Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Early Learning—Literacy Area

Last week, I started talking about developmentally-appropriate environments in early childhood programs.  Now we’ll start getting into specifics; some activities/materials that can be included in each learning area and what the children will learn from them.  Before I do that, though, I do need to clear up one issue.  I received an email from a family child care provider who reminded me that family child care should always look like a home rather than a center.  I couldn’t agree more (and, thanks, Irene for reminding me that I should include this).  However, I do think these articles can be useful to family child care providers also as they examine their programs and think about their curriculum.  We need to all, centers or family day cares, make sure that our programs and facilities are set up in ways to provide developmentally-appropriate learning activities and that we understand developmentally-appropriate education well enough to be able to explain it to the parents of the children in our care.

The first area is the Literacy area.  (Yes, I’m choosing this area first, in part, because I’m also a reading specialist.)  Literacy is a pretty easy sell to parents as learning to read is frequently one of parents’ top priorities for their children.  The problem, though, is that they are often focused on “when will my child learn to read”, without understanding the skills that have to be acquired before a child can read.

In setting up your Literacy area, the first consideration is where it’s located.  It should be in the quietest section of the room so that children can enjoy books without a lot of distractions.  Also, keep it as far away from the messy areas like Art and Sensory Play to protect your books.  If it can be placed near a window, natural light is nice.  A floor or table lamp is also a nice touch.

Your Literacy area should be comfortable; a place where children can relax.  If the area is not carpeted, a small rug will do the trick.  You will need chairs, bean bags, a small sofa, or some other comfortable place for children to sit.  A small table is also helpful for writing activities, keeping in mind that Literacy involves writing as well as reading.

Some things to include in your Literacy area are:
  • Books!! 
    • A wide variety of books, along with magazines and even newspapers. 
    • Reading materials should be at a variety of reading levels so that there is appropriate reading material for each student. 
    • New reading materials should be added periodically to keep the children’s interest and to correspond with your other learning objectives (theme of the week, etc.)
  • Low shelves so that children can easily reach the books.
  • Recordings with accompanying books.  (with headphones)
  • Puppets, flannel board stories, or other literacy props.
  • Literacy games—match objects to the objects that begin with the same sound or with the letter with which they start; rhyming; matching capital letters with lower-case letters; sight words
  • Different types of paper (for drawing and writing); pencils, crayons, and markers

As children explore the Literacy area, we can help parents understand that their children are learning:
  • vocabulary
  • books are read from front to back and pages are read from top to bottom, left to right
  • some words sound the same at the beginning and others at the end
  • sounds are represented by letters and letters form words
  • children can use letters to express their thoughts
  • reading is an enjoyable activity

Next week, we’ll talk about a Block area.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Early Learning—A Developmentally-Appropriate Environment

I have spent a lot of time over the years talking with both parents and staff about child care environments.  For parents, we talk about how to recognize an appropriate environment for their child.  For staff, it’s about how to set up and maintain an appropriate environment.  But, for both groups, we talk about why the environment is set up the way it is and what children will learn through that environment and the activities that we provide.
Parents often want to see concrete examples of what their children are learning in our program.  They want to see them reading, doing worksheets, bringing home cute artwork, etc.  Our job, along with teaching the children in a developmentally-appropriate manner, is to educate the parents on appropriate education.  We do that by designing our environment correctly and by working directly with the parents, helping them understand our design and our learning activities.
Typically, an early learning program will have a gathering area where children and teachers can meet throughout the day to work on large group activities.  It can be a rug, a circle, or just a specific area that is set aside.  In this area, you may meet in the morning to talk about the upcoming day, including the day of the week and date, the weather, anything special about that day, and plans for the day.  Perhaps you can meet together before lunch and read a big-book together.  This is also a good place to wrap up your day together. 
Along with a gathering area, most programs will have specific areas set aside for:
  • Literacy
  • Blocks
  • Dramatic Play
  • Art
  • Manipulatives
  • Sensory Play
  • Science
  • Gross Motor
Some programs may also include a specific computer area, but care must be taken to ensure that the software is educational and appropriate and that screen-time recommendations are followed.

Over the next several weeks, we will discuss each of these learning areas in-depth; what it looks like and what the children will learn from it.  Make sure your staff  and parents all understand these ‘whats’ and ‘whys’.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Happy New Year!

Sorry to be absent for a few weeks; things have been a bit crazy.  Thanks for not giving up on my coming back.

If you haven’t already made New Year’s resolutions, or at least haven’t made any for work yet, let’s get to it.  While the new year is a great chance to re-examine your life and see what kind of improvements you could make, it’s also a great time to assess your program and make an improvement plan.

If you choose to set some resolutions for your program, here are some suggestions to consider:

Your Paperwork--are your tax files complete (and have you claimed all possible expenses!)?  Are your child and staff files complete and well-organized?  Review your contract, policies, forms, etc.  Pay particular attention to any areas that were problems during the previous year and tighten it up for the future.

Your Environment--is everything clean and organized?  Do you have daily and weekly cleaning and sanitizing schedules?  Check your toys and materials and see if any of them need to be repaired or replaced.

Your Program--is your program meeting the needs of the children?  Pull a few random developmental checklists, or whatever you use to track children's progress, and make sure you are seeing appropriate growth.  Review some lesson plans from each program to ensure that they are complete, well-thought-out, and developmentally appropriate.

Your Finances--how is your program's financial health?  Is your budget balanced and are you financially prepared for changes in the market, unexpected events, or anticipated changes?  Is it time to increase your fees?  Is your staff paid in such a manner to allow you to maintain high-quality employees?

Your Marketing Program--are you regularly attracting new clients?  Do you have a plan in place to market your program and, if so, how well is it working?  If it is costing you money, are you getting a fair return on your investment?

Your Health and Safety Basics--take time to check your fire extinguishers, replenish your first aid kits, and put new batteries in your smoke detectors.

Your Relationships--how is your relationship with the parents and your staff?  Are there areas that could use improvement?

Yourself--is there anything about yourself that needs to be changed to allow you to function better?  How's your diet, your weight, your exercise, your stress level?  Challenge yourself to improve professionally; enroll in a class or plan to attend a conference.

Remember, the goal of any New Year's resolution is improvement.  Make sure that your goals are reasonable and not so overly ambitious that you don't stand a chance of achieving them.  Good luck and Happy New Year!