Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Parents

Last week we talked about the importance of making a good first impression when a prospective parent calls your program or handling the call of a current parent appropriately.  This week we’ll go into a bit more detail on making sure that parents are satisfied with your program.  It’s a lot less difficult and expensive to keep the clients you already have than it is to get new clients.

We all work on fostering parent satisfaction every day.  First and foremost, we provide high-quality care for their children.  In addition, we greet them and their children at the door by name, with a smile; give them a quick run-down of the day when they pick up their children; post menus and lesson plans so that they understand what is happening in the program.  Frequent and open communication is one of the most powerful tools we have in keeping parents satisfied.

Even though we have regular communication with the parents, we also need to have formal procedures in place to measure their satisfaction with our program.  We have an annual Parent Satisfaction Survey that we use to solicit input from, ideally, every parent in our program.  We start with the basics such as which classroom each of their children attends and how long they have been in that classroom.  Then we get to the nitty-gritty like:
  • Overall satisfaction
  • Health and safety
  • Child satisfaction
  • Staff qualifications and performance
  • Staffing levels
  • Program hours
  • Classroom activities and supplies
  • Opportunities for parent involvement
  • Communication
  • Affordability

Some parents are very open in their regular communication with us, but others are not so open.  Surveying parents regularly gives us an opportunity to reach out in a very non-threatening way to those parents who are a bit quieter with their thoughts and opinions.  If you don’t already have a Parent Satisfaction Survey, check ours out here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

First Impressions

Many people are going to get their first impression of your program through the telephone. Who answers your telephone?  Who answers when that person is not available?  Do they all understand phone etiquette and what is expected of them?  Do they understand that they can make a great first impression and make someone excited about the possibility of enrolling in your program or make a horrible first impression and assure that person never sets foot on your property?

In my very first job in a child care center, I was the Assistant Director of a well-established program.  We had a receptionist who answered the phone (very professionally) and when she was unavailable, the phone rang in one of the preschool rooms for one of the teachers to answer.  I was walking past that classroom one day when I heard the phone ring.  The teacher answered it with the words "Daycare. What do you want?"  All I could think was "Who is on the other end of that phone and what must they be thinking right now?"

Prior to that incident, I assumed that phone etiquette was common knowledge.  I realized in that moment that not everyone knows how to properly answer a phone, which leads to the knowledge that not everyone knows how to properly respond to a client or potential client’s questions.  Who we have answering our phones and how they do it could make or break our program.    

So, how do we make sure that the messages I would like to have shared with people are the same messages my staff will be sharing?  We establish the standard and then train our staff so that they understand our expectations.
  • How would we like the phone answered?
  • What happens if you are helping a parent when the phone rings?
  • How do you handle a conflict with a parent?
  • What verbal and nonverbal techniques should be used?
  • How do you take a message for another staff member....and be sure that person receives the message in a timely manner?

After you establish your Customer Relations Policy, you need to ensure that EVERY staff member is trained on it during their New Employee Orientation.  You work hard to ensure the success of your program.  Don't let a mistaken assumption of common knowledge undermine all of your hard work.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Safe Infant Sleep

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study of primary infant nighttime caregivers from 1992 – 2010 to help understand infant care practices.  The good news from their recently released report is that use of potentially unsafe bedding decreased by more than 30% during that time.  The bad news is that nearly 55% of infants in this country still sleep with bedding that increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Since the 1992 recommendation that infants be put to sleep on their backs, deaths from SIDS in the U.S. has decreased by 50%.  However, since 2000, infant deaths due to accidental suffocation have nearly doubled. 

The NIH’s Safe to Sleep campaign recommends that infants sleep alone, on their backs, on a firm sleep surface covered by a fitted sheet, with no sheets or blankets over them.  Soft objects, including toys, crib bumpers, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, pillows, and loose bedding should not be present in an infant’s sleep area.  Even with this information, caregivers participating in the survey cited mixed information as a major factor in their choice of bedding for their children.  In opposition to NIH recommendations, magazines and advertisements often show infants in cribs with potentially unsafe bedding items.  Additionally, family and friends give baby gifts of quilts or bumper pads and the new parent feels obligated to use these items.

For parents who are concerned about keeping their infant warm at night, the Safe to Sleep campaign recommends keeping the room at a comfortable temperature and dressing the infant in an appropriate-weight one-piece sleeper. 

Since professional child care providers are well-versed in these recommendations and because these recommendations have been widely publicized, it’s easy to assume that all parents are familiar with and follow the recommendations.  Research shows differently.  Please make sure that all parents in your program understand these recommendations and why they are so vitally important to follow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Job Descriptions for Child Care Programs

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve talked about Employee Evaluations.  In these posts, I’ve talked about the importance of making sure that each evaluation is based upon that employee’s Job Description.  This is how you ensure that your employees all clearly understand your expectations for their performance.
While a Job Description provides a framework as to what it will take for your employee to be successful in the position, writing Job Descriptions is a careful balancing act.  They need to be specific enough to inform each employee exactly what you expect them to do without bogging everyone down in unnecessary details. 
I shudder to think of how many modifications we have made to our Job Descriptions over the years.  While the core layout has remained the same, we've learned that a few things just really need to be spelled out more clearly.  For example, we just kind of assumed that if we hired a program manager with a recent Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education, that person would know how to use email, Word, and Excel.  We were mistaken.  We also assumed that if we hired a teacher, that person would have thought ahead enough to realize that they needed a reliable way to get to work.  Again, we were mistaken.  Those components are now part of our Job Descriptions.
Making sure that our staff members know these basic requirements right up front (we explain the Job Description as part of the interview process), helps us to hire the correct person and provides them with the tools they need to be successful in their position.  They also understand from the beginning that the Job Description will provide the framework for evaluations.  

If you don't already have comprehensive Job Descriptions for your employees, check ours out at: http://daycaretools.com/DaycareProducts.aspx#Personnel

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Employee Evaluation in Child Care

Last week we talked about Employee Self-Evaluation.  This is our prerequisite to our formal evaluation.  While the evaluator should have detailed observations of the employee’s work throughout the evaluation period, we like to see the employee’s own evaluation of strengths and weaknesses.

Each new employee is given a 90-day probationary period (although employment is not guaranteed for the full 90 days).  The probationary period gives both the employee and the employer an opportunity to see if the program is a good fit for them and if they are a good fit for the program. Your Employee Evaluation will help you make your side of this decision. 

Following the probationary period, your employees should be formally appraised of their performance on an annual basis.  A note on this:  Some programs schedule all evaluations at the same time every year.  For example, March is evaluation month.  While this makes it easy to remember when each evaluation needs to be done, it makes that particular month a nightmare for the evaluator(s) and makes it much more difficult to conduct a thorough evaluation for each employee.  We recommend conducting annual evaluations on the employee’s anniversary, whether it be the anniversary of hire or the anniversary of the probationary evaluation.

Your actual Employee Evaluation form should be, primarily, a reformatted version of your Job Description.  If you are requiring that your teacher plan and implement a developmentally appropriate program, you need to evaluate on their ability to do just that.  We go section-by-section through our Job Descriptions to write our evaluations.  Do not include anything on the evaluation that is not included in the Job Description; that's simply not fair to your employees.  

In addition to a rating system to evaluate the employee's performance, your Employee Evaluation form should also contain space to explain why each area was rated as it was, with examples of the employee's performance.  It should also contain space to detail any goals that you, as the manager, have for the employee for the upcoming year and any personal goals that the employee has.  This will be your opportunity to designate any necessary coaching or training for an employee that is having difficulty or additional training and/or responsibility for an employee that is showing great promise.  

If you don't already have an Employee Evaluation form, check ours out at: http://daycaretools.com/DaycareProducts.aspx#Personnel  


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Child Care Employee Self-Evaluation

Each of our employees receives an annual Employee Evaluation.  The evaluation process forces us take the time to thoroughly assess how each of our employees is performing.  It also allows each employee to understand what they are doing well and where they have room for improvement.  Without having a specific evaluation policy in place, it’s easy to overlook this critical piece of staff development.

The first step in our evaluation process is a self-evaluation.  Through regular observation of that person’s performance, I think I have a pretty good idea of how they are doing, but I want to know their impression as well.  Knowing how an employee feels about his or her own performance is a critical piece of completing an evaluation.

As we can’t fairly evaluate someone’s performance on unfamiliar criteria, we use the employee’s Job Description as the basis of the evaluation.  They have that Job Description on the day on which they accept their position and know from that moment on that their performance will be evaluated based upon how well they meet the requirements detailed in it.  So, we simply ask them how well they are meeting each of those criteria. 

Along with the specifics of the Job Description, I also want to know how the employee feels that they have contributed to the program over the past year, what types of struggles they have encountered, and what goals they have for the upcoming year. 

The other thing that we learn from a self-evaluation is how well the employee can objectively assess a situation.  If the self-evaluation indicates that the employee absolutely walks on water, we have an opportunity to talk about objectivity in observations; a critical skill for people who work with young children.

Next week we’ll talk about the actual evaluation.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Child Care Holiday Schedule

As the holidays approach, I’m starting to make plans, including what I’m hosting and when I’m traveling.  My staff is working on those same type of plans, as are the families we serve.  My challenge is to merge all of these schedules, to the best of my ability, to most effectively meet everyone’s needs.

My staff members are starting to turn in their requests for time off in the next couple of months.  While I have a thorough understanding of how I need to staff my program, and how many employees can be gone at any given time and allow us to still meet ratios and provide quality care, what I don’t know is which children will be in care on which days and for how long.  I don’t want to be the person to tell one of my staff members that they cannot go away for Thanksgiving only to have that person twiddling their thumbs in a nearly empty classroom and being sent home early that afternoon because there are so few children in care.

We use a Holiday Attendance Survey to help us make these kinds of decisions, as well as providing a subtle way to remind parents which days we will be closed.  On our Survey, we remind parents of our closure days, but also ask them about their child’s anticipated attendance on the days around the closure.  For example, how many days between Christmas and New Year’s will your child be in our care?  Will your child be there all day on those days or just part of the day? 

Once I have this information, I can go to my staff time-off requests and approve as many as possible.  If you don’t already have a Holiday Attendance Survey, you can find ours here.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Financially Healthy Child Care

Is your program financially healthy?  Do you know what enrollment you need to break even and to make the profit you want to make?  Many child care providers are so busy operating the program day-by-day that they don’t take the time to assure their financial health.
Maintaining a checkbook and balancing it every month, which is kind of unusual in these days of online banking, is great and necessary, but not sufficient.  That’s a very reactive way of watching the budget rather than being proactive.  You have to know what is in your account now, but also what is going to be coming in and what is going to be going out. 

A budget can help you make sure your program stays financially healthy.  It can help you see if:
  • your parent fees are where they need to be
  • your staff is paid well enough to keep them from jumping to a better-paying job
  • you are spending the right amount on program supplies
  • your food expenses are appropriate
  • you are paying yourself fairly
If you don't already have a solid budget or if you want to assess your current budget and compare it to industry norms for budget expenditures, our "Budget Worksheet" can help.  We have one for Child Care Centers and one for Family Child Care Programs.  Each worksheet includes:
  • budget line item for revenue from parent fees (including a simple revenue calculator)
  • budget line item for revenue from a food program (including a simple revenue calculator)
  • budget line items for care and services expenditures such as food, field trips, and subscriptions
  • budget line items for staffing expenditures, including unemployment and Worker's Compensation
  • budget line items for facility expenditures such as rent/mortgage, repairs, janitorial services, etc.
  • a simple calculator for food program expenses
  • a simple time-space calculator for Family Child Care provider tax purposes
  • industry norms for budget percentages to help you compare your expenditures to other programs
Especially when money is tight, making sure that your budget is correct is critical.  It can be the "make it" or "break it" for your program.  Be sure that you are giving it the time it needs, and deserves.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Is High-Quality Child Care?

We talk a lot about providing high quality child care, but do we stop every now and then to think about what that really means?  In one of my previous jobs, I managed a Child Care Resource and Referral program, so my staff was tasked with helping parents find child care.  One component of their job was to teach parents what high-quality child care looks like.  As providers, our mission is two-fold: we need to provide high-quality care and we need to make sure that parents understand what that means and why it’s important to them.

So, what are the components of a high-quality child care program?
  • Number 1 on the list has to be safe and healthy.  We have to have procedures in place to check regularly for any hazards, inside and outside.  We have to have health policies that ensure that ill children are not in care and that our staff understands what to do if a child becomes ill or is injured in our care. 
  •  Appropriate group size and teacher-child ratios.  We have to, at a minimum, meet the state and local requirements for group size and ratios.  After that, we need to decide for ourselves if these minimums allow us to provide a high standard of care.  Your state may allow one teacher with 6 infants or 20 preschoolers, but can one teacher really provide high-quality care to that many children?  Sometimes we have to exceed minimum requirements.
  • All staff members are properly qualified.  Again, our staff must meet the minimum requirements, but we can strive to be an employer-of-choice, attracting and retaining highly-qualified staff members.   While pay is one aspect of getting and keeping this kind of staff, it is only one component.  We can make sure that our staff has paid planning time and knows that we, and the parents, appreciate and respect their work. 
  • The schedule and activities are developmentally appropriate.  Children have a daily routine that allows for indoor and outdoor play as well as individual, small group, and large group activities.  Children are engaged in hands-on, open-ended learning activities, rather than sitting at desks doing worksheets.  Of course, this means that we frequently have to explain to parents what their children are learning through their activities as a lot of parents think that if they don’t see worksheets, their children aren’t learning anything. 
  • The other components are a little tougher to identify.  I ask my staff or parents to just look and listen.  Does the classroom look organized and appealing?  Is the classroom clean…and are the children reasonably clean (noses wiped, hands washed, etc.)?  Are teachers interacting with children by bending over to talk with them rather than standing over them or calling out from across the room?  Do teachers and children talk to each other and to their peers with respect?  Overall, how does it feel?  We often disregard our gut reactions to things, but our gut reactions can tell us a lot.

In helping parents to understand the components of high-quality child care, and how your program provides such care, you can be more assured that they will enroll their child in your program, keep him or her there as long as possible, and refer their friends to you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Slow Reading

Generally, when I talk about reading, I’m talking about children and the importance of each child developing strong reading skills, which includes an adequate fluency rate.  So, when I saw a few articles about a relatively new movement called Slow Reading, I had to see what it’s all about.

The Pew Research Center surveyed Americans age 18 and older, and discovered that 1 in 4 have not read even one book in the past year.  We talk about how important it is for children to read 20-30 minutes every day, yet we, perhaps, forget that it’s important for us as well.  But exactly what DO adults gain from a regular reading habit?
  • Enriched vocabulary
  • Slowed memory loss in later years
  • Deepened empathy from reading about people who are unlike you or in circumstances that are different than yours
  • Increased concentration
  • Enhanced comprehension
  • Reduced stress
  • And, if for no other reason…it can bring you pleasure

Since time is often a premium for adults, here are some tips to help encourage you to set aside that time for yourself; kind of like setting aside time to exercise.
  • Go out somewhere to avoid distractions—local coffee shop, library, park, book store, etc. If necessary, set a regular time to meet with a group of friends to read.
  • Turn off your phone.
  • Select a printed book rather than an e-book so you will see it lying around and be reminded that you need to read it.
  • Give yourself at least 30-45 minutes of uninterrupted reading time so that you can really immerse yourself in the book.  Hence, the term, Slow Reading.

So, set aside some regular time for reading.  It’s good for you!


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Paid Sick Leave Required?

We heard from our lawyer a couple of weeks ago that California has a new law requiring most employees to receive paid sick leave, effective July 1, 2015.  If you are not a California employer, you may not have this requirement yet, but keep your eyes and ears open.  (At this point, Connecticut is the only other state with this requirement, but more counties/cities are implementing similar policies.)  We had no idea this was coming until we received the email that the Governor signed it into law. 

I think it’s great that employees will have sick leave and it will help to remove the temptation some employees have to come in to work when they are feeling under the weather.  But, I also understand the financial repercussions that this will have on my programs.  We strive to be an employer-of-choice, providing our employees with vacation leave, sick leave, health care reimbursement, and paid planning time.  But, we are currently only able to do this for our full-time employees.  When this law goes into effect, that will have to change.

Beginning in July, each of our employees, including part-time and temporary employees, that work at least 30 days for us, must receive at least 24 hours of paid sick leave each year.  Even at minimum wage, which is currently $9 per hour in California, this will cost me at least $216 per employee per year.  My only decision will be where to get the money.  Unlike many employers, I can’t cut my staffing.  I have ratios to maintain.  So, will I cut pay rates or supply costs?  Or will I raise parents’ rates?  None of them are great options.

Along with this new paid sick leave requirement, there are a lot of communities that are also raising minimum wage, which will also have the same type of impact on our budgets.  If you aren't being faced with this yet, keep your eyes and ears open so that, perhaps, you can have a voice in the decision.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Enterovirus 68

As child care providers, one of our greatest responsibilities is protecting the health and safety of the children in our care.  We have Health and Safety Policies in place to define what that looks like, but every once in a while, we are thrown a curve.  That’s what’s happening right now. 

As cold and flu season gets going, we now have Enterovirus 68 thrown into the mix.  You’ve probably seen it on television as it seems to be raging throughout the country right now with infections reported in 45 states.  Enterovirus 68 is a respiratory virus that is very similar to a common cold.  Mild symptoms may include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, and body and muscle aches. 

As child care providers, we need to realize that children are most at-risk of becoming infected with this virus and the age group most commonly infected are children between the ages of 4 and 5.  The biggest problem with Enterovirus 68 is that it can quickly become quite serious, especially for children with asthma.  We have to make sure that we have appropriate care plans in place for any children with asthma.

Signs of distress in a child, such as difficulty talking, audible wheezing or bluish lip color call for immediate medical intervention. 

Since Enterovirus 68  is a respiratory virus, it is found in secretions such as saliva, nasal mucus, or sputum.  Other than watching for signs of illness in children, the best way to protect children and your staff is to follow your already established Standard Precautions, such as:
  • Wash hands frequently using soap and water.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick (by making sure that those who are sick are excluded from care).

With conscientious care, you can help keep the children in your care and your staff healthy.  And, if anyone becomes ill, you know how to identify when it may be becoming more serious and when to seek medical assistance.

And, yes, the CDC is now investigating whether there is a link between Enterovirus 68 and the unexplained symptoms of paralysis that some children have experienced in the past several months.  Keep your eyes open for more information on that possible link.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Use of Social Media in Child Care

Social media can be a very effective and efficient way to get information out to parents and guardians quickly.  For the most part, gone are the days of printed newsletters, email (for the most part), or even many written notices.  This reality poses special challenges for child care programs.

Social media can be a very useful marketing tool (for example, a Facebook page for your child care program).  It can be a quick tool for parental communication.  It can even be a way to help families keep grandparents, aunt, uncles, etc. “in touch” with the children in your care.  Social media can lead to a whole set of challenges, liabilities and unforeseen conflicts as well.

If you are going to use any social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Team Snap, etc.) you need to have some basic understanding and policies in place.

1.       You need to fully understand the security settings.  How do you “invite” people? How do you block people? How do you keep the general public creepos off your page and without access to your photos?  How do you delete someone who has left your program or proven themselves incapable of following your policies?  What is your process for employees who don’t follow your policies?

2.       If you are using a website, it is a good idea if you have time to put into it and keep it current.  It is very poor marketing if your “current” tab takes people to a calendar that is 2 years old…or even a year old.  Websites are easier now than ever to set up and manage, but you must make yourself take the time to manage it.  It can be a wonderful communication tool if you continually keep relevant and current information /updates there.  You will teach your parents to use the website for the most important information, and they can access it any time day or night.  However, if you let it get behind, it communicates to people that you are disorganized and/or it’s a useless tool.  Neither message is good for business.

3.       If you use social media and use photographic images of children in your care – you need to take great care in getting written approval from parents before putting their children’s images online.  There may be individuals whom the parents do not want to have access to pictures of their children.  There may be “no contact” orders in place – and potentially – you could inadvertently identify where children under protective orders are attending.  A random example:  I have a life-long friend who is a reporter and who lives in a foreign country.  While visiting her and her family, I took pictures of various landmarks, her children (with my children), and other nice moments of our trip.  I posted my musings to Facebook and “tagged” her.  She immediately emailed me and asked me to take the pictures down and not to link her in future posts.  She was working on a very delicate news piece that was ongoing for about 4 years in international media – and she had received death threats and threats against her family.  I had absolutely NO idea!  Anyway, suffice it to say, I took the pictures down immediately and have never linked her again.  We just never know what might be going on with a family – even if we see them every day or have known them for our whole lives. 

4.       If you use social media that allows members of the page to make comments that are immediately “viewable” by everyone (like Facebook), you need to have a strictly enforced policy of respect and appropriateness in place – and require your families to abide by the policies.  It will destroy your program about as fast as anything if you have a couple of parents calling each other names via your page.

5.       You need to set parameters for your staff on who is allowed to post and when they are allowed to post to the site/page.  Our policies are clear that it can only happen during classroom planning time – our staff are not allowed to have their cell phones on them during work time – and they can post to the page from the program computer, not from their cell phones.  There are a myriad of reasons for this: a. I don’t want staff paying attention to their phones instead of the children in their direct care.  b.  If employees use their personal cell phones for work-related tasks there can be issues that arise.  c. I require that their posts are approved prior to posting….spelling, grammar, content, etc.  all very important when communicating with parents from an educational entity. 

With all of this said….social media is the way of the future – at least for now. 


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Child Care Dress Code

Perhaps you have been having a periodic or persistent problem with employees coming to work in clothing and attire that you feel are not appropriate for your program.  We’ve all had that employee who thinks that a strapless dress is a good idea, even when they are working with children who tug and pull on clothing all day.  We’ve all had that employee who wears footwear that is dangerous or uncomfortable, so they are continuously limping around or taking their shoes off and on instead of caring for children.  We’ve all probably had the employee who wears flip flops to work in the middle of winter and then doesn’t want to go outside with the children.  Ok, maybe those of you in the south don’t have that problem, but up north – it can be a big issue.

Talking to employees about dress code is sometimes not easy and can make everyone uncomfortable.  For example, I had to tell an employee once that a parent had called me because her very young son (just starting to talk) was indicating “breasts” with sign language and the word “ta ta’s” when referring to his teacher.  She wore sun dresses most of the time – many of which were strapless and all of them showed more of her cleavage than even she realized.  Needless to say, it was an embarrassing conversation for myself and the teacher.

Appropriate dress --shirts, pants, shoes and adornments—often need to be explained to employees.  Skirts so short that the teacher cannot bend over or sit down.  Pants that show cracks when seated on the floor.  Shirts that allow children intimate views of what is underneath…. None of us want to get a call from a parent with a concern about how our staff dresses.  It doesn’t demonstrate professionalism. 

Some facilities require uniforms –such as “scrubs”, or partial uniforms – such as aprons, or a logo shirt, or something along those lines.  There are many different ways to create a respectful and safe dress code; one that respects the human body and keeps children safe from hazards from choking.  If you are interested in taking a look at our Dress Code Policy for facilities that do not have uniforms, check out the new addition to the website.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Back-to-School/Back-to-Child Care

As kids are heading back to school, we can use some public school ideas to assess and improve our child care programs. 

Most schools host a Back-to-School Night.  This is a great way to get together with parents, introduce any changes to your policies and procedures, and give parents a chance to talk with you and their child’s teacher about your program.  You can take this time to invite parents to participate in the program throughout the year by volunteering in the classroom, reading to the children, or working on some projects at home. 

The beginning of the school year  is also a good time to make sure that you have updated paperwork on all of the children in the program—correct phone numbers, up-to-date immunizations, etc.  Ideally, you will also have some sort of portfolio and/or developmental checklist on each student so that the classroom teachers can plan appropriate learning activities for the year.

Along with the developmental checklists, you can take this time to make sure that your program is developmentally appropriate, with a goal of developing self-motivated, active learners.  But, part of that developmental appropriateness of your program will include down time for the children, whether it be outside time for them to run around and get fresh air or just unprogrammed inside time.  While your program will include specific learning goals for each child, each one should also have some daily down time to just relax and gather their thoughts.

Even though most of us run programs that operate year-round, back-to-school can be a good reminder to make sure our house is in order for another year.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Early Math—Making the Time

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about a newly-released guide from the US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences entitled Teaching Math to Young Children.  They provide 5 recommendations for teaching math to young children.  The first recommendations are to “teach number and operations using a developmental progression”, “teach geometry, patterns, measurement, and data analysis using a developmental progression,” to “use progress monitoring to ensure that math instruction builds on what each child knows,” and to “teach children to view and describe their world mathematically.” This week, we will talk about the fifth and final recommendation, to “dedicate time each day to teaching math, and integrate math instruction throughout the school day.”

Up to this point, we have seen the numbers, operations, and concepts children need to understand to help them explore and explain their world, how to make sure that each student is acquiring these concepts and making sure they can apply these concepts to real life.  We now move to our own awareness of the use of math throughout the curriculum and making sure that we seize opportunities to teach math whenever we can.

The recommended strategies for setting aside dedicated time for teaching math daily and integrating math instruction throughout the school day include:
  • Have a set plan for daily math instruction.  This can be done in both large groups and small groups.
  • Include math in routines and daily activities.  During morning circle time, we can discuss “We have 8 boys here today and 10 girls here.  We have 18 children all together.”
  • Point out math across the curriculum.  In a science lesson, we can find and describe patterns we find in nature.  In art, we can talk about what shapes we find in a particular work of art.
  • Create a math-rich environment.  Include items like blocks, foam shapes, different colored beads and cubes, measuring materials (ruler, scale, measuring cups), and sorting bins.
  • Play math games.

For more information and suggestions on implementing these recommendations, check out the guide at: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practice_guides/early_math_pg_111313.pdf#page=18

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Early Math—Living in a Mathematical World

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about a newly-released guide from the US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences entitled Teaching Math to Young Children.  They provide 5 recommendations for teaching math to young children.  The first recommendations are to “teach number and operations using a developmental progression”, “teach geometry, patterns, measurement, and data analysis using a developmental progression,” and to “use progress monitoring to ensure that math instruction builds on what each child knows.”  This week, we will talk about the fourth recommendation, to “teach children to view and describe their world mathematically.” 

Through the first recommendations, we understand the numbers, operations, and concepts children need to understand to help them explore and explain their world and how to make sure that each student is acquiring these concepts.  We then work on making sure that they can apply these concepts to real life…kind of like the geometry student who wants to know “when will I ever need this”. 

The recommended strategies for viewing and describing the world mathematically include:
  • Teaching children to solve math problems informally.  We don’t start with an equation like 3+2=5, we start with “If you have 3 blocks and get 2 more, how many do you have all together now?”
  • Teach children formal math vocabulary.  Now that they have the basic math concepts, we can start explaining that “subtract” means the same thing as “take away”, describing who is “first” in line, or which stack of blocks has “more” or “less” than another.
  • Open-ended questions.  This is an area where early childhood teachers excel!  Questions with set answers can assess a child’s knowledge, but not encourage deeper thinking.  Use questions that start with “how could we find out”, “how else could we”, or something else along those lines.
  • Talk about math in everyday situations.  Encourage children to help out with everyday tasks that involve math concepts.  “How many cups do we need for snack time for everybody to have a drink?”  “How did you know that?” 

For more information and suggestions on implementing these recommendations, check out the guide at: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practice_guides/early_math_pg_111313.pdf#page=18

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Early Math—Progress Monitoring

For the past couple of weeks, we've been talking about a newly-released guide from the US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences entitled Teaching Math to Young Children.  They provide 5 recommendations for teaching math to young children.  The first two recommendations are to “teach number and operations using a developmental progression” and to “teach geometry, patterns, measurement, and data analysis using a developmental progression.”  This week, we will talk about the third recommendation, to “use progress monitoring to ensure that math instruction builds on what each child knows.”

Through the first two recommendations, we understand the numbers, operations, and concepts children need to understand to help them explore and explain their world.  Like anything else that we do in teaching children, we need to identify which of these concepts each child has mastered and which ones need more practice.  We can then teach new concepts sequentially. 

The recommended strategies for progress monitoring include:
  • Use introductory activities, observations, and assessments to determine each child’s existing math knowledge, or the level of understanding or skill he or she has reached on a developmental progression.  You are probably already doing this in compiling portfolios on each child and/or utilizing developmental checklists on a regular basis.
  • Tailor instruction to each child’s needs, and relate new ideas to his or her existing knowledge.  What interests the child and how can you use that interest to further his or her understanding of the math concept you are teaching?  For example—count the musical instruments, arrange the dinosaurs by size, sort the blocks by shape.
  • Assess, record, and monitor each child’s progress so that instructional goals and methods can be adjusted as needed.  Does the child need more practice in a particular skill or is he or she ready to move on to the next concept?

For more information and suggestions on implementing these recommendations, check out the guide at: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practice_guides/early_math_pg_111313.pdf#page=18

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Early Math—Understanding Shapes, Patterns, and Measurement

Last week we started talking about a newly-released guide from the US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences entitled Teaching Math to Young Children.  Their first recommendation is to “teach number and operations using a developmental progression.”  This week, we’ll talk about the second recommendation, to “teach geometry, patterns, measurement, and data analysis using a developmental progression.”  Again, there is a focus on developmental progression, but this recommendation is stretching last week’s skills a bit. 

While children must understand numbers and operations, they also have to see how mathematical concepts exist in the world around them and how they can use those concepts to explore and explain their world. 

Early concepts include:
  • Shapes—Recognizing, naming, and comparing shapes, then combining and separating those shapes to create new shapes.
  • Patterns—Finding, identifying, extending, correcting and creating patterns. 
  • Measurement—Using both standard and nonstandard units and tools for measurement. 
  • Graphing—Collecting and organizing information and representing the information graphically.

For more information and suggestions on activities to teach these concepts to children, check out the guide at: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practice_guides/early_math_pg_111313.pdf#page=18

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Early Math—Understanding Numbers and Operations

The US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences has recently released a guide entitled Teaching Math to Young Children.  The goal of the publication is to provide specific, evidence-based recommendations on teaching math to young children.  They provide 5 specific recommendations.  We will spend the next few weeks going through those recommendations. 

The first recommendation is to “teach number and operations using a developmental progression.”  Just like most things that we learn, there are foundational concepts and skills that must be gained before the higher-level skills can be learned.  Good teachers can determine which concepts and skills their students possess and, thereby, understand what they need to learn next. 

The first concepts of early number knowledge to be acquired are:
  • Small-number recognition—to be able to recognize by sight how many items are in a collection without having to count them.  Initially, work on up to 3 items, then increase to up to 5 items.
  • One-to-one correspondence—to be able to assigning a counting number to each item in a collection to determine how many total items are in the collection.  The child must understand that each item receives one, and only one, number.
  • Compare quantities—to be able to use counting and number words to compare two collections and use words like “less” and “more” to describe the relationship between the collections. The child must understand that each number is exactly one more than the previous number.
  • Solve basic problems—children can add or subtract items from the collection to determine “how many are there now” when items are added and “how many are left” when some are removed.

For more information and suggestions on activities to teach these concepts to children, check out the guide at: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practice_guides/early_math_pg_111313.pdf#page=18

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Crime-Fighting Teachers

Many years ago, when I taught Kindergarten, I saw a cartoon that depicted picketers in front of the capitol complaining “No More Money for Schools” and “Build More Prisons”.  As sad as it was, it seemed to so well express legislative priorities. 

Research shows the correlation between high-quality early education and quality of life issues, such as high school graduation and jail time.  The group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids studies crime prevention strategies, works to make the public and policymakers aware of the findings, and urges investment in research-proven programs.  They identify themselves as a group of  “nearly 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, attorneys general and other law enforcement leaders and violence survivors”. 

The United States currently has about 2 million criminals incarcerated at the cost of about $75 billion per year.  A study in Chicago showed that children enrolled in high-quality child care or parent coaching programs were 20 percent less likely to be arrested for a felony or be incarcerated as young adults than their peers.  This doesn’t include the benefits like increased high school graduation rates, better health, or less receipt of welfare.  Recent research demonstrates that society profits, financially, by $25,000 per child served in a high-quality early education program when you deduct the cost of the program from the lifetime savings. 

Of course, those of us who provide care realize that the money is nothing compared to the positive impact on the lives of these children. So...to all of you who provide high-quality child care....well done, thank you, and keep up the good work! It truly does make a difference.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Playground Question

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the importance of outdoor play.  This week, I’d like to change it up a little and specifically ask for your input. 

We may be opening another Center, this one in southern California.  Since this is new construction, we can design it from the ground up (depending upon our client’s budget, anyway).  I’ve been reading a lot about natural playgrounds and am very intrigued.  They look like they could be endlessly fascinating for children and very aesthetically pleasing. 

I am very concerned about how our local Licensing agency would accept such a playground; there are inherent risks involved with providing logs and stones for children to walk across.  The natural playgrounds representative that I spoke with assured me that Licensing cannot, legally, require any greater safety measures than the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Society for Testing and Materials require.  But, realistically, anyone in child care knows that, if a Licensing representative doesn’t like the way I’m doing something, they will find some way to make my life more difficult. 

My questions for you are:
  • What sort of playground do you have?
  • What are the positives and negatives of your playground?
  • What would you change about your playground if you could?
  • Do you or anyone you know have a natural playground?
  • If so, how what are the positives and negatives of that playground?
  • How does the Licensing agency view the playground?
  • From what you know, would you build a natural playground for your program if you could?

Thanks in advance for the help!  (If we get a dialogue started on this blog, pop me an email with a subject you would like to discuss and we can throw that out to the group as well.)


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Partnering with Pediatricians

Getting to know local pediatricians (and/or the pediatrician’s staff) and leaving information about your program in their offices can be a good way of marketing your program.  You can reciprocate by providing a resource area in your program for parents, including materials provided by the local pediatricians and other professionals.  (Remember, make sure it’s just a referral and not a recommendation.)

A recently released policy statement on Literacy Promotion from the American Academy of Pediatrics provides another opportunity for partnership.  The policy statement explains to pediatricians why early literacy development is so important and how to counsel parents on best supporting this development.  Pediatricians are encouraged to :
  • Inform parents about the importance of reading out loud to their children from the time they are born
  • Counsel parents about developmentally appropriate shared-reading activities (like dialogic reading)
  • Provide developmentally appropriate books for high-risk, low-income young children
  • Provide resources for parents about literacy—informative posters and handouts, library information, etc.
  • Partner with other child advocates (like you)

While pediatricians can be a great literacy resource for parents, they are medical professionals, not education professionals.  As an early education professional, you can be a resource to the local pediatricians to expand their knowledge on early literacy and to answer any questions they or their clients may have regarding best practices in early learning.  Perhaps you could provide recommendations on which books they could offer to children of various ages, donate some inexpensive books or bookmarks, or provide parent handouts with early literacy suggestions.  Just make sure your contact information is on everything you provide!