  We believed that if we just didn't "get" math, or reading, or whatever, that was just the way we were wired and we never would "get it".  We were taught that about our own brains and we based our way of teaching children on that idea.  

Over the past 20 years or so, we have learned that we have been mistaken.  Our brains are, in fact, changeable.  Scientists call this neuroplasticity--neuro, meaning involving the brain, and plasticity, meaning the ability to be shaped or molded.  So our brains can be shaped or molded.  And we're not even just talking about the wiring of the brain; we are talking about the actual structure of the brain that can be changed.

So, what is it that shapes the brain?  It is the experiences we have throughout our lives.  EVERY experience we have helps to shape our brains.  For me, as a teacher, that is an awesome, yet very humbling concept.  Every single thing that I do or say around my students has an impact on them.  I have the opportunity to help shape the very brains of my students; to help them not just compensate for, but actually overcome some learning challenges.  However, a brain that is changeable is also vulnerable.  If I misspeak, am just not "on top of my game" one day, or heaven help me, speak in less than a kind manner to a student, I am also shaping that student's brain, but in a negative way.  As Voltaire said (and Peter Parker's Uncle Ben in Spiderman), "With great power comes great responsibility".  

With the understanding that a person's brain is structured according to that person's experiences, the task of a teacher is much more clear.  Appropriate interventions, especially early interventions, do result in measurable changes in students' brains.  Therefore, we must provide our students with a multitude of rich experiences, particularly if the students come from environments in which those experiences were not provided.  The challenge, and therefore our professional expertise, comes in determining which students need which experiences and planning appropriate activities to provide those experiences.  In doing that well, we can have an impact on our students that previous generations never dreamed was possible.
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