Constraints Actually Encourage Creativity

Providing constraints can lead to more creativity. A blank piece of paper intimidates, while a blank sheet with a drawing/writing prompt can open the floodgates to creative expression and imagination. Make a deck of prompts which children can select from randomly for inspiration, or have children invent new words to a familiar song – these types of things allow for creativity within some guidelines.

But don’t go crazy. There is a point where there can be project guideline overload. Open-ended activities with multiple “correct” ways to design or problem-solve are still the key.

Sharing. Have children share their creations with each other and with a caring adult so they can build creative confidence and learn to articulate their creative process. Reflecting on their color, material or subject matter choices helps them apply those lessons to the next creative challenge. Because we think of creativity as something we’re born with or not, it’s especially important to reinforce creativity as a process everyone can be successful at in different ways.

Creativity is more likely not a trait that you’re born with but a mindset. Learning more and more about how children’s brains develop has shown that many traits require a set of skills, attitudes, behaviors and habits that can be nurtured and strengthened. Children are, in fact, born creative and curious. It is what drives them to learn about the world around them. But what we often think is that creativity is simply playfulness and silliness that comes with the freedom of being a child. But that is, in all likelihood, not real creativity bubbling up in a child.

Research shows that when adults show a child how a toy contraption words, they spend less time playing with it. A child who is simply given a toy with no instruction, is apt to play with it longer. Figuring out how to inspire without giving too much instruction is the secret recipe to success in allowing children to indulge in play, imagination and creativity – to unleash their creativity and build their creative confidence.

No constraints (or limitations) fail to provide a child with the parameters needed to be creative. Think about adults. Given a project with no parameters, with no guidelines, makes the project incredibly difficult to complete. It’s probably critical to get a handle on our perception of constraints. We tend to consider constraints to hinder us, to pin us in. In practice, that’s far from the truth. You could say that constraints create the pathway that guides us to be creative.

The secret recipe we spoke of earlier is the perfect combination of constraints, parameters, restrictions, guidelines (whatever you want to call them) that foster a child’s creativity. Being able to perfect that recipe for each group of children – or even each individual child – by providing a nurturing environment with constraints that gently guide children to creativity is what makes an effective and successful care center.

Sources: Fast Company, Childcare Exchange, Psychology Today

 

Impact of a Smile

Turn that frown upside down – really.

There is a song that was sung by the late, great Louis Armstrong entitled “When You’re Smiling the Whole World Smiles with You.” Apparently, the sentiment expressed in this classic is true. A study conducted at the Yale School of Management in 1999 showed that, among working groups, cheerfulness and warmth spread more easily than darker emotions. Irritability caught on with less success than the positive emotions, and depression, fortunately – has the lowest success rate of all.

Laughter is the most contagious of our emotions which is really not surprising. You can prove it in your own small test group by simply starting to giggle to yourself. Soon the rest of those within earshot will be laughing with you – or at least smiling.

The “why” of this is that some of our brain’s open-loop circuits are designed to detect smiles and laughter to which we respond in kind.  Some scientists even theorize that this is a hardwired dynamic in our brains from ages back. After all – their theory goes – smiles and laughter had a way of actually cementing alliances and in doing so, helped our species to survive.

That’s a little deep for me. I’m satisfied with the small group test as proof of laughter’s positive impact on our kind.

I also know, from my own experience, that you are happier when you smile. Smiling even though you may not feel like it. Can actually change your feeling and eventually you’ll feel like smiling.

All sort of impressive institutions and professors have produced scads of research on the happiness factor. There are plenty of scales and graphs to ponder, if that is what you’re looking for. But the theme of it all boils down to this (and it’s what we’ve suspected for years):

In general, people who are in good relationships are happier than those who aren’t. Healthy people are happier than sick people. People who participate in their churches are happier than those who don’t. Of course, there are exceptions and surprises but basically, those who emit positivity are happy and happiness is one of the most likely emotions to spread from its emitter to others.

And it is this simple fact that makes the simple act of smiling one of the easiest ways to influence the atmosphere around you.

Take for example, your studio/gym/school/center.

  • A smile on your face will – according to research – be reflected on the faces of your staff.
  • Smiles on the faces of those working in your facility can – again, according to research – spread to those who may not be smiling when they walk in your door.
  • And smiles emitted by your instructors can create a positive learning environment for every one of your classes – if, indeed, research is correct.

And what are the results?

  • Happy owners make better, more optimistic choices/decisions.
  • Positive managers set the tone for building relationships and success.
  • Smiling instructors not only encourage learning on a daily basis but also create a more positive outlook on your sport or art for the student in the long-run.
  • Smiling parents deliver students to your classes who are relaxed, confidence and ready to learn
  • Happy students are more engaged learners who are open to trying harder and pushing their skill limits farther.
  • And a smiling you can make a not-so-happy you feel better about the day.

Incredible, isn’t it, that something so simple can make such a difference.

All cheesiness aside, perhaps “Turn that frown upside down” is the perfect cure for sorrowful or disgruntled faces – including your own!

There is Power in Hands of Early Educators

Young children spend a large number of hours in an environment that is new to them — child care. Some children who begin attending child care in infancy may spend as much as 12,000 hours in this setting. This massive number of hours in one environment demands that the space be the “best” it can be for their learning and development experience.

You could also consider that this is quality time because children are in the care center when they are rested and alert and their minds are open to learning. Early childhood educators have opportunity to excite children’s minds and whet their appetites for expanding their knowledge and helping them to learn about different subjects with local and global impact and reach. Early childhood educators are there when children’s curiosities inspire questions that they want immediate answers for and when children are experiencing sharing, disappointment, pride, accomplishment, correction, joy and sadness. And sometimes children need help understanding this.

earlychildhoodeducatorsThe Critical 8 Years

Early childhood educators and neurologists agree that the infancy to 8 years old are critical years for brain development. Infants come into the world with a brain waiting to be woven into the complex fabric of the mind. Some neurons in the brain are wired before birth, but many are waiting to be programmed by early experiences. The early environment and those who are there to influence it will help determine the direction of their brain development. Children who have severely limited opportunities for appropriate experiences will be delayed; this may permanently affect their learning. But, children who have the opportunity to develop in an organized and appropriate environment are challenged to think and use materials in new ways.

The Nurturer

The caring early childhood educator can help their care center become a wonderful place for nurturing their development. Children who live in this classroom need opportunities for expanding their knowledge by actively participating in a world that is appropriate for their level of development including spaces for active play as well as spaces for privacy and opportunities to work privately and to collaborate.

The Influencer

Needless to say, early childhood educators have immense power over what children learn and think. There is no way to tell where their influence ends because there is no way to track every subtle element, feeling or attitude a child picks up from an educator. And with this power comes tremendous responsibility for how children view themselves, others and the world around them.

The Equalizer

Early childhood educators’ responsibility encompasses a commitment to creating equal opportunity for all children to grow and learn. Without this understanding, they will be ill-equipped to become engaged members of their communities.

Early childhood educators welcome children of all abilities and life experiences and take the first step in making sure that high-quality early learning settings are available to all children. Helping children to feel that they are welcome and a valued member of their center’s family and this will positively influence their growing sense of self-worth.

Influence of the Environment

From the very first time they enter their child care center, children are trying to figure out what’s happening around them and try to organize this environment into meaningful systems. Children want to determine how the space works and what activities can happen in this place.

Research indicates that there are important “windows of opportunity” existing during their early years. These are considered the “prime” times for these areas of the brain to be developed. Experts have identified several areas that are particularly critical during the early years these include: language, logical thinking, music, vision, and emotion. Appropriate and interesting experiences, during the early years, in these specific areas can have a positive impact on the child’s current development as well brain connections that will last a lifetime.

Learning Categories

Visual, auditory, integrated and emotional learning must take place for each child to develop in a well-rounded way. Couple with this amount of independence each child possesses in approaching and engaging the learning process.

Young children respond differently, based on the design of the environment in which they live. An effectively designed classroom has the potential for positively influencing all areas of children’s development: physical, social /emotional, and cognitive. Early childhood educators use the environment to nurture language and learning. In this environment children develop behaviors that are valued in our society, such as cooperation and persistence. Even things like appreciation for beauty can be influenced by the space and teachers around young children. Most importantly, the environment should provide a home like setting that “feels” like a good place to be.

We have some concept of how this works because we remember some details of early learning experiences. Sounds, smells, colors and textures are some of the first things we experience. We associate people with these experiences – and many times these people are educators.

It Sticks

Sometimes teachers have no idea when or how their influence is accepted and they also don’t know exactly what effects “stick.” But sometimes, in the smallest of ways, and totally unplanned, it did.

Critical to Success

It has been stated that possibly the most critical element to success within school is a student developing a close and nurturing relationship with at least one caring adult and that is often the early childhood educator.

Here are some excerpts on good teachers:

  • A good teacher, first and foremost, sees each student as an individual with hopes, dreams, strengths, and vulnerabilities.
  • A good teacher works to create a classroom atmosphere in which every student sees every other student in this light – an atmosphere in which respect for each other is the guiding principle, an atmosphere in which every student feels safe in successes and in making mistakes that turn into opportunities to learn rather than an opportunity to feel like a failure.
  • A good teacher knows the students on many levels. The teacher learns all about their academic strengths and needs, but even more about their interests, fears, hopes and worries.
  • A good teacher remembers that each student is somebody’s precious child. It is known that every parent has high hopes, valid concerns and great expectations for that child. The teacher works to help the parents understand the goals and to develop their confidence.
  • A good teacher tries to see things through the students’ eyes as well, working hard to be fair, empathetic and encouraging. The teacher strives to maintain high expectations for each and every child – to challenge them to reach for their best and aim for the stars.
  • A good teacher makes learning exciting, helping each student find areas of interest to explore and master. The good teacher helps students to see new things as stimulating challenges rather than dreaded obstacles.
  • A good teacher becomes attached to the students, knowing it will be hard to say good-bye at the end of the school year, hoping those students will come back to visit, realizing that even if they never see each other again, they will carry memories of that teacher in their futures and with their successes.
  • A good teacher is prepared. Good quality teacher preparation is important to student academic achievement.
  • A good teacher is confident in their ability to help students to learn. It is important that teachers believe in themselves and in their abilities as a role model and educator, because it plays an important role on their student’s self-perception and performance.

It’s the Little Things That Matter

Teachers need to take time for themselves, take time to celebrate all the small accomplishments in life, as well as focusing on the child being taught. Teachers should never minimize the role they play in influencing students’ lives. Hopefully, that role will be positive, possessing the qualities of a “charismatic adult” who not only touches students’ minds, but also their spirits — the way they see and feel about themselves for the rest of their lives. Such influence is truly a rare privilege that should be prized and nurtured.

Source: Early Childhood News, Childcare Exchange, PrideLearningCenter.com, The Itawamba County Times

 

Curiosity May be the Most Important Skill for a Child to Learn

When you read this title you may have said to yourself, “What do you mean “for a child to learn.” We’re born with unbridled curiosity. In fact, one of the things a parent does most is to wipe things down that have baby drool on them from the latest touch of their ever exploring child. You simply can’t keep a child from grabbing, touching, hitting, gnawing and drooling on everything they can reach.

This is because from the very beginning a child is trying to understand the world around him. We continue this quest through adulthood because there is always something new to absorb and learn. At least that is what we SHOULD be doing. But more and more and earlier and earlier, children are being placed in front of TVs and movie screens, have computer games, tablets and computer shoved into their hands. For some reason free time to explore became bad and constant entertainment became good. Think about the adult version of this. What do you do if you’re left alone in the doctor’s waiting room, with no magazines and no TV. Add to that the fact that you didn’t charge your phone so you don’t even have that device to feed your entertainment need.  Do you still know how to fill your time? To occupy your mind? To think back on recent conversations or the beauty of the flowers you saw on your walk yesterday.  To sort through the frustrations that developed during your workday or consider how to rectify an undeserving reaction to a friend’s innocent comment.

We need to back up.

If we don’t give children time to explore when they are tiny, they won’t even be able to forget how to be curious because they will never know.

Our device-laden, entertainment, dependent lifestyle encourages (and allows) us to be intellectually self-sufficient. We have everything we need in the device in our pockets, so why stretch the mind to consider a different way of doing something or be able to develop an opinion through experience.

Developing curiosity helps a child to be willing and able to continually grow, learn and question what is around them. To develop an imagination and sense of creativity that gives them the basic tools they need to be successful adults.

In today’s hyper-competitive educational environment, parents tend to focus on the “hard” skills sets in their children’s development: reading, writing, math, science…  What is skipped over in this scenario are the “soft” skills like curiosity and creativity that give the academic knowledge of the “hard” skills usefulness in the real world.

You can spot curiosity:

  • A child who daydreams about being an astronaut.
  • A child that puts together their own very unique outfits in the mornings.
  • A child who doodles and draws.
  • A child that isn’t satisfied with a one-sentence answer to a question that they may ask such as “Why did the dinosaurs die?
  • An older child that sets up a lemonade stand or helps a neighbor out with chores to raise money for a toy.

Very simply stated: A child that doesn’t develop curiosity is not going to be an adult who innovates. This is an important skill today, but in 15 years, when your 3 year old graduates high school, these skills will be a necessity to have a hope for excelling in college and in a career.

There are some other pretty compelling reasons to inspire curiosity in children:

  • It counteracts boredom.

A good guess might be that 90% of the trouble that kids get into starts with boredom. Healthy curiosity gives children the ability to go “un-entertained” without incident.

Crying and acting out when Mommy and Daddy leave can spring from too much dependence on them for entertainment.

  • It cultivates an active mind.

If a child can imagine, he can occupy and entertain himself successfully. He is also more likely to be able to figure things out in a variety of situations – on the fly. This encourages the child to be more self-sufficient – which is a progression that must be made to successfully start first grade or even nursery school.

Curiosity basically makes a child able to solve his own problems.

  • It inspires persistence.

If you can’t think of alternate ways of doing things, you will quit. A “burning curiosity” refers to an undismissable impulse to know why, what, how. A curious child has to know more and won’t quit until they do. Keep answering their incessant questions. This persistence can also be resilience. Curiosity helps a child to be undeterred when they have to try multiple times to succeed.

  • It counteracts self-absorption.

Curious children are aware of what is going on around them and don’t usually see themselves as the center of the universe. Curiosity also gives children drive to always be reaching for the next milestone.

In other words, curious children are less likely to be selfish, spoiled, entitled, and materialistic.

  • It sets up long-term success.

Look back at history. Who were the people who had the biggest impact? They asked Why?  or How can I make this better? Or How do I solve this problem? Adults who aren’t curious do well enough, but they are rarely influential. Forget the influential part and deduce it to this: those who ask questions and refuse to accept the status quo transform, lead, live adventurous lives, and are personally happiest. If an adult was a curious child, do they typically explore or escape? Reach for their dreams or try not to fail? Curiosity can make the difference.

Developing curiosity is not a from-scratch process.

Since babies are innately curious, helping them to develop this skill isn’t something that has to start from scratch. It does need to be fostered, encouraged, and inspired. And most adults who do this end up having fun and becoming more curious in the process.

How can curiosity be cultivated in children?

  1. Teach them to be flexible thinkers and doers. 
  2. Encourage (and allow) them to make their own choices.
  3. Help them feel confident and competent enough to explore.
  4. Support and share in their exploration and discovery. 
  5. Interject novelty and challenge into their routines.
  6. Leave a little leeway for curiosity to grow.

Sensory play is an amazing inspiration to a child’s curiosity. Sensory play is all about giving children the freedom and encouraging them to reach out to what is around them and become a part the world’s experiences.

Asking questions and sparking their thought process is something that is easily done with children. Talk to them and ask them simple questions that encourage them to think about what they are experiencing. How does the grass feel against your feet? Do you hear the sound your kitty makes? Even babies who can’t form the sentence to answer pick up on action words like feel and hear. By asking intentional questions, you stretch a child’s mind and reasoning ability, and encourage their creativity and independence.

The scientific research is clear that children who often experience curiosity and wonder, and act on these feelings to explore their world fare better at school, in relationships, at work, and end up being intelligent, creative, satisfied people.

They just need to be encouraged to explore and given the space and freedom to discover.

Sources: Working Mother, National Afterschool Association, www.howtolearn.com, Huffington Post

Bringing Heart into your Community

Each year I ask my staff what community means, the usual responses circle around place, people and shared visions and values. A check with the dictionary concurs. I often find there generally is one person or core of people that are identified as the Heart of any community. I’ve wondered what would happen if everyone was at the Heart?

heartpostimage118 years as director of the School of Arts and Sciences Extended Day Program in Tallahassee, FL, has provided me the opportunity to explore creating an environment of safety and belonging where students, families, and staff participate in fostering the growth of lifelong learners and responsible citizens through community building. In other words, everyone is at the Heart. Big stuff you say, but how do you do it?

Exposing the Cover Up 

I am open in saying the workshops covering the gamut from STEAM to life skills are a cover up for teaching social skills. They are fun and exciting, but they are only the medium for building relationships with one another which is the heart of community and key to responsible behavior within any group of people. So while I don’t have a degree in social work or teaching for that matter, I am actively teaching social skills to a diverse population and ages. Concordia University’s School Age Degree and Conscious Discipline® provided me with the research and professional skills to support my original vision of out-of-school time programming.

Our school is an all-county charter school based on a lottery draw of students K-8th grade. We see an average of 80 students each afternoon and 50 before school. Many of our students attend all 9 years of school. Many of our workshops are split by skill/age in cluster groups similar to our school’s multi-age classrooms (k/1, 2/3, 4/5, MS) however many are not grade specific allowing siblings and friends to play and work within a wide variety of personalities. Our ratio is one adult to twelve students. Our workshops are flexible in size (12-24 students) but within the ratio we set of 1:12. And yes we have some of “those” students and parents.

Becoming Acquainted

The first six weeks center on getting to know our families and building a sense of safety and belonging. Daily, we begin meeting in smaller groups based on grade clusters. Here we learn each other’s names, lay out agreements about how our community wants to operate, have meaningful jobs that contribute to our wellbeing, and transition from academic to out-of-school time learning. At snack, we move into a larger un-graded setting for eating and playing. Forty minutes after final (MS/4/5) release, we move into one hour workshops selected by families and students bi-monthly. After workshops, students choose from active play outdoors or quieter play indoors.

Making Connections

heartpostimageThe heart our community begins daily with greetings. An adult and student job daily is to be the greeters as students come in (yep, roll with a twist). These greetings require eye contact and touch in a playful manner and are often created by the students themselves. This is the first moment of saying, “you are important and valued here.” After putting their backpacks away, student lead and participate in a Brain Smart Start® developed by Dr. Becky Bailey of Loving Guidance. Students take on the responsibility (jobs) of uniting through a chant or song, de-stress through a brain break and deep breathing, building empathy through connecting with others, and committing to a goal for their time with us. The goal is often based on demonstrating one of the skills needed for the agreements that they chose. The accountability for the goal is on them. Often it comes by a community member noticing their actions in the day.

We’ve just concluded our first six weeks. Despite the school expansion building project, a new school administration, two hurricanes, doubling our extended day attendance, and new staff for our program, we are adjusting and settling into what our community looks and feels like. Are we there yet? No, but together we will get there. Our next step is to build that same Brain Smart Start® idea into the individual workshops we teach.

www.consciousdiscipline.com

 

 

Take Control of Your Time

I saw some interesting information on EntreLeadership’s site. It was a piece entitled “5 Ways to Take Control of Your Day” from June of this year.

The piece talked about a totally made-up disease called distractinonia and we could all be suffering from it.

Distractinonia – the piece notes – is not about those who spend hours watching cat videos, playing Halo or Tweeting about lunch. Those who do this are worse than distracted, if you ask me. I think they’re off in la-la land somewhere and aren’t being very “intentional” about their workday.

And in today’s world, I think you really do have to be totally intentional about what you’re there for when you’re in front of your computer (or where ever it is you do your work).

I’ve learned from years of working from home that I can’t dilly dally around about work. I need to have an agenda, a list and goals for the day – and stick to them. I can’t jump off track and cruise Facebook for 45 minutes or so. I can’t divert my attention to pay a few bills and check by bank statement online.

Allowing these diversions simply opens your mind to distractions. The 45 minutes on Facebook turns into more than an hour. You see a Facebook ad and end up ordering “something you’ve been looking for” …. You find an item in your bank statement that you don’t recognize and go off on a research tangent to figure it out …  It’s easy to fall victim to these distractions.

After all, they are things you’d do anyway. The problem is, failing to stay on task costs you valuable time you should be spending on work.

And – regardless of the importance of checking your bank statement – work pays the bills so it SHOULD get your focused attention during work time.

You may even get distracted by things that are work-related. And you feel like these aren’t really distractions. But “work-related” doesn’t mean it is what you need to be working on now.

One day I saw a mistake in a blog post as I was making a publication list. Instead of making a note of the mistake and going back to it, I went into edit mode and fixed it. I realized that post was also on another blog and felt led to log in and fix it there too. I realized that the mistake revealed an inconsistency in the way something had been stated. Gee, that could have happened in lots of posts. Soon I found myself deep in a rabbit hole.

Did my publication list get done? Yes – eventually. But not in the requested time frame.  It was have been simple for me to make a note of the mistake, finish my publication list and send it off – and then go back to the corrections.

So when you feel like there are never enough hours in the day to get things done – no matter how hard you work – examine your particular case of distractinonia to see where the root of your productivity sucks are.

According to EntreLeadership’s piece there are very common work-related productivity-sucks that we must combat to make the most of our work days.

Multitasking, Meetings, Socializing, Talky Teammates, Emails

Multitasking is something that is supposed to help us save time. (There is probably even an app for it.) Its sounds impressive if we can do it, right?

Well – not so much. Actually, few of us are good at it. Be honest about your brain’s ability to handle 2 or 3 things at one time – much less the 5 or 6 that we often pile on ourselves when multitasking. The truth is that you will end up stressed ad less focused – and therefore less productive.

It helps to begin each morning by WRITING DOWN AND PRIORITIZING your goals for the day. Focus on one task at a time. Mark them off as you complete them. Focus through the task until the end.

Meetings aren’t the problem.  It is good to get together to work out project details, hear updates, and communicate priorities. In fact, it is a necessary part of doing business. The problem starts if you’re not “intentional” about your meetings. In other words, you just sort of fly by the seat of your pants and let the meeting unfold. That is simply a recipe for disaster. If there were any goals for the meeting, they will not likely get accomplished without an agenda. And what about keeping to meeting time parameters? You MUST have a time manager with an iron hand. Decide how long will be spent on each agenda item and plan offline follow-up  or assign it out when you reach the limit – or just make sure you get you stuff done. It can be done. It’s just critical to stay on topic and on-task.

And socializing isn’t a problem either. If it isn’t allowed to get out of control. According to OfficeTime.net, 16% of those surveyed said that they spend tween 1 and 2 hours a day engaging in social conversation with coworkers. Yikes! If you tally the man hours associated with that, you’ll cringe. If you’re a person who tends to spend too long doing this, give yourself time limits and stick to them. Schedule socializing on your calendar as an event that only lasts for a few minutes – not a few hours.   Realize that in socializing, you’re not just deflating your own productivity but you’re dragging coworkers down with you.

It is a fact that socialization is an important part of team building. So if you’re a person who doesn’t do this, put it on your schedule. Just limit it – like your more “social” coworkers – to a few minutes per day.

Talky Team Members

Of course, you’re going to have a team member or two who are really chatty. And it may be that they love to chat with you. They may lure you into the conversation by asking for a “quick question.” The problem is that their quick question takes an hour and after that hour you don’t even know what the quick question was.

If it seems that this person often has “quick questions,” it may help to schedule a time for a weekly meeting with him or her. Limit the meeting time. If this person comes to you with a “quick question” request outside of this meeting time, refer back to that meeting, noting that you can cover that question at your weekly meeting. Of course, if this person has an emergency, you can deal with it immediately.

Emails

There are few emails that can’t wait. We’ve developed the perception that each of the emails that we get is much more important than most actually are. Think about it. If it were an emergency, they would call – or at least text.

Email, believe it or not, is no longer the immediate response communication format.

Many who’ve conquered time management only answer email 2 times per day (one in both the am and pm) – which they have scheduled on their calendars. Some even turn their email off on the weekends or during the evenings or family events so they aren’t tempted to respond.

According to management expert Peter Drucker, “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.”

I would say that’s true. Avoid distractions, respect your time and the time of others.

Your productivity will soar!

Source: EntreLeadership Team [www.entreleadership.com]

User’s Group is Great Resource to Connect with Other Users

“Quite simply, it’s a tremendous resource for any user.”
     – Actual member of User’s Group

Jackrabbit recently launched a Facebook User’s Group just for users of our Care edition. Why? Quite simply because talking with real users of the software is the best way to get new ideas and find out what works for other people.

We have found this to be an invaluable resource for members of all our Jackrabbit editions. Since the childcare and afterschool industry have unique needs and questions we’ve put together a User’s Group just for you!

How can you join this group?

So glad you asked! Here is the direct link to our group. You will sign in, then you can request to join like this:

CareFBUG

Who’s in this group?

While there are some Jackrabbit folks in the group, we aren’t the important ones. This group is all about YOU the user. As you are in the group more you will learn who some of the other users are and be able to direct specific questions to those who have a school most like yours.

What’s this group for?

We will use this group to share some important Jackrabbit information and maybe ask for feedback on features and enhancements…but mostly that simple little Write Something, Post a Comment box is what it’s all about. The resources that you’re accessing when you pose a question to this group are amazing! The members know lots of the tips and tricks from their daily use of the software.

This group is not a venue for support questions – although you may hear us chime in now and again.

Our list of members is growing day by day and the more you use it by asking and answering questions – the better it will be!

We hope you accept our invitation to join this select group. We believe it is a platform for leveraging the Jackrabbit user experience that exists across all of our users without even stepping outside your door!

Ask to join the Jackrabbit Care User’s Group

 

Teachers Have First Day Jitters Too

When you think of first day jitters, you think of the children coming into the classroom who may be nervous for a myriad of very valid reasons.

Some are nervous about being around people they don’t know or in a classroom or center that is new to them. They may be a little disturbed about being away from mommy and daddy – especially since they’ve probably spent lots of quality time with them over the summer – or they’re skeptical about the new things they will learn in the days and months to come. They could be hesitant because they will simply miss the puppy that was new to their home during the summer or the new playmates they met in their neighborhood. They could be upset because going back to school changes the schedule that they’ve become comfortable with. It could be anything since you never know what children of care center age are thinking.

There are guidelines, checklists and help resources that share ways to ease these jitters. Read more about this in our recent post “Separation Anxiety in Children (and Parents)”.

What about teachers? They are in charge, why would they be nervous?

Don’t think for a minute that teachers don’t have anxiety over the new school year or develop a good case of the first day jitters. They do. They – in fact – get anxious for some reasons that are quite similar to their students.

Whether they are just starting out as a teacher, they are new to your center, or they’re working with new people on your staff (or you are new to them), teachers can develop serious anxiety that can make the night before the first day of school quite tense.

I’m sure there are more, but we found 6 tips that are really just common sense that can help your teachers overcome their first day jitters:

  1. Make schedule adjustments early. Just like students, teachers need to get their bodies accustomed to schedule changes.
  2. Be prepared. Make class plans early. Build in room for change and extra activities.
  3. Welcome students early with a fully prepared classroom. For open house, teachers should make their classroom as much like they will be on the first day of school. This will make students more comfortable when they arrive on their first day.
  4. Know students’ names. This not only adds to students’ comfort levels but also makes them feel special because their teacher knows who they are.
  5. Bring lunch in from home. Students are likely to need a little extra help during the first few days. Having lunch on hand will gives teachers a little extra time to help them.
  6. Be willing to go with the flow. Things never go exactly as they’ve imagined or planned when a classroom full of kids is involved, so teachers need to be flexible and accommodate change without drama.

There is more information about these tips here.

A wonderfully, humorous look at teacher anxiety was created by Julie Danneberg in her book First Day Jitters. Take a glimpse of it here. Or buy the book to read with a child as a great reminder that they aren’t the only ones who are nervous about the first day of school!

Sources: Teaching Community, NAEYC

 

 

Switching ‘Fix’ation to Serving

Mommies do it. Teachers do it. Well, if you’re honest, everyone does it. We try to “fix” everything that doesn’t fit into our idea of what they should be whether it’s plans, pets, or people.

Perhaps the worst of our fixing fixations is the one we have on fixing people.

When we “fix” people, we mostly limit their creativity, destroy their individuality and quash their confidence. And by forcing them to assimilate into what we demand that they be, we’re taking away their passion for what they do.

We do this because it works for us and forces them to make changes. If we were to alter our viewpoint to embrace their uniquenesses, it would require change from us.

Gee – are we that lazy? Maybe so, but we’re also that selfish. It’s all about us and what fits into to what we want, plan and expect.

This has been found to be especially true in teaching situations. There is much ado about “remediating deficits in people” (to use the education industry’s terminology) instead of identifying and building on strengths.

Simply figuring out where people fall short of our expectations and “shoring them up” is by far the easiest path to equalizing everyone at the status quo. But how powerful could teaching teams be if effort was focused on looking at how everyone’s strengths could be best utilized to creating an optimal learning environment for children?

I realize this flips conventional industry speak on its head. But could we benefit from a different attitude on approach? After all, fixing what’s wrong requires that you focus only on negatives. Building on strengths puts the positives in the center.

Childcare Exchange offers a publication that delves into this fixation. To begin to improve the “fixing” environment, centers should provide:

  • Developmental supervision—the foundation for reflective practice
  • Teacher induction—a lifeline for novice teachers
  • Individual learning plans—a roadmap for job-embedded learning
  • Peer learning teams—the platform for collegial support
  • 360-degree feedback—a catalyst for growth and change

Education isn’t the only industry where this fixing fixation is obvious and plans for better work environments are needed. Psychology Today notes an across the boards viewpoint by many in management and supervisory positions that their efforts to “help” their employees are not being embraced as they had hoped.

It’s because many times the “help” is actually just a manager showing his team how to do their jobs “correctly”. These managers have totally taken away their team member’s ability to even think for themselves much less to be creative, to explore outside of their box and to innovate to improve – and overall – to grow in their position.

It’s a management viewpoint that is totally ego-serving. The managers who roll this way shouldn’t even call their employees a team because they have created nothing more than a group of order followers. This type of manager is pretty much perceived as an ego-maniac – thinking he’s “the great one” with ultimate knowledge.

The “relationships” (I use this term loosely here) with these “ego-managers” are not reciprocal but are unequal. Peers (perhaps in other departments) recognize this. This works to the detriment of the victim of the inequitable relationship because their peers view their judgement as inferior since their managers don’t trust them to use it.

And it’s entirely unfortunate that the ego-manager believes he’s “helping” his team and that they just don’t appreciate it. The long term results from the employees that this manager is “fixing” can range from resentment to retaliation.

The flip side of the “fixing” relationship is the “serving” one. This is a relationship of equals where there is a mutual flow of ideas. Here a manager responds to a problem or a need by collaborating with everyone to find the best solution. Everyone’s perspective and knowledge is respected. The manager role here is to facilitate the discovery and development of the best solution and to seek out the best way to open the team’s eyes to new possibilities and ideas. (And in this relationship, a team is really a team). The manager provides information that is lacking and ask questions to help the team think more fully about the situation. The manager explores possible consequences of the team’s ideas and submits potential outcomes for team analysis. When the team comes up with plans for action, the manager asks what particular support they need to be successful – and supplies it. The manager is the team’s most staunch supporter.

The manager benefits from taking this stance, as well. Employees feel differently about what they are doing and about the manager and the manager feels differently simply because serving feels much differently than fixing.

A serving manager develops greater tolerance and compassion and earns respect, acceptance and inclusion from his team.

Any easy way to apply this every day is this: Instead of simply telling an employee how to do his job, help him to use his own skills to do his job.

It’s truly a perspective change: one that requires self to be removed from the center of thinking so that others are there. That way we’re no longer “fixers” but “supporters”.

Sources: Childcare Exchange, Psychology Today

 

 

Separation Anxiety in Children (and Parents)

Separation Anxiety in Children (and Parents)

Tearful, tantrum-filled goodbyes are common during a child’s earliest years. Around the first birthday, many kids develop separation anxiety, getting upset when a parent tries to leave them with someone else.

Though separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood development, it can be unsettling.

Understanding what the child is going through and having a few coping strategies can help everyone get through it.

Babies adapt better than parents.

As long as their needs are being met most babies younger than 6 months adjust easily to people other than their parents.

“Object permanence” is what babies develop when they’re about 4-7 months old. They are beginning to learn that things and people exist even when they can’t see them. They’re testing this when they drop things over the side of the high chair and drop it again as soon as the nearby adult retrieves it.

With parents, babies begin to realize that there is a specific mom and dad and that when they can’t see those people, they’ve gone away. They haven’t yet grasped the concept of time, so they don’t know if or when those people will come back. To the baby, it doesn’t matter if mom and dad are in the next room or Hawaii. They’re gone and they will do whatever possible to prevent this from happening. And with a baby, whatever possible is most likely crying.

So tearful, tantrum-filled goodbyes are common during a child’s earliest years and can actually develop into separation anxiety which is really just a fancy term for “getting upset when a parent tries to leave them with someone else.”

One thing that many parents think is a good idea to avoid bouts of separation anxiety but it really has an opposite effect…sneaking away when the child isn’t looking. This actually produces more anxiety for the child. The best practice is to say a loving but quick goodbye. Don’t dawdle – even if the child cries and screams. The crying/screaming will usually subside within a short amount of time. Always return with a “happy to see you face.” This helps to establish a consistent stream of attentive goodbyes and happy reunions with the child that they have confidence in and it help to build a trusted relationship develop between parent and child.

Separation anxiety doesn’t just affect children.

When first beginning to leave a child with others, parents might also experience different emotions. It can be gratifying to feel that there is a mutual attachment. But parents often feel guilty about taking time out for themselves, leaving the child with a caregiver, or going to work. The parent may even start to feel overwhelmed by the amount of attention the child seems to need from.

A child’s unwillingness to leave their parent is a good sign that healthy attachments have developed. But rest assured that the unwillingness won’t last forever. Before long, the child will be able to remember that parents always return and that will be enough to comfort the child while parents are gone. Experiencing this also gives the child a chance to develop coping skills and a little independence.

Goodbyes don’t have to be painful.

It’s true that timing is everything.

  • If it’s possible, don’t start daycare or childcare with an unfamiliar person when the child is between the ages of 8 months and 1 year (when separation anxiety may first appear).
  • Try not to leave when the child is tired, hungry, or restless.
  • Try to schedule departures after naps and mealtimes.

Practice really does make perfect. 

  • Schedule trial “a part time.” Practice leaving the child with a caregiver for short periods of time so that he or she can get used to being away from their parent.
  • Gradually introduce new people and places. If the plan is to leave the child with a relative or a new babysitter, invite that person over so they can spend time with the child with the parent in the room before “the” date. Make a few visits to their new daycare together before their full-time schedule begins.

Maintain calmness and consistency.

  • Create an exit ritual that is a loving and firm goodbye.
  • Remain calm and show confidence that the child will do the same.
  • Reassure the child of the parent’s return (explaining how long it will be using concepts kids will understand).
  • Give the child your full attention when saying goodbye.
  • Don’t pretend to leave and hide in the next room to peek around the corner to see how the child is doing. It will only make things worse.

Do what you promise. 

  • Make sure the return happens at the time established. Don’t be late. This is the way that the child develops confidence that he or she can make it through the time apart.
  • It may be hard to leave a crying child, but failing to will also show a lack of confidence in the caregiver. It may help everyone to set up a time that for a check in call (maybe 15 to 20 minutes after leaving), but keep true to this time as well.

Caregivers can distract the child who is displaying separation anxiety with an activity or toy, or with songs, games, or anything else that’s fun. Try not to mention the child’s mother or father, but do answer questions about the child’s parents in a simple and straightforward way. (i.e., Mommy and Daddy are going to be back as soon as they are done with dinner. Let’s play with some toys.)

This too shall pass.

Remember that this is a phase. The child will grow out of it more quickly than imaginable. But also remember that every child experiences separation anxiety differently or not at all. If a child has never been cared for by anyone other than parents, is naturally shy, or has other stresses, his or her separation anxiety may be worse than it is for other kids.

Instincts will indicate if it’s more than separation anxiety.

If the child refuses to go to a certain babysitter or daycare center or shows other signs of tensions, such as trouble sleeping or loss of appetite, then it could be more than separation anxiety. There could be a problem with the childcare situation.

If intense separation anxiety lasts into preschool, elementary school, or beyond and interferes with daily activities, then it warrants discussion with a doctor. It could be a sign of a rare but more serious condition known as separation anxiety disorder.

Kids with separation anxiety disorder fear being lost from their family members and are often convinced that something bad will happen. Talk with a doctor if the child has signs of this, including:

  • panic symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath) or panic attacks before a parent leaves.
  • nightmares about separation.
  • fear of sleeping alone (although this is also common in kids who don’t have separation anxiety).
  • excessive worry about being lost or kidnapped or going places without a parent.

For most kids, the anxiety of being separated from a parent passes without any need for medical attention.

Here are some tips that centers can use to ease separation anxiety in children:

Easing separation anxiety in children
Address the cause for avoidance of school.Initiate a plan for your child to return to school immediately. This may include gradual reintroduction with partial days at first.
Accommodate late arrival.If the school can be lenient about late arrival at first, it can give you and your child a little wiggle room to talk and separate at your child’s slower pace.
Identify a safe place.Find a place at school where your child can go to reduce anxiety during stressful periods. Develop guidelines for appropriate use of the safe place.
Allow the child contact with home.At times of stress at school, a brief phone call—a minute or two—with family may reduce separation anxiety.
Send notes for your child to read.You can place a note for your child in his or her lunch box or locker. A quick “I love you!” on a napkin can reassure a child.
Provide assistance to the child during interactions with peers.An adult’s help, whether it is from a teacher or counselor, may be beneficial for both the child and his or her peers.
Reward a child’s efforts.Just like at home, every good effort—or small step in the right direction—deserves to be praised.

 

Source: Kids Health, HealthGuide.org

 

 

Ditch The “I’m Busy” Bit

It’s something we all say – almost without thinking. “I’m busy.” Why shouldn’t we say this? It’s a fact, right?

The truth is, our “I’m busy” statement may not be an honest one and there is research from the University of Rochester and the Journal of Psychological Science to support the probability that we would be happier if we never uttered this statement at all.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
-Henry David Thoreau

A Washington Post article published recently lists six reasons that eliminating “I’m busy” from our vocabularies would make us happier. This information is supported by studies from Stanford University and the Stanford University of Medicine.

  1. It keeps you from being present.
  2. It disconnects you from other people.
  3. It can easily be re-framed.
  4. It is a cover-up.
  5. Busy is not a feeling.
  6. It is a choice.

Can you relate to these?

While all are valid reasons, I’d like to focus on the first three as those impacting our lives the most. After all, deep down inside, we know this is a cover-up: a cop out for actually saying that we don’t want to be involved in what is being requested of us. Busy is a state, not a feeling. When we use “busy” when answering the “How are you?” question, we’re really just glossing over how we really are. Or we’re simply putting that person off. And above all, using this statement is a choice we make. And we can just as easily choose not to use it to resolve the real issues produced by the first three reasons in this list.

Let’s get more detailed about the first three reasons.

It keeps you from being present.  Being busy implies that you are preoccupied. Right when the word “busy” comes out of your mouth, life becomes more hectic. Instead of enjoying the present moment and your surroundings, the only thing you are doing is running through your to-do list in your head. In other words, “busy” is a state of mind that we force on ourselves.

It disconnects you from other people.  “I’m too busy.” Saying the word seems to build a wall around us and a don’t bother me sign is on the door. It also builds stressed and disconnects us from those around us. In fact, it even demeans others, intimates that they have too much time on their hands, and presents self-centeredness, regardless of what we’re “busy” doing. In addition to improving how others perceive us, eliminating the “I’m busy” statement has a significant impact the social connections with make with people – which is critical to our health and happiness.

It can easily be re-framed.  Summing up our lives as “busy” can mean anything. It’s a vague statement that doesn’t acknowledge all the good things we may be doing.  If we really feel like we must use one word to sum up our lives, we should try more descriptive ones like “active,” “eventful,” “involved” or “lively.” These words also have more positive connotations and can influence outlook and attitude.

It’s amazing that one phrase can have such an impact on our health and happiness. With stress’ impact on the frequency and severity of heart disease and high blood pressure, eliminating one thing we say from our vocabulary is a no brainer. The referenced and linked studies take a deeper dive into the whys around this and may be worth your time as a quick read.

Is Teasing Simply Funny or Hurtful?

Is Teasing Simply Funny or Hurtful?

“I was only teasing.”

How many times have you heard this or said it? Teasing takes place in every type of relationship: between children, parents, parent and child, all sort of relatives and friends, students of the same age and different ages, between teachers and even students and teachers.

Let’s define what a “tease” is before we go any farther.

[To tease is to make fun of or attempt to provoke (a person or animal) in a playful way. You could call it a jocular insult offered with love or a lesson with a dose of laughter.]

Teasing can be playful and fun when done in the right spirit. Families often like to engage in playful teasing like tickling, gentle mocking or calling each other silly names. But even this seemingly innocent behavior can be confusing for children to determine when it’s all in good fun and when it goes too far.

Positive or Negative Results?

Teasing that has good, positive results (i.e., making people laugh and relieving stress in a social situation) can be considered appropriate teasing. But kids often have difficulty seeing the line between teasing and hurting someone’s feelings. And it’s no surprise, since adults after whom kids may be modeling their behavior don’t see this line very clearly either.

Teasing that has a negative result – if it makes someone feel badly about themselves or uncomfortable – is inappropriate teasing.

Is it Starter Bullying?

Some believe teasing to be starter bullying or “entry level” bullying. Teasers may laugh and may mean little by their teasing, but the teased may not see it the same way. What the teaser may call lighthearted and fun may be described as malicious and annoying by the teased. When mean-spirited teasing becomes a problem, it’s time to seek out the root cause of the mean-spiritedness and badgering.

Are There Benefits to Positive Teasing?

Some researchers see benefits to what they call “prosocial teasing.” It can be playful, reveal affiliations and help both the teaser and the teased feel closer. After all, these researchers note, wouldn’t only someone very close to you tell you something as personal as how unappealing your feet are, for example? (Or is that someone just being mean?)

Teasing isn’t positive unless both parties perceive it as positive. That is where the challenge in striking the balance comes. How do you help your child to recognize the line before he steps over it and does something like tease the cousin who sleeps with a very babyish toy or makes several nighttime visits to the bathroom?

It’s just difficult. It has a lot to do with recognizing how what we say makes others feel. And that begins with understanding that we shouldn’t say to someone else what we wouldn’t want someone to say to us. It’s the Golden Rule.

How Do You Differentiate Between Healthy or Hostile Teasing?

Children often begin teasing at an early age – probably because Grandpa, Mom, Uncle Joe or Aunt Sue teased them in the same way at some point. The child may hold out a toy to you and when you reach for it, they take it away. It’s a simple form of teasing that doesn’t even require that they speak. But using adults as models, children will tease people with words as soon as they can speak.

This isn’t negative behavior if everyone involved in the teasing gets positivity from it.  It’s light-hearted, natural and fun. The goal is for the teaser and the teased to be drawn closer together by the teasing. In fact, Julie Cook, author of Tease Monster (and 50 other children’s book about social and behavioral issues) says that teasing helps satisfy the natural human need to fit in.

Teasing and joking can start with an attempt to be funny or to cope with an uncomfortable situation. Negativity sets in when kids no longer see the behavior as funny due to the teaser using teasing to not simply get attention but to feel superior to others.

How Do You Help Children Draw the Line?

Children often begin to understand the positive and negative sides of teasing when these things happen:

You clear up the confusion. Help children to see their teasing from the point of view of the one who is teased.

You talk about it. Children understand math. They can understand the results of teasing – if it is explained to them as if it were a math problem. Ask them if what they’re saying and doing adds to someone’s life or does it take away from who they are? Using words that they understand clearly from math problems can help make concepts that are confusing to them – like teasing – as clear as addition and subtraction.

You discourage teasing. Explain why a child’s teasing is inappropriate when it happens. Explain why it isn’t fair to treat his family or friend in the way that he has. Reinforce the concept of empathy and encourage the child to think about how his words make others feel. Remind the child of the Golden Rule. How would he or she feel if the tables were turned?

You lead by example. Even though you and another teacher may know that the teasing between you both is in good fun, a student who overhears some of this banter may not be able to recognize good natured teasing from mean-spirited behavior. It may not only be confusing for the student to hear the teasing, but that teasing also becomes a model for that student to follow.

You get others on board. Reinforcing behavior is easier when it is done consistently by all who model and influence behavior for children. So parents and other adult relatives, care givers and teachers need to be in sync in how they handle teasing so that it becomes a consistent “strategy” with great potential for success.

You tease proof. As we noted, teasing can be hurtful. Children can become “tease-proofed” with a little effort by the adults who are on board with the strategy.  Children who are teased don’t need protection, they need to learn the skills for handling teasing. Once children realize they can actually handle it, there will be a change in their attitude. The teasers will recognize this and start looking for different targets.

Does tease proofing work?

Here is an enlightening example of tease proofing shared in a story told by Jim Fay in an article for “Love and Logic” (part of the Institute for Professional Development) entitled “Tease Proof Your Kids”:

Mr. Mendez, a wonderful second-grade teacher, “tease proofed” his whole class. He said to the class, “Kids, the reason kids tease other kids is that it makes them feel superior. Now you can let them get away with this, or you can use an adult one-liner. But first of all, we all have to practice the ‘cool look.'”

This teacher had the kids practice standing with their hands in their pockets, rocking back on their heels, and putting a cool grin on their face.

He practiced this over and over. Every now and then, he would yell out, “Let’s see your ‘cool look.'” The kids would all jump out of their seats and put on the “look.”

Once they had all mastered the “cool look,” he said, “When kids start to tease you, put on your ‘cool look.’ Keep the look going while they tease. As soon as they get through putting you down, use your one-liner.”

The one-liner he taught them is, “Thanks for sharing that with me.” Mr. Mendez had the kids practice this, making sure that they kept the “cool look” on while they said the words.

Every now and then, when the kids would least expect it, he would yell out, “Let me hear your one liner!” And the kids would practice saying the words, making sure to grin while they said them.

Once the teacher felt that the class had mastered saying, “Thanks for sharing that with me,” in the appropriate way, he started having them practice jumping up out of their seats, putting on the “cool look,” and saying their one-liner.

The next step was for the kids to learn to turn around on the last word and walk away fast without looking back at the teasing child. Needless to say, they all did their practice until the skill was mastered. They even spent some of their recess time practicing this on the playground.

With the skill learned, practiced and mastered, Mr. Mendez could implement his part of the operation. When children came to him to tattle about others teasing them he consistently asked, “Did you let him get by with it or did you use your ‘cool skill’?”

In the event that child admitted that he had not used his/her skill, the teacher said, “How sad that you let him get away with it. Do you suppose you are going to continue to let him get by with it or are you going to use your skill? It’s your choice, but tattling to me is no longer a choice.”

Mr. Mendez tells us that the amount of tattling and complaining has been reduced by over 90%. He also proudly tells about one of his students who came to him asking if they had to use the one-liner he taught them, or could they make up their own.

This second-grader wanted to demonstrate to the class the one-liner that he used so successfully on the playground.

He stood before the class and said, “This other kid on the playground was dissin’ me. He said I had the skinniest arms in the whole school. I put on my ‘cool look.’ I grinned and said, ‘Bummer, I thought I was cool, man.’ I walked away before he could figure out what to say. Man, I blew his mind!”

All the kids clapped for this skillful second-grader, and the teacher beamed with pride as he thought to himself, “Now that kid is really ‘tease proofed’ for sure.”

What Does This Tell Us?

Teasing is in our nature and that’s OK. Hurtful forms of teasing can be greatly reduced in our culture by reinforcing and demonstrating the Golden Rule to children as they learn to draw the line where hurtful teasing begins. When they’ve learned to reverse their perspective before they speak, they’ll never tease in a way that they would find hurtful themselves.

Perhaps adults should practice this too?

Resources: Care.com, NY Times, Love and Logic/Institute of Professional Development

 

Scheduling for Maximum Preschool Enrollment

Your schedule of preschool classes and additional family / class offerings can really be a key to a successful financial year. Spend lots of time in thought–I mean lots of time tweaking it. Consider all aspects of your school and look at enrichment offerings to help bring in revenue. Your schedule must be fine-tuned to what your customers want and need. Scheduling preschool classes can be an art form!

Start by finding out the calendar for the local school district – when are their teacher work days, school holidays and half-days?  Likely, an older brother or sister is off that day, too. Do you want to offer full day programs for all siblings? Close the school for the day?  Know when the older siblings catch the bus in the morning and the afternoons. Make sure your schedule makes it easy for mom to pick them up. If you offer a Lunch Bunch or extended program have it end in time for bus pick-up. Also, think of how people have families. Children are usually spaced 2-3 years apart. Make sure that a mom with a 2 year old and a 5 year old can get them both on the same schedule for the year.

Then there are the extension programs you can offer. What about Mommy and Me classes? Can you offer something for mom/dad and younger siblings to do while big sister or brother is in class? Do you run a ministry based church program? Consider how additional ministry based services and classes can tie into your preschool program. What other classes or services can you offer around pickup or drop-off time? What about an adult bible study with one-hour child care for infants, or service work like filling backpacks with food or making sandwiches for local shelters? Think about your area and specific situation.

Many preschools also bring in outside programs such as a tot soccer program or creative dance. Have this as an add-on to the regular schedule but make sure they need to sign up for Lunch Bunch to attend the class afterwards. This will help guarantee your lunch enrollment for the semester – or however long the enrichment program lasts. Need to find enrichment programs to come to your school? Look for parents who are dance teachers, yoga instructors or martial arts teachers. Often times those enrichment programs are there waiting for you to find them! Charge them a room rental fee or a portion of the tuition they collect. Then you gain revenue from the class as well as the added lunch period. Adding enrichment classes such as these to the school day is a complete no-brainer for a preschool.. Think about adding these classes to your schedule next year. Let’s make it the most family-friendly, profitable year ever! Click THIS to see a clip of the DVD that accompanies my 133-page preschool dance year-long lesson plan book. Bonus: IF YOU PURCHASE IT THIS MONTH YOU INSTANTLY SAVE $50. Good for the month of May only.

Have an extra room during the day? Consider renting it out to a local Homeschool Co-op as a learning space. There are also community classes or groups that need a meeting room.  Think of all the things you can do during the daytime to make money. For more ideas click HERE for #165 Increase Your Daytime Income with Preschool Special Events.

Teaching Kids About Stranger Danger

When it comes to educating children about strangers, you have to walk a fine line. You want them to have enough information to understand the dangers and how to protect themselves but you don’t want to scare them into fearing every new person they meet.

Everyone they haven’t met is a stranger so perhaps the difference that they need to learn is when they should alter their behavior into protect mode.

When they are with mom and dad, it’s perfectly fine (in fact, they are expected) to use their best manners to greet people they don’t know.

As they grow up and begin to be separated from mom and dad for time periods (perhaps around the 4-year-old mark) it’s important that children know their home address and phone number. In fact, they should have parents’ work and cell numbers so they can reach them at all times. They also need to know how to ask another adult to help them call their mommy in the event that an emergency arise – or they get separated from parents while out and about in a crowded environment or unfamiliar place.

What types of adults should they ask? This is important information for the 4-year-old to know.

Identifying a good stranger and a bad stranger can be confusing, especially if they are in an emergency situation, lost or in danger. But being able to distinguish between who is more likely to be a safe choice to ask for help is critical to their ability to actually seek help when needed. Help children with this by pointing good strangers out when you’re in one of those crowded or unfamiliar environments. Test them by asking them to show you some good strangers.

Here are 4 good safety tips that 4-year-olds can remember:

Spot another small child. The 4-year-old is going to be able to do this much more easily and quickly than choosing between adults in that crowded or unfamiliar environment. That small child will most likely be with a parent or caregiver who can be helpful with a request for help.

Rehearse the request. Practice with the 4-year-old the request that he needs to make so that it comes more naturally. Having to figure out that he needs to say “help me find my mom” isn’t the easiest thing for a child of this age to do when upset or confused.

Establish meeting places. Wherever you go with young children, establish a meeting place where you’ll meet if you get separated. Take the child to that spot to reinforce the spot as your meeting place.

Ask for help. This is where the phrase they’ve rehearsed comes in. When they reach the established meeting place, they should look for a police officer, security person or another parent or teacher to use their rehearsed phrase to ask for help.

Establish safety rules with children.

  1. Ask permission of your parent or caregiver before going anywhere. This nips any exceptions in the bud and doesn’t impose a fright factor like warnings sometime do. (i.e., “don’t get into a car or accept anything from strangers”)
  2. Wandering children may need even stricter guidelines, such as holding hands with an adult or staying with a buddy (who isn’t a wanderer.)
  3. Make sure that children know how to express it when someone makes them uncomfortable. They should know that this is OK. It may be that they simply take longer to warm up to people or there could actually be a reason for their discomfort. Either way, knowing that expressing this is OK may make them feel better about the situation.

Share your guidelines. It’s important for all who may be responsible for children know the guidelines that have been established with them. That’s the only way they can help maintain their safety at all times.

How can adults help protect children?

There are some behaviors that should alert others to dangerous situations and/or adults who may not have good intentions.

Adult behavior is suspicious if children are asked to:

  • Disobey their parents.
  • Do something without permission.
  • Keep a secret.
  • Help the person asking. (An adult should never be asking a child they don’t know for help.)

Or if whatever the adult does makes the child feel uncomfortable in any way.

What should a child be instructed to do if they recognize one of these situations?

The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) suggests 4 simple words that will help the child act safely: “No, Go, Yell, Tell.”

  • Refuse any stranger’s request.
  • Run away immediately.
  • Yell as loudly as they can.
  • Tell an adult they trust what happened right away.

Children should know that they should never feel bad about saying no to an adult who is a stranger – regardless of where they are.

Practicing scenarios can help to cement these concepts into a young child’s head.

Here are a few from the NCPC:

  • A nice-looking stranger approaches your child in the park and asks for help finding the stranger’s lost dog.
  • A woman who lives in your neighborhood but that the child has never spoken to invites your child into her house for a snack.
  • A stranger asks if your child wants a ride home from school.
  • Your child thinks he or she is being followed.
  • An adult your child knows says or does something that makes him or her feel bad or uncomfortable.
  • While your child is walking home from a friend’s house, a car pulls over and a stranger asks for directions.

These adult actions will also help children avoid dangerous situations:

  • Know where the children under your care are at all times. Make it a rule that all children must ask permission or check in with you or another teacher before going anywhere.
  • Point out safe places. Show children safe places to play, safe roads and paths to take, and safe places to go if there’s trouble.
  • Teach children to trust their instincts. Explain that if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable, they should get away from whoever is making them uncomfortable as fast as they can and tell an adult – even if they know the person who is making them uncomfortable. Reassure children that you will help them when they need it.
  • Teach children to be assertive. Make sure they know that it’s okay to say no to an adult and to run away from adults in dangerous situations.
  • Encourage your children to play with others. There’s safety in numbers. Predators tend to approach children who are alone or playing away from the group.

Share safety advice from McGruff, the NCPC’s crime dog, with your center’s parents and kids.

Resources: Childcare Network, National Crime Prevention Council

Effectively Praising Kids

Praise is a way that adults can use to tell children that they are headed in the right direction – that what they are doing has the potential to earn them success.

You can find differing theories and opinions on praise in the news. More general news sources have been known to focus on what is bad about praising kids.

Psychology Today has published articles in recent years that simply advise that parent not praise their kids. CBS News shared information noting that parents who over praise are breeding narcissism and Forbes quoted an Ohio State University study that said too much praise can turn kids into Narcissists while a contrasting psychoanalytic theory suggests that kids become narcissists when their parents withhold warmth – so the kids have to put themselves on a pedestal and seek approval elsewhere.

More parenting- and science-focused publications, such as KidsMatter, ParentingScience, WebMD and Parents.com, have focused on the ways that praise can effectively be used.

Cultures handle praise in many different ways. China, for example, rarely uses praise because they worry about the effects that praise has on people – especially children.

Westerners praise each other all the time – some actually lavishing it on their children – and believe that praise can make kids more motivated, more confident and more inclined to take on challenges.

These examples represent extremes. The truth is, the most effective use of praise is probably somewhere in the middle.

Does too much praise inflate egos and create arrogance? Does too little praise lower self-esteem and self-confidence to the point of encouraging inaction?

There is evidence that moms who praise their preschoolers for their good manners have kids with better social skills.

There are cases, however, where praise actually undermined children’s motivation.

What’s right?

Here are some sensible, proven study praise “best practices.”

Praise can be a powerful motivating force if you:

  • Are sincere and specific with your praise
  • Praise kids only for traits they have the power to change
  • Use descriptive praise that conveys realistic, attainable standards
  • Are careful about praising kids for achievements that come easily
  • Are careful about praising kids for doing what they already love to do
  • Encourage kids to focus on mastering skills – not on comparing themselves to others

It is also important to be sensitive to your child’s developmental level.

Very young children thrive on praise.

Praise encourages babies and toddlers to explore on their own. In a study of 24-month old children, researchers watched how mothers responded to their toddlers while they attempted a challenging task. The same families were invited back a year later and kids were tested again.

Researchers found that the 36-month old kids who were most likely to tackle challenges – and to persist at a task – were the ones whose mothers had praised and encouraged their independence at 24 months.

Older kids are more sophisticated and may interpret praise in negative ways.

As kids mature, they become aware of motives and wonder what your motives are in praising them. If they think you’re being insincere, they may dismiss your praise. They may think your motivation is to be patronizing or manipulative.

Here are six points that will help you effectively praise your kids:

Be sincere and specific with your praise

Failing to praise in this way could harm a child’s self-esteem and damage your relationship with them. If the perceive praise to be insincere, children won’t feel very encouraged by it. But it doesn’t end here. Insincere praise can actually go beyond being ineffective and end up being damaging.

They may think:

  • You feel sorry for them
  • You’re trying to manipulate them
  • You don’t really understand them

To prevent this, avoid praise that is sweeping or general. Kids are more likely to doubt it.

Only praise kids for traits that they have the power to change

You might think that generally praising your child’s intelligence or talent would boost his self-esteem and motivate him. But usually this backfires.

Often when kids are praised for their ability, they actually become more cautious and avoid challenges. It’s as if they are afraid to do anything that might make them fail and lose your praise.

They also might get from your general praise that intelligence or talent is something that people either have or don’t have. And this makes them feel helpless when they make mistakes. They just don’t see the point in trying if messing up means they lack intelligence.

Praise kids for things they can clearly change. Praise them for the effort they went to or the strategies they used in doing something.

Use praise that sends a message or realistic, attainable standards.

General praise is about making a judgment: “You did a great job!”

Descriptive praise is about what was done right: “I like the way you begin your essay by describing the problem and explaining why it’s important.”

The latter is more helpful because you’re not just telling him he’s doing well, you’re giving him specific feedback, and telling him something about your standards.

In using descriptive praise, be sure it is effective by making sure the standards your praise conveys is reasonable. If you over-praise: “You were amazing today! I’ve never seen anyone kick the soccer ball better.” Well, that’s just a superhuman expectation to place on them. They likely won’t be able to live up to that again. Instead of building their confidence, this kind of praise actually puts stress and pressure on them and they can feel inadequate.

Don’t praise for achievements that come too easily

Praising kids for easy tasks may lead them to feel that you think they’re dumb. This interpretation wouldn’t be made by younger kids, but as they mature, kids become more sophisticated in their thinking and understand the meaning of praise.

One experiment presented American kids (aged 4 to 12 years) with a videotaped scenario depicting students at work. The scenario showed two students solving a problem. Each performed equally well, but only one student was praised.

The kids who watched the program were asked to judge the students’ effort and ability.

Kids of all ages agreed that the praised student tried harder. But the older kids also inferred that the praised student had lower ability.

These reactions might be culturally specific, however. When a similar experiment was conducted on Chinese students, older subjects did not conclude that the praised person was inferior in ability.

The difference here might simply reflect different attitudes about praise and intelligence of Chinese and Western cultures.

(In China, praise is rarely given as previously noted, so people in that culture may be less likely to infer that praise is insincere or patronizing. Chinese people are more inclined to view intellectual achievements as a product of effort.)

Don’t go overboard in praising kids for doing things they like to do anyway

A little praise for things kids like to do is a good thing but going overboard should be avoided. This is particularly important with older kids. Excessive praise in these type situations can actually reduce their motivation for this activity. A good example is praising the child who loves broccoli every time he eats it. Whether it’s done consciously or not, the child will begin to question why he loves broccoli. If the constant praise is stopped, the child can lose interest in eating the broccoli at all.

Research also shows that tangible rewards (like money) work much the same way. When children were consistently “paid” for eating certain foods, they actually lost interest in eating the foods.

The important factor seems to be that when the praise be given every time kids expect to be praised for the behavior in order to maintain interest in it. Praise remains a powerful motivating force when is it unexpected or spontaneous.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t praise your children for good behavior or a job well done. It just means that you should be cautious in allowing praise to override your kids’ natural sources of motivation.

Avoid praise that compares your kid to others

This may, at first, seem like a good way to praise your kid for out-performing their peers. After all, there is some research showing that social-comparison praise enhances a child’s motivation. But this presents the following problems:

  • Social-comparison is only motivating to kids as long as they continue to win.

If they lose their competitive edge, they lose their motivation.

Becoming accustomed to social-comparison encourages kids to become poor losers.

An experiment with American 4th and 5th graders who received either social-comparison praise, mastery praise or no praise for completing a puzzle reacted differently. They completed a second task for which they received no clear feedback on their performance.

Their motivation levels depended on what type praise they had received for completing the puzzle. Those who had received social comparison praise suffered a loss of motivation. But kids who had received mastery praise showed enhanced motivation. The social-comparison praise backfired as soon as the kids stop hearing that they’d outperformed their peers.

  • Social-comparison praise teaches kids that competitive standing – not mastery – is most important.

When kids decide that the goal is to outperform other kids, they lack motivation for doing the task in itself well. Doing the task well is only interesting if it means they win.

Even worse, these kids are generally so wrapped up in maintaining their competitive standing that they avoid challenges and opportunities to learn.

How praise works with toddlers

Toddlers are continuing to explore their environment. They are also becoming better at deciding what to do to achieve their goals. As toddlers get older, they start developing an understanding for self-awareness and self-evaluation and understand that there are a number of steps involved in reaching goals.

Children around three years old are not only interested in completing an activity, they also like doing it well. They are discovering which activities are easier or harder for them. Toddlers feel a lot of pride when they succeed in completing a challenging activity. If a challenging activity doesn’t work out this is a learning opportunity and they don’t feel much shame. However, if they view a task to be easy, they feel greater shame. This is why it is especially important to provide toddlers with support and encouragement after facing a challenging activity and less so after successes.

How you can motivate preschoolers

Preschoolers are beginning to direct their own learning as they are becoming more capable of problem solving and working through activities on their own. They are more able to think through how they are going to complete an activity. Many times we might expect children to work quietly at a task on their own; however, encouraging children to talk with others about what they are doing promotes their learning and development. By being shown how to work through problems with the help of supportive adults, preschoolers are more able to scaffold their own learning. With this comes a greater sense of control over what they are doing, leading to greater confidence and self-esteem.

Resources:

Childcare Exchange, ParentingScience.com, KidsMatter.edu

 

More Evidence That Children Need the Outdoors

Seems that I’m seeing more and more evidence that children who spend more time inside in front of any type of screen have issues whether they be weight and fitness, sleep, allergy, social skills, attention span (I could go on and on)… and now eye sight issues.

It’s quite obvious to me that getting outside encourages and inspires children to get more exercise, breathe in fresh air, develop immunities to outdoor allergens and burn off pent up energy and frustration.

Now teachers are commenting on the increased number of preschoolers in particular wearing glasses.

Let’s look at some of the facts and some of the opinions expressed by experts…

One theory: children spend so much time indoors in front of screens that their eyes are not getting enough long-distance viewing exercise.

There is also a study (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) supporting the impact of outdoor time on vision that states:

“Children who spend more time outdoors during the day may have a reduced rate of nearsightedness, also known as myopia.”

American Medical Association study reported in Science World Report

Researchers in this study focused on the vision condition that has become rather widespread in some young adults living in urban parts of East and Southeast Asia. Close to 80 to 90 percent of high school graduates in this area are reportedly nearsighted.

The study specifically focused on six schools with children whose average age was 7 at the start of the study. The participants attended one additional 40-minute class of outdoor activities during each school day for three years. The parents of these children were also encouraged to engage their children in outdoor activities following school, even on weekends and holidays. The other participants continued on with their usual activities which did not necessarily include consistent engagement in outdoor activities.

The findings from this study revealed that the children who spent more time outside reduced their risk of nearsightedness (myopia).

Science Daily has also published an article based on the JAMA research – providing some additional details.

This article even references the recent focus on the many beneficial effects of outdoor activities on children, stating that “Given the popular appeal of increased outdoor activities to improve the health of school-aged children in general, the potential benefit of slowing myopia development and progression by those same activities is difficult to ignore. Although prescribing this approach with the intent of helping to prevent myopia would appear to have no risk, parents should understand that the magnitude of the effect is likely to be small and the durability is uncertain.”

Simply put: This isn’t proven. It’s a theory with supporting research. It’s still not clear why spending more time outside seems to benefit children’s eyesight. The research points to the possibility that higher levels of light intensity outdoors may increase the chemical dopamine from the retina of the eye and this increase can inhibit the growth typically seen in myopic conditions (nearsightedness).

This information was featured in an article contributed by Chris Kierwa in Childcare Exchange in March 2016 in an article entitled “More Kids with Glasses?”

Sources: Science World Report, ScienceDaily, The Childcare Exchange

Worried About Productivity? Manage Your Time

What is something that center directors don’t have enough of? Time.

Most center directors work long hours and just feel like they aren’t getting enough done.

But then there are others who seem to have time to manage their center plus volunteer in professional associations and serve on nonprofit boards. What’s the difference?

The latter don’t work harder. They work smarter.

How can you work smarter too?

  1. Start by realizing that there are many factors that impact your ability to work smarter, then examine every factor you can identify and whether it is one that is hindering improvement.
  2. Examine the time-related expectations you have for yourself and others.
  3. Create a prioritized list of tasks that you should be doing each week and note the allotted time for each activity. It is important to know what your most important tasks are and how long it takes you to accomplish them.
  4. Carefully consider the reality of that allotted time.     Are these allotments accurate? Be sure to consider how interruptions impact this time allotment.
  5. If the discrepancies between allotted time and accurate ones are too great perhaps adjustments need to be made.

Ask yourself:

Do you have the resources to get your tasks done (i.e., money, staff expertise, technology)?

Would a change in how you do your work help?

Would it help you to know the goals and expectations of your owner?

What are the roadblocks to being more effective at managing your time?

Interruptions?

  • From staff and parents
  • Because of phone calls

Requests for assistance?

  • With children who need help
  • Filling in for staff who miss work

Lack of resources?

  • Adequate support staff
  • Technology or inability to make good use of technology you have
  • Funds

Constant crises?

  • That can be prevented or reduced
  • That can be handled by someone else

Tips for better time management

Spend most of your time on what’s most important.

  • Eliminate areas that take lots of time but don’t offer measurable improvement for your center.
  • Offload activities to others with more time or more specific skills in that particular area.

Use technology to leverage your productivity.

  • Computerize as much paper data as possible to enable it to be more quickly and easily accessed.
  • Leverage electronic databases to help you eliminate duplicated efforts.
  • Use email for communication so that it is easily tracked and organized in folders for quick reference.

Organize your time and your space

  • Use to-do lists, filing systems, calendars, reminders and deadlines
  • Create a system for keeping up with mail, files and events that will streamline your job.

Use the 4 Ds to only handle paper once:

  • Do it
  • Delegate it
  • Delay it
  • Dump it

Create plans to handle the unexpected.

  • Make sure it is distributed to everyone.
  • Make sure responsible parties understand their roles.

Schedule supervisor meetings for the 1st and 3rd weeks of the month.

  • Reschedules won’t take you into the next month.

Don’t be too aggressive in setting deadlines and filling your schedule.

  • Allow for delays (under your control or not) and emergencies.

Delegate what doesn’t require your attention.

  • Offload to others what they do better.
  • Use technology to automate consistent processes.
  • Empower your staff to assume new responsibilities.
  • Use committees of parental and volunteer resources

Personalize your approach to time management.

  • Identify what time of the day you’re the most productive and use it.
  • Be selective in the type of planner you use – making sure that it works with your style.

Don’t burn yourself out.

  • Make time for breaks and lunch so you can relax – even if it’s for a brief moment.
  • Give yourself time to eat so you maintain the energy required to work smarter.
  • Close your door – even if for a few minutes – so that you don’t feel inundated for hours on end.

Time management is a skill that takes time to develop and commitment to maintain. It’s not a panacea for solving productivity issues but it the best vehicle for putting your skills to use for the greatest possible benefit to your center.

Resource: National Association of Child Care Professionals [www.naccp.org]

Where Teachers Work: A Child Care Center Breakdown

“A recent report on childcare centers in the United States has an interesting breakdown of just who makes up the industry, including child care center types and how many teachers are employed by each. The report “Number and Characteristics of Early Care and Education Teachers and Caregivers” put out by the Federal Administration of Child and Families was featured on the ChildCare Exchange’s article Exchange Essential: ECE Trends in North America.

According to this report, there are 1 million teachers working in 130,000 early childhood centers in the United States:

  • 587,000 in Independent centers
  • 209,000 in Public Pre-K programs
  • 143,000 in Head Start centers
  • 61,400 in School-Sponsored programs

There are probably many opinions on what this “tells us” about the state of child care centers as a group and why some of the challenges exist in today’s child care environment.

With the greatest number of teachers, by far, being employed by independent centers, there is tremendous opportunity for creativity that is not limited by mandated curriculum and more pay-scale and hiring freedom than in government-run centers and programs. There are also less standardized controls in independently run centers – even though these centers are subject to the same basic compliance as government-run programs.

The figures also indicate that there is a grand array of child care options – if you have the budget to include the independent centers – which have the broadest cost variation across their centers of any of the center and program types shown above.