Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Two Christmas Trees

Last Saturday my husband and I were decorating our Christmas tree and reflecting on previous Christmases.  (Yes, I know we're late.  I assure you that's nothing new.)  He reminded me of how, when our sons were young, they would decorate the tree for us and all of the ornaments would be placed on the lowest 3 feet or so of the tree, as that was all they could see and reach.

On Sunday, I helped decorate a simple Christmas tree in the Sanctuary of our Church.  Since we have several active crawlers and toddlers in the parish, we decorated the top of the tree and left the bottom couple of feet without ornaments to reduce temptations for our littlest ones (and to keep them safe).

As I helped to decorate that second tree, I smiled to myself about the difference between the trees we adults decorate for children and the trees that the children themselves decorate.  I hope this little graphic makes you smile as well.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year--see you in 2014!!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Child Care Holiday Scheduling

There aren’t many things more frustrating than sacrificing holiday time with your family to work and then to find out that you aren’t really needed at work.  While we have to provide services for parents that have to work on holidays, we can try to minimize the impact on our staff.

Both staff and parents will know which days are recognized holidays in our program through our staff and parent handbooks.  Yet, even on days we are open, we sometimes have very few children.  There will probably be quite a few parents who do not work on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, etc. or at least may only have to work half days. 
Knowing which children will be in care and when will help us to ensure that we have enough staff, but also allow as many staff as possible to have that time off work.
Similarly, we generally have some staff members who want to work every possible hour and some who would prefer to not work.  Hopefully, staff members who want time off have already submitted vacation requests well in advance, so we can approve or turn down their requests in plenty of time for them to plan accordingly.  While we will send staff home as numbers start to dwindle, having a plan in advance will also allow our staff to better plan their holidays.

The simplest way we have found to figure out which parents will actually want/need to use our services during the holidays is to ask them directly.  We provide each parent with a survey that indicates which of their children will be in care on which days and at what times.  We then know how many employees we will need to have on-site during those times. Ideally, we can provide time off for those who want it and work hours for those who need it.

If you don’t already have a Holiday Attendance Survey, you can find ours here.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dialogic Reading

We’ve known for a long time that reading to children is critical in language development.  However, we now know that the way in which we read to children is important also.  Dialogic reading can be described as a conversation between an adult and a child (or children) about a book.  It is a very powerful tool in language development, particularly vocabulary development.  The goal in dialogic reading is for the child to move from being an active listener to a storyteller.  

As with reading any book, start by having the child look at the cover and tell you what he thinks the book is about.  Then read the book normally so that the child can become familiar with the story.  In subsequent readings of the book, you can use dialogic reading.  (Children enjoy repetition; repeated reading is another great technique to improve language skills.)

The method used in dialogic reading is known by the acronym PEER. 

  • Prompt—ask the child a “what” question about the book.  What did you see on that page? 
  • Evaluate—either reinforce the child’s correct answer or guide the child to the correct answer.  Yes, you saw a man on that page.
  • Expand—expand the child’s answer with additional details.  (You can provide the details right away or ask the child to provide more details before you expand the answer even more.)  That man is a fireman, standing next to his fire truck. 
  • Repeat—have the child repeat your phrase or part of your phrase.  Can you say “fireman”?

Try to ask a variety of questions instead of just asking “what happened” over and over again.  The acronym CROWD provides suggestions for types of questions to ask.

  • Completion—have the child complete your sentence about the story.  The fireman is standing next to his _________.  (truck)
  • Recall—ask the child to recall a detail from the story.  What did the fireman do when he heard the alarm?
  • Open-ended—ask the child a question without a specific answer.  What do you think the fireman is going to do next?
  • WH questions—who, what, where, when, why (and how).  Where did the fireman go in his truck?
  • Distancing—ask the child to relate the story to something in his own life.  Have you seen a fire truck?  Where did you see it?  What was it like?

And, of course, after reading and discussing the story, have the child give you an overview of it.  This will help you to make sure that the child is comprehending what you are reading.  Most importantly, read, read, read (and have fun with it).

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Managing Child Care Expenses

As we come to the end of the year and start getting our financial information together for tax purposes, it’s a good time to look at our expenditures for the year.  While we don’t want to go cheap in our programs at the expense of quality, we also don’t want to waste our hard-earned money.  Some areas to examine include:

  • Staffing—we certainly don’t want to short-change our staff, but, with staffing being one of the greatest expenses in a program, we need to make sure we are watching our staffing expense closely.  We want to pay our staff fairly, but we also want to control costs by ensuring that we are not overstaffed.  The beginning of the day, the end of the day, and nap time are times in which programs tend to be overstaffed.
  • Food—providing fruits and vegetables that are in season is a way of both controlling costs and teaching children about shopping locally.  Properly storing and using leftovers can help to extend food budgets.
  • Utilities—something as simple as turning off lights and water when not in use can not only save a lot of money, but again teach children about using resources carefully. 
  • Materials—hopefully our staff and children already treat program materials respectfully.  We need to reuse items as appropriate and conserve where we can. 

These cost-saving tips not only help our programs, but also help us to develop more conservation-minded citizens.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Coordination of Early Learning

This week we’ll finish up our discussion of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report “The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success” and the low academic scores of American third-graders.  The Foundation’s first two recommendation to improve outcomes for our children are to “support parents as they care for their children” and to “improve access to quality early care and education, health care and other services.”  Their third and final recommendation is to “ensure that care is comprehensive and coordinated for all children from birth through age 8.”

As individual child care providers, most of us cannot set up state-wide systems to ensure seamless care for children from birth to 8.  But we can work within our own communities to try to improve communication.  Perhaps we can partner with our school district so that our staff can attend some of the same trainings that local Kindergarten teachers attend.  We can also make sure that parents of children in our care are aware of the various community resources available; health care services, parent education programs or opportunities, financial resources, and resources for children with special needs.  This information can be provided one-on-one, included in newsletters, or posted on bulletin boards.  

One great way to ensure continuity of care is to work with local Kindergarten teachers to ensure that, ideally, your goals for a child entering their program from your program are similar.  (Hopefully, the teachers’ expectations are developmentally appropriate.)  Similarly, if you have signed parental permission, you can share the latest developmental checklist you’ve completed for a child with the teacher.  In addition to providing benefit to both the child and the teacher who will teach that child in Kindergarten, you can also benefit your own program.  A good relationship with local teachers can lead to more referrals to your program.   Win-win!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Access to High-Quality Early Care

We’ve been talking about the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report “The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success” and the low academic scores of American third-graders.  The Foundation’s first recommendation to improve outcomes for our children is to “Support parents as they care for their children”.  This week, we will talk about the second recommendation, “Improve access to quality early care and education, health care and other services.”

Most child care providers don’t have the resources available to increase access to early care and education, but we can make sure that our programs are of excellent quality.  The benefits that children receive from attending high-quality programs is well documented and the return on investment is generally acknowledged to be about $7 for each $1 invested.  The problem is that, according to one well-regarded study, less than 10% of early childhood programs are of very high quality.  We can’t control a family’s financial situation or their ability to gain subsidized care, but we can control the quality of our program. 

Part of operating a high-quality program is providing a developmentally-appropriate education.  This means that the classroom teachers need to know the developmental level of each child; their strengths and challenges.  Regular developmental screenings can help make sure your program is meeting each child’s needs and that each child is developing appropriately.  In the case of a child with some delays, our early identification can help the parent get appropriate early interventions for their child.  

Our high-quality programs also provide nutritious meals and snacks for children.  Along with feeding children well when they are in our care, we model healthy eating and help teach parents about nutrition.  Again, we can’t provide comprehensive health care for the children in our program, but we can provide their parents information about community resources.  If you don’t already provide hearing and vision screenings in your program, perhaps a local professional would be willing to provide free screenings.  

Next week we’ll talk about the recommendation to “Ensure that care is comprehensive and coordinated for all children from birth through age 8.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Supporting Parents

Last week we talked about the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report “The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success” and the low academic scores of American third-graders.  Low income students are particularly at risk for poor outcomes.  The Foundation provides three specific recommendations to improve outcomes for our children.  The first recommendation is to “support parents as they care for their children”.

As early educators, one component of our work is parent education.  We help parents understand things like health and safety, appropriate developmental expectations, learning activities, positive guidance, and nutrition.  We encourage them to read to their children regularly and to provide their children with abundant opportunities for creative play.  

Caring for children from low-income families may present an extra challenge.  Struggling to make ends meet financially can make parenting much more difficult.  If a person’s basic needs aren’t being met, the “bonus” stuff can kind of go by the wayside.  Our challenge as educators is to try to provide as much support to the parent and child as we can, but also to be aware of community resources available to families.  We can’t provide healthcare, housing, a job (usually) or food to our clients, but we can help them find those resources.  

Within our program, we can recognize how some income-related challenges will appear in a learning situation.  Many children from low-income families are significantly behind their peers in language and pre-reading skills, especially vocabulary development.  Providing these children with more opportunities to learn basic skills and develop their vocabularies can help erase these deficits.  

Next week we’ll talk about the recommendation to “improve access to quality early care and education, health care and other services”.